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A natural sounding DAC. Does it even exist? - Page 2

post #16 of 42

Six months ago I made the same search you are undertaking. I ultimately gave up. I tried a Bryston BDP-1, WireWorld Platinum Starlight AES/EBU, and Violectric V800, among other combos. I got very good sound, I suppose, but it still caused a certain sense of unease and discomfort that is not present with my analogue rigs. 

Mink70, I don't understand how such knowledgeable guys as John Atkinson can't or don't hear what we hear. I can only conclude there is something about how we hear, similar to food sensitivities. Some people are very sensitive to salt or lack thereof, or to use a convenient wine analogy, to volatile acids, TCA, or American oak. 

We shouldn't be too surprised. Digital is not natural. It is inherently artificial. The digital images I see on my TV displays don't look real or film-like, and I am reminded just how artificial those images are each time the picture breaks up, for no particular reason, and becomes a disassembled jumbo of dot matrixes for two or three seconds before being reassembled into an image. 

My advice is to enjoy the search, but be patient and lower your expectations. In the end, no matter how good the analogue set-up and the comparison digital set-up, they will still sound different, with distinct groups of strengths and weaknesses. Digital will have a lower noise floor, more resolution, greater sound staging and imaging, and lower gross-distortion. I made up that term "gross-distortion". And that is the key. "Micro-distortion", distortion caused by a host of problems inherent with digital, some known and some as of yet unknown, including  non-rounded, jagged sound waves-that even the objectivists must acknowledge readily appear on John Atkinson's scopes for all of us to see- is the likely culprit of that sensitivity to digital that you and I share.  

post #17 of 42

Well, I guess my post was absolutely rivetting by all the response!

This will likely be perceived as just so much more dross not worthy of comment.

Let me provide a little more back-story.

Until two years ago, I listened to digital only. My CDP was and remains a Classe CDP.5. FWIW, it still sounds better to my ears than the various DACs I have tried.

Two years ago, I bought a VPI Classic, a Simaudio LP5.3, and a Benz Glider LO.

For the last two years, I have spent 95% of my time listening to vinyl.

I bought a Violectric V200 headphone amp and loved it.

I then bought a Violectric V600 phono pre and it blew me away.

So the vendor of Violectric gear recommended the V800.

I had read somewhere (probably this Board) that one of the weaknesses of a conventional CDP is that only a limited amount of bits gets cache'd into memory from the optical reader and that an advantage of computer audio is the much higher amount of data streaming or available for processing by the DAC (rightly or wrongly I don't profess to know).

Somehow, I had faith that computer audio done right was the key I was missing.

I also read that with computer audio, the power supply of most hard drives and music controllers/interfaces are a weakness if not downright impediment to good sound.

So, the Bryston BDP-1 appealed to me as a perfect solution for all perceived faults as to interfaces and controlling music stored on a hard drive.

The experience of ripping red book and high res files to a portable hard drive and experimenting with the Bryston BDP-1 and the Violectric V800 taught me the following; 1) balanced digital cables do have a huge affect on the SQ; 2) the attributes of the DAC have an even larger affect on the ultimate SQ; 3) the SQ using digital out from the Classe CDP to the DAC was as good or better than using the portable hard drive and the Bryston BDP-1 as the source when comparing red book with red book; and lastly; 4) in the end all well designed DACs sound more or less the same and differ in ways that don't and won't appeal to those that are hooked on vinyl.  

I don't think high res is the answer. To use my video analogy, Blue Ray discs on my cutting edge projector don't look any more real than redbook DVDs did on my seven year old projector-crisper and sharper and more vibrant yes, but no more real.  I don't think small changes in DAC chip evolution and implementation is the answer. The answer will be some techological breakthrough in recording and playing back sound, whether that be digitally or something else that is currenly un-imagined.

post #18 of 42
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by RonaldDumsfeld View Post

 

The point is he said it in the fifties. They didn't have digital then. We are in the teenies and it's a new century. We do have digital. We've been to the moon. We have the Internet. Bit perfect is easy.

 

Consider the wider implications of what you propose. Say you want to make digital backups or portable versions of your favourite LPs. When you play them back through your favourite sounding DAC with analogue sound character you will get double analogue and might not like it. So maybe you get some studio monitor quality loudspeakers or headphones. Then everything you play on your TT will sound digital. What then?

