Difference Between DAC Types

I’m curious if R2R ladder DACs and Delta-Sigma DACs are each better suited to certain types of music, i.e. vocals, amplified vs. non-amplified music, etc.

I’ve only owned Delta-Sigma DACs and have never heard an R2R ladder DAC. However based on reviews of some R2R products I’m considering moving in that direction but also understand there are inherent differences between the two DAC types. Not really looking for recommendations for specific DACs I should listen to of either type although that may be unavoidable to the discussion. I’m mostly intrigued by some of the online reviews for small company DACs like Border Patrol and Mhdt Labs where it’s said they can compete with much more expensive DACs.

My musical tastes are all over the board but maybe 50% rock (not hard) – folk - reggae etc. amplified music, the other made up mostly of acoustic folk, vocals, jazz and whatever else is in my library. I’d hate to move to R2R and find that female vocals are greatly improved, but at the expense of electric guitars, etc.

FWIW I’m running an AR pre, Pass amp, ATC speakers.

So, are there any distinct or unique characteristics inherent to R2R ladder DACs vs. Delta-Sigma DACs?

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I would agree with Elizabeth that it is a personal choice.

Different speakers may impact how DACs sound to you.

Thanks for listening,


Elizabeth, thanks for the rant, hope it worked for you. (Kidding, appreciate your input). I agree it’s a personal choice. And every piece of equipment matters, true.

I’m hoping someone that’s very familiar with the sound qualities of each type of DAC can objectively contribute something about their experience with different types of music.
sound qualities of each type of DAC 

That’s just it, tech type has no dictation on sound quality. Same with tweeters, many say “metal domes sound harsh”, yet it’s possible to have one that’s smoother sounding than a soft dome. 

A llot of reviewers and users have made inferences that support what I’m saying. So still waiting.

A friend of mine, who has some age-related hearing loss that affects his ability to hear high frequencies, prefers a Sabre DAC because it's a little tipped-up in the highs. 

I still have good hearing (knock on wood) and I prefer my PS Audio DirectStream DAC because it sounds laid back and analog to me.

I don't think you can generalize by type, there's a lot more to the DAC than just the chip used and different people hear things differently and have different tastes.  At the end of the day the only way you're going to know if one is better for you than another is to listen.
It's not so much about the chip. But it is all about the implementation. 

Agree with much you say. 

In the end, by the DAC you like the sound of BEST, regardless of chip.
I agree with everything above, especially that making generalizations can be very misleading and are mainly for those who find it easier or more comforting to compatmentalize things rather than having to make the effort to think about and assess each component on its own merits.

HOWEVER, and please don’t flame me too hard on this -- I’m just trying to help the OP out with some observations that might be helpful -- I do have a thought that might bring some perspective. So, my analogy between delta-sigma and R2R (and especially R2R NOS DACs), strikes some similar chords with me as comparing solid state and tubed electronics.

Distilling down lots of reading both of audio reviews on sound and scientific observations, delta-sigma DACs tend to measure better overall and sound more detailed and maybe sound quicker. R2R/NOS DACs, on the other hand, don’t measure as well overall but tend to sound more "analog" with richer tonal colors and nuance but can sound less detailed or sparkly in the treble region. Sound a little like the tubes vs. solid state debate? Sure does to me. And, just like in that debate, both can be excellent in their own right and there is no right or wrong -- just personal preference.

Anyway, you have an excellent, and interesting, combination of components in your system, and my guess is you have an idea of what you’d like to achieve from a system perspective with a new DAC. Hope this gross generalization helps at least give you some direction in some small way as to which way you might want to look. Best of luck.
The best dac is nos dac ! So natural and analog specially with tube nos and you can do tube rolling with them 
As the French chef says: NO Diffawrance!
Like others have said it is personal choice. But there are things to keep in mind. First is the house sound concept. Most DACs tend to have a house sound. For instance, IMO, Schiit Multibit DACs are very forward and detailed sounding. No roll off. Chord Qutest is an FPGA (I hope I got that acronym right!) has multiple settings. Most of which tend to be warmer than Schiit’s. So it depends on the sound you want. Also as noted above some DACs have different settings for how much rolloff you want or not. Schiit, for instance has no such settings.  Chord, Benchmark and plenty of other do. Also, do you want your DAC to handle DSD or MQA. Some do. Some don’t. So it’s about personal taste in sound, variation in that sound through settings and whether you want DSD and/or MQA processing. Good luck. 
An FPGA dac is the way to go.
Speaking of DACs, Here is one Mr Reichert and Mr. Dudley of Stereophile appear to endorse in the Mar 2019 issue:
HOLO -straight talk.
"This is the outlet store of Holo Audio. The owner is not a professional business, is a well-known Buddhist seller, character is bleak. The goods in the store are all real price, no bargaining, and fair to all customers."
i am expecting an MHDT Orchid tomorrow so in a day or two I may be able weigh in in this topic. Presently i am using a Callia DAC/PS Mono700’s streaming Tidal. After 24/30 hr break in (output tube) i will know more about this issue hopefully. Also i pretty much bought into this new piece of audio hardware after researching the types of NOS Phillips chip it currently uses. That led to yet older and better NOS chips one can use to improve just about everything about the listening experience. So, I found and purchased a NOS TDA1451 S1 single crown to use after break in. I’ll be getting back to this thread if anyone cares to revisit in a few days.... 
I have an Orchid. It’s without question the most musical dac I have heard, without sacrifice. It’s music again!
The best Dac, is the one that leans the most on a good high-end cd-player.. The sound of streaming must be the same as that of the cd-player. Sometimes it’s very different. So compare when purchasing how the dac sounds with those from another sources 

