I can't tell the difference

I have a primate I21 integrated amp, bowers and wilkins cm5 speakers, and a slim devices squeezebox. I recently purchased a musialcal fidelity v-dac thinking the squeezebox's dac might be my weak spot. I've done a blind comparison between the sb3's dac and the v-dac but I can't tell the difference between the two.

I really thought that the v-dac should have been a significant upgrade seeing as how it costs the same as the sb3 which has a lesser burr-brown chip and a ton of other componets where with the v-dac you are just paying for the dac and nothing else.

Should I be able to hear the difference here? How much do I need to spend to upgrade my source?
Cost is not always a good indicator of how something sounds.If you don't hear a difference,you don't hear one.Just a thought.
Try the VAC2 with the power supply from Channel Islands. It made a big difference with my Transporter. Also tried the PS Audio DL III and it was very good too.
Thanks guys. If it wasn't an obvious typo my amp is a Primare. Traudio, have you done any blind tests with those DACs? I find it frustrating that most reviewers don't do this. It makes it really tough to figure where your money is best spent if you don't have the luxury of home demos or of purchasing so many different components. Thanks.
FWIW, I've been impressed by the Squeezebox Duet streaming Apple lossless files. I thought I'd add an external DAC, but doubt I'll bother--especially since my system isn't high end (Naim CD5i, Nait 5i, Dynaudio Excite x12) and 90% of the time I'm using the Squeezebox for internet radio or Pandora.
Afranta, I'd say our systems are in the same ball-park budget wise. I'm back listening to the sb3's dac and it really does sound quite good. I guess I just had it in my head that a 300$ device with a ethernet card, wireless antenna, and other hardware besides the dac shouldn't be able to hold it's own vs a dedicated component.

I listen to mostly apple lossless files so I'd like to think there is more potential in there somewhere. But I suppose I should just stop worrying about it and enjoy the music. I'll be returning the v-dac.
FWIW, I also couldn't tell the difference between the V-Dac and the internal dac of my Denon receiver. However, I use an Apple TV rather than SB, and an external dac does definitely sound better than the internal ATV dac.
I think the vdac is a lateral move - whatever advantage the dac may have over the squeezebox is offset my the added cable. (The cable introduces a new source of jitter, which you may not have had with the standalone squeezebox). Remember, the more revealing a system is, the more noticable upgrades are.
Anyone have any thoughts on the Bel Canto DAC 2? I've seen it listed used in my price range. I know it is an older model, but I like it's simplicity -- I don't need a usb input, balanced outs, or anything else.
Just goes to show, the speakers and amp are more important than the (digital) source.
It doesn't make sense that you didn't hear a difference. You should have heard something whether or not it was an improvement.

This makes me wonder about your system's resolution.
to Rrog: Sometimes it actually is just the same. i bought a new Bryston DAC and found after many various swapping around that it sounded the same as my 10 year old Adcom DA700. I mean down to the exact iota. i could not tell of any change with the switch of the selector when both were from the same CD transport. i can say yeah, SOMETHING should be a little different.. i can tell if a single cord has changed.. etc. But i was suprised at the sameness of the DACS. I took back the Bryston. Why pay two grand for the same old same old.
So it may just be a coincidence that they do, in fact are nearly identical in performance.
I have Maggies 3.6 Bryston 4Bsst*2 Bryston BP26 Audio Research Sp-15 Adcom DA700 a pile of transports... and a bunch of PC/conditioners
I added a tube buffer.. just to play with.. that is easy to hear a difference...
This really makes me wonder, as I've never purchased a DAC, but often thought about it, if it's going to make much of a difference. DAC reviews make it seem like they make a world of difference, but when it comes down to it, do they? How do DACs rate on cost to impact ratio?

This is the very thing that makes the life of an audiophile a very tricky one. It so much depends on the sum of all the parts. A $3000 power cable can make your system sound horrible in one place but move it to another component and it can be bigger than a component change. A new digital cable can bring your system to a level you never thought it could reach. The flavor of the month power conditioner could make your SOTA speakers sound like a car stereo. A power strip you know little about but grabbed on a whim could transform a lifeless sounding room to the most natural, organic music reproduction you have ever heard....but change the cable feeding it and it sounds as if someone is holding pillows over your tweeters. I think DACS are just another piece to a very complicated puzzle we are trying to assemble and in most cases, none of the pieces were really meant to go together.

So I have no real answer to your question but certainly have been there. There are really several things you can do if you want to improve your systems performance, a dac could do it, even that one. maybe a different digital or power cable? Maybe moving up to the Transporter or any of the many many dacs around in that range? Maybe different ic or speaker cables? They will all do something but you will be the only ears to know if it's an improvement or not. Fun, isn't it??!!
Mustard - You haven't mentioned your digital coax which will have a big effect on the sound. What type are you using?
@Rrog, I was expecting something and when I first plugged it in I convinced myself I heard it. But I later did a blind test and it was a wash. We were splitting hairs to decide which was "better" and then we ended up picking the sb3 half the time. I'm relatively new to this hobby but this will forever make me skeptical and a firm believer in confirmation bias. Show me the blind test results! :)

I know I heard a difference when I upgraded from B&W 601s to the CM5s and I know I heard a difference when I went from a Rega Brio to the Primare I21. The CM5s added a ton of detail and realism (instruments sounded more "correct"), and the Primare improved the presentation significantly -- sound stage was more focussed and notes seemed to be sustained for the correct amount of time, where the rega put more emphasis on the beginning of notes, but didn't seem to sustain things properly (especially noticeable with horns). I couldn't blind test these due to practical reasons, but the differences were too large to bother.

