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Dedicated DAC Newbie Question - Page 2

post #16 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?

 

How is that "too late"? If it's a lossless copy on your computer or DAP, if you can stream that lossless copy as it is (and for high-res, no downsampling involved), then it can't be "too late" since you're sending out a digital signal. You'd have to be using the crapiest components/circuits to actually introduce enough degradation or noise into the signal that using a DAP's or laptop's DAC and therefore analog output stage would be preferable over a dedicated, DAC with a redbook-standard 2V output.


Yes, in most cases, it's not really the DAC chip but the analog output stage that makes the difference, especially if you compare a headphone out (if it doesn't have a real line out) to a fixed 2-volts, very low noise, low level (in some cases "high" level means amplified, as in speaker outputs) signal.
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by TubeHead View Post

 

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. 

 

Take note that such devices were designed with compromises and supposedly dedicated DACs have less of these. Conversely, many who stick to pure measurements will claim that this claim is just marketing fluff, but think of it this way - assume whatever device it is has no dedicated redbook-standard line output. A line input has different specs vs a headphone/earphone. Regardless of the specs on the DAC chips themselves, at the very least, a general use portable device running on a battery without a real line out can benefit a lot from a DAC chip that instead feeds a dedicated analog output stage sending out a fixed 2v signal with very little noise.

As for what you mean by "basic CD players," I'm assuming this means something like a ghetto blaster/boombox and not necessarily a dedicated CDP for hi-fi applications. So yeah, a dedicated DAC would be better than that, but a real hi-fi CDP, not necessarily. However, take note that not all CDPs or DACs for hi-fi applications sound the same (although theoretically, they all should) since some manufacturers deliberately color the sound or make compromises - I've tried some CDPs with of course fancier DACs and output stages than the basic, PCM2702 USB DAC built as an afterthought into my headphone amp and a bunch of them suck with headphones. Soundstage can be "larger," but they're all over the place - drum rolls around my head seems "wow!" at first but then you realize it's not realistic when the vocals are just ahead of your forehead (meaning the drums are positioned around the vocalist), or the drums are all in front of the vocals.

Basically, look up feedback but read between the lines. Right now the cheapest DACs (and actually, the most expensive DACs) I'd go for would be the ODAC and the Modi. Any other consideration against them would depend on whether the device I'd use with them would be compatible (I use my smartphone as a USB music server right now), or as I've been planning, a dedicated music server like the Olive 4HD, Cocktail Audio X30, Aune S1, etc. If you listen critically and without distractions like surfing the web (or worrying about your laptop's carbon foot print if you're using that), and can spend the cash on these, I suggest you look into these too.

post #17 of 25
Thread Starter 

So, does putting a good external DAC in front of the iPhone/iPod or any DAP with a questionable internal DAC "improve" the quality of the sound or not?

 

Seems this thread got derailed pretty quickly, so thanks to a couple of you who got it back on track...

 

Even if I play CDs from a dedicated CDP (by "basic CDP," I mean something like the Marantz CD6004) is there any value in sending that through an external DAC before going through my headphone amp?

 

I'm hearing, with any DAP, there's little/no point in adding an external DAC.  I also seem to be hearing that most ("real") CDPs will not likely benefit from an external DAC.

 

What are the use cases for an external DAC?

post #18 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by TubeHead View Post
 

So, does putting a good external DAC in front of the iPhone/iPod or any DAP with a questionable internal DAC "improve" the quality of the sound or not?

 

Seems this thread got derailed pretty quickly, so thanks to a couple of you who got it back on track...

 

Even if I play CDs from a dedicated CDP (by "basic CDP," I mean something like the Marantz CD6004) is there any value in sending that through an external DAC before going through my headphone amp?

 

I'm hearing, with any DAP, there's little/no point in adding an external DAC.  I also seem to be hearing that most ("real") CDPs will not likely benefit from an external DAC.

 

What are the use cases for an external DAC?

 

Using an external DAC rather than the one in your iPod/iPhone I'd expect to improve the sound significantly yes. But you'd need to choose that external DAC carefully to get the most improvement. A lot of external DACs will use the same kinds of chips (CMOS sigma-delta) as those already inside those devices. So a large part of the potential benefit is lost - they'll most likely have superior power supplies though because to make a good power supply you need lots of capacitors - those take up space and space is at a high premium in purely digital products. To hear a significant SQ difference, select an external DAC with a multibit D/A chip. An example would be TDA1543 at the bottom end of the market.

post #19 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by TubeHead View Post
 

So, does putting a good external DAC in front of the iPhone/iPod or any DAP with a questionable internal DAC "improve" the quality of the sound or not?

