Are DAC's overpriced?


External DAC's are pretty expensive imho... BUT I don't know that much on how to choose one. I want mostly cd's in my small two channel system... I am rebuilding after selling my Logans and Mac amp to go back to "drivers"! The Logans wore me out with Maintenance.  Should I buy a new cd player or get a new DAC for my old player?  
6f46e9d1 45ca 46fd 8370 73d2abece53bcaptbeaver
Massdrop Grace SDAC, Topping D30, Schiit Modi 3, Khadas Tone Board (can be used bare, but would advise using a case). All are excellent and are <$150.

EDIT, seeing as your CD player pliekly only has digital coax or Toslink, then scratch off the Grace DAC, as it’s USB only.
If you old CD spinner still plays well, get a DAC. The prices for DACs are from a few hundred to a few hundred thousand. Good used DAC can be had for a few hundred.
The CD player is a Denon DVD 2900... she has served me well... I'm thinking about selling my Mac pre and buying a Parasound P6... has all the features and (I think) a great DAC built in. It's confusing for me... 
@captbeaver 
 
The P6 is good if you want that.

I think you could rather say, is all HiFi overpriced? My answer would be yes. Having said that, DACs may be one area where there are bargains or relative bargains. Companies like Mytek,, Metrum, Rega. Chord, and others, make some great kit at reasonable prices.

Looking at HiFi from a business perspective, the problem seems to be about scale. The golden age for Hifi, the 60's to 80's say, then every home aspired to a good HiFi system, now only a small %. If you are spending money on R&D, tooling production facilities and you only sell a few 100 or 1000 units, it is going to be expensive.

I am sure the Mac pre is better than the Parasound P6.  Doesn’t sound like a good move to me.  I owned Parasound, a Halo Integrated.  While it was ok for the price, it didn’t move me the way the Mac integrated did.  The Parasound had less body to the music than the Mac. 
You can get better performance from a Transport and DAC compared to the CD player, providing you minimize the jitter from the Transport.  There are essentially three ways to do this:

1) Buy a really expensive transport, say $15K
2) Add a Synchro-Mesh reclocker and a good BNC cable to your existing transport and add a DAC with good SQ
3) Buy a DAC that is immune to jitter like the Benchmark DAC3

My recommendation is to get a Metrum or Border Patrol DAC and add the Synchro-Mesh and my Reference BNC cable.  These combinations will enable the extremely low-jitter of the SM to benefit the DAC sound quality because these DACs have no internal reclocking. When you use separate transport and DAC, the only consideration is the jitter and minimizing it.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio

Steve- would you say the transport is then irrelevant in terms of sound quality if using Synchro-Mesh or Benchmark DAC3 ? Thanks
DAC technology has improved by leaps and bounds in the past couple of years. Which is why I won't spend more that $2K on a DAC, and from a company that will provide upgrades.
My choices would be Schiit, Ayre, Mytek, in no particular order.
Bob
@david12 


excellent post
Get a DAC.  That will allow you to utilize and endpoint and/or server.  Having streaming capability is a great door opener to new music.
Steve- would you say the transport is then irrelevant in terms of sound quality if using Synchro-Mesh or Benchmark DAC3 ? Thanks


Pretty much. Low jitter on the input side of the SM helps a little, but not much.  The output side always sounds great.

You should listen to the Benchmark before you buy.

Most modern DACs have reclockers or similar circuitry inside so that they can claim jitter is a non-issue.  It still is an issue with the vast majority of them because low-jitter input lowers the jitter of the internal PLL circuitry.  They additionally have the disadvantage that they don't deliver the SQ possible when driven by extremely low-jitter sources like the Synchro-Mesh.  The SM helps, but not as much as a DAC without reclocker on the input.

Like all digital circuitry, the devil is in the details.  It's not just the chips used or the digital techniques.  The big differences in sound quality come from optimal circuit implementation, circuit design, power supply design and decoupling cap implementation.  There are literally millions of choices that the designer makes that can degrade the sound quality and still end-up with a functioning design.

Steve N.
A good dac can be between 150-300.

