“Some $200 Chinese DACs are better than some $2K,5K, etc.. It's a very misguided notion that price equates quality. Especially in DACs.“
The only person seems to be misguided here is you. Looking forward to your list of $200 Chinese DAC that are better than $2K and $5K DAC’s. This outta be interesting 😊
I say it depends on what one has in one's system at the time of consideration.
In my case I was using a 10 year old DAC and had speakers that worked well in my room with my current amplifier. I wanted a new DAC, one that was NOS, R2R, and had tube output stage. Bought a Audio Mirror Tubadour III. It made a substantial improvement towards the experience I was looking for.
OP, the way you pose your question makes it seem that you're looking for a prompt to go upgrade your DAC. It's your time and money -- and you could be guessing correctly, so why not try it? Otherwise, it's very hard to know.
On this forum, anyone can throw out the name of a component to swap out or a brand. The more important answer to your question would describe a process of elimination to help you identify where the weak link(s) are. Then, you could know if the speakers were the problem.
Steve Guttenberg has a good little piece about not changing your speakers too quickly. A lot here is old news to folks --how good is your power? is his main question, but he mentions other things, such as the DAC. https://youtu.be/7gXSvHDOjFs
There aren’t too many universal truths in this hobby as everyone hears differently and values different things, but two things I’ve found to be pretty universal are 1) everything matters and 2) the audio chain is only as strong as the weakest link. Focusing on one area at the significant expense of another is not a strategy for building an optimal system IMHO.
It is not always a case of drop a better component into your system and get better sound. The sound you achieve is a result of how all your components and your room play together.
Unless you have an old DAC, it is likely that moving your speakers a few inches will give you a bigger overall change in your sound.
But if you have already optimized your speaker positioning and like the overall sound... then trying a different DAC may be worthwhile. Spending $3k doesn’t guarantee better sound than spending $1k... it’s what works/sounds best to you in your room with your other components.
A low cost DAC these days ($1500 - $3000) is of incredible quality. Even reviewers of $15K+ DACs are saying this in their reviews, such as in a Bartok DAC review I just read (and others such as Jeff Fritz of SoundstageUltra.com).
If you have speakers that are pretty good and you generally like them I would spend my money on room treatments and/or Digital Room Correction. If you are a ROON or JRiver user then DRC is available to you.
I have KEF LS50s in a bad room. I will update these very soon but before I did that I got room treatments from GIK Acoustics and the LS50’s sounded amazing afterwards.
When I get my larger speakers into this bad room I will get Acoustic Sounds in Canada to remotely work with me to create DRC Convolution file(s) that I will plug into my ROON server. This will tailor my sound curve in the bass region to fit my room. It will be digital room treatments on steroids. The GIK treatments and the DRC will have the biggest impact vs more expensive DACs.
“what is special about a tube dac, unless it helps with treble/vocal sounds similar to a tube amp”
The few designers that uses tubes in the output stage believes that tubes yields to a sound that offers slightly more rich harmonics, dense timbres/tonality, liquidity and three-dimensional imaging than DACs that are based on strictly solid-state circuits.
IME, majority of the budget priced DAC’s sound processed, unnatural and un-involving and this is particularly true of many of the new generation hi-resolution delta-sigma DAC’s. They may not lack transparency and micro-details, but they have a tendency to sound thin, clinical and washed-out when it comes to textural weight and the complexity of timbres and tonality.
Whether to consider, DAC’s with tubes in the output stage or not is comes down to one’s personal preferences and rest of the system. But more importantly regardless of what type of chip used in a DAC, the majority of the performance of each DAC relies heavily on the quality of its power supply, analog conversation circuit, overall internal parts and build quality.
I am in a camp where everything matters. As others have pointed out, address the room acoustics before you shell out money for speakers or electronics.