 

Generally, YES. However, like I posted, most of the benefits for it come from the fact that the external DAC, like a more serious CDP, has a redbook-standard 2v fixed level lineout, not necessarily the DAC chip itself or specific circuit design like using one DAC chip per channel, although of course those also play a part.
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by TubeHead View Post

 

Even if I play CDs from a dedicated CDP (by "basic CDP," I mean something like the Marantz CD6004) is there any value in sending that through an external DAC before going through my headphone amp?

 

 

If you want to change the sound because you don't like the coloration of it, or prefer the coloration of another DAC, then yes it does; otherwise, especially if we're talking of two generally honest-sounding components, not really. If you already have the CD6004, stick with it if your music are in CDs (it has a provision to use a flash drive with it but AFAIK is doesn't do lossless audio through there). If you don't have it yet, I'd suggest you look around first - I got to try the CD5004 with my Meier Cantate, a review unit Burson Soloist, and my HD600, and on either amp and that headphone, the soundstage was a bit weird. Stage was much larger, yes, but placement of the instruments was all over the place. The Cantate's PCM2702 USB DAC was a bit more to scale and believable.

 

Just to illustrate, here's something I used in another thread: Triangle = vocals, rectangles = (electric) guitars, circles = drums; top view, front of head is up.

CD5004

 

Cantate

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by TubeHead View Post
 

 

I'm hearing, with any DAP, there's little/no point in adding an external DAC.  I also seem to be hearing that most ("real") CDPs will not likely benefit from an external DAC.

 

The dedicated DAP and the decent CDPs, unless colored or otherwise made with more compromises (such as the integrated chips on mainstream DAPs that don't do a true line out, and even if the output is clean, is designed for a headphone's impedance range, not the impedance of an amp input), are already designed to sound as best as they can. What's more, adding a DAC in this case can just become redundant, but of course those who use a DAP with a DAC that outputs a balanced signal to a balanced headphone amp will not agree with that.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by TubeHead View Post
 

 

What are the use cases for an external DAC?

 

For practical reasons, a modern stand-alone DAC (meaning, USB along with SPDIF) means that technically any computer can serve as a transport. I've had so many CDPs that I liked break their transports like crazy (Alpine CDA-9807, Marantz CD60 ad all others using the Philips CDM-4 transport, others had that issue with the NAD C520 nearly a decade ago, etc), especially the laser head. Or in the case of the CDM-4, the belt and gear for the tray.

 

With a good USB DAC, you can archive all your CDs (or download the music), and your laptop for example will still have Hi-Fi sound. You only need to use the optical drive for this when you archive, so unless you still watch movies instead of ripping them like your music, you're unlikely to wear it out (hell even games are on Steam download), and even when you get a new computer, you just copy from your back-up external HDD (I have two for photos and one of them has my music). When you want to switch tracks, you use the touchpad/screen or the mouse. Play a different album? Browse content instead of standing up and switching discs. You actually broke the optical drive? Your laptop's probably slow at this point and no reformat will fix that; time to get a new one anyways. Basically, you get to keep a DAC and the sound you like, regardless of the transport in use. Plus, if it's a notebook computer you also work on, that also means that technically your transport (ie, music server) is "free," given you bought it for something else and use it for your music system.

And in my system, there's an added benefit - instead of a CD transport whose mechanical parts wear out, my music is on a microSD card. The trade-off of course is that the battery will wear out too, especially since sometimes I have to charge it two times in one day.

post #20 of 25
Thread Starter 

Thanks very much for the extra time in responding...

 

My music predominately consists of MP3 files I ripped from my own CDs, using the following workflow:

 

EAC (rip to WAV files) => LAME 3.96.1 (--preset STANDARD, avg. bitrate = 128 kbps) => MP3gain (for volume leveling) => The Godfather (for stamping metadata)

 

I started using OGG Vorbis with my iRiver H340 but ultimately switched to MP3 for a more widely playable format.  Not sure if I still have my original WAV files...long story... :-(

 

I don't currently own the Marantz CDP I mention, but it's one I've considered as a replacement for my old Denon DCD-1420 ("20-bit, 8x oversampling, optical/coax out...").  I believe the 1420 implemented  2 x PCM54HP D/A converters, whereas the Marantz CD6004 uses a CS4398 (slightly different from the 5004)?  I bought my Denon, new, about 25 years ago (?), and it's been sitting in my garage as part of my outdoor system.  It's seen better days.

