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Dedicated DAC Newbie Question

post #1 of 25
Thread Starter 

Hi,

 

I appreciate and understand the basis for the superiority of a dedicated, purpose-built DAC vs. that generally found in laptops, DAPs, phones, etc.  However, I'm unclear as to the real value in adding a nice (dedicated) external DAC to something like a DAP or iPhone/iPod.  Once the signal leaves the player, isn't it too late for the external DAC to make much difference before passing it onto the amp?

 

I'm talking about running an iPhone5, iPod 5.5, iRiver H340, Windows PC and/or MacBook as the source (primarily VBR MP3 files) to a dedicated headphone amp (MAD Ear+ HD) and then to a pair of Grado RS-1i's.  There seems to be an implication that a good external DAC can "fix" the sound produced by the typically inferior internal DACs of most DAPs, basic CD players, etc.  Is this really the case?  I'm especially interested in this as it concerns portable DAPs like iPhone/iPod, iRiver H340...because, I've also considered purchasing another DAP in this market (i.e., iPod Classic 7th gen 160GB, iBasso DX50...).

 

Just trying to understand how much emphasis can be reasonably placed on the value of a good external DAC when placing it between the player and the headphone amp.

 

Any thoughts/opinions would be greatly appreciated!

 

Rob

post #2 of 25

Just buy a FiiO X3 or iBasso DX50

One device to rule them all (and in the darkness bind them).

 

So just get one device that can be used as a DAP or can be plug into a computer.

Sell off your iPod and keep the iPhone in your pocket unless you need to talk to someone.

post #3 of 25
Thread Starter 

...from the X3 or DX50 straight into my MAD Ear+ HD?

 

1.. Do you really think either of those DAPs would sound appreciably better than my old iRiver H340 (Rockbox'd)?

2.. Would there be no additional value in inserting a good dedicated DAC between any one of these and my headphone amp?

 

I'm trying to understand the potential effect/improvement to be had from adding a dedicated, external DAC to a device that already has one (good or bad) built in...

 

Thanks,

Rob

post #4 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by PurpleAngel View Post
 

Just buy a FiiO X3 or iBasso DX50

One device to rule them all (and in the darkness bind them).

 

So just get one device that can be used as a DAP or can be plug into a computer.

Sell off your iPod and keep the iPhone in your pocket unless you need to talk to someone.

mmm... i dunno. those players seem to run $200+ and you can get a pretty decent portable dac sub-$200 ($100-200).

 

depends what you're looking for I guess.


Edited by money4me247 - 12/22/13 at 1:20pm
post #5 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by money4me247 View Post
 

mmm... i dunno. those players seem to run $200+ and you can get a pretty decent portable dac sub-$200.

 

depends what you're looking for I guess.

Chances are the FiiO X3 and iBasso DX50 come with a better DAC chip and better headphone amplifier then the iPhone and iPod.

I doubt you will find a ($200) external portable DAC that has a better DAC chip then the X3 or DX50.

post #6 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by PurpleAngel View Post
 

Chances are the FiiO X3 and iBasso DX50 come with a better DAC chip and better headphone amplifier then the iPhone and iPod.

I doubt you will find a ($200) external portable DAC that has a better DAC chip then the X3 or DX50.

challenge accepted!

 

$200 FiiO X3 & iBasso DX50 use a Wolfson WM8740 dac chip... the sam dac chip used in the $89 FiiO E07k dac/amp.

 

damnn... that was too easy.

post #7 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by money4me247 View Post
 

challenge accepted!

 

$200 FiiO X3 & iBasso DX50 use a Wolfson WM8740 dac chip... the sam dac chip used in the $89 FiiO E07k dac/amp.

 

damnn... that was too easy.

You still have not found an external portable DAC that comes with a "better" DAC chip then the X3 & DX50

post #8 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by PurpleAngel View Post
 

You still have not found an external portable DAC that comes with a "better" DAC chip then the X3 & DX50

...errr... lol? gettin insecure now throwing out nittygritties eh? ;)

 

if you can find the exact same DAC chip in a portable external dac/amp for less than 50% of the price, it's pretty obvious you can find a portable external dac/amp with a better dac chip at a better price.