For those among us with no practical experience of ownership, and only "skill" internet reading, below are some words of wisdom from the late Charlie Hansen (Ayre) on DACs. And why the DAC chips themselves are a very small portion of a DACs quality (or lack thereof):
The thing that I see over and over and over in this thread is an irrational belief in the importance of the DAC chip itself. Just about everything affect the sound of an audio product, but when it comes to DACs, I would rank (in order or sonic importance the general categories as follows:
1) The analog circuitry - 99.9% of all DACs are designed by digital engineers who don’t know enough about analog. They just follow the app note. The specs on the op-amps are fabulous and digital engineers are inherently seduced by the beauty of the math story. There are minor differences in the sound quality between various op-amps, but it’s kind of like the difference between a Duncan-Heinz cake mix and a Betty Crocker cake mix. 99.8% of the op-amps are used a current-to-voltage converters with the inverting input operating as a virtual ground. This is probably the worst way to use an op-amp as the input signal will cause the internal circuitry to go into slewing-limited distortion. http://www.edn.com/electronics-blogs/anablog/4311648/Op-amp-myths-ndash-by-Barrie-Gilbert
With discrete circuitry, the only limit is your imagination. You are free to adjust the topology of the circuit, the brands of the parts, the active devices, the bias current in each stage - anything you can think of. Think of this as going to a world-class patisserie in Paris and seeing all the different things that can be made.
2) The power supplies - 99.9% of all DACs use "3-pin" power supply regulators, which are pretty much op-amps connected to a series pass transistor. Everything in #1 applies here.
3) The master clock - jitter is a single number assigned to measure the phase noise of an oscillator over a fixed bandwidth. It is far more i important to know the spectral distribution of the timing variations and how they correlate to audible problems. 99.9% of all DACs use a strip-cut AT crystal in a Pierce gate oscillator circuit. It’s pretty good for the money but the results will depend heavily on the implementation, particularly in the PCB layout and the power supplies (#2).
It’s hard to rank the rest of these so I will give them a tie score.
4) The digital filter - 99.9% of all DACs use the digital filter built into the DAC chip. About a dozen companies know how to make a custom digital filter based on either FPGAs or DSP chips.
4) PCB layout - grounding and shielding, impedance-controlled traces, return currents, and return current paths are all critical. For a complex digital PCB, 8 layers is the minimum for good results.
4) The DAC chip - almost everything these days is delta sigma with a built-in digital filter. Differences between different chips is one of the less important aspects of D/A converter designs. Both ESS and AKM have some special tricks to reduce out-of-band noise, which can be helpful, but not dramatic.
4) Passive parts - the quality of these can make a large difference in overall performance, especially for analog. Not many digital engineers sit around listening to different brands of resistors to see what sounds best.
These are just a few of the things that make differences in the way that a DAC will sound.
Hope this helps,
More from Charlie on the "competent" China DACs:
I have never even heard of the brand before so I did a brief web search. They are a pure Chinese company (not Hong Kong or Taiwan), have no US distribution or warranty service and the internal photos of the MA-DA003 just plain scare me. I've no idea why someone would purchase something like this, from 10,000 miles away with no warranty support, their web site doesn't even show their latest products, and it looks like typical Chinese "high-end".
By that I mean that they pick out a few parts that fit people's check boxes - in this case ESS DAC chips and Cardas RCA jacks, and Nichicon capacitors. They put it into a decent looking chassis made of machined or extruded aluminum. Then the rest of the stuff they just copy either from application notes or competitor's products. All of the other parts in there are the cheapest possible Chinese things they can find - the power transformers, the film caps, the PCB-mounted heatsinks, the PCB itself, and so forth. The PCB quality is very low - they use a black solder mask to hide as many of the problems as they can, the layout is very poor with many of the electrolytic capacitor up off the board because they didn't leave clearance for some other parts underneath.
Then there is the entire issue of fake parts. The photo that shows the two ESS DAC chips looks like the parts have been removed from another board - the leads are not straight, they look hand-soldered instead of proper reflow oven, the markings on one of the chips appears to be rubbed off. Who knows if those are really even ESS chips or not? Or if they are NIchicon caps or not?
I have ordered parts from Hong Kong only to get completely fake things. In this case they had removed dual monolithic Toshiba bipolar transistors from existing equipment, somehow removed the original markings and re-lasered them with markings showing them to be dual monolithic Toshiba JFETs. Putting them on the curve tracer revealed them for exactly what they were. It is hard to comprehend that somebody would go to that much trouble and use fairly sophisticated equipment to sell a$20 worth of fake parts to someone in the US. But I guess if you are starving to death, trying to feed your family on $1 a day, $20 is a fortune and you will do whatever it takes to make that money.
