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Comparison between DAP + DAC and smartphone + DAC

May 18, 2016
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I've been looking (for quite some time) for the best way to get the most out of my music whilst "on the go" and naturally this has led me to the world of DAPs, DACs and amps. One answer which I cannot seem to find is whether a DAP, when connected directly into a DAC through some form of digital connection, offers superior sound to any other ordinary media device in its place - most responses to questions along these lines devolve into lots of people replying with their current setup and how much they love it.

Assume that the headphones used are not the limiting factor, that battery life and storage space aren't either, and that the highest quality track which will be played are 24bit FLACs or ALACs (yes, I'm aware of how awesome DSD is, but in my opinion there simply aren't enough sources of DSD albums to base your entire setup around the few tracks you can get in that format to exploit it). I intend to purchase a Chord Mojo or something similar in the near future, but my question is this: will I hear an appreciable difference if that DAC plugs into a smartphone versus a DAP such as the Sony ZX2? I figure that since the DAC is handling the audio conversion there isn't a great deal that the DAP can actually bring to the table except a hefty price tag. It would also be fair to say that most DAPs lag behind current smartphones/iPods in UX with older OSes, lower resolution screens and more limited functionality. Please correct me if I'm wrong, preferably with arguments based on how the audio files are handled by a digital player prior to being sent to the DAC.

As a follow up question, are there any DAPs on the market today which can outdo the very top end DACs, such as the Chord Hugo or even a "desktop" DAC like the Naim, on sound quality, or would almost any DAP benefit from being fed through one of these fine DACs? I accept that this question is slightly more subjective...
 

Al ears

Moderator
Marcus Stead-Hall said:
I've been looking (for quite some time) for the best way to get the most out of my music whilst "on the go" and naturally this has led me to the world of DAPs, DACs and amps. One answer which I cannot seem to find is whether a DAP, when connected directly into a DAC through some form of digital connection, offers superior sound to any other ordinary media device in its place - most responses to questions along these lines devolve into lots of people replying with their current setup and how much they love it.

Assume that the headphones used are not the limiting factor, that battery life and storage space aren't either, and that the highest quality track which will be played are 24bit FLACs or ALACs (yes, I'm aware of how awesome DSD is, but in my opinion there simply aren't enough sources of DSD albums to base your entire setup around the few tracks you can get in that format to exploit it). I intend to purchase a Chord Mojo or something similar in the near future, but my question is this: will I hear an appreciable difference if that DAC plugs into a smartphone versus a DAP such as the Sony ZX2? I figure that since the DAC is handling the audio conversion there isn't a great deal that the DAP can actually bring to the table except a hefty price tag. It would also be fair to say that most DAPs lag behind current smartphones/iPods in UX with older OSes, lower resolution screens and more limited functionality. Please correct me if I'm wrong, preferably with arguments based on how the audio files are handled by a digital player prior to being sent to the DAC.

As a follow up question, are there any DAPs on the market today which can outdo the very top end DACs, such as the Chord Hugo or even a "desktop" DAC like the Naim, on sound quality, or would almost any DAP benefit from being fed through one of these fine DACs? I accept that this question is slightly more subjective...
You are totally confusing the purpose of a DAP, functionality? Poor screen resolution? They are designed to do one thing and that is play music, which most do quite well. In your circumstances you'd be better off financially just using a phone. Why would you want to shell out on an expensive DAP with one, and sometimes two, expensive DAC chips installed, only to then play it through an external DAC??
 
May 18, 2016
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I don't think I'm confusing the functionality of a DAP, I think you're confusing the meaning of my question.

DAPs, as I understand it, are effectively DACs with the media storage and UX built in. You are correct, they play music far better than a smartphone, but the rest of their features cannot compete.

My question, as stated in my post, is would using a DAP, plumbed into a DAC, offer any sound improvements over a smartphone plumbed into the same DAC? Are there any functions which the input device into the DAC handles which could be improved by improving this component? For example the ZX2 sells itself with an upscaling feature to bring audio quality to near Hi-Res; if I were to plumb it into a DAC would this upscaling still take place or would the ZX2 simply hand off the audio file to the DAC without touching it. If it did then that might be a reason to "shell out on an expensive DAP with one, and sometimes two, expensive DAC chips installed, only to then play it through an external DAC" as you put it - I have certainly seen examples on forums of people placing a Chord DAC between their DAP and their expensive headphones.

The follow up question was, assuming that there is no benefit to playing an expensive DAP in front of your DAC because the DAC is going to handle every aspect of the audio conversion anyway, is the best performance on the market available in top-tier DACs or DAPs? Not that I am looking to buy a top-tier item, I'm simply curious whether the benefits of an all-integrated DAP design outweigh the sheer size of the best DACs.
 

Al ears

Moderator
Marcus Stead-Hall said:
I don't think I'm confusing the functionality of a DAP, I think you're confusing the meaning of my question.

DAPs, as I understand it, are effectively DACs with the media storage and UX built in. You are correct, they play music far better than a smartphone, but the rest of their features cannot compete.

My question, as stated in my post, is would using a DAP, plumbed into a DAC, offer any sound improvements over a smartphone plumbed into the same DAC? Are there any functions which the input device into the DAC handles which could be improved by improving this component? For example the ZX2 sells itself with an upscaling feature to bring audio quality to near Hi-Res; if I were to plumb it into a DAC would this upscaling still take place or would the ZX2 simply hand off the audio file to the DAC without touching it. If it did then that might be a reason to "shell out on an expensive DAP with one, and sometimes two, expensive DAC chips installed, only to then play it through an external DAC" as you put it - I have certainly seen examples on forums of people placing a Chord DAC between their DAP and their expensive headphones.

The follow up question was, assuming that there is no benefit to playing an expensive DAP in front of your DAC because the DAC is going to handle every aspect of the audio conversion anyway, is the best performance on the market available in top-tier DACs or DAPs? Not that I am looking to buy a top-tier item, I'm simply curious whether the benefits of an all-integrated DAP design outweigh the sheer size of the best DACs.
Cannot answer your points in full as a lot are personal choice things. one purpose of a stand alone DAC is in it's multiple inputs which a DAP wouldn't have.

Not too sure when the Sony does it's upscaling but normally if you connect it to a DAC via it's digital output then the internal DAC, and presumably upscaling, will be bypassed.

I would have thought that likewise if you are going to add a Chord Hugo or the like to a system then you might as well use a dirt cheap DAP as its only going to act as a transport in this situation.
 
K

keeper of the quays

Guest
Marcus Stead-Hall said:
Super, thanks very much. Everything I needed to know.

I assumed as much about DAPs but couldn't understand why so many people seemed to use DAPs and DACs together.
sorry to be dim but what's a DAP?
 

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