Question Dacs for Hi-Fi sound signature

AJM1981

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Mar 26, 2021
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Of all audio components for the purpose of a different signature, my current impression of a Dac "for Hi-Fi" is that it is a gamble.

I understand that when one uses a PC, telephone, tablet or laptop; a Dac can be useful to bypass eventual sound filters on a soundcard.

I once briefly owned a laptop that had things going that I couldn't disable, as in that there was a compressor running along which I couldn't find a reference to and couldn't disable. Really annoying when that laptop is meant for music production on-the-go. Any Dac for bypassing the bs for a direct output is welcome at that stage.

But other than music production there is the group that uses a dac in hi-fi for filtering out non extremes (like the compressor example is an extreme) and goes for a different preferable sound signature.

As in the logic of the the audiophile that prefers uncolored sound and almost no distortion, but at the same time likes colored sound (tubes) and the "good distortion" it generates. Besides that they prefer marginal signature bumps in the vocal area that gives a speaker its characteristics . Yes I might be one of those who defy logic in this when it comes to Hifi. It is all about personal preference and perception. But it is all a taste-thing and I wear a different hat when it comes to production. :)

Let's say, Dacs are, or became a thing in this context. How will one ever be able to make a good choice at this level? .

For example
I use an Arylic A50 amp for my 2nd set of Denton 85 speakers. Excellent combination, great little amp. But my main Yamaha amp has this little enhancer setting that spices up the mids and has a similar effect to a valve amp. I also discovered a minor signature difference in slightly noticable groovier bass which I prefer when I use the PS3 as a source to the Yamaha amp. Sony seems to have it worked out well with their internal dac if I read about it online.

Not that I am planning to. But let's say I would like to find a dac to add a fine signature and has an optical-in with rca out to feed it to the amp.

Couple of questions
- How will I ever know if it improves anything?
-How do I know that it would at all be an improvement on forehand?
- How is a dac here different from a pre-amp?
-What is a "can't go wrong" dac for a reasonabe budget price

And last but not least. How to discover "synergy" between a dac and an amp? Between speakers and amps this is doable analysis from measures and specs but dacs seem to be a different game.

As someone using a dac for hifi can probably notice if there are probably many stupid questions and asumptions, but let's give it a try :)
 
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Gray

Well-known member
-What is a "can't go wrong" dac for a reasonabe budget price
For me it was a Khadas Toneboard (as used in the March Audio DAC1).

I've only tried DACs costing below £600.
Based on my experience, DACs are the almost the last things I would suggest if you were looking to change a sound signature (but still ahead of cables and that famous fuse 😉).

You've probably seen those DACs (standalone or built into amps) that allow users to select from say, 7, different filters to tune the sound.
Even reviewers admit to not being able to hear 'much' difference between each.
In other words, you can bet that they don't hear any.

I've got a feeling that £1000+DACs, based on valves or resistors, might give you some flavour (there must be some good reason why people pay so much 🤨)
 
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AJM1981

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Mar 26, 2021
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For me it was a Khadas Toneboard (as used in the March Audio DAC1).
Thanks

One for my to-check-list in coloration for the arylic system. :)

I've only tried DACs costing below £600.
Based on my experience, DACs are the almost the last things I would suggest if you were looking to change a sound signature (but still ahead of cables and that famous fuse 😉).

You've probably seen those DACs (standalone or built into amps) that allow users to select from say, 7, different filters to tune the sound.
Even reviewers admit to not being able to hear 'much' difference between each.
In other words, you can bet that they don't hear any.

I've got a feeling that £1000+DACs, based on valves or resistors, might give you some flavour (there must be some good reason why people pay so much 🤨)
I get the idea that Dacs primarily were meant to bypass stuff in favor for a hard-cut direct output as an example given in the opening.

But it probably ended up in marketing as an optional "something magical in between" (could also be an EQ, pre-amp, other object in the chain) creating miniscule changes in signature that kind or justifies using them hi-fi wise. With the trial and error risk that the sound signature doesn't change or changes for the worse on a personal preference scale.
Even though component character can be adjusted from colder to warmer by simply changing transistors of an amp.