Even if some of the parts are "real", the rest of the parts are the cheapest Chinese junk that will make the circuit work. I'm sure that the suppliers of the passive parts changes each time they build a batch, depending on who has the lowest price that week. This is as far away from the "high-end" philosophy as you can get, but by putting it in a milled aluminium chassis and checking all the buzz-words of the day, they can always find someone who wants a "bargain". As PT Barnum said, "There's one born every minute."
But don't forget about the hidden costs also. China has no EPA nor OSHA. All of the chemical waste is dumped in the closest empty spot of land, or gutter, or river, or ocean. Workers have no safety protections and are using toxic chemicals for cleaning and finishing that will give them liver and brain cancers. I've been there and seen it and have no desire to support it or participate in it. If you want something decent for a low price, just buy the Schiit. Or maybe wait for that Pro-ject DAC. I wouldn't touch an LKS anything with a 10' pole. That's my opinion - YMMV. I just think there is a lot of much higher quality stuff out there than the "Chinese high-end" equipment, from companies around the world who actually know what they are doing and actually care about it, as well.
Hope this helps,
A DAC is a worthwhile upgrade. I am reviewing currently a $5K DAC that reveals the improvements over the years (about 3 years) in DAC performance. The change to performance is as strong as any preamp, amp or set of cables. Imo, if you are very serious about advancing your system and listening, it is defensible to upgrade the DAC every 3-5 years. If I did not review I would question the reports of how much DAC improvement there has been. But, the results are overwhelming, undeniable - and that's based on building many rigs for comparison, not just one. In the current comparison to the 3 year old DACs the difference is striking, imo well worth upgrading.
Speakers are limited by the upstream electronics, so you can get different, and even "better", but don't expect a speaker change to magically make the components leapfrog their absolute limits. The components will not magically morph into upper end gear. Do speakers if you have a lower end set and wish to elevate substantially within the limitations of the components, or if you want a sea change to a different genre of speaker.
Speakers... All day.
DAC technology fools/tricks people into believing the more number crunching going on results in better sound.
Don't drink the mainstream Kool-Aid.
Speakers first... And if you get efficient enough speakers, then that opens the door to single ended triode bliss.
Or whatever class of amplification tickles your fancy. I'm just sayin.
after taking in all the helpful comments above, I remain perplexed but closer to a next step.
I have b&w diamond speakers and a solid amp. a dac will be helpful. Bluesound node 2i dac confines the music.
A new wrinkle above is learning the longevity of a dac can be short - 3 - 5 years? What causes a dac to deteriorate so quickly?
I believe it ain’t easy doing a great job converting digital to analogue.
So many dacs out there and any choice requires a leap of faith. I originally started out liking the chord tt2 and now believe this will be a great choice. Absolutely amazed how many dacs are out there, a choice is soooo difficult.
I liked the bartok, but it seems very overpriced. The David seems excellent but tough to tame after purchase. I like the m scaler, which seems overpriced. And tt2 seems overpriced too. But I want a good dac and it better last a long time.
All about feeling comfortable with a purchase. There appears to be lots of good choices.
People who say a DAC is for 3 - 5 years must be people who like to rotate gear. If you are into the music more than the gear a DAC can last you as long as you want. My $1580 DAC that I have now will last me until I die or it dies first. Music sounds great through it why would I change it?
I have a 20 year old SACD player, the Sony SCD-1. It is one of the best SACD players ever built. I had it modified about 15 years ago and then had to put it into storage due to lack of audio system for a few years. It is back in my new office system today and it sounds shockingly amazing. The DAC in it is not as resolving as the current DACs but the sound from that player is so addicting. It is not going anywhere. The 3 - 5 years thing does not apply to everyone.
That Chord TT2 would be a great choice. Could last you a lifetime. I am looking at the TT2 for my second mostly headphone system. Another DAC I am interested in for system #2 will be the soon to be released Luxman DACs. These should have the same conversion internals as the $16K SACD player, D-10x, but at a much lower cost. Likely in the TT2 price range.
It is the Benchmark DAC3B in an all Benchmark system, DAC3B + HPA4 + 2 x AHB2 + Benchmark speaker cable + Benchmark StarQuad XLR (for all the Benchmark connections). My analog sources are connected by Audience AU24 SE XLR’s and RCA’s. I sold some more expensive cables to "downgrade" to the lower cost Benchmark cables.