 

You really are best advised to regard a DAC function like a cable, a CD transport or even a decent amplifier. You shouldn't know it is there. Spend your cash on stuff that we still cannot make pure and transparent like speakers, headphones, cartridges and microphones. If you really cannot stand the idea of adding colouration via software then try and find a vintage analogue effects unit.

Yes, bit perfect is easy, but of course that's not the whole story, is it? If all there was to digital was that, why would we need anything beside $30 CD players? Have a look around these forums. There are discussions about sonic differences between computer playback software like Amarra, Fidelia, Pure Music, different transports and DACs, even various USB cables. Some of us may not want to believe that these all sound different, especially components in the so-called digital domain, but they all very demonstrably do. On Audiostream.com, commenting on a recent review of an isolation base meant to be placed under a Macintosh computer that the reviewer claimed improved the sound greatly, Gordon Rankin wrote that every change in the digital domain has a distinct sound, and in most cases we still don't undertand why. I happen to think that we're still babes in the woods when it comes to digital—about as far from "pure and transparent" as we can get. And I object to the digital distortions—the subtle ones that make the music sound plastic and insubstantial—far more than to the more familiar, and perhaps grosser, distortion I hear from analog. I know I'm not alone.

post #19 of 42
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by FSonicSmith View Post

Well, I guess my post was absolutely rivetting by all the response!

This will likely be perceived as just so much more dross not worthy of comment.

Let me provide a little more back-story.

Until two years ago, I listened to digital only. My CDP was and remains a Classe CDP.5. FWIW, it still sounds better to my ears than the various DACs I have tried.

Two years ago, I bought a VPI Classic, a Simaudio LP5.3, and a Benz Glider LO.

For the last two years, I have spent 95% of my time listening to vinyl.

I bought a Violectric V200 headphone amp and loved it.

I then bought a Violectric V600 phono pre and it blew me away.

So the vendor of Violectric gear recommended the V800.

I had read somewhere (probably this Board) that one of the weaknesses of a conventional CDP is that only a limited amount of bits gets cache'd into memory from the optical reader and that an advantage of computer audio is the much higher amount of data streaming or available for processing by the DAC (rightly or wrongly I don't profess to know).

Somehow, I had faith that computer audio done right was the key I was missing.

I also read that with computer audio, the power supply of most hard drives and music controllers/interfaces are a weakness if not downright impediment to good sound.

So, the Bryston BDP-1 appealed to me as a perfect solution for all perceived faults as to interfaces and controlling music stored on a hard drive.

The experience of ripping red book and high res files to a portable hard drive and experimenting with the Bryston BDP-1 and the Violectric V800 taught me the following; 1) balanced digital cables do have a huge affect on the SQ; 2) the attributes of the DAC have an even larger affect on the ultimate SQ; 3) the SQ using digital out from the Classe CDP to the DAC was as good or better than using the portable hard drive and the Bryston BDP-1 as the source when comparing red book with red book; and lastly; 4) in the end all well designed DACs sound more or less the same and differ in ways that don't and won't appeal to those that are hooked on vinyl.  

I don't think high res is the answer. To use my video analogy, Blue Ray discs on my cutting edge projector don't look any more real than redbook DVDs did on my seven year old projector-crisper and sharper and more vibrant yes, but no more real.  I don't think small changes in DAC chip evolution and implementation is the answer. The answer will be some techological breakthrough in recording and playing back sound, whether that be digitally or something else that is currenly un-imagined.

 

Thanks for your comment. I agree completely on all counts. The absence of realism in digital seems to exist on a different plane than things like detail. Most new DACs boast about resolving more detail and being more transparent, but to me, they sound no more realistic. Similarly, high-rez sounds no more realistic to me than redbook. And for me the absence of realism is a far bigger problem than failings in other, more conventional hi-fi virtues, like staging or detail or transparency. It's curious that many listeners ascribe the most realistic or "analog" sound to the oldest, non-oversampling 16-bit-only chips used without digital filters, like the ones used in the stuff from MHDT, db Audio, Halide, Metrum, 47 Lab etc. When it come to digital, I think we have as much resolution as we need, but precious little progress in getting closer to a believable sound. Frankly, listeners who insist that we're just after euphonic colorations are either not sensitive to what we're hearing or just choosing theory over reality. 


