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Audible Differences in DAC's?
sawdin
post Jan 9 2013, 19:41
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When he announced the release of the ODAC, NwAvGuy posted the the following on his blog:
QUOTE
NO SNAKE OIL REQUIRED: Many audiophiles want to believe more elaborate or exotic DACs offer higher fidelity. The ODAC demonstrates you do NOT need any of these for 100% transparent performance:

Asynchronous USB
UAC2 (USB Audio Class 2) Support
Asynchronous Sample Rate Conversion (ASRC),
Minimum Phase Filtering (no pre-ringing)
Non-oversampling NOS DAC chips
Dual DAC chips
Balanced Outputs
Vacuum Tube Stages
Elaborate and/or High Current Power Supplies


Is his position accurate/defensible?

If there was a well-designed DB/ABX test of the ODAC and sub $500/$1000 DAC's (e.g., Audioquest Dragonfly, iFi Micro iDAC, Audioengine D1, Emotiva XDA-2, etc.) that are are Asynchronous, USB Audio Class 2, etc. etc., do you think there would be 'audible/discernible' differences?

The reason that I am asking is that I am curious as to the whether there really is much of an audible difference between various sub $500 or $1,000 DAC's, and I haven't come across any DB tests of DAC's. I have read many subjective reviews that claim differences are quite noticeable. Of course, there are major differences in terms of the types and number of inputs and outputs that a DAC may have, whether they include a headphone amp, how portable they are, etc.

I am not trying to start a fight/flame war, I am just curious as to what the 'prevailing wisdom is' on this site. If you think there are differences in sub $500/$1000 DAC's, what do you believe are the relevant factors (e.g., USB vs Toslink/Coax)? I know that 'speakers' make a difference, but am unsure about how much, if any, difference there is between DAC's. Again, just trying to become an informed consumer (and save $), not trying to start fights.

TIA

PS...I should note that I appreciate people like NwAvGuy and others who try to provide quality products, diy options, etc., at reasonable prices.
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pdq
post Jan 9 2013, 19:55
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I'm curious why you felt the need to limit the discussion to sub $500 or $1000 DACs? Is it because you feel that a DAC which costs much more than this WILL sound better in an ABX test?
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sawdin
post Jan 9 2013, 20:14
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QUOTE (pdq @ Jan 9 2013, 13:55) *
I'm curious why you felt the need to limit the discussion to sub $500 or $1000 DACs? Is it because you feel that a DAC which costs much more than this WILL sound better in an ABX test?


Good question. I was thinking in terms of what I personally would be willing to spend. However, the question of whether certain components or specs are 'needed' is independent of price.
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greynol
post Jan 9 2013, 20:26
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$500 is far too much for a transparent DAC. You are not going to see any DBT results justifying this figure as a minimum price point from a sound quality perspective in today's dollars, ever.

This post has been edited by greynol: Jan 9 2013, 20:26


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DVDdoug
post Jan 9 2013, 20:29
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Most sub-$100 CD players or portable music players have DACs that are better than human hearing. Most regular 'ol soundcards also have DACs that are better than human hearing too, although sometimes the post-DAC analog circuitry in a soundcard can pick-up audible noise from the other circuitry inside the computer.

However, as I just mentioned in another post... It is very expensive to manufacture, market, and distribute stuff in low volumes, and nice looking cabinets are expensive (especially in small quantities), and audiophiles tend to favor expensive things!

This post has been edited by DVDdoug: Jan 9 2013, 20:30
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sawdin
post Jan 9 2013, 20:31
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QUOTE (greynol @ Jan 9 2013, 14:26) *
$500 is far too much for a transparent DAC. You are not going to see any DBT results justifying this figure as a minimum price point from a sound quality perspective in today's dollars, ever.


Okay, what do you believe is a reasonable price point and what DAC's at that price point do what they are supposed to do w/out adding noise/distortion. Not challenging your statement, just curious. Thanks.
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greynol
post Jan 9 2013, 20:42
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I don't feel challenged, rather it is I who is challenging.

Read DVDdoug's reply. High-performance DAC ICs have been cheap for many years now.