Post removed 
Aside from the preamp choice, (the Parasound P6 is an excellent one), you could add the Oppo UDP-205 as your CD/DVD/Blue-ray source because it has the famed ESS Sabre ES9038Pro DAC. In addition to any type of disc, this unit has a ton of ways to add a digital source - HDMI, ethernet, wireless, coax, Toslink, and USB DAC inputs.  The accepted formats of the digital source start with simple mp3 and go up to DSD and MQA files.  Hook this up to your preamp using the HDMI (analog only), unbalanced (RCA), or balanced (XLR). Enjoy!

The Oppo costs ~$1500 if you can find one - Oppo recently stopped making them.  They will only get more valuable as they become scarce IMHO.
I owned a wyred4sound DAC1LE femtoclock, well over $1k, sold it to play around with analog for a while, ultimately replaced it with an iFi DSD Black Label which far surpassed the W4S in SQ and flexibility.   DACs are still changing rapidly and the quality one can get for under $300 is astounding, IMO.  
It all depends on what you want your system to sound like.  If you can use a soldering iron then change a few parts in your CD and pre and see what happens.  Most of the DACs I have heard in the $2K to $5K range really don't float my boat.  They very similar characteristics some do on one thing better than the other but not much to my ears in sound differences.  The Berkeley Alpha DAC mention was nothing exceptional when I owned it. Same with the Benchmark.  The Schitt again to my ears nothing special.  To me you are better off modifying one of your components that to buy a cheaper priced DAC.  You do not need a very expensive transport either as mentioned above to mate with a higher priced ( better DAC price does not dictate the sound).  These DACs if you look under the cover are not using any special parts like V-Caps, Duelands, Caddock resistors so to me they are nothing special.  You can but these better parts in your current components and to me achieve a much better sound in your system.

Happy Listening.  
You are getting a lot of varied opinions, bogus results and misinformation here.  Be careful what advice you take seriously.

Al it takes is a jittery source and all DAC's will sound similar.

Al it takes is a cheap active preamp to make everything sound homogenous and 2-D.

Systems are complex and every single part of the system from the power to the cables to the components, signal processing and software apps must be optimized in order to get stellar results.  Any one of these that is sub-standard can ruin the whole pie.

Not that you need to spend a fortune to achieve this.  On the contrary, if you are smart and selective and take advice from the RIGHT people, you can get there on a budget.  I think for an entire system, the threshold is probably $20K-$30K.  Anything below that will tend to be mid-fi with 2-D presentation between the speakers IME.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
DACs are indeed overpriced. As is high end audio in general. 
Schiit schiit schiit SCHIIT
without more data anyone who answered is ignorant.  On what basis do you find DACs overpriced?  what have you listened to?  Do you even know what t takes to build a truly good, o great sounding DAC?The D--A process is fraught with complexity, some of which i m just realizing - albeit it's obvious hen an engineer "gets " it.  what's hour real goal? Great sound?  The best digital sound available today?
Digital and analog today have complementary strengths. I wish one had both. My goal is to build something with both, but toady that's either impossible or costly.
Get real and ask a question that cna be honestly answered.
G



Yep......dacs are overpriced. 
Watch out for the people that are trying to sell you something. Also, if you like a cold/analytical sounding dac, get a benchmark. Some dacs are overpriced and there are good dacs priced fairly cheap. I wouldn’t buy a non-fpga type dac, you are too locked in with current technology with little to no way to upgrade to future technologies without paying a premium for the upgrade.
There seems to be a trend here that for pennies on the dollar you can get a great sounding DAC and it's all based on measurements. 

Good luck with that. Measurements don't mean dick unless it's properly implemented. That, and you're following folk who admit they can't hear all that well.

All the best,
Nonoise
My advice would be to get yourself a DAC with also preamp possibility (volume control) and built-in streamer (Tidal). Bluesound Node 2i and Teac NT-505 would be fine with Teac more expensive. The Node 2i has a usable active crossover. 

Will you hear a difference? Depends on your golden ears. Takes a lot of experience. When some are talking of huge differences, in my opinion,  these are subtle for most of us. 
itsjustme...

