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Who has compared a cheap DAC with an expensive one? How much difference do expensive DACs make?

tone

New member
Nov 21, 2013
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Pardon if this has been beat to death, but how much of a difference does a good DAC make?

I want something to make my PC music sound better and also hook up to my bluray/cd player to improve its sound as well since it isnt the best.

I was thinking of the Arcam rdac since it has rave reviews, but would I be able to tell the difference between that and the Cambridge DACmagic?

or a cheaper HRT DAC?

Who here has actually compared a cheap DAC with an expensive one and heard a huge difference?

thanks so much!
 

alienmango

New member
May 29, 2013
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A year ago before the iRDAC came out I bought an RDAC on ebay for £200, should be even cheaper now.

This may be a way to have the cake and eat it.

The new iRDAC is meant to be better though, haven't heard it.

I know I'm not answering your question, hopefully someone will.
 

d_a_n1979

New member
Sep 6, 2007
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DAC's I've had are:

Fiio D3

Arcam rDAC

Audiolab DAC

MF M1DAC

Emotiva XDA1

Rega DAC

Firestone Audio Spitfire MkII DAC

Ive heard a few of the CA DAC's and didn't like th. Too open and bright/tinny

For a basic DAC IMO the Fiio is unbeatable

For a decent DAC for a system around the £1-1.5k mark I'd go for the MF M1DAC and Emotiva followed by the Rega

For a PC system I think the Arcam DAC works brilliantly as does the Firestone Audio

There is to me a massive difference in sound between the Fiio DAC and MF M1DAC but that's to be expected as one is £30 and th other £400 BUT nothing still sounded fantastic...
 

abacus

Well-known member
Sep 24, 2008
427
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19,070
Whether you can hear any difference between a cheaper DAC and a more expensive one will be determined by how good your system is, therefore it’s best to pop along to a dealer and try a few.

NOTE: As you get older your hearing tends to deteriorate so differences become less noticeable.

Hope this helps

Bill
 

matt49

New member
Apr 7, 2013
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abacus said:
Whether you can hear any difference between a cheaper DAC and a more expensive one will be determined by how good your system is, therefore it’s best to pop along to a dealer and try a few.

NOTE: As you get older your hearing tends to deteriorate so differences become less noticeable.

Hope this helps

Bill
+ 1

Also:

1. some DACs seem to be better at rejecting nasties (noise, jitter) than others, though there may not be any correlation between nasties-rejecting ability and price.

2. all DACs have an analogue output stage; more expensive DACs may (or may not) have better analogue output stages.

3. aside from sound quality, "better" DACs may have more functions. For instance the Audiolab M-DAC is also a digital pre-amp and has a remote control and an excellent headphone stage.

:santa:

Matt
 

Singslinger

New member
Jul 31, 2010
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I went from a DAC Magic to a Musical Fidelity M1 DAC to a PS Audio PerfectWave DAC II to a Jeff Rowland Aeris.

Each step brought noticeable improvements in dynamics, detail and involvement - albeit at a price. I'd say there's acute diminishing returns the higher you go, particularly with digital sources.

FWIW though, I recently listened to a full DCS Vivaldi system which comprises five boxes including DAC that in total cost US$110,000. It sounded marvellous, like nothing I've ever heard before. But is it worth that kind of money? I don't think so but obviously there are people who do, otherwise DCS wouldn't offer that system.
 

Coll

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May 4, 2011
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abacus NOTE: As you get older your hearing tends to deteriorate so differences become less noticeable. Hope this helps Bill [/quote said:
You know I thought that too, I am 65 and I find all modern speakers seem too bright so if my ears have deteriorated I hate to think what they would sound like if I were younger.
 

CnoEvil

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Aug 21, 2009
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Coll said:
You know I thought that too, I am 65 and I find all modern speakers seem too bright so if my ears have deteriorated I hate to think what they would sound like if I were younger.
Have you heard the likes of Harbeth, Sonus Faber, Spendor Classic range or Audio Note?
 

Coll

New member
May 4, 2011
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Heard them many many years ago but not recently, Im sure they would be just right for me but the problem is cost, wife hates me spending on the equipment.
 

CnoEvil

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Aug 21, 2009
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Coll said:
Heard them many many years ago but not recently, Im sure they would be just right for me but the problem is cost, wife hates me spending on the equipment.
Sonus Faber Toys can usually be got at sensible money.
 

