what the market will bear - it is called capitalism!
purely cost based discussions of why things are priced the way they are miss the point unless we are talking pure commodities or perfect competition, neither of which apply in hi fi
Dac's like anything else are built to a price point. They can be as simple as the DAC in your phone. But no one will argue that their phone DAC is anywhere near as good sounding as a discrete dedicated DAC. The Bifrost2 uses Schiit's version of a R2R ladder configuration that is more costly to implement well compared to a cheaper design. It has it's own power supply etc. The BF2 should be miles ahead of what the Cambridge can do. Makes sense, you are paying for the R&D and tech that Cambridge decided not to spend.
These types of questions always puzzle me. The capitalism quote is right on. Many have found utter pleasure listening to a myriad of products that punch way above their price points. For some it may be “snob appeal”, for others they may actually hear something others do not. When it comes to certain hobbies like watches, cars, art, wine etc. seldom should price be an influencing factor. There is greatness at every level you only need to decide at what level you want to participate. In reading reviews of any product you can always find those who have in their mind found “better” (subjective), out-performing the Reference Class for much less.
There's an excellent video on YouTube that was JUST released covering this topic. Go to YouTube and look up Hans Beekhuyzen and watch his latest video "What defines the quality of a DAC."
Funny, I was looking at a system I use. I use a 5 dollar, flee market Galaxy SIII phone for the source and the DAC.
I go in and listen to, the Mac C2500 or a Krell I use in the basement.
Is there a difference? Man oh man. HELL NO!!,
Just kidding, big time difference. The Krell skinned the pants off the Mac
until I did some work. Tube roll or two, and an op Amp swap. Krell is very clinical. Mac is..... Mac...
Just so you know none of them come close to my C20 in the analog world. Good yes, great, NO! That C20 is killer..Samra Touch...
As I've said before, the proliferation of costly high-end DACs is a clever marketing ploy to snare the gullible and unwary who conflate performance with price!
A $300 Topping DAC has about the same parts count and cost as a (name of your favorite) $3K DAC!
I agree there is a bunch of hoop-la. There is some differences in sampling rates and such with Mac gen 2 dacs. It had something to do with SACD sample rates, and the DACs ability to use ALL of it.
Macs second gen Dac addresses that along with their, $$$$$$$$$$
Someone will clear it up.. To rich for my blood. I'll stick with my (ES) Sonys, thank you very much. I love the bang for the buck and the house sound of the TWO, Sony and Mac..Gen 1 Dacs, both fine by me..
just to be clear, the USB input on the AXA25 and AXA35 are charging ports, and they do not contain an internal DAC...
Come on guys some of this is parts cost and quality also. A quality and purpose built chassis that reduces unwanted vibrations costs and takes engineering. Some use $250-$300 chokes from Lundahl and use 5 of them! Some use $15 resistors and $150 caps in key positions. Some use very high quality circuit boards. Some use high end trannys that can be very expensive.
Some use Opamps at $35 a pop. Some use the best wire at $4 - $10 foot. Some are hand made one at a time taking up to 5 days to complete. Just the power supply in a well made high end dac will have parts cost 100x the Topping dac. Now we can talk about the use of high quality input and output jacks, IEC and such. I could go on and on, but you get the point.
I have been thinking about the same thing. You can easily buy a streamer with a built in DAC for less than the cost of a DAC.
But forgetting that, what seems odd is that a stand alone clock for the DAC often cost as much as the DAC with its built in clock, or streamer/DAC with its built in clock. Reading between the lines, a number of clock purchasers' comments allude to a "incremental" improvement, and others don't sound quite sure there was any improvement.
Just my observation from reading here, no practical experience so I am open to being corrected.
Some simple rules around development, manufacturing, and marketing:
- All of the above have a fixed and variable costs associations.
- All costs increase exponentially for each gain beyond a certain baseline- picture a hockey stick- this includes development costs, manufacturing costs, and marketing costs. (someone will argue fixed do not, but for additional gains the expertise, techniques, equipment, and segmentation will be more expensive and specialized.
- As you segment and specialize, the market shrinks exponentially, so absorption will need to be spread across fewer and fewer units; result price/costs goes up at a commensurate rate.