I am real... at least the IRS and my mortgage company think so. lol

The question was "are" they overpriced. 

I am a lifelong musician and almost all of my tube amps are custom built and I play PRS guitars with mostly boutique effects pedals so I understand what goes into making high end equipment.

I am looking to run a simple simple cd-preamp-amp-speakers-gin n tonic- comfy chair system. 

Now... lots of folks want me to run a DAC with my current cd player which played well but is an older model. Looking into this I have found the price of a standalone DAC to be ALL over the map. I understand this and how it works BUT DAC's seem to be very trendy at the moment ( no disrespect meant) and I can't see paying 3-20 thousand dollars for one, nor can I, and want to discuss "if" they are the trending component at the moment. I don't know much about DAC's as a component and came here to learn a few things... do I need one with such a simple setup? :)

Basically many ’nice’ cheap DACs sound OK. And they basically all sound very similar. there are bad cheap DACs.. Then the pricey DACs. not a lot better, except some do sound better enough...
Then you got the fanboys, for whom specific DACs are "Giant Killers" as if...
And some CD players and transports do sound better than others. Folks call it ’jitter’ but that is just guessing. But maybe good enough.         
Anyway yeah some transports sound better. and again some cheap (I use $40 used off ebay myself, to go to my $7000 DAC)  LOL
@rbstehno  
 
Also, if you like a cold/analytical sounding dac, get a benchmark. 

 
A device can not be cold (emphasizes kids and treble; opposite of warm) and analytical (transparent, no color) at the same time. The Benchmark is indeed the latter.  
Analytical is associated with cool sounding, with the benchmark I’ll go with shrill sounding. The Benchmark is way too analytical IMO. At past audio shows, in every room with the benchmark dac, I spent an average of 2 minutes listening, sometimes walked in and turned around. It wasn’t only me, my friends with me that have good sounding dacs left too. 
"At past audio shows, in every room with the benchmark dac, I spent an average of 2 minutes listening,"

Completely baseless conclusion. You can not isolate what you didn't like to just the DAC. You'd need to switch the DACs while keeping everything else the same, including the volume, in order to draw any meaningful conclusions. That said, Benchmark DACs can sound too revealing - garbage in garbage out. 

@rbstehno

Shrill sounding again is about emphasized treble. Analytical doesn’t mean cool, cool means cool. Analytical is the same as transparent, you can’t analyze something if the tool adds color. If you don’t wanna hear what your music/speakers/room sound like like, then maybe a transparent DAC isn’t for you, get a tube one or something that has a lot of distortion, like some Audio-GD products. If you do want to hear no added colorations, then the Benchmark, and any other transparent DAC, is an excellent choice.

Should I buy a new cd player or get a new DAC for my old player?  

There’s an Oppo 205 for sale on another auction site for $2500, that’s the best of both choices . Great DAC chips (ES9038PRO), solid disc spinner and it streams. At $2500 you’re almost guaranteed your money back if you decide to sell it and take a different direction.


Oppo 205 list $1200, current madness $2500 to $4000.Ridiculous and NOT worth $2500. Anyone want to gamble on Tulip bulbs?
"I don’t know much about DAC’s as a component and came here to learn a few things... do I need one with such a simple setup? :)"
No!
Overpriced I think would be when a company have choosen a price for its dac product so that they will show a smaller profit or eventually loss on that product compared to a better outcome if it was priced lower.

Maybe we should talk soundvalue? This is a hobby of very high diminishing returns (even loss) if you’re not careful.


Measurements don't mean dick unless it's properly implemented. That, and you're following folk who admit they can't hear all that well.


+1
Measurements are only one piece of the characterization, but can be useful if they are the right measurements.
Will you hear a difference? Depends on your golden ears. Takes a lot of experience. When some are talking of huge differences, in my opinion, these are subtle for most of us. 


I believe it's more a function of the rest of the system and the acoustic treatments, if any.  I routinely have people tell me they have tin ears and then when they hear the system, they get it immediately.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
And some CD players and transports do sound better than others. Folks call it ’jitter’ but that is just guessing. But maybe good enough.  


