Older is better - D/A chip?

I had three audio nuts over my house yesterday for a component shoot out. I have a highly modded Jolida JD100 tube cd player with Mullard tubes. We then swapped in an old Magnavox player running a TDA1540 chip. This player has been recapped, extensively modded, and the oversampling processor removed. Well, we were all blown away. It was clearly more open, detailed......had more decay versus my Jolida or a Sony 5400. I just assumed the more current chip sets would sound better. What an eye opener.
I use an Adcom DA700 DAC I bought used for $250. I bought a Bryston DAC for $2,000. and they played the same. The $2,000 DAC was not any better.
So I returned it.
No problem.
IMO all these dac of the week stuff is just cashing in on folks thinking new is always better.

I use a VAC Standard pre as a glorified tube buffer, and it makes digital sound great to me.
It would take some actual major breakthrough for me to buy any sort of 'improvement' in my digital setup.
As far as I am concerned what I have is all I will ever need.
DACs are not all about the chips. Power supplies, analog output stages and clocking & jitter all play a role in achieving a certain sound with digital. Don't lay all the differences on the chip.
That old magnavox is famous for modding. The transport is almost impossible to replace. Mod squad and others loved it 20 years ago.
I have had a veritable parade of CD players through my system in the past several years including modest Music Halls, Shandlings, and Rotels and more expensive units from Lector, Musical Fidelity, Audio Aero and DACS from Benchmark, Cal Alpha and a Sony NES 999ES Platinum Modwright. I recently happened upon my old (1986) Magnavox CD 560 with the Philips TDA 1541 chip D/A converter and Philips CDM-2 CD mechanism (no mods whatsoever)when I was cleaning the basement and put it in my main system just for old times sake. WOW, what a musical sound. Shames all of the new stuff. It is still in my main system as we speak with no plans to remove it. I also put my old circa 1986 MG IIIa magnepans (factory rebuilt by Magnepan a few years back) to replace my MG 20.1Rs which are now in my vacation house and got another shock as to how amazing they sound. Maybe the sound we keep searching for we already once had. So Pdscpecl and Elizabeth I too discovered that some old stuff really was and still is amazing. Roscoeiii, I do agree with your points also but from personal experience was shocked to hear the old Magnavox in comparison to the new generation units.
"IMO all these dac of the week stuff is just cashing in on folks thinking new is always better."

How do you define DAC of the week? I'm not sure I get what that means. Can someone post any examples of equipment that would be considered DAC of the weak?
I second what Roscoeiii said. Everything else matters too.
I have once read Charlie Hansen's post on one of the forums, where he stated that DAC chip itself is only responsible for 10% of the final sound. Power supplies, digital filter, jitter management, I/V conversion and output stage are by far more important and account for the remaining 90%.
Roscoeiii has it right IMO. The DAC chip is just one link in the chain.

Sabre DACs seem to be the flavour of the week.
DAC of the weak is a DAC owned by an extremely weak person
The older DAC chips, particularly ladder DACs and NOS DACs do sound better, provided they are driven by a low-jitter source. The reason for this is simple: no digital filtering.

The disadvantage is they dont support higher sample rates like 192 and they dont get quite as much detail in the HF as the newer chips.

It is possible to get the same great SQ with modern DAC chips, provided you can select or control the amount of digital filtering. This way you get the great sound of those older chips, but with none of the disadvantages. I set my digital filter on my DAC to 192 when I play all sample-rates. Sounds like a NOS DAC, but better.

The ancillary circuits, such as the output stage, I/V converter and power subsystem are all important as well to achieving an analog sound, but if the digital filtering is auto-selected, it usually wrecks the track, particularly 44.1.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
To all that feel that the older machnes sound better, I recommend trying one of the modern NOS (NonOverSampling)designs, like the Metrum Octave DAC. It does HiRes files as well.

The Nyquist Sampling Theorem requires the use of a reconstruction filter to remove ultrasonic images of the audio signal no matter what dac implementation one uses. This filtering can be implemented either digitally or by analog circuitry.

Digital filters were usually used in conjunction with ladder DACs and most nos dac chips. Back in 1982 the first Sony CD players (CPD 101) used no oversampling and analog brick wall filters at 22 khz. The Phillips players introduced oversampling and digital filtering (and used 14 bit dacs!). The controversy of the time was frequency dependent phase shift caused by the analog brick wall filters.

By 1985 or so everyone used oversampling and digital filters along with ladder dacs.

In the late 80's single bit dacs were introduced which required high oversampling rates (typically 64x or better) digital filtering and noise shaping just to function. They were really cheap to build since they didn't require the labor intensive calibration that multibit dacs needed on low order bits and became standard in consumer gear.

That launched the multibit vs single bit wars of the 90's.

A few high end manufacturers returned to the early days of no oversampling. Some even chose little or no filtering which dumped lots of ultrasonic energy into downstream components. These manufacturers also favor nos laddar dac chips. The choice to forgo (digital) filtering (yikes!) has nothing to do with the dac chip.
Along the way of realizing that good sound is timeless, I've also stopped worrying about keeping up with the latest technology. One CD player I own never really garnered much attention when it was offered, and as I have rediscovered it, find myself enjoying it more than some of the expensive machines I own.
Ghost - Thanks for the history, but I'm aware of it.

Many D/A chips do not give you the choice of avoiding the digital filtering, so the D/A chip does force this much of the time, and they auto-select the filter for each sample-rate. This simply sounds bad, not so much because of the digital filtering, because the digital filter implementations are so poor. If these were ideal, it would be great and the NOS DACs would not have such a following IMO.

But we live in a non-ideal world. I personally have had mostly poor audio experiences with typical digital filtering. This is why I made it selectable in my own DAC design. It is better IME to use more analog filtering instead.

However, I recently heard a DAC that had reasonable digital filter design, and that is the W4S DAC2 using the Sabre chip. This was using the I2S input on it driven from an Off-Ramp. World-Class SQ.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Elberoth - the Metrum Octave is a great piece. Many of my customers have one, but they also tell me that many of them cannot playback 176.4 or 192. Does yours?

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Yes, I'm the lucky one - mine does 192kHz, no problem. Waiting for the HEX now.
Some of the newer DACs have addressed the pre/post-ringing in the impulse response with minimum phase and apodizing filters. Ayre, with the Wolfram chip, documents that well. SACD also got that much improved. Another star goes to the dithered digital volume control of Audiolab, Amarra and probably others, which often depend on upsampling.

Helped play around with DIY NOS DACs (stacking was the trend back then) with friends and while many people that listened thought it was better, I thought it was "romantic" sounding and less than honest although it was impossible to explain how. Haven't heard much of the commercial NOS products.