TrevC

Well-known member
Jun 12, 2013
338
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19,070
Buy a Behringer UCA202. You will be amazed, as I was. It utterly transformed the lousy sound i was getting from my Packard Bell, and you can use it to digitize any analogue line level source. it uses a highly regarded Texas chip that has been used in expensive DACs and only costs about £30.
 

davedotco

New member
Apr 24, 2013
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TrevC said:
Buy a Behringer UCA202. You will be amazed, as I was. It utterly transformed the lousy sound i was getting from my Packard Bell, and you can use it to digitize any analogue line level source. it uses a highly regarded Texas chip that has been used in expensive DACs and only costs about £30.
This is a ridiculously good dac for the money but it is not perfect by a fair way.

The Epiphany Edac is asyncronous so offers definite improvements over the Behringer and is an equally reasonable £99. In fact the Edac is so good that you do not need anything better, unless of course you require greater functionality or perhaps a dac 'voiced' to suit your particular taste.
 

TrevC

Well-known member
Jun 12, 2013
338
145
19,070
davedotco said:
TrevC said:
Buy a Behringer UCA202. You will be amazed, as I was. It utterly transformed the lousy sound i was getting from my Packard Bell, and you can use it to digitize any analogue line level source. it uses a highly regarded Texas chip that has been used in expensive DACs and only costs about £30.
This is a ridiculously good dac for the money but it is not perfect by a fair way.

The Epiphany Edac is asyncronous so offers definite improvements over the Behringer and is an equally reasonable £99. In fact the Edac is so good that you do not need anything better, unless of course you require greater functionality or perhaps a dac 'voiced' to suit your particular taste.
How can a DAC be "voiced"? You can do it to a speaker by playing with the crossover and therefore the frequency response, but a DAC?
 

davedotco

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Apr 24, 2013
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TrevC said:
davedotco said:
TrevC said:
Buy a Behringer UCA202. You will be amazed, as I was. It utterly transformed the lousy sound i was getting from my Packard Bell, and you can use it to digitize any analogue line level source. it uses a highly regarded Texas chip that has been used in expensive DACs and only costs about £30.
This is a ridiculously good dac for the money but it is not perfect by a fair way.

The Epiphany Edac is asyncronous so offers definite improvements over the Behringer and is an equally reasonable £99. In fact the Edac is so good that you do not need anything better, unless of course you require greater functionality or perhaps a dac 'voiced' to suit your particular taste.
How can a DAC be "voiced"? You can do it to a speaker by playing with the crossover and therefore the frequency response, but a DAC?
Analog stages mainly, but there re ways of untilising dac 'chips' that are 'off' the mainstream. But you are right, most conventional designs sound very similar.
 

BigH

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Dec 29, 2012
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TrevC said:
davedotco said:
TrevC said:
Buy a Behringer UCA202. You will be amazed, as I was. It utterly transformed the lousy sound i was getting from my Packard Bell, and you can use it to digitize any analogue line level source. it uses a highly regarded Texas chip that has been used in expensive DACs and only costs about £30.
This is a ridiculously good dac for the money but it is not perfect by a fair way.

The Epiphany Edac is asyncronous so offers definite improvements over the Behringer and is an equally reasonable £99. In fact the Edac is so good that you do not need anything better, unless of course you require greater functionality or perhaps a dac 'voiced' to suit your particular taste.
How can a DAC be "voiced"? You can do it to a speaker by playing with the crossover and therefore the frequency response, but a DAC?
Don't they have different filters in them, I know Rega has several different settings?
 
J

jcbrum

Guest
BigH said:
Don't they have different filters in them, I know Rega has several different settings?
You mean only one of the filters is correctly implemented, or perhaps they are all wrong, leading to varied distortions ?

JC
 

busb

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Jun 14, 2011
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The 1st DAC I heard at home was an early Bereford - it better my Rotel CDP by a pretty small margin. Before I bought my M-DAC, I used the DAC in my Panasonic plasma - it demonstrated that even basic DACs can sound quite acceptable. A friend brought round an R-PAC that had a noticeable mid-bass lift & far less detail. The same friend bought the Audiolab but sold it back to 7O's for £1k5's worth of NAD M-51 which is a good step up from mine when plugged into my system.

how much better DACs can be, I can't say but I guess better. Some state that DACs sound almost identical - I don't agree.
 

oldric_naubhoff

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Mar 11, 2011
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jcbrum said:
BigH said:
Don't they have different filters in them, I know Rega has several different settings?
You mean only one of the filters is correctly implemented, or perhaps they are all wrong, leading to varied distortions ?

JC
not necessarily leading to different distortions. as you know modern DACs usually exhibit negligible levels of distortion anyway. so if there are any differences in sound of diferent DACs it would rather not be due to distortion.

different digital filters exhibit different impulse response behaviour, group delay characterisitics and out of band noise characteristics - which correlates to rejection of aliasing components.

and then you get filterless DACs too which have their streanghts and weaknesses.
 

