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Question re: Audio Critic Benchmark DAC Review

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 
In his review of the Benchmark DAC1 last month, the audio critic goes through all the measurements, specs, etc., and concludes with:

Quote:
The Sound

I am adding this paragraph strictly for the sake of my newer readers. The old regulars know exactly my position regarding the stupidity of ascribing a “character” to the sound of an utterly neutral signal path. Oohing and aahing over the vast improvement in soundstaging, front-to-back depth, bass delineation, or treble sweetness obtainable with this or that electronic component may sell high-end magazines but is totally unscientific and delusional. What the Benchmark DAC1 HDR adds to or subtracts from its input signal is borderline unmeasurable, so the sonic character of its output is obviously the sonic character of its input. It’s as simple as that. It has no sound of its own. Furthermore, its measurements could be 20 or 30 dB worse and it would still sound the same. I have convinced myself of that over and over again in double-blind listening comparisons of all sorts of electronic components at matched levels. The 100% purity of the DAC1 HDR is of benefit mainly in professional systems, where the integrity of the equipment chain needs to be verified and guaranteed. To audiophiles it’s a somewhat abstract luxury—but not an excessively costly one.
Now, I understand that a DAC shouldn't have a sound, and the Benchmark measures perfectly flat so it's as neutral as possible. But why isn't it possible for a DAC to add some distortion to the sound (whether intentionally or because of a bad design) so that the DAC sounds more pleasing to the ear? If, for example, studies show that people like a little bit more in the lower region, or a little softening of the treble, and the DAC added those characteristics to the signal, wouldn't that DAC sound better than the Benchmark?
post #2 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by seacard View Post
Now, I understand that a DAC shouldn't have a sound, and the Benchmark measures perfectly flat so it's as neutral as possible. But why isn't it possible for a DAC to add some distortion to the sound (whether intentionally or because of a bad design) so that the DAC sounds more pleasing to the ear? If, for example, studies show that people like a little bit more in the lower region, or a little softening of the treble, and the DAC added those characteristics to the signal, wouldn't that DAC sound better than the Benchmark?
Well, for a company like Benchmark that works closely with the audio production side of things, they would need to have a flat FR and low distortion, even beyond what is audible, because it is needed in the audio production side of things more than the reproduction side.

As for other companies... they've done it before. I've seen a tube DAC that performed terribly wrt harmonic distortion, and I'm sure a few other out there exist. One Wadia CD player was known to have audibly significant FR deviations. These are rare exceptions though - the vast majority of the time, a given DAC will measure far below the audible threshold for everything that matters. If a company does do something like that, though, it will show up in the measurements of the product, and everyone will be able to see the FR deviations or high THD. I don't know how many people will actually care, but I'd imagine that since people hear differences between DACs in sighted trials, most manufacturers wouldn't bother to make that kind of a DAC when they can make one that performs perfectly (wrt audibility) and still have consumers distinguish their product from other ones.
post #3 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by seacard View Post
If, for example, studies show that people like a little bit more in the lower region, or a little softening of the treble, and the DAC added those characteristics to the signal, wouldn't that DAC sound better than the Benchmark?


It possibly could, psychoacoustics is very complex and it's tragic that the author of that review has no appreciation of that fact. Neither does the author seem to realize that even if that dac is close to perfect (snickers), the rest of your audio chain is not and neither are recordings. I had (recently killed it ^^) an expensive sound card with the super low distortion lm4562's the author thinks highly of. Sure it might have great analytical detail, but like most people who have swapped opamps have realized, the lm4562 is only mid-fi in terms of pleasure listening. You should try asking the author of that review your question, I wouldn't be surprised if he was so narrow-minded or stubborn that he won't even consider it for a moment. Also I resent how he disses three different professions in the review, if he's got a gripe with high end audio and wants to convince people who believe in high end audio that it is bad, at least try not to put us in the same lot as those three professions mkay? Some people...
post #4 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by haloxt View Post
It possibly could, psychoacoustics is very complex and it's tragic that the author of that review has no appreciation of that fact. Neither does the author seem to realize that even if that dac is close to perfect (snickers), the rest of your audio chain is not and neither are recordings. I had (recently killed it ^^) an expensive sound card with the super low distortion lm4562's the author thinks highly of. Sure it might have great analytical detail, but like most people who have swapped opamps have realized, the lm4562 is only mid-fi in terms of pleasure listening. You should try asking the author of that review your question, I wouldn't be surprised if he was so narrow-minded or stubborn that he won't even consider it for a moment. Also I resent how he disses three different professions in the review, if he's got a gripe with high end audio and wants to convince people who believe in high end audio that it is bad, at least try not to put us in the same lot as those three professions mkay? Some people...
Seems to me he was giving his honest opinion. Would you rather have had him lie and gush about all the stuff he said he couldn't hear?
post #5 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by haloxt View Post
It possibly could, psychoacoustics is very complex and it's tragic that the author of that review has no appreciation of that fact. Neither does the author seem to realize that even if that dac is close to perfect (snickers), the rest of your audio chain is not and neither are recordings. I had (recently killed it ^^) an expensive sound card with the super low distortion lm4562's the author thinks highly of. Sure it might have great analytical detail, but like most people who have swapped opamps have realized, the lm4562 is only mid-fi in terms of pleasure listening. You should try asking the author of that review your question, I wouldn't be surprised if he was so narrow-minded or stubborn that he won't even consider it for a moment. Also I resent how he disses three different professions in the review, if he's got a gripe with high end audio and wants to convince people who believe in high end audio that it is bad, at least try not to put us in the same lot as those three professions mkay? Some people...
Smells like olblueyez to me... (He ended up being banned)

