I’m dubious such a broad group of audio products can differ in sonics as vastly portrayed. Their functionality should be aligned with a common goal, preserve the original signal. To digress from this principle from the very Genesis of the signals passage would surely end in no mans land, without a hope in hell of resurrecting the authentic event. A designer who does not follow this theory is doing him/herself a great disservice, so I ask the question what intention or purpose does an abbreviation or adaption of the signal gain? Is it compensation for possible floors in the design and manufacturing?
I conclude the commentary thus far concerning the sonic qualities of various DACs should be taken heavily with a grain of salt.
If it were as simple as that I think you'd be right to be dubious. But the signal itself is actually being translated to another language, as it were. It contains not only information about amplitude, but also about timing. I don't get what makes it difficult for you to understand that a device that translates one signal into another language cannot differ from another device which uses different components and construction to accomplish that same translation? Though the goal may be similar, the designer may implement different means to accomplish that goal dictated by budgetary concerns, and or design priorities. You might voice the same doubt you do here about turntables - given the goal is to preserve the original signal why, you might ask, does one sound different from another? I can assure you they do sound different, just as DAC's do, and just as CD players do (just a transport and a DAC in the same chassis sharing the same power supply). Whether it's interpreting zeroes and ones, or electromechanical signals from a stylus being vibrated within a record groove - both are translations of data from on language to another.
Edited by jax - 7/7/10 at 8:11pm