Is it all in my head?

Okay, sad to admit it but I just did an a/b comparison, granted it was only on one dubbed cd, between my musical fidelity a3.2 cd players dac and my new parasound z dac and could hear absolutely no difference. When I got my dac a few days ago I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread, but spank me and call me sally, I can't for the life of me distinguish between the two. I hooked it up such that I could go between the two on the fly with a press of a button. Hmmmm... I could hear a difference between my denon dvd 2900 and the musical fidelity a3.2 but no dice between the a3.2 and z dac. I can also hear slight, slight differences between i.c.'s and speaker cables so I dunno. I think I may be spitting the kool-aid out if it doesn't give me a buzz anymore, or else I'm gonna buy some of those ufo thingies to put on my windows (sorry G).

Funny post.

I wouldn't worry about it. Leave the dac in there for a few weeks.... then take it out and see what you think then.
Probably not. Generally, in my opinion, I wouldn't expect to be able to significantly "improve" a well-designed integrated CDP by relegating it to transport duties and adding an off-board DAC. (I'm assuming that's what we're talking about?). Just too many new variables, and unless you're spending orders of magnitude more on the DAC than the CDP (and why do that), you could easily end up doing worse. So, under the circumstances, equal performance is likely not such a bad result. Not what you were after, I know, but maybe not all that surprising.

Now for what may be your central question -- then why bother? Personally, if your goal is to continue spinning CDs, I wouldn't. Full stop. But if you're looking, now or in the future, to convert your medium and your transport to something computer-based, then an off-board DAC is of course required (unless you've got a usable digital in on your CDP and can thus repurpose its DAC...). And in that case, if you find a combo that equals or betters your reference CDP, then you totally win. Conversion succeed! Or, at any rate, that's how I look at it.
I had a similar experience when I bought a new Stereophile class "A" rated DAC for $2,200.
Comparing it to my old DAC (Adcom DA700) no difference.
I tried it al lsorts of ways as I could not belive the new DAC was not better since it was Stereophile class A.. I even askked the dealer to check the new dDAC to see if it was damaged in some way!
Nope. So I returned it.

Sometimes the issue is some other limiting feature of the system. But in general my least good stuff IS my digital stuff.
Something is amiss. Even the smallest changes should be audible. System resolution would have to be very low not to hear changes.
In this hobby, yes, many differences are in the head. Pshyco-acoustics is a real topic. Don't get me wrong, there are differences between gear and cables, but to varying degrees. Some differences are obvious, some are very hard to detect, and some cannot be detected at all. Just like the size of the pea under the mattress, sometimes it is so small that it is undetectable.

On another note, remember, different is different, and not neccessarily better.
I always enjoy your posts!!
Regarding your pea/mattress analogy, (the princess and the pea) the pee on top of the mattress is more detectable.
What cable are you using, between the transport and DAC? Less than excellent and you could negate any audible gains that, otherwise, might be realized via the outboard DAC.
After nine years of constant use, I had to replace my old Marantz DV 8300, a first-generatiion uni-player from them. It had extensive upgrades, and it was used in conjunction with a Genesis Digital Time Lens, and Musical Fidelity A3 24 DAC. Both of these having been modded as well.

I acquired a McIntosh MVP 871 Universal (which has also been modded). I can switch between the McIntosh on its own, or the McIntosh as transport with the outboard DAC and Time Lens in use.

The new player was a very nice jump in overall sound quality, which was no surprise. What is a surprise is, there is very lttle difference to be heard between the lone McIntosh, or with the outboard DAC and Time Lens switched in.

I listen mostly to the MVP 871 by itself, but occaisionally, if things sound a bit ragged, the DAC/Time Lens do smooth things out a bit. The Mac has a bit more detail, but not by much.

Other than that, there is no discernable difference, but as I said, the 871 was a nice step up for me.

Just my observations, regards,
02-23-13: Isochronism
I always enjoy your posts!!
Regarding your pea/mattress analogy, (the princess and the pea) the pee on top of the mattress is more detectable.

