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Can a DAC improve soundstage, depth, separation?

Holmz

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Yes this is possible but unlikely if your comparator DAC is similar. Anecdotal reports indicate DACs that do better imaging only work when the room/speakers/set up/amp etc etc are all sorted. The DACs that pull off 3D representations tend to be R2R topology with NOS or superior filters and are usually not so affordable. This all implies phase/timing is implicated.

The problem finding out is measurements wont tell you which DAC to try. There is no measure for 3D audio imaging. That means there is no data. Lots of people confuse no data for no effect. Amusingly they often do it with supreme confidence.

To find out what your Hegel does, make a pilgrimage to someone with a great system that has nailed the 3D imaging trick. This is very rare by the way. Take your DAC and AB their source vs your DAC.

That will hopefully tell you your DAC is just fine and you can relax and save your money.

The best 3D imaging I heard used the top of the line MSB R2R DAC in a great system. Changing to an affordable S-D DAC was crushing. Then again it wasnt a blinded trial but the effect wasnt subtle. Id say any music lover with two average ears would have picked it blinded at p<0.05.

Which town are you in NZ?

Are you saying that if we took 2 or more DACS, and digitised their output with an ADC - on the same song, that the signals would be the same or different?
And if they are the same, then where does the extra depth, layers, and width comes from?
 
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12Many

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Are you saying that if we took 2 or more DACS, and digitised their output with an ADC - on the same song, that the signals would be the same or different?
And if they are the same, then where does the extra depth, layers, and width comes from?
I don't understand why converting them back to digital would be helpful to the analyses. Isn't it pretty well established that depending on the implementation of the DAC and associated circuitry, the resulting analog signal will look or be different after conversion, which is to say that different DAC systems will have slightly different outputs, albeit similar? It seems like it would follow that those differences can lead to minor differences in sound quality - not that my ears can hear it or my dated system can resolve it.
 

HarmonicTHD

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I don't understand why converting them back to digital would be helpful to the analyses. Isn't it pretty well established that depending on the implementation of the DAC and associated circuitry, the resulting analog signal will look or be different after conversion, which is to say that different DAC systems will have slightly different outputs, albeit similar? It seems like it would follow that those differences can lead to minor differences in sound quality - not that my ears can hear it or my dated system can resolve it.
No it won’t.

At what levels would you expect those differences to occur? Please quantify or take a guess of a number if necessary.
 

12Many

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No it won’t.
Well, this gives me something to research over lunch. I am always learning. You are saying that the output of all DACs and their associated circuity is exactly the same, while I am of the opposite opinion that different DACs and their associated circuity will have slightly different analog outputs, albeit very similar. This is going way back, but in labs during college we all had to build DACs and it was my recollection that everyone's analogs signals looked different on the scope Some were quite wonky. Different resistor values and DAC chips would change the analog signals slightly. I have also read about DAC mismatch error which should be addressed. We have certainly seen an improvement in DAC quality over time, as the early implementation were rough, so each new iteration lead to improvements over time, which suggests that those improvements are due to differences in the analog signal. My background is in EE, so I can not comment on the auditory side of human hearing. That is outside my area of knowledge.
 

HarmonicTHD

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Well, this gives me something to research over lunch. I am always learning. You are saying that the output of all DACs and their associated circuity is exactly the same, while I am of the opposite opinion that different DACs and their associated circuity will have slightly different analog outputs, albeit very similar. This is going way back, but in labs during college we all had to build DACs and it was my recollection that everyone's analogs signals looked different on the scope Some were quite wonky. Different resistor values and DAC chips would change the analog signals slightly. I have also read about DAC mismatch error which should be addressed. We have certainly seen an improvement in DAC quality over time, as the early implementation were rough, so each new iteration lead to improvements over time, which suggests that those improvements are due to differences in the analog signal. My background is in EE, so I can not comment on the auditory side of human hearing. That is outside my area of knowledge.
Of course you can measure differences.

The key, as you already pointed out, lies within the audibility. As an EE you are well equipped to evaluate the signal strength of any differences which might exist.

Compare that to human capabilities and I would presume you will easily understand.

This might give you a first start.


There is also a post by Amir where you can test your own capabilities and I think the user pkane provides some tools too to check one’s listening capabilities. Usually it is humbling - at least it was for me.
Have fun.
 

fieldcar

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Well, this gives me something to research over lunch. I am always learning. You are saying that the output of all DACs and their associated circuity is exactly the same, while I am of the opposite opinion that different DACs and their associated circuity will have slightly different analog outputs, albeit very similar. This is going way back, but in labs during college we all had to build DACs and it was my recollection that everyone's analogs signals looked different on the scope Some were quite wonky. Different resistor values and DAC chips would change the analog signals slightly. I have also read about DAC mismatch error which should be addressed. We have certainly seen an improvement in DAC quality over time, as the early implementation were rough, so each new iteration lead to improvements over time, which suggests that those improvements are due to differences in the analog signal. My background is in EE, so I can not comment on the auditory side of human hearing. That is outside my area of knowledge.
While I could just copy and paste my previous post, your goal should be to quantify what SINAD on Amir's APX555 measurements mean to your ears. You need to figure out what you can actually perceive. I start to hear harmonic distortion at about 1.0%THD or -40dBfs (dBfs=decibels relative to full scale) and above. Given that, I could easily live with 0.1%THD or -60dBfs, but we all shoot for equipment with a SINAD higher than 100dB, as CD audio resolves to roughly 96dB of dynamic range without dither and scientific research shows that human hearing is limited to roughly 80dB.

Take the test.;) ...

giphy.gif
 

DonR

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While I could just copy and paste my previous post, your goal should be to quantify what SINAD on Amir's APX555 measurements mean to your ears. You need to figure out what you can actually perceive. I start to hear harmonic distortion at about 1.0%THD or -40dBfs (dBfs=decibels relative to full scale) and above. Given that, I could easily live with 0.1%THD or -60dBfs, but we all shoot for equipment with a SINAD higher than 100dB, as CD audio resolves to roughly 96dB of dynamic range without dither and scientific research shows that human hearing is limited to roughly 80dB.

Take the test.;) ...

giphy.gif
It is indeed a revelatory test. Surprising how poor our hearing really is.
 

GXAlan

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B.t. w. you forgot the biggest 'sound' issue with DACs in sound systems... ground loop currents.

This is important. It is unclear if this a ground loop or not, but has been described as a possibility. The HP laptop is also the audio interface. Here I am using a Topping D50s which should measure really well but real-world does not. The same recording setup should be able to get to 100 dB SINAD for the ADC

DB6656E5-1180-4584-94E7-0DFFD51CBE2C.png


External loopback showing performance of the ADC

A2388A15-EB6F-4E41-B1C1-0A9FCA6ABC77.png
 

12Many

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Of course you can measure differences.

The key, as you already pointed out, lies within the audibility. As an EE you are well equipped to evaluate the signal strength of any differences which might exist.

Compare that to human capabilities and I would presume you will easily understand.

This might give you a first start.


There is also a post by Amir where you can test your own capabilities and I think the user pkane provides some tools too to check one’s listening capabilities. Usually it is humbling - at least it was for me.
Have fun.
No need to lecture me on the limitations of human hearing, particularly my own, I pointed that out in my first post. However, to suggest that different DAC implementations will output the same signal is simply not true from a technical standpoint. The key is to avoid blanket statements and instead identify the types of devices being compared. Can we hear the difference between two $1000 DAC from reputable companies - unlikely - at least I can't. The differences may become more apparent when comparing a poorly design cheap piece of gear from ebay or amazon to the $1000 DAC. I even found a 4$ DAC. Cheap DAC Of course, without knowing anything about this design, I can't comment on its output quality. I may buy this to play around with for fun.
 

antcollinet

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Well, this gives me something to research over lunch. I am always learning. You are saying that the output of all DACs and their associated circuity is exactly the same, while I am of the opposite opinion that different DACs and their associated circuity will have slightly different analog outputs, albeit very similar. This is going way back, but in labs during college we all had to build DACs and it was my recollection that everyone's analogs signals looked different on the scope Some were quite wonky. Different resistor values and DAC chips would change the analog signals slightly. I have also read about DAC mismatch error which should be addressed. We have certainly seen an improvement in DAC quality over time, as the early implementation were rough, so each new iteration lead to improvements over time, which suggests that those improvements are due to differences in the analog signal. My background is in EE, so I can not comment on the auditory side of human hearing. That is outside my area of knowledge.
The problem is the word opinion here. An opinion is meaningless unless backed with evidence.

And no - it is not "all"dacs that will sound the same - just all those that measure as audibly transparent (flat FR, noise/distortion below level of audibility). This can be measured. So in well designed dacs all those differences in circuits you describe make such a small difference, we can't hear it.

Some dacs are not audibly transparent - they can** sound different from transparent dacs. But by definition they are lower fidelity.

** but even relatively poor measuring dacs are so good that the vast majority of us with less than perfect hearing - won't hear the difference. On the other hand - ALL of us are influenced by the imperfect way our hearing system works, and will hear differences that aren't in the audio signal, as explained in the video linked at the top of this page.
 
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HarmonicTHD

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No need to lecture me on the limitations of human hearing, particularly my own, I pointed that out in my first post. However, to suggest that different DAC implementations will output the same signal is simply not true from a technical standpoint. The key is to avoid blanket statements and instead identify the types of devices being compared. Can we hear the difference between two $1000 DAC from reputable companies - unlikely - at least I can't. The differences may become more apparent when comparing a poorly design cheap piece of gear from ebay or amazon to the $1000 DAC. I even found a 4$ DAC. Cheap DAC Of course, without knowing anything about this design, I can't comment on its output quality. I may buy this to play around with for fun.
One last time. Nobody here, nor I (…differences can be measured…) claims that two different DACs output the same signal. Just look at all the reviews on this site.
The reviews show the differences in signal between well engineered and badly engineered DACs (and btw price is not the determining factor).

As for human capabilities. Read your own post where you suggested that you would like to learn more about it. So I provided you the links in good faith assuming that you are genuinely interested. Maybe you are not. Take it or leave it but cut out the snarky remarks.
 

12Many

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And no - it is not "all"dacs that will sound the same - just all those that measure as audibly transparent (flat FR, noise/distortion below level of audibility). This can be measured. So in well designed dacs all those differences in circuits you describe make such a small difference, we can't hear it.
We agree on this, and I made this point in my most recent post. The details are important and we should limit blanket statements. As you say, we need to define what is being compared because all DACs don't sound the same. That is what I appreciate about ASR - that Amir electrically measures the device to determine if the difference could be audible. If we simply say, 'you can't hear the difference' then what is the point of all these measurements and the dreaded headless panther. I noticed that Amir's test of the Node showed its DAC was yielding high distortion contributing to (along with his software troubles) the dreaded headless panther due to poor design. The conclusion I draw from this is use caution (maybe even don't buy) because of the distortion level. Amir even suggests that hooking up a different DAC would be the solution, again I assume to obtain better sound quality that could be perceivable. I guess my next question is, if we can't hear the difference, why did the Node DAC get a critical review and a bit of a bashing.
 

HarmonicTHD

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We agree on this, and I made this point in my most recent post. The details are important and we should limit blanket statements. As you say, we need to define what is being compared because all DACs don't sound the same. That is what I appreciate about ASR - that Amir electrically measures the device to determine if the difference could be audible. If we simply say, 'you can't hear the difference' then what is the point of all these measurements and the dreaded headless panther. I noticed that Amir's test of the Node showed its DAC was yielding high distortion contributing to (along with his software troubles) the dreaded headless panther due to poor design. The conclusion I draw from this is use caution (maybe even don't buy) because of the distortion level. Amir even suggests that hooking up a different DAC would be the solution, again I assume to obtain better sound quality that could be perceivable. I guess my next question is, if we can't hear the difference, why did the Node DAC get a critical review and a bit of a bashing.

You mean this one?

In the end you have to ask Amir.

The way I read it, that from a state of the art engineering point of view the Node is simply to there where other competitors are , sometimes at even lower prices (see the color coding of the bar chart).

I am also not sure if he is implying audibly better sound. The ca 87dB SINAD are a bit borderline especially if one might hook up a power amp to amplify the not so clean signal by another let’s say 26dB or so.

Sure I might not be able to recognize it in music reproduction but why put up with it, when I could buy peace of mind (better SINAD) at lower or equal costs and be 1000% sure that I won’t hear a difference.
 

antcollinet

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We agree on this, and I made this point in my most recent post. The details are important and we should limit blanket statements. As you say, we need to define what is being compared because all DACs don't sound the same. That is what I appreciate about ASR - that Amir electrically measures the device to determine if the difference could be audible. If we simply say, 'you can't hear the difference' then what is the point of all these measurements and the dreaded headless panther. I noticed that Amir's test of the Node showed its DAC was yielding high distortion contributing to (along with his software troubles) the dreaded headless panther due to poor design. The conclusion I draw from this is use caution (maybe even don't buy) because of the distortion level. Amir even suggests that hooking up a different DAC would be the solution, again I assume to obtain better sound quality that could be perceivable. I guess my next question is, if we can't hear the difference, why did the Node DAC get a critical review and a bit of a bashing.
Not only is it near the bottom in terms of audio performance. It is into the range where that might be audible, and worse than redbook/CD.

And the control amp didn't work.

Hardly warrants a glowing recommendation, does it?
 

TheFrator

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I think it's worthwhile to experiment for yourself. Just buy somewhere with good/ great return policies. I know you can buy Topping products on Amazon. If you're in the USA, Schiit makes some R2R DACs and charges a 5% restock fee + shipping for returns. So at most you'd be out $70 to try out the Bifrost2 for youself.
 

12Many

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I am also not sure if he is implying audibly better sound. The ca 87dB SINAD are a bit borderline especially if one might hook up a power amp to amplify the not so clean signal by another let’s say 26dB or so.

Yes, that is the review I read. Your statement that I quoted is helpful in understanding Amir's reviews. I am finally at the stage (after kids and space demands) that I can rebuild my audio system and as part of deciding what to buy, I am researching and balancing cost, technical performance, hearing limitations, and my room layout. Seems more confusing now then it was way back when.

On the one hand there are threads like this that indicate human hearing is limited, which I agree with, and that I would not be able to hear the difference between DACs. On the other hand, Amir's tests reveal differences between DACs, and those like the Node get poor reviews because those DACs are a bit borderline as you say, so maybe there is some audible drawback. It is confusing when deciding what to buy after after being told (in no uncertain terms : ) ), that I can't hear the difference and also reading the test results for the Node (and other DACs) that show the differences and being told this a 'bit border line'. When you say a bit border line does that mean that it could be audible in certain systems? I think that is where my confusion lies. If I can't hear it, I won't worry about it, but if it is borderline and maybe I can be heard, I will avoid it when purchasing.

Perhaps the safe option is for me to buy a device with good test results, just in case, without going crazy on price/performance. I downloaded and listened to the sound files with and without jitter and it was not detectable by me at lower levels so I am not worried about a bit of jitter in the digital stream. See link at Jitter Examples

Thanks everyone.
 

Holmz

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I don't understand why converting them back to digital would be helpful to the analyses.

Because one can then companies two devices, with say perhaps a null test?


… Isn't it pretty well established that depending on the implementation of the DAC and associated circuitry, the resulting analog signal will look or be different after conversion, which is to say that different DAC systems will have slightly different outputs, albeit similar?

Established?
The earth was also established as flat, but we could observe whether that established opinion is fact or not.


… It seems like it would follow that those differences can lead to minor differences in sound quality - not that my ears can hear it or my dated system can resolve it.

True - It would follow in a logic course.
But we need to show the premise is true.


Yes, that is the review I read. Your statement that I quoted is helpful in understanding Amir's reviews. I am finally at the stage (after kids and space demands) that I can rebuild my audio system and as part of deciding what to buy, I am researching and balancing cost, technical performance, hearing limitations, and my room layout. Seems more confusing now then it was way back when.

On the one hand there are threads like this that indicate human hearing is limited, which I agree with, and that I would not be able to hear the difference between DACs. On the other hand, Amir's tests reveal differences between DACs, and those like the Node get poor reviews because those DACs are a bit borderline as you say, so maybe there is some audible drawback. It is confusing when deciding what to buy after after being told (in no uncertain terms : ) ), that I can't hear the difference and also reading the test results for the Node (and other DACs) that show the differences and being told this a 'bit border line'. When you say a bit border line does that mean that it could be audible in certain systems? I think that is where my confusion lies. If I can't hear it, I won't worry about it, but if it is borderline and maybe I can be heard, I will avoid it when purchasing.

People go on and on about how the 120dB unit sound great and about the 80dB SINAD unit sounds better.
I dunno, they all sound about the same, as do CD players.

I like looking at the expensive ones, as they look nicer. So I know that they sound nicer ;)
Even though they don’t
 
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