- The higher the price point-due to everything above- the greater the curb appeal costs- increasing everything just discussed. Most people who will pay the highest end price point will also want the highest end window dressing and usability (think how well a Ferrari with the body design of a Yugo would sell).
All this adds up to the fact you can buy an adequate or even very good DAC for under a couple hundred bucks (maybe even less than $100) that is in a nondescript metal case with minimal user conveniences. Every incremental advance beyond that the price will go up at a hockey stick rate. This is not unique to Audio.
Look at photos of the insides of the four Denafrips models. There are very distinct and noticeable differences.
And in my experience, when a designer uses high quality parts like these, that means they’ve got a product where they really care about the sound and have carefully manicured it’s performance. I bought my audio Mirror dac because of this reason and have not been disappointed. I’m totally satisfied, but would also love to hear the mojo dac above because the design decisions you can see from the internal shot are things I’ve found to really matter in my own component builds (independent power supplies, solid core silver wire, electrical isolation, quality choke-based smoothing, etc.).
I am lucky to own the best deal on quality/price for dac....Paid 24 dollars new, with a used value around a little more than 100 dollars...
No coming back..... My dac shows no limitations and in the beginning i had the impressions that my dac has limitations, for example lack of details...(Starting Point Systems NOS dac)
What an error i was making !
My audio system was not the culprit of my unsatisfaction at all, his triple embeddings was faulty simply...
Most people evaluate dac or gear on a wrongly embedded system and most of the defects they attribute to the gear most of the times comes from the electrical, mechanical and from the acoustical powerful embedding...
Thats life, who says that it will be simple?
The best quality of a dac consist in his total non-existence to the ears....This is my experience with S.P. S. dac. If you say no, it is retrieving details, i know immediately, especially if your system is rightfully embedded, that your dac is not a good one never mind the price.... :)
"As I've said before, the proliferation of costly high-end DACs is a
clever marketing ploy to snare the gullible and unwary who conflate
performance with price"
That's closer to the truth , the capitalism comment comes in second
Capitalism, marketing, playing on the notion if it costs more and looks prettier it must be better. Toss all that sciencey word salad in there and you have a 5 figure DAC. Very few if any could pick a $700 DAC from a $10000 DAC in a blind listening test.
So in your tidy, small audio world a robust power supply made with amorphous core chokes, Mundorf 4 pole caps, high performance diodes, resistors and the like will not set the stage for much better sound? In addition, a dac’s power supply made with a half palm full of $.25 cent throw away parts is all that is required for equally great sound in all dacs.
I know it may be nice for you to shrink down the world of possibilities to something your mind can be comfortable with, but is this really true for the rest of us or at all? This is strangely akin to audio communism. In one blanket statement you have made it clear that only your perception and audio world view have merit and the rest of us are weak in need of your special authority.
Why do you spend anytime here? Really? This is a site for audio enthusiasts with a passion for what is possible and the ability to enjoy these possibilities. You deny the possibilities and darken the spirit of this site. Is it time for you to move on?
Djones51 and dromme,
While I support your right to your opinion, I think it is not based in facts beyond your experience. I agree you can get a very good baseline with less expensive DAC’s or for that matter, most other mature technology products. My cheap personal laptop today is under a few hundred bucks and operates better than ones previously costing many thousands. But, better computers exist at significantly higher dollars. There is a significant increase in value and costs in chasing the incremental gains. These gains may not be important to you- that is the beauty of capitalism- you get a choice. But for those with the means, the supporting technology to take advantage of the incremental gains, and the desire, is it wrong for someone to supply a solution for that need, even if it is beyond the reach of most? I like that segmentation. I like that ability to choose. It gives me hope that someone will produce a product for the few. In this case it is a piece of audio equipment- but it could easily be something much more critical.
like with most stuff, there are some inexpensive products that sound very good, some expensive ones that do not sound very good, but unfortunately the best sounding ones tend to cost a lot...
Very few if any could pick a $700 DAC from a $10000 DAC in a blind listening test.
Have you conducted any such tests to confirm your inkling? If so, please tell us about them.