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Speedskater
post Jan 9 2013, 20:51
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Unfortunately the NwAvGuy has lost interest in the audio scene. His last blog was in May (with a few short responses in the summer) and his last visit to another forum was in July.


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sawdin
post Jan 9 2013, 21:11
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QUOTE (Speedskater @ Jan 9 2013, 14:51) *
Unfortunately the NwAvGuy has lost interest in the audio scene. His last blog was in May (with a few short responses in the summer) and his last visit to another forum was in July.



I noticed that. I'm just curious if his assertions make sense and how much one needs to pay for a DAC that will do what it is supposed to do w/out altering SQ by adding noise/distortion.
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ktf
post Jan 9 2013, 22:56
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You can try for yourself, download this: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/5985984/DAC-test.zip

It's a blind test I made with a Sound Blaster X-Fi Surround 5.1 USB-DAC which costed me around 50 euro. The first test has two files, one is the original, the other is that original after it has been played and recorded (looped back over a short unbalanced cable) 24x. So, any degradation coming from the DAC and ADC in that thing has been added and stacked 24 times. Try to find any differences.

The second test is another piece of music, with a few files looped back 4 times, 8 times and 12 times IIRC, and two on which I just applied some random (small) gain to make it a little harder to get the answer right if you're just guessing.

Even this cheap stuff performs very well. I don't think you'll hear any differences at all. Enjoy.

This post has been edited by ktf: Jan 9 2013, 22:57


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skamp
post Jan 9 2013, 23:37
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QUOTE (sawdin @ Jan 9 2013, 20:31) *
Okay, what do you believe is a reasonable price point and what DAC's at that price point do what they are supposed to do w/out adding noise/distortion. Not challenging your statement, just curious. Thanks.


You could start with a $40 Sansa Clip+: play a file through it, record it with some high quality ADC, align and volume match with the original file, and ABX that. I'd be surprised if you were successful.

Personally, I love my O2/ODAC: it matches my needs perfectly, it's fully transparent, and yeah, I enjoy it even more because of my expectation bias. I can recommend it to anyone who can afford it, simply on the grounds that it's convenient, well built (can't say the same about my FiiO E7), compatible with pretty much any headphones and IEMs, it's transparent and sounds great, without comparing it to anything else, without claiming that nothing cheaper could do the job.

QUOTE (Speedskater @ Jan 9 2013, 20:51) *
Unfortunately the NwAvGuy has lost interest in the audio scene. His last blog was in May (with a few short responses in the summer) and his last visit to another forum was in July.


I have strong suspicions that he is actually quite active on some audio-related forum, under another pseudonym. I won't say who nor where, because I can't think of a good reason to break his anonymity, which he clearly wants to protect. If I'm right though, I haven't the slightest clue as to why he stopped posting on his blog. I dearly miss his insights.

This post has been edited by skamp: Jan 9 2013, 23:49


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Arnold B. Kruege...
post Jan 10 2013, 00:47
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QUOTE (sawdin @ Jan 9 2013, 14:31) *
Okay, what do you believe is a reasonable price point and what DAC's at that price point do what they are supposed to do w/out adding noise/distortion. Not challenging your statement, just curious.


Every DAC ever made or that will be ever made can be counted on to add noise and distortion.

However, that is not the relevant question.

The relevant question is what does it take in the way of DACs to be sonically transparent or free of audible noise and distortion as actually used to listen to music, etc..

The fact of the matter is that the DACs in a Sansa Clip+ are sonically transparent, and they are components of a Computer SOC (System on a Chip) that sells for $10 or less.

The answer to your question is < $1. For example there are 8 channel 24/192 DACs that have 105 dB dynamic range and are used on the outputs of the DSPs in AVRs. Less than $3. Each DAC costs about 3/8 of a dollar or $0.375.
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sawdin
post Jan 10 2013, 01:47
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Thanks to all who have replied. Very informative, and the responses have made me rethink possible solutions to an audio components connection issue that I am trying to resolve...guess I need to start a new thread,lol.

Thanks again...
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sawdin
post Jan 11 2013, 16:41
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QUOTE (Arnold B. Krueger @ Jan 9 2013, 18:47) *
QUOTE (sawdin @ Jan 9 2013, 14:31) *
Okay, what do you believe is a reasonable price point and what DAC's at that price point do what they are supposed to do w/out adding noise/distortion. Not challenging your statement, just curious.


Every DAC ever made or that will be ever made can be counted on to add noise and distortion.

However, that is not the relevant question.

The relevant question is what does it take in the way of DACs to be sonically transparent or free of audible noise and distortion as actually used to listen to music, etc..

The fact of the matter is that the DACs in a Sansa Clip+ are sonically transparent, and they are components of a Computer SOC (System on a Chip) that sells for $10 or less.

The answer to your question is < $1. For example there are 8 channel 24/192 DACs that have 105 dB dynamic range and are used on the outputs of the DSPs in AVRs. Less than $3. Each DAC costs about 3/8 of a dollar or $0.375.


How a given chip is incorporated into a DAC will affect 'measurable performance', whether there are audible differences between reasonably well designed, properly built DAC's, probably not; at least not for me as I am pretty sure that I am not afflicted with 'golden ears'...


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Mach-X
post Jan 14 2013, 06:27
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Haha skamp exactly why I love my zunehd! Its shinier feels more sexy in my hands than my clip+. So it sounds better. As quoted from the matrix - ignorance is bliss.
On topic, any differences between dacs is beyond human ears nowadays...whats more important is clean signal path as well as speakers. Any device can have a good dac but if theres poor internal design you can get interference in the analog part of the circuit, ie, a cell phone might have a great dac but introduce buzzing and pops when navigating onscreen menus. Hence a device with a "lesser" dac but a cleaner signal path will sound better.

This post has been edited by Mach-X: Jan 14 2013, 06:37
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Arnold B. Kruege...
post Jan 14 2013, 14:52
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QUOTE (sawdin @ Jan 11 2013, 10:41) *
How a given chip is incorporated into a DAC will affect 'measurable performance', whether there are audible differences between reasonably well designed, properly built DAC's, probably not; at least not for me as I am pretty sure that I am not afflicted with 'golden ears'...


All things are possible and one of those things is the possibility that a good enough DAC would be hobbled by output buffer circuits that add quite a bit of distortion. There are even common examples of this such as the way that a Sansa Clip or Fuze distorts at least an order of magnitude worse with a 16 ohm load as compared to a 10K load.

Thing is, even with the added distortion performance is still below the thresholds of hearing, and not by a little bit.

IME Golden Ears are a state of mind more so than a state of body. Most people who cliam have them have to be retrained considerably to become effective listeners. The goldeness of their ears disappears when you remove the crutch of sighted listening.
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Mach-X
post Jan 15 2013, 03:58
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btw Arnold, the folks at Zanden would disagree with your 0.375 claim http://www.zandenaudio.com/product/m5000.php they claim $13000 to be more realistic wink.gif
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probedb
post Jan 15 2013, 09:05
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QUOTE (Mach-X @ Jan 15 2013, 02:58) *
btw Arnold, the folks at Zanden would disagree with your 0.375 claim http://www.zandenaudio.com/product/m5000.php they claim $13000 to be more realistic wink.gif


I believe Arnold was talking about the DAC chips themselves not what they end up being used in smile.gif
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Arnold B. Kruege...
post Jan 16 2013, 14:43
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QUOTE (probedb @ Jan 15 2013, 03:05) *
QUOTE (Mach-X @ Jan 15 2013, 02:58) *
btw Arnold, the folks at Zanden would disagree with your 0.375 claim http://www.zandenaudio.com/product/m5000.php they claim $13000 to be more realistic wink.gif


I believe Arnold was talking about the DAC chips themselves not what they end up being used in smile.gif


Yes, you can always screw up the buffers/I-V converters that usually follow DAC chips, but actually doing so to the extent that it is audible is rare.