Philim

New member
Jan 16, 2013
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My 2 pennys for what it is worth....

A while ago i had to release some pennies due to job problems.

My system was naim 282 / hicap dr / nap 200 / dac v1 / kef r700 which by any standards is a reasonable system.

At the time i toyed with selling each seperate part but settled on the dac v1. Why? Well out of all the components in the chain this was the part that made the least (if any) difference.

Would i spend £1500 on another dac? Probably, because im a gullible idiot but at least next time i might think twice
 
J

jcbrum

Guest
oldric_naubhoff said:
jcbrum said:
BigH said:
Don't they have different filters in them, I know Rega has several different settings?
You mean only one of the filters is correctly implemented, or perhaps they are all wrong, leading to varied distortions ?

JC
not necessarily leading to different distortions. as you know modern DACs usually exhibit negligible levels of distortion anyway. so if there are any differences in sound of diferent DACs it would rather not be due to distortion.

different digital filters exhibit different impulse response behaviour, group delay characterisitics and out of band noise characteristics - which correlates to rejection of aliasing components.

and then you get filterless DACs too which have their streanghts and weaknesses.
If the same recording sounds different, then isn't that a distortion ?

JC
 

busb

New member
Jun 14, 2011
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jcbrum said:
oldric_naubhoff said:
jcbrum said:
BigH said:
Don't they have different filters in them, I know Rega has several different settings?
You mean only one of the filters is correctly implemented, or perhaps they are all wrong, leading to varied distortions ?

JC
not necessarily leading to different distortions. as you know modern DACs usually exhibit negligible levels of distortion anyway. so if there are any differences in sound of diferent DACs it would rather not be due to distortion.

different digital filters exhibit different impulse response behaviour, group delay characterisitics and out of band noise characteristics - which correlates to rejection of aliasing components.

and then you get filterless DACs too which have their streanghts and weaknesses.
If the same recording sounds different, then isn't that a distortion ?

JC
Yes, if you define distortion as any deviation but increased gain is a desriable distortion by that definition. Many will consider distortion as unwanted frquency domain artefacts that can be harmonically related or IM-based. I tend to think of frequency response variables as just that. The other type of distortion I dislike is amplitude distortion heard on far too many pop recordings caused by gain compression set too high leading to volume modulation.
 

drummerman

New member
Jan 18, 2008
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I think a lot has to do with engineering a little tonality in the output stage as someone else has suggested. Modern DAC's apparently come complete with the necessary instructions to implement them to the best of the the manufacturers knowledge and which probably has spent millions and millions on research and production rather then the probably comparitively puny amounts the hifi manufacturers spend to actually produce the finished product we use.

How else can one explain that in comparitive group tests which use measurements the cheapest DAC's (or CD players) ... think CA for one, measure as good if not better than units many times the price.

Subjectively, I have a CD8x and a DAD3 which I replaced the laser assembly for and guess which one I prefer ...? Both are low jitter devices according to cyrus but one is many years newer. Not sure why exactly they sound different but they certainly do.

regards
 

oldric_naubhoff

New member
Mar 11, 2011
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jcbrum said:
oldric_naubhoff said:
jcbrum said:
BigH said:
Don't they have different filters in them, I know Rega has several different settings?
You mean only one of the filters is correctly implemented, or perhaps they are all wrong, leading to varied distortions ?

JC
not necessarily leading to different distortions. as you know modern DACs usually exhibit negligible levels of distortion anyway. so if there are any differences in sound of diferent DACs it would rather not be due to distortion.

different digital filters exhibit different impulse response behaviour, group delay characterisitics and out of band noise characteristics - which correlates to rejection of aliasing components.

and then you get filterless DACs too which have their streanghts and weaknesses.
If the same recording sounds different, then isn't that a distortion ?

JC
I guess you're right. but in case of different digital filters there isn't any single perfect one. some do some things better, others do other things better. going by your logic this leaves me with conclusion that all digitally reproduced music must be nothing more but distorted version of the original no matter which DAC you use to reproduce it.
 

davedotco

New member
Apr 24, 2013
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I tend to look on distortion in dacs (or other electronics for that matter) like weeds, ie any plant that is growing out of place and unwanted.

Distortion is often introduced into hi-fi electronics by the designer to conform to a 'house sound' or perhaps the designers particular likes. This is 'voicing' and is commonplace and quite deliberate. I tend to refer to distortion of this type as 'character'.

Distortion that is introduced by accident or some other non deliberate way is distortion and I refer to it as such.

Semantic nonsense most probably, but it works for me, after a fashion...... ;)
 

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