Are DAC prices reflecting sound quality?

I'm very confused here. While I know the price of a unit doesn't define how good it will sound, I do expect a significant positive correlation between the two.

But right now there is an Esoteric D70 DAC on Agon going for almost $3k. While the unit was very highly reviewed back in 2004, many claim digital has evolved A LOT over the last 5 years, and some claim the Berkely Alpha (a.k.a. BADA, @ $4k) and the PS Audio PWD (@ $3k) to be the best ever DACs. So is the D70 that good, or should its market price be lower to compensate for the lesser sound quality?

The name on the box has a lot to do with the price.People are comfortable buying certain names and tend to pay more for them.Market pricing is primarily determined by the interaction of supply and demand in most cases.When it comes to high-end audio,you can forget what you learned in economics class.You see folks buying vintage equipment for big money all the time.Now if a 20 year old amp, whos electronics are more than likely on their last leg,and a brand new amp cost the same,it's up to the buyer to determine if the quality is worth the cost.It's all in the eye/ear of the beholder.This is just my opinion,simple as it may be.
I agree with much of what Tpreaves sez.

Whether newer digital devises have 'improved', say since 2004, is probably less important than whether any subtle changes aka improvements will be sufficient to be heard on your system in your room and whether you are involved enuf in issues of resolution to have the interest an patience to sit and try to detect the differences. I'm sure that there are differences but whether there are significant improvements. For example, I like the sound of some non-upsampling DAC/CDP's and do not use up-sampling on those units which have the option (on most CD's, but not all).

Most folks, I think, are far more interested in tonal issues once a certain level of resolution has been obtained and for them I think the latest edition of some high end DAC will not be rewarding even though it is highly thought of and promoted.

Then there are some fairly ugly women who spend a lot of money on fancy jewelry! :-)
Lewinskih01...just fyi but Berkely Alpha DAC is $5K
And also the materials used helps drive the cost. Esoteric D70 DAC is heavy component with expensive skin and hardware.

In contrast, look at the newer DACs, overall they may be smaller in size and use less internal/external materials. Wavelength Crimson USB DAC and/or Simaudio 300 DAC are much smaller but with newer/different technology. The Peachtree audio DECCO which provides great value for PC users to improve sound quality from a sound card.
One of the best DAC's I have had was the MHDT Labs Havana, and it was not expensive at all, under $700. I tried a bunch of DAC's in the $1000 - 3000 range, and the Berkeley too and I ended up buying a Bryston. I couldn't be happier, it's a great DAC.

I heard the PS Audio at CES and it sounded great, but I have not heard it in a real world system which is key. I would like to hear it. Actually I just wish someone would start a string about it, I would love to know what it sounds like.

I don't like the look of it though. It looks like my Akai stereo reciever from the '80s.
I heard the PS Audio at CES and it sounded great, but I have not heard it in a real world system which is key. I would like to hear it. Actually I just wish someone would start a string about it, I would love to know what it sounds like.
Macdad, here you go:

-- Al

Thx, just what I need, to try another DAC!!! But I probably will, even though I listen to 95% vinyl. This hobby is an illness!!

Could be. Might not be too.

I’ve gotten the impression, most if not all of the manufacturers of whatever, out there have a pretty good idea of how to assess their products value. Much of the time. I also feel many of them are in dire need of a mental health professional, not a CPA,, in this regard. I think they take what is a good price and double it… or add some unknown levy upon it and see if it flys or falls sometimes.

Be that as it may…

There’s no question there are always going to be those items made which will be sold only to the uber-rich. The One per centers. I think my gripe if I am too gripe, is the majority of high end manufacturers are not ALL in that category, yet they want to be so included.

Consequently they generate, after some time of being wwell received and having gained a widespread wave of respect for their innovations their reference and statement efforts for said ‘club’ membership. Any number of these no holds barred devices lay claim to great accolades and withstand the test of time quite well. The digital domain doesn’t fare quite so handily with respect to the time coefficient. Nor do these past efforts, digitally speaking, remain of a charitable spirit to those who paid dearly for them when new.

The bleeding edge. of life has a premium all to it’s own.

As the sound of any piece we attempt to by is always key, there’s going to be lots of good to great sounding DACs left over, in spite of the hurried pace digital has been geared to for some years now. The resale cost of these dated DACs I think has more to do with a skewed owners devotion or financial attachment, than to it’s actual performance. Some folks paid top buck for their gear and are therefore severely attached to it, albeit at the loss of perhaps a prudent perspective. When it comes time to part with it later.

