A DAC listening test challenge. Will it happen?
Oct 28, 2020 at 5:21 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 61

SoundAndMotion

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From the fairly old, fairly popular and active cable thread (but off-topic there)...
I would not be disrespectful - but a hearing test (I was joking ofcourse) shows your hearing capabilities at differing frequencies and levels. If there are any shortcomings, that may explain a bit towards your statement " with digital audio, everything I find sounds great. "
Specially with digital, I am very difficult to please - but not impossible. It takes an exceptional DAC that I can call good - most are crap or at best just adequate. Just a handful (Chord, dCs, Naim ...) I can call good.
I will be disrespectful. I'll bet you $1000 (USD) that you couldn't tell the difference between a $50k Chord, or dCs or Naim and a $100 SMSL Sanskrit in a DBT.
You are on!
we just need this Covid craze to die down a bit so I could rob you blind! or is it double blind.
Respectfully of course 😊.

Very interesting.
Experience tells us that by far the most likely outcome is that no comparison will take place and the bet will never be executed.
But to help this along, I'll offer the equivalent of $100 ($50 each to @colonelkernel8 and @Kentajalli) if the test is fair** and if one pays the bet. Of course, losing $950 is almost as bad as $1000, but maybe others here will offer $5 or $10 or more, either to the winner or to both. ...or the loser?

** A fair test is one that does not favor one outcome or the other, by design. I'll spell this out more and try to help in subsequent posts if both members proceed with further steps toward a test. I'd advise both members to use care with offers and acceptance without sufficient thought. So far things are quite vague.
 
Oct 28, 2020 at 9:52 AM Post #2 of 61

Kentajalli

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Thank you for doing this, Yes, absolutely - we were going off topic over there.
But that was natural, topics can get lively and sometimes get side tracked.

Now going back to the topic:
I somewhat do not believe in AB comparison tests, they can give misleading results. (unless the difference is night and day)
We human beings are not a measuring equipment! we can not duplicate our experiences reliably enough.
There are so many things at play:
- Our mood on the day
- Our health on the day, do we have a cough or a cold
- Our pre-conception of what "good sound" is !
- Our hearing capabilities - if we can not hear frequency extremes, then two devices of differing sound, may sound the same to us.
- our short term memory! - can we accurately remember what we heard a minute ago? so as to compare it to what we are hearing now?
- etc etc etc
The only way to achieve a comparison to any reliability, is long term listening. Now if that can be done blind , so be it.
Before somebody shooting me down, I mean comparison between devices that otherwise are well made and measure respectfully.
I do remember, while at London's hi-end audio show a few years back, attending a conference on a subject similar, a demo was being carried out.
They recorded various pieces of live classical music using 24/192kHz professionally.
They used the same master to cut a vinyl LP.
They did an AB demo of the LP vs original - on a state of the art system to about 30 people.
Majority preferred the LP !! it has more depth, sound stage is bigger and all those comments!
How could this be? perhaps people were biased by their version good sound . or was it the limited frequency or dynamic range of vinyl - or its associated surface noise etc.
Who knows, bottom line it won! indeed the aim of the conference was to argue that the human equation plays a major part in Hifi.
I am not saying we should throw away science and just go with human equation alone. What I am saying is that a quick AB comparison may lead to false results.
And that given enough exposure time, those who preferred the LP version, mostly would change their minds.
When it comes to DAC's - remember there is an A in there , yes the Analogue, a simple output amp design alteration, powersupply can alter the sound output.
So I declare, there is no way two DACs of different design and heritage can possibly sound the same.
To keep it short, recently my choice was between:
- LG G6+ with quad hifi dac onboard
- Fiio BTR5 connected through USB
- Chord Mojo
The Chord was in a different league (indeed to anything I had heard before) , but the G6+ and BTR5 were similar.
Fiio had more volume and impact, but G6+ was sweeter at midrange, treble was acceptable from either.
I deliberately kept all three at hand for two weeks, to make sure of my choice.
Deciding on Mojo prompted me to buy a Sennheiser IE800 , which although good, I am not too fond of.
So not everything expensive automatically sounds good to me.
 
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Oct 28, 2020 at 10:48 AM Post #3 of 61

SoundAndMotion

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The Chord was in a different league (indeed to anything I had heard before) , but the G6+ and BTR5 were similar.
Fiio had more volume and impact, but G6+ was sweeter at midrange, treble was acceptable from either.
I deliberately kept all three at hand for two weeks, to make sure of my choice.
You bring up many relevant issues that I deleted, not because I wish to ignore them, but because they are taken care of in proper test design (which if this bet goes forward, I urge you to pay attention to the design. I can help).
But the core issue is what I left in the quote: do you believe/contend that you can hear a difference in sound between the Chord Mojo and, for example, the Fiio? Or do you believe/accept that it could have been mood, mindset, preconceptions or other cognitive influence? If you are confident it is a sound difference, that can be tested. If you accept a potential cognitive factor, the bet should be called off.
 
