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What's the difference between DACs ? Wolfson, Sabre, et al

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 

Hi,

I'm starting from scratch to get back into audiophilia.  My budget is pointing me to desktop/headphone system rather than full listening room system.  as I get acquainted with all the possibilities and new gear,  I see references boasting the specific type of DAC chips used in some products..  e.g..  Wolfson, Sabre,  or gate arrays etc.   I don't live in an area where I can listen to a lot of gear, so rely on posts and articles.    it would be cool of someone can point me to info that would compare these.  how do they differ?  

post #2 of 13
The primary difference between DACs is that the implementation of the DAC can be far more important for SQ than the specific DAC chip itself.

Best bet is to look in the Dedicated Source Forum for discussions of specific DACs and see what people say. smily_headphones1.gif
post #3 of 13
Thread Starter 

Thanks, I'll try reposting to the other forum.

post #4 of 13
That's not what I said (or meant). LOL

You don't pick a DAC by it's chip. How the chip is implemented is WAY MORE IMPORTANT. So the best thing to do is read about different DACs and do your own research in the dedicated source forum for the DACs you are interested in.
post #5 of 13

Any half decent chip will sound completly transparent and longs its properly implemented the whole dac will sound transparent.

post #6 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by qveda View Post
 

Hi,

I'm starting from scratch to get back into audiophilia.  My budget is pointing me to desktop/headphone system rather than full listening room system.  as I get acquainted with all the possibilities and new gear,  I see references boasting the specific type of DAC chips used in some products..  e.g..  Wolfson, Sabre,  or gate arrays etc.   I don't live in an area where I can listen to a lot of gear, so rely on posts and articles.    it would be cool of someone can point me to info that would compare these.  how do they differ?  

 

If you can tell us your budget your willing to spend on audio hardware for your computer, we should be able to point you to the best bang for the buck.

post #7 of 13
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by cel4145 View Post

That's not what I said (or meant). LOL

You don't pick a DAC by it's chip. How the chip is implemented is WAY MORE IMPORTANT. So the best thing to do is read about different DACs and do your own research in the dedicated source forum for the DACs you are interested in.

Got it.    but was hoping there might a a consensus  about DACs,  e.g.  DAC X tends to have these strengths,  DAC Y has these.   To your point, there are a lot of posts.  But I think it might take me more time that I have available to educate myself by searching/reading from scratch.      maybe Wikipedia would be a better place for me to start.

 

Currently, I'm looking to configure a portable system - lets say using an ipod, with Dac/Amp ($600-1500) that can play 24/192 AIFF files into sensitive IEMs  or headphones such as LCD-X. Balanced might be a plus.    Lots of possibilities and a lot to read/learn.    

 

If by "implementation" you mean the overall resulting sound coming out of the device - I agree, that is definitely what is important.  But when vendors boast about DAC chip X or Y,  I don't know how to interpret that.  e.g.  Does the Sabre dac have a character or qualities that they are exploiting that they expect their customers to know about ?     Or, do I not need to pay attention to this since its not that critical to a portable rig vs. a very expensive non-portable system. 

post #8 of 13
By implementation, I mean the actual engineering design behind the electronics in the DAC.

If it has been a while since you've looked into headphone equipment, DACs (and to some extent headphone amps) have progressed quite a bit even over the last few years. For a portable system, instead of a separate DAC/amp, you might look into some of the audiophile grade DAPs. Even the $200 FiiO X3 can support 192/24. And I'm pretty sure AIFF. They also have a higher model X5.
post #9 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by qveda View Post
 

Got it.    but was hoping there might a a consensus  about DACs,  e.g.  DAC X tends to have these strengths,  DAC Y has these.   To your point, there are a lot of posts.  But I think it might take me more time that I have available to educate myself by searching/reading from scratch.      maybe Wikipedia would be a better place for me to start.

 

Currently, I'm looking to configure a portable system - lets say using an iPod, with Dac/Amp ($600-1500) that can play 24/192 AIFF files into sensitive IEMs  or headphones such as LCD-X. Balanced might be a plus.    Lots of possibilities and a lot to read/learn.    

 

If by "implementation" you mean the overall resulting sound coming out of the device - I agree, that is definitely what is important.  But when vendors boast about DAC chip X or Y,  I don't know how to interpret that.  e.g.  Does the Sabre dac have a character or qualities that they are exploiting that they expect their customers to know about ?     Or, do I not need to pay attention to this since its not that critical to a portable rig vs. a very expensive non-portable system. 

 

Easier just to buy a DAP (Digital Audio Player) with a nice built in DAC and headphone amplifier.

FiiO X3, $200

IBasso DX50, $230

A&K 120, $600

post #10 of 13

I agree with what was said above. For a portable setup, I think you're on the right track with a good set of sensitive IEMs. The idea of a DAP paired with an external DAC/amp or DAP+amp+dac is offensive to me. They begin to look like a homemade explosive device and kind of detract from the whole "portable" concept. Get a good audio player that is compatible with the files you want to utilize. I don't think you should get too worried about having 24/192 files as a superior amp/DAC section will make more of a difference than even the jump over 16/44.1 . As I've said before, when I'm on the go there's generally ambient noise I'm contending with so absolute resolution is a bit of a moot point as the detail is somewhat lost even when you have IEMs with a good seal. I've been quite happy with my Shure 535LTDs and Iphone 5 running CanOpener. 

post #11 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by benthughes View Post

The idea of a DAP paired with an external DAC/amp or DAP+amp+dac is offensive to me. They begin to look like a homemade explosive device and kind of detract from the whole "portable" concept.

LOL

So true. Even worse, I saw someone posting the in the forum recently about how they were preparing to buy the X3 and the E12 to go with it. confused.gif
post #12 of 13

I agree 100% with everything posted above... but to satiate the original question, the ESS Sabre 9018 vs. Wolfson 8741 (very popular) can be a slight difference in a more neutral/detailed approach vs. a more musical one. I have not heard both on similar systems, and as you've probably picked up, audiophiles love to present even 1% differences as life and death themselves. Implementation is still WAY more important. If you really wanted to learn, buy an Audio-GD Compass 2 and all 3 DAC chip modules.

post #13 of 13
Thread Starter 

Thanks for all the responses.  very helpful !

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