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What's an example of a "good DAC"?

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by EnsisTheSlayer, Aug 30, 2017.
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  1. EnsisTheSlayer
    I've heard so many times that "all good DACs sound the same" or something along the lines of that, so my question is, at what point (if there is one) do you think the difference between DACs become negligible?

    I don't plan on getting a high end DAC for quite some time, but I am curious and I wasn't able to find an answer through a quick google search.
    Last edited: Aug 30, 2017
  2. pibroch
    Dacs all sound different from each other. At no point do their differences in sound become negligible.
  3. EnsisTheSlayer
    So it's just a myth then? Good to have that cleared up. If you don't mind answering another question, if that's true then what specifically is wrong with the blind tests that got those kinds of results?
  4. theveterans
    DACs today measure far more accurate than your ears can ever tell. What makes them different are the analog stage implementation and of course, the custom made digital filters that makes them sound different to other DACs. Whether you hear a different sound from them is up to your ears.

    You should check out "Z reviews" on YouTube. He used a PCM recorder line-in instead of an actual microphone on one of his videos to record the analog output from various DAC types without the effects of microphone, room acoustics, etc.
  5. EnsisTheSlayer
    Ohh, okay. I think I understand it a lot better now, thanks.
  6. theveterans
    No problem sir.
    If you want to delve in to the subject, I'd spare a few minutes to hear this guy's impression:
  7. pinnahertz
    DACs all sound the same, the differences are due to expectation bias. They are not differentiated at all in an ABX/DBT.

    Sonic differences between DACs is the myth.
  8. castleofargh Contributor
    for the sake of rational thinking, your claim is empty and meaningless. it's not like you've tested all the DACs in the world under double blind conditions before posting so you have no ground to make such a claim. also in a more practical way, it's BS, because while we can't prove your claim, it has been disproved a great many times.

    my personal experience is that every single time I've done a blind test with volume matched, we've failed to identify 2 or 3 of the DACs used even at 44.1khz. above it usually was even harder for me.
    it's easy to find some more or less formal testing like the video above. one I found interesting if not at a scientific level, at least at a psychological one, was the all "Big Sound" adventure at innerfidelity(runs over several days and many people). it started as a "let's test everything", and you can feel how testing DACs rapidly takes a step back as we move into the experiment. even amps often become conditional to the headphone used(which is to be expected IMO). one could argue that the gear tested were super expensive and should logically have higher general fidelity, but you can still notice how confident some people were about DACs based on their own uncontrolled listening tests at home.

    grrrrr. that's the same nonsense as above except you're claiming the opposite. I've identified several DACs, some had an obvious roll off when playing 16/44khz,. one had some background noise so high it was scary. but beyond that, you can always expect somebody to design a DAC so poorly that it will have crap fidelity at an audible level. many actually do that on purpose because in the mind of the lost lambs, difference and improvements are often mistaken for one another. DACs with audibly different sound do exist, there is zero doubt about that.

    I much prefer to say that DACs should sound the same, as the tech is good enough to achieve that.
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2017
    muza_1 and ShaggyFi like this.
  9. pinnahertz
    Are you seriously saying that there is some stand-alone DAC made as an "upgrade" to an on-board sound card that has that kind of performance?
  10. castleofargh Contributor
    I'm not saying anything, I'm using an old Odac and the line output of a scarlett2i2 as DACs because I don't have a line out on my laptop ^_^. but I can't treat @pibroch's claim like the joke it is, and then agree with yours just because in general I agree that most DACs are, or should be audibly the same. DACs don't all sound the same. it's a false claim.
  11. pibroch
    In a nutshell, they were done unscientifically by groups of amateurs who were incapable of conceptualising what they were doing. I can't see much point in doing proper studies as most people are happy making their own informal judgements. However a good series of studies would likely involve generously paying golden eared sound connoisseurs such as top recording engineers to act as subjects and interview them as to their preferred experimental conditions. For example some may be wanting to make recordings of acoustic instruments with equipment they know well in their own recording studios and comparing the live sound with the sounds of their recordings played through the dacs being compared. You could have different dacs inside identical external boxes (except for engraved identity codes) allocated to the subjects in a double blind fashion.
  12. ShaggyFi
    My HUGO and M8 and modi all sound different...

