Cause of different sound between dacs


Just reading about the Esoteric K 03.
How does the output differ from the Alpha dac, for example.
What exactly is responsible for any sound difference assuming the balance of the systems identical?
Still confused by digital.
ptss
Here is an overview of some of the things responsible for the overall sound a DAC design. There are actually more things involved than I will list mind you, even though this list may seem longish.

- Input receiver choice (the circuit the connects the incoming digital signal jacks and transfers the digital data to the DAC chipset itself)

- Power supply design for the DAC, input receiver power supply quality and output gain sections.

- Any filtering that may be incorporated on the incoming AC and/or digital data input and/or DAC chipset output (which can be within the DAC chipset itself) and/or the output stage itself. Read; FOUR DIFFERENT CIRCUIT AREAS within the DAC which could have filtering implemented of various design and quality choices on those differing circuits.

- Regulation choice for the above circuit sections.

- Jitter reduction methodology, if any.

- DAC chipset choice and implementation.

- Board layout, EMI, RF and noise considerations of the various circuits involved.

- Output section choice (op amps or discrete?)

- Bias of the output devices, if they need biasing.

- Power supply caps, quality, amount, power supply circuit implementation.

- Current to Volt conversion circuit topology for DAC chipsets that require it prior to the gain stage.

- Various supporting components, resistors, clocking, supporting component quality for input, power supply(s), DAC chipset, regulation(s), output devices and quality of caps used on capacitor coupled output stages- read; discrete output which is a better step-up sonically above utilizing Op Amp outputs.

As you can now see from this list, the variables within a given DAC design are many. Hence, the differences between two different DACs are so much more than just "the DAC chipset" choice or "the jitter reduction"; which are typically the only core technical things discussed as "the crucial components" of the DAC design. If creating a heroic sounding DAC was only as simple as the DAC chipset and the jitter reduction ;-)

Cheers,

Eric Hider - dB Audio Labs
A lot of things can make DACs sound different. I order of effect, most first:

1) master clock jitter or interface jitter
2) power subsystem differences
3) D/A chip used
4) I/V (current to voltage) circuit
5) output drive circuit - op amps or discrete, tubes etc..
6) number of stages ie. gain, I/V, drive, volume control - less is better
7) trace lengths on the circuit boards versus point-to-point wiring
8) ground-plane integrity on the circuit boards

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
1. Jitter
2. Digital signal processing
3. Analog circuitry (including power supply).
Look inside. No two are exactly the same. They are all different. Only question is how similar or different any two are.

If you ever try two brands of vanilla ice cream, that taste EXACTLY the same, they probably are, ie same stuff under a different label. That happens on occasion with audio gear (exact same product marketed under two different brands) but not often.
Look inside. No two are exactly the same. They are all different. Only question is how similar or different any two are.

If you ever try two brands of vanilla ice cream, that taste EXACTLY the same, they probably are, ie same stuff under a different label. That happens on occasion with audio gear (exact same product marketed under two different brands) but not often.
For a brief illustration of some of the complexities that are involved in optimizing just a couple of the many factors that have been cited by the others above, take a look at this paper (although it focuses on A/D rather than D/A conversion).

Entire textbooks have been written about many of the individual factors the others have mentioned.

Very few designers can be expected to possess world class expertise in all of these areas. And designs that are intended to meet a given set of requirements will inevitably be implemented differently by different designers, regardless of how similar their expertise may be.

Regards,
-- Al
I admit to being "gobsmacked" as John Malkovich put it.
And I thought bits are bits, chipsets are so improved they must be nearly identical, power supply function so well established that there must be a basic template that is efficient & effective. This is just another reason why stadardization would be so helpful and "economical".
I thought the 2 dacs I quoted must be soo similar as they are at the top of the heap.
Mindnumbing.
OK. Is the newer K03 better than the original or new Alpha Dac and if technically possible please reveal some of the reasons. I assumed the k03 being newer,from a huge digital company, MUST be better. Am I mistaken?
I wouldn't look inside because its all "GREEK" to me.
I was hoping for a simpler answer and a simple way f
of making sensible choices. I'm feeling like stepped into a land mine-and wouldn't know one if I saw it. Scary.
It's easy to establish via careful listening that two DACs sound different just by a/b testing. Like vanilla and french vanilla say. But a lot harder to establish which is in fact BETTER. Which is better, Vanilla or Chocolate? Two things that are different cannot be equally good. One may beat another in one aspect of sound and lose in another. Differences might be subtle. Some may not matter to any particular individual, others may. What is better is often determined by personal preferences in choosing between two different beasts.
Two DACs can sound identical just because you are using a poor quality preamp or any active preamp at all in the system. These can totally homogenize all sources.

I don't use any preamp, active or passive. Makes a world of difference.

If you must use one, use a passive transformer. Requires the DAC to have decent output drive though...

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
"I don't use any preamp, active or passive. Makes a world of difference."

+1
Power supply is a huge factor. Also the output caps used are very, very important.

Great active tube preamp is the best option IMHO with any DAC.
"I was hoping for a simpler answer and a simple way f
of making sensible choices."

Listen to them both and pick the one that sounds the best.
That's too simple.
"08-31-13: Mapman
That's too simple."

I know, but it works.
Grannyring(Bill),
Yes! The power supply and the quality and implementation of the analog output section are huge factors in determining the sound you'll hear. Bill I seconded the high quality active line stage suggestion and I know you've tried direct DAC options, welcome back.
Charles,
I am not able to audition the two. Perhaps someone with experience can comment?
I was very surprised at how much better my K03 sounds, compared to my Berkeley Alpha Dac (1st one). It has much more detail, more resolution, deeper/wider soundstage - I can go on and on - it was just 'better' in every plane. I am thinking power supplys, dacs and analogue output stage are all superior.
The power supply and analog circuit have the biggest impact on the sound.
Cerrot, have you compared sound with identical feeds?
Of course. I was thrilled when I got the berkeley; I was more thrilled when I got the G25U upsampler/clock BUT the K03 brings it to another level. Layers and layers of info I did not hear before - but it sounds like it belongs there and should be there and makes the music 'right'. It has me thinking what a K01 can do.