To DAC or not to DAC?

Daniel 70

Active Member
What needs to be borne in mind that out of the variety of components, end-to-end, that make up a hifi system, a modern DAC is the one that'll provide least variation, and even then largely in terms of build quality and functionality.

Speakers: big and obvious sonic differences, both measurable and audible, same goes for phono cartridges, because, like speakers, they are transducers and operate in the physical, acoustical realm.

There are differences between amps, specifically pre-amps (not so much power amps), but these are more subtle than those of speakers and cartridges. There is a notable difference between pre-amps that are SS and those that use valves/tubes.

The differences between hifi DACs these days have been demonstrated objectively to be negligible regardless of technology employed, R2R, sigma Delta etc. That's what I meant by DAC technology being solved, and why refering to DAC technology of 1980 isn't really useful in this context: who is still using a DAC from 1980, a time before digital technology for audio entered the mainstream?

You may argue that, for someone with a £100k system and the room correction to go with it, they may have the resolution to discern the difference between DACs, but even that is moot.

If you want to throw lots of money around on a DAC for your entry to mid-level system be my guest: nothing wrong with pride of ownership, top-notch build quality etc. but you need to take with a pinch of salt that there are any sonic differences that are audible. Check out Audio Science Review: there are £300 DACs that measure better, and are therefore better implemented, than a few that are 10 times the price, but the people buying the expensive ones swear by them, but then they would, having parted with all that money, wouldn't they?

I've auditioned plenty of DACs and there just isn't much in it, no more than cables. This silly idea with some audiophiles that connoisseurship can be more or less applied to every item of kit on a audio system is frankly nonsense once the development of a particular technology plateaus: this is how snake oil gets in. I'd rather spend my money on better speakers.
Your timeline is a bit skew. The first commercial CD player was released in 1982. It used previously existing DACs. So all the piece parts, the Spdif standard , the DACs ,the control electronic microprocessor ,the error correction were all in place. , and more importantly entire libraries of music had been digitised before the CD player was released. I , as a graduate student was using 12 bit ADCs in 1975 for instrumentation..and these all included DACs as part of their construction. Earlier ADCs for Audio were in use in 1974. So if you want to hear what vintage DACs sound like, get a mid 1980s CD. I bought entire sets when I moved over to CDs around 1988.
I fully agree that the best component making the greatest difference is the loudspeakers or headphones.
The point now is that the Electronics, in even low cost devices is potentially PERFECT. and the effort is going into changing the user experience , by adding effects such as deliberate distortion the Hi Fi war has been won.
 

NifkinFZ6

Active Member
My timeline isn't askew. It was you that brought up ancient DACs and you specifically said '1980' - a specific year, not '1980s' the decade. So my comment that digital music was not in the mainstream in 1980 is correct: the first commercially available CD player (which was the only way to access digital music back then for the mainstream) was released in 1982.

But, again, the differences between DAC technology in the 1980s has no bearing on discussing comparisons between DACs within the last five years.

The differences between modern hifi systems is not to be found in the DACs used, as you've agreed, that techology has been perfected and can be had at relatively very low cost. Distortion can be added/reduced elsewhere down the chain to suit tastes (speakers, room, etc).

It is in a manufacturer's interests to tell you that their DAC is different or better than the competition: doesn't mean that we have to take them at their word.
 

karlsushi

Active Member
I actually agree with you @NifkinFZ6 to a certain extent, in that DACs are probably one of the components that there does now seem to be less variability compared with certain other components within the chain, but I can't agree that 'they all sound the same' and therefroe it's not worth exploring.

The significance of the analogue stage has been mentioned previously and there is a variety of implementation choices a DAC designer has at their disposal for this aspect of the design, all of which can affect the sound to one degree or another.

You mentioned this previously:
There is a notable difference between pre-amps that are SS and those that use valves/tubes

How do you account for the difference in sound between various preamps and there being no notable difference in DACs, bearing in mind the output stage of a DAC is effectively a preamp voltage gain stage?

