How do you determine that a DAC sounds good?


When initially searching for a new DAC and ultimately finding one that sounds good in your system, what steps do you take? How do you ultimately determine whether or not a Digital To Analog Converter sounds good in your stereo?

720e949f df98 48dd 8196 dfdaebc1ce0bted_denney

By listening to it.

I know it w he en I hear it. Dunno 'bout you.

How did you pick your speakers, amps, etc?  

mlsstl
992 posts

How did you pick your speakers, amps, etc?  
 

+1

 

Ted,


Knowing your history and how you approach social media, I see this, like your other thread as nothing but another attempt to creative division as a marketing strategy..

With the exception of a rather small group of people who use measurements in audio, people who use measurements know that measurements do not equal preference. They are quite aware that distortion can generate pleasing effects, that frequency anomalies can heighten mid-range perception, can give the impression of more or less bass, etc. etc. They know that NOS artifacts can give a sense of air and a wider soundstage .... and the more educated they are about audio and measurements, the more they know about how to apply these things intelligently.

What they do know, with complete confidence, is that measurements can clearly illustrate that claims of improved performance are false, and claims of significant audible improvements are also false. That is the crux isn't it?

Past a fairly low dollar value, there really are no bad sounding DACs. There are some in my mind that are pretty awful and few of them are cheap, but I would not have much difficulty finding someone who like it. Here is there thing, just as there really are not many bad sounding DACs any more, with some exceptions, there are no good sounding DACs either, and certainly no DAC that everyone will say is good or bad.

What there are is DACs, that due to its distortion, frequency response, high frequency artifacts, high output impedance, etc. OR total lack of all such anomalies, that when placed in YOUR system, in YOUR room, and with YOUR preferences, sounds good. A 30 year veteran MFR asking a question like, "How do you determine that a DAC sounds good?", is not being forthcoming, they are being divisive.

Now, perhaps if manufacturers were more forthcoming with measurements, then consumers could start understanding both what characteristics a product they like has, and what potentially what will work in their system, as opposed to total guess work and the requirement of luck. Unfortunately, manufacturers, some in particular, work very hard to convince customers that measurements don't matter, to the extent of vilifying anyone who dares measure a piece of equipment. They do that purely for marketing gains. The outcome is of no benefit to the customer, and in fact prevents the customer from both understanding their needs and reaching their goals quicker.

Cindy, it’s a straightforward question, including what criteria people may take before actually listening to something. Measurements are merely a tool for finding or getting to good sound, measurements cannot replace listening. Ultimately if something sounds good it is good, if it doesn’t sound good, it doesn’t sound good. No measurements can change that, they can only help you get to sounding good. I’m sure you and most rational people will agree, ultimately it’s about what sounds good..

Yours in music,

Ted Denney III

Lead Designer/CEO Synergistic Research Inc.

Not really Ted, it is not straight forward. There is no reason for someone like yourself to ask a Grade 1 question on an audio forum, which I might highlight you have asked the same question, or closely related, untold number of times. You used to ask these same elementary school questions on Facebook, and other forums, and then would vilify anyone who brought up measurements. As demographics change, and knowledge increases, it is not so easy to do that any more.

 

By listening to it. Am I missing something here?

Cindy, I’m asking a fundamental Audio question and in response you are making it personal while accusing me of vilifying others. Ironic.

arch2
289 posts

By listening to it. Am I missing something here?

You are spot on. 

You ask the question, Ted, and when the question was asked of you, you had a clear and unambiguous answer:

"Cindy, it’s a straightforward question, including what criteria people may take before actually listening to something. Measurements are merely a tool for finding or getting to good sound, measurements cannot replace listening. Ultimately if something sounds good it is good, if it doesn’t sound good, it doesn’t sound good. No measurements can change that, they can only help you get to sounding good. I’m sure you and most rational people will agree, ultimately it’s about what sounds good.."

If you already knew the answer, then why did you even ask the question?

"I’m sure you and most rational people will agree, ultimately it’s about what sounds good.."

Is it your purpose here to reach out to all those little, "irrational" people that think otherwise?

 

By measurements. Since I'm looking at a DAC as something that doesn't sound like anything, the same with amplifiers. To get my personal sound preference, speakers, DSP and room treatments are used. DACs, amplifiers for the most part, and certainly things like , cables, fuses, electric receptacles and spurious associated garbage does nothing constructive,   it could be destructive to SQ. 

@djones51 

Was that a joke? You can’t be serious.