I’m curious if R2R ladder DACs and Delta-Sigma DACs are each better suited to certain types of music, i.e. vocals, amplified vs. non-amplified music, etc. 

They are better suited to test tones. Analog is better suited to music.
@soix thanks for your input

@mrdon looking forward to your impressions, perhaps how it stacks up against a Delta-Sigma unit

@lukaske server based system, so no CD player

@millercarbon your ignorance is excused, please don't post here again
I have no idea which type of DAC topology might be better than another.  I do know that NAIM dubs their reference gear with the "555" number.  Their "555" CD player had a R2R DAC.  Their very best server/DAC, until recently, did not "earn" their "555" designation and was called the NDS.  The NDS had a Delta-Sigma DAC.  When they finally came out with a server that they thought warranted the "555" designation, it is one that employs an R2R DAC.  Does that signify anything?


General statements are a water of time - I agree.

You just cannot compare the two unless they are from the same manufacturer/ design.  The speed may not be the chip or the R2R design and can come from other aspects in the design.  SS versus tube, type of tubes, tube regulation vs SS, tube rectification, etc.  Different tubes will also have different sound characteristics.

Since I design Directed Heated Triode tube DACs I prefer the sound of the R2R DAC, why because I also built the same DAC using the Sabre 32 chip DAC.  Both have advantages but the R2R is more musical with a more relaxed presentation where the chip is more like being in the first five rows and hearing he music.  Neither one has better speed, clarity, separation, frequency extremes over the other.  The chip may be slightly more dynamic at the expenses of relation or possibly clarity but you would really have to have really good ears to hear it or spend a lot of time with each unit in your system.  I have demonstrated both but not at the same time and each time the person hearing the DHT design was impressed.

Personal preference yes sir!

Nothing against what you said just trying to add some explanation to what you posted.

Happy Listening.

@bigkidz -- took a look at your DAC after we discussed on a prior thread.  Wow.  Just wow. 


Thank you for your comments.  The prior two years we won best of sound at the CAF with GT Audio.  If you google my website or theirs, you will find links and can hear the system. 

I just want people to understand you have to compare apples to apples.  A DAC made in China with an R2R board may sound good but another R2R will probably sound much different.

Take a look at the phono stage with 16 tubes and the 6SN7 preamp.  By the end of the year we should have all of our designs established.

Happy Listening.

Both have advantages but the R2R is more musical with a more relaxed presentation where the chip is more like being in the first five rows and hearing he music.

@bigkidz -- I find this very interesting.  Are you saying the R2R had you sitting further back in the hall versus the Sabre chip?  Just curious because I much prefer a more mid-hall perspective if the music warrants. 

And BTW, 16 tubes in a phono pre?  Dude, you gots issues.  In a good way. 

I feel like I should contribute my own experience to the conversation, since it’s so different than what I’m seeing on this thread so far. I’ve been listening to both Sigma Delta and R2R DACs for something like twenty years now. When I listen, I keep track of my reactions to the music I’m listening to. What I’m looking for are goosebumps, aural thrills (eargasm, if you will) and the ability to go into a kind of meditative state that I can get to when listening. Obviously, I don’t have these experiences when listening to every song, or in every listening session, but over time I’ve had enough experience with my DACs that I can see clear patterns with them.

What I’ve found is that I have these experiences with R2R DACs, and I either don’t have these experiences with Sigma Delta DACs, or I have them very little. This has been consistent with multiple DACs of each type, and is independent of the quality of the implementation. I’ve had Sigma Delta DACs that ’sound’ relaxed and natural, but the effects on me are not the same as an R2R DAC even if it isn’t as well implemented.

I’m not entirely sure why it happens this way for me, but I suspect the sound of R2R DACs allows my body to relax in a way that I don’t experience with Sigma Delta DACs. Please note that I cannot detect which DACs have this quality from a quick listening session, or from trying to assess how natural or analog they sound. I’ve had Sigma Delta DACs that score very well in those terms, but after extended listening they just don’t bring the same experiences.

I’m mostly intrigued by some of the online reviews for small company DACs like Border Patrol and Mhdt Labs where it’s said they can compete with much more expensive DACs.

My musical tastes are all over the board but maybe 50% rock (not hard) – folk - reggae etc. amplified music, the other made up mostly of acoustic folk, vocals, jazz and whatever else is in my library. I’d hate to move to R2R and find that female vocals are greatly improved, but at the expense of electric guitars, etc.

