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Coloration in a DAC - better to get from the DAC itself, or other means?

Taketheflame

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Hey all,

So, I'm thinking of adding a some things/making a couple of changes to a simple PC/desktop audio system I'm running (currently, the main components consist of a Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus, Canton Chronos speakers, and a vintage Akai receiver), and one part I'm considering is the DAC itself - either changing DACs, or possibly adding a second one to the system.

If a new DAC were to come into the picture, I'd mainly be doing it for practical reasons - mostly because I'd like to have one with a remote control, and if it really matters (I'm guessing it doesn't in the context of audio quality?), something w/a bit better of build quality/with a linear power supply instead of a wall wart. MQA support would also be a bonus, but is far from a requirement (personally, I hope MQA doesn't stick around, but it would be more to have support for it "just in case").

Anyways, going back to the title of the thread...I must confess that even though I'm on here (I find all the reviews/measurements/knowledge shared fascinating and informative), I ultimately tend to lean a bit closer to "subjectivist" when it comes to what I personally enjoy in audio playback - but not in a "$3K cables make a difference! and measurements don't matter!" kind of way - more so in a "I enjoy vinyl, even if it's objectively worse than digital" kind of way. In other words, I enjoy a colored sound with some music, though not all.

Mind you, I do think my existing DAC already sounds good (and it seems to be one of the OK ones that's been tested on here), and from what I've read on here, I shouldn't expect to come across much of any (if any at all) audible differences with other DACs that measure well enough. Where I can't help but be a bit curious though...are some of the DACs that don't measure so well...and where they come into this picture?

Yes - I'm a bit curious about some of the infamous Schiit models, even if they measure rather poorly compared to the competition...are they purposely designed to have a more "colored" sound to them than other DACs?

...but...isn't the coloration that some people like myself enjoy ultimately just distortion/flaws in the audio (such as less than flat EQ response) compared to a clean, accurate signal?

And if so...wouldn't it be better to just stick with a DAC that measures well to begin with, and use other ways to either tweak the sound/add coloring distortion? (such as software, inexpensive tube headphone amps/preamps, or perhaps trying other speakers out that might be more to taste?). Seems like this way one could enjoy a colored sound from a DAC when desired, without being stuck with a lesser performing DAC at other times when it's not desired - unless I'm mistaken?

Hoping to get a bit more input on this, Ideally from those who have experience with both Schiit and better measuring DACs - other DACs I'm considering if changing/adding are some of the midrange-ish SMSL and Topping models.

Thanks :)
 

AnalogSteph

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Even DACs with mediocre measurements still tend to sound OK, so that's just not a very efficient way of influencing sound at all. Better use EQ if you need that.

If all you need is a line-level source, DACs can be picked pretty much on features. Demands on dynamic range get a bit higher once you are looking at preamp replacement duties... if the Akai is vintage enough to have separate pre and power sections that can be split I might look into that, the preamp sections tend to be a greater bottleneck in '70s gear than the power amps.
 

brimble

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I don't think you'll be able to find a DAC that has a significant amount of distortion of any sort.

I've spent a lot of time with the most distorting full-sized DAC Amir's ever measured (an Audio-gd). and it only sounded a tiny-tiny-maybe-not-even-really-perceptible-bit different from the transparent DAC I use now. And the same goes for all the others I've ever tried.

(ETA: contrast this with the eNORmous differences you can get by using different speakers or headphones)
 
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HiFidFan

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Your instincts are correct. Use EQ to 'tailor' the sound.
 

JSmith

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Some DAC's now come with 7 filters and multiple "color" modes, plus can set custom too.

A DAC should not have a "sound"...



JSmith
 
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Taketheflame

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So then what I'm getting out of this so far...

If a DAC doesn't measure well, it's not necessarily because it's colored on purpose, but because it's just...not as good?
 

JSmith

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but because it's just...not as good?
The problem is rarely the DAC chip itself, moreso the implementation, digital inputs like optical and analogue output stage where the problems creep in. If there is a decent amount of noise and jitter it may sound "bad".



JSmith
 
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