Do I really need a Dac?


I have an old Sony C801ES CD player that I still use. Some say that a DAC will improve the sound quite a bit of an old CD player. What do you say?
donplatt
It all depends on the quality and resolovong power of the rest of your system.
The weakest link is the part that matters.
I still use old Sony ES changers for my CD transports.
I do use a DAC. but it is an older one. My SCD777ES onredbook CDs actually does sound very slightly better than my DAC, and this only after a lot of tweaking of my system (Bryston BP-26 4B-SST2 and Magnepan 3.6 speakers)
The bit which made a real difference for my CD playback was adding an expensive tube pre used as a glorified tube buffer.(VAC Standard used $1,500)
For my setup, it was the right choice.

Generally buzzword wisdom has little value except for folks who have no clue what to do next.
Dacs are 'hot' right now, and have a great deal of 'buzz'. Since dozens of new models are popping up all the time. Someone has to sell them.. Thus the marketing of DACs.
IMO a DAC is not going to do much for you if your system is average.
Here is a 6 year old post from Audio Asylum that addresses your question:

"I use the single disc X555 as my reference player and the 5 disc 801 for just random playing around. The internal DAC's on both are fairly decent, but I use them through a SDP-9ES external DAC. the DAC in the SDP-9 is over 10 years newer and has much more detail than the aging internal ones.
Both have excellent CD tracking that will put most others to shame."

I think that DACs and cd players have improved substantially in the last 20 years and that you should be able to find something that makes a worthwhile upgrade in the changer.
NO you don't need a DAC. In my audio club almost no one had one and they were not missed.
A good DAC would probably beat your CDP, but you also need a good 1.5m S/PDIF cable from Transport to DAC. And BTW, your transport will need to be replaced or improved. The jitter on older transports is really high. I have modded quite a few of them over the last 12 years.

You are looking at probably $1500 for the DAC (Wired for Sound DAC2), $4000.00 for a good transport or instead your old transport and a $600 reclocker and finally $500+ for a good 1.5m S/PDIF coax cable. You can do it for about $2700.00

This will transform your system. The source, particularly the digital source is the most important thing next to your speakers.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
No you don't. DAC's are just in the middle of their 15 minutes of fame. It will pass.
I would say yes, but there's only 1 way to find out . . .
a cd player has a dac, so the question is , can you find a dac and transport combination that perorms better than a cd player at a price point ?
Like most questions on these forums, yours does not have a definitive answer.

As Mrtennis said, if you have a CD player you already have a DAC. The questions then are whether the DAC you now have inside your CD player sounds as good to you as any external DAC you might buy instead, whether the rest of your system is resolving enough to let you hear the difference and whether or not any difference you hear is worth the additional cost of the new DAC.

My experience is that the reason there are lots of new DAC's available isn't because they're 'hot' right now but because that's where the R&D is being done and where the greatest technological improvements are being made. Of course there's marketing hype but that's the case with every other kind of audio gear, as well.

Only one way to find out if one works for you.
-
The question isn't "Do I need a DAC?", of course you don't NEED a DAC or most other stuff for that matter.
The question is "Do I want a DAC?". Only you can answer that question.
I think you should get a Schidt Bitfrost from Audio Advisor and audition it for 30 days. You can return it for free, and it's a very good DAC at the $400 level.
Not sure about weakest links theories, but in my experience after speakers, upgrading the DAC has consistently been the highest return investment in audio. DAC + volume Control are the new digital premps.

Only problem with investing in DACs is technology is moving fast and price performance is coming down very quickly, so you always worry about spending too much money on a DAC when something better or something similar for half the price is just around the cornet. got to just commit and enjoy the music at some point though.
I say put any money towards a DAC into buying better speakers. You'll hear a much bigger difference.
If you put in a CD and music comes out, then you don't "need" a DAC.

The proper question would be "will an external DAC improve the quality of sound that I hear from my system?".

And the answer should be "maybe" or "probably", but the only way to know for sure would be to A/B one in your system and see what your ears tell you.

There are lots of exceptionally good sub-$500 DAC's from Schiit, Music Hall, Cambridge Audio and many others on the market right now, so I'd suggest giving one a shot.
Do you dislike the sound you're hearing from the Sony?
Rok2id,

"No you don't. DAC's are just in the middle of their 15 minutes of fame. It will pass."

