dont forget the clock
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Mrtennis, that is exactly correct. Masking inferior digital design and DACs with tubed analog stage sounds really bad indeed, IMHO.
At the same time, carefully designed digital with an appropriate DAC can do miracles with just a few Op Amps and all solid state output buffer.
Of course, the "real deal" (for me) is superior digital/DAC design combined with fast and transparent tube output stage.
Mrtennis - I would agree as I prefer non-os dac designs. Coming from the perspective that I primarily focus on analog (vinyl) as my primary medium, non-os dacs have given me the satisfaction of a sonic signature more synonymous of the analog sound I prefer. The added bonus is I don't have to open my checkbook to achieve this sonic signature.
A DAC is an analog device. What do you think the "A" stands for. It is also a digital device, but the digital part is a go/nogo thing and not likely to affect sound quality. The analog output of a DAC chip is fast and accurate, but generally needs a buffering circuit to provide a low impedance signal for output to other parts of the audio system. I think that the question relates to the quality of this follow-on circuitry. In early CD players this is where manufacturers chose to cut corners, and many early CD players were significantly improved by replacement of this circuitry. This is still common practice by MOD shops, even going so far as to install tube stages. Few, if any, MODs involve new DAC chips.
05-25-06: EldartfordAPL previously used Crystal DACs, which sounded excellent. The AKM DACs Alex uses are the top-of-the-line offerings from AKM, and they do indeed sound superb.
I am not aware of any other moddders who change DACs, but I could be mistaken.
The DAC swap performed by APL is one of the primary reasons Alex's mods sound so good...IMO, FWIW, YMMV...
Since APL appears to be the only modder that changes the DAC in a commercial player, perhaps one should view Alex Paychev's crediting 70% of total improvement to a DAC swap as relevant strictly to his own shop's choice of CDP and chosen regime of modifications. Certainly some DACs are better than others, but the gestalt of modded machine is a combination of many factors-- starting with a decent mule player. Allen Wright chose the SCD-1/777ES as its base platform because its transport & DAC sound great with a drop-in replacement analog stage & other mods. A Modwright 777ES with std. DAC is the player of choice in a cost-no-object Magico system recently reviewed by John Atkinson. Zanden builds a superlative DAC around an old Philips TDA-1541 chip. I've built a battery powered SCD-1 around the player's std. DAC; the sound of improved player barely ressembles the sound of the stock Sony. The improvement I gained is due about 30% to the replacement analog stage, 30% to transport mods, and 40% to power mods. So this question is likely reductio ad absurdum...