So, I took a peak at the innards of two DACs, one of which was referred to, above. I looked into the PS Audio directstream DAC, which costs $6000, and then the Denafrips Ares ii is about $1000.00. This is where a trained eye is really needed, because I can only say the parts count and appearance look somewhat similar. This does bring to mind some questions...
The assertion that DACs are priced at what the market will bear needs further discussion. I don't think a manufacturer simply ponders what people might willing to pay for the piece, setting the price at that level. There is the question of time invested (research, parts acquisition, assembly, etc...), parts used, and equations that compare the product to other products on the market, and marketing costs. Perhaps this is what is meant, or what is hidden in the notion of "bearing."
Marketing itself can be a huge piece of the cost of an item, amounting to as much as 50% of product cost, from what I have heard. This is where word-of-mouth marketing becomes an interesting facet of the cost, perhaps revealing why so many people are responding to products from Schiit and others, who don't appear to be going to great lengths to make their products look flashy and unique, nor do they do much advertising compared to, say, Klipsch. Also, we all know that aesthetics or claiming a particular "expensive part" may be less for performance and more for enticement/marketing purposes.
The latter statement calls for scrutiny, which is to say: I'm impressed when someone can even list things like:
- amorphous core chokes,
- Mundorf 4 pole caps,
- high performance diodes
The question for me is to what extent are these necessary for high performance?
I do understand there is a role for power conditioning and power management in these devices. In my recent study of an unusual offering from an Indian company called ALLO, I noticed that their Revolution DAC, which comes in around $300, emphasized short signal path and the DAC portion of the unit was very small - very small, but a large part of the unit was reserved for power conditioning; or, at least that's what I think I saw. Maybe someone can look it up and tell me what they see, as I'm sure a more thoughtful breakdown of parts would be of great use to many fairly ordinary folk, who enjoy learning about these things.
In a hobby where (some) people seem to be forever boasting simplicity, short signal paths, and the like, I guess I'm needing a little more information about the important features of a quality DAC. I mean, I was attracted to the phrase, "amorphous core chokes" and "Mundorf 4 pole caps" and I find that there is always some kind of rhetorical element to the presentation of these devices, but what truly counts???
Maybe I need to start a new thread: what are the important features of a DAC that operates transparently, only sending on the "music" and other recorded "environmental factors" from the recorded digital signal...
Amazing! I jumped from here into a search for the Denafrips Ares ii and found the following statement in a review on Amazon:
"I did a direct A/B comparison between the Ares II and a PS Audio DirectStream DAC. The DirectStream as I had it configured costs $6,899. Granted the DirectStream has more features. However, when comparing sound quality, I would say the the Ares II was almost as good as the DirectStream. Maybe 90-95% of the DirectStream. Without me going back and forth I would not have been able to tell any difference - they're that close (listening on KEF LS50 speakers). The PS Audio DirectStream seemed to have a tiny bit more detail."
What does this imply about parts? Marketing? The market bearing...
denafrips is one of several companies that make superb sounding dacs at reasonable prices - as you mention, their ares 2 entry level model priced at a small fraction of top tier dacs in the 5 grand and up range - dena is a chinese firm, selling consumer direct, bypassing the dealer network and its 80-100% margin, so there is that value conveyed to the end user for sure
that being said, as you mention as well, the ps audio DS is programmable, can be updated via software downloads, can have a streamer/dac appended via an internal board, so there is future proofing and great flexibility that denafrips does not provide - furthermore you can only buy the denafrips units from a retailer in singapore (seriously!), if there is a problem with the unit you need to scramble for help... so there is value in other elements than pure SQ
now, also, note the denafrips makes the terminator, a 4-5 grand dac, and now they are also introducing a terminator plus, a 7-8 grand dac, all based on the same basic architecture
so within just one maker’s line you have choice... is the term and term plus 4-5-6-7-8 times better sounding than the ares 2? no way... but there IS a difference in SQ no doubt... however subtle it may be
the notion of diminishing returns in SQ from spending $ in audio reproduction has been around as long as the industry... savvy users learn the shape of the curve in each part of the chain, and each of us pick our point on the curve based on desire for performance and size of wallet
I own both the DirectStream and the Ares ll and find the PS significantly better, though the Denafrips is an amazing bargain...that last 10% often costs a lot...on the other hand, I could probably sell the PS and take less of a loss than on the Ares, so actual cost of ownership would be less...before PS started selling direct, their actual prices were way less than list...
