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Warm, musical vs cold, analytical DACs

Discussion in 'Dedicated Source Components' started by mac336, Jun 25, 2012.
  1. mac336
    From my time on the forums on head-fi, I keep hearing DACs being referred to as either sounding cold and analytical, giving good detail in the music; or warmer and more musical sounding.   It seems as for DACs under the $500, often you have to choose one at the expense of the other (atleast thats the impression I've obtained from my brief readings).
    I'm sure these are just generalization of the sound signatures of the lower end DACs, but I would like some opinions as to whether warmer DACs are in fact less detailed, or if it just sounds less detailed because of the difference in sound signature.
    I currently have a bifrost and ODAC which I have read to be clean, analytical sounding DACs.    I am interesting in picking up a "warmer" DAC to compare to my current DACs to see how the sound signature differs and whether I prefer the "warmer" sounding DAC. 
    It would be nice if I could get some recommendations on a "warm, musical" DAC which would be on par with the bifrost.  
  2. Smeckles
    I just changed my CD source after finding one that did offer a warmth paired with significant detail retrieval.  It came at a fairly significant financial cost (though used gear sure took a big part of the sting out; but not all - Ouch!).  The result is that before I would listen to single tracks and get that breathtaking "Wow!" factor, where now, I tend to get lost in what's playing and forget to get up to change the track and instead, let the whole album play through. So yes, you can have the cake and eat it, but like many engineering problems, there is a trade off involved (cost? For me, oh yeah.  variations in resolution with different albums? Yep, this one too.  Cosmetics? Eh, I don't really care on this one, and I don't have a wife acceptance factor to worry about). 
    For units in your price range, I can't give examples for warmer units- sorry.  However, I just posted in another thread about how my system outlook changed during this change of sources from "I want detail detail detail" to "I really value detail, but want to have a little extra that keeps me listening".  Perhaps your perspective may change over any audition process as well?
  3. mcullinan
    The Burson Audio DA-160 is a warm sounding Dac. Very nice. I think its under 1K? Im not sure though. 
  4. nigeljames
  5. tim3320070
    IMO, you should focus on the most neutral DAC (one that doesn't alter frequency response), and tailor your sound preference with headphones/ speakers. One DAC to another is going to be pretty subtle unless you're talking going from a VDAC to a REF-7.1 for instance. I had the older MD10 DAC (considered bright) and went to a VDAC (considered warm) and noticed only a very small change. Going from the VDAC to the REF-8 was a big change but not due to warmth or brightness- a bigger, wider, more realistic sound.
  6. RonaldDumsfeld
    Before you reach for your wallet you need to be very careful here.
    The primary aim of any even half competent DAC is to be totally transparent. You shouldn't know it is there.
    Anyone deliberately designing or selling a DAC on the basis of it's particular 'sound'  is a charlatan and should be avoided.
    The quality of commercial DAC chips is now so good, even at very low prices, that many seasoned professions now think that the conversion process has been beyond the ability of human hearing to distinguish for over a decade. Some DAC implementation's can demonstrate better figures in a lab test but it's no longer possible to distinguish between competing designs in a properly conducted blind listening test.
    Unfortunately for us hi -fi reviewers and amateurs have become used to lazily handing down highly subjective opinions based on brief listening sessions when they already know what they are listening too. These totally unscientific, almost throwaway impressions have a bad habit of  lodging in peoples minds and unconciously influencing others. Ad infinitum. 
    The traditions of reviewing hi-fi gear extents in a direct line to the very early days of popular home audio in the late 6Ts and early 7Ts. In those days gear wasn't so good and it really did make some sense to pair a 'bright' cartridge with 'warm' speakers or some such similar arrangement. Nowadays particularly in the case of such standard devices  DACs, amps and transports/media players etc they are now so good for so little money mixing and matching is counterproductive. Buy the best analog transducers such as speakers, microphones and cartridges you can afford and like the sound of;  then buy everything else in the digital realm to be transparent, Which is actually quite easy. Unfortunately we are still stuck with an industry paradigm which is long out of date but which has a powerful inertia. It is not in the interest of anyone selling expensive audio gear to reveal that in a properly controlled DBX trial they couldn't distinguish a $2000 DAC from one costing $100.
    If you are in the least doubt about where to obtain accurate, transparent, reliable and well supported audio equipment look first at the ranges supplied by the companies who serve  the professional market. This is what musicians, engineers and producers trust to make the music you listen to everyday. You will also be very pleasantly surprised at the prices.
    Monir, mkarikom, RustA and 1 other person like this.
  7. mcullinan
    Id say everything in the audio chain adds some signature to the sound. Any of the DACs are going to be relatively neutral, but a touch one way or the other.
  8. brunk

    You have a point, as he hasnt stated what type of phones/speakers he has. However, it's much easier to switch out a dac and get a warmer more "musical sound". Especially with tubes. Maybe a tube buffer is right up his alley. Endless possibilities with that option, much cheaper too...
  9. tim3320070
    No, it's much easier to switch out a headphone or speaker and get dramatic sound change- DAC's and amps are subtle changes, tubes add distortion and while not all bad are not my preference because of this.
  10. Currawong Contributor
    I think the problem is what people are referring to is the subtle effects of one of the following:
    Converter and Filter choices. Some have a slow roll-off to the Nyquist frequency which, although at the limit of hearing (or beyond for most people) is perceived as being "warm". The degree of oversampling, including no over-sampling, subtly changes the sound too.
    Output stage: Non-negative-feedback output stages have the proverbial "black background" sound, whereas amplification (which an output stage is) that has significant negative feedback, often the result of using OPAMPs, has what people describe as a more analytical sound. The choice of OPAMP (since they are amplification circuits in their own right) may affect the perceived tonal balance.
    With cheaper DACs, there is a compromise in what components can be put in them, importantly including compromises in the design of the power supply, which is important to keep distortion down and ensure linearity in performance.
    rock&rollfrenchfries likes this.
  11. evanft
    I'd say just buy an ODAC. It measures pretty much transparent.
  12. Currawong Contributor
    He owns one already.
  13. proton007
    I'd agree with Ronald and tim.
    If you want warmth, the DAC should not be the first thing to change, other stuff like the amp, or maybe even headphones can produce much more pronounced results.
  14. brunk

    I should have included this in my first post, thanks for the addition, as alot of people still subscribe to the "1's and 0's" methodology.
  15. evanft
    This is why I should make sure I'm posting in the right thread before hitting submit.

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