Jump to content

DAC improvements - Your understanding of DACS in 2020


Recommended Posts

So I got into the idea of getting a good sound system a number of years ago. I ended up getting a decent set of speakers and a decent amp. Running them from computer onboard audio I knew I needed to get a dac. Researching speakers and amps came pretty straightforward those years ago, but dacs were sort of an unknown territory with a bit of hocus pocus. I ended up getting an affordable dac and putting it into my chain. The change from onboard audio was stark and at the time I was happy with it. Who wouldn't be with the upgrade from onboard audio to a DAC :)

 

So I'm wondering if people can give any recommendations about choosing a dac, perhaps dealing with the stuff they learnt over the years. Misconceptions and such.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Don't worry about bit rates and formats too much/at all.

Let your ears decide, long listening sessions matter more than the 1 song wow factor.

Make sure it does what you want i.e. remote,standby, inputs, outputs

  • Like 3
Link to post
Share on other sites
18 hours ago, odb123 said:

So I'm wondering if people can give any recommendations about choosing a dac, perhaps dealing with the stuff they learnt over the years. Misconceptions and such.

I’ve had many DACs of various sorts through my system. What I’ve learnt is that DACs are essentially “solved”. They are a third or fourth order issue.
 

The sonic differences between well designed DACs are so vanishingly small that I would base my decision on other factors such as build quality and whether they have the features you want. 

Others of course, will have different opinions, that’s just my view. 

 

  • Like 10
Link to post
Share on other sites

The answer is don't buy an old DAC. The last decade of improvement has been frightening, pushing the affordable range of DACs into quality beyond what the audiophile offerings of the past were capable of.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites


6 minutes ago, sir sanders zingmore said:

I’ve had many DACs of various sorts through my system. What I’ve learnt is that DACs are essentially “solved”. They are a third or fourth order issue.
 

The sonic differences between well designed DACs are so vanishingly small that I would base my decision on other factors such as build quality and whether they have the features you want. 

Others of course, will have different opinions, that’s just my view. 

 

Maybe, Trev, as you recently ruined Russ's wallet by showing him how your Magtech killed his Electra (he's recently managed to acquire a Magtech!  :) ) ... you should invite @Ittaku over, so he can show you how his superduper DAC kills yours?  :lol:

 

Andy

 

  • Like 1
  • Love 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
1 minute ago, andyr said:

 

Maybe, Trev, as you recently ruined Russ's wallet by showing him how your Magtech killed his Electra (he's recently managed to acquire a Magtech!  :) ) ... you should invite @Ittaku over, so he can show you how his superduper DAC kills yours?  :lol:

 

Andy

 

He’s welcome over any time (as are you Andy) with or without his “killer” DAC

Link to post
Share on other sites

When one is considering a DAC, it’s a good idea IMHO to bring a broader range of digital manipulations into consideration. 
 

Digital room correction (e.g. Acourate) and binaural digital processing (e.g. BACCH) provide more audible improvement than the improvement of adding a decent DAC. 
 

I’m not saying better DACs don’t make more of positive improvement/difference than less good DACs but if you’re going to drop more than $1-2k on a DAC I would suggest looking at the above as well before doing so!

 

Aris

Edited by aris
Spelling
  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks guys for your input.

 

After posting this thread I read the back and forth discussions happening regarding DACs in general that happened in the topping d90 thread :)

 

aris, this is a very good point you make, i understand and i think I would agree, despite not having the experience there yet.

 

Do you also think EQing speakers like they oftern do with headphones would also provide a more audible improvement than a dac change too?

 

@aris

Edited by odb123
Link to post
Share on other sites


28 minutes ago, odb123 said:

 

aris, this is a very good point you make, i understand and i think I would agree, despite not having the experience there yet.

 

Do you also think EQing speakers like they oftern do with headphones would also provide a more audible improvement than a dac change too?

 

EQ'ing speakers is effectively what digital room correction does - you measure what you hear in your room at your listening position, then apply a target curve to normalise to a preferred response, in the process adjusting bass etc to get the response you want/like. It's the room and speaker combination that create the sound your hear.

 

In past days, I used to wonder why speakers would sound so different at home than in the showroom.

 

DRC, and normalisation to a specific target curve doesn't make all speakers sound the same - there are inherent aspects to each speaker that can't be adjusted via EQ. But I will say, that once you get used to a specific target curve, and you apply to each speaker in your room, then you can assess the attributes of the speaker more accurately - at least this has been my experience. And it also helps compare speakers in different rooms, although audio memory and preference bias will play havoc there!

