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DACs and Amps......what are the real differences?

TechEnthusiast

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I know that I am probably going to get beat up for this, but I cannot distinguish any significance between low end ($100) and mid tier ($300-$900) gear. I know that it can be measured but I just cannot hear it. I realize that I probably have somewhat diminished hearing now in my mid fifties, but when comparing, I have even consulted my son's who are in their teens and they tend to agree with me. Now when we change headphones that's when the differences stand out.
I have sampled just about everything on the market with little success. I still have a Fiio K3 (amp/dac), and currently sampling a borrowed Schiit Heresy and Monilith Liquid Spark. In the past I have directly compared The monolith with a slew of other highly touted peices including: Monolith 788 and DX3Pro+ dac/amps along with Topping 30, 90, SmSL 200, Ifi Zen Can/Dac stacks. Even had the Schiit Asgard regarded as one of the best amps for its sound signature. Amps, indeed are an important upgrade when I started venturing into planar headphones, such as the Hifiman Sundara and Edition XS. But none of those listed amps provided any different sound signature that I could distinguish, however, some did provide more power (The Ifi Zen Can did have a bass button on it that was interesting). I found that the maximum power that I needed comes right from the 2 I have now (Spark and Heresy). I even went through the trouble of sampling balanced cables that made no audible difference to me. And with regards to DACs don't get me started....it all smells like back in the 90's when a salesman at Sound Advice tried to sell me $1k cables for my speakers when $50 did the job just as well....Snake Oil. These kinds of things have been exposed in double blind tests when comparing different sample rrates of audio clips.
Perhaps it is just me but I cannot hear an audible difference between my MB and an $800 dac. Even now while writing this I have been switching back and forth between the Liquid Spark and Heresy and they both sound the same when volume matched and I believe the Spark does have a little bit more power on my XS, perhaps due to the fact that they are 18ohm headphones.
 

dfuller

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I know that I am probably going to get beat up for this, but I cannot distinguish any significance between low end ($100) and mid tier ($300-$900) gear.
Don't worry, unless something's broken nobody can.

Now when we change headphones that's when the differences stand out.
Yeah, that's because transducers (headphones and speakers) are orders of magnitude less perfect.
 

pseudoid

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202109_BRZHiFiPA10FrontRearBothUNBRANDED.jpg

You see? I have one of these serving me well as a desktop unit, for under $250 since lat 2020.
I show you this because I don't fret whether it is a PreAmp (ADC w/3 Analog Input pairs) or a BlueTooth device (DAC w/Bluetooth In) or both with an built-in Power amp (45Wx2(8R-0hms)).
Technically, it is like a mini-size receiver and sold as a "Fully Balanced Remote Control Amplifier"
Why would anyone "beat you up"? Every purchase decision you make has a wallet-factor to it and wallets are like underwear and no one can tell you how to use it.
Unfortunately the title/heading of your post does not seem to be the intent of your post's content.
 
OP
T

TechEnthusiast

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"Unfortunately the title/heading of your post does not seem to be the intent of your post's content."
I see that now lol. The title was my original angle but once I got into the meat of what I was writing I never thought back about the title. If I could edit it I would
 

Chrispy

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LOL sounds normal to me. Sorry to hear that about Audio Advice, tho.
 
OP
T

TechEnthusiast

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LOL sounds normal to me. Sorry to hear that about Audio Advice, tho.
So you agree and I am not crazy....lol. I may keep both the Heresy and the Liquid Spark. I like the way the Heresy looks on my desktop, especially because the headphone input is on the right and the LS only cost $84. Probably save it for one of my sons.
 

Trell

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Many DACs and headphone amps are perfectly good and transparent. You can find them at low prices as well.

I’ve the RME ADI-2 DAC FS for it’s features, connectivity and DSP along with a powerful headphone amp. There are many other combined DAC/amp reviewed on ASR that would be perfectly fine and transparent for me, except they will lack features I enjoy like Dynamic Loudness.
 

Palladium

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I was also dead sure I could hear a difference between the 3.5mm output between a cheap Redmi 5 phone and an expensive Samsung Note 9 phone, with an IEM.

Then I got it wrong at the very first attempt in a blind test with a friend...
 
OP
T

TechEnthusiast

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Many DACs and headphone amps are perfectly good and transparent. You can find them at low prices as well.

I’ve the RME ADI-2 DAC FS for it’s features, connectivity and DSP along with a powerful headphone amp. There are many other combined DAC/amp reviewed on ASR that would be perfectly fine and transparent for me, except they will lack features I enjoy like Dynamic Loudness.
I have always been interested in the RME ADI-2. It's price tag scares me off though. I am curious how it sounds vs the Heresy/LS combined with APO eq? I do not think that the amp section of that unit measures as high as the Heresy/LS.
 

Trell

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I have always been interested in the RME ADI-2. It's price tag scares me off though. I am curious how it sounds vs the Heresy/LS combined with APO eq? I do not think that the amp section of that unit measures as high as the Heresy/LS.

I prefer onboard DSP compared to using software running on a PC like APO. For the same reason I use the builtin room EQ of Genelec SAM monitors and subwoofer that have their own DSP.

Many use software EQ to great effect and are happy with that.

The RME ADI-2 DAC is expensive but it does have features and connectivity I want and use. I expect to use the device for many years to come.

Note that with with DSP disabled the RME is transparent and will sound exactly the same as other well-measuring DACs and headphone amps with similar performance.
 
OP
T

TechEnthusiast

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I prefer onboard DSP compared to using software running on a PC like APO. For the same reason I use the builtin room EQ of Genelec SAM monitors and subwoofer that have their own DSP.

Many use software EQ to great effect and are happy with that.

The RME ADI-2 DAC is expensive but it does have features and connectivity I want and use. I expect to use the device for many years to come.

Note that with with DSP disabled the RME is transparent and will sound exactly the same as other well-measuring DACs and headphone amps with similar performance.
I totally get what you are saying. But do you feel like it has enough power to run inefficient planar type of headphones like the Sundara or the Edition XS?
 

Trell

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I totally get what you are saying. But do you feel like it has enough power to run inefficient planar type of headphones like the Sundara or the Edition XS?

Sorry, my hardest to drive headphone is Beyerdynamic DT880 Edition 250 Ohm, and the RME is much more powerful than needed for those.

That said, the headphone amp is very powerful and should drive most headphones to very loud levels. In fact, RME has added a number of safety features to help save the hearing of the user as well as the headphones.

On page 61 in the user manual there are graphs of amp/voltage vs impedance as well as power vs impedance, so that with the specs of your headphones will hopefully make it clearer for you.

 
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