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What makes one DAC better than another

Discussion in 'audio' started by Netley, May 16, 2019.

  1. Netley

    Netley pfm Member

    What would you look for in assessing a DACs abilities on paper?

    The chip that is used is always detailed in reverent tones - how do you assess that? Looking back at my old Oppo 95 it has an ESS9018 chip 7 years ago. Then the 103 had the same chip but used it in a different way.

    From an old Steve Hoffmann thread
    "It appears that the difference in sound quality claimed by some is due to the way the audio is allocated to the DAC(s). In the BDP-95, apparently in stereo mode all 8 channels in the DAC are used (4 for Left, 4 for right), but in the BDP-105, only two channels in one of the DACs are utilized for stereo, with the rest dedicated to other functions (headphone amp, I think, while the second DAC's 8 channels are dedicated to 7 + 1 surround, if I remember correctly).

    So from a design standpoint, it seems there's a lot more 'processor power' (for lack of a more correct way to say it) devoted to stereo sound on the BDP-95 than with the BDP-105."


    But of course, its 2019, so supposedly the best chip is...changed...

    And what are the key build factors - and how much is really fancy cases and snake oil

  2. whatsnext

    whatsnext Naimless

    It depends on what sort of sound you like. One persons opinion might differ to another.
  3. Netley

    Netley pfm Member

    Sure, there will always be that subjectivity - but there must be key objective elements that swing folk one way or another?
    echann likes this.
  4. marshanp

    marshanp ellipsis addict

    Top quality receiver chips for all inputs, properly implemented to minimise jitter and make all digital inputs equally useful.
    Avoidance of inter-sample overload, if you listen to victims of the loudness wars...
    (for me) analogue throughput, easy source switching, output level control which does not affect resolution... so that it can serve as a pre-amp too.

    The Benchmark DAC3-L fits the bill, but I am happy enough with what I've got.
    cooky1257 and Netley like this.
  5. Netley

    Netley pfm Member

    How does one know one when one sees one?
  6. Purité Audio

    Purité Audio Trade: Purite Audio

    ASR forum have measured quite a few DACs, might be worth checking out, NOS/valve designs may sound different.
    Netley likes this.
  7. i.j.russell

    i.j.russell pfm Member

    The DAC chip is only one part of the equation along with the quality of the input/output stages and the power supply. With DACs, competition in the marketplace means there are very few duff ones around any longer. I've just bought a DAC based on the Khadas board for £120 and it sounds great.

    If you ask 100 people on here what DAC they would buy, it's likely you will get close to 100 different answers.
  8. Allaboutmusic

    Allaboutmusic pfm Member

    I think it's difficult to assess a dac on paper, all dacs like CD players will have a different presentation. Best to decide budget, look for specific features e.g. Reduces jitter, big power supplies, USB functionality etc. Maybe read some reviews, create a short list and then demo a couple for yourself
  9. Netley

    Netley pfm Member

    That's a new one on me

    Key for me is a)good value b)looks nice in the rack c)easy to operate and functionally straightforward

    The probs I have with demos is the lack of a controlled experiment - so many variables
  10. i.j.russell

    i.j.russell pfm Member


    The sound of most DACs can be split into two camps - IN YOUR FACE or not. Demos then become easy. If you can enjoy listening to it for 20 minutes and it meets your other criteria, it will be fine.
    eastone, John_73 and Netley like this.
  11. John_73

    John_73 pfm Member

    And Amir’s measuring skills have been called into question many times.....
    Old Valve Git and radamel like this.
  12. John_73

    John_73 pfm Member

    I decided to go for a unit that measured all but perfectly, the Benchmark DAC3 HDR. Got a pretty good deal on a lightly used example. I kept it for 6 months but not once did I ever get ‘pulled into’ the music with it. Flat, thin, music just stayed speaker bound and didn’t do that ‘blossoming out of the speakers’ thing which other sources can manage. It’s not what real music performed live sounds like despite the impressive measurements. My Hugo 2 was far and away a much better listen, yet they both measure ‘perfectly’ according to the measurement is all crowd. I’d love to see a discussion between Rob Watts and some of the self proclaimed keyboard warrior experts out there ;)
  13. SteveG

    SteveG pfm Member

    Personally I'm not hugely interested in measurements although I will read reviews to help me decide what to buy. Demo's are occasionally useful but given the range of options that's only ever going to cover a small subset of the options and also only those that are available locally.

    At the moment it's as much about the DAC having features that I've decided are useful to me (e.g. number and type of inputs, what formats and sample rates, what outputs it has). I'm not (currently!) interested in stuff like variable outputs as I'm not intending to use a DAC as a pre-amp and in fact I'm more interested in DACs which are just DACs - I definitely don't want a DAC that's also an amp.
  14. HabUK

    HabUK pfm Member

    All I know is my Audiolab M-DAC sounds better than my old Cambridge Audio dac-magic. It'll probably stay in my rack as long as I'm listening to hifi.
  15. Minio

    Minio pfm Member

    It’s the in your face DACs that impress most in a short demo.

    The duller ones seem better over a longer listen, for example communicating the body and emotion of a symphony rather than a crisp outline of it.

    Of the two players I use that have these opposing characteristics, I seem to forever change between the two in search of a wholly grail. But I guess it’s the longer term listen that is ultimately more musically satisfying. It’s just more believable and less like listening to a CD player.
  16. Monitor Gold 10

    Monitor Gold 10 Well-Known Member

    Interesting subject! At the moment, I have a Cambridge Audio Dacmagic 2i... At the time of purchase, it had favourable reviews!
  17. JemHayward

    JemHayward pfm Member

    There are a few DACs about with user adjustable filters, which sound (very) subtly different, so the filtering method must influence the overall sound. All DACs have an audio output stage, and these will vary in execution and therefore in quality, and may be prone to the properties of the power supply. Digital circuitry can be noisy, so this may creep into the output as well. The actual chip possibly makes less of a difference nowadays but in the past different chips had quite obvious sonic 'characters'.
  18. Yomanze

    Yomanze pfm Member

    A good DAC (for me) has no long term listening fatigue associated with it i.e. it doesn’t make you want to keep reaching for your records, and sounds “analogue” in its own right.
    John_73 likes this.
  19. davidsrsb

    davidsrsb pfm Member

    Too many DACs pump out far more than the 2V "standard"
    Preamp input overload is a common result
  20. cooky1257

    cooky1257 pfm Member

    Tribalism mostly.
    JTWzen likes this.

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