How old is too old for a Dac?

Been out of the loop for a good bit, and wondering how much things have changed in digital. In other words, how old is too old for a dac?
Hi Spooge!

Well, depends.

Here's my random, incoherent thoughts.

First, a lot of older DAC's still sound better than a lot of modern, mass produced stuff. The older Theta Casanova for instance still shines.

However.. in the last 5 years or so DAC's have gotten really good in a surprising area older DACs are not: Redbook.

Several modern DAC's really do CD quality sound MUCH MUCH better than older DAC's did, making "high resolution" files seem much less necessary than before. Among these I include Schiit, Mytek and Berkeley.

Best of luck,

If you are talking about just redbook CD playback, there are older DACs that are extremely good.  I would take a 15 year old Audio Note DAC 5 over almost anything out there now.
how do Schiit, Mytek and Berkeley make SQ from redbook CDs better?

is it upsampling??

or some innovative new circuit designs, or??
Well let me see I just put an Audio Note Dac 3 Signature in my system and it sounds fantastic! It was built in 1995 making it 22 years old. It is certainly as good as, and I am starting to think better than, my Yamamoto YDA-1 a highly regarded Dac from perhaps 4-6 years ago. So I would say if you're talking redbook then age matters less than design and build quality.
I prolly should have been more specific about use. I’ll be streaming Tidal/Deezer exclusively (and playing some local flacs).

Although I didn’t mention anything about price, this was done purposely... in order to get a broad answer on dacs progress in general. However, I suppose it’s possible that more expensive dacs could have improved more than lesser expensive stuff, and visa versa.

Totally in the dark as I haven’t tried anything new in a few years. Back in 1995, I remember trying a $4k Wadia dac, and other than a few spacial changes, heard virtually no difference at all compared to a $600 Denon CD player. Yet my system was transparent enough to hear changes in cables and electronics very easily.


How old is too old for a Dac?

Been out of the loop for a good bit, and wondering how much things have changed in digital. In other words, how old is too old for a dac?
If just listening to CD's (pcm 16/44 or 24/96) or DXD then go for a good Multibit dac/cdp.
If you plan on listening to dsd, sacd then you have to go for the newer bitstream delta sigma based dac or cdp's, but the pcm stuff above will take a hit.

Cheers George 
I agree with Erik that there are many modern DAC designs that do Redbook very well. These DAC’s are not simply using a Delta-Sigma dac chip, many have added a FPGA (field-programmable gate array), which is programmable by the designer to process the 16/44.1 standard and hirez. Examples; Chord, PS Audio.

There are now quite a few multi-bit ladder DAC’s that can read Redbook in it’s native form. Example; Schiit, Cyrus.

Also, I think today’s designs have better analogue stages than older DACs. This may be the reason for the most dramatic difference in performance between DACs. This allows a more natural presentation, even in the budget models.
^ @lowrider

When you say "today's designs", how far back does that encompass? 
" Also, I think today’s designs have better analogue stages than older DACs. This may be the reason for the most dramatic difference in performance between DACs. This allows a more natural presentation, even the budget models."

@lowrider57 just curious what makes you say this? I don’t think analog output stages have changed that significantly in the last say 25 years or so if not longer. A well designed output stage is something you can find on many older well designed units including the AN dac i mentioned above/

spoogemonkey, I'm not sure, since I only moved up to higher-end gear about 12 years ago. I've noticed the most noticeable improvement is in budget DACs and CDPs. New units sound smoother, more realistic than those of the 1980's and 90's.

I have an older ARC CDP ($5000), and there are better sounding units for less than $2000 now.
@jond , I really should have stressed that entry-level, or budget units have had the greatest improvement. I’ve heard Esoteric and Naim CDPs years ago and they have always had superior sonics. My friend’s digital in the 1980s rivaled his analogue setup.
IMO, there has been a "trickle-down" effect of technology that in the past was only available to high priced digital.
@lowrider57 ah well that makes much more sense and I would agree in fact generally speaking I think budget gear, not just Dacs, do sound better than they used to. Cheers.
@jond , yeah, sorry about that blanket statement. I should have reread my comments before posting them.
Hi Jond,
I gave very serious consideration to buying a used Audio Note DAC. At that particular time the then Yamamoto U.S.distributor (Venus HiFi) had been a longtime Audio Note dealer. He was extremely impressed with the new Yamamoto YDA-1 DAC. He told me that you’d have to get a AN level DAC 4.1 to equal the Yamamoto.

I trusted him and got the much less expensive YDA-1. I suspect that I’d been happy with the AN DAC as well. That was 8 years ago and I’m still very satisfied. Your mentioning the AN 3.1 Signature DAC brought back that episode. No doubt your AN DAC is terrific! I did install Duelund CAST output capacitors about 6 years ago. It went from excellent to superb 😊
Both companies pay much attention to the power supply and analog output stage quality. Both also avoid using opamps in their circuits (for the same explanation, no negative feedback wanted). Both DACs have stood the test of time.Jond I  don't believe that it's coincidence that both of these manufacturers also built SET amplifiers.  They applied the same principles to their respective DACs with obvious success. 
Glad you chimed in and its pretty funny I wasn't looking for a new dac, love the YDA-1, and still do, I put what I thought was a silly low bid in on an auction here and was totally shocked when I won and had a new dac on the way! So I want to do a shootout, I love the AN dac its been in the system a few days, it sounds a lot like the YDA-1 with a touch more richness and a bit more sustain to notes and perhaps a bit more tone color. I haven't put the YDA-1 back in to compare yet, the AN is so physically deep I had to put it in my rack sideways and re-arrange cables,  so getting the YDA-1 back in will be a chore for this weekend. I hope I can really decide which is better but I've always lusted after AN so we shall see! Thanks for the kind words!
Honestly either way you can’t go wrong. It was the tube aspect of the AN DAC that grabbed my interest às well as their reputation. I hadn’t considered Yamamoto until the Distributor expressed such enthusiasm. He was a fellow SET aficionado and had very good taste and ears. Anyway it worked out well for me.

The Yamamoto YDA-1 tubed version is likely closer in character to the tubed AN DAC. As you probably know,  6 Moons did a really fine comparison review of the two Yamamoto DACs (solid state and tube). The AN should be an excellent fit into your system. 
This should be an enjoyable shootout and I am interested in your outcome. 
Thanks to all of you for your input.

I'm considering getting something that will also see tandem duty music/HT use, such as the Marantz AV8802a. It uses the AKM AK4490 DAC, which I understand is pretty good. I'm a little concerned about getting a high cost unit like this... that is combining both pro/pre, as it can make upgrading later more costly.

I honestly have no idea! :) These are not very similar DAC's AFAIK. I can't tell you a technical reason for it. It is just a trend I have observed lately. A good trend! :)


Here another one with a Yamamoto YDA-01, after eight years.

A few months ago a used Yamamoto YDA-01 was sold on eBay for only $500. A truly bargain for a great DAC.
500.00 dollars? Extraordinary value. This small Japanese company flies under the radar outside of Asia.
Yes, Charles: 500 dollars.
spoogemonkey it all depends on the design and your price range.  I build gear and I an tell you that you have to try different units to see what works for you.  For example standard Redbook playback with a transport versus USB or HDMI connections via your PC, or looking for DSD, then that is a different story.
OP- that is a great question.
Digital, and in particular the DAC end of things, change so fast.  I've just invested a bundle in 2 DACs and they both are supposed to be upgradable via firmware updates.  Hopefully that keeps me sane for a while
Some useful responses here. Thanks for chiming in. 
I believe that for redbook CD playback via transport or as uncompressed files from computer or server, use of an older DAC with an excellent power supply and analog output stage at a fraction of original cost seems appealing to me. Of course, with the computer use of a USB/SPDIF converter would be required.  I am about to try a used Bel Canto DAC2 in my secondary system.  Currently use a Bryston BDA-1 in my primary. 

As Bigkidz stated, considering DSD digital is different. 
H I Jond,
What differences are you hearing via further listening to the Audio Note and the Yamamoto DACs?  I'm assuming this was a fun and informative comparison. 
Charles to be honest the AN keeps getting better by the day I haven't been able to take it out yet! I I am pretty convinced the AN is considerably better than the Yamamoto but hearing being fickle I will give the Yammie one more listen before I decide.  Off to NYC for the weekend so that will likely be next week or weekend.  There is just something so right about the AN though I feel very fortunate to have won that auction now!
I'm not surprised that the Audio Note is impressing you,  it has been highly praised for many years.  Excellent design and implementation withstand  the test of time. No doubt that using Duelund CAST as my output coupling capacitors improved the Yamamoto DAC further.  I'm certain that I'd be just as impressed with the AN DAC as you are. Congratulations. 
Spoogemonkey, I think you are wondering if you buy an older DAC, how far back can you go?  I would say that unless you select a DAC that was $5000 plus new, you probably shouldn't go back more than about 5 years. 

As noted, there have been massive improvements at the lower price points from about 7-8 years ago, and this improvement still continues, although improvements are slowing. Arguably, the best sub $500 DACs today, would probably compete with most of the sub $5000 DACs from 10 years ago. 

Take a look at Bryston, Ressonessence, Chord, etc. The younger folks seem to really like Schiit, Brooklyn, Woo Audio, etc. I just got a deal (more than 50% off) on a Meridian Director so I thought I'd give a try.  With just a few days to listen suggests it is pretty good for the price point. 

How old is too old for a Dac?
Age with this one (more than 16 years old), doesn't come into it. As it's still one of the most sought after dac ever for converting PCM (Redbook cd 16/44 or 24/96 or DXD).

Cheers george

Though there were some useful posts in reply to my OP, your reply seems to be more of the information I was looking for. And it makes sense.

One would have to be close to a wide range of product developments over many years, and there likely many people around with that knowledge set that don’t have a dog in the hunt.

Bryston, Ressonessence, Chord... Do you mean newer ones? 

I have a lightly-modified Oppo 103 CD player.  I have run it straight into my preamp and also through a Jolida FX DAC, Schiit Gungnir, and a Channel Island Audio DAC with an external power supply, and could discern zero difference with the inclusion of these DACs.  I had audio pals come by for the comparison and nobody could tell the difference.
I upgraded to the Oppo about 3 years ago and the sonic improvement was absolutely profound over my 6 year old Consonance tube CD player, which had been a huge improvement over my 20 year old Rotel CD player.   The Oppo CD player is, in my opinion, a glimpse of audio nirvana for small money and obviated the need for a DAC.  Whatever you do, try before you buy. 

I know it’s ’sacrilege’ here on AG to suggest such a thing, but by way of a fun project that’s not too expensive and might deliver unexpectedly positive results, you might consider something like a Raspberry Pi and DAC daughter board, then rip your discs to FLAC using EAC.

I’m using a HiFiBerry and have been thrilled with the results, especially given the fact that I don’t think there’s a player/console in my budget that would be able to keep up with the rest of my system. All in, it was under $120 for the Pi3, HiFiBerry, case and power supply. As a point of reference, Bryston uses the HiFiBerry in their own DAC, so it can’t be all that bad.

If you decide to go this route, it would be interesting to hear the observations of you more experienced guys comparing the sound of this ’new’ technology to that of traditional ’high end’ products.
^ I’ve considered Raspberry Pi since it doesn’t cost much to try it out. Unfortunately my ears are far from educated with current tech. Combine this with the little amount of gear on hand to compare it with... I’m not sure how useful my assessment would be.

But yeah, so much of the cost of high end stuff is the cosmetics, and the profit for everyone in the supply chain.
you should go to and ask there

a lot of equip. designers and serious audiophiles that specialize in DACs and streaming are there 
I see some discussion of newer DAC’s sounding better on redbook - I’ll just add that we did a comparison in my system of my Musical Fidelity A3.5 with a Schitt Modi 2 Uber and the CD player still sounded much better using its own dac than as a transport sending the digital out to the Schitt.
If it sounds good to you, than it is a good dac. 
I made the mistake of hearing an Audio Note DAC 3 Balanced and then nothing sounded good enough.
Dedicated CD transport without inner DAC will always sounds better that regular CD player when connected to the same DAC.From my personal experience regular CD players aren’t so good as transport.A dedicated CD transport doesn’t have analog circle and no inner DAC so capable to transfer a pure digital data to the DAC .

