Insert shameless plug for HiFiBerry (a Pi-based high res DAC) here: [ ]
- 110 posts total
- 110 posts total
I am a believer in high-end DAC's. I was convinced to throw down some serious cash on an MSB Analog DAC with fancy power supply and volume control (as equipped, $12K+, new), which replaced my preamp as well (Plinius 12P). I think that it was a good improvement over my already good DAC/streamer Naim NDX. But as everything in audio, how big an improvement is dependent on so many factors, such as speakers, room, amplification, power, cabling, etc. Highly revealing speakers will show more differences than rolled off "warm" ones, etc. That's the irony of audio, I suppose. The more expensive your components are, the more expensive they need to be to sound good. So are DAC's overpriced? It depends on your system. a $90K DAC in a $20K system . .. probably not a great match. Then there is the unique language of reviewers:
"noticeably more presence" = 5% better
"makes you feel right there" = 5% better
"a big difference over my reference" = 10% better
"Blows away my reference ___" = 10-15% better
"to my ears, the most amazing ___ since the invention of the transistor" = 15% better.
A little off-topic, but just once I'd like to read an Absolute Sound or Stereophile review that instead of gushing superlatives says "this piece of equipment costs $20K and sounds no better than a $3000 one. Buy it if you want, and it sounds good, but its just not worth the money."
I run a Peachtree DAC iT, which is their older model. Picked it up about 5 years ago and paid full-ticket of about $500. Sounds awesome and you can find them on EBay for about $125 or so. The newer iTx model does 192 khz whereas my older beast only does 96 khz. But since I only use it for playing back Redbook grade files, it's fine for me.
OK, I'll try to provide a little less rant-ish reply ;_) (although i stand by what i said).
If your question is really "what should I do about my digital?" - that's a very different question. let me first emphasize truths that have been stated here in different places that I support:
1. A DAC is only as good as the jitter of the signal it is sent. Jitter directly impacts the analog output by determining the points in PAM on a horizontal axis. SPDIF is NOT a pure digital signal when only bit recovery matters.
2. Anyone's ability to resolve and appreciate DAC differences is therefore depending on the transport signal.
3. Similarly it is dependent on the rest of the system (duh, but often overlooked when someone ways "i didin't hear a difference" (through some god-awful or simply inexpensive system)
4. SPDIF is synchronous, with the source as the master clock. USB is asynchronous withe the DAC as the only clock. Therefore USB frees DACs from the tyranny of jitter (but picks up USB noise). I don't mean jitter doesn't matter, just that the jitter is now under the DAC's control.
5. The law of diminishing marginal gains lives. This is why "are they overpriced" is such a fraught question. To some yes, To others no. They cost what they cost.
6. Pay little attention to the chip used. Worry about jitter, power supply design, digital (pre/up filtering), analog driver and post-filter - you know, the analog stuff :-)
Two new thoughts:
Digital - like all formats is more compromised by the recording process than decent playback. Listen to a regular old 44/16 recording "ella and louis" on a good system - not crazy good, but pretty darn good. 60 year old analog recording, competent transfer to digital, glorious. We don't necessarily need high-res, we need competent, pure sound obsessed, recording and mastering engineers. Note: if you are a 50 year old rock and roller with hearing loss, you may demand treble boost. Bzzzt.
I have some very old but good DACs that stand up to upper-middle competition of today's very well, with my compromised transport (yea, my bad). I plan to switch to a ROON server and move away from SPDIF as much as possible to fix this ( and use a very good low jitter USB--> SPDIF for the legacy stuff, maybe my own frankenbox, maybe the new Schiit - Mike's smart). I do have a frankenbox today - tandem PLLs that helps. Some.
Have fun. Sorry if i was a crank earlier. My point is that there are facts we can use - and a bunch of opinions, with no assumptions listed, are like signals with floating grounds. Yikes!