Edited by mink70 - 7/30/12 at 10:26am
post #20 of 42

The most organic sounding DAC I've ever heard is the Hegel HD20 - it doesn't sound as "smooth" as vinyl but it sure as hell doesn't sound artificial or digital either, at least not to my ears. I also believe the rega DAC is suppose to be good with this but I've never heard it.

 

I think one of the problems is that the noise on vinyl tricks the brain into thinking that it's real because it's noisy, if it's too clean it must be artificial. I think if you let your brain readjust to the clean-ness of non-vinyl over the course of a week or so you might be surprised - or not...

 

Or you get tubes to add some reverb and coloration to the sound, helps a lot with taking away any harsh digital sound.

 

I'm not saying that you'll be converted - vinyl is state-of-the-art when set up properly. But I don't think a non-vinyl rig has to sound digital and harsh, that's not my experience.

post #21 of 42

I imagine you'ld have a much better time getting an "analog" sound if you look at different speaker/headpone and amp combos instead of dac, speaker/headphone and amp combos. Keep the DAC neutral unadultering as much as possible. The DAC is not the place imo to customize your sound. Not unless you plan to have several DACs and money isn't really much of a concern.

post #22 of 42

I made some enthousiastic comments about how natural the rega DAC sound to my ears here.

post #23 of 42

As with other opinions, I'd like my DAC to sound as neutral as possible. There is definitely one thing that I'd check and that is easy to test in a subjective way (=by ear): the absence of aliasing in the audible range. Check it using test signals such as http://www.audiocheck.net/audiotests_aliasing.php for the regular 44.1 and 48 kHz sample rates, or http://www.audiocheck.net/testtones_highdefinitionaudio.php for the higher sample rates (up to 192 kHz). I heard quite a few DACs producing awful aliasing at higher sample rates...

post #24 of 42

Having tried quite a few DACs,I kept the Eastern Electric MiniMax Plus with a Psvane tube.Im not looking for neutral but for that heavy,liquid and atmospheric sound that literally "hugs" you.

It feels good!
 

post #25 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by silversurfer616 View Post

Having tried quite a few DACs,I kept the Eastern Electric MiniMax Plus with a Psvane tube.Im not looking for neutral but for that heavy,liquid and atmospheric sound that literally "hugs" you.

It feels good!
 


Good Choice!

post #26 of 42

I'm very sensitive to the sound of pianos and violins which I've found with many DACs sound artificial.  The best conventional DAC I own that sounds natural is the Parasound DAC1600HD. It is an older model that uses the long discontinued BB PCM63K chips. Similar older DAC models that use this chip seem to have a natural, yet clear presentation, as do ones that use the PCM1704UK, which is still in production.

 

The Metrum Octave is interesting, as it is a non-oversampling DAC (something which is technically bad) but has, with the transport and ancillaries I use (which cost the same or more than the DAC itself) and high-res files (which overcome the lack of over-sampling) has a similar, natural presentation. I appreciate this very much when listening to Chopin as with many DACs, the music often doesn't feel right.

 

The topic of pro-audio gear is an interesting one though. I have a Metric Halo ULN-2 here too, which sounds very pleasant as well. It's behind in resolution compared to my main DACs. The main problem with it is that it requires programming to even output sound.

 

A good thread worth browsing is the one started by computerparts about vintage DACs. Many can be picked up cheap, though you'll often be limited to CD quality files for the most part with many of them. He ended up getting an Audio Note DAC. Incidentally, the guy I bought the DAC1600HD from replaced it with the Rega DAC.

post #27 of 42

"Neutral" and "natural" describe two distinctly different qualities. 

A component can be neutral but not sound natural. As the OP noted (I believe), even first generation digital was far more neutral than most source components that came before, but failed miserably at "naturalism". 

Digital in fact highights the maddening dichotomy between neutral and natural. 

Let's break this down to the most fundamental level. Our society craves convenience. Smartphones, MP3s, GPS navigation, bluetooth, etc. 

And yet vinyl, with all the attendant complications of record handling (cumbersome covers and sleeves and record flipping), record cleaning, cartridge/tonearm set-up, isolation from footfalls, stylus wear, cartridge expense, clicks/pops, capacitance and loading adjustments, warps, scratches and more-is making a steady, inarguable comeback. 

Yes, some of it is fad (my 18 year old son thinks vinyl is cool because it's cool among his peers to think that vinyl is cool), but essentially all of it involving sales of $500+ tables and cartridges is coming from we audio enthusiasts who have come back to vinyl for all of it's satisfactions. 

 

Back to my previous comment about John Atkinson (obviously, just one person, but IMO a very influential one, if not the most influential one), it occurs to me, answering my own question, that JA is heavily immersed in digital recording technology and is in fact a small, independent, professional recording engineer who has chosen to use digital almost exclusively. So it seems to me that it is no surprise that JA is happy with digital playback in his own system having recorded and mastered his own recordings to suit his taste in the digital domain. 

post #28 of 42

My current best audio interface is a MOTU Ultralite Hybrid. It offers USB 2.0 or Firewire (&  S/PDIF if you insist). I choose it because it has the same functionality & converter chips as the industry standard RME but only costs 2/3 the price.

 

In order to test the transparency when I first got it I looped the output back in and out again via another stereo pair. In fact I did it twice before I ran out of cable. So the signal went PC > Digital > Analogue > Digital > Analogue > Digital > Analogue > Speakers (ADAM monitors).

 

I was amazed to find I couldn't hear a difference between the single convertion, the double convertion or indeed the triple convertion. Well I dunno for absolute 100% certain, maybe if I tried really, really hard and practised a bit I might have been able to do so but it was so difficult and required so much concentration I gave up trying. I thought my hearing must be going so I asked some friends to take the test as well. They couldn't tell either. 

 

Next I played the same track from the CD, from a lossless WAV download and ripped, by myself via the MOTU, from a 12" vinyl. Unsurprisingly no one could differentiate the CD from the download, it might have been bit identical, but everyone identified the rip. What they couldn't do was separate the rip from the original played on the TT. Not universally or reliably anyway. Interestingly most testees preferred the vinyl/ripped version over the Download/CD. Comments suggested it was more 'live' and 'exciting'.

 

Just to check that we were not all deaf (we are mostly old) I then took the digital version and added 1dB or so of EQ in a broad spread around 140Hz, a small lift at the top end and then balanced the output for equal volume by taking out a broad spread around 2,4kHz (i.e what I would expect from hi-fi grade speakers). Everyone noticed this immiediately. Some thought it made the digital sound more like the analogue version but not everyone.

 

So I offer the following conclusions for your consideration.

 

It is now possible to get transparent ADC/DAC for a really quite modest outlay.

 

Analogue sounds different from Digital BUT if you record analogue on a transparent interface it will play back to sound more like (possibly identical to) the original analogue than a commercial digital version of the same track.

 

Most people are creatures of habit and don't like change. If you grew up listening to vinyl on vintage gear chances are you will prefer that sound even if technically you know the digital is 'better'.

people

post #29 of 42

I am the original owner of Spica TC-50s, speakers renowned for their natural sound. I've never wanted to replace them, and instead, have always bought components that would augment their performance. Most recently, I bought a Schiit Bifrost, a DAC that is designed to be natural. I recommend it 100%.

post #30 of 42

Very interesting info! 

 

Currawong and FSonicSmith: I still don't understand "natural." Is it a perception of sound based on one's prior listening habits? For example, if one is used to some type of sound presentation or sound quality that older components exhibit, will that quality come to represent that person's definition of "natural?"

 

Here is another idea: Does one's perception of "natural" correlate with the setting one imagines for the music? For example, do "natural" sounding components aid in creating the illusion of more space or distance from the listener to the sound? If so, is this phenomenon caused by lack of definition? A more specific example: if I am listening to an orchestra in a concert hall, there will be echo, low level audience noise, sound reflections etc. Do these extra non-music sounds correlate to a lack of definition in analog playback and therefore result in increased realism or natural sound? If this is partly the case, then digital might represent an impossible to achieve fidelity that doesn't occur in natural human hearing, only in well placed microphones and recording equipment. 

 

Thanks in advance if you can address some of these questions. 

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