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Do all DAC's sound the same?

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 
Hi. I hope that is OK to post this in here.
It should maybe go in Portable Source but I would like an answer to my question based on fact not anecdote.
I recently upgraded to an iPhone 5s and I do not like "something" in the top end.
I have tried HO. Through an amp and through an Apple adaptor.
I think that this means that I have taken the internal amp out of the equation and used both the internal and external (in the adaptor) DAC.
Although there are small differences between each configuration nothing seems to me to alter the basic sound signature of the device. What is it in the phone that would remain the same in all scenarios?
Am I right to be sceptical that an external DAC would result on a substantially different sound?
Many thanks for reading and any info.
post #2 of 14

Not all DACs sound the same, but many do (check some previously posted ABX threads to get an idea, there is even one in my signature), and between reasonably recent and competently made ones the difference should be minor at worst. So, to answer the question in short, there are better things to spend your money on than an external DAC for the iPhone if you really want a substantial improvement.

post #3 of 14
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the reply.I suspected that the DAC was not the issue. I'm still baffled as to where the problem lies.
post #4 of 14

DACs that are designed to perform to Redbook spec all sound the same. If something is funky, always suspect the recording itself, the encoding/dithering of the file, or the transducers. Those are almost always the problem.

post #5 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by krismusic View Post
Am I right to be sceptical that an external DAC would result on a substantially different sound?
 

 

Yes you are absolutely right.  An external DAC will not substantially change the way your digital files sound over one built into a device, provided the internal DAC is of reasonable quality and has been implemented well in the design of the product.

 

Typically improvements that are realized by adding an external DAC are quite subtle and are manifested in things like texture, detail and possibly soundstage (the ability to simulate the room acoustics of the recorded material).  Frequency response should be unaffected.

 

However having said that: It's these subtle changes that are a core part the quest for quality audio reproduction. 

post #6 of 14

I think those differences are placebo.

post #7 of 14

You may be right.  And me not being someone that listens to music, trying with all my might to concentrate on every detail, picking apart the sound and stressing over whether or not I'm enjoying my music as much as I could be if I spent $xxxx more money, I don't worry about whether or not they are placebo.  I only mentioned it to explain why one might want to look at spending money on a DAC upgrade.  I don't personally have experience comparing DAC's, so what opinions I do have on the subject come largely from this community in threads like this.  I take a lot of what I read with a good bit of skepticism, but there are forum members that I place a fair bit of stock in the opinions of.

 

I think that differences in the sound of DAC A vs. DAC B if audible at all (and I do believe some folks hear "better" than others), are probably only apparent with an extremely resolving amplifier and  headphone/speaker (like a KGSSHV/SR-009 for instance).  So until I hit the lottery or marry a rich woman  I need never worry about it LOL.

post #8 of 14
Thread Starter 
I don't think its a case of obsessing over detail. It's more that whenever I try to relax and listen to music on the 5S I can't shake the nagging sense that something is wrong.
I'm not sure if there is a bit of grain in the top end?
With the 4S, although it is less clear and detailed it is nicer to listen to.
I have tried hard to like the 5S. Having just got myself a 64Gb it's a bit of a blow to have to revert to the 4S for listening to music.
I'm also very interested to know. If all DAC's and amps sound fairly similar what is creating the marked difference in sound between the 4S and the 5S?
post #9 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by krismusic View Post

I don't think its a case of obsessing over detail. It's more that whenever I try to relax and listen to music on the 5S I can't shake the nagging sense that something is wrong.
I'm not sure if there is a bit of grain in the top end?
With the 4S, although it is less clear and detailed it is nicer to listen to.
I have tried hard to like the 5S. Having just got myself a 64Gb it's a bit of a blow to have to revert to the 4S for listening to music.
I'm also very interested to know. If all DAC's and amps sound fairly similar what is creating the marked difference in sound between the 4S and the 5S?


Odd that you would be having trouble. I was looking recently at the top rated phones for music and the iphone and galaxy were the two top rated.

post #10 of 14
Thread Starter 

I had the 4S for 18 months and always considered it a very nice source. Not so the 5S although as I say it is very clear and clean with excellent separation.Maybe I will persevere with it but I had no issue with the 4S from the get go.

post #11 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by krismusic View Post

I don't think its a case of obsessing over detail. It's more that whenever I try to relax and listen to music on the 5S I can't shake the nagging sense that something is wrong.
I'm not sure if there is a bit of grain in the top end?
With the 4S, although it is less clear and detailed it is nicer to listen to.
I have tried hard to like the 5S. Having just got myself a 64Gb it's a bit of a blow to have to revert to the 4S for listening to music.
I'm also very interested to know. If all DAC's and amps sound fairly similar what is creating the marked difference in sound between the 4S and the 5S?

 

Can't say much about DAC's but as for amps I can share my experience.

 

I was thinking for quite a long time that it's nonsense buying something like 500$+ amp etc. And half a year later I got Schiit Lyr with lot's of of tubes :D There is huge difference with some headphones when you use proper amp.

 

For example HD650, hated these for 2 months "using/testing" them from PC and iPhone, than I tried FiiO E11... louder but still terrible sound. Next I got Schiit Magni and I when I put them on my head I had to check if I'am using still same pair of headphones. Change was huge nothing subtle, since that point I love HD650. At the end I got Lyr and some nice tubes which improved them even little more (but I could live with just Magni if I didn't have extra money).

 

So my conclusion : proper amp can make night and day difference.

post #12 of 14

Tube amps may be "different", but I wouldn't call them "proper". You can hobble a solid state amp to make it sound exactly the same.

post #13 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by bigshot View Post
 

Tube amps may be "different", but I wouldn't call them "proper". You can hobble a solid state amp to make it sound exactly the same.

 

Yea, I ment it in general. Magni is solid state and sounded awesome too. ;)

post #14 of 14

If we look at basic but important measurements of "proper" affordable DACs:

 

Frequency response:

usually flat with maybe a slight roll-off at 20 kHz (up to roughly 0.5 dB) at 44.1 kHz sampling rate, so no problems here

If you feel the need to resample to a higher rate like 88.2 or 96 kHz you can easily achieve a flat frequency response up to about 21.5 kHz.

 

ENOB - effective number of bits based on signal to noise and distortion ratio):

above 16 bits to maybe up to about 20, so more than enough dynamic range (low noise floor) and distortion free conversion even for extremely dynamic CDs

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