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DAC testing, not much difference?

post #1 of 167
Thread Starter 

So I have been auditioning DAC's for the past 4 days. Have these in house for the time: Wadia 12, lavry DA10, Stello DA100 sig, Digital Audio Denmark ADDA 2402 and a M2TECH (USB to Coaxial) on folowing system: PC (winxp) Foobar asio out -> EMU 0404 pci ->  Coaxial out -> DAC -> via XLR Primare I30 -> Vienna Acoustics Beethoven concert grand. Also tried my CD-player as transport.



Didn't expect the listening experience to be this hard. Maybe the rest of my system is just not revealing enough. I have had several friends come by to help me figure this out as the differences between the DACs and my obviously excellent soundcard (EMU 0404 pci) are very minor. At first I thought I was deff but as my friends had the exact same experience this is probably not the cast :)

First off the DAC I like the best is the Stello. It's by far the more musical of the lot and provides more listening enjoyment. Lavry da10 is very neutral with a very clear treble but the sound is on the boring side. (more detailed sonic descriptions also of the other 2 dac's in a later post if needed)


But most importantly none of them really rises significantly above my EMU 0404 ananlog out. I'm quite surprised by this. Damn it's hard to spot the differences although I can sit in my sofa and click back and forth between sources. The lavry sounds closest to my soundcard, neutral and somewhat bright while the stello sounds a little darker and rich (perhaps thick)


I also had a friend bring his Rega Apollo by which we tested vs. the stello and my Arcam 8se. He was quite disappointed that there was no bigger differences to be heard. The sound of the Apollo was quite close to the Stello although a little more refined. My Arcam was sonically different from the Stello but sounded just as musical  (this is a 10 year old player 1200$ new)


I might borrow a NAIM dac and a primare CD31 also just to try something a little more expensive although the Digital Audio Danmark ADDA 2402 should be something like 7000 - 8000$.

I simply need to know if this is all there is to achieve by throwing money at DAC's 

Edited by nightrhyme - 5/31/10 at 11:42am
post #2 of 167

Hmmmm the DAC's you listed are pretty good to say the least, so that is a bit surprising, but I had similar experiences with previous Dac's I have listened to, could not tell a major difference between sound card and dac (but these were low end dacs) but once I bought a used Parasound dac, it changed everything for me, the difference was instant, everything was more pronounced and weighted, it was really amazing. By far the most dramatic change in my set-up besides changing the headphone completely... So keep searching, maybe you will find the "one", but Dac's are worth the money, hands down! One of the most important part of any serious system... Good luck!

post #3 of 167

Thank you for writing this post. If you hang around audio forums long enough, you delude yourself you MUST own all these separate pieces of equipment. Granted, I'm sure a Wadia DAC sounds a little nicer than a DAC in a $40 Sony CD player, but I've always wondered if all this DAC trading madness wasn't so much hullabaloo. First came the headphone amp madness and 10,000 differents amps springing up, then the explosion of replacement headphone cables ("YOU MUST HAVE CARDAS!!!!" I had Cardas, didn't sound much different from a $4 Rat shack connector....) and then the great DAC chase with everybody and his brother putting THEIR better DAC out there. And there was the great LOD expansion west.... Will it never end? Honestly, we waste so much money changing horse midstream. But something good and know youre 90 percent of the way there. Stop there and take a breath before proceeding. 

Edited by chadbang - 5/26/10 at 10:57pm
post #4 of 167

Better jitter reduction, signal to noise and other specs, might be features to look for other than sound quality.

For me these days what heads my criteria list are better inputs like I2S, network bridging, asynchronous USB.


I too have heard the Lavry DA10 and found that it sounded boring

Now, I have a theory that if I had heard a Lavry DA11 instead I may have found it sounded better.

just some food for thought... the DA10 ain't that pretty.

Edited by dreamwhisper - 5/26/10 at 11:47pm
post #5 of 167

I wish their were more honest posts like this one rather that the numerous  hyped up reviews found here (with night and day differences and things blowing other things out of the water...). Dacs just rebuilt an original waveform from data and any simple processor should be able to do that rather easily those days, for very little money. I would expect all properly designed dacs to rather sound similar. Forget about climate change and famine, many people are more concern about the devastating effects of jitter and ground pollution on sound quality. Our brains are more susceptible to influences than we like to admit.

Edited by zenpunk - 5/26/10 at 11:47pm
post #6 of 167

This is the same problem with me. I cannot tell if there is a different switching from DAC to DAC. Of course mine are all on the low end with the Xtrememusic, EF2, Pico and now DA-152 as my references. I think for me its not really worth it. Maybe one day I'll hear something that will blow my mind but if that is over $1000 I'll wonder if the investment is worth it.

post #7 of 167
Thread Starter 

Thanx so much for the replies guys.


Well I guess I'm just a honest guy who tries to get a grip on whats up and down with the music gear business. For me it has alway been about the music and not the gear and I refuse to throw money after tiny improvements in sound. By now I have spend like 20 hours combined listening to the Stello vs. soundcard. I'll give it a few hours more and then as previously mentioned I might borrow a NAIM dac as the wadia 521 is just more than I'm willing to spend :)


I can't really think of more DAC's I want to listen to..



Edited by nightrhyme - 5/27/10 at 11:47am
post #8 of 167

I found that if two DACs are tonally exactly the same, usually from the same brand (as they would output the same voltage) then with a quick A/B test, they sound identical.  It's only when listening for a longer period that the differences become apparent.   Sometimes I've heard remarkable differences, such as between a Northstar M192 MKI and Nakamichi Dragon DAC or Audio-gd Reference 1, where the difference was huge.  Also the Benchmark DAC 1 and Reference 1, where the former simply sounded awful and harsh in comparison, where one normally wouldn't notice this if it were one's only DAC.


