Glad you mentioned girlfriends Gary, because (hopefully) the best girlfriend for me isn't the best for you, and vice versa. Works a lot better when we don't have everyone chasing the same girl/boy.
Head-fi gear is probably a lot like this. There simply isn't an 'ultimate' DAC, amp, headphone etc. In fact we know there isn't. Some people swear by the LCD3, others the HD800 for instance.
On another matter, I'm interested in the statement 'all have the same detail'. Broadly speaking, I found this was true in my 3-dac review.
However, being conscious of how memory works (as currently understood), an issue I debated and didn't resolve during that review was that once you hear a detail in a track and know it's there, your brain tends to reproduce it on subsequent occasions. Once our brain has learned something, it constantly adjusts its inputs to be consistent with what we now know.
For example, I would listen to one track with one dac, then notice something new with the next dac. Fascinated, I would switch back to the first dac. Oh, I hear it there too now...
Or did I just miss it the first time through? Because another factor with our brains is 'the focus of attention'. When there's a lot of information coming in, we tend to use selective attention. Problem is this can change moment by moment - the same track on the same gear doesn't necessarily sound the same on a repeat listening.
Getting back to these two dacs, another possibility is both contain the same resolution of detail, but the presention is different. In the example above, the second dac presented a particular detail more 'forwardly' so that I noticed it (in perception terms, it crossed the threshold to reach conscious attention). Of course it's present in the first dac too, but - what? - a few percent less forward? So naturally, once I've learned it's there, I hear it every time in both dacs. And by now, probably in any other properly-functioning dac I ever listen to in future.
This does all come back to problems Gary, I and others discussed earlier in this thread about what kind of methodology would 'work' for this shoot-out. On one hand, it's an advantage to use a "within-subjects" design such as here, where the 'measuring instrument' (Gary) is the same one for all 'conditions' (dacs). OTOH, learning is a well-recognised issue with this design. The alternative "between-subjects" design (different subjects are the measuring instruments) is approximated when different owners of different dacs compare notes, such as we often do on head-fi and have done here too in recent pages. Of course there are many missing controls from these casual comparisons. Their usefulness is limited though I personally think they have some positive value.
I do believe we have to think about problems and limitations of the present work - if any - and at the same time acknowledge Gary (and Barry too) for having done a fine job with the process. Gary, I sense you need a good rest mate but be assured it has definitely been in a good cause. It stands alongside other careful dac comparisons as a serious piece of work that - along with these others - enhances our knowledge and understanding of dacs and their differences, or lack of them.
And as has already been pointed out, it provides a great basis for the next comparison...
Great post, spot on.
I can only add that auditory memory for "subtle" differences is extremely short, 2 seconds (check the link). So listening the whole track with one DAC and then with another will not let you peek these minute details. I remember driving myself nuts trying to find note worthy differences between USB/SPDIF converters, one minute it's here and on the next listen it's gone.