 

considering the wide variety of dac companies & the weird naming conventions of dacs, i think it's hard to say a certain dac chip is necessarily better without doing comparison tests with the equipment, so logically finding the same dac at a much cheaper price is the easiest way to disprove your claim. :D 

 

buying a high quality mp3 player with a ssd/hardrive & dac/amp will always be more expensive than buying just the dac/amp lol. simple logic.

 

edit: to answer your question, you just need to look for a dac/amp that sounds better than the Fiios E07k or the E17 that is sub-$200.

list of sub-$200 portable dacs (Click to show)
Edited by money4me247 - 12/23/13 at 11:34pm
post #9 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by money4me247 View Post
 

...errr... lol? gettin insecure now throwing out nittygritties eh? ;)

 

if you can find the exact same DAC chip in a portable external dac/amp for less than 50% of the price, it's pretty obvious you can find a portable external dac/amp with a better dac chip at a better price.

 

considering the wide variety of dac companies & the weird naming conventions of dacs, i think it's hard to say a certain dac chip is necessarily better without doing comparison tests with the equipment, so logically finding the same dac at a much cheaper price is the easiest way to disprove your claim. :D 

 

buying a high quality mp3 player with a ssd/hardrive & dac/amp will always be more expensive than buying just the dac/amp lol. simple logic.

 

edit: to answer your question, you just need to look for a dac/amp that sounds better than the Fiios E07k or the E17 that is sub-$200.

The Astell & Kern AK100 is $600 and uses the WM8740 DAC chip, does that fit you simple logic? (does it Spock).

 

You claimed you answered my question, but really have not.

I did not ask what sounds better or matches, I said "betters" the DAC chip

If it is so "obvious" and "easy", list the $200 portable DAC that has better DAC chip then the X3 & DX50?


Edited by PurpleAngel - 12/22/13 at 3:23pm
post #10 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by money4me247 View Post
 


Hifimediy usb dac ($35-60: ES9023 sabre) -> same dac as in resonessence labs concero & peachtree audio DAC•iT
 

CONCLUSION: after all that digging & researching, my conclusion is that dac chips are probably dirt cheap and most dacs on the market are probably severely overpriced. I've also learned that the DAC chips in many really really expensive high-end models are the same as DAC chips in entry level dacs. I would hope to god implementation or something else is at play here, but even so... I am kinda starting to get the feeling that the whole dac/amp market is probably just a scam to part audiophiles from their money as it seems to me that making a high-quality amp/dac is significantly cheaper than you would imagine, esp since as purpleangel pointed out can bundle a decent dac/amp in a $200 mp3 player.

 

 

I own both the Concero and the Hifimediy USB DAC, and the Concero is most certainly a class above the hifimediy. The Hifimediy sounds reasonable for the money, but is quite thin-sounding and etched in the top end. When it comes to DAC chips, implementation is king. If you were to compare the Concero and Hifimediy back-to-back, you wouldn't think that they are the same DAC chip at all.

 

In this particular instance, the old adage holds true - you get what you pay for.

post #11 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by PurpleAngel View Post
 

There, you finally listed a better DAC chip.

lol... that's totally a subjective opinion. I've heard great things about the PCM5102A chip as it is the choice DAC used in the $1,000 W7 lol.

 

Considering how both the same & better DAC chips can be easily found sub-$70... I am wondering why you were so curious about portable dac sub-$200, as there appears to be great variety to choose from.

 

sidenote: from my brief research, I would imagine that DAPs (such as the X3, DX50, AK100) are a serious dying niche product. regular consumers would be horrified to spend the equivalent of a smartphone or tablet for just a music player, while serious audiophiles can find much better portable dac/amp equipment standalone than bundled w/ a DAP. I guess the only issue would be playing loseless files, but there are many cheap tablets that support FLAC & work-arounds for smartphones. The real only application of such a device is a true audiophile (without a smartphone) hell-bent on a tiny on-the-go device w/ loseless files (tho I doubt you could hear the difference against 320 kbps w/ mid-fi portable, closed headphones or in-ears) who cannot be bothered to have an external dac/amp. I wonder how many loseless files you can fit in 8gb of the X7/DX50. From what I remember it's about 2-5gb per CD of 12-14 songs...