No, it’s not a joke and I am serious. My system consists of Dutch and Dutch 8c speakers and a Lumin U1 mini streamer. There’s a pretty good chance now D&D will release the firmware for Roon by the end of the year or January since they have been confirmed as Roon Ready. When that happens the Lunin is going to be pulled. As a side note I haven’t the slightest idea what DAC is used in the D&D and it’s not really important. There are numerous reviews of this speaker including Stereophile class a rated if you're in to that sort of thing. Stereophile does show great measurements for these as well. You don’t listen to DACs you listen to speakers.

I’ve noticed with the Dutch and Dutch I prefer less room treatments some of those have been removed. When I get my room exactly how I want as a "tweak" I'm thinking of having Mitch Barnett create some FIR filters for roon. If you really want to tweak the sound try those not DACs and wires, fuses and other goofy stuff.

By sending it to ASR for measurement and review then using the inverse of their results. 

@ted_denney 

How do you build a DAC that sounds good?

Hi Ted,

What as pleasure it is having you on the forum. I've never had the pleasure of owning any SR products but I've come close a few times. I'm going to buy a few of your new Purple Fuses this month, I've heard great things about them. Regarding your post I need or want a DAC to be just a DAC, no streamer, headphone amp etc. Then I'll compare for several days against a reference.

@cindyment  I'm very surprised that you're not calling Ted a blaggard and snake oil salesman since you don't believe cables have any sonic effects whatsoever you just measure their resistance with a multimeter. He must be the Devil incarnate in your eyes.

 

 

spenav
114 posts

@ted_denney

How do you build a DAC that sounds good?

The same way we build everything, sound engineering principles with lots of listening tests during the development process when making decisions between competing engineering principles, followed by more listening tests. This is also pretty much the process people who own high-performance good sounding stereos follow. We take a look at what we think should be good components or speakers based on objective criteria, and then we listen. If it sounds good, it is good. If it sounds bad, it is bad. Simple.

djones51

cables, fuses, electric receptacles and spurious associated garbage does nothing constructive, it could be destructive to SQ.

 

Actually if something can be deleterious to the performance of a system, it can also be beneficial. The belief that something is 100% inert or perfect flies against known science. The dogmatic stance that critical components within our stereo systems have no affect, or only negative affect on the sound quality of our systems also flies in the face of empirical evidence. A lot of empirical evidence.

First understand how DACs differ by type, R2R, DS, chip dac, Some think Delta Sigma is more accurate sounding vs “musical” . Some buy by spec and some think all DACs sound the same.. as some mentioned above, Listen and choose which sounds best to you. 
The analog section is very important to the overall sound, so a basic understanding can help you narrow down the choices once you know what to look for..

The analog section is very important to the overall sound, so a basic understanding can help you narrow down the choices once you know what to look for.

+1

By empirical evidence I assume you mean uncontrolled sighted listening? In other words useless for determining if something is constructive or destructive to SQ.

First understand how DACs differ by type, R2R, DS, chip dac,

Not really important as long as sound engineering practices are followed for the type used in th design. Either can be implemented to  have distortion and noise  below human audibility or added distortion created for  certain tastes.

The belief that something is 100% inert or perfect flies against known science. The dogmatic stance that critical components within our stereo systems have no affect, or only negative affect on the sound quality of our systems also flies in the face of empirical evidence. A lot of empirical evidence.

 

@ted_denney    Do you understand the difference between ad hoc reporting and empirical evidence at least as would be recognized to come to a validated conclusion. For example you have made lots of ad hoc statements about what your products accomplish acoustically but not once have you ever provided empirical evidence.

No one with a scientific event makes a claim of 100% inert or perfect. In audio they will use the terminology inaudible difference which is perfectly valid and yes we do have enough information and knowledge on the topic to make that conclusion with a high degree of certainty and as others have not provided empirical evidence to refute it the conclusion seem valid.

I am curious, since you don't have the equipment to validate the claims you make about your existing products what equipment would you purchase if you were to start developing  DACs?

Actually if something can be deleterious to the performance of a system, it can also be beneficial.

True enough,  it depends on ones definition of beneficial and I was using mine. To some by using those things as tone controls they could be beneficial. 

Question: when is an audible phenomenon, like the difference between DACs and digital cables inaudible?

Answer: When said listening tests fly in the face of preconceived notions. See above.

@ted_denney,

 

you are dealing with incorrigible blowhards who have nothing better to do than spouting their ex-cathedra nonsense on every thread dealing with digital to analogue conversion. Good luck.