One answer to my own question will of course be the volume control (potentiometer), but then some DACs also incorporate a volume control. Some also use a tube buffer output stage. Are you suggesting a DAC with a tube output buffer would sound the same as one with a SS output?

Or are you able to concede that there has to be 'some' degree of variability between different DACs, even around a similar price-point, depending upon the analogue stage (and to a lesser extent also the power supply/capacitors used etc)?
 

andycc72

Active Member
@andycc72 I encourage you to take with a pinch of salt the perspective of one person who has taken a view that there is no audible difference between every DAC. Each to their own.

That is certainly not my experience and if it were true, the DAC market would be a dead duck. The truth is, the digital market is full of clamour for the next converter technology to outdo the last and although features are part of that, sound quality is very much part of the story.

Some people may be comfortable that a cheap DAC is all they'll ever need and may even convince themselves that it will have the same performance as the most expensive DAC on the planet just because they measure similarly, but millions of ears across the world have been convinced to spend more than a few quid on their DAC (mine included) and to suggest it's all a trick of the mind is just frankly tosh.

But don't take mine or anyone else's word for it. Try one out and hear for yourself with an open mind. You may be pleasantly surprised or you may also decide your agree that they all sound the same. But you won't know if you don't try.

Personally, I think your system is going to be revealing enough to hear the benefits of a better DAC, especially with those KEFs.

I don't have any experience with the node2i so can't say how much you'd need to spend to get a notable upgrade and I do agree with a comment earlier that a greater influence on sound quality will probably come from your proposed Lyngdorf purchase (depending on how bad your room acoustics are), but I'd be surprised if the node2i outperforms something like the Chord2Qute. And if it does, then it is certainly very good value.

I think a second hand 2Qute would be a good shout, so you could just sell it at exactly the same price if you didn't like it as they hold that their value incredibly well.

I too have had the same itch during lockdown for spending my hard earned cash on hifi upgrades and if you have the cash, then go for it.

I know it works for me.
thanks Karlsushi but I've made my mind up to not get an external DAC and just wait for the upgrade to the 1120 next year.

But the itch has not been scratched so I will be buying a Rega Plana 3 TT next week and will be entering the murky world of Vinyl. Fortunately My Dad is going to give me his records; lots of Stones, Beatles and Blues originals from the 60's through to the 80's which he never plays (he doesn't even have TT anymore) and my best pal has a decent and House & Soul collection which has been sitting in his loft for the last 15 years and he said I can have then until he gets a TT....which knowing him will be never - fingers crossed ;)

I can feel a another thread coming on ;) ;)
 
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NifkinFZ6

Active Member
Or are you able to concede that there has to be 'some'degree of variability between different DACs, even around a similar price-point, depending upon the analogue stage (and to a lesser extent also the power supply/capacitors used etc)?
As I said in my earlier post:
There are no measurable differences between sub £1k DACs that can be heard with the human ear.

Unless you want colouration to your sound (provided by a tube/valve DAC, say), or are looking for different features there really shouldn't be any difference in SQ
 

Daniel 70

Active Member
thanks Karlsushi but I've made my mind up to not get an external DAC and just wait for the upgrade to the 1120 next year.

But the itch has not been scratched so I will be buying a Rega Plana 3 TT next week and will be entering the murky world of Vinyl. Fortunately My Dad is going to give me his records; lots of Stones, Beatles and Blues originals from the 60's through to the 80's which he never plays (he doesn't even have TT anymore) and my best pal has a decent and House & Soul collection which has been sitting in his loft for the last 15 years and he said I can have then until he gets a TT....which knowing him will be never - fingers crossed ;)

I can feel a another thread coming on ;) ;)
This is now a fresh can of worms, but my opinion is to hire a good TT and a good phono preamp ADC and using Audicity and any laptop or PC digitise, the whole shagging lot, then put the vinyl back into an Attic or Bank Vault or my preference ..landfill. Then return the TT combo, and return to the 21st century. The ADC will be able to do 24 bit, 96k digitising, and flac copies will last forever without degradation.
 