 

mmm... sounds like a cheap CD player would work better than a DAP at this point until the DAP manufacturers get their act together & offer larger on-board space. hahah. I can't believe you seriously recommended sucha terrible product for someone who already has x2 mp3 players + smartphone + amp. personal opinion of course lol :tongue:

post #12 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by petemac110 View Post

 

I own both the Concero and the Hifimediy USB DAC, and the Concero is most certainly a class above the hifimediy. The Hifimediy sounds reasonable for the money, but is quite thin-sounding and etched in the top end. When it comes to DAC chips, implementation is king. If you were to compare the Concero and Hifimediy back-to-back, you wouldn't think that they are the same DAC chip at all.

 

In this particular instance, the old adage holds true - you get what you pay for.

mmm... I do wonder about that... in a BLIND back-to-back test, would there really be that big of a difference?

 

I actually found an extremely interesting article where the $200 Behringer A500 was blind tested against the $400 Alesis RA300... The results were interesting & it certainly makes you question if you actually are getting what you pay for.

post #13 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by money4me247 View Post
 

mmm... I do wonder about that... in a BLIND back-to-back test, would there really be that big of a difference?

 

I actually found an extremely interesting article where the $200 Behringer A500 was blind tested against the $400 Alesis RA300... The results were interesting & it certainly makes you question if you actually are getting what you pay for.

 

IMHO yes, the difference is clearly discernable in back-to-back listening comparisons. I have no interest in blind testing though.

 

The hifimediy isn't the best ES9023 implementation in standard form (I have owned both the USB version and the larger mains-powered version). Both require modification to address a few design anomalies (Thorsten Loesch formulated a few mods for the mains version) and even then, It's still short of the Concero. The Concero is one of the best ES9023 implentations that I've heard, and I've heard a few! :)

 

Let me put it this way... to my ears the hifimediy USB DAC sounds similar to the onboard Squeezebox Touch DAC, but with slightly less refinement in the top end. I won't use it in my main rig, as I may as well simply use the onboard Touch DAC. However, I have happily added the Concero to my main rig in place of my gone, but not forgotten, modded audio-gd DAC3SE. IMHO it is a very good DAC in its own right. If you were able to listen to both the Concero and hifimediy on your own system, I'd be extremely surprised if you didn't arrive at the same outcome. But, as always, each to their own.

 

Is the difference worth the extra coin? Only you could determine that. For me, the sound quality is definitely worth it.

post #14 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by money4me247 View Post
 

lol... that's totally a subjective opinion. I've heard great things about the PCM5102A chip as it is the choice DAC used in the $1,000 W7 lol.

 

Considering how both the same & better DAC chips can be easily found sub-$70... I am wondering why you were so curious about portable dac sub-$200, as there appears to be great variety to choose from.

I had zero curiosity about "portable external DAC sub-$200", I was just try to modivate the guy into getting a dedicated DAP to play music files from. instead of trying to daisy chain a "portable DAC" or I guess a portable DAC/amp to his iPod or iPhone.

I know i find it  just to use a dedicated DAP and leave my smartphone in my pocket.

post #15 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by TubeHead View Post
 

Once the signal leaves the player, isn't it too late for the external DAC to make much difference before passing it onto the amp?

 

The issue is one of noise. The signal leaving the player is a digital one - they're resistant to noise. Once that digital signal's converted into analogue form, it needs to be protected from noise coz that'll hurt your ears if it gets amplified. The inside of any player is a digital hot-house of noise (its a computer running in 100's of MHz or more) - any DAC chip's output produced in there stands little chance of escaping unpolluted. An external DAC by comparison is a relatively quiet piece of kit (less so when the chip's got a fast clock though).

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