I should add that system synergy plays a big role in my love of this system. In the past, I owned the DAC2 HGC and DAC3 HGC and it was not at the level of sound quality as the DAC3B with the other gear listed above.
If you are going to tell someone else they lack experience and are only capable of "reading" it is probably best not to follow that up by quoting someone else and using none of your own words to attempt to prove a point. Even worse, is quoting someone else, who themselves quotes someone else to prove their point ... but not really, they just provided a link to an article.
Charlie was a character, but unfortunately, the posts you link while having some wisdom, are also lacking. The article linked to written by Barrie Gilbert at ADI does discuss slew rate limiting and other potential issues related to I-V implementations and virtual grounds using analog op-amps. However, that issue is typically more a concern with high speed, high bandwidth DACs, of which audio DACs rarely are these days with much of the analog inside. Of course, the simple fact that many op-amps for audio are specified in this condition, not to mention that a simple distortion measurement on the completed product will reveal if this is an issue in the completed design. When one links to an article, it is probably best if one understands it. I am not sure Charlie did. Discrete components are not a panacea either. Integrated devices allow semiconductor component matching not possible in discrete devices, much lower parasitic values, and often enable circuit complexity (in a good way) that discrete devices do not allow. In Charlie's rant on China, and LKS, he just comes across to someone experienced as "angry". Absolutely there can be issues in assembly in China, but his "analysis" of LKS based on a flawed photo review does nothing for credibility. The pins on the DAC are not bent. Simply zooming in would show that the PCB pads have staggered solder mask foot print lengths which zoomed out makes the pins look bent. The black solder mask is obviously for looks. Picking on "Chinese" PCB mount heat sinks? That removes any sense of credibility from his writing.
Oh DAC versus speakers? Bluesound 2i is good, but just that. There are better cheaper units. Something just is wrong with the sound of it. Sounds like you have good speakers so an upgrade is likely worth it there, but realistically, for most audiophiles, and I would include the vast majority at almost any spend on their system, the speakers in combination with the room are the limiting factor. It is one of the primary reasons why audiophiles are always swapping out components. If you don't fix the basics, then you are never going to be happy with the sound. It will never sound right. The best analogy I can give is the difference between a professional photographer with a point and shoot camera, and a rank amateur with a top of the line DSLR. Sure, you zoom in, and those images on the DSLR will have lots of resolution, but the composition is awful, the lighting is poor, and the subject matter uninteresting. The images from the point and shoot won't have the resolution, and will have higher noise, but will be far more visually pleasing because the most important things w.r.t. what pleases people in an image will be far better. Everything does not matter equally in audio reproduction. I would rather listen to 320kbps MP3 on a really well acoustically implemented system versus 24/192 on an expensive but acoustically poor system. Sure I will recognize the limitation of the MP3 files, but overall it will be much better.
dannad4 posts09-16-2020 1:15pmIf you are going to tell someone else they lack experience and are only capable of "reading" it is probably best not to follow that up by quoting someone else and using none of your own words to attempt to prove a point. Even worse, is quoting someone else, who themselves quotes someone else to prove their point ... but not really, they just provided a link to an article.
And you missed a big point, or maybe just misquoted me by mistake. I said: "no practical experience of ownership". Not just "lack experience".
OK Danna? Or AtDavid? Or Robert? How should I call you now on?
It is more how long lasting the qualities a DAC has to it’s owner. Not how long a DAC holds it’s place in the market. I held on to my BDA-1 for 8 years. Bought it used, sold it for 2/3rds what I paid for it. A highly regarded DAC that provides the sonics one desires should last a person well beyond 3-5 years. The market value is something else.
Mr. Dan / Mr. David / Mr. Robert / Mr. Whatever Name You Get After Getting Kicked Out: I don't give a flying ruck what you say.
Answer the question: why do you have to change the username and post here under different, several aliases ?
I bought a Simaudio 680D streamer dac used at a great price and for now is the most expensive part of my system. I have a Anthem Str integrated amp and Focal Aria 936 floor standing speakers. With the Arc room correction software and the overall higher quality of the Dac and the Streaming component has made a huge difference.