 

The iRiver H340 was my go-to DAP for a long time, until I got into iPhones.  Then, I just found it easier to go to a single device.  The H340 has line-out.  The only real drawback is that it only has 40GB.

 

For use with my laptop, I ordered an HRT Music Streamer HD.  Apart from that purpose, I was looking at the Schiit Bifrost.  I like the ODAC and might have gone that way instead of the HRT, had I been aware of it.  Admittedly, the HRT has a bit more than I really need or can use currently.

 

The iRiver H340 always had a good reputation, but I was hoping for something more current with more storage if I were to switch back to a dedicated portable DAP.

 

My response here is all over the map, but your response was full of detail and great info!  I'm also torn in a lot of directions with a bit of uncertainty around my real set of requirements.

 

Thanks again!

post #21 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by TubeHead View Post
 

I don't currently own the Marantz CDP I mention, but it's one I've considered as a replacement for my old Denon DCD-1420 ("20-bit, 8x oversampling, optical/coax out...").  I believe the 1420 implemented  2 x PCM54HP D/A converters, whereas the Marantz CD6004 uses a CS4398 (slightly different from the 5004)?  I bought my Denon, new, about 25 years ago (?), and it's been sitting in my garage as part of my outdoor system.  It's seen better days.

 

 

Those old Burr-Brown converters are the dog's nads. Don't junk your Denon- you could probably hot rod it (by bypassing the 8X OS filter) and provide external I/V (don't use the internal opamp) and have an immensely satisfying sound way superior in instrumental timbre and dynamics to any of the modern chips.

post #22 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by TubeHead View Post
 

Thanks very much for the extra time in responding...

 

My music predominately consists of MP3 files I ripped from my own CDs, using the following workflow:

 

EAC (rip to WAV files) => LAME 3.96.1 (--preset STANDARD, avg. bitrate = 128 kbps) => MP3gain (for volume leveling) => The Godfather (for stamping metadata)

 

Do yourself a favor. Pick a good song with lots of mids and highs, and re-encode it at 256 or 320kb/s and then compare it to 128kb/s. Esp on good headphones etc. The sound difference is actually pretty noticeable, especially in the higher frequences, and sometimes a muddy bass as well. 128kb/s is just too low to get really good sound quality.

post #23 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sxooter View Post
 

Do yourself a favor. Pick a good song with lots of mids and highs, and re-encode it at 256 or 320kb/s and then compare it to 128kb/s. Esp on good headphones etc. The sound difference is actually pretty noticeable, especially in the higher frequences, and sometimes a muddy bass as well. 128kb/s is just too low to get really good sound quality.

+1. Your source files will have a bigger impact on your music than an external dac. You should have upgraded your mp3s to 320kbps before getting a dac. (personal opinion). In your case, most likely a dac was not required. However, since you got one, try it out & see if you notice an improvement in sound quality worth $450.

 

Your $450 HRT Music Streamer HD uses a PCM1794 dac chip. If you did not need the extra XLR & RCA outputs, you can get the Stoner Acoustic UD 110v2 dac for $59 (including S&H) with the PCM5102A dac chip. I understand that a lot of people here believe implementation has an impact on sound quality in addition to the dac chip, however, there really was no need for you to buy such an expensive device on a whim. [in my personal opinion]

 

You could have gotten a better dac with an external power supply (which some ppl say sounds better than usb-powered) and all the ouputs you need if you aren't planning on using it on-the-go for much cheaper. An example of an inexpensive dac meeting those requirements is the HiFimeDIY Sabre USB DAC 2 with an external PSU (very nice ESS Sabre ES9023) for $70: http://hifimediy.com/index.php?route=product/product&path=62&product_id=87. Other options include the very well-reviewed $100 schitt modi dac with RCA output vs the $200 audio-gd nfb 12 (w/ ESS sabre's flagship ES9018 dac chip) vs the $300 M-Stage Dac w/ external power source & coax/optical/rca outputs or the $300 emotiva xda-2 usb dac (AD1955 chip)/preamp/amp w. external power supply + all the outputs you could possibly need.

