DACs And Classical Music

I was reading a thread recently where the poster mentioned that the sub $500 DAC he was using was excellent, except for classical music.

What is it in classical music that would be a challenge to a DAC?
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That may have been an issue way back - I don't know why though, but today's DAC'a are very good across all genres.

Perhaps the poster was referring to the lower sampling rate of less expensive DACs and he required 24/192 or higher - but that's not so much an issue any longer

The Sciit Bifrost with USB (asynchronous) is around $450 and a very good performer up to 24/192- does an exceptional job with good power and interconnect cables on it.

The term Classical music covers a pretty wide area. With Classical you are dealing with recording un-amplified instruments, so the recording process is more difficult than plugging in some amps.
It could be he didn't like the sound of the Brass section; the horns are not always miked correctly. A mic placed too close results in a raspy sound; in this case the fault lies in the recording. But some DACs reproduce horns better than others.

Also, the sound of a violin or massed strings can sound harsh, or can sound warm and sweet according to the capability of the DAC (and the rest of the components). In troubleshooting a problem like this it may not be the DAC that's at fault, but possibly the preamp or a cable.

For the best SQ, the DAC needs to be asynchronous, which the current generations are. Good reproduction depends on how well the unit can remove jitter.
Mitch, I think lowrider provided a good answer. I'm going to approach the question in a different way.

There is no absolute reference with amplified music. This has been long recognized and is the basis for the absolute sound-- a live performance of unamplified music. It seems to me that a designer of audio gear principally aimed at popular music can do very well with deviations from absolute neutrality, so long as those deviations are euphonic.

Not so with equipment to be used for "Classical" music. Here we have more or less an absolute reference. Neutrality and timbral accuracy from top to bottom are must haves. There are plenty of people who can distinguish between a Bosendorfer from a Steinway in a properly executed 2 channel system.

I am largely in agreement with Lowriders comments, but consider this. Back in the late 80's (87, I think) I had the pleasure to hear recitals by both Isaac Stern and Itzhak Perlman in the same venue, from the same seat, a month or two apart. Itzhak's violin was as sweet as honey, but Isaac's was steely to the point of stridency.

A good DAC for classical music would render those two performances faithfully, in my opinion.

Similar arguments and examples could be made regarding other attributes, such as image, 3 dimensionality, dynamics, etc. The key to faithfulness, it not to have those things artificially exaggerated beyond what is possible in a live venue. When I attend a live chamber music concert, I usually hear less precise localization of the individual instruments than I hear at home. This is probably an artifact of closely miked recordings than it is an artificially induced Hi Fi effect coming from equipment design, but it is still a concern for me.
Classical music, larger scale works in particular, are overall the most acoustically diverse and hence most challenging overall in general of any music genre.

Its always that way, be it DAC, phono, whatever attempting to reproduce.

My mhdt COnstantine that I picked up for <$400 used can give most any DAC I have heard on various other reference systems a fair run for the money. IT sounds very good even with large scale classical.

Remember also that a DAC or any component does not make music alone. It's a team sport! Everything involved from recording to room to system to listener has to perform well together. So do not put too much creedence into any single user account. I suspect most good quality yet relatively inexpensive DACs these days may be up to the task. Look for positive user accounts and focus on those as much on those that do not turn out well for whatever reason.
I have just auditioned an Interconnect that might just turn the tables on classical's "rigor".

It comes from Keith Louis Eichmann Innovations - designer of the original Bullet RCA plugs - but they now have a completely new line of products

The Essence gZero3 is an incredibly good IC, especially for classical music lovers - it seems to place you right into the recording venue and surround you with superb venue acoustics which adds to the realism.

It comes in around $375 for 1 meter.

Unfortunately - the rest of your cables (speaker and power) have to be pretty darn good also to get this effect.

My system is pretty modest, with very good cables, but the KLEI cables brought out the very best in it.

I also audiotioned the gZero2 Speaker Cable at the same time - the combination of the pair was simply stunning

I've even taken to opera, which always used to sound like glass breaking before these cables.

Google them - it will take you right their site for further details