No offense, but you must be new to audio. Separate DAC's have been very popular in the high end for well over 20 years. Also, your comment, "It will pass", is not likely to happen. If anything, just the opposite is true. Due to all the new formats that have appeared in recent years, the need for a stand alone DAC has never been greater; if not for sound quality, for compatibility, if nothing else.

The upside to all this, is a better listening experience. You should try one and see if you don't agree that its money well spent. The cost of a good entry level unit is quite low.
A new Benchmark HGC might be the answer, but I'm speculating based on their reputation and claims they're making for the new DAC. I know I'll get one ASAP.
$500 for a digital cable? Will all due respect, that's ridiculous in this day and age and with modern DAC's jitter rejection capability. One 4ft/2ft 2" thick sound panel placed anywhere in the room will make a much bigger difference in sound than the difference between a $500 coaxial digital cable and a $3.69 premium cable from monoprice feeding ones and zero's from a transport into a Benchmark DAC, or an Empirical Audio DAC/reclocker for that matter.
Actually Rja the Sony sounds really good. I thought a Dac might improve the sound a little, especially when it is such an old CD player. Thanks for all the great responses.
when considering dacs in the $500 range, don't forget emotiva.
I suspect you will be absolutely shocked how much improvement you will get from a $500 DAC.
Zd542:

No offense taken. No, I am not that new, I am just more into the music side of things as opposed to the gear. Sometimes I get confused and say things that on retrospect seem strange. I'm confused because, if you look at the most expensive systems on this site, owned by the most experienced audiophiles, they all seem to play LPs thru Tube amps. Silly me, I thought that was vintage stuff. But, on this site it's considered the highest-fi possible. So, you can understand why I assumed that all this digital stuff was just a passing fancy. That's one of the reasons I have three of everything. I expect any day to not to be able to buy 2 channel ss amps or cd players. DACS: I will get the oppo 103 when it comes out. That built in DAC should hold me for a few years. with Blu Ray and SACD as icing on the cake. However, your entire statement is correct.
Cheers
Donplatt,
We're all assuming the Sony has a digital out? You'll need a decent digital cable to connect with the new DAC.
How about going from your computer to the DAC? That's another possibility.
I say get a new CD player rather than adding a DAC to such an old player. There are lots of reasonably priced players that I think are way better than my 801ES.
I think DACs are generating so much enthusiasm lately because they seem to be the single most rapidly evolving component in high end audio today. Irrespective of the DAC flavor one prefers, its hard to argue with the statement that in a resolving system, the DACs coming out in the last couple years are a leap above what was available five years ago.

The other exciting part is that these products are getting relatively inexpensive. For less then a thousand bucks I picked up a Metrum Octave which sounds far better in my system then it has a right to for the cost of entry. Hell, it actually replaced a far more expensive LampizatOr DAC in my ring.
Oh wow! this isn't really that hard or complicated. I believe the original poster was really asking "do I need an external DAC?" it depends on whether you are happy with your current sound or not. If you are, then enjoy. If not, then it can't hurt to "borrow" a few external DACS, connect them to your current CD player's digital output and hear for yourself. Yes, your transport is slightly old, but some are actually well designed and built but in my experience, most CD players have woefully inadequate internal DACS. most of the problem actually is in two places. 1) the analog output stage (which is basically a pre-amp) is pretty badly designed and built and it typically cheap, 2) the power supply is typically not very good. A very good DAC has very good power supplies and analog output stage that is very good also. So, go borrow a few, connect it to the digital output of your CD player, sit back, play a few of your favorite songs that you know well and listen for yourself. Depending on your price point, there are some very good external DACs that will outperform your existing unit and really suprise you. I wouldn't change anything else until you are use to the sound of the new or used DAC. There are some CD players that actually have decent internal DACS, but depending on the quality of your system, those typically costs.

