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DAC's. When is good enough, good enough? - Page 2

post #16 of 158
Thread Starter 

How much of "sound signature" can be just a matter of EQ'g to taste?

 

???

 

I find myself to be more a neutral sound kinda personality and then I EQ a musical piece to taste like spices, cooking and the final shake of salt and pepper at the dinner table.

 

???

post #17 of 158

No way in the world you can ' spice up' a Havana to give a forward projecting, agressive sound, just like you can usually not spice up food to taste like something completely different.

The tonality of the R2R DACs I mentioned (the havana and the RE5) was superior to that of the delta sigma Meier and Rega, the latter two however have a soundstage with more depth.

Neither depth nor tonality can be added by EQ-ing I think. Nor can you really add dynamics or detail (not the same as turning up midtreble).

Talking more about sound quality this time, the superior balanced ampstage of the Audio-GD give a much better soundquality to my ears then any of the other sources I tried in my system. 


Edited by dura - 9/14/10 at 7:15am
post #18 of 158
Quote:
Originally Posted by dura View Post

No way in the world you can ' spice up' a Havana to give a forward projecting, agressive sound, just like you can usually not spice up food to taste like something completely different.


You got that right, which is why I still have a host of tubes for the Havana I had.  Rolling tubes won't do it....

 

As for the food, well Curry can change the taste of anything to Curry.  And if you never had it, Kimchi can also overpower the taste of any food in your mouth to tastes like Kimchi....but I get your drift...

post #19 of 158
Thread Starter 

dura wrote:

 

Neither depth nor tonality can be added by EQ-ing I think. Nor can you really add dynamics or detail (not the same as turning up midtreble).

 

Don't misunderstand as I'm not saying that about EQ'g as for me, EQ'g is like spice at the dinner table, tweaking the final product to personal taste.  What you write about in your above, I associate with choice of cables, headphones and amplifiers as opposed to associating your above with a DAC.

 

???

 

And at what point do you run into diminishing returns regarding a DAC?

 

To me, the DAC is just that, a digital-to-analogue converter taking zeros and ones and converting them to a wave form.  When does the conversion process leave off and there's no more benefit to be gained?

 

???

 

???


Edited by beeman458 - 9/14/10 at 7:44am
post #20 of 158

Good points, but keep in mind a DAC also has an amp stage. could be a discrete class A tubed or tranny, or opamps. I suspect this has a much influence on the sound as the DA-conversion technique. 

post #21 of 158
Thread Starter 

Good points,...

 

Thanks.

 

...but keep in mind a DAC also has an amp stage. could be a discrete class A tubed or tranny, or opamps. I suspect this has a much influence on the sound as the DA-conversion technique.

 

This, to me, sounds like coloration and isn't that what we do with an EQ; push/reduce bass, mids or highs (warm or cool the sound) to balance the sound to our personal tastes or liking?

 

???

 

Myself?  I'm looking at issues such as sound stage, clipping in the case of highs, opening the sound of piano chords and individual strings up and the tightening of bass.  These are the things I look for in cables, headphones and amps.  When it came to amps, I always bought the best I could afford and gave it no more thought then could I afford this new transport with DAC included.

 

What I'm trying to find out in my question is, in general, at what point does the law of diminishing returns kick in, in the case of separate DAC's?  When is good enough, good enough and from that point, are you jumping into the world of esoteric?  A world I definitely can't afford to play in.

 

???


Edited by beeman458 - 9/14/10 at 9:10am
post #22 of 158

I have two DAC's, a $450 Nuforce HDP and a $1000 WYRED DAC1.

 

Is the DAC1 better?  Yes.  More extended, more detail.   But it is NOT 'night and day'.   It's a little better for twice the money.

 

I'm thinking the new Musical Fidelity MDAC1 or the new $500 Arcam might be a good place for new DAC buyers to stop.

 

 

 

post #23 of 158

I'm not going to answer your question about point of diminishing returns in regards to DACs. However, I will say this having used the STX as a DAC/amp myself in the past: your STX is not good enough, IMO.

 

The performance of a DAC is based on three main things: the power supply, the DAC chip, and the output stage.