The irony being that a DAC with analog reconstruction filters and thermionic nonlinear distortion generators such as the Zanden Audio DAC might actually fit the bill!

http://www.zandenaudio.com/product/m5000.php

http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews/zanden/mkII.html
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arve
post Feb 4 2013, 20:40
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QUOTE (ktf @ Jan 9 2013, 22:56) *
You can try for yourself, download this: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/5985984/DAC-test.zip

It's a blind test I made with a Sound Blaster X-Fi Surround 5.1 USB-DAC which costed me around 50 euro. The first test has two files, one is the original, the other is that original after it has been played and recorded (looped back over a short unbalanced cable) 24x. So, any degradation coming from the DAC and ADC in that thing has been added and stacked 24 times. Try to find any differences.


I haven't had time to look at the second set, but on test test1-1 vs test 1-2, it was really easy to discern the difference between the two - the noise floor in test1-2 was very different from the one in test1-1. I think it took me about a minute to do ten trials.

Test done using ABXer on OSX, with the FLAC files converted to .wav using ffmpeg in order to have playable files. Test log follows:

CODE
ABX Test Completed: 2013-02-04 19:28:17 +0000

Number of tests performed: 10
Number of correct answers: 10
Percentage correct: 100%

File 1 = /Users/arve/Downloads/DAC-test/wav/test1-1.wav
File 2 = /Users/arve/Downloads/DAC-test/wav/test1-2.wav
File placement was static.

n [A] [X] [B] Choice Score
1 [2] [2] [1] A 1/1
2 [2] [2] [1] A 2/2
3 [2] [2] [1] A 3/3
4 [2] [2] [1] A 4/4
5 [2] [1] [1] B 5/5
6 [2] [2] [1] A 6/6
7 [2] [1] [1] B 7/7
8 [2] [2] [1] A 8/8
9 [2] [1] [1] B 9/9
10 [2] [2] [1] A 10/10

--------------------------------------------------------------



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mzil
post Feb 4 2013, 21:28
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At extremely elevated levels (which with normal level music signals would be deafeningly loud and clip any external amplifier), I would assume the noise floor of almost any two devices or circuits, which differs by one or more dB, would be discernible with musical silence as the test signal. That means nothing in real world use though.
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arve
post Feb 4 2013, 22:01
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QUOTE (mzil @ Feb 4 2013, 21:28) *
At extremely elevated levels (which with normal level music signals would be deafeningly loud and clip any external amplifier), I would assume the noise floor of almost any two devices or circuits, which differs by one or more dB, would be discernible with musical silence as the test signal. That means nothing in real world use though.


Note, I didn't perform this test with a high volume at all - listening volume was entirely typical for daily listening - average SPL when playing a pop recording is between 75-80 dB(A) in the listening position. Setup is near-field using a pair of M-Audio BX5 D2's, so nothing particularly high end either.

I also had a look at the first two files from the second test set, and based on those two files the test set is unsuitable for ABX testing because of level differences that are trivially detectable using rapid-switching ABX (I typically switch 1-3 times/second during a test, and alternate between A and X and B and X).
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pdq
post Feb 4 2013, 22:23
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You did notice that he said that two of the files had slightly different gain?
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arve
post Feb 4 2013, 22:50
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QUOTE (pdq @ Feb 4 2013, 22:23) *
You did notice that he said that two of the files had slightly different gain?


Oops - I forgot to go back and read the entire post before commenting on that bit of the test, oh well. I at least identified the odd one out smile.gif
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Arnold B. Kruege...
post Feb 6 2013, 03:48
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QUOTE (pdq @ Feb 4 2013, 16:23) *
You did notice that he said that two of the files had slightly different gain?



The level difference is about 1 dB in the left channel, according to a CEP2.1 analysis of the file from about 7.4 seconds in, to the end of the file (after the applause, just the music.

The applause portion of waveform undergoes major visible changes, but the music does not change that much.

The difference in noise level is about 3 dB at the approximately -55 dB level.

The response at 20 KHz falls by about 20 dB, but is pretty close up to 16 KHz.

Not bad for 24 generations through a fairly average audio interface.

I would expect the overall level difference to be the most audible change. The ca. 1 dB difference should be pretty easy to hear.

It would be interesting if someone eliminated or reduced the olevel difference to a tenth of a dB or 2 tenths, and tried again.
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