 

edit: tho some of my previous posts may have been slightly off-topic, I wish you got the chance to read em as I was trying to show that there are a lot of inexpensive, high-quality dacs available on the market if you are willing to do some research. since you described yourself as a "newbie" to the dac market, I would recommend doing a lot more research on the market before throwing down so much money. I hope this post was helpful. Good luck!


Edited by money4me247 - 12/24/13 at 12:11am
post #24 of 25

Note that there's a sub $200 portable DAC thread going on right now too with lots of good info on it.

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

 

My music predominately consists of MP3 files I ripped from my own CDs, using the following workflow:

 

EAC (rip to WAV files) => LAME 3.96.1 (--preset STANDARD, avg. bitrate = 128 kbps) => MP3gain (for volume leveling) => The Godfather (for stamping metadata)

 

Use at least 320kbps, if not lossless like FLAC or ALAC. In addition to what was previously posted in response to this, think of your using 128kbps with the HRT Music Streamer as someone with a Ferrari but never taking that V12 out on a long drive in winding roads (with no cops), or never taking that V8 to a race track. Basically, the DAC isn't getting to work in ways that it would show you what it can really do, much like a Ferrari that spends too much of its time going from mansion to downtown clubbz.

Quote:
Originally Posted by TubeHead View Post

 

I don't currently own the Marantz CDP I mention, but it's one I've considered as a replacement for my old Denon DCD-1420 ("20-bit, 8x oversampling, optical/coax out...").  I believe the 1420 implemented  2 x PCM54HP D/A converters, whereas the Marantz CD6004 uses a CS4398 (slightly different from the 5004)?  I bought my Denon, new, about 25 years ago (?), and it's been sitting in my garage as part of my outdoor system.  It's seen better days.

...

For use with my laptop, I ordered an HRT Music Streamer HD.  Apart from that purpose, I was looking at the Schiit Bifrost.  I like the ODAC and might have gone that way instead of the HRT, had I been aware of it.  Admittedly, the HRT has a bit more than I really need or can use currently.

 

If the transport is working fine on the Denon and you liked the sound anyway I wouldn't replace it. I'd try that non-oversampling mod if you're handy with a soldering iron. In my case, I wouldn't have sold my stupid Marantz CD60 even with the belt and gear breaking every few months if the laser head itself didn't have a problem reading newer discs. Yep, you read that right - it's new discs that it can't read. It can't read my copy of The Divine Conspiracy (2007) but reads my scratched up Ride the Lightning (1990s copy), which I suppose is due to newer discs having some sort of extra content on them that it mistakes for an unreadable file instead of checking the next track. Would have put up with it if it read CD-R's (I make copies so the originals are archived and not worn out by constant use), but it couldn't. Curiously enough, the USB DAC in my amp sounded a lot like it, just a bit dry in the midrange.

 

In any case, if you're OC about the Denon's worn looks (as it's in the garage), there are some CDPs that have a digital input. The Marantz supports USB storage, but others like the Cambridge 851C have real SPDIF and USB-B inputs, so spending a little bit more to have one DAC for your computer (so you can listen to streamed content through the same system, for example) and still have a dedicated CD transport when you prefer it (like when you don't want any computer-related distractions or want to reduce your audio system's carbon footprint) is something to consider aside from the particular CDP's sound.
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by TubeHead View Post

 

The iRiver H340 was my go-to DAP for a long time, until I got into iPhones.  Then, I just found it easier to go to a single device.  The H340 has line-out.  The only real drawback is that it only has 40GB.

 

The iRiver H340 always had a good reputation, but I was hoping for something more current with more storage if I were to switch back to a dedicated portable DAP.

 

Did you look through the portable player posts? The Fiio X5 is awaiting release and it has dual microSD slots - you can use a pair of 64gb cards on this. Plus it has a lineout too. Unless you're OC like me and need a portable device to stand up on the desk and have its display as conveniently visible as on a true dedicated player (check the photo I posted), this should be all you'd need unless you'd look for the sound of a discrete analog output stage with a huge power supply.


Edited by ProtegeManiac - 12/24/13 at 9:46am
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