You want a DAC that sounds *different.* What factor helps you find it?

I'm thinking about trying a new DAC, adding one to the stable. 

What's most important is that it sound different than my present DAC.

If you were to look for a new DAC to try, what weight would you assign to each of these factors in predicting a different character of sound? 

1. chipset
2. design of DAC --- R2R etc.
3. power supply
4. tube or no  tube
5. ? (some factor or combination not mentioned)

I've become somewhat skeptical of user reviews because of uncontrollable variability related to tastes, system components, and vagueness of language used by reviewers.

So, without some appreciation of the ability for the above factors to affect the sound character, singling out just one or another factor seems like random guessing.

I'd love to learn from you all. I'd be curious to know, for example, that most R2R DACs sound similar, overall. That would help by directing me away from trying another R2R DAC. Or maybe they don't all sound similar; ok, that keeps them in consideration.

Same question with chipsets, power supply, tube/no tube.

So, again the hypothetical -- simplified:

You want to get a DAC that sounds much different than what you have. What factor helps you find it?


First, I only base my decisions on the sound qualities. Never the technology used. I have had components basses on ESS DAC chips and they have sounded everything from terrible to great. It isn’t the technology, it is the implementation that matters. The designer has to choose the design, technology, components, material… etc. I pay absolutely no attention to the technology.


I never have a stable. I always trade up, and never less than 2x in cost from my last component because if well chosen it will sound much better than the last. Otherwise you trade one set of weaknesses (and strengths) for another. Trading up, all aspects get better.

I read professional reviews and listen to everything I can, including lots of live acoustic music. This approach has led me step by step moving towards better and better systems.


Now, being retired and having the time to really enjoy the system I have built over fifty years is really rewarding! The only larger investment I have made is the house in which it sits… which by luck has the best audio space I have heard (better to be lucky than good).

Lets start with what we have and then we can discuss how we are going to use it."CD quality” audio resolution uses a 16 bit word for each sample. The sample rate is 44.1 kHz. This is often described as simply “16/44.1k.” This translates into an analog dynamic range of approximately 96 dB, and an analog bandwidth of approximately 22 kHz.

Designer is limited to work with 16/44.1k format whether it is multi-bit or 1-bit (delta-Sigma) implementation. Of course the clock to reduce the "jitter" play a very important role. There are a number of designs available in external DACs for re-clocking the bit stream. Another important element is the analog filter and there are many to choose. Some designers also emphasize of on channel separation > 100db. I am not one of those who can hear differences between 100db versus 105db, but that may be important to some.  The there is issue with tube versus SS output stage.

It is unclear what you mean by DAC sound "different." My objective was DAC should reproduce my jazz and classical CDs from way past sound close to my records. Some of the best multi-bit DAC chips from past include but not limited to Burr-Brown PCM63, PCM1704, Ultra Analog D20400, all 20-bit implementations. Krell, Stax, VTL, Mark Levinson, etc., all have used above DAC chips with or without tubes.

For me, Audio Research DAC2 with D20400 sounds most natural and in my humble opinion sounds close top the analog counterpart. I also have Audio Research DAC3 with Crystal Semiconductor CS4328 1-bit DAC with a tube stage, and Cary Audio 303/200 with PCM7104. For well recorded more modern CDs, AR DAC3 adds tube magic in the chain if that is my preference that day or I can also settle down with Cary 303/200 with/without upsampling to fit my taste.

So I assume you are thinking along the same lines when you say DAC with "different" sound. Yes, they all have their pros and cons. Some you like and some you don't. But I have enough DACs so that I can make more than 90% of my CD collection enjoyable. Now mind you there are some CDs not even the Good Lord can make it sound good. But that's life. Hope this helps.



happy to see you back and posting, sharing info


to answer your question -- what @tvad says!! 😁

i'm not kidding...but bear in mind the price level of dacs listed, to which i would add several others i experienced in a similar fashion - msb, chord stack, weiss

also, i would add that to achieve this ’convergence’ it is paramount to get the network and streaming noise and clock management done to a high level