Oct 28, 2020 at 10:53 AM Post #4 of 61

Kentajalli

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Oh I forgot!
I decline the challenge - because once it is a challenge, it turns into a competition, which leads to winning at all costs (human nature I am affraid).
But without the challenge or competition, I am game! I donate $25 to the cause - there would be no winning no losing, just an experiment to get to the bottom.

Edit
Yes I can tell the difference between the sound of a Mojo and BTR5 - perhaps not in a quick AB - as BTR5 is quite respectful sounding DAC/AMP.
 
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Oct 28, 2020 at 11:05 AM Post #5 of 61

SoundAndMotion

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Oh I forgot!
I decline the challenge - because once it is a challenge, it turns into a competition, which leads to winning at all costs (human nature I am affraid).
But without the challenge or competition, I am game! I donate $25 to the cause - there would be no winning no losing, just an experiment to get to the bottom.
That's sensible. But I'll withdraw my $100 then. I was motivated to give time and money to see such a test done properly. But just discussing how best to get to the bottom of it requires no money and no cause.
Step 1: brainstorm how you can listen to 2 devices for comparison without you knowing which is playing. The bold part is what makes it blind. "Blind" tests have nothing to do with your eyes or a blindfold, unless that's your chosen way to not know.. Double blind means you never see the person who arranges the setup for you to listen to one device and keeps track of what you listen to. There's always the risk of non-spoken communication (twinkle in the eye, smirk, etc.).
Let me know if you need further info/ideas.

Edit:
Edit
Yes I can tell the difference between the sound of a Mojo and BTR5 - perhaps not in a quick AB - as BTR5 is quite respectful sounding DAC/AMP.
Then don't do it quick!
 
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Oct 28, 2020 at 11:11 AM Post #6 of 61

VNandor

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I think the outputs of the DACs should be measured to make sure they are volume matched. It could be done with any basic multimeter that can measure AC voltage, or even just using an ADC is better than not checking it at all. I used to have DACs that had different output voltages.
 
Oct 28, 2020 at 11:39 AM Post #7 of 61

Kentajalli

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That's sensible. But I'll withdraw my $100 then. I was motivated to give time and money to see such a test done properly. But just discussing how best to get to the bottom of it requires no money and no cause.
Step 1: brainstorm how you can listen to 2 devices for comparison without you knowing which is playing. The bold part is what makes it blind. "Blind" tests have nothing to do with your eyes or a blindfold, unless that's your chosen way to not know.. Double blind means you never see the person who arranges the setup for you to listen to one device and keeps track of what you listen to. There's always the risk of non-spoken communication (twinkle in the eye, smirk, etc.).
Let me know if you need further info/ideas.

Edit:

Then don't do it quick!
Hence my notion that AB testing can be misleading, as I can not see it ever being not quick! Perhaps I don't understand exactly what AB testing is.
Infact blind comparison testing can be arranged but difficult.
One needs two identical boxes to put the devices in, volume matched as @VNandor states, closed them up, just mark them A or B - and then test for a several days. on some days change the A and B around to throw the listener off!
but that cognitive thingy may lurk its head out somehow - so the test should be limited to the ability of the tester to tell devices apart and not which one sounds better.

BTW
What do you think? do you believe all DACs sound the same?
 
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Oct 28, 2020 at 12:08 PM Post #8 of 61

sander99

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So far things are quite vague.
Yeah, offering and accepting the bet without clearly stating the terms and conditions was a bit of a gamble in itself...

Just some thoughts:

What if one of those idiotic expensive designs deliberately messes up the sound just to be audibly different - and hence objectively worse - compared to an audibly transparent DAC? Then @Kentajalli would have a chance of winning the bet, but the bet would be besides the point that cheap DACs can be audibly transparent.
To go around this I would have proposed a different bet: Can Kentajalli identify the output of the expensive DACs direct, from the output of the expensive DACs passing an extra AD and DA conversion, using the cheap DAC for the last step (and an ADC that both sides agree with).

