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Audio foolery 2.0 - The rise and fall of objectivism

devopsprodude

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Well, I was never in it to just "try" stuff so not exactly "fun", and ended up close to a grand (CAD) worse off after selling the stuff. The silver lining is that because the RME DAC is cheaper than the Topping stack I ended up roughly even. Seems like an ironic statement but I got RME quality at Topping prices (more than I should have paid).

Though I did find the process a somewhat enlightening experience and an idea for a little project is forming in my head as a result.

Re. your above comment about not basic features. What would you say are the most important features of a DAC that would lead you to choose product A over B?
  1. That it measures well/is transparent
  2. That it has the inputs and outputs I need
Everything else is gravy AKA not basic features. Things like a display, remote, EQ, etc... all add cost so I don't consider them basic. But that's my use case, not yours. A good example of a DAC with nothing but the basic features is the Schitt Modi 3+ (or the Schiit Modius). Modius/Magnius stack was my starting place and I understood very well what I was getting for $400, and then they kept pushing back ship date, so I decided to shell out for Gustard X16 and Topping A90.

In your case, you started with something that had features that you were using, so I would have made sure whatever I bought to replace that had the same functionality. Live and learn, as they say. I understand your frustration. I've had purchases that went like that and it's not fun.
 
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nimar

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  1. That it measures well/is transparent
  2. That it has the inputs and outputs I need
Everything else is gravy AKA not basic features. Things like a display, remote, EQ, etc... all add cost so I don't consider them basic. But that's my use case, not yours. A good example of a DAC with nothing but the basic features is the Schitt Modi 3+ (or the Schiit Modius). Modius/Magnius stack was my starting place and I understood very well what I was getting for $400, and then they kept pushing back ship date, so I decided to shell out for Gustard X16 and Topping A90.

In your case, you started with something that had features that you were using, so I would have made sure whatever I bought to replace that had the same functionality. Live and learn, as they say. I understand your frustration. I've had purchases that went like that and it's not fun.


Tried to think of a way of expressing this idea in a way that couldn't be interpreted in the wrong way but not sure I've done it. Just know I don't mean anything negative by it.

Is it possible you've just never experienced well designed Hifi products? So you don't know what you are missing? Ie. Thats why you think good UX is a "bonus" rather than a core requirement. This happens with pretty much any field that one starts to develop an interest in. Before I knew there was something better I was happy with crappy earbuds, once I realised better could be had that naive bliss was shattered.

Car Analogy: If you've never owned a car with air conditioning, you also probably think that's a "extra, non basic" feature, but if you have you'd be pretty surprised if the car you just spent a lot of money on didn't have it. (If someone brings up exotic sports cars, they are missing the point)
 

devopsprodude

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Tried to think of a way of expressing this idea in a way that couldn't be interpreted in the wrong way but not sure I've done it. Just know I don't mean anything negative by it.

Is it possible you've just never experienced well designed Hifi products? So you don't know what you are missing? Ie. Thats why you think good UX is a "bonus" rather than a core requirement. This happens with pretty much any field that one starts to develop an interest in. Before I knew there was something better I was happy with crappy earbuds, once I realised better could be had that naive bliss was shattered.

Car Analogy: If you've never owned a car with air conditioning, you also probably think that's a "extra, non basic" feature, but if you have you'd be pretty surprised if the car you just spent a lot of money on didn't have it. (If someone brings up exotic sports cars, they are missing the point)
I have had multiple fairly high end home theater surround processors, and have my home theater controlled/integrated with Roomie Remote, so I'm well versed with products that have decent/good UX. The headphone electronics space is a whole different thing though, with most units designed for people who have the gear right beside them on a table or something, not yards away in a rack.

Car analogy falls apart here, because features that were high end are regularly pushed down as standard over time, so things like air conditioning, anti-lock brakes, air bags, even stereos, and power windows, that used to be higher end options are all standard on nearly every car sold in the US. This, of course, has driven up cost. Whereas, at least with the headphone electronics space, companies like Schiit push a less is more philosophy/aesthetic, and are able to keep costs down as a result.