Go borrow a few, listen and come back and let us know what you have heard.

enjoy
Rok2id,

"No offense taken. No, I am not that new, I am just more into the music side of things as opposed to the gear. Sometimes I get confused and say things that on retrospect seem strange. I'm confused because, if you look at the most expensive systems on this site, owned by the most experienced audiophiles, they all seem to play LPs thru Tube amps. Silly me, I thought that was vintage stuff. But, on this site it's considered the highest-fi possible. So, you can understand why I assumed that all this digital stuff was just a passing fancy. That's one of the reasons I have three of everything. I expect any day to not to be able to buy 2 channel ss amps or cd players. DACS: I will get the oppo 103 when it comes out. That built in DAC should hold me for a few years. with Blu Ray and SACD as icing on the cake. However, your entire statement is correct.
Cheers"

I appreciate your honest response, but I'm not sure I get it. The part about you being into the music more than the gear I can relate to. Personally, I think its a great outlook in not letting the gear get in the way of you enjoying the music. I feel the same way. Where you loose me on your comments about the most experienced audiophiles playing records on tube gear and calling it vintage stuff. I'm pretty sure that you realize that most of the gear in question is current or late production models and not true vintage (old) products. I don't see why that would be an issue. You can make countless, similar comparisons, in many other industries. Take cars, for example. Most, if not all, of the core technologies used in autos have around for a very long time. Given that, I've never heard anyone call a car a vintage product unless it was really old. Same thing with audio. Current production models may be based on designs that have been around for a long time, but they have also evolved over time. Also, I don't see digital as a passing fad. If anything, just the opposite.

Anyway, audio is all about choices. I say pick the products that you like and to hell with anything else. Its your system and you don't have to justify anything to anyone.
Zd542: You missed my pitiful attempt at irony.:)
BTW, cars are not vintage products, but the model T is, even one recently built.

Your last statement is absolutely true and could not be stated more concisely!!
Cheers.
Guess what, my CD player just died. I guess I will now buy a CD player instead of a Dac, any recommendations for around a $1000.00. I am thinking of the Oppo line.
the oppo 1003 is the best bang for the buck. That's the one I just ordered. I think these things, all disc players, will fail sooner or later and / or become obsolete, so the key is to get the most for the least money. Oppo is a good choice. NO ONE has ever said anything bad about the oppo line. My marantz player died several months ago. I paid $300, and had it for 8 years. Just threw it in the garage and moved on. Now, if my $1000 dollar marantz had failed, I would be one sick puppy about now. "sound' is not a consideration. IMHO.
Cheers.
Donplatt - That your CD player just died is the perfect argument for getting a stand-alone DAC. The transports in CD players always die, usually just after the replacement laser assembly becomes no longer available, and unless the player has digital inputs that allow you to continue to use the internal DAC you're forced to trash the part of the purchase price for the player that went to the DAC.

Transports are disposable, like the tires on your car, they're good for only so many miles and then you walk away from them. DACs have no moving parts and while they may no longer be state of the art sonically they'll make music as long as you want to keep them.
I would recommend the Teac PD-H600, which can now be found new for under $600.00
"Most CD players have woefully inadequate internal DACS." This is one of the most absurd things I've ever read.
Actually Gfcf424892, my statement was actually true. Most CD players compromise on the analog stage and power supply. this is why "audiophiles" typically have separates in the first place. Separate power supply responsibility and signal crosstalk, etc. I have only heard a very few CD players that have internal DACs that can compete with good quality external DACS using the design and construction standards I mentioned earlier. I'm sorry if you disagree, but it really is true. Note, I did write most, not all. In my opinion, most CD player's internal DACS really don't have quality analog output circuity. You really have to look at that circuitry the same as you would with a decent pre-amps analog circuitry and power supply. Now, I am not comparing apples to apples here, so forgive me. An inexpensive CD player's internal DAC vs an equally inexpensive external DAC and there really is no comparison needed, because they both will be well below the standard of a high quality CD player and high quality external DAC. But take most CD players and get an external DAC that is built like a tank, like say, Theta DS Pro Gen VA and compare. you will hear remarkable differences. The real question asked was Do I really need an (external) DAC? the answer is, it depends on what you are currently using and what level of sound reproduction quality you are looking for. If you want "as real as possible" within set price points, (high end) then yes, you do. Because most internal DACs don't cut it. Again, top of the line Wadia, Boulder, Mark Levinson, Audio Research, etc. CD Players, would compete very well with equally quality external DACS. But, most CD players, well, they just don't.

enjoy