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The great DAP scam...

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by Killcomic, Oct 21, 2019.
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  1. Killcomic
    I have a love/hate relationship with DAPs. I like the convenience of physical buttons, ease of use and more power compared to your average phone, but I certainly, at no point, do I believe is giving me better sound quality. Not audibly, at least.
    I'm pretty convinced that anything other than the entry level DAPs are a scam if their selling point is better sound quality.
    However, I'm just a newb at this. So, is there any evidence whatsoever that ultra expensive DAPs like the A&K, can do anything (soundwise) that you can't do with a phone and a cheap amp?
  2. dazzerfong
    Well, some of them do actually offer significantly more power output, negating the need for an external amp. There's a simplicity to such a solution.

    And some of them have a lot less hiss. This is especially apparent for sensitive IEMs like Campfire Audio's lineup, which hiss at the smallest whiff of noise. Look at this (https://reference-audio-analyzer.pro/en/catalog-reports.php?sp_1=9&tp=1) if you want some objective measurements: they're not half bad.

    So, no, stating that they do nothing for soundwise is a bit out there. Now, if the question is more along the lines of how much difference does it make, I believe that will make for a more compelling discussion.

    However, I do believe a lot of DAPs are scams, not because of the sound quality, but because of the absolutely God-awful interfaces and firmware bugs. If you're paying kilobucks, I expect it to be bug-free at the very least.
  3. Killcomic
    But examples like the Campfires are not exactly the norm, and any low noise source, like the iPhone dongle will do, right?
    And as for power, wouldn't a powerful enough amp do when attached to a phone?
    I mean, there are cheaper, less crazy options that will do the job for 99.99% of the time and the DAP will not deliver any audible improvement, unless you have ultra exotic hardware that require some very specific specs that only that $2000 DAP can deliver.
    Unless I'm missing something...
  4. dazzerfong
    I just gave an example, but there's plenty of other IEMs that hiss at anything. iPhone dongle is OK, but it still hisses on them. I strongly recommend you go out there and actually try: unlike all other subjective descriptions, hiss is immediately obvious and discernible. Hiss (and the 4.4mm balanced for that sweet, sweet rigidity) are the main reasons I have a DAP.

    Yes, if you're budget-conscience, get a decent portable AMP and call it a day. But since we're hardly in the business of bean-counting, a DAP can do that job more elegantly. Does the $2000 DAP offer sonic improvements? Probably not, but for QoL improvements and stylishness, they sure offer a lot.

    When people ask me, I always recommend they get a better headphone than anything else. Only if you have more money than sense, or you're happy with your current headphone, should you go out of your way to get the other stuff (DAP included).
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2019
  5. Killcomic
    Speak for yourself, mate. I got a mortgage to pay off and two very hungry boys to feed and clothe.
    But really. does a $2000 DAP really improve over a $200 model?
    I guess if you care about about style enough to pay for it, it's got you covered, but for my main concern, which is sound quality, I guess there's not a lot on offer for me.
  6. sehnsucht
    Balanced output on a DAP I don't get. You're getting noticeable mains hum on a tiny scrap of headphone cable? Really? Or some other noise. But from where? Balanced output from an amp I don't get also. The amp isn't powerful enough for whatever headphones you have? More of that pesky mains hum?

    If it's just about the power, make the SE output more powerful.
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2019
  7. dazzerfong
    Read what I said - I wanted the 4.4mm jack for that sturdy jack. Now, if you're telling me to use the 2.5mm balanced, no way in hell would I use that over the 3.5mm.

    Balanced output makes no sense from a sonic PoV - however, since the jacks that come with it are fancy, not to mention most of my gear that I buy comes with a 4.4mm, it serves me no downside to not use the 4.4mm.

    In that case, if the only thing you care about is sound quality, then no, a DAP is pretty pointless. But then again, so is amps and DACs for most headphones.

    However, you're diminishing the fact that, rather than having something that's tethered to your phone, you can have a standalone thing going for it rather than a bundle of wires. How much that is worth, of course, it up to you.
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2019
  8. Killcomic
    Yeah, totally. I mean, I do have a Fiio M6 for the ease of use (my phone is an iPhone, therefore horrible for compatibility), but when I hear people talk about the more expensive DAP being more musical or more analytical, it bothers me how people get duped by the marketing.
  9. dazzerfong

    Had the same experience when someone thought my IER M9s sounded worse compared to their Airpods. That was an eye-opening experience, to say the least!

    The only time an amp/DAC actually dramatically affected the sound of my stuff was when I used a Bluetooth MMCX adapter. Lost all of the bass when I used that thing!

    However, I don't think the DAP market is a scam. At least, in general, it does what it does. Sure, not bang-for-your-buck, but it still delivers in the end.

    What's a scam is this:

    Last edited: Oct 22, 2019
    Killcomic likes this.
  10. Killcomic
    Oh my god, that made me laugh!
    Each to their own, I guess...


    I thought they were cakes!!
    Actually, cakes would be better value.
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2019
  11. bfreedma
    My experience with the Campfire Solaris and an IPhone X via dongle is that the combination has no hiss and more than enough power

    I would consider a DAP for the following reasons:

    Additional storage capacity if needed
    A GUI I might personally prefer
    Features, specifically a good parametric EQ
    Using the DAP’s battery to avoid draining the phone

    At this time, none of the above are, for me, compelling enough to change from the simplicity and compactness of the phone I’m already carrying. PEQ is tempting though - have to see if there is a native iPhone app that offers it. Anyone know of one?
  12. bigshot
    The solution to that would be to buy more compatible IEMs, not buy an expensive DAP.
    castleofargh likes this.
  13. kdphan
    The only way to really find out is to go out and try different DAPs and compare to let's say the iphone with dongle.
    The most I've spent on a DAP is $650 + $200 for an amp module. UI is very "MEH" but it does sound good and an improvement over the iphone plus dongle.
    Most of my cables are terminated in 4.4mm so the dongle really doesn't work for me.

    What I can tell you is that the DAP I mentioned above does improve bass impact, response, treble clarity and just makes music more musical.
    But it's just my ears.

    If you cannot hear a difference between a mid-range DAP and your iphone and dongle, this will save you a lot of $$ :)
  14. bfreedma

    How did you compare? If you didn’t accurately level match then DBT, there are many reasons you may believe a difference is there that doesn’t actually exist.

    Potential impedance matching issues aside, I’m not aware of any (objective) evidence suggesting an iPhone isn’t audibly transparent.
    sonitus mirus likes this.
  15. kdphan
    When comparing, I try my best to match volume levels on the same track i'm listening to.
    Using same 3.5mm cable, same source (tidal), no EQ.

    to sum it up in one sentence, there's more detail coming from the DAP.

    Does this difference equate to an amount of money? Probably not, but that's up to the person to decide. Everyone has to trust their own ears.
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