It must be the ears of the author, or the system he used, that is not up to the task... (always the same excuse...)
post #6 of 18
You smell like bullseye.

I never said anything about the ears of the author. Try again.
post #7 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by haloxt View Post
It possibly could, psychoacoustics is very complex and it's tragic that the author of that review has no appreciation of that fact.
Psychoaoustics is complex but if you review an item based on some arbitrary personal preference you provide one perspective and one that may or may not jibe with other people, so of limited utility. Aczel proceeds from a perspective that High fidelity is just that high fidelity (or least change) wrt the source, that changes either through deliberate tweaking or poor design are bad news. Not everyone holds to that, I am sympathetic to that view.


Quote:
Neither does the author seem to realize that even if that dac is close to perfect (snickers), the rest of your audio chain is not and neither are recordings.
Adding another level of messing about like a DAC with a pronounced roll-off may not help and may make it worse and it is a very hit and miss way to deal with perceived weaknesses.

As for perfect, in the context of havng such a low level of noise/distortion and flat FR that it does not perceivably add or take away from the original signal, I would settle for that, though I do not think you actually always need to spend that much to get to that level as suggested by the MatrixHifi blind tests on different DACs.


Quote:
I had (recently killed it ^^) an expensive sound card with the super low distortion lm4562's the author thinks highly of. Sure it might have great analytical detail, but like most people who have swapped opamps have realized, the lm4562 is only mid-fi in terms of pleasure listening.
You have of course assessed this carefully in blind tests . How did you measure the analytical detail did you use an SI or Imperial measure ?
post #8 of 18
You won't know if tweaking will improve the sound or not if you never try, and of course if you were designing a dac to sound good you should have multiple people test it to make sure it is euphonious to others. Your what-if's are just what-if's, and people should test it if they want the answer.

I measure the analytical detail of opamps by gut feeling.
post #9 of 18
Record producers/engineers rely on their gut too, but none of them would accept subpar performance out of any component as easy to nail down as a DAC.
post #10 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by seacard View Post
But why isn't it possible for a DAC to add some distortion to the sound (whether intentionally or because of a bad design) so that the DAC sounds more pleasing to the ear?
It is possible but it's not what a DAC should do, that's what equalizers/dsp/etc. are good for.

"In electronics, a digital-to-analog converter (DAC or D-to-A) is a device for converting a digital (usually binary) code to an analog signal (current, voltage or electric charge)."
That's it. Nothing more or less.


.. 1000 bucks .. wow.
post #11 of 18
I think he loved the design and all the different things you could do with it more than the actual sound.
post #12 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by haloxt View Post
...but like most people who have swapped opamps have realized, the lm4562 is only mid-fi in terms of pleasure listening.
Except listening pleasure, excepting screeching chalkboards and such, is arbitrary. One person's mid-fi is another's perfect sound and likewise someone may listen to a $20K top-line hi-fi system and find it unimpressive compared to the sound they get out of their $500 system.
post #13 of 18
Depends how you define "perfect sound" and "unimpressive".
post #14 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by haloxt View Post
I had (recently killed it ^^) an expensive sound card with the super low distortion lm4562's the author thinks highly of. Sure it might have great analytical detail, but like most people who have swapped opamps have realized, the lm4562 is only mid-fi in terms of pleasure listening. You should try asking the
don't mean to break it but IMD+N is up the roof on your dead soundcard... 25 times higher than the STX, and even higher than the Realtek mobo chips at 15KHz: http://www.head-fi.org/forums/5910871-post23.html

and the 4562NA is a $2 chip, don't expect miracles from that

the 4562HA costs $10 and sounds WAY better...thanks to the metal shielding? even National doesn't know why

it's been proven on diyaudio.com through many many DBT w/ customers in trade shows and so that the difference between op-amps is far higher than between DAC's.
post #15 of 18
Quote:
Originally Posted by haloxt View Post
Depends how you define "perfect sound" and "unimpressive".
There is no definition. Varies completely from person to person. It's totally subjective. Some people love the fact that tube amps change/color their sound. Others don't. Some like only certain tube amps or tubes. Look at Singlepower. Horrid workmanship and nothing impressive at all on the inside and yet people raved about their "sound" up until it was revealed what shoddy work he did. Heck, some people still rave about them. All of these things/components color the sound, to a greater or lesser extent, and people fall all along the spectrum as to what "color" they prefer.
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