 

While the DAC chip itself is important, don't obsess over it. A great DAC chip with a poor power supply will sound worse than a mediocre DAC chip with a good power supply. Pretty much any modern DAC chip will sound good if the power supply and output stage are well built, although some prefer older R2R DAC chips, such as the PCM1704. The problem with these older R2R DAC chips is that they are no longer manufactured (scarce), expensive (due to scarcity), and are usually limited to frequencies of 96kHz and below. The latter is only a disadvantage if you care about playing really high frequency music files and/or future-proofing.

 

Having said that, I think it's obvious where the STX falls short: the power supply. The STX gets its power from the computer's PSU, which itself can be fairly noisy, especially considering the change in power loads that occur due to changing computer conditions (loads on the CPU, hard drives, video cards, etc). The STX also exhibits problems from two other sources. First, it is nearby many other electrically-noisy computer components. The metal shield on the card may help some, but it won't shield it from everything. Secondly, there is no simple output stage (i.e. a line out connector) in the STX. Everything goes through the regular headphone amplifier stage. In other words, if you run the signal from the STX to another headphone amp, you are essentially double-amping the signal, which is a big no-no. It might sound OK in some circumstances, but you will probably run into problems doing this sooner or later. For example, when I tried running the STX's outputs to an integrated speaker amp, I would get tons of noise unless I turned down the STX's internal volume, which made the overall volume too low.

 

Many people have tried modding the STX (different opamp chips, external power supplies, etc), but I just don't think you will achieve the same results as a decent external DAC.

 

When I upgraded from the STX to my current DAC, a Channel Islands VDA-2, I noticed a big difference. The noise floor was lower, and I heard more details in the high and low frequencies, where the STX seemed to just roll-off. The mid frequencies sounded about the same. The sound stage also became a bit larger.

 

Am I satisfied with my current DAC? Yes, but I would like to upgrade sometime in the future to a higher-end DAC. I am currently stuck between purchasing one of the Audio-GD higher end DACs (Ref-7 or NFB-7) or building a Buffalo II DAC using the Twisted Pear Audio's kits.

 

Short version: I highly recommend you invest in a decent mid-range external DAC (around $500). You will notice a definite difference between that and your STX, IMO. Whether or not you decide to get a high end DAC after that is up to your ears.

post #24 of 158

Answer to thread title: When your wallet says so.

post #25 of 158
Thread Starter 

Jodet, cronomitch and A. Thorsen, a big thanks.  Gave me insight and research suggestions.

 

Jodet, I'm taking your suggestion of a $500.00 DAC into serious consideration as making too big of a jump may not be the right thing to do as I'd be better served taking smaller steps up in sound quality as opposed to trying to do it all at one time.  I've been giving Audio-gd serious consideration but I don't do PayPal and this point makes it really hard to do business with Audio-gd.

 

cronomitch, FWIW, I did do my part to clean up the computer power supply with a power supply upgrade to a higher end, modular power supply.  As you suggested it opened up the sound stage and helped with the highs.  But yes, I'd like more work done on the highs.  I'm holding out high hopes for the incoming Burson HA-160 headphone amp in tightening up the bass and bringing the bass forward a bit more when listening at low levels.  I listen at very low levels; 4/100 to 7/100.

 

Secondly, there is no simple output stage (i.e. a line out connector) in the STX. Everything goes through the regular headphone amplifier stage. In other words, if you run the signal from the STX to another headphone amp, you are essentially double-amping the signal, which is a big no-no. It might sound OK in some circumstances, but you will probably run into problems doing this sooner or later. For example, when I tried running the STX's outputs to an integrated speaker amp, I would get tons of noise unless I turned down the STX's internal volume, which made the overall volume too low.

 

Well, that pretty much blows.

 

A. Thorsen, my wallet says that $1,500.00 is my max and if I don't spend that amount, I'm good also.  I was hoping to get a NuForce OPPO BDP-83SE for it's combination media value.  That, in of itself would make my wallet, very happy.

 

I'm going carefully comb all your posts (Google,) see what I learn and where doing so takes me on this learning sojourn.