But then wwe’re back to the sound of a thing. If performance is keyed to resolution and detail only, there’s a wealth of DACs about which will provide more for less currently than just five years ago. Easily.

For myself, the issue rests a bit further along the trail. Sound quality WITH resolution and detail is what I’d expect of a DAC today, as seen from a whole system viewpoint.. Which means the needs of the assortment as steered by my own preffs, dictate a piece doesn’t have to ALWAYS have all 3 characteristics firmly in hand for me to either buy it, or keep it.

Happily the sound associated with initial digital component releases has also matured handsomely.

I suspect what’s being seen in the preowned DAC sales market are those initially purchased SOTA items which now are seen as arguably over valued by their sellers. I mean after all, we’re not talking about A two seater Shelby 428 Cobra, V 12 Duesenburg, or Boat tailed Bugati which continue to appreciate in price!

Those days are ‘these’’ days too. There are folks that are spending tons on finding the debateable ‘best’ way to integrate digital into their stereo systems right now, and in just two or three years, somebody will improve upon the current SOTA DACs. Will that make todays converters any less of a performer? I don’t think so.

Add in the “flav of the month” flock, and the digital wheels begin to smoke so fast they are turning. I think one has to, as with computers or even audio gear in general, get in where and when they fit in. Current tech, previous tech, bleeding edge or vint-edge… and if you wind up with a great souhnding rig, and aren’t a driven human doing, and rather a human being, all will be well for a long, long, time for you.

As long as a DAC is still supported, interests me or just wow’s me, and has affordability I’d not have a problem considering it. Though like many I feel the digital wheels are moving faster than ever before so I’m quite likely to be more mindful of those units made within just a few years, or those which have been factory updated to current standards first…. But who knows what deal one will run across?

I imagine someone will say they’d put $$$$$$ into a 5 year old statement DCS DAC, for example, than maybe the same amount into a current other brand DAC.

I’d answer the Ops Q as Mostly… to the point of diminishing returns, thereafter it’s all about chocolate or strawberry.
No, just greed. Remember, none of these hi end DAC's are developed by the hi end manufacturers. Most are purchased from the major DAC chip makers like Sony and often they are being brought for less then $25. None of these hi end brands would ever think of doing double blind testing because it would destroy there ability to market. I think the future lies in the use of the blu-ray technology to expand resolution. Check out the L2 media.
Thanks for the insightful replies.

I guess at some point I'll have to make a decission about whether to spend $X on a new device or $X in "once SOTA" used device. And frankly I have no idea which way I'll be heading...even though I've been thinking about it for a while.

I actually think what we observe is in line with economics: it is supply and demand, but remember "perfect information", which is what we all lack here. If we could audition all options in our system at home, that would be perfect info and would know how much would need to be paid for a certain sound quality and, through competition, prices would self correct. Needless to say that's not the case!

I like to buy components and keep them for a long time, so I do as much research as I can prior to buying (auditioning is usually not posible where I am), then buy, and then tweak outside the component to get the most out of it. I don't need to be on the leading edge; just looking to get the most for the buck.

I love when components are well built...I guess it makes me feel it should sound good because of I think a D70, a Wadia 27, Theta Gen.8, McIntosh MDA1000 all very well built, highly praised 4-5 years ago and can't help but wonder if the newer units at $2-3k can really overperform these in sonic enjoyment. Ah! just noticed I didn't tell you before, but I'm looking at DAC w/volume control to skip the preamp. Come to think about it, for that application the analog is key and the fast digital evolution isn't going on there (I think) maybe I am developing a point of view after all...

Sorry for the long ramblings. Talking about it helps me think it through, though.

Thanks for sharing your point of view!

Volume control?

Bare in mind too then, not all vol controls are created equally. Also, if a very nice preamp is added meaning one more item in the signal path controversy is at hand, a better sound might very well be had. A recent thread speaks about this here. Those with the better preamps felt the end result was better than the shorter signal path idea of DAC to amp. With active speakers one only needs a DAC, huh?

Shortest path is just the shortest (least expensive) one. Not necessarily the subjectively 'best' route.
Use reviews, past performance of the company's products, and core competencies as a point of departure.

I've bought two DAC's that way and have been very happy with the results. The first was a Bel Canto DAC 2 and the one I currently own, an Audio Mirror DAC 1 Signature (modified by TRL). Using the criteria I cited above, it has proved successful for me.

I now get to spend more (of my very limited time) enjoying my 2ch audio system.