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Portable DACs vs Desktop DACs

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 

I used the search tool and could not find much specific information pertaining to this subject. I am in the market for a DAC for use at home, so portability is not a factor.  However, it seems like the Audioquest Dragonfly v1.2 comes very highly recommended, and I was wondering how even the best portable DACs compare to a desktop DAC in the same price range.  Most reviews point out how it is the best portable DAC for the money, but do not go into how it compares to a desktop DAC.  Desktop DACs do not have size constraints and do not have to be powered by USB.  Any comments?

post #2 of 11
Thread Starter 

I'm surprised no one has an answer.

post #3 of 11
Hard to generalize....easier to pit model vs model.
My experiential rule, get as much power as possible,
Full power cord type, like my audiogd dac gave me bigger taller deeper soundstage..
Vs nuforce HDP, dacport kind...using wallwart n usb for power.
My ^rule* can easily be destroyed with a better design
Or redundant in another setup.:-)

Enjoy your search!!
post #4 of 11

Hmmm, more power? For a DAC - as in DAC only, not DAC/Amp? @Lorspeaker your audio engine is a DAC/preamp so the power makes sense...


For an Amp I would whole heartily agree that USB power can only be a compromise (even though good ones like the Fostex HP-A4 and Audioengine D1) but for a DAC that hardly needs a few mW? Powering the interconnects should be minimal. The Dragonfly for example uses 200mW (including Amp), the Schiit Modi USB DAC uses only 100mW - so I am pretty sure the available USB 500mW could easily drive any DAC just fine.


But is the USB power is the cleanest? I am not so sure, you might have some buzzing depending on your Mac/PC - however normal power lines might not be better.


So in my opinion, DACs, especially ones you connect via USB, don't need extra power. However the construction is of course not restricted once you go Desktop - so parts on the PCB can be further apart, better shielded, etc. 


The Schiit Modi (desktop, USB powered) is cheaper than the Dragonfly but also is just a DAC not a DAC/Amp like the Dragonfly.


I do have the Audioengine D3 (besides other DACs like the modi and Amps) and I am pretty amazed how easily this little thing works and clean it drives my headphones except or course the really power hungry ones.


My comments are only about the power consumption - quality wise they can be huge differences between DACs and the better ones tend to come in bigger packages. But I doubt the power consumption is the issue....


My thoughts, 



Edited by Koolpep - 5/20/14 at 4:44am
post #5 of 11
Hmmmm....can't reason with u on specs...they r German to me :-)
But I used them as dacs, out to my s/s and tube amps invariably, 95.65% of the time.:-)
{See the non-dac amps I had in my profile}
The built-in amp section tat came with those dacs ain't great, in projecting big soundstage, cept the audiogd.
{Again, it's what I gathered scientifically..thru my earwax:-)}
post #6 of 11
Originally Posted by Lorspeaker View Post

Hmmmm....can't reason with u on specs...they r German to me :-)
But I used them as dacs, out to my s/s and tube amps invariably, 95.65% of the time.:-)
{See the non-dac amps I had in my profile}
The built-in amp section tat came with those dacs ain't great, in projecting big soundstage, cept the audiogd.
{Again, it's what I gathered scientifically..thru my earwax:-)}


Best way - always. And only thing that really counts :D


and then you are right, when you are using them as DACs purely - it's model to model compare, there is no rule that a portable DAC has to be worse than a desktop DAC. 

post #7 of 11

While its not a hard and fast rule, power supplies tend to be better when they're allowed to be bigger. So I reckon portable DACs are going to be hard pushed to implement low impedance, low noise power supplies. But having said that, I don't see desktop DACs where that's really a high priority either. 2.5W can be drawn from USB power, but if the DAC's design needs more than the 5V available then some kind of switching supply is needed, which has the potential to add noise if not very carefully designed.

post #8 of 11

if u take a look at audiogd's top flight pure-dacs, 

those casings are HUGE, vs a UDAC2...:P

I dun know what goes on inside,

n i cant find the coffeetablespace for it,

nor the $$$ :P 


I am already v impressed what i am hearing at home out of the midrange?NFB10.32 ( dac+amp )

takes up half my coffeetablespace...the other half goes to my tube amp :)

very tempting to move "up"..once i find oil in my backyard. 

post #9 of 11

Nowadays virtually all DAC implementations, even $5 on board Realteks, are, or should be, transparent to the human ear. 


If they are not then they are either broken, badly implemented or deliberately designed to appeal to 'audiophile' sensitivities.


Some measure better than others but all are at least an order of magnitude better than the ability of human hearing to differentiate. Blind AB/X tests confirm this.


You can occasionally be unlucky with noise induced by poor power supplies, earthing issues etc. These problems are easy and cheap to solve.


If you don't need portability then it's still a good idea to get an interface with it's own power supply. This will make it independent of a computer and the slow start up time.

post #10 of 11

You know - I see all these posts about "the device should be transparent or something's wrong" and it's quite frustrating.  I mean, why is anyone in this business?  Why is anyone continuing to develop new products?  Is the implication that all devices are transparent and there's nothing better?  Seems like that's the same as buying a single product, then shutting your eyes (or ears, as it were) and never looking at anything else again.  I guess that works to save money, but you miss an awful lot while your head is in the sand down there.;)


Back to the original question: with headphones, it's never just about power - it's about clean power.  This is similar to amps, too.  If it wasn't all about clean power, we'd all be sitting here with our $1000 headphones plugged into the run-of-the-mill receiver headphone jack.  That's because the detail offered by a typical receiver might be as good as one can get if you've never listened to anything else.  (Yes, there are some receiver-headphone combinations that can be quite good, but it's the exception rather than the rule.)  Instead, headphones offer an ability to discern and enjoy detail at an extreme.  Most of us find that equipment optimized for headphones sound much better than an all-purpose receiver.  So, headphone amps are used and DACs.  Detail is the key.  In order to provide that detail, the power supply must be clean - very clean.  It it's not, then the noise from the power supply injects signals into the music that aren't supposed to be there.  Or, the noise combines with the music signal to increase distortion.  Either way, details are lost and the fidelity to the original recording is not what it should be.  This is extremely important in DACs, because as the source - the music signal is at the lowest point in the amplification chain.  Any lack of detail or defect is amplified many times over. 


One might suggest that portables with batteries overcome this, because the batteries are pure DC.  The problem is, that DC varies all over the place as the battery loses charge.  In addition, compromises are made to preserve signal swing (voltage differential) and running time.  These things mean that a portable is not going to compete with a desktop in every category - DAC or Amp, either one.  As for DACs, USB-power has similar issues.  I was long a proponent of USB-powered DACs, because of the convenience and simplicity.  As with some of the posts above, most everyone assumes that if the power/current requirements can be met, the rest is trivial: It is NOT.  Only a desktop (or equivalent combination) can offer a power supply down into the microvolts of noise, which enables the maximum performance available from the particular DAC chip - whatever it is.  Some desktop DACs might be externally powered, others with their own transformers.  Some very high-quality DACs may require more than one transformer in the case because the connectivity section might require one voltage, the DAC another, and the output stage still a different voltage.  It becomes a little difficult to provide all of that with several walwarts.  The use of transformers can increase the detail capability of clean power by optimizing the power supply in each section.


As with any audio device, the quality and performance is usually commensurate with price.  There are always exceptions, but to claim that all quality-implemented DACs are simply transparent is missing the point.

Edited by tomb - 5/21/14 at 7:12pm
post #11 of 11
I know I hv the answer like tomb's somewhere in my belly....thanks tomb!
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