 

Back to the matter of DAC's - I've climbed down from the audiophile ladder on this component. Instead of multiple $ thousands, for a DAC I'm now in the $ multiple hundred region and find that's a comfortable value proposition for me. And I try to buy locally (Australian made) when there's what I feel to be level performance & quality options (always a subjective point of view of course). My recently bought DACs are made locally and direct from the maker, so I can't help think that there is more value there than through a retailer, via a vendor that has lots of costs into the distribution chain. Again - my opinion, and I'm sure that there's great value in the other options as well. 

 

Something I've noticed more is convergence of DAC + Streamer, at great value points. A recent example is the Okto 2 channel DAC that I think comes with (or can come with) a Roon endpoint, at less than some DAC only options. When you consider that the DAC must be fed via a source, and that most commonly now this is a stream source, eg. Roon/Tidal etc, this is a cool convergent device.

 

If you plan to resell at some point, then there's something to be said about buying a DAC that the general audiophile community is into, and hence you may find more buyers in the future when you sell.

 

Finally, (my own experience only), the support of DSD, MQA etc I think is less important sonically than what we are led to think. They are certainly differentiators but I'm incredibly not convinced that they are very (sonically) important. If I was choosing between two DAC's at the same price and one had more features, I would probably favour the one with less features (that I wouldn't necessarily use or care about) so that I get more value of the features that I do want/need.

 

Hope the above helps!

 

Aris

 

  • Like 6
Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks aris that does give me some direction. I will hold off on dac change at the moment. 

 

I moved my speakers  recently from stands onto a flat couch like thing that doesn't have a back.  Also put them directed lengthways.

 

It's much better to how I had them. Does anyone have an opinions or suggestions on the placement? Also wondering what type of room treatment I should trial?

 

 

 

image.png.5194a4616ea5e231322060a3708f6c2f.png

Link to post
Share on other sites

I’ll double down on what @aris has said above, in that bigger bang for buck will frequently be found outside a DAC. 
 

Start with measuring your room to identify what some room treatment could do in reducing reverb and improving clarity. Be selective in how you treat the room. You don’t want it dead (ultra low RT20 / RT60 times) and you don’t want to turn it into a designer’s mess.


When that’s in play, start looking at what room compensation options exist in technology. You can use the room correction in some AVRs or take the whole thing and put it into your signal chain using something like Acourate or Audiolense to generate convolution filters. This will remap your frequency response to your room and help align the sub response so it’s less flabby and much punchier.

 

if that last bit sounds too hard, you can outsource it very effectively:

https://accuratesound.ca
https://www.homeaudiofidelity.com

 

all you do is get a calibrated microphone and take some measurements in the primary listening position, send it off and within a day you’ll have convolution filters to try out.

 

these can then be put into the DSP engine in Roon or into something like HQPlayer.

 

there’s no shortage of things to tinker with, but I’d wager the $ spent going from a $1k DAC to a $5k+ DAC would be better spent on room treatment in terms of an appreciable audio quality uplift.

Edited by BugPowderDust
  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
On 29/12/2020 at 8:57 PM, odb123 said:

Thanks aris that does give me some direction. I will hold off on dac change at the moment. 

 

I moved my speakers  recently from stands onto a flat couch like thing that doesn't have a back.  Also put them directed lengthways.

 

It's much better to how I had them. Does anyone have an opinions or suggestions on the placement? Also wondering what type of room treatment I should trial?

 

 

 

image.png.5194a4616ea5e231322060a3708f6c2f.png

Lookup how to position speakers in the ideal equilateral triangle and you will find that placing them along the wall where the sofa bed is should work better to get a wider spread and 0.5-1.0m away from walls. Alternatively, place speakers along the window is more ideal to allow space behind your head to reduce close wall reflections.

 

The room acoustics forum topic has plenty of room treatment discussions, typically place rug on floor, wall acoustic panels, thick window curtains, wall corner bass traps etc assuming you even need them in the first place, are there any excessive echos ?

Link to post
Share on other sites


On 28/12/2020 at 1:58 PM, Ittaku said:

The answer is don't buy an old DAC. The last decade of improvement has been frightening, pushing the affordable range of DACs into quality beyond what the audiophile offerings of the past were capable of.

^ This !

 

And for a cost effective option with UPnP...

Running a Pi and a reasonable DAC (both linear powered) can sound surprisingly good.  Its not too pricy either.

If you've got a PC front end, you could stream music to the Pi with foobar (foobar does UPnP and its free).

Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes! Amazing how good a Topping D10 or E30 connected to a Pi running Ropieee can sound.

 

Personally, now I use Rugged Intel NUC’s (no fans!) running a basic Linux install with RoonBridge and Geiseler Klein III and Kompakt DACs for my systems.