I've had the MHDT Lab Pagoda in my system for about a year now and I've found it to be quite extraordinary with all types of music. It sounds very natural compared to my Chord Qute EX, which sounds much more forward (and not in a good way). Everyone's taste is different, of course, and my preference leans heavily toward R2R NOS. I'd say give one a try. If you don't like what you hear you should be able to sell it without incurring too much loss considering R2R DAC's are all the rage. Speaking of MHDT Lab, the Orchid has had some interest here as of late. Lots of fans of those old TDA1541 chips. Good luck with your search.

How about using a digital amp, which then would place the digital to analog conversion on your speaker? 😄
Thanks for the recent input folks. Very helpful.

So it seems at least with some the idea of differences has been validated.
R2R sound like old school because they are.

Sigma-delta 1 bit sound more digital like ( more accurate )

Both have weaknesses. Digital conversion to analog is along two dimensions where errors can occur - amplitude and time.

R2R suffers from differential non linearity in the amplitude (bit levels) as well as susceptibility to jitter particularly at 44.1KHz.  1 bit Sigma Delta suffers from jitter (differential non-linearity in timing) but is highly linear in amplitude.

There are solutions.

1 bit Sigma Delta operating at 4xDSD is less likely to have much in the way of audible jitter (timing non-linearity) as the operating frequency and noise shaping is way outside the audible band.

Upsampling can help with an R2R DAC by “randomizing” amplitude non-linearity.

Latest Sabre DACs use 6 bit Sigma Delta DAC with a mathematical randomizer to help eliminate non-linearity. These latest DACs are a hybrid between traditional, R2R 16 bit DACs and 1 bit Sigma Delta - they have both great amplitude linearity and low jitter (timing issues).

I got involved in early digital ~1985 and found the sound truly hateful (from a good CD player of that day) vs any vinyl or even good FM. I started getting DACs in ~12 yrs ago as part of a big desktop system. Had 2-3 delta-sigma DACs and found the sound (regardless of make/model) to be relatively artificial, tipped up in frequency, and soul-less. Then 3 years ago I got a mid-priced NOS DAC (by Audio GD), which changed everything, just everything. Mind you, this is not even well-reviewed or much liked in the headphone/desktop audio world, but it sure did the trick for me. For the first time in 30 yrs of digital, I could relax and forget I was hearing digital (thanks to more natural, organic tonality, real-sounding transients, "wetter" acoustic, and more natural bass). Shortly thereafter I got Audio GD's R2R DAC, the DAC-19, which I used in a side system...I also like that sound a lot.

I'm on the verge of finally upgrading to a better R2R or (even better) NOS DAC. I know there are better designs out there, so will soon have a new toy (new or used, that is).
Any good dac is suitable for all types of music. If a dac doesn't sound good with particular genres of music, then its not a good dac. NOS R2R dacs sound different than Delta Sigma dacs but that's more of a preference issue than anything else.
Another vote for Holo audio Spring Dac. R2R ladder in NOS mode-heaven, or DSD, or several oversampling modes-your choice. I have found different sources or recordings benefit from the different modes. I opted for the “Kitsune” tuned version and couldn’t be happier!
Another vote for Holo audio Spring Dac. R2R ladder in NOS mode-heaven
From me too, and that was the level 2 I heard, NOS mode richer mids  tighter extension in the bass, and the highs were extended, delicate and had better harmonic decay than OS mode.

Cheers George 
For years, I thought I had a problem with my Casablanca III. Sometimes my CD’s would not play the first word or note of a song. I auditioned the DEXQ unit and was surprised to learn it wasn’t my dac, but my CD player. I have a Kora Hermès II and when using it, I have no problem with digital lock. All my CDs play as they should. Sonically, the units are comparable, with the Kora unit sounding a bit warmer. The main story is-no more missing the first note. It’s a win win situation.  BTW using  a Theta Miles Transport

@soix - yes different presentation between the two in my DAC.  The chip was more dynamic in some ways that also kind of added some congestion.  It was slight and you could only hear the differences with a good ear and comparing the two side by side otherwise you would not be able to hear those differences.  Again very slight and took time to really get a handle on them.

As good as my DAC sounds with the Direct Heated 101D tubes, and it is reference quality, the phono stage with its 16 tubes is something to hear.  It is currently with a TT manufacturer for a full evaluation.  Lets see what happens.

Happy Listening. 

Implementation is something, but it's not everything. The various DAC chips have unique characteristics that can't be implemented out of existence. 
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Any r2r dav can play dsd stream? 
Also, any phono stage with more than 4 dual triodes are not good engineering practice,ihmo.
I build my phone stage with 2 6922s with a pair of cascaded fets at cathodes, plus a couple of ccs on top, have enough clean gain for 0.1mv cartridges.
I had a Rega DAC which I thought was pretty good but sometimes the treble glare was a real turn off.

I now use a Denafrips R2R Pontus DAC, which I find immensely satisfying at all times.

Same music and sources, same hardware everywhere.

It has to be the DAC.