Currently looking for a DAC upgrade and listening to them all just isn’t feasible and listening to my choices may actually be impossible prior to purchase.

I'll break it down to three components that will affect my ultimate choice.

Input: I’ve tried several formats Toslink, Coax and USB. The sources were different but the USB sounded best so far in my current system. With the proper USB driver and some software optimization it’s clean and dynamic sounding better than either of the other choices. Using an external device to convert USB to another format doesn’t make since to me and that circuitry should actually be in the DAC or the source. Balanced AES / EBUmay be the ticket but taking it off the PC BUS as in PCIe card seems to be expensive and as an Amazon HD user I pretty much have to use a Windows PC as Raspberry PI servers don’t support Amazon Music… (YET????). I’m sure there are Amazon compatable severs that output balanced AES / EBU but that adds to the cost of the DAC and there are such things and budgets.

Conversion: The heart of the DAC. In my mind this is the least important part of the DAC but still R2R wins to a price point, beyond that price point I have know idea. If the input signal is pristine the output signal should be also.

I’m a tube guy. I don’t believe that transistors produced a better sound than a tube but sure were less expensive to produce, were more durable and had a lot more power. I think the same goes for DAC converters. Delta Sigma is a much cheaper and requires a lot less power so it can be used on your phone or portable device. With enough processing the numbers can really be impressive but I also remember the THD wars of transistor amplifiers. The numbers are better but they didn’t necessarily sound better. Has technology really changed that much? Are transistor amps better than tube amps? Probably and at some point defiantly when access to the tubes made over 50 years ago finally dries up and the cost of manufacturing a quality tube becomes prohibitive. Des the same argument goes for class D amplifiers vs solid state. It looks to me like a trend in audio for over 60 years is that cost drives the market not sound.

 

Output: This is where the differences in the DACs is most prevalent. Like a phono stage it’s taking a very small signal and amplifying it to a voltage that can be read by the preamp. . If the first milliwatts aren’t right all you’re doing is amplifying the distortion as you increase the power.( Like the first watt theory only in milliwatts) Being a tube guy a tube output stage makes since to me. The best tube gear uses tube rectifiers so wouldn’t that also be true for a tube DAC?

I’m sure that my reasoning can be shot full of holes as being all wrong which would be GREAT. I would love to spend a whole lot less than on an Audio Note UK 2.1 Signature with a AES / EBU converter server or a LampizatOr Golden Gate but that may be what it takes to substantially upgrade my MHDT Orchid.

 

Ultimately it will come down to listening but until then it will come down to reading, studying, conversation and oh yeah HOPE.

Would you rather have a DAC that measures well or sounds better to you in your system? Measurements surely matter, but they don’t cover and hence can’t dictate what should sound “good” to someone. In the end, listening is a human experience and not one that is completely predicted or explained by measurements. Music reproduction is the art of blending musical enjoyment — however that’s defined by each individual — with science. Thus, neither one nor the other can be deemed most important or all inclusive. Just my take.

@ted_denney ,

How many public blind listening tests have you done with digital cables?  The answer is somewhere between 0 and 0.

Which is not to say that a digital cable could never ever cause a difference. Some very poorly implemented SPDIF connections were sensitive to cables, but the best fix was to change the length. No magic, and easily measured.

It is perceivable that minor system level noise issues could be added with a better USB cable. Again, something that would easily show up in measurements, measurements that would pick out differences that no human will. It is something that is fixed with a USB isolator and a low cost power supply. That will provide benefit no USB cable ever will.

In terms of DACs, many DACs are made with a sonic signature. Give me two DACs that people can identify as different in a system, and I will easily show a difference in how they measure at a system level.

 

@danager ,

You are right, it can be shot full of holes, but it is not about shooting holes, but about updating information and education.

 

With enough processing the numbers can really be impressive but I also remember the THD wars of transistor amplifiers. The numbers are better but they didn’t necessarily sound better. Has technology really changed that much? Are transistor amps better than tube amps?

 

I don't mean this facetiously, but it is not the 1970's anymore. We know more about amplifiers, but we also know a lot more about measurement and our tools are far better. We also a lot more know about how distortion is perceived.

Those amplifiers of the 70's (not all of them) had a lot of negative feedback, but a low value of what is called gain-bandwidth. The high feedback gave them very low distortion at low frequencies, but the harmonic distortion could be quite high at high frequencies and worse you could get high inter modulation distortion. One of Nelson Pass' tech paper has a graph of distortion versus frequency versus feedback and order of the harmonic.

