What to expect from a new DAC?


There has been a lot of discussion about whether newer DAC's/CD players are truely better sounding then older ones. I'm curious, what would one expect in terms of improvement from say a Raysonic 128, which is viewed as an excellent sounding now older CD player and say a Berkeley DAC, older version. Is the improvement, going to be subtle or really apparent.
redcarerra
It is all realative. I have not been impressed with a new DAC and returned it.
My 10 year old DAC is just as good.
I am sure some will find a new DAC better than the old one.
But it is a total crapshoot.
So be certain you CAN return the new one if it is no better.
i have heard older digital equipment, like the naim cdx, 2 box cd player of the 90's, sounding every bit as good as anything in production, that i have auditioned.

then again, we encounter the connotation of "{better", which makes audio, a subset of philosophy.

it is very difficult to come to a definitive conclusion, when the subject is what component is better than another.

it is obvious that there are different criteria used to evaluate audio components.

this is an issue when discussing the sonic merits of components, on a relative basis.
Ah the philosophy of better....

Still there is another technical factor to consider in what will be the source for your DAC....? A low jitter transport was critical back in the day for your discs.... Now you seem to need a low jitter USB source for digital files on your PC or server.

I have a nice Sonic Frontiers SFDI Mk II DAC with a nice tube output stage... How good of an asynchronous USB interface should I invest in....before I leave well enough alone and get a newer DAC with higher resolution format support and the Asynch USB DAC and transport interface.

IMO, the discussion of better becomes even more difficult.

(opinions wanted!!!)
First, the digital source is more important than the DAC itself. Muiltiple reviews in TAS show that a $1K DAC can sound almost identical to a $8K DAC when driven by a low jitter source (not a CD transport BTW).

Second, Most D/A chips have gotten a lot better (not all). They deliver more detail and better focus as well as blacker background due to improved S/N ratio.

That said, there are still a lot of poor newer D/A chips (ala AKM) as well as poor DAC designs that dont take advantage of what the better chips can do. There are also chips and DAC designs that are simply not musical. Some of the older ladder and NOS D/A chips are very musical and natural sounding, and so the market for NOS DACs, which is mostly on ebay and from China. The seoncd most irritating thing about newer DAC chips is the digital filtering that is built-in and cannot be disabled. Wrecks the SQ IME. this is why older NOS chips are popular and why some new ultra-high over sampling DACs are popular.

So, the bottom line is: deal with the jitter from your source first (computer or transport) and then think about a new DAC. Unlike what the advertising BS says, the DAC will not reduce the jitter enough. It still needs a low-jitter input signal.

Many cannot hear differences in DACs and sources due to poor active preamps. This is the bain of analog audio and all it takes to kill a systems performance. Try a passive transformer-based linestage instead. Much more transparent and no compression.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
source is important. And disc transports are very expensive to get right vs the lesser investment required for similar performance from computer audio digital to a DAC. Think of disc transport as trying to hit a moving target vs computer audio as trying to hit a still target... the complexity for disc transport is at least double that of computer audio.
Hmm..

So, my transport is a Levinson 31 Reference DAC.... so it was very expensive (and sounds great).

My preamp is an Audio Research LS15 active preamp (tubes). I tried the passive linestage attenuator 20 years ago and found it not to be the way to go...(with lesser gear then I now use) If memory serves, the music just seemed dead. Funny how things go round and round... What's different with a passive transformer linestage ..... (at the time... I was told... well... the analog impedance matches were just not quite right and you lost too much with the passive Adcom line stage attenuator.

What I want to do now is add a USB to digital Low jitter interface for a PC server. What would be a good match for the Sonic Frontiers DAC/LS 15 combination?
Hmm..

So, my transport is a Levinson 31 Reference DAC.... so it was very expensive (and sounds great).

My preamp is an Audio Research LS15 active preamp (tubes). I tried the passive linestage attenuator 20 years ago and found it not to be the way to go...(with lesser gear then I now use) If memory serves, the music just seemed dead. Funny how things go round and round... What's different with a passive transformer linestage ..... (at the time... I was told... well... the analog impedance matches were just not quite right and you lost too much with the passive Adcom line stage attenuator.

What I want to do now is add a USB to digital Low jitter interface for a PC server. What would be a good match for the Sonic Frontiers DAC/LS 15 combination?
Hmm..

So, my transport is a Levinson 31 Reference DAC.... so it was very expensive (and sounds great).

My preamp is an Audio Research LS15 active preamp (tubes). I tried the passive linestage attenuator 20 years ago and found it not to be the way to go...(with lesser gear then I now use) If memory serves, the music just seemed dead. Funny how things go round and round... What's different with a passive transformer linestage ..... (at the time... I was told... well... the analog impedance matches were just not quite right and you lost too much with the passive Adcom line stage attenuator.

What I want to do now is add a USB to digital Low jitter interface for a PC server. What would be a good match for the Sonic Frontiers DAC/LS 15 combination?
Try a passive transformer-based linestage instead. Much more transparent and no compression
Is this a joke???
Steve~ what do you say about the jitter figures on this?

I just read some good buzz on the Mytek Digital Stereo 192 DAC. it upsamples to 192kHz and plays DSD files. The jitter reduction is just 10 picoseconds, which is extremely low. Can be used as a preamp with an analog, digital or bypass function, and multiple inputs and outputs. Contains the well reviewed Sabre Dac which is used by Oppo, Wyred and quite a few other well known brands.

Is source jitter still a concern if the DAC can reduce to 10PCS?
"So, my transport is a Levinson 31 Reference DAC.... so it was very expensive (and sounds great)."

I've modded ML transports. Not even close, even with clock upgrades.

