Your question is a good one. I am surprised every time I listen and try to discriminate between DAC's. I found it so difficult to articulate any differences I (thought) I was hearing between different DAC's that I sold all I had and went back to one-box players. I have an old CAL Icon Mk II with an 18-bit DAC inside that sounds absolutely great. I have tried running a separate DAC with it, but really could tell no difference, certainly no improvement, so I'm back to the one-box model for now. My other player is a Marantz SA-1 and I do not use a DAC with this SACD player. I have owned Meridian DAC's in the past but had to go really far up their line to finally improve on the sound of a one-box player, to me. So yes, I think you can get great sound and satisfaction with old technology DAC's. But people rave about the latest upsampling DAC's too. It is always a question of personal preference, and what you can live with for the long term. Most A/B tests require spot decisions. Ideally, you should listen to a component for months before deciding. I don't think I've ever taken the time to do that, but I've certainly discovered how much I like or dislike something I've purchased after months of listening.
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