High resolution digital is dead. The best DAC's killed it.


Something that came as a surprise to me is how good DAC's have gotten over the past 5-10 years.

Before then, there was a consistent, marked improvement going from Redbook (44.1/16) to 96/24 or higher.

The modern DAC, the best of them, no longer do this. The Redbook playback is so good high resolution is almost not needed. Anyone else notice this?
erik_squires
Erik, I can't believe how good Redbook and 16/44.1 streaming sounds. It took so many years for DAC technology to finally reveal how good those silver discs can sound. Just in time to see CDs being phased out as a dead format.

And it doesn't take many thousands of dollars to buy a good DAC. I find it so interesting that manufacturers have been concentrating on R2R ladder DACs rather than upsampling to the very high rates of a few years ago.
 

Redbook indeed is at a new stage of awesomeness.  High Rez will not die because:
1) it’s marketed at Audiophiles, and we are always looking for tat sonic holy grail.  The general public could care less.
2) while not all high Rez recordings are true improvements, there are enough of them that once heard, continue to whet the appetite for more.  When it’s possible to close your eyes and really imagine that you are in the room with the musicians, as I have with several DSD recordings, then I feel that I have crossed to the other side
Totally agree Eric.
I was truly shocked a couple of days ago when I put my Sony Discman back into my system and fed it into my Ayon S3 streamer/DAC.
It really let the music flow in a way those silver discs have failed to do in the past for me.
May have to pull my cds down from the loft where they are stored.
Agree. VEry good and affordable DACs have abounded now for several years. My digital sounds great, has now for years. High res is just a novelty for me. No need.  CDs get ripped and streamed,never played.
the return to R2R dacs, with modern thinking, has shown just how good 16/44 can sound. It does have it's limitations, though.
It's when those revised thinking R2R dacs are used with the higher data rates, that's when it really takes off toward good digital.
Totally agree. DACs are finally getting things right. Although upsampling has been used for at least 20 years it is only recently that the higher quality of the upsampling/filtering has improved enough to really make digital more analogue sounding.

Alternatively many folks have found that quality upsampling in a software like Roon can overcome many of the deficiencies in some of these older DACs.
the point is that the older R2R dacs have less issues and less fundamental flaws than modern delta sigma dacs.

You seem to have taken the statement and meaning, and put it on backwards.....

Up sampling was marketing spin It might work and it does (a bit, anyway).... but it was mostly thrown out there as a marketing thing.

People buy numbers, as that’s all they know about things, for the most part.

Eg, on black Friday I was in the stores (Eg best buy) and predominately people watching, and only vestigially shopping.

What I noticed is that they would always always always..buy a given 58" model of flat screen TV over any given 55" TV.

As the number 58" is bigger than 55".....

Bigger is better, right? Right?

Essentially, people bought dacs by the numbers, and quality was so far down on the list that it barely made any impact in any associated thinking.

Audio fanatics got served what was sold to the masses ----- The End.


Now, we can finally do discrete dacs well enough and economically enough...so R2R comes back with a vengeance, in the high end area of digital. Same for the FPGA versions of similar design and thinking as discrete R2R dacs.

The dual pathway now exists for digital. One high end and the other - pap for the masses. FYI, delta sigma dacs and upsampling is the pap for the masses part.

No big company is going to be making discrete R2R dacs any time soon. The volume required for good sales returns is not there.

Thus, small companies with their board modules and some efforts of internal designs of the same at the larger audiophile companies-- will be the norm for the foreseeable future.

Blame it on The Rolling Stones.
I think hi resolution music 96/24 file for same remaster will sound better than red book 44.1/16 on the same delta-sigma DAC. Of couse, 44.1/16 will sound very natural from R2R compare to 96/24 on delta-sigma.
Hear, hear. 😄
No real need to upsample to dizzying heights. 16bit is good enough. Always has been. It's just taken technology time to catch up with the science behind it. Although, a recording engineer told me that 96 is the better way to go than 44.1 but it's not a deal breaker.

All the best,
Nonoise
If Tidal offers same album: 44.1/16 and 96/24 (MQA). I will stream MQA. Of course, all through delta-sigma DAC. If I had a very good R2R dAC (16 or 20 bit), then I would try native R2R. I don't know if there is an affordable 24bit R2R DAC yet.

Agree. The Redbook standard was likely sufficient all along. Just needed a good DAC to properly decode it. Low-jitter transports also contributed to this realization. 
Yes for me it is low jitter, better differential linearity and less noise with 6 bit sigma delta DACs that are the reason for recent improvements in sound.

Upsampling helps randomize differential non-linearity.

As usual, noise is always assumed to be random and if high enough it can be all filtered out. The reality is that it is rarely perfectly random. Just like jitter, if it was simply all random then it would never have been a problem to begin with.