Daniel 70

Active Member
My timeline isn't askew. It was you that brought up ancient DACs and you specifically said '1980' - a specific year, not '1980s' the decade. So my comment that digital music was not in the mainstream in 1980 is correct: the first commercially available CD player (which was the only way to access digital music back then for the mainstream) was released in 1982.

But, again, the differences between DAC technology in the 1980s has no bearing on discussing comparisons between DACs within the last five years.

The differences between modern hifi systems is not to be found in the DACs used, as you've agreed, that techology has been perfected and can be had at relatively very low cost. Distortion can be added/reduced elsewhere down the chain to suit tastes (speakers, room, etc).

It is in a manufacturer's interests to tell you that their DAC is different or better than the competition: doesn't mean that we have to take them at their word.
I would have data sheets for ADCs and DACs from 1980.!!. . And no it was possible to access Digital recorded music before then. The VHS type recorder had been modified as early as 75 to store digitised music. .
 

andycc72

Active Member
This is now a fresh can of worms, but my opinion is to hire a good TT and a good phono preamp ADC and using Audicity and any laptop or PC digitise, the whole shagging lot, then put the vinyl back into an Attic or Bank Vault or my preference ..landfill. Then return the TT combo, and return to the 21st century. The ADC will be able to do 24 bit, 96k digitising, and flac copies will last forever without degradation.
Genuine question, why bother when I can just stream the lot from my Amazon HD in high res or via Spotify (soon to be high res)?

To be fair there's a few House & Rare Groove tunes that wouldn't be on Amazon HD but between that and Spotify (I can currently have both until Spotify goes high res) most will be available to Stream.

I currently stream 90% of the time and I'm under no illusion that Vinyl will even make a large dent in that but I'm keen to give it a go. Worst case scenario, the TT get sold and I take a couple of hundred pound loss for the pleasure.
 

Daniel 70

Active Member
Genuine question, why bother when I can just stream the lot from my Amazon HD in high res or via Spotify (soon to be high res)?

To be fair there's a few House & Rare Groove tunes that wouldn't be on Amazon HD but between that and Spotify (I can currently have both until Spotify goes high res) most will be available to Stream.

I currently stream 90% of the time and I'm under no illusion that Vinyl will even make a large dent in that but I'm keen to give it a go. Worst case scenario, the TT get sold and I take a couple of hundred pound loss for the pleasure.
Well that is a very good question. You need to be sure that their High Rez is actually high resolution. . The number of euphemisms and weasel words is mesmerising by these services ...as it is intended to be. What you can expect with stuff you have digitised yourself is honesty. Vinyl digitised with a high resolution 24 bit 96k samples will have extracted everything which was on that vinyl, warts and all. For my part I prefer to retain my music and not rent it. It took a few weeks ..well multiple days of ripping CDs onto a hard drive, but now it is done. Unless I do something silly like format two drives simultaneously, I should have that music ..at a total cost of 60 quid.
 

andycc72

Active Member
Well that is a very good question. You need to be sure that their High Rez is actually high resolution. . The number of euphemisms and weasel words is mesmerising by these services ...as it is intended to be. What you can expect with stuff you have digitised yourself is honesty. Vinyl digitised with a high resolution 24 bit 96k samples will have extracted everything which was on that vinyl, warts and all. For my part I prefer to retain my music and not rent it. It took a few weeks ..well multiple days of ripping CDs onto a hard drive, but now it is done. Unless I do something silly like format two drives simultaneously, I should have that music ..at a total cost of 60 quid.
Fair point, but the reality is I'll never do it. I've embraced streaming but every now and again I like to play CD’s and going forward that will be records as well.

I had a few hundred records all of which I gave away about 15 years ago, wish I'd hung on to them now.
 
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NifkinFZ6

Active Member
I would have data sheets for ADCs and DACs from 1980.!!. . And no it was possible to access Digital recorded music before then. The VHS type recorder had been modified as early as 75 to store digitised music. .
Yes it was probablt possible but it wasn't mainstream is what I said. 1980s DACs are irrelevant to this conversation.
 

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