 


Edited by beeman458 - 9/14/10 at 2:13pm
post #26 of 158

A little footnote about that STX: It's using the same nifty Burr Brown 1792-As that expensive pro/audiophile gear like the brand new Antelope Audio Zodiacs are using.  Look at the price on those.

 

IMO, that STX has nice write ups, that's nice hardware... I'm not seeing a big need there myself.

 

Of course then again, it's not all about just the DAC chip.

 

I think chronomitch probably nailed it.


Edited by A.Thorsen - 9/14/10 at 2:02pm
post #27 of 158

From what I gather there's a lot more than meets the eye than just the DAC chip itself, even the top DAC chips are relatively pretty inexpensive as chips themselves IIRC.  The power supply and analog stage seem to be big factors in this.

 

Or you can take my logic and say "the bigger the better".


Edited by Mr.Sneis - 9/14/10 at 2:35pm
post #28 of 158
Thread Starter 

Jodet wrote:

 

I have two DAC's, a $450 Nuforce HDP and a $1000 WYRED DAC1.

 

Is the DAC1 better?  Yes.  More extended, more detail.   But it is NOT 'night and day'.   It's a little better for twice the money.

 

Jodet, the WYRED DAC1 sounds like it's a very nice unit and seems to hit the middle ground smartly.

 

A. Thorsen wrote:

 

IMO, that STX has nice write ups, that's nice hardware... I'm not seeing a big need there myself.

 

Of course then again, it's not all about just the DAC chip.

 

I think chronomitch probably nailed it.

 

It's beginning to sound like Abbot and Costello and "Who's On First?"

 

post #29 of 158

I take issue with a few points that have been presented.
 

Quote:

Originally Posted by chronomitch View Post

 

Having said that, I think it's obvious where the STX falls short: the power supply. The STX gets its power from the computer's PSU, which itself can be fairly noisy, especially considering the change in power loads that occur due to changing computer conditions (loads on the CPU, hard drives, video cards, etc).

 

The Essence STX does have an onboard voltage regulator and power supply filtering for the analog stage.  Sure it isn't as comprehensive as a large dedicated DAC, but most of the hard work is already done by the computer power supply.  As for having a noisy power source, a decent PSU will have pretty good output regulation and though it may provide power that isn't as clean as what you get in some standalone DAC designs, the additional onboard regulation should give you a fairly good result.

 

 

Quote:

First, it is nearby many other electrically-noisy computer components. The metal shield on the card may help some, but it won't shield it from everything.

 

Having an external DAC may fix that specific problem, but it brings new ones.  Now you have transformer to deal with in the DAC, and whatever else you put the DAC near.  The EMI shield on the Essence STX shouldn't be vastly inferior to the casing on a DAC, so I don't think that should be a huge deal.

 


 

Quote:
Secondly, there is no simple output stage (i.e. a line out connector) in the STX. Everything goes through the regular headphone amplifier stage. In other words, if you run the signal from the STX to another headphone amp, you are essentially double-amping the signal, which is a big no-no.

 

This is incorrect, the RCA jacks are a line out connector.  When connect via the RCA jacks you bypass the onboard headphone amplifier, you cannot run the signal through the headphone amplifier and still get an audio output from the RCA jacks.

 

If you were getting tons of noise using the RCA connectors I would suggest that you were doing something wrong.  I have used the Essence STX with more than one headphone amplifier without any problems, and I expect that your issues were more of implementation instead of actual flaws in the product.

post #30 of 158
Quote:
Originally Posted by beeman458 View Post

Jodet wrote:

 

I have two DAC's, a $450 Nuforce HDP and a $1000 WYRED DAC1.

 

Is the DAC1 better?  Yes.  More extended, more detail.   But it is NOT 'night and day'.   It's a little better for twice the money.

 

Jodet, the WYRED DAC1 sounds like it's a very nice unit and seems to hit the middle ground smartly.

 

A. Thorsen wrote:

 

IMO, that STX has nice write ups, that's nice hardware... I'm not seeing a big need there myself.

 

Of course then again, it's not all about just the DAC chip.

 

I think chronomitch probably nailed it.

 

It's beginning to sound like Abbot and Costello and "Who's On First?"

 



I sympathize. Sorry if I added to the confusion.

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