Sometimes I've added a component into my system, feeling initially I can't hear any difference, only to realise what it brought after I've removed it or switched back to what I had before.

post #9 of 167

I find a bit odd that you are not able to tell more difference between the EMU and the other much more expensive DACs. I don't have much experince though but I think that the µDAC was an improvemnet from the built in DAC of the EF2. I also remember taking part in some listening tests  15 years ago including a CD-player and a laserdisc player with and without an external DAC and the results were pretty clear ie. laserdisc < cd player < cd player with external DAC < laserdisc with external DAC.


Sometimes more time is needed to point out the differences, so that might be a factor, when I first got the µDAC it was hard for me to find any diffrences between using the HP-out from it and using it as a DAC feeding the EF2, but now I can tell the difference.

post #10 of 167


Originally Posted by zenpunk View Post

I wish their were more honest posts like this one rather that the numerous  hyped up reviews found here (with night and day differences and things blowing other things out of the water...). Dacs just rebuilt an original waveform from data and any simple processor should be able to do that rather easily those days, for very little money. I would expect all properly designed dacs to rather sound similar. Forget about climate change and famine, many people are more concern about the devastating effects of jitter and ground pollution on sound quality. Our brains are more susceptible to influences than we like to admit.

I was never a drastic believer of what DAC's were capable of, until I purchased the Parasound unit. This is not "blowing things out of the water", the difference between my onboard soundcard (also other low end units) and the Parasound was not small but really significant. The whole spectrum was improved, maybe some people are expecting a total redefinition of the sound and they are disappointed. To be honest I have never heard the Lavry 10, Stello ect...so I cannot comment, but I doubt you heard a Parasound DAC, and let me tell you, it will make you a believer, and that is not hype. 

post #11 of 167

Hmm.. interesting, i know somebody over here in germany who tested several different DAC´s like the Benchmark, Valab 4395 Premium, Beresford Caiman, Corda Stage Dac and RME Fireface 400. Finally he prefered the RME Fireface and ditched his complete digital setup exept the netbook wich was : Netbook > Hiface>Bigben Wordclock>Valab Premium and replaced it with just the RME Fireface wich sounded superior. Mind you, the differences, pro´s and con´s between the units were reportet back by other user aswell and he demonstrated at other targets that i can fully trust him.


He tried the Emu 404 too and as he plugged it in he pugged it out because it wasn´t even near to compete with the Beresford Caiman and immediately lost interest in it. The Terratec DMX Fire wich he tried aswell was clearly superior to the Emu. He stated that the soundstage with Emu was congested, and only reveiled a slight detail increase compared to the onboard sound of his netbook !


So i´m wondering why you couldn´t report a clear difference between your Emu and the other gear, i mean between the Emu and the Lavry there should be a night and day difference. What i noticed is that most of the people with so called laid back sounding / sounded speakers are the ones with difficulties to hear differences in digital. I never heard the Viennas but from what i can get from it´s reviews it´s a sort of laid bacck sounding, perhaps youre system synergy of speaker placement,room accoustics paired with the speaker itself don´t allow to hear where the DAC´s really kick in. If you´re damned to compromise optimal speaker placement it´s very hard to tell the differences of soundstage and imaging at all.


post #12 of 167

I am just starting to get various gear and recently I got the Sennheiser HD650.  The setup I had was my laptop -> amp(using 3.5mm to rca cable) -> cans.  I really wanted to like these headphones, but I wasn't impressed.  Then I was advised by some members to get a simple dac at least.  So I got the nice inexpensive uDac.  The difference has been pretty big.  I could immediately notice a big improvement.  Everything tightened up and I really feel these cans are unlistenable without a good dac of some sort.  Now I don't know if I will hear a difference between the uDac and a better/more expensive dac.  But I will know in time as I collect more gear.

post #13 of 167
Thread Starter 


Again thanx for reply guys


Well I guess I'm pretty special . Of course it's easier to hear small differences in gear using cans but I want to audition the DAC on the system where it's going to "live"


As I know the sound of my EMU 0404 pci in and out, any new gear in the chain will stand out. I listen for long periods at the time. For instance 1 hours EMU and then 1 hours Lavry and so forth.


When I initially bought my EMU 0404 pci I also auditioned EMU 0404 USB which I found bright, thin and unbearable. The 0404 pci sounds much better, much more musical.


Recently I needed a new soundcard for my pc, here using, Grado sr60 cans. Bought a Xonar Essence STX and a Xonar DX. Kept the DX. The Essence just bored me with its massive detailed bright sound.

The DX sounded much more balanced and musical


To confuse you guys even more. When I bought my SR60 cans I also auditioned SR80, Sr125 and I liked the SR60 the best. Found the others too bright.


It's not that I can't hear the difference between the DAC's. By now I think I could guess them blind if a person switched between them. The differences in sound is just so small that I really can't justify throwing much money at them. 


Next Thursday I will be receiving a NAIM dac for audition. Looking forward to see what it can do


If nothing else. this thread will end up being a massive praise to the EMU 0404 pci which I already love even more since it (in my sonic perception) fairs so well against midrange DAC's 

post #14 of 167

How about add Perfect Wave to your comparison? 

post #15 of 167
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by jc9394 View Post

How about add Perfect Wave to your comparison? 

Sure I would like to but it unfortunately isn't within my physical reach :)

Edited by nightrhyme - 5/27/10 at 1:24pm
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