LOL!! Thanks for the laugh and the compliment. :)
Welcome to hi-end world of fantasy differences that impact your wallet and not your ears. Sadly, since you are now among the unbelievers, you will not be able to fund our madness any further. However, we will move on to others. The beast will not let us have peace.
B limo - I had a similar experience when I upgraded my cdp from a Yamaha CDX1030 to a Meridian G08. I was talking with a friend (who had a much nicer setup) and he suggested stop comparing every few min. He said I was used to the Yamaha sound and just listen to the Meridian for a few days but preferably weeks and then put the Yamaha back in. I couldn't wait weeks so after 3 days I put the Yamaha back in. Now I heard the difference but still wasn't all that impressed for the money. Anyhow I ran the Meridian for several weeks and decided to put the Yamaha back in for giggles and yes I hear a huge difference which made me think how could I have not heard the difference then. Anyhow I still can't answer my own question to myself. So now that several years went by I can honestly say the Yamaha sounds very dry and much less dynamic compared to the Meridian.
02-23-13: Rodman99999
What cable are you using, between the transport and DAC? Less than excellent and you could negate any audible gains that, otherwise, might be realized via the outboard DAC.

That's right B. You need to buy one of those $2500(at the very least) cables to hear the difference. Some of those $750 each footers will help also.
Thanks for the advice T but I ain't no cheapskate. I ordered the $3500 toslink and the $1,000 footers. The reviews state that I'll hear new things on all my music, the soundstage is wider with liquid mids, airy highs and the tightest bass this side of the ghetto.

Anywho, I had this long post written out and then my phone died and I lost it so I'll give the condensed version.

A3.2= great sound
A.3.2+z dac = same great sound
Wadia 170i streaming spotify, now for the first time :-) = same great sound as a3.2.

I'm happiest about this last equation because spotify was always equal to about 90% of what I got from my cd's, now it's equal.
Big smile.

It was easy for me to do a/b comparisons in all these tests. All I had to do was switch inputs on my pre amp. I listened to the same songs, started at the same time and would switch back and forth between inputs with my remote so I'm certain in what I was hearing between the various set-ups.

Next, I'm going to upgrade from the wadia 170i wal wart to a welborne power supply. If this improves the sound from the wadia, my wadia will sound better than my cd player, which sounds great.

On a side note, I listened to my brothers klf 10's through an onkyo reciever (the onkyo was my first purchase 9 months ago when I started all this madness, and I thought then, that it was the cats pajamas) plugged into my i phone via a 20 foot 3.5 mm to rca plug. I played the same music I listen to everyday on my set up with the same i phone and the difference was absolutely huge. My rig leaves it for dead. :-) He's definitely going to need the $5,000 tos link and the $2000 footers to equal my set up.
If you can't hear any difference than there is no difference. I wouldn't worry about it. After 30 some years in this hobby, I have learned that what is really important is in enjoying the music rather than chasing after every little change different equipment produces.
As a humble and simple man, my approach is to keep things that sound good and change things that sound bad. Or change them because I feel like it. Or not. Please be like me. Thank you.
Lol, Wolf. I think I am like you, in that regard. I find myself changes things because they sound bad, or good, or because I want to, or because I don't. It's difficult being me.
Yeah man...I'm SO glad I'm not you...I'd have some 'splainin to do to everybody wondering where I went.
Not for nothin, but the last three exchanges totally made my night. Yea. Cheers.
To update the thread, I can now hear a difference. Cd player with z dac sounds best, followed by streaming spotify with wadia 170 using z dac, followed by cd player using its own internal dac. Don't know if the dac opened up as it broke in or if now I can just hear a difference, or both, but I can definately tell a difference now...
My experience has been that no two pieces of gear sound exactly the same, but differences can run the scale from little or no or insignificant difference to major difference.

Usually the biggest differences can be attributed to major differences in design and approach between two units being compared.

Published specs may be useful but do not tell the whole story, even if accurate.

Test bench measures by an independent and unbiased source like those in mags like Stereophile for example, are more helpful for painting a better picture of what to expect, but still do not tell the whole story for that device much less overall performance of any system it is used in.

In the end, your ears are the ultimate test. Time and patience is needed in order to have any chance of sorting through it all in a meaningful fashion.

One of my favorite quotes as it relates to high end audio:

"A difference that makes no difference is no difference."
Subtle differences usually take some time to fully grasp. Don't believe the hype that the glossy rags spew, not every difference is jaw-dropping. Enjoy the music.