R2R has its merits as a technology but is limited in resolution due to differential non-linearity. 6 bit delta sigma DACs are kind of hybrid between old single bit sigma delta and R2R.

That said DSD is still a highly elegant approach especially at 4x or higher, as it inherently has great linearity and then noise is pushed way up and far out of the way.

It seems that DAC chips do suffer from everything being crammed together on a chip. So discrete DACs like PS Audio DS and others seem to have a more analog sound even if their measured performance is not as impressive as the latest Sabre based DAC.

Lots of ways to skin a [email protected]!
I don't know if there is an affordable 24bit R2R DAC yet.

Affordable is of course different for everyone but my MHDT Lab Pagoda (PCM1704) sells for about $1300 and does 24/192 natively. Sounds wonderful.
 The simple answer great streaming it is a product like blue sound. By the time you try to work this out the kinks with a computer you could afford a blue sound Node 2
The vast majority of my music is 16/44.1 and my focus has always been to get the most out of the format. The first DAC which proved to me 16/44.1 was "good enough" was the dB Audio Labs Tranquility. According to many the DAC, with it's cheap TDA1543 chip and lousy measurements, couldn't possibly sound good. Apparently dB Audio Labs subscribes to the "everything matters" philosophy of DAC design and proved the naysayers wrong. I still own and use the Tranquility. 

A few years ago I decided to explore the high-res world for myself and purchased enough good sounding music to care about hearing it at the native rate. A couple of DACs later and I finally settled on the MHDT Lab Pagoda. This DAC sounds fabulous not only with 16/44.1 but higher rates also. Funny though, I have little interest in high-res at this point. Good old Redbook is all I require.

I'll be going to the Montreal Audio Show in March. 

I'll let my ears confirm.


I think this forum is only for sound engineers.
By a total coincidence I posted a very similar point of view just now and then read your post above. Didn’t mean to try and steal your idea. Great minds! 
I agree 100% My setup is comprised of a Soekris dac1541 (fully balanced R2R ladder DAC) feeding a Mjölnir Audio Pure BiPolar differential headphone amp over an XLR connection. The results with redbook audio are simply astounding and I have friends who subscribe to Tidal for the MQA cursing under their breath! muahahaha!
Sorry for the double-post, but it did occur to me that there is a benefit to DRM-free high resolution lossless audio. Namely, it has the flexibility to allow compensatory equalization made to it (to nullify deficits in any given transducer) without quantization artifacts or undue loss of quality. That’s the entire point of a high res file, you can play “late stage mastering engineer” to overcome your own system’s shortcomings.

* Caveat Emptor: All of this within the obvious limits of your system’s transducers. If your speaker is reluctant over a given frequency range, you can boost it or tamp down the others to some degree, but if there’s a big gaping hole in its reaponse no amount of eq is going to fix that!
...and to each, their own road.
New DACs are way better than the old ones. They make CDs sound really good. They do not stop at CDs, they do the same to high-resolution files, too.
Digital has made great strides ,and many dacs have custom analog output stages as well as very well designed power supplies which were often overlooked.even the digital cables have come a long way in 10 years ,bits are notjust bits.
digital noise or artifacts better know as jitter is finally much bettter understood.
there are still a lot of Audiophiles who get sucked in with the numbers game 
such as DSD which can be very good but not much for offerings.and 48/192, when in fact most digitalis in 24/96.
all the terminology about sampling,oversampling is many times a marketing ploy.
it can make a difference if designed properly  but there are so many ways to implement  a digital design .
Unless you are a digital engineer  you just have to trust your ears.
some of the best digital I ever heard was the now rare Multibit dacs like the      BB 1704 ladder dacs which were individually tested which was why they were often used in pro audio.or even The old Phillips 15 series 16 bit non oversampling  dacs ,they we're very natural sounding ,there are also great Vacuum Tube dacs that truly add
body And naturalness to recordings . You can  spend over $100 k from DCS if you have the income to afford it. I have heard several of their lower budget stuff around  $35k which was fantastic. But as Eric stated for under $2k youcan get excellent 
digital performances,and who would have thought even 5 years ago that we would have highquality streaming ? And there is still Much more to come .digital now can not only match a good turntable  but in many ways surpass them in several areas . Welcome to the future !!
audioman58,

"...digital now can not only match a good turntable  but in many ways surpass them in several areas..."
Be careful. If guys from the "vinyl vs. digital" threads read this, you are in trouble.
So what's the general consensus on the Schiit Yggdrasil these days? Any recommendations in a similar price?
Cd's sound just fine to me on a very good player. Maybe I'm old....I have no need or intention on ever streaming anything.....and sacd's sound even better. I am I guess one of the crazies that likes to hold and touch my physical media. Downloading crap just ain't for me. 
Now, we can finally do discrete dacs well enough and economically enough...so R2R comes back with a vengeance, in the high end area of digital. Same for the FPGA versions of similar design and thinking as discrete R2R dacs.

And this Airist discrete R2R Multibit Dac was peanuts, around $299 or something with a Massdrop purchase, got the quota filled very quick. All 300 getting shipped next month so they say.
https://www.massdrop.com/buy/massdrop-x-airist-audio-r-2r-dac?mode=guest_open&utm_campaign=Drop%...

Review
https://darko.audio/2018/06/airist-audios-r-2r-dac-350-via-massdrop/

Measurements
https://www.superbestaudiofriends.org/index.php?threads/airist-r2-r-dac-measurements.6418/

Cheers George
 As explained to me by Paul Weitzel of Tube Research Labs, who was both a recording and equipment engineer, the problem centers around engineering, engineering of the source material and engineering at the reproduction end. People fixate so much on format types and it really comes down to the quality of the recording and the quality of the equipment used to transduce it. Hi Rez formats have no relevance to me as most of my source material and prized music is Redbook.  
@nickecb

The Benchmark DAC3 L and Chord Qutest are both more transparent. Now, you may not like hearing what your music sounds like, you may want distortion or coloration, in that case I would look at tube DACs or some poor measuring DACs from Audio-GD or similar. But if you want to hear the music as recorded, the DAC3 L and Qutest are the best for the ~$2000 price range.
And this Airist discrete R2R Multibit Dac was peanuts, around $299 or something with a Massdrop purchase, got the quota filled very quick. All 300 getting shipped next month so they say.
Apparently nearly 2500 requests for just 300 units......
I'll weigh in as someone who designs this stuff, that redbook is in fact very very good.  In fact i have been blogging on digital formats, compression, etc and trying to undo some myths.
(Sonogyresearch.com/blog if you care)

Audiophiles' suspicion of redbook has been fueled by what can be either mis-steps or arrogant errors in the industry. Perfect sound forever (this in 1985). Bits are bits on digital interfaces a9whcih have a large analog component in timing), rotten early digital mastering and reconstruction filter.
Yet, as noted, we are figuring it out.  But some in fact were pretty good > decade ago. One stand out at its time was the Theta DS-Pro. I still have one and switch to it occasionally - and it can make great music with great recordings. Of course, like any clear lens, it can also make awful sounds with awful recordings. But that's the two-edge sword of reproduction, as opposed to production.
G
Just a point of perspective; I am old enough to remember that Phillips invented digital audio and proposed a joint venture with Sony to stop competitive standard conflicts. Phillips' proposed standard was PCM, with 21 bit resolution.  This came out as an LP sized CD. The head of Sony insisted that the product had to be reduced in size so as to allow for portability: hence the Sony Walkman.  This meant that resolution had to be lowered down to 16 bits and the current Red-book standard came from this limitation. I would personally like to see a new upgraded standard for digital recording and thus, digital play, so long as it is backwardly compatible. Look at what this philosophy has done for PCs over the last 25 years! 
Lastly, I think that most of the observations ahead of my comment are pretty astute, I just thought that I would broaden the scope a little on how we got here and how we might continue to improve the reproduction of music.

assetmgrsc
... I am old enough to remember that Phillips invented digital audio ...
Denon was recording digital audio back the the '70s, years before Phillips.

I agree Digital has improved so much and is constantly improving. Gone are those days paying 50K for a DCS or MSB DAC to attain sonic nirvana, Dacs priced modestly under 20Ks are leading the game.
@phantom_av 
 
Even $400 and below are now transparent. Well, the caveat is transparent when masked with music, like THD at 10kHz needs to be like -40dB to be audible, but even -50dB would be audible when using a sine wave. 
Apparently nearly 2500 requests for just 300 units......

Yes, it reached it's 300 orders very quick, a mate bought 3 of them, they were supposed to be delivered this month but got delayed a month. They look to be the bargain of the century.

Cheers George 


The Benchmark DAC3 L and Chord Qutest are both more transparent. Now, you may not like hearing what your music sounds like, you may want distortion or coloration, in that case I would look at tube DACs or some poor measuring DACs from Audio-GD or similar. But if you want to hear the music as recorded, the DAC3 L and Qutest are the best for the ~$2000 price range.
nickecb, i agree with mzkmxcv on these two DACs on my short list as well -- so are the Mytek Brooklyn and iFi Audio Pro iDSD.  Depending on unit/config some are slightly above the $2k range but probably still worth a listen.
@bri14mac 
 
I would only get the Mytek if you want MQA. I don’t see any technical benefit from it, so I don’t need such a feature. The iFi has a ton of THD & IMD.
I would only get the Mytek if you want MQA.



I have a Mytek. It sounds fantastic, and I never use the MQA feature. I don't feel it changes my cost/benefit equation. It's still a fabulous DAC for the feature set.
We own close to 2,000 CD's which we haven't been listening to for years--mainly because we were falling back into vinyl and it was a pain to get a flashlight to search the bookcases for specific CD's. My wake up call that DAC's had come a long way was after purchasing a Bluesound Vault 2i, mainly to archive all of the CD's. I have about 1300 ripped so far (as native resolution flacs). I set up an Intel NUC running the Roon Rock OS and the Vault connected to my Audio Research preamp with Transparent Audio interconnects. After being blown away by listening to just a few of the flac files I realized that the 6-year old DAC just didn't have the mojo the new ones do. Now digital and vinyl are enjoyed at about 50-50 rate. It's like getting all new CD's.
@erik_squires  
 
The Mytek DACs aren’t bad, they are better than average, it’s just the DAC3 and Qutest are a tad cleaner. 
Now, you may not like hearing what your music sounds like, you may want distortion or coloration, in that case I would look at tube DACs or some poor measuring DACs from Audio-GD or similar.  But if you want to hear the music as recorded, the DAC3 L and Qutest are the best for the ~$2000 price range.

Not the first time I've read similar from you. Have you actually heard some of these DACs you so easily disparage? In fact, you seem to have opinions on many, many components (not just DACs) and I'm genuinely curious if you've heard them all. Are you in the industry?

BTW, I'm also curious to know which components comprise your audio system. Care to share?

I am of two minds.  I have about 8K red book titles ripped to flac. Recently I upgraded my bridge to a SOtM sMS-200 Neo and was blown away.  My little Teac NT-503 never sounded better.  When I added the external word clock and Ben's Illuminati DC power it was unbelievable.  The CDs were alive!  But...  I also have quite a few HiRes files that sound great too.  I have found that those DSDs from analog master tape just sing.  Yeah it's mostly the mastering, but the best sounding files in my collection are DSD256s.

All that said, I have started buying 10" Jazz and Classical records.  In mono!
I think it's gotten to the point that it depends on the quality of the recording. You can get almost everything out of almost all recordings at Redbook quality, but a few excellent recording can be milked even more with higher quality files.
Great discussion!
Any opinions on the NAD M51 DAC?
I sold my Benchmark and got this three years ago.  Dunno if it is better as I sold the Benchmark first and did not do an A/B comparison
The Redbook playback is so good high resolution is almost not needed.
Agreed. I have owned 5 dacs in the past two years. Two of them upsampled to DSD. With DSD upsampling, I felt the sound was washed out and flat compared to playback using 44.1/16.

Presently, I have a Benchmark DAC3L (used primarily in 44.1/16 mode) and a Border Patrol DAC SE, both currently manufactured. Although they are quite different sounding, they both in their own way bring a liveliness and fullness to the sound that I quite enjoy.  No upsampling required.


I'll just weigh in that having read many of the posts, there are lots of things being confused here.
1. Confusing Upsampling vs magically creating more bit depth2. Confusing why one upsamples (its not to get more info)3. A vague notion that digital is suddenly good. Some of it has been good for ages, much still is awful, and most of that from the studio, and in Rock/pop4. Confusing chips with implementation. Differences are in the latter.  Gimme some of the old 18/20 bit R2R DACs any day. Hell, don't give them to me, but please sell them to me. :-)
5. And just to make my point, it still doesnt matter because i can make both PDM and R2R sound good or sound bad. (note: PDM = 1 bit = sigma delta, it works like your fuel injection)
But yes, overall things are improving, will continue, and red book is good enough But it does make all our engineering lives very difficult due to the proximity of the sampling rate to the nyquist limit.  Give us some filter slop room, please!  Why does auto-correct want ot make "Nyquist" = NyQuil?
G
ps: i have info on some of this on my blog at sonogyresearch.com

wtf -
I own the dac that mzkmxcv often brings up and praises. It is good, but it is not perfect. Neither is any other dac that I have owned. As for the Benchmark, it is quite forward sounding. I agree with him that it is very clear, but it does not evoke the "you are there" feeling that I get with my other dac. Which raises the point that even though modern dacs are greatly improved, they can sound quite different, and different models may appeal to different types of audiophiles.
Absolutely. I have a Berkeley Ref 2 DAC here with MQA, and a T+A 3000 HV, arguably the best SACD player made. The difference is the recording, Not Redbook vs. SACD. And I have heard the new MSB DAC's are even better, albeit at a price. Perfect Sound Forever. Go CD. Lol.