Just get an RME ADI-2, Topping D90, Benchmark DAC3, and forget it. DACs are to the point of transparency, they can be made to have sound signatures using the nonsense mentioned above but in the real world a DAC converts digital to analog without adding or taking it should be neutral. If you wish to add distortion use tubes. A $99 Schiit Modius would be indistinguishable from a $60,000 MSB to pretty much anyone since amplifiers and speakers have more distortion and noise than even inexpensive well engineered DACs.
I will add you might be able to tell the PS Audio garbage from other DACs they measure like crap.
see we woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning
sorry that being on this lil forum makes you so unhappy
I'm not unhappy. I feel just fine what's your problem?
If 2 DACs are to the point of transparency then how can they be told apart? You can't get more transparent, it's like infinity there isn't infinity and more infinite.
Of course PSAudio DACs measure so bad they aren't transparent so they can have a sound to them.
I appreciate your remarks, and I'm interested in anything we can point to that would make up that 10% difference. If possible, I'd like to go beyond "parts cost." What are those parts? What space is there in the tech assessment for creativity, or some kind of special "insight" into what makes something work, a little better...
Also, you make a 'aside' comment about cost of ownership. I looked on us-audio daught com and did not see a single Denafrips product for sale. On both the preceding website and e-bay, I did see numerous PS Audio products for sale, including the mentioned DAC and others. PS Audio (itself) appears to be selling the Direct Stream for about $5400 through us-audio. I also see a number of items that are sold used and also for significant reductions from the initial price, if $5400 is the original cost.
- one for $4100
- another for $3900
- one on eBay for $3795
- another for $2300 - is it old? it is upgradeable? 1 owner; originally bought for $4000. 9/10 condition.
So, lots of competition, and thus hard to keep a high price of re-sale.
Altogether, I'm not seeing a strong argument for a more expensive 'cost of ownership' in the Denafrips, although this might show up in one of their more costly products. My interest would not extend beyond the Ares ii, which looks to cost roughly $750 USD. I do not know the original cost of the units I've identified, but it appears that you lose more than the (entire) cost of the Ares ii in a resale situation with a PS Audio Direct Stream.
So, is that 5-10% improvement worth the expense? And that, of course, is an individually measured conclusion.
Perhaps there are other monetary considerations in the contrast, jjss49. You did point to upgradeability, which makes the $2300 option above more attractive. You did point to a broad group of bells and whistles, certainly not present in the Ares, although we don't expect a $750 unit to do it all. Interestingly, Topping DACs often see have to have quite a number of bells and whistles.
Also, getting back to the Bifrost 2, we see another unit that is upgradeable at the sub $1000 price domain. It has few bells, but does include a remote.
@djones51 mentions transparency. What does that term cover, in terms of the experience of a DAC? Does transparency mean the DAC will read all the musical information and present it all coherently, to the amp?
Schiit recently presented their MODIUS DAC, for $199, and it has the lowest distortion reading of any of their DACs. What does this mean, compared to the higher end offerings, the Bifrost, the Yggdrasil, etc. I've mostly seen raves of the Yggdrasil, so what is the specific tech that people are pointing to...? If it measures more distortion than the Modius, what is making it a better sound DAC, despite distortion readings...?
before PS went to manufacturer direct sales, many of their larger dealers sold their gear new for 40% off...no longer the case of course...
Value for money is a minefield.
Perhaps you can price out the components that go into a unit, but then you have to factor in all the other costs, past, present, and future that the manufacturer has to account for. I've never seen that done convincingly, because buyers forget items or underestimate costs.
Once you've got over that hurdle, a unit that genuinely costs more to produce and market may not sound as good, at least to some (or many) people, as a unit costing less.
So there's no ultimate correlation between performance (sound) and MRP, however nice it would be if there were one.
So you pays your money and takes your choice.
Transparency means that the distortion and noise that exits the analog outputs is so low it’s beyond audibly for humans. If you take a dozen DACs and they all measure below the threshold of hearing then how can one be more transparent than another? I will mention not all DAC manufacturers strive for transparency which is why some have a sound signature. IMO DACs should be transparent if you want to color your music do it with tubes or EQ or tone controls it's much cheaper.
i won’t get into the ’accuracy’/measurements debate... it is old hat, no light all heat - i am into this for musical reproduction that pleases me, in my listening space, really don’t care about the rest... there is a place for measurement in hifi, but to me it is limited, the ultimate test is listening pleasure produced, we are not buying digital thermometers here
i think it is also a fools errand to try to ’justify’ the last 10% of performance... some want it and can afford to go for it, others can’t even hear it nor afford the pursuit -- value is about money... end of the day, money in and of itself is over-rated if you have enough to be comfortable ... it is the experiences, enlightenment and joy that money may buy that matter
also, don’t get sucked into used market availability of X as a metric of value... used items can be good but they are available because they have been successful, sold many units, after a while, end users want newer, so they re-sell... used porsche 911’s aren’t lousy sports cars because there are many used ones for sale, just the opposite
yes ps directstream has features, but so does denafrips... my ares ii is fun to play with, with its various nos/os and filter options, very cool piece, lots of dac for what you pay
i am not trying to talk to into a vs b, just pointing out the nuances and manifold issues in the consideration
good luck have fun
I am in the get a transparent DAC camp as @djones51 mentioned.
I got a Benchmark DAC3B which I was going to use as a DAC on my lesser bedroom system. I was going to get a much costlier DAC for my office system. However, when I added the DAC3 to the Benchmark HPA4 preamp in the office system I was of the opinion that changing this sound signature would be foolish and costly on my part. It sounded great and transparent.
My speakers are going to determine the tone of my system.
A dac is the most difficult thing to buy for me in an audio system....
And it must not exist.... When nothing suggest to you his existence this is the good one....
When it comes to the DAC: Is distortion the only word (or the most important...) in transparency AND full realization of the recorded sonic imagery?
I have been lead to believe that some DACs handle detail and soundstage differently than others and I'm wondering if these features (of subtle detail and soundstage) are fully reflected in distortion figures.
This is to say, FOR EXAMPLE, what kinds of (general) differences might be reflected in two different DACs, with the following THD+N measurements:
Or what else am I missing, for purposes of discernment, other than the in-my-ear experience of evaluation...
i reach and create a very great S.Q. in the last 2 years: dynamic, clarity all across frequencies,details and more, soundstage in all the room, imaging with depth in near listening and in regular position, 3-d holography, name it...
All that with my controls of the mechanical embeddings, and all this time, i never think one second about my DAC.... It does not exist at all.... And all this time this thing that never has signal his existence to me, never did’nt hold me back ever, in each and every one step toward better S.Q.....
This is what i call a DAC....i will never look back....
What makes a BMW 230 cost twice as much as a Toyota Corolla? After all, they are about the same size - the Corolla is probably a little bigger. What makes Veuve Clicquot champagne cost four times as much as Freixenet? After all they both come in the same size bottles with very similar corks. Just in case you think that this is purely snob appeal, I have driven both cars (quite recently) and drunk both champagnes, and I can tell you from personal experience that they do not drive/taste the same at all. I have a $25 DAC from Ensinin [?] and a $99 DAC from Schiit and even with my hearing loss and untrained ears I can tell you from personal experience that they do not sound the same.
Engineering is expensive. Parts are expensive. Manufacturing is expensive. You can go the cheap route or the bespoke route. If you really want to know why good DACs are expensive, read the reviews!
as to what matters in a dac, let’s make this simple, even though it isn’t...
a) the digital (bitstream) input signal needs to be received and timed correctly for d-to-a conversion, so clock circuit and jitter reduction is key, this is done by electrical isolation, reclocking as needed
b) then the actual d to a conversion / filtering needs to happen with low distortion both in freq response and in timing (phase response) - this is done by the internal dac chip/circuit or discrete ladder network, depending on design
c) then the analog output (post conversion) needs to be prepared for output to the receiving device... this is done by internal amplifiers, or transformers, or some other method... very rarely is the output ported straight out of the dac chip (there can be impedance mismatches with preamps/amps/whatever device is to receive the signal to amplify to drive speakers/headphones you listen to)
d) all the above needs to fed clean and strong power so they do what they do without added noise, so internal power supply design and quality (and power supply isolation of the analog from the digital sections) is key
so when knowledgeable people correctly say, "it isn’t just the dac chip (akm, burrbrown, ess sabre, wolfson...) or the ladder chip (philips tda, etc etc) or fpga (custom circuit) that makes a difference, it is the IMPLEMENTATION of it", that means ALL THE ABOVE designed and working in concert to produce good analog sound, as a holistic system
’what goes into a dac to make it good’ class 101 now in recess
hope this helps
@jjss49 Thanks for the short course! Your information is helpful!
A) Clocking and jitter have been teased out fairly frequently, in my looking about. I know you can buy external re-clockers and spend thousands doing so.
B) Schiit claims in their rendition of Multibit, or True Multibit, a "time-and frequency-domain optimized digital filter," but I couldn't begin to make sense of it...
C) This notion of output being "ported" out of the DAC chip is fascinating. Perhaps there are a variety of ways of achieving this, perhaps with some Mundorf opulence? I jest, but it also intrigues. . .
D) The Allo DAC I mentioned made it clear that management of power is a big thing. I wonder how they pull it off with smaller DACs, like the Schiit Modi.
I have the Modi, presently, and I'm curious about a higher end piece, but I'm struck by how well it fits into my system, not infrequently producing 3-D images from good recordings, and accurate tones in most places, perhaps a bit bright here and there, perhaps a lil under-developed here and there, but perchance this is also partly the fault of the recordings...
Whether it's a DAC or speakers, when comparing two good alternatives, I doubt most of a big price difference is in the parts.
Many high-end products are built more or less to order in small numbers, for affluent customers willing to pay a big premium even for relatively small differences in SQ. The company may not be over-charging for its product. It really does cost more to make, deliver, and support it. But not (primarily) because they use vastly more expensive parts.
Recently I looked at Devore speakers. $8400 for the O/93, $12K for the O/96. Plenty of decent, 2 way bass reflex boxes are available for far less. Devore uses veneered plywood baffles, not MDF. Sure, veneered plywood is more expensive, but not THAT much more.
If you’re using a Schiit multibit modi try the Modius you might notice a difference depending on your other components.
Brightness on any cd or files is not a files or cd defect so much than the sign of an imperfect dac....Lacking completely sometimes of 3-d holography soundstage is another sign...
Files or cd VARY in relative brightness, and in their capacity to deliver holographic soundstage, but this variation is NEVER an absence or a complete lacking with a good dac, nevermind the files or cd...
I know i own one...
Wit a good dac music exist first all time, not the dac or the files first....
Rubbish! Brightness is first and foremost a function of the engineering of the recording. To some extent the venue and other "external" factors, but primarily the ADC used by the recording engineer, plus any post-recording processing. The early DDD recordings made by Deutsche Grammophon (DGG) were often excruciatingly bright.
Rubbish! Brightness is first and foremost a function of the engineering of the recording.
Brightness and harshness are IMPRESSIONS.... They come from the recording yes sometimes....And this is what i wrote: " Files or cd VARY in relative brightness"...
Please try to read a post before trashing it....
Anyway bright recording are unlistenable on some BAD system, way less so on a good balanced one.....That was my point...But you can take a bad audio too warm system and listen with it too bright files for sure, but 2 bad dont do a good one....
And your "first and foremost" forget the way many bad audio systems, already bright and harsh by themselves, worsen the situation with a bright recording...There exist way more unbalanced bright audio system than too much bright files or cd in a collection....I own 10,000 files and cd by the way....
Then your suggestion is wrong because these IMPRESSIONS of brightness may come from one or another or the 2, the recording and the audio system....But a balanced audio system make anything more listenable and that was my point....
Rubbish yourself then....
«Logic is a two way sword, dont cut yourself with the sword» -Groucho Marx