It's not guessing.  For transports is IS JITTER and ONLY JITTER.  I don't just call it jitter.  For CD players, it's everything in the DAC, including jitter.  I know this for a fact.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
It is true, jitter is the current 'catch phrase', covering everything from cellulitis to barnacles.      
Two old bags in the hair salon.. "My doctor told me I have toe jitter..." 
Car salesman: "And this used beauty... No jitter, not even a trace!"   
Judge Judy show:... Plaintiff: And we discovered after we moved in the house HE rented to us.. it was FULL of jitter". :How could we stay in such a place?" Defendant: 'They brought the jitter with them.."
@ audioengr 

Jitter is not the real problem today. Bad recordings are and probably will always be. 


Steve N,
Your comments about buying a DAC without a re-clocker are interesting, but perhaps a tad misleading. The world of sound is no better than the recording studio builds into it. So, there ya go.
@brucenitroxpro

Also remember most rooms don’t have more than ~60-70dB of dynamic range. So Steve, in another thread, saying that using his reclocker to go from 22psec (-120dBFS) to 7psec (-130dBFS) resulted in a difference he could hear, that already is a huge red flag. I’m not calling him a snake oil peddler as his product works (well, Audioholics did measure his >$700 speaker cables, which he says addresses the issue of skin effect, which plagues cheap cables, yet his measured identical to lamp cord in that respect), but I’m just saying that it doesn’t add anything over a modern, competent DAC (the $80 Grace SDAC has a Jitter-Test result of better than -125dBFS); maybe if you had an older DAC that you absolutely didn’t want to get rid of, or a modern incompentant one, then maybe his $700 reclocker would be useful.
You are so misleading with your specs (when it suits you). Yes, a room wouldn't have more than 60-70db of dynamic range, if that. But to say that if one can increase the dynamic range that the additional bits would be of no consequence is a flat out lie.

When the dynamic range is increased, it's not just at the extremes where they are heard and appreciated. It's across the board. You've gone from hiding behind your slide rule to openly using tactics that would work on the uninitiated or those who are ignorant of that fact to work your case and what seems to be a grudge against @audioengr with your several (so far) digs at him. You're not as clever as you think you are.

That, and if you truly believe that having more dynamic range is a futile endeavor, then why do you promote cheap DACs with class leading specs (including increased dynamic range) as the way to go?

Enjoy your lamp cord and <$200 DACs. 👍

All the best,
Nonoise
When the dynamic range is increased, it’s not just at the extremes where they are heard and appreciated. It’s across the board. You’ve gone from hiding behind your slide rule to openly using tactics that would work on the uninitiated or those who are ignorant of that fact to work your case

No, an increase in dynamic range only results in a lower noise floor. To suggest it has any other benefit (effecting the sound “across the board”) shows that you do not know what dynamic range is on a fundamental level. We are not talking microdynamics here.

grudge against @audioengr with your several (so far) digs at him. You’re not as clever as you think you are.

He gives out some good advise, but certain claims he makes can easily be seen as untrue if you know simple facts about digital audio (he may believe it’s true, in which case I suggest he does some quick-switching level-matched double-blind listening tests).



mzkmxcv
“No, an increase in dynamic range only results in a lower noise floor. To suggest it has any other benefit (effecting the sound “across the board”) shows that you do not know what dynamic range is on a fundamental level. We are not talking microdynamics here.”

>>>>Dynamic range is a ratio of loudness levels and is independent of noise.
@geoffkait

In terms of music mastering (like the DR Database may score one song a 6 and one song a 12). This is the comparison of RMS vs peak levels (or some variant).

In terms of digital audio as a format, it’s the amount of bits. CD is 16Bit, so, if undithered, it has ~96dB of dynamic range (20*log10(2^16)). Meaning from the loudest sound possible all the way down to the lowest noise possible (due to the noise floor), it is a difference of ~96dB.

If you haven’t, I suggest watching this video by Chris Montgomery.
Sadly so many recordings manage to use only the top few dB of the range. It is called compression...                 
The bane of recorded music.
@elizabeth 
 
Yes, there are many songs I like where the vocalist going from average singing levels to belting results in only a slightly increase in volume.