About the general conditions:
@Kentajalli: I hope you understand that the following conditions would have been assumed almost automatically:
-Listening at normal volume levels (For example not using an audio fragment recorded at -80 dB while boosting the volume to the max or tricks like that. Of course then everyone could hear differences. A normal listening level would be such that the loudest part of a normal recording doesn't damage your hearing or something along those lines.)
-Level matched
 
Oct 28, 2020 at 12:24 PM Post #9 of 61

VNandor

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What if one of those idiotic expensive designs deliberately messes up the sound just to be audibly different - and hence objectively worse - compared to an audibly transparent DAC?
I think it's easier to just agree on which DACs they should test instead of making everything more complicated and agreeing on which AD DA to use for the extra conversion. Not every expensive DAC has a bad design.
 
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Oct 28, 2020 at 1:41 PM Post #10 of 61

Kentajalli

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What if one of those idiotic expensive designs ......
Unless one you good Samaritans can lend me one, I only have a Mojo (hardly expensive!).
My hypocrisy only goes so far . . .

Edit
I forgot, I also have a Leema Elements DAC, that sounds great through balanced out, but not so much through headphone jack.
 
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Oct 28, 2020 at 2:29 PM Post #11 of 61

sander99

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but not so much through headphone jack.
Ah, one more potential problem:
Are we all talking about the same?
Comparing DACs (that are possibly part of DAC/Amp combos) or comparing DAC/Amp combos?

I was interpreting the bet as comparing the pure DAC parts of the devices mentioned.
 
Oct 28, 2020 at 7:20 PM Post #12 of 61

colonelkernel8

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From the fairly old, fairly popular and active cable thread (but off-topic there)...
Very interesting.
Experience tells us that by far the most likely outcome is that no comparison will take place and the bet will never be executed.
But to help this along, I'll offer the equivalent of $100 ($50 each to @colonelkernel8 and @Kentajalli) if the test is fair** and if one pays the bet. Of course, losing $950 is almost as bad as $1000, but maybe others here will offer $5 or $10 or more, either to the winner or to both. ...or the loser?

** A fair test is one that does not favor one outcome or the other, by design. I'll spell this out more and try to help in subsequent posts if both members proceed with further steps toward a test. I'd advise both members to use care with offers and acceptance without sufficient thought. So far things are quite vague.

Everything after the DAC would need to be identical and up to whoever is doing the listening. I'm not going to make the equally valid claim that all similarly measuring amps sound the same too.

To avoid an overpriced design actually ruining the signal with distortion (you might as well add in an EQ), the device that isn't the Sanskrit needs to have a SINAD of say, >100dB (The Sanskrit is 115 dB, https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...ds/smsl-sanskrit-10th-mk-ii-dac-review.12148/). That needs to be verified external to the company selling the product, and so audiosciencereview.com may be an option for identifying that metric, although to my knowledge, he hasn't posted anything in those stratospheric price brackets, but feel free to peruse his tested list of DACs for one that you believe "sounds good".

Output needs to be level matched. I could do it with an oscilloscope easily.

I have no idea how we could actually do this test though, given I am in the USA and Kentajalli is in London.
 
Oct 28, 2020 at 7:26 PM Post #13 of 61

colonelkernel8

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There are so many things at play:
- Our mood on the day
- Our health on the day, do we have a cough or a cold
- Our pre-conception of what "good sound" is !
- Our hearing capabilities - if we can not hear frequency extremes, then two devices of differing sound, may sound the same to us.
- our short term memory! - can we accurately remember what we heard a minute ago? so as to compare it to what we are hearing now?
- etc etc etc
The only way to achieve a comparison to any reliability, is long term listening.

None of these variables matter. It's your ears, so your ability to hear high frequencies will not change a test where both DACs can produce frequencies far beyond the human ability to hear with perfect linearity.

"The only way to achieve a comparison is long term listening".

This audiophile lie is as old as time. You're performing the old game of setting up an unfalsifiable position by claiming no test can possibly work.
 
Oct 28, 2020 at 7:30 PM Post #14 of 61

colonelkernel8

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Oh I forgot!
I decline the challenge - because once it is a challenge, it turns into a competition, which leads to winning at all costs (human nature I am affraid).
But without the challenge or competition, I am game! I donate $25 to the cause - there would be no winning no losing, just an experiment to get to the bottom.

Edit
Yes I can tell the difference between the sound of a Mojo and BTR5 - perhaps not in a quick AB - as BTR5 is quite respectful sounding DAC/AMP.

Well of course. It wasn't going to happen anyway.
 
Oct 28, 2020 at 8:45 PM Post #15 of 61

castleofargh

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I think the first step if it's about DAC, should be to make sure that the devices used, do have an actual line output available instead of being headphone amp outputs.
Not sure it's the case for either the Mojo or the BTR5.
 

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