And with two components its never really clear if its the output of one or the input of the other one that does the trick. My Yamaha amp has two dacs and it seems that the one people prefer is in use when connecting something instead of using the built in streamer. So I also have no idea if it is just the Ps3 and its internal dac or the amp and its dac that apart from each other or together spice up the sound to little broader stereo image and groovy vinyl-like output, compared to the slightly smoother and tighter output of the internal streamer. :)
 

Gray

Well-known member
One for my to-check-list in coloration for the arylic system. :)
I'm not suggesting that it will give you any noticeable flavour of its own.
The neutrality that I hear, would be a reason for others to dislike it ("too clinical", I can imagine them saying) 👍

I think the main idea is that a half decent DAC is an improvement on the converters you get in phones and laptops.

In reality, I doubt those converters are always bad.....on this forum we have seen some disappointed buyers of 'best buy' DACs, not getting any of the improvement they expected.
 
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abacus

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Unless really high end (And Expensive), amps etc. are built to a price, therefore compromises have to be made, by getting a better DAC you get round the problem of a lessor quality built in DAC, however only your ears can decide if it is an improvement or not. (Most inbuilt DACs (Including entry level products) are pretty good these days, so you have to jump up quite a bit to get a significant improvement)
Don’t expect night and day improvements no matter what reviewers bandy about.

Bill
 
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SeattleChris

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Apr 15, 2021
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I only have experience with two DAC's but my opinion seems to match the general consensus that 1) they make noticeable difference but 2) there's no telling which one you'll like better without hearing them. I started with a $100 Schiit Modi 3+ and moved to a $700 Schiit Bifrost 2 and really appreciated the difference. Nothing particularly wrong with the Modi but the Bifrost sound is bigger & heftier.

I've been fascinated reading opinions of the new Schiit Bifrost 2/64 over at head-fi.org. They seem to think the new one is more detailed but also more sterile. Mine could be upgraded for $300 but I believe I'm sticking with the original as I prefer a warmer sound.
 

twinkletoes

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Nov 16, 2021
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Dacs are like cameras more so than you think.
It’s all about implementation and a lot of coding and noise suppression. It actually has very little to do with the chip, in fact the chips makes no noise/sound at all, it purely decodes and translates.

Its really all about the analogue circuit and output stage, so yes they can sound subtly different
Is there a point of diminishing returns? Sure, but the more you pay the less of a compromise you have to accept. That might be great implementation but shody build for example pay more you get both.

Synergy is completely different and that can be found simply listening to different options. And is completely subjective.

I generally buy dacs from companies that specifically make dacs, price dose t really come in to it. I had the naim dac v1 and it was very unstable the dsp would fail.

Forget what the pros use I don’t care what people say they’re just as concerned about quality as us hifi nuts and there’s bargains on both sides of the spectrum eg topping and audio quest dragon flys. 100-150quid doesn’t get much cheaper then that.

If I where looking a “cheap” dac these days I’d start my journey looking at a bluesound node 2i it just so happens to have a streamer on board but above all has some very useful connectivity ie and hdmi connection. But it does the dac thing really well whether you choose to use the streamer or not.

but I will say this it will never be a night and day difference but that goes for any component
 

plastic penguin

Well-known member
Only heard budget Dacs. And only used in conjunction with a CD player (as transport) and there's no real difference to a stand alone CDP. The only difference I heard, only subtle, was connected to my Bluray.

Unless you have bottomless pockets, the only real benefit of a Dac is flexibility for connecting PCs, games consoles etc etc.
 
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Gray

Well-known member
...but I will say this it will never be a night and day difference but that goes for any component
Couldn't agree more when it comes to DACs.

Obviously speakers, headphones, cartridges can sound similar to each other.
But at their widest, I think most people will have heard what could be described as night and day differences between speakers.

DACs and speakers are certainly at opposite ends of the 'maximum change for your buck' spectrum.
 
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