Worth pursuing analog sound from digital?


Hi all,

I recently acquired a PS audio Nuwave dac which has eliminated most of the digital harshness compared with my old dac but it's still not as smooth and harsh-free like vinyl. I was wondering if it's worth pursuing that analog sound from digital without spending a fortune and if it's even possible. I know lots of digital lovers will say digital can be as good as vinyl but is it really?   
jaferd
Yes, and it need not cost a fortune. Read everything you can here and elsewhere and stay away from the big, expensive, heavily advertised, brands.  But this discussion should be moved out of "analog."
Oh yeah, totally possible. Theoretically. If you want to believe the hype. Plenty do. They will tell you the latest $20k digital dac or whatever has done it. Better, even. Whatever. This works on people with no memory, or ability to use the search bar. Because they have been promising this since "Perfect Sound Forever" way back in the 1980's. Yeah that long.

Funny thing, for all that time, anyone with $200 in his pocket could buy a turntable and actually have what the digital dudes keep promising. Actually have it. Plus another funny thing, if you did buy that $200 turntable back then it would be worth today.... $300, $600, who knows? They aren't paying that for some collectible to sit in a display. They're paying that to actually listen to music. Because that is what analog just naturally does, play music. Which is why my Technics SL-1700 is worth today a couple times what I paid for it back in 1976.

Which is also why I have only had 3 turntables in my whole life. The most recent one happily spinning records for 20 years now. Meanwhile I have completely lost track of how many CD players I have gone through. Each one better than the last. Not a one of them even as good as my first Technics turntable.

But the one I have now I will have forever. Not because its that good. Because I will never buy another one. Took me a very long time to learn, but I did eventually learn: no, digital is NOT worth pursuing.


Pursuing analog is perfectly ok. I have good examples of both digital and analog. BUT, as I have said in the past if you purchase a $300 turntable, $80 cartridge, and $120 phono stage, you are going to be sorely disappointed with analog. And I don't give a damn how well you set this combination up, it ain't gonna deliver.
@millercarbon,

No need to get angry here.  I think I have achieved parity with a modestly priced, and virtually unknown--hence no hype, very slightly modified Chinese DAC.  I love my analog gear: old and highly modified VPI TNT with a three stage all tube phono preamp.


Multi-bit or R2R or ladder dacs (all the same type, different names for it) are the way to go, when trying to achieve that analog sound from digital.

There are some from the far east that come in at about the $2k mark, even as low as $1k used (but they disappear fast).
@jaferd,

Harshness can be due to equipment being new or from digital cable linking to your DAC. Did you buy PS Audio new or used? Just like your analog gear, digital gear will also require bit of tweaking and patience.

What are you using as a source with the DAC? If you can list your system, it will be easy for members to make ‘solid’ recommendations.

You could look into Denafrips Ares II DAC that will get you very close to the analog sound. 
The struggle for analog sound from CDs is at an end. But you must have the means to correct some serious issues now available. These serious flaws that have always been there include butvare not limited to, scattered background light getting into the photodetector, the inherent vibration of the CD itself whilst spinning and the influence of seismic type vibration on CD player performance. You can achieve an analog sound that is more analog than analog. Much higher dynamic range, much better resolution and sweetness and warmth.

An ordinary man man has no means of deliverance. 
No need to get angry here. I think I have achieved parity with a modestly priced, and virtually unknown--hence no hype, very slightly modified Chinese DAC.


Who can be angry reading jokes like this? Is "you slay me" still a thing?

The gold standard for the best cost no object digital in the world is, was, and always will be that it sounds analog-"like" which "like" literally means "almost as good as" but your secret sauce digital is not merely "like" but equally as good as, and for cheap? Stop. You’re killing me. But oh, its also "virtually unknown" and "very slightly modified" AND (the punch line!) Chinese.

Right. Let me guess: Seinfeld? Chappelle? Kait? Who you write for?
Post removed 
As someone with way more CDs than vinyl of course it's worth it.It's not necessary to spend a fortune,there's so many inexpensive and free ways to tweak the sound.Keeps the hobby interesting:-)
jperry,

Not everyone likes to hear ticks and pops that have long plagued the vinyl playback. Not to mention, complicated setup and care required to play a darn LP.

Can you replay that song you just heard without getting up from your throne 😉
Can digital "be as good as analog?"

I think that's in the ears of the beholder. I love vinyl. I love digital. For me it's not an either or proposition. 

In many ways, my MHDT Labs r2r Orchid DAC streaming Qobuz sounds better than my turntable, a Clearaudio Emotion with a Hana SL and Parks Puffin phono stage. That's over $2K of analog gear vs $1200 of digital gear. I bought the Orchid used, so paid less.

No clicks, no pops, no background noise, no fatigue, no glare, more detail, greater ease of use, and an almost infinite selection of music. 

Does the Orchid sound as "analog" as analog? Uh, no. Better? Decidedly so. 

I still like spinning records and with a good pressing, those sound great also. 

I don't feel a need to choose one over the other. 
@big_greg,

Great post, the world needs open minded people like you. At the end of day, music matters the most not the source.
Thanks for replies. I wanted the perspective of an analog lover which is why I posted here. It sounds like I have plenty of room for improvements but maybe it's unrealistic to get digital to sound just like analog. Each has it's own merits and I will just have to accept it. Will try various tweaks and see what I can achieve without going overboard. Happy listening!
I’m a confirmed vinyl guy. Two turntables, three tonearms, more cartridges than I can remember. I’m also in my 60s and been collecting records since the early ’70s. But I’m here to tell you, vinyl takes a lot of commitment, with a pretty steep learning curve, before it sounds truly great. Don;t get me wrong: I love every aspect of spinning LPs. But still.

I also have two systems that are digital only, with one dedicated to streaming Tidal. If I were starting over today, I might just go with Tidal. Sounds pretty fantastic, and you can put together a dynamite system for very little outlay, relatively speaking. Neat, clean, small footprint with no media taking up space. Constant churn of new music to explore. It’s a game changer.
big_greg hit the nail on the head. 

I love both and listen to both. 

In the end when was the last time, in quantity, recordings were made all analogue? maybe 25 years ago? so when was the music you listen to made? 

I have a new production Mark Knopfler album (Tracker) on both Vinyl and streaming "master files" via Tidal and both sound excellent but to my ears and system the master files on Tidal take it for sound quality. Not by a huge amount but enough in detail and frequency extremes to be noticeable. (Schiit Grungnir Multi Bit DAC). oh fyi Joni Mitchel has some excellent Master files now on Tidal as well that are worth a listen, and better then the records IMO. 

Now streamed hifi quality on Tidal (CD quality stream) of let say Santana's Abraxas and its no contest the vinyl is much better, fuller more liquid sounding . 

So is it the Digital - analogue  or is it the recording era that's the make or break for Digital sounding as good or better then vinyl?  

I'm thinking modern digital recordings have it over older recordings either digital or analogue. 

I really think its about the quality of recording apposed to the format. Both can and do sound great and not so great. 

@jaferd.
I owned the Nuwave DSD DAC and was never able to remove the harshness or "edge" from my digital sources. I played mostly CD and some files from my Mac.
It would help if you told us what your digital source is.

I tried different CD players and finally upgraded to a transport. I still wasn’t satisfied with the sound; it always had a digital edge. In my case, it could have been that my components lacked synergy, but I knew the dac was part of the problem.

I’ve learned how important the digital cable between source and dac is. I could hear the difference in SQ with the various cables I auditioned.

I started to read about all the R2R multibit DACS that were coming to market. I picked one up and I finally had a non-digital sounding system.
And after some upgrades I believe I have a digital rig that rivals analogue.

I must mention that clean power plays a vital role for digital to sound its best.


Here’s the thing I cant figure out. Listening to the same track (same mastering, spl, etc) on my digital or analog is extremely close to my ear. Yet I don’t ever listen as long to the digital stream. Maybe an hour max versus hours on vinyl. So is there something that my ears can’t detect that my brain can? Or does the digital interface itself tire me in a way that getting up from my chair doesn’t?
Pick up a MHDT Orchid R2R Dac for $1100 from LTA. It sounds great and is better than my previous PS Audio Direct Stream Dac which lists for $5k. It comes with 4 different digital inputs plus it has a tube stage. Buy a NOS WE2C51 or WE296A tube for less than $100 and you’ll have a great sounding system.

I convinced Grannyring to buy one and he absolutely loves it. 
@lowrider57, I use a pioneer pd-65 as transport sending data via coaxial to the nuwave and it does sound pretty good. The nuwave was much improved than my old dacmagic but maybe the R2R is the solution.

@draumatictenor, I think it's edginess of digital that causes fatigue which is what I'm trying to see if it can be eliminated. 
@jaferd
My Nuwave sounded pretty good as well. Large soundstage, good dynamics. But there was no mistaking that I was listening to digital.

Yes absolutely Lampizator new Amber3 dac has a lot of trickle down technologies from their top Pacific dac for under $3k a Steal 
it beats most dacs at 2 x the monies in many areas  and very very engaging and very natural sounding .
I think glennewdick has a lot of truth in what he says. I am just getting back into records having used mainly CD's for years.
I don't have thousand's to shell out for a DAC so I use an old (1990) Parasound D/AC-1000 DAC that uses two Burr Brown PCM63P chips, probably the best R2R chip ever made with a older Sony 5 disc carousel feeding it. Preamp is an older Audio Research SP8 feeding a set of restored Mac MC40's. Speakers are basically Altec Valencias with mods.
Early on I would listen to a few CD's before this DAC, using whatever CDP I had on hand and some CDP would having me turning the system off after the first CD. I figured I wasn't in the mood for music but it eventually dawned on me that I didn't like the edginess of the sound. Change out the CDP  to a different one and found out I was listening longer. With the Parasound I can listen all day.

Decided to setup my CL score, a Yamaha PX-3 linear tracker. Cart is a new AT120 and I'm using the phono stage on my ARC. Most of my records are older rock and country and I love the way they sound on this rig.
It's better than my digital but I can go either way. With my digital setup I can listen for 5 hours of music after I load it. With my vinyl setup I'm stopping what ever I'm doing and flipping sides or loading a new record every 20 minutes or so.
Now I'm interested in picking up a new release that was recorded and mastered in the all digital realm. It would be interesting to hear it on my all tube system. I'm thinking there should be a difference, after all the early master tapes were an analog media and tape done well always sounds great.
BillWojo
The orchid is a very good dac for the money ,but this  4 tubed tube rectified Lampizator Amber -3 dac  I have heard  both in my brothers system  the Orchid good but not  in the same league
 . At under $3k $2950; with shipping from Poland 
even st $6 k I know of None as musically engaging. I just ordered one  myself.
Get nos dac ! Mhdt balance pagoda is my natural sounding dac that I can listen to all day without fatigue and headache! Do a research about nos dac if u llook for analog sounding ! 
https://drop.com/buy/massdrop-x-airist-audio-r-2r-dac?mode=shop_open&gclsrc=aw.ds&&utm_s...

Limited to 3 inputs-USB, spdif and toslink. Only single ended outputs. But damn if she doesn’t sound sweet, much more so than my Mytek, PS Audio Stellar and Raleigh RAKK dac. Can’t beat the price either.
3 years ago I would have said "no way!"

Today I feel differently.

Firstly I had a nice analog setup:
Vpi Classic
Benz Micro Cart
Quicksilver Phono Pre
Quicksilver Mid Mono Monblocks with KT88's

The problem I was having after 3 Cart re-builds (and these were not my only carts) was that every time I played a disc I would think in the back of my mind, "this is $5 to play this record". I was obsessed with the wear of the diamond and the time till degradation, and "If the diamond is worn, will I damage my original pressing of Lee Morgan Vol.2?" and twice children of friends would walk up to the cart and pull the cantilever right off. WHY THE HELL WOULD ANYONE DO THIS!?!?!?

Anyway....

I decided to search out digital. I started with demoing several dacs, each one more expensive and better. Then I purchased the PS Audio Direct Stream Junior, which took 46 days 24/7 to break in but it was shockingly worth it. I kept my mono blocks and purchased a new AT7 Tubed Quicksilver Line Pre. I ended up trading up to the Directstream Sr. and another 46 days of breakin.

When I first powered these dacs I felt like crying, they sounded so bad  and then got worse at about 300-500 hrs. At 1000 hrs a switch is thrown and they sound amazing.

Yes Mary, it DOES sound like vinyl. If some one is using digital and it doesn't sound like vinyl, they have other issues: the dac? Using digital Amps or preamps? Something else??

Bottom line, I spent 25 years perfecting vinyl, I know what good vinyl sounds like, and this current system sounds like vinyl. I could and do listen for 6 hours a day with ZERO FATIGUE. I listen while I work every day and then at night when family goes to bed.

I can't speak for the NUwave. Never heard it.

For the guy in the thread that said anyone with $200 can get what digital people search for....wha???? $200? I think not. If you are playing on a $200 table, my system will make you poop your pants.

And for the guy who poked fun at people seeking the analog sound....well duh, analog is nature, what else would people be searching for.

Also....the source material is vitally important, Direct Stream Digital recordings are the way to go. A CD with NOT sound like vinyl even through the DSD Sr.

T
Glad to hear that some have found the magic combo. That's encouraging.
I have two DACs, one is really great - the best digital sound i have have in my system since I don’t know when.

Many years back I had the Mission 775sm ‘table with an Alphason HRS100 and believe it or not an old Stanton MM cartridge (later moved on to a Musical Fidelity M1 table with Dynavector Karat 17d3). The Alphason with cartridge was not even set up that perfectly, but the sound was just amazing, with practically every record I played. The main magic was from an MFA MC Reference, one of three Scott Frankland prototypes and a true masterpiece of hifi. The amps were Audio Research Classic 150 (loved the sound of those amps).

I have not had a digital front end sound anywhere close to as musical as that rig, and it was considerably more noisy than digital. I couldn’t keep out of Savation Army or Goodwill hunting for vinyl treasures. That is how good that sound was. I still have some recordings I made from the vinyl through the lumi. They sound so alive even with the usual vinyl noises.

vinyl as I experienced it brought me so much closer to the music. Sounded so alive, like listening in 3D. Classical and Jazz fugeddaboudit. So much texture, tonal color, scale, separation, Thats my feeling on it. I haven’t owned a vinyl rig in many years, but I do plan to pay a visit to Scott and Colby Walker to get set up.
If you want analog sound, go analog, but you can get better sound with a lot less trouble with digital. Just don’t spend huge $ on a Dac because a cheaper one that sounds better will be available soon as digital is improving rapidly.
I love vinyl also.My brother has a nice set up that I enjoy from time to time.If I could afford to do both I certainly would,and a reel to reel deck,and,and.....
I think it takes even more time,tweaking,and $$$ to build a really good analog system too.My digital system sounds way better than my analog system ever did just because of the effort I've expended on it.I don't think any one way to enjoy music is superior.The thought and effort put into the fine tuning is what gets us to our individual nirvana.My deep thought for the day:-)
I have an Ayre C5xemp.. and vinyl....they sound different but both are enjoyable
Get an ifi iTube2 and call it a day. 
I sometimes enjoy high quality, high res digital - for about 30 minutes. Then I want it to end.

I listen to analogue for hours. 
I sense that the definition of a digital gear sounding "analog" is going to be different for everyone and for some may be life long pursuit.  For what its worth, last weekend at the Rocky Mountain Audio Festival, I experienced the Innuous USB re-clocker that they will be selling for $3k.  Putting the cost aside, I did experience the A/B testing with it in and out of the system multiple times, I did notice and felt a clear and greater sense of "ease" in the music with the reclocker...Interesting that after the event I looked on their site and the feeling of ease is what they talk about in their marketing. Did it sound more "analog".. I can't say, only can share what it made me feel.   I share this because even with all the great DACs that have been mentioned, I for one am wondering if some form of a USB reclocker (this flavor or other) would bring additional benefit to them, including tube based DACs or even ones that do reclocking internally and do isolation and noise reduction.
If you can weed through the hyperbole, on a quality system, with a quality source, they should sound the same.
skipskip
If you can weed through the hyperbole, on a quality system, with a quality source, they should sound the same.

>>>>Isn’t it pretty to think so?  🌸 🌸 🌸
skipskip
If you can weed through the hyperbole, on a quality system, with a quality source, they should sound the same.
I agree completely. The very best analog, and the very best digital, sound very, very close.

Some listeners prefer the distortion that some analog equipment offers - so they'll record CD to reel-to-reel and think the sound has "improved." Those listeners seek something other than accuracy so for them, of course, they'll always prefer an analog source with some added analog distortion.
“on a quality system, with a quality source, they should sound the same“.

I respectfully disagree, they cannot sound the same (close maybe) even if the playback is from the same master file. Everytime I heard and compared, Vinyl and Digital (CD or Streaming) setup, they sounded different not better or worse but different.

The key here is to tweak both setups to your liking and enjoy the music. They both can be very engaging and satisfying.
Analog isn't the only thing, I would never get rid of my digital.

Digital can be enjoyable, even involving, terrific, however:

Digital is a broken chain, no matter how many links, how much you polish those broken links, Digital will/can NEVER be the unbroken chain analog is.

Analog is definitely higher noise, but, higher involvement, go figure. 

I sum it up: Analog gets the overtones right, something digital loses along the way, despite the incredible sampling rates, ........

Track selection, replay, play lists, FREE, EASY: digital's the answer,

Experiencing the Artist's conceived presentation of their chosen play list, in the order presented, is a part of LP, (and Reel to Reel, 8 track, cassette, ...)

New LPs, or Used LP's in great shape sound terrific, any minimal noise disappears within the achieved involvement.

Old LP's, with their dust, scratches, clicks, pops, you won't play them, except to remember something.

Before CD, we trained our brains to filter out noise, hear the content. Noiseless forever digital was a dream, but turned out to be less than nirvana. We had to re-acquire the ability to filter the noise inherent in Analog, then, back to more immersive involvement.

R2R, TT, they need/take prime surface to operate them, and the content takes space. And $ to acquire content. R2R, TT, both systems require acquired skills to get their high potential. 

And, let me add, amplification, it's the same, transistors were the instant on, less heat, more affordable dream, again, just not nirvana, not Analog like tube amplification is,

so

IF Analog LP, then Analog Tube Amps, therefore, start with efficient speakers so that power requirements are reduced.
How about cutting me a little slack. Even the same system with the same source sounds different in different rooms. Hel-loo! It’s the nature of the beast.
I also bought a Nuwave DAC. It was good for the price. I then bought a Directstream DAC. WOW! It is a killer. Very analogue sounding. I see that the price for used ones has slipped recently. TMR has one for $2799.00 I think. You will not regret buying it. Joe
In my case it was easier to get analog to sound more like digital. I've got a decent analog chain (Denon DP47f, Krell KPE) and I upgraded my cartridge to a Hana SL. With the Hana the sound of analog and digital are remarkably close.

I've never had listener fatigue from digital - I got my first CD player in the 80's. In fact, the opposite is true. I am particularly sensitive to clicks, pops, and vinyl distortion from wear on the record. Listening to a worn vinyl record is stressful to me and many times I will turn it off halfway through. The clicks, pops, and distortion have the effect of focusing my attention to the defects and I find myself literally grinding my teeth.

CDs were a blessing from the start. Yes, there are some very poorly transferred CDs and I don't listen to them. But I have several hundred CDs and records of the same recording and the great majority of them sound pretty darn similar.  I have always been able to listen to CDs for hours without fatigue. The great majority of my audio goosebumps have come from listening to CDs.

I have had a succession of CD players (8 players, 2 transports and 2 DACs) and they have steadily gotten better. I now have a Marantz SA8005 for SACDs, a Krell KAV 250/2 for HDCDs, a Denon DVD 3800bcdi for Blu Ray HD Audio, and a PSA PerfectWave II DAC and Transport for regular CDs. Whatever millercarbon is hearing is just foreign to me and I couldn't be more thankful. Music from CDs have given me thousands of hours of enjoyment and have made my life better.
Yes but these days due to  streaming and not trying to read music data in real time off error laden optical disks.

That and most any decent DAC these days sounds very good.
elliottbnewcombjr
Digital is a broken chain, no matter how many links, how much you polish those broken links, Digital will/can NEVER be the unbroken chain analog is.
It isn't clear what you mean here. Digital isn't perfect - and neither is analog - but neither represent a "broken chain." Of course, some people believe that digital data is missing because of sampling rates (which is false, as long as Nyquist is observed) or that the LP has infinite resolution (which is false, or you could install Windows on it).
Analog is definitely higher noise ...
Often true, but no inherently so. It depends on the analog recording and the digital recording to which it's being compared.
Experiencing the Artist's conceived presentation of their chosen play list, in the order presented, is a part of LP ...
And of CD, too.
... amplification, it's the same, transistors were the instant on, less heat, more affordable dream, again, just not nirvana, not Analog like tube amplification is ...
Again, it isn't clear what you mean here. Solid state amplifiers for hi-fi use are certainly analog.
I live in the future where digital has higher resolution than analog, also much higher dynamic range, like it was always promoted to have but never really did. At the same time digital possesses both sweetness and air. And distortion is virtually non-existent. The problems with digital are not in the format per se, they’re in the playback system, i.e., CD player. If only you could hear what I’ve heard with my ears.
i bought a dodocool dac from aliexpress (china) shiped to my front door in kansas city for $50 us dollers & the sound is very analog like never been more impressed you want digital vinyl look no further my friend
Everyone here keeps saying that the more expensive (and higher resolution), the closer they get. I have found the exact opposite. On my budget systems ($500 TT, $500 DAC), they sound fairly similar due to limitations in the pre-amp, amp, and speakers. As I upgraded my system (DAC went 500 -> 1000 -> 2500 -> 8000, TT went 500 -> 4000 -> 20,000), the differences became more apparent. Especially when comparing high resolution (like Qobuz) vs a brand new pressing. The results are always the same. Albums recorded in the last 20 years sound better on digital, albums before that sound better to me on vinyl. In no situation do they sound the same, though.
i have the answer your looking for & it has nothing to do with equipment? the record company is manipulating the digital/cd audio in two ways.
1.record company applying brick wall mastering for the fake loudness wars used to destroy the audio & remove the analog type sound your looking for.
2.record company manipulating digital/cd audio converting stereo + stereo depth perception to stereo + mono depth perception by manipulating the (L) + (R) phasing to match each other this removes the 360 degree sound stage found on vintage vinyl here's an audio sample to demonstrate.
1.digital mono depth perception http://pc.cd/df8ctalK
2.brick wall removal + mono to stereo depth perception http://pc.cd/FgP
99% of all new ramastered vinyl is cut from the cd master at 16/44 with mono depth perception destroying the vinyl analog ezperience!
My actual tweaked system with a low cost minimalistic designed Nos dac sound analog and more vinyl than ever....No digital glare detectable by me at least...I will never go back to a turntable, the annoying clic sounds of damaged vinyl and the necessity to change the vinyl at each 30 minutes, the cost and necessary disposal of a large object in great quantities, the maintenance and cost of a very complex and sensible mechanical object, the adjustment necessary etc etc...I had never undertand why today people buy a turntable...In a good audio system the difference in non audible...


Nowadays my dream is coming true, no need for an object at all, only files and then only music, without bothering with superfluous materials...