I have a fully modded ML 38 preamp (my mods). Also not even close to a decent transformer linestage.

"My preamp is an Audio Research LS15 active preamp (tubes)."

That is not bad.

"I tried the passive linestage attenuator 20 years ago and found it not to be the way to go...(with lesser gear then I now use) If memory serves, the music just seemed dead. Funny how things go round and round... What's different with a passive transformer linestage ..... (at the time... I was told... well... the analog impedance matches were just not quite right and you lost too much with the passive Adcom line stage attenuator."

Myths. What is really happening with resistor passive linestages is 1) you are limiting the current going to the amp and 2) you are putting a low-pass filter in the cable. I dont recommend them.

Transformer linestages have neither of these drawbacks. The only real requirement is that the DAC have decent current drive to drive amps directly. Op-amps dont cut it. The ML will have 5 ohms output impedance. That is good. One must purchase a high-quality one however, or you risk transformer saturation distortion.

If you read the 6-moons review of the Music First TVC, you will discover that they believe this is the best linestage ever. More transparent than the most expensive active preamps. I would not go that far, but it is quite good. I have an $8K pure silver wound version that is cryo-treated.

"What I want to do now is add a USB to digital Low jitter interface for a PC server. What would be a good match for the Sonic Frontiers DAC/LS 15 combination?"

The best USB converters on the market are:

1) Off-Ramp 5
2) Diverter HR
3) Synergistic Research

All of these have low jitter. There is really no "synergy" here. If they are good, they are good with all DACs.

That does not mean that you will not take a step backward, because this is also possible. If you have a sibilant component or cable in your system, reducing jitter may aggravate this. More high-frequency energy is usually a result, but it will be "clean". The object will be to identify this component or cable and eliminate it from the system.

Be aware that you must make some wise choices in order to get stellar results from computer audio, namely the computer, the playback software, the ripping software etc.. It can be a minefield. Here are some tips:

http://www.empiricalaudio.com/computer-audio/

Computer Audio Asylum is another good resource.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Tom6897 - I really doubt if the "system" jitter is 10psec. Most clock specs are in this range, and that is when they are driven with very expensive low-noise power supplies. In systems, this number goes up usually by a factor of ten. Also, even with the best chips, the internal PLL is affected by incoming jitter.

I have used the Sabre chip that is purported to eliminate jitter. It doesn,t. I had a Wired 4 Sound DAC2 here about 2 weeks ago, which uses the Sabre chip. Each of the inputs; USB, S/PDIF and I2S sound different. The best of these is the I2S driven by an Off-Ramp 5. World-class sound quality. The others are not interesting compared to the I2S IMO. If the Sabre reduced jitter as much as advertised, none of these differences would be audible.

Virtually all DACs benefit from a low-jitter source. Maybe the only exception is the PWD in NativeX mode.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Knghifi - No joke - read this:

http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews/musicfirst/passive.html

This is an old review. New units are even better I understand.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
As time goes by the new DACs are definitely better.
Apart from radically different designs they are all pretty well using the same chips.
I started with an Apogee some years back and even at one point questioned what the beneficial difference was.
Then I got into the Bel Canto's DACs.
The difference was like turning the lights on.
We then went into tubes and compared Ayon's SC1 to the Bel Canto VB models.
Yes the Ayon is better but marginally.
The latest buzz was the Lampizator and yes we ordered a level 5.
The wait time was so absurd we eventually cancelled.
I was happy we did as their build quality continued to haunt me throughout the waiting.
Needless to say we did not listen to the Lampi.
However after attending CES and THE this year I was presented with the holy grail.
Out of the 100 some odd exhibitors I visited one that continued to stay with me was Bluelight Audio.
Both their Evolution line and Playback Designs were a revelation for me
I couldn't get over the clarity of the source and inquired as to what chip they were using. Playback's president explained it was a proprietary system and not the same old chips.(Burr Brown or Sabre)
The system automatically recognizes any source (such as a PC, IPod, Discman, etc.) and uses new technology they have developed called PDFAS (Playback Designs Frequency Arrival System) to completely eliminate all jitter.

A special note should be given to the book shelves they presented at 2500.00 retail I have never heard anything remotely close at that price point.
Audioengr, so what are the newer and improved units?
Its a matter of preference, i know some people who like their older gear better than newest models. This is sort of like tubes vs SS.
WOW you guys are making feel a lot better. Recently my Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista 21 DAC died. So, I went in the closet and pulled out my old CAL Alpha DAC. I was surprised how well it sounded, in fact it sounds so good I've been debating weather to repair the MF T-V 21 or even buying a new DAC. For now I'll just enjoy the music.
From Audioengr: "The best USB converters on the market are:

1) Off-Ramp 5
2) Diverter HR
3) Synergistic Research

All of these have low jitter. There is really no "synergy" here. If they are good, they are good with all DACs."

Add the Bel Canto REF LINK to this list. It is every bit as good as the Off-Ramp 5. See Steven Stone's review in the current issue of TAS.
I just retired my CAL Sigma II. It doesn't do what these new ones do. The Alpha is a better unit though and I'd be hard pressed to suggest better for several times it's cost.
"Add the Bel Canto REF LINK to this list. It is every bit as good as the Off-Ramp 5. See Steven Stone's review in the current issue of TAS."

It's certainly a good one, but does not offer I2S. Steven could have used a better S/PDIF cable IMO. Might have made a difference. Both the USB and S/PDIF cables are critical.

Also, the OR5 can be further improved by replacing the wall-wart with a Monolith or Paul Hynes power supply. Can't do this with the AC powered BC.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Knghifi - Music First has evidently improved the core material or windings etc. because the latest versions of MF are even better. I dont think you need silver anymore. The copper is really good.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio