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Can a DAC improve soundstage, depth, separation?

and then have someone arrange an ABX test to eliminate any preconceived biases and prepare to be amazed at the non-difference. I agree.
Objectively, this is absolutely correct. But for the majority of consumers this is both burdensome and unnecessary.

If you like your system, IMO just enjoy it. Looking for ABX-level validation of your choices is unlikely to lead in a direction you'll enjoy.
 
DAC upgrade (from the internal DAC in my Hegel h390 to, say, a Topping d90se)

I would say no because those are both top shelf products. IMO, if it was a cheapy dac from ebay, they they odds go up that it is really degrading the signal and you may hear a difference.
 
I'm with the no crowd sounstage comes utmost from how the recording was mic'ed and mixed. The rest is speaker accuracy, placement and room correction, digital and acoustic.
 
Objectively, this is absolutely correct. But for the majority of consumers this is both burdensome and unnecessary.

If you like your system, IMO just enjoy it. Looking for ABX-level validation of your choices is unlikely to lead in a direction you'll enjoy.
My reply was to the statement that "the only way to be sure was to listen to them". That statement is incomplete as it was so I simply completed it. I agree that most people won't purchase it this way, which is a shame and means they are likely to be persuaded by salesmen.
 
Let me preface by saying I'm a physics teacher and lifelong audiophile in my years of listening I have found speaker placement, toe-in, and rake are the single most important factors in nailing a 3-dimensional sound stage. When listening to a great recording I love the feeling of being INSIDE the room where it was recorded (or inside the headphones of the person who mixed it). Having said that, I am a constant tinkerer and find myself wondering just HOW can I improve the 3-dimensionality of my soundstage in my listening room.

So my question: is it possible for a DAC upgrade (from the internal DAC in my Hegel h390 to, say, a Topping d90se) to improve the DEPTH and WIDTH of my soundstage and the SEPARATION of instruments in three-dimensional sound space? I read all these subjective reviews (Goldensound and New Record Day's review of the Holo Audio May R2R DAC have nearly taken my money a hundred times) and they make me feel like I'm missing something if I don't upgrade my DAC. Is it all subjective crap? I can't get my hands on any DACs to do a blind test to I have to go with you guys here at Audio Science Review. HELP!
Most of the replies here make the error of thinking DACs are digital and since '1's and '0's are all the same, therefore *of course* the DAC doesn't matter. But this overlooks the fact that in creating an analogue signal, DACs also contain analogue amplifier technology which has a tremendous effect on the sound characteristics.

It's often said that the first watt of amplification is the most important in determining sound signature and quality, well if that's true, then surely the tiny analogue signal initially generated off the DAC chip and then amplified to line level must be even more crucial?

I hope people don't need persuading that different designs and components in an amplifier circuit can change the signature and quality of the amplification significantly, and since most DACs are built to a price point, they will therefore will differ in the quality of their output.

But it's not just the quality of amplification that needs considering, the delicate analogue signal coming off the DAC chip needs protecting as it can be damaged by all sorts of interference. Therefore, DACs will differ in how well they protect this signal not just with shielding, but also in how much internal noise is generated within the unit and its power supply.

If this analysis is correct, then not all DACs are created equal.

One only needs to consider how bad the DACs in early CD players were...do people really think those 1980s DACs are just as good as the best DACs today...seriously?? Well, if you don't then that's a contradiction to the idea that DACs don't matter.

Digital glare compared to vinyl was a real thing back in the 80s & 90s and still is to this day. But as DACs have gotten better the gap is narrowing and I think it will reach the point where DACs and streamers will surpass vinyl & tape in analogue reproduction much in the way digital sensors have surpassed film in cameras.

In answer to your question: other than the obvious route of researching what DACs others with your speaker/amp combo have tried, perhaps try the various valve DACs on the market? Valves can change the soundstage spacial characteristics more dramatically than differences between solid state brands/models.
 
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But this overlooks the fact that in creating an analogue signal, DACs also contain analogue amplifier technology which has a tremendous effect on the sound characteristics.

That's all measured at the analog output. None of these measurements are of the chip, but of the whole box, output stage included.

I hope people don't need persuading that different designs and components in an amplifier circuit can change the signature and quality of the amplification significantly

I might need convincing. I don't care what topology or parts are used, if it has flat frequency response, low enough noise and distortion and enough power to not clip, I doubt I could tell any two such amps apart based on special capacitors or whatever. I don't know if I've seen evidence anyone actually has. Do you have any?
But as DACs have gotten better the gap is narrowing and I think it will reach the point where DACs and streamers will surpass vinyl & tape in analogue reproduction much in the way digital sensors have surpassed film in cameras.

That was a couple decades ago. I hope you stick around and do some reading to catch up.
 
DACs also contain analogue amplifier technology which has a tremendous effect on the sound characteristics.

Very small effect you mean... very, very small.

It's often said that the first watt of amplification is the most important in determining sound signature and quality, well if that's true, then surely the tiny analogue signal initially generated off the DAC chip and then amplified to line level must be even more crucial?

Driving speakers with small signal levels has absolutely nothing to do with DAC performance. So totally NOT crucial aspect in DACs at all.

I hope people don't need persuading that different designs and components in an amplifier circuit can change the signature and quality of the amplification significantly

When you mean line-driver stage of a DAC can you show me some examples ?
You do realize that the DAC's measured all include the DAC post filters/buffering ?

But it's not just the quality of amplification that needs considering, the delicate analogue signal coming off the DAC chip needs protecting as it can be damaged by all sorts of interference. Therefore, DACs will differ in how well they shield/protect this signal not just with shielding, but also in how much internal noise is generated within the unit and its power supply.

PCB layout, enclosure (and being grounded) and power supply design and decoupling are important. Please show me some results of DACs changing the analog out by means of better shielding or improvement of decoupling or power supply. And I mean technical proof... not 'I or he/she heard improvements'.

not all DACs are created equal

They aren't nor is that ever considered to be so by any ASR members and is why it is great to have them measured instead of having to rely on 'experts' that only 'listen' to something and vent their opinions, not backed by hard facts other than the ones they invented themselves or read in a brochure or other website.

They ALL measure differently, can have different reconstruction filters, different functionality, connectivity, output voltage.... plenty of proof on this website.


B.t. w. you forgot the biggest 'sound' issue with DACs in sound systems... ground loop currents.
 
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@Anters , Welcome to this wonderful site. I hope you stay a while and learn with us.

First, watch this video below. It's basically "rite of passage" for new users. Second, Take the klippel listening test and find that you can't distinguish beyond ~50%THD. The best I've ever gotten was -39dB THD. And guess what? I don't care about getting a higher score. It's frustratingly difficult to detect anything beyond this. Compare that to a SINAD of 118dB, and you'll find that your ears and speaker/headphone drivers are by far the limiting factors in the sound chain.

Good luck with your journey!


The Klippel listening test:


EDIT: It's rite of passage, not right. lol. Typing it just felt so "right" :p ... sigh....
 
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That's all measured at the analog output. None of these measurements are of the chip, but of the whole box, output stage included.
The issue is measurements don't tell us the whole story which is why it's still important to audition an amplifier before buying. You can have amps and speakers that measure similarly yet sound noticeably different.
 
You can have speakers that measure similarly yet sound noticeably different.

Show me 2 speakers that measure similarly (on and off axis) but will sound noticeably different in the same room.

You can have amps that measure similarly yet sound noticeably different.

You can have 2 amps that measure similarly (but not the same) on just an 8 ohm resistive load but sound (and measure) differently on real world loads.
This of course is fully accepted. The key here is properly measured.
 
Most of the replies here make the error of thinking DACs are digital and since '1's and '0's are all the same, therefore *of course* the DAC doesn't matter. But this overlooks the fact that in creating an analogue signal, DACs also contain analogue amplifier technology which has a tremendous effect on the sound characteristics.
Crack open a $1.,000,000 dollar mixing console and you'll find it's probably packed with JRC 4580 opamps or some other variation that everyone immediately replaces when trying to upgrade to some $20 opamp.

The differences are tiny, but can be heard and probably have less to do with the type of opamp than circuit layout or topography.
 
Amplifiers, competently designed and working within their power envelope, do not sound different. Double blind test have shown this time and again. Or to put it another way; if a DBT shows that there is a noticeable difference between amps, then either one of them was not operating within its power envelope or one of the amplifiers was not competently designed. Amplifiers that are not designed to be neutral are, by definition, not designed competently, and unfortunately there are many of that kind on the market.

Speakers, being electro-mechanical transducers, are a different thing entirely.

Jim
Exactly… and if a difference is identified in DBX it also can easily be measured. Our ears and minds are not that “golden” in comparison to what we are able to measure nowadays.
 
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The differences are tiny, but can be heard
I'd argue that they generally can't be heard. It's another sighted bias thing IMO.


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@Anters , Welcome to this wonderful site. I hope you stay a while and learn with us.

First, watch this video below. It's basically "right of passage" for new users. Second, Take the klippel listening test and find that you can't distinguish beyond ~50%THD. The best I've ever gotten was -39dB THD. And guess what? I don't care about getting a higher score. It's frustratingly difficult to detect anything beyond this. Compare that to a SINAD of 118dB, and you'll find that your ears and speaker/headphone drivers are by far the limiting factors in the sound chain.

Good luck with your journey!


The Klippel listening test:
Thanks, I'll have a look at this.
 
You can have amps and speakers that measure similarly yet sound noticeably different.
Speakers? Two speakers measuring the same are not a thing. I think Erin had some thoughts about this kind of misconceptions...

Amps? Assuming there would be measurements similarities at the same power output... Yet, you would have to prove that they would sound "noticeably different" level-matched. Good luck with that.;)
 
The issue is measurements don't tell us the whole story which is why it's still important to audition an amplifier before buying. You can have amps and speakers that measure similarly yet sound noticeably different.
Yeah, with respect to amplifiers I just don't agree.
 
@Anters , Welcome to this wonderful site. I hope you stay a while and learn with us.

First, watch this video below. It's basically "rite of passage" for new users. Second, Take the klippel listening test and find that you can't distinguish beyond ~50%THD. The best I've ever gotten was -39dB THD. And guess what? I don't care about getting a higher score. It's frustratingly difficult to detect anything beyond this. Compare that to a SINAD of 118dB, and you'll find that your ears and speaker/headphone drivers are by far the limiting factors in the sound chain.

Good luck with your journey!


The Klippel listening test:


EDIT: It's rite of passage, not right. lol. Typing it just felt so "right" :p ... sigh....
That video is fantastic, but I think an even more important video for "audiophiles" to watch is this one.

It debunks so much nonsense:

 
The issue is measurements don't tell us the whole story which is why it's still important to audition an amplifier before buying. You can have amps and speakers that measure similarly yet sound noticeably different.
I keep hearing that "audiophile" go-to myth story, but have yet to see any evidence. It's basically myth adjacent to the "there are amps that measure great and sound bad" myth that people still use and never provide evidence for.

It's like they heard one snake oil salesman say it, and they just repeated it.
 
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