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In DAC, Anything audible but unable to be measured(so far)?

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#1
Hi, I came across a post claiming ASR is a "cult" just now Cult of Audio 'Science' Review - Amir's Faithful

Amir's response to this guy was great. And me, being a guy who has some Audiophile friends but usually find their way of evaluating equipments unconvincing ---- I'm quite used to hearing things just like in the link above. however... I've been thinking about this question for a year or two now. Let me make a hypothetical example for you.

If there are two DAC and both have perfect measurement, say 0% THD and also good score in everything else that's been used to test DACs.

Is it possible that there are ANY kind of difference in how they sound like?

Is it possible that some audible difference only occurs under certain circumstances?(such as when amps clip, manufacturers usually don't give measurements about amps in Clipping Status, and I guess there's no widely accepted way to measure this anyway) Like we know amps MAY sound differently when they clip. But for DAC, anything like this?

Are the methods we have been using to test audio equipments a GOOD, THOROUGH and EXHAUSTING way of simulating these equipments' normal working condition?

Discussion welcome.
 
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Xulonn

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#2
Many examples of Duning-Kruger in that MassDrop thread - and whining by fan-boys whose personal favorites have been criticized..

Your question about unknown interactions and that "audible differences might only occur under certain circumstances" is quite valid, and some of those interactions are indeed quite audible without blind testing.

And of course, ultimately, if differences cannot be detected in double-blind testing, they don't, for practical purposes, exist outside the dubious realm of "perceptions" in sighted, subjective listening claims.

There seems to be quite a few posts here that really are "solutions looking for problems," such as the recent "minimum wall thickness is necessary for amplifier power supply shielding for noise" when noise has not been measured or is not known to be a problem. Thick wall PS shielding would appear to be a very inelegant solution for PS noise that can be better addressed via good PS design. I would never select an amplifier based primarily on wall thickness around the power supply.
 
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#3
Many examples of Duning-Kruger in that MassDrop thread - and whining by fan-boys whose personal favorites have been criticized..

Your question about unknown interactions and that "audible differences might only occur under certain circumstances" is quite valid, and some of those interactions are indeed quite audible without blind testing.

And of course, ultimately, if differences cannot be detected in double-blind testing, they don't, for practical purposes, exist outside the dubious realm of "perceptions" in sighted, subjective listening claims.

There seems to be quite a few posts here that really are "solutions looking for problems," such as the recent "minimum wall thickness is necessary for amplifier power supply shielding for noise" when noise has not been measured or is not known to be a problem. Thick wall PS shielding would appear to be a very inelegant solution for PS noise that can be better addressed via good PS design. I would never select an amplifier based primarily on wall thickness around the power supply.
I agree. I remember one of the best quote I've read about why audiophiles are usually making wrong investment is "they have this wishful thoughts that 1. if something is way more expensive it must sound better than cheaper alternatives 2. if something has been changed the sound must change as well". Combining the two thoughts we derived equation 3:"if I switch to this more expensive stuff the sound must improve! it must!" Thus the tragic majority.

I do believe DAC and amps should be transparent. But unlike Amp's complicated classes behaviour and clipping behaviour, DACs usually have much less to worry about.

I've always enjoyed trying equipments from both the western countries as well as some cheap alternatives. What I've noticed is on the DAC ranking based on SINAD on ASR, more than half of the top 10 are actually Chinese brand... some are not that obvious but by doing some research you are able to find people behind the brand. So I guess seeing Chi-Fi DACs starting to take over the hi-end market (and usually with lower price!) make me wonder if DAC is relatively easