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Aren't most of the "audible" differences in DACs usually attributed to the filtering required to recreate the analog waveform from the sample data without aliasing and quantization noise? And don't these filters, though designed to eliminate collateral effects on the audible range, still have some minute effect on transients or other subtle characteristics of the output waveform?
Personally I can't hear terribly significant differences, but I can't image such a complex process yields identical results from box to box or chip to chip.
Interesting discussion :)
The best way to find out would be to try some ABX tests. It is possible to create loopback recordings from various DACs and sound cards (recording at 96 kHz so that the effect of the filtering in the ADC, and the DAC used in the ABX test is minimized). The filters can also be simulated in software. You could even experiment with the SoX resampler (from 44.1 kHz to 96 kHz), which has settings for minimum vs. linear phase filtering (group delay at high frequency vs. pre-ringing), the steepness of the roll-off (flatter and more extended frequency response vs. shorter ringing), and whether some imaging above the Nyquist frequency is allowed (if yes, then the ringing is shortened). In practice, with a reasonable choice of parameters, which is not even a very narrow range, the reconstruction of 44.1 kHz PCM audio can be made transparent.
In my opinion, all DAC's have their own color, which they add to your music. I recently upgraded the DAC in my main system, and auditioned four high end DAC's for about two weeks. While initially the differences were subtle, after a week I could easily tell them apart.
The key here is to find one that best fits your overall system and will result in the least amount of listener fatigue (i.e. most neutral to your ear).
Which one is performing out of specifications? Have you figured that out yet?
Are you saying all DAC's sound the same? That would mean that DAC's such as Berkeley and Weiss have no "house sound"? They were two of the DAC's I auditioned and they were certainly different.
Maybe I am misunderstanding your post.
I think they all performed to their specifications. They just sounded different. I liked the Weiss 202 best for my main system. The Rega, on the other hand, sounded flat in that system but sounded great in my headphone system. I ended up buying both and are using each in the system it works well with. I have tried to swap them a few times since and it just does not work.
I agree with the fist half of your comment. I however do not think they intend to perform to the same specs. That is why I said they performed to their specifications. My experience is that each DAC certainly has a "house sound" (i.e. different specs). I am not saying that is right, but in my experience it is true.
Also, please see my response to xnor a few posts back.
Does one of them not produced 20Hz to 20kHz +/- 1 dB or better? Because if it doesn't, I'd junk it. A manufacturer can claim ungodly amounts of distortion is a "house sound" but that doesn't mean it's good or in any way desirable.
Having a deliberately colored source is a mess because then every source you play sounds different. You want all your sources to be audibly transparent, and apply your preferred coloration as the last step. That way all sources benefit from the same coloration.
I read your comment that you pointed me to. One thing... Coloration does not bring about neutrality. A flat frequency response does. Most listening fatigue comes from frequency response imbalances.
The Weiss does have a rather more exaggerated roll-off than most DACs but still only about .1db at 10K so unlikely to be audible other than that neural would be a good word, or exemplary, but could you not have been slightly influenced by the staggering price tag ?
My guess is that your comparisons were neither level controlled or blind. I can easily tell my DACs apart as they all have slightly different output levels, sometimes DACs can be up to 1V different. Which is clearly audibly and almost always the louder is perceived as better. My old Entech was especially loud and I have a cheap streamer that actually makes the digital signal louder, I've recorded it doing this compared to a PC digital out, this causes notable clipping (detectable in DBT) on music that is at or very close to 0db, but neither are a sound as such they are artifacts of (sometimes dubious) design. Once you adjust for level difference (which is not trivial) (he said parenthetically) I've found quite a lot of obvious differences just go away. There are few DACs that have anything other than a razor flat FR curve (excepting Wadia and some esoterica) . Since pretty much all DACs have negligible noise and distortion and excellent channel balances it gets harder to work out where differences in sound are coming from. The sad fact is that this is very often from the grey matter between our ears which is so easy to bias...Well controlled DBTs between DACs very rarely result in audible differences except in pathological cases.
nick_charles, so then my question is this...
In a higher end system (say $30,000 and up) would you expect to get the exact same sound no matter what DAC you use, assuming you level match? For example, would you expect the same sound with a $200 DAC from SHEK compared to a very expensive DAC from say KONDO or LINN?