I agree that the newer DACs today are so good that there is almost no difference between red book CDs and "hi-res" .
Not to hijack, but I too am interested in upgrading my source, but honestly don't know where to start.  I have a Sony 5400es that has served me very well, but I don't know what I would have to spend on the used market on a dac to better it.  I have ARC gear, so was thinking an ARC dac would be logical, but with all this new stuff out, not sure what to do.  I'm sure at this point in time my 5400 can be bested on red book. I want balanced outputs, no more than ~2k new or used.  Can it be done? Or should I just stick with what I've got? 

ARC Reference dac is very expensive. The Schiit YGGORASIL is a good option on the 2k range price.
Some guys of whatsthebest posted their lack of enthusiasm for the Yggy and other Schiit products compared to what’s available right now. Actually universally disliked. Might be worth a read.

YMMV. Best advice I’ve seen is to try before you buy.
@andyz I know what you mean so happy about my AN dac-3 Signature now wondering how much better the Balanced might be? Happy for now, very happy, but good to know there's an upgrade path!


 In the realm of High End audio I'm convinced you can take any audio product and there will be a fan base for it and inevitably a counter group that swears it's a terrible product. I'm yet to find an exception to this observation.  You're right, listen for yourself when ever possible.


In other words, how old is too old for a dac?

When you and your family, friends, have embraced a technology that the old DAC no longer supports.  
@ ct0517

Do I need to clarify that my question was regarding SQ?


IMO - You need to form your own opinion before buying/committing, especially if there is a large $ outlay.

With digital, I would bring my existing DAC (whether it is a CD player or a dedicated DAC), whatever your current reference is, into the Audio Salon and have the dealer substitute it in, with the others they are offering and compare. This allows for multiple comparisons at different price points.

This will allow you to form an opinion.

I have been told by different dealers in the past that the digital business is on a 2 year cycle as far as product turnover, new product is concerned.

Its all down to listening at the end of day.

I bought an Audiolab M Dac plus a few weeks back . I really like it.

To follow up, I suggest you set a budget for your DAC, and then choose two or three used components currently selling at that price, plus two or three current/new DACs at the same price.  For example, if your budget is $500, then look for used DACs currently selling around $500 regardless of their original retail price.  Audition and compare them in your system with new DACs selling for up to $500.

For new components you need to work with local dealers who will let you borrow demos.  Use forums and trusted reviews to narrow down your choices.

For used, as long as you don't over-pay and don't keep too long, you should be able to purchase and re-sell without losing any/much money.  For used, again I suggest to keep it to not more than five years old. 

As for Bryston, Ressonessence or any other brand, new or used really depends on your budget.  I mentioned specific brands because I and/or others I trust, have generally positive experiences with. If new ones fit within your budget, consider them. If only the used ones fit, then consider those instead.  Oppo as others here have mentioned also do well at their price point.  
I set a budget and look for a DAC that is used, however 3-5 years old. I believe I can purchase a better built DAC that way. Better power supply and analog output stage being a priority. I am a fan of external USB/SPDIF conversion so USB implementation is not an issue.

I have put to use a couple older DACs purchased in the last week:

A Audio Alchemy DAC-in-the-Box (~1994 model, $75) which I am using in the living room low budget system to augment audio from inexpensive BR players for Video. Works fine considering its age and am sure it helped smooth the sonics coming from many of the early model DACs sold in the 80s.

A Bel Canto DAC2 ( ~2004 model, $275) which I compared to a Schiit Bifrost Uber (2013 model, $225) in my second system consisting of a NAD236BEE driving B&W 685s via Audioquest cables. The Schiit won out for me in that system, having a less analytical sound probably due to greater 'digital bloom' from the DAC2 on some aggressive rock CDs. I did like the DAC2 when driving my Schiit Vahalla tube headphone amp. Seems to make for a more lively presentation. However, in truth I haven't spent enough time to fully appreciate the differences between these DACs.