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External DAC's for iDevices.

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by white lotus, May 30, 2013.
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  1. White Lotus
    I'm going to try to be as open-minded as I possibly can here. I know we already have an "iPod sound quality" thread running, but this topic was only lightly brushed on.

    What are the advantages of using an external DAC with an iPod?
    I can't seem to detect any faults in the sound of my iPod (7th gen, running Rockbox). Am I not hearing correctly?
  2. White Lotus
    Seems a shame. All I hear about these external DACs for idevices is rave reviews, saying how amazing they are, even feature articles on CNET and here on Head-fi.

    Maybe they were all correct..?
  3. bigshot
  4. Greenleaf7
  5. White Lotus
    A little silly, but I get the point (especially the parts about cables, heh).
    And not to be "That guy" or anything, but rockbox natively allows for .FLAC playback.
    I'm still not sold on the idea of an external DAC for an iPod. Although, after reading up on audiophile forums on how they feel about external/aftermarket DAC units, I'm starting to notice a pattern:

    Often the price correlates to positive reviews of sound.
  6. bigshot
    It's very easy to get great sound nowadays... it only really matters at the ends of the chain. Music has to be well recorded, and your speakers or headphones need to be accurate. The stuff in the middle is the easy part.
  7. White Lotus
    I almost feel as if it's a carry-over from the 80's and 90's. Unusual modifications to home stereos could often result in a measurable, positive response.

    It would, on paper, make sense if a widely marketed, massively successful MP3 player (iPod) didn't sound "good" until you modified it. But I just think the audio industry has come so far, that really there just isn't any point.
    So many people that use external DAC units talk about a "wider soundstage". Is the DAC responsible for channel separation? Does the native internal iPod DAC have some sort of audible crossfeed?
  8. Greenleaf7

    I fail to see the logic behind modifications for iPods. Companies who offer iPod modifications such as this http://redwineaudio.com/imod claim that their modifications "improves soundstage, base control and midrange" while failing to publish any useful specifications about the 'new and improved' dac. And if the improvements in the modified iPods are really that substantial, I'm sure they wouldn't have a problem passing a DBT vs a standard iPod?
  9. ButtUglyJeff
    Without the technical mumbo jumbo, I can simply state this.
    I own an Algorythm Solo-db, and I sandwiched it between my iPod Touch and my ALO Rx MkIII amp, and the improvement was more then subtle.  Just like bypassing the iPod's internal amp with an LOD improves sound quality, so does bypassing the internal DAC.
    The downfall for you would be the fact that you use Rockbox.  That OS, doesn't really play with "works with iDevice" stuff.
    It simple to prove, with my sandwich of gear, bypass the CLAS, listen, then add it back, and listen again...
  10. White Lotus

    Oh! This is what I was curious about. Is there a colouration of some sort?

    What is improved?
  11. Greenleaf7
    The 'improvements' are usually one or more of the following:
    1. Sound staging is improved and is more 3 dimensional, the veil is lifted
    2. Increased resolution of detail
    3. Smoother mids
    4. Improved bass control and bass punch and extension
    5. Superior treble
    6. Increased warmth, less sterile sound
  12. nick_charles Contributor
    This may be true or it may be the combination of bias , the expectation effect related to the outlay of about $700 and poorly controlled comparisons. This is not me being rude, this is the one subforum where we are allowed to ask for a higher level of evidence than I heard a difference when I changed something and I knew what I was listening to. That kind of evidence is referred to as anecdotal.
    How did you do the blinding and volume matching for your tests ?
    As there is zero performance data available for the external DAC you mention there is no objective basis to suggest that it actually is technically superior in any meaningful way and in the absence of decently controlled blind tests it is tempting to discount your account as anecdotal.
    As an aside the fact that a company can ask $700 for something intended to fundamentally improve a system and provide zero performance data is utterly outrageous !
  13. ButtUglyJeff
    ^^^ other then my ears.....
    I'm just a vulnerable to the entire expectation/cost variable, as the next guy.  But my ears tell me its better.  The richness of the listening experience has gone up.  And I invite anyone to listen, and judge for themselves.
    I would gladly argue that this DAC upgrade will do more for someone, then switching coding formats...
  14. Greenleaf7
    Since we both agree that sighted listening tests are prone to expectation bias, your personal claims that the CLAS offers a distinct sonic improvement will remain anecdotal until proven otherwise. And if indeed the "richness of the listening experience" with the CLAS are as significant as you claim to be, then surely passing a level matched ABX/blind test shouldn't be much of a problem, no?
  15. thegrobe
    The internal modifications for iPods are pretty straightforward and simple to understand, and the modification process does create an improvement. Basically, The signal is picked up directly from the DAC, routed through quality capacitors, and directly out of the iPod and into an external amplifier of your choice. This bypasses all of the insides of the iPod! You are basically picking up the pure signal from the DAC and hearing it, nothing more, nothing less. 
    Your quote of "new and improved dac" is a bit off..the DAC is not improved, replaced or anything else in this modification. Just the ANALOG signal is picked up from the DAC and sent right out of the iPod. An external amp must be used. 
    This "iMod" can actually be done with less than $5 worth of parts. $10 if you choose a premium "film" cap. A good soldering iron and a steady hand is all you need. There are members on this site (myself included) who can do these mods if you are curious...
    The "external dacs" (which tend to be very high in price - partially due to the licence the companies must pay to Apple) actually extract the DIGITAL signal from the iPod and process the digital to analog conversion outside the iPod, so a different beast altogether. A valid argument could be had whether this external DAC's SQ is any different than the modified iPod plus external amp.
    It sounds as if you are skeptical or doubting the difference of sound quality of iPod modifications or external DAC's. So are these your actual listening impressions...or? Maybe if you haven't heard firsthand, you should not be posting what the improvements "sound like". I'm not trying to be combative here, just for the sake of the conversation, we should stick to actual listening impressions.
    By best descriptor of the modded iPod (not external DAC) is that of looking through a dirty vs. a clean window. Compared to a stock 5/5.5G iPod - There is a blacker background, more extended treble (not muffled and rolled off as stock) and better clarity around instruments/notes.
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