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Am I Wasting My Time Searching for a DAC?

post #1 of 27
Thread Starter 

So I am relatively new to Head-fi and I've been working on putting together a nice rig for music, now that I have my gaming rig down.  I don't have the means or desire to get into the really expensive stuff, I but I do want the best sound I can get for my money.  Given that, I've been looking for a nice DAC in the $100-200 price range to add to my setup to improve the sound.

 

The problem is, I tried with a well-regarded DAC (the Schiit Modi) and heard ALMOST no improvement over my Sound Blaster Omni.  I mean there was something there, but I had to strain to hear it.  When I got my new headphones, new sound card, new amp, and switched to FLAC's... all of those provided a noticeable improvement in sound right away.  Some were more subtle than others, but they were all worth the time/money spent.  I was pretty shocked at how little difference I heard from the $100 DAC.

 

My friend @Evshrug got a Schiit Bifrost Uber and he is saying he hears the same minimal improvements I heard from the Modi.  Not too surprising given what I've read about how similar they sound, but that's a $400+ device -- frankly, I was expecting more.

 

So my question is really this:  am I wasting my time trying to add a DAC to my system looking for a noticeable sound improvement if I don't want to spend $500+?  Is there any DAC in the $200 range that will provide me a noticeable improvement in sound without having to strain?  Is the DAC in my sound card good enough that I have to really jump up in price to get an improvement?  Or do I just have wooden ears?

 

Oh, one more thing I've been considering is selling off my amp and buying a higher end DAC with a built-in amp, like the Yulong D100 or Audio-GD 15.32.  I wonder if the combination of the good DAC and okay amp will best an okay DAC and good amp for approximately the same price.

post #2 of 27

I think you might be right. I was asking the guy at the store where I bought my headphones the same question. He said they don't even sell DACs under ~$300 because the improvements are not worth it.

 

I have tried comparing my iPad, Creative X-Fi Extreme Audio, and several audio interfaces used for recording and monitoring instruments. Maybe I just don't know what to listen for, and I know none of them are high end, but I hear no appreciable difference in any of them.

post #3 of 27

Nothing wrong with your ears, you are right there is little to no difference between well designed dacs and the only difference comes from the ouput levels on the line level signals not all dacs output the redbook standard 2vrms and the louder dac is the 1 that sounds better to our ears because louder sounds better. Longs frequency responce is flat 20hz - 20khz -/+1db, disortion is <0.1%, and theres no audiable noise or jitter the dac will sound completely transparent to any human ear.

post #4 of 27
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by JRG1990 View Post
 

Nothing wrong with your ears, you are right there is little to no difference between well designed dacs and the only difference comes from the ouput levels on the line level signals not all dacs output the redbook standard 2vrms and the louder dac is the 1 that sounds better to our ears because louder sounds better. Longs frequency responce is flat 20hz - 20khz -/+1db, disortion is <0.1%, and theres no audiable noise or jitter the dac will sound completely transparent to any human ear.

 

Is this a commonly held belief?  I'm trying to figure out WHY there are so many USB DAC's in the $100-300 price range if they're all essentially the same within 0.1%. 

post #5 of 27
Psychological factors...
post #6 of 27

I think this really depends on the resolution of your system. I can hear a big difference between my Opus DAC, ODAC, and the built in DAC on my Total BitHead. This is using both an EHHA Rev A Amp or a Bijou Amp with HD800's and good source material.

 

If you're system doesn't need a high dollar DAC, then its probably better off for your wallet anyways. I'd bask in the musical ignorance of bliss and carry on!


Edited by wdahm519 - 5/12/14 at 9:03pm
post #7 of 27
I'm wanting to upgrade my ODAC, but is it worth it?

And I have no friend who has a more expensive DAC that ODAC to test :(
post #8 of 27
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by wdahm519 View Post
 

I think this really depends on the resolution of your system. I can hear a big difference between my Opus DAC, ODAC, and the built in DAC on my Total BitHead. This is using both an EHHA Rev A Amp or a Bijou Amp with HD800's and good source material.

 

If you're system doesn't need a high dollar DAC, then its probably better off for your wallet anyways. I'd bask in the musical ignorance of bliss and carry on!


Translation:  If you spend a few grand on your headphones and amp, you can tell the difference between DAC's.  If not, don't waste the money.

 

Even with all that money spent, you still use a $150 ODAC?  That says a lot about the need for an expensive DAC.

post #9 of 27
Quote:
Originally Posted by Stillhart View Post
 

 

Is this a commonly held belief?  I'm trying to figure out WHY there are so many USB DAC's in the $100-300 price range if they're all essentially the same within 0.1%. 

Its not a belief its the facts, you need to understand what about amounts of disortion etc the human ear can detect, there are differences in dacs just none are ears can detect, the human ear can't hear the difference bewteen 0.1 and 00000000.1% thd so whats the point in spending hundreds on an improvement no one can hear?.

Different dacs do use different designs, components , have different features and tube dacs that do sound different.

post #10 of 27
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by JRG1990 View Post

Its not a belief its the facts, you need to understand what about amounts of disortion etc the human ear can detect, there are differences in dacs just none are ears can detect, the human ear can't hear the difference bewteen 0.1 and 00000000.1% thd so whats the point in spending hundreds on an improvement no one can hear?.
Different dacs do use different designs, components , have different features and tube dacs that do sound different.
If that's the case, what accounts for the apparently audible differences between the Audioquest Dragonfly versions? Is the old one just sub par and what we hear isn't as transparent as it should be? And if that's the case, then there likely ARE differences between the cheap DACs to be heard, while after a certain price/quality point those differences become inaudible?
post #11 of 27

Mostly likely placebo the newest most expensive shinest dac always sounds the best, or there might be actually be a audiable difference in which case 1 of them is defective  . The only way to know for sure would be a level matched blind test or 2 measure them both. The very cheap dacs <$50 do have frequdency responce peaks/dips , noise etc that border on being audiable, Roughly +$100 to get you a well designed transparent dac.

post #12 of 27

If this is the case (I don't know?), why would anyone even bother spending money on the high-end DAC's? I highly doubt everyone just feeds into the "ohh hey something new and shiny, I must have that!"...


Edited by Rumiho - 5/13/14 at 8:21am
post #13 of 27

@Stillhart the best advice i can give is start with whats on your head and work in, i.e. headphones, amp, then DAC in that order.  The better each component the more beneficial the component before it will become.

post #14 of 27
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by mcandmar View Post
 

@Stillhart the best advice i can give is start with whats on your head and work in, i.e. headphones, amp, then DAC in that order.  The better each component the more beneficial the component before it will become.

 

What about the "you can't reproduce the sound once it's lost" theory?

post #15 of 27

There is no point producing it if you cant hear it!

 

If were talking $100 amps and dacs they are good enough that the headphones are more important, up to a point.  When you get into higher end phones the amps and dac become equally as important, it all becomes a balancing act then.

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