The DACs just literally sounded the same.

@Richard_Stacy Yes, it is getting fun! But also expensive, ha.
@Jult52 -- I was using an audioquest optilink-A and audioquest sidewinder RCAs with the v-dac. During the blind test I had a bargain bin RCA cable from the sb3 to the amp.
@jult52, could you point me to some documentation that describes how a cable could impact the spdif transmission? I'm no expert on the spdif protocol, but if it is anything like the TCP network protocol, there will be integrity checks built in on the sending and receiving side (transport and dac) that go a very long way to make sure what is sent is what is received. I'm very sceptical of the idea you could tell the difference between 2 properly functioning cables used for spdif transmission.
@jult52, I suppose the comparison to tcp isn't too valid as spdif won't be a two-way handshake. However, I'm still skeptical. In order for there to be a transmission error in the digital domain, the physical medium must be modified beyond a given threshold (voltage level or light measurement?) to have any impact. Yes it's technically possible, but if it's happening with any regularity I imagine the results would be painfully obvious, in which case you'd deem the cable defective. Using an optical cable would avoid the potential for surrounding electronics to impact the transmission, but based on error rates I've read in passing this likely does not matter either.
mustard...you are going to get yourself in trouble trying to apply logic to all of this! the "believe your ears" thing you have going with the blind tests is really the only way to evaluate this effectively. spdif cables will sound dramatically different, whether they should or not i don't know but they will. i actually would say that a digital cable can be the most influential cable in a system. i took great care in selecting mine and it has paid off nicely. i am graced with ignorance so i have little choice but to just give this stuff a listen.
@Richard_stacy -- I agree our ears are the end-all-be-all. However, the laws of physics cannot be evaded. There has to be some logic to where we look for differences, no?

Have you done any blind tests with your digital interconnects? I'm very open to the possibility that I'm wrong here, but I'm one of those people that needs to understand why something works... maybe I'm in the wrong hobby :)
you know, i do understand that but i have just come across so many weird things after messing around with this stuff for years. i'm sure there are reasons for why digital cables sound different i am just not able to understand yet alone explain the bulk of it. no, i have not done blind tests but i have a very revealing system and can assure you these differences are not subtle. my digital cable is hands down one of the biggest contributors to the level my system is operating at these days. if you only knew how my power conditioner worked...you would really think i was nuts!
could you point me to some documentation that describes how a cable could impact the spdif transmission?
You'll find this article to be of interest. It explains how cable LENGTH can be significant for spdif transmission, by affecting jitter:


Of course the degree of significance of the effect he describes will be dependent on many variables, that will be different from system to system. Those include the jitter rejection capabilities of the dac, if any; the risetime and falltime of the transport output signal; the degree of impedance mismatch between cable, connector, transport output circuit, and dac input circuit; the exact logic threshold of the receiver device in the dac input circuit; the data rate that is being transmitted; the amount of electrical noise that is present, etc. etc.

For a given cable length, different cable types will affect the degree to which some of those variables come into play, particularly impedance matching and noise pickup, both of which will in turn affect jitter.

-- Al
Thanks Al, I look forward to the reading.
Mustard, let me unload a well known message here: break in, break in. How much time did you grant the V-dac before critical listening? I know it's hard to grasp how long fine dacs (no moving parts, only kind of electronic alchemy) need to come to themselves.
I did't hear the V-dac and have not read owner's reports concerning its break in characteristics, but, given how unresolving and unengaging the SB3 dac sounds, I would be surprised if a well burned in V-dac didn't lastly lift sonics quite a bit here.
When new, even seemingly simple units like the Valab dac need a week of constant converting work, after which it likely outperforms Lavry DA10 or the Transporter dac, as my ears were inclined to tell me.. As does, to a still higher degree, the new Wadia 151 in my system - and similarly, only after a week of having run continuously.
Well, all this burn-in talk might be old hat to you! Sorry in that case. I just wonder how many machines are being judged, sent back or reported on ahead of due time.
The V-DAC has about 40-50 hours on it. I have another couple weeks or so before I have to make a final decision on it, so I can give it a little while longer and do another blind test. My speakers are also very new so they may open up some also. I'm more willing to accept that the speakers will benefit from more time than I am the DAC, but I'll let my ears do the talking.

I'm pretty new around here so I'll try and keep an open mind. That said I'd like wade through the hifi voodoo at the same time. I'm also willing to accept that my system might not be revealing enough for me to pick up on certain things. I don't have the experience to know at this point.

Thanks for all the input.

Here is a link to a positive review of the infamous Tice Clock. LOL!!