You were looking for features that don't really exist for most products in this space until you get into higher end units like those from RME. You expected lower cost units to have similar functionality, and tested out your hypothesis by buying some gear. You proved your hypothesis to be false and readjusted your expectations and purchased accordingly. Yeah, it was relatively expensive and a pain in the ass to do all this, but you now have a unit you're happy with, and have created a nice debate as a byproduct. That's pretty much exactly what ASR is all about.
 
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nimar

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I have had multiple fairly high end home theater surround processors, and have my home theater controlled/integrated with Roomie Remote, so I'm well versed with products that have decent/good UX. The headphone electronics space is a whole different thing though, with most units designed for people who have the gear right beside them on a table or something, not yards away in a rack.

Car analogy falls apart here, because features that were high end are regularly pushed down as standard over time, so things like air conditioning, anti-lock brakes, air bags, even stereos, and power windows, that used to be higher end options are all standard on nearly every car sold in the US. This, of course, has driven up cost. Whereas, at least with the headphone electronics space, companies like Schiit push a less is more philosophy/aesthetic, and are able to keep costs down as a result.

You were looking for features that don't really exist for most products in this space until you get into higher end units like those from RME. You expected lower cost units to have similar functionality, and tested out your hypothesis by buying some gear. You proved your hypothesis to be false and readjusted your expectations and purchased accordingly. Yeah, it was relatively expensive and a pain in the ass to do all this, but you now have a unit you're happy with, and have created a nice debate as a byproduct. That's pretty much exactly what ASR is all about.

You're right, I've got my "monies" worth as far as a conversation on ASR.

But I disagree that the car analogy falls apart or that

You were looking for features that don't really exist for most products in this space until you get into higher end units like those from RME

The Topping stack (which can only be compared like for like with the RME dac as its a DAC + Headphone amp is ~25% more expensive than the RME. I'm not griping about a $99 DAC missing features X or Y. I'm talking about a product price class above the RME being far worse than it.

You know, I paid Telsa Prices thinking I would get better than BWM and ended up with ... a Lada?
 

Wes

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someone about to purchase a DAC for HiRes music could put together a table of features for the "green" tranche of DACs tested here - that would help their thinking and guide others

But not everyone wants the same things. For example, some people love having the volume knob in the center of a pre-amp (perhaps from a mis-placed sense of esthetics, requiring symmetry). Others want better ergonomics with the volume knob at one end and the input selector knob at the other end of the unit.
 

devopsprodude

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You're right, I've got my "monies" worth as far as a conversation on ASR.

But I disagree that the car analogy falls apart or that



The Topping stack (which can only be compared like for like with the RME dac as its a DAC + Headphone amp is ~25% more expensive than the RME. I'm not griping about a $99 DAC missing features X or Y. I'm talking about a product price class above the RME being far worse than it.

You know, I paid Telsa Prices thinking I would get better than BWM and ended up with ... a Lada?
You paid Ariel Atom prices thinking you were getting a BMW, but instead you got a car purpose built for the track. Performance over features. It is what it is. Most certainly NOT a low powered car built like crap.
 

majingotan

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I was also thinking something along those lines. Before entering ASR you should read "The Truth about HiFi / Transparent electronics". And in self defence, I was generally aware that the electronics was more or less a solved problem. I didn't buy a Topping D90 entirely based on any single number. The logic was slightly more complicated. Read "->" as "Should equal".

Good engineering -> Good design
Flagship product -> Better design / better implementation
Rave reviews -> Good product
"Amazing value for money" -> Value

I've since learned that "Amazing value for money" is one of the biggest conn's in Hifi, you can say it about any product about any price and it means just as little. If the item is $5 or less, that's amazing value for money. $1100 CAD for a stand alone DAC with bad UX is less good value.

ps. Thanks for the link to Amir's post, don't recall if I read it already. You are right that people are encouraged to look beyond the SINAD, maybe it just needs to be done a little louder as there is still very much (in parts, not everyone) an air or culture of better number == better product.