Manufacturers these days barely provide any specifications, let alone detailed measurements of their products. That does not mean that others can't, and they will look at THD versus frequency and do THD versus output power (or level) across a range of frequencies. There are also IMD test with two or 3 frequencies, and even 16 or 32 frequencies. With DACs, on some inputs, you should be testing for jitter sensitivity. Whether in DACs, or amplifiers, it is practically possible to make a product that is under any measurement, including music and comparing input to output, more accurate with solid state.  That does not mean you will like the sound better. Most tube products have some pretty significant artifacts and those artifacts are pleasant to many people. Inaccurate does not mean inferior in terms of enjoyment.

 

@ted_denney

at one level the question you ask is silly

this is a hobby/undertaking to make reproduced music sound wonderful, in turn to make us happy. moved, fulfilled

through life’s journey, we are all pursuing what makes us happy, and a key is to be honest with one self with what that is, and to trust our own ability to judge and determine that... ultimately no one can decide that for us, although many people rightfully ask others when they are new to something what is good and what is not

i believe we would have a better community, a better society, if people were more honest about what they like, rather than falling prey to marketers and influencers who try to define that for us... in doing so they are serving themselves more than us

expose yourself to many/more musical experiences, whether live or reproduced, and trust your judgement in defining what you like

good luck

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If it measures good it is good!

 

Then explain the Border Patrol SE DAC?

Measures poor sounds FANTASTIC!!

I Robot.

jjss493,889 posts

 

through life’s journey, we are all pursuing what makes us happy, and a key is to be honest with one self with what that is, and to trust our own ability to judge and determine that... ultimately no one can decide that for us, although many people rightfully ask others when they are new to something what is good and what is not
 

++1

Topping D90 - I bought it based on reviews and excellent measurements. 
My least favorite DAC of all time. Accurate, neutral, boring, sterile!

I don’t understand why some folks deal in absolutes.

@arafiq  Extremism knows no sides.

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So what's wrong with the Border Patrol? Tube output stage? High output impedance? Poor filtering in the power supply? Competent engineering can resolve these issues!

Screen-Shot-2021-12-05-at-2-45-40-PM

 

How many more of these questions that serve no purpose other than to advance a marketing agenda should we expect?  Since you already know the answer already, as you have communicated numerous times in numerous forums, why keep asking it?

@arafiq : maybe your music choices are boring! After all, the recording is the final arbiter of what comes out of your speakers! 

Reading, lots of reading.  Swapping DACs with friends.  Listening. Shopping within a price range. Selecting, buying, trying, lots of listening.  Then making internal upgrades to better caps, tubes, and parts inside - if further gains can be made.  

Thank you arafiq for mentioning the obvious, reviews obviously influence us.

 

The one thing that continually amazes me are the posts that denigrate others as victims of marketing, hype, etc. How do you know they're victims? Are you walking in their shoes, listening with their ears? This always comes across as fake empathy to me, or perhaps jealousy? I take at face value other's impressions, perceptions as being valid for them, I don't have the level of empathy that allows me to live in their minds/bodies.

I have a question for everyone. Who here feels like a victim of marketing and hype? I"m not saying its non-existent, only not as rampant as some think. In the marketplace of free trade, bad products and companies cease to exist. Masses of people make this choice, individuals only have this power as a member of large group.

Any decent quality modern DAC sounds “good”.  Some will sound better than others to each case by case. 

In the marketplace of free trade, bad products and companies cease to exist.

 

In a product sold based on verifiable performance, this is true. In a luxury market, this is not true, unless the product fails to perform its intended function at all.

 

denigrate others as victims of marketing, hype, etc.

 

I believe I am one of the only few who used this term. I never called anyone a victim. I purely said the intention of the thread was not to ask a question or to discuss, but that it was purely marketing.  To that end, I doubt there is an adult consumer that has not fallen victim to hyped marketing in their life, with most repeated victims, whether it was razor blades, hotel rooms, resorts, health products, self help products, or audio products.

 

 

 

@jond 

+1 By listening to it.    

 

@cindyment  Well then we're going around in circles. Does listening count as verifiable evidence? And what makes a luxury market different from any market? Plenty of non-luxury goods people purchase of poor quality or even harmful, humans may have just as much attachment to non-luxury items

 

. I'd actually believe the opposite, luxury items, at least in audio realm would have to perform the intended function well or better than lesser price items. I don't doubt there is some bias as to price/performance ratio, but then I observe audiophiles much more about utility than other luxury market goods. Performance is our number one intent for audio products, more expensive items expected to deliver superior performance. Performance here judged by listening for most.