    Let me have my test review here

    Here is how I get my impressions and why I think it makes sense:

    I have 3 DAC(HUGO, M8, MODI) at once for about 6 months, avg listening for 2 hours per day. There was one week in may when I switched between the 3 DAC, tested them and then listed one for sell, one gave away as gift, one for myself. I tested them with the same source(gaming notebook), input usb cables with jitter bug usb cleaner, output RCA cable, wall power, headphone AMP(jotunheim high gain single end) and headphone(HE500) and the same software setting(JRiver exclusive mode) and music files Beethoven Symphonies 5 & 7 - Honeck, Pittsburgh SO (Reference FR-718).

    The 3 different DAC sound like 3 different DAC. The modi has the most to-your-face soundstage while all instruments are tied together and the rear instruments(basses, horns and trombones etc...) don't sound like on the back, but only sound like being covered by the front due to lack of details and their harmonic overtone got overwhelmed by high frequencies noise from pc. Modi also makes everything sounds much brighter than live perform. M8 has a more realistic brightness. The rear instruments don't get overwhelmed by the front too much while airy details from the front are still there. Its overall a more 3D, not overly bright sounding DAC. Therefore if the instruments are brighter than they should but instruments are still not well separated, then I must be listening to a MODI not a M8. Because their harmonic overtone sound like being overwhelmed by the brightness of all the fundamental sound of the instruments. When the high frequencies details and harmonic got messed up, the soundstage got messed up too. The Hugo is a larger jump again. Each instrument sounds more like what the sound in real life. The fundamental sound of the instruments are more detailed and weighted, without disturbing restless noise from PC which makes everything sounds too bright and out of place. Therefore the harmonic overtone is all there, its warm and airy and all instruments own a body on the stage. Maybe thanks to the well written Xmos interface and clean battery power or something in the HUGO, the shiiit PC noise do not get in my music as much as the 2 other dac while having good detailed sounding chip and stuff. Hugo simply tastes better.

    I have to say all 3 DAC I have are not for symphonies because they all have the to-your-face soundstage compares to full size pro DAC. However they are still different enough for me to tell which is which. Back to the volume matching issue, if the violins sound too bright, no matter how you turn the volume up and down. You wont make it natural wood sounding again. If the orchestra instruments are well separated, there won't be much noise to jam the airy details no matter how you turn the volume up and down.

    One of the most important factor in my test which makes my 3 DAC sound so different is definitely not the volume, but my very poor source(gaming notebook). I can't believe none of you point it out yet. Its has tones of jamming noise passses to the DAC. Since my modi is USB powered, it only amplifies the weakness of the DAC and make the already not very revealing chip even worse. I do believe the DAC is not what makes the music really bad but the tech failed to handle the noisy power is. I actually used a high end 204 interface between the PC and DAC. That proved what I thought. PC + int204 + linear power supply +modi uber sounds much much better than PC + Hugo/M8/modi/modi uber. However the int204 costs more than the rest of the system.
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2017
    Redcarmoose and pibroch like this.
  13. castleofargh Contributor
    under which conditions? sighted test and your opinion? blind test? how exactly?
    from the get go a little Google gives me:
    M8 output 2.15V.
    modi 1.5V or 2V for the multibit.
    Hugo line level is 3V.

    so doing any sort of hearing test must first make sure to match those levels to avoid reaching false conclusions. else it turns into a test to check if audibly louder sounds are audibly different, and we already know the answer to that one ^_^.
  14. pinnahertz
    Ok, then I'll refine the statement.

    All DACs designed to reproduce a signal accurately and without deliberate or unintentional modification of the signal sound the same. That should be most of them. And those that sound different should be very easy to characterize with measurements, and IMO any DAC with an unusual or signature should be avoided unless the intent of that modification is fully recognized and applied to it's intended purpose.

    Geez, I have to write like a lawyer here.

    Also, DAC quality doesn't track cost at all. The DACs in iPhones and iPads, for example (the ones that still have a headphone jack anyway), are some of the best, and technically free with the device.
  15. ShaggyFi
    Its not the loudness which makes the difference, but how 3D the sound stage is, how analog and smooth and detail well extended. Plus how well the interface is coded and integrated for the DAC.
    pibroch likes this.
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