IMO, the logic can be simplified even easier:

Good engineering -> Good performance (design is a different category altogether)
Flagship product -> Best performance
Good design -> Has every inputs / outputs a user would need and has ergonomic layout
Rave reviews -> Good product
"Amazing value for money" -> Value


This logic of course is more aligned with better number = better perform

I do agree with @devopsprodude that UX, screen, etc. are just extra features (luxury). As for car analogy, the larger your budget, the more options you have: a BMW (RME in this case), Ariel Atom/Corvette/Super Snake/Hellcat (D90/A90 stack, pure performance) or a Rolls Royce (has lots of extra bells and whistles and luxurious feel but doesn't come remotely close to performance of a BMW or the aforementioned muscle/supercars e.g. my DAP). All three options are never considered bad options, just each option suits one's preference over others
 

IAtaman

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I liken this to owning a high performance car to haul groceries.

Isn't that the premise of audiophile gear manufacturing - selling people who can afford it expensive equipment that they will rarely, if ever will use to its full potential, not unlike the current SUV market with Urus and Cayenne Turbo S etc. People are carrying their children to school with a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8.

And also, maybe along the same lines, we can liken Chinese HiFi manufaturers like Topping to companies like Tesla, producing high performing products with some QA issues, larger manufacturing tolerances and a shittier materials. Then this whole topic starts to sound like someone measured the 0-60 performance of a Tesla, another guy saw this post, was impressed with what he saw, sold his 911 to buy a Model S, and after his disappointment, declares that all technical performance benchmarking is a fool's errand.
 

Jim Matthews

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Isn't that the premise of audiophile gear manufacturing - selling people who can afford it expensive equipment that they will rarely, if ever will use to its full potential...

I would agree that this is the current state of affairs.

I would argue that as recently as 2000, some of the tremendously expensive gear really did offer audible performance advantages.

This lead vanished when nearly all manufacturing shifted to China.
It didn't take long for upstarts like Oppo and MiniDSP to catch on.

Since then, the pace of development accelerated such that I can't keep up.
The best example I have is the first generation home affordable DSP (DSPeaker 2.0) vs. my MiniDSP SHD Studio.

The first was acceptable, but not better than analog solutions.

The second exceeds any of the most expensive front end gear I could afford at a reasonable price.

This is where a casual hobbyist (such as myself) finds ASR invaluable.
 
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nimar

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You paid Ariel Atom prices thinking you were getting a BMW, but instead you got a car purpose built for the track. Performance over features. It is what it is. Most certainly NOT a low powered car built like crap.

I should have never ventured down the car analogy road, am not a gear head.

declares that all technical performance benchmarking is a fool's errand.

That's absolutely not what I am discussing here, technical measurements are fantastic and entirely necessary, but only up to a point.

Here's the problem with the oft used sports car comparison. Sports cars actually go faster than a four door sedan, either flat out, or accelerate faster or both. You sacrifice AC / airbags whatever for zippiness and power, its both a subjective (more fun) and objective (faster) difference. And sure you can't say one is intrinsically better but there are clear advantages with one over the other in their respective fields.

What's the equivalent car analogy if model A has 10db better SINAD over model B when model B is already comfortably better than human hearing? There is literally zero benefit in model A. This is classic Over Engineering just for the sake of a number, without any real world application. Whats more at an inflated price point, while ignoring other features.
 

devopsprodude

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I should have never ventured down the car analogy road, am not a gear head.



That's absolutely not what I am discussing here, technical measurements are fantastic and entirely necessary, but only up to a point.

Here's the problem with the oft used sports car comparison. Sports cars actually go faster than a four door sedan, either flat out, or accelerate faster or both. You sacrifice AC / airbags whatever for zippiness and power, its both a subjective (more fun) and objective (faster) difference. And sure you can't say one is intrinsically better but there are clear advantages with one over the other in their respective fields.

What's the equivalent car analogy if model A has 10db better SINAD over model B when model B is already comfortably better than human hearing? There is literally zero benefit in model A. This is classic Over Engineering just for the sake of a number, without any real world application. Whats more at an inflated price point, while ignoring other features.
Yeah, the D90 is definitely an overpriced unit. Gustard X16 has similar or better performance, similar features and costs $250-300 less, and there are even cheaper DACs with similar performance/features.
 

JohnBooty

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In an ideal world, every newcomer to ASR would be forced to read OP's story before being permitted to read any of Amir's reviews.

Not that I am blaming Amir. He is providing excellent objective data and works hard to educate people on how to interpret it. I love and appreciate what he is putting into this hobby... it's really astonishing.

However... the reality is that despite his best efforts, a lot of people are fixating on numbers they don't really understand and may or may not have relevance to actual listening enjoyment.
 
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nimar

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Thinking some more on this, and this madness for numbers is even reflected in how different companies design their products atheistically. Both products can playback 32/768khz PCM files. One of them chooses to print this on the front, like this is actually relevant. Even the digital screen in one shows 768 vs 192 (a still high but at least plausible sample rate).

This extends to how much screen real estate is used to display sample rate in general use too. For the most part, sample rate is only vaguely interesting information, when it takes up 20% of the display you begin to wonder what they are distracting you from.

apos-audio-topping-dac-digital-to-analog-converter-topping-d90-dac-13848995037258_1400x.jpg



iu.jpeg
 

Maki

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Thinking some more on this, and this madness for numbers is even reflected in how different companies design their products atheistically. Both products can playback 32/768khz PCM files. One of them chooses to print this on the front, like this is actually relevant. Even the digital screen in one shows 768 vs 192 (a still high but at least plausible sample rate).

This extends to how much screen real estate is used to display sample rate in general use too. For the most part, sample rate is only vaguely interesting information, when it takes up 20% of the display you begin to wonder what they are distracting you from.

View attachment 126715


View attachment 126716
Honestly this is kind of a ridiculous criticism. There's really no other information the topping could show because it doesn't do anything except be a DAC with volume control.
 

liu

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Honestly this is kind of a ridiculous criticism. There's really no other information the topping could show because it doesn't do anything except be a DAC with volume control.
Normal people use sample rate to confirm their pipeline (OS, playing software, converters) are set up correctly.
When they confirm that, they are no longer interested in this piece of information anymore.
Showing huge sample rate on screen is just ridiculous and just super, super ugly.
If they cannot show other information, just make their screen smaller, or provide a way to hide it.
or do it with a few LEDs rather than a big screen.

Those who love to watch the big sample rate when listening to music must be very mad.
 

Maki

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Normal people use sample rate to confirm their pipeline (OS, playing software, converters) are set up correctly.
When they confirm that, they are no longer interested in this piece of information anymore.
Showing huge sample rate on screen is just ridiculous and just super, super ugly.
If they cannot show other information, just make their screen smaller, or provide a way to hide it.
or do it with a few LEDs rather than a big screen.

Those who love to watch the big sample rate when listening to music must be very mad.
People looking at their DAC while listening to music are the mad ones...
 

Tokyo_John

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I agree with the sentiment that a fixation with numbers, without a clear idea about how they apply to reality, is problematic. This is true more generally. Robert McNamara’s technocratic approach to the US-Vietnam war is a classic example, showing reams of data to congress that suggested matters were a lot more rosy than in reality.

in any case, there may still be some utility to having a DAC (or other component) which is comfortably beyond the threshold where it makes any practical audible difference. This is because you have more “headroom” to sacrifice in your audio chain, if desired, without losing anything practical as a result.