 

In the overall scheme of things the above configs are not on the super expensive side of the equation for audiophile HiFi - from a couple of hundred dollars to a bit over a grand for DAC and streamer.


Amazing value and I don’t think one could tell the difference against much more expensive options all other things being equal. 

 

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

I haven't taken the plunge on a dedicated DAC yet. Every time I start looking into it closely I am finding that the DAC in many phones and Ipad's are just as good as far as techinical specs and lab tests go for noise and distortion.

 

So essentially if you have a phone that only runs a 3 mm phone jack out you would be converting to anologue in the phone, sending it to the DAC then the DAC is essentially converting the converted so to speak.

 

For the simple minded like me I'm just as happy plugging my phone or laptop straight into the amp and using one of the streaming platforms.

 

I'm still trying to understand this is all new to me since I started getting interested in Hi Fi again. Don't be scared to give me a roasting I might learn something

 

Edited by Rob Wright
Link to post
Share on other sites
5 minutes ago, Rob Wright said:

So essentially if you have a phone that only runs a 3 mm phone jack out you would be converting to anologue in the phone, sending it to the DAC then the DAC is essentially converting the converted so to speak.

 

You would not send the analogue output of a phone to the DAC at all, it goes straight to the amplifier.    However, lots of phones can support digital playback to an external DAC via USB.  This will sound a lot better in most circumstances.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites


9 minutes ago, Rob Wright said:

So essentially if you have a phone that only runs a 3 mm phone jack out you would be converting to anologue in the phone, sending it to the DAC then the DAC is essentially converting the converted so to speak.

 

You'd only connect a phone to an external DAC if you have a means of sending a digital signal to the DAC (which many phones can do via various methods). You don't feed an analogue signal from your phone to a DAC.

 

EDIT: too slow - beaten to it!

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
1 minute ago, aussievintage said:

 

You would not send the analogue output of a phone to the DAC at all, it goes straight to the amplifier.    However, lots of phones can support digital playback to an external DAC via USB.  This will sound a lot better in most circumstances.

I was only thinking of when the phone is used as the source to the DAC. Or do all DAC's stream?

I understand the USB bit now. Been getting my head around that. 

Link to post
Share on other sites
10 minutes ago, Rob Wright said:

I was only thinking of when the phone is used as the source to the DAC

 

So was I.  You play or stream the music using an app on your phone, and your phone sends the digital data out via the phones USB port to the DAC.

 

11 minutes ago, Rob Wright said:

Or do all DAC's stream?

No, DACs do not stream, however I have read about streamer/DAC combo devices.

  • Thanks 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
11 minutes ago, Rob Wright said:

Can you bluetooth to a DAC? Does that still sound ok?

 

I imagine some devices might include a bluetooth receiver.  Bluetooth uses compressed audio, so it's a compromise, but the codec are getting better all the time.

  • Thanks 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Cheers, might have to re-arrange and test. I used to have them on the wall that has the sofa, opposite the desk. The stairs are walled off, so I found the sound not as "free" in that configuration. Maybe reflections? The measurement from the walled stairs to the opposite (sofa wall) is about 4m. The new position sounds more free n easy. If I put them back to the original config I might need to put sound absorbers on both the stairs wall and the opposite wall?

 

Other thing of note is the ceiling from kitchen to the start of the couch is about 2.5m so standard I think. But the ceiling above where the lounge section starts (where the stairs start) is 5m, double. The window areas are about 4m tall and 3.5m wide.

 

I'm not sure how that ceiling jump affects my strategy in placing?

 

On 31/12/2020 at 10:28 AM, Al.M said:

Lookup how to position speakers in the ideal equilateral triangle and you will find that placing them along the wall where the sofa bed is should work better to get a wider spread and 0.5-1.0m away from walls. Alternatively, place speakers along the window is more ideal to allow space behind your head to reduce close wall reflections.

 

The room acoustics forum topic has plenty of room treatment discussions, typically place rug on floor, wall acoustic panels, thick window curtains, wall corner bass traps etc assuming you even need them in the first place, are there any excessive echos ?

 

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
On 02/01/2021 at 8:38 PM, odb123 said:

Rob a dac makes a huge difference compared to onboard audio. Go for it !

so i'm running a set of budget speakers - edifier r1855db & klipsch sw-350 sub.

i was looking at the audioengine d1, if i use this dac rather than whatever is in my pc motherboard - i will notice an improvement and be satisfied with my purchase?

Link to post
Share on other sites
14 hours ago, chewstation said:

i was looking at the audioengine d1, if i use this dac rather than whatever is in my pc motherboard - i will notice an improvement and be satisfied with my purchase?

It's possible you will hear a slight difference  in certain parts of certain recordings; especially if you are able to set up an immediate A B comparison.  

Many years ago pc motherboard chips could give noticeably poor sound, but that is much less likely with today's motherboards.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Depends what you need.

 

If you are into hi res, DSD or MQA stuff the DAC would need to be functional in those areas, but if not some of the very first DAC chips if implemented well might surprise you and even be preferred, even the first the Philips TDA1540 a 14 bit DAC can present a very detailed and natural sound.

 

Of course connect ability is another area you might need compatibility, and if the DAC itself doesn't meet this there are interfaces that can be added to accommodate.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest rmpfyf
On 27/12/2020 at 10:22 PM, odb123 said:

So I got into the idea of getting a good sound system a number of years ago. I ended up getting a decent set of speakers and a decent amp. Running them from computer onboard audio I knew I needed to get a dac. Researching speakers and amps came pretty straightforward those years ago, but dacs were sort of an unknown territory with a bit of hocus pocus. I ended up getting an affordable dac and putting it into my chain. The change from onboard audio was stark and at the time I was happy with it. Who wouldn't be with the upgrade from onboard audio to a DAC :)

 

So I'm wondering if people can give any recommendations about choosing a dac, perhaps dealing with the stuff they learnt over the years. Misconceptions and such.

 

If you're upgrading from onboard audio, it's always going to be stark. 

 

I'd not recommend 'don't go with an old DAC'. There's a ton of hardware out there that measures 'interestingly' and sounds amazing. If at the end of the day you're getting the sound you want at a price you can access, listen happily. 

 

Certainly there are good DACs around and newer stuff generally measures better in most (not all) domains though it's not sufficient as to be 'newer must be good'. Just listen. 

 

Whever you get will need to have the connections you want and any other reasonable features - e.g. if you're playing around with DRC or don't have an analogue volume control in there or whatnot, you'll probably want more than 16 bits unless you intend to do a ton of digital processing. 

 

I have a few DACs made of older (much) older IC's that sound glorious. Wouldn't trade them at all. I have a few Topping D10's around the place I use for development work and sound just fine. 

 

At any rate it's going to be hard to make a good system out of a marginal source. Just listen and let your ears guide you. 

Link to post
Share on other sites
4 hours ago, rmpfyf said:

If you're upgrading from onboard audio, it's always going to be stark. 

That may be your experience, rmpfyf. It isn't mine.  

 

If I find the time in coming weeks I might record the output of one of my pc's with its onboard sound and upload it (level-matched) and the source digital file, let's say with both at a 48kHz sample rate (a very common rate these days). I'd then invite forum members to express their opinions as to the extent of audible differences, e.g. "extreme", "stark", "mild", "barely noticeable".  That could be an interesting exercise.

  • Like 1
  • Love 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, MLXXX said:

That may be your experience, rmpfyf. It isn't mine.  

 

If I find the time in coming weeks I might record the output of one of my pc's with its onboard sound and upload it (level-matched) and the source digital file, let's say with both at a 48kHz sample rate (a very common rate these days). I'd then invite forum members to express their opinions as to the extent of audible differences, e.g. "extreme", "stark", "mild", "barely noticeable".  That could be an interesting exercise.

What about onboard audio vs external dac vs source file?

Link to post
Share on other sites
8 hours ago, chewstation said:

What about onboard audio vs external dac vs source file?

Yes that would provide an interesting set of comparisons.

_______

 

(Although motherboard sound can provide 5.1 or more analogue output channels, I think in my testing I'd limit myself to Front Left and Front Right.)

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest rmpfyf
15 hours ago, MLXXX said:

That may be your experience, rmpfyf. It isn't mine.  

 

If I find the time in coming weeks I might record the output of one of my pc's with its onboard sound and upload it (level-matched) and the source digital file, let's say with both at a 48kHz sample rate (a very common rate these days). I'd then invite forum members to express their opinions as to the extent of audible differences, e.g. "extreme", "stark", "mild", "barely noticeable".  That could be an interesting exercise.

 

Plenty of measurements abound for this sort of stuff. I can only talk to the boards I've got around here - usual Realtek IC. Even then we're down in the usual flys**t of the audibility of measurements. 

 

Perceptibly and beyond the usual people hi-fiving comments in seeming opposition to what I'd write (you know who you are) it's a stark difference over here. Feels like it' quite a difference in noise. Not surprising given what the ICs and outputs are parked next to. 

 

This said I couldn't comment to what this could be on a motherboard with a dedicated attempt to make a decent rather than functional audio output. I'd imagine there are some that are quite good/on a par with decent PCI/PCIe hardware. I use the D10's instead over USB as they're cost-effective for what they do. If a PCI or onboard option of similar performance were available, I'd use that.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.




×
×
  • Create New...