An example: I recently bought a 3 component system to replace my old 2 channel small apartment system...
(1) Pair of KEF LS50 Meta speakers
(2) Topping D90 DAC
(3) March Audio P252 hypex ncore-based 2-channel power amp

No pre-amp, I am streaming via USB from a single digital source (my laptop). Following Alan March’s advice, I wanted to see to what extent it is true that “the best sounding pre-amp is no pre-amp at all.” However, the key to allowing this to work is that I need to use the DAC to digitally attenuate the signal because I can’t listen to this system at full volume. (I could also use software attenuation, but the AK4499 chip has this functionality built-in, optimized for the DAC itself.)

And this is where having the outstanding (higher than necessary) THD+N performance comes in handy, because digital attenuation inevitably causes some loss of dynamic range. Since the Topping D90 can sacrifice several dozen dB without entering the practical audible realm, it is perfectly ok to use this setup. The added cost of getting a higher than necessary performing DAC (particularly in this case) is arguably much less than the cost of buying a perfectly transparent pre-amp.
 
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nimar

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I agree with the sentiment that a fixation with numbers, without a clear idea about how they apply to reality, is problematic. This is true more generally. Robert McNamara’s technocratic approach to the US-Vietnam war is a classic example, showing reams of data to congress that suggested matters were a lot more rosy than in reality.

in any case, there may still be some utility to having a DAC (or other component) which is comfortably beyond the threshold where it makes any practical audible difference. This is because you have more “headroom” to sacrifice in your audio chain, if desired, without losing anything practical as a result.

An example: I recently bought a 3 component system to replace my old 2 channel small apartment system...
(1) Pair of KEF LS50 Meta speakers
(2) Topping D90 DAC
(3) March Audio P252 hypex ncore-based 2-channel power amp

No pre-amp, I am streaming via USB from a single digital source (my laptop). Following Alan March’s advice, I wanted to see to what extent it is true that “the best sounding pre-amp is no pre-amp at all.” However, the key to allowing this to work is that I need to use the DAC to digitally attenuate the signal because I can’t listen to this system at full volume. (I could also use software attenuation, but the AK4499 chip has this functionality built-in, optimized for the DAC itself.)

And this is where having the outstanding (higher than necessary) THD+N performance comes in handy, because digital attenuation inevitably causes some loss of dynamic range. Since the Topping D90 can sacrifice several dozen dB without entering the practical audible realm, it is perfectly ok to use this setup. The added cost of getting a higher than necessary performing DAC (particularly in this case) is arguably much less than the cost of buying a perfectly transparent pre-amp.

For sure, you want a bit of headroom as we can safely assume no one is listening at max output. (which begs the question as to why measurements are taken at that level, a standard needs to be set but it could be 1/2 of max which is somewhat more likely, but that's another discussion). Which is why I've suggested all you need is to be comfortably above a certain threshold. Beyond that threshold you are back to chasing pointless numbers.

I'm sure someone else can give a more precise answer, but lets take the two DAC's we've been talking about.

D90 - 21 bits of dynamic range (126db)
ADI-2 FS - ~20 bits of dynamic range (120db)

I looked in my library and the absolutely highest DR music I could find is Carlos Kleiber's recording of Beethoven's 5/7th Symphonies at 21db DR. The vast majority of modern music is more like 2-5db DR. With Jazz somewhere around 3-10db and Concert (Classical) music 10-20db.

So in the absolutely most demanding case you have the ability to reduce the volume by ~100db and still maintain the full dynamic range of the music with the ADI-2 FS, ~106db with the D90.

Someone smarter than me can give precise values at normal 60-80 db listening levels but I'd say we are more than comfortably above the point where this matters in real listening.
 

JohnBooty

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For the most part, sample rate is only vaguely interesting information, when it takes up 20% of the display you begin to wonder what they are distracting you from.
I'm a believer in "44.1/16 is all you need for listening" but I like to see the current sample rate on my devices, because it lets me know if I have a misconfiguration.

(Nearly) all of my music is 44.1khz but occasionally I'll find that things are incorrectly set to 48khz or 96khz or something. So, I think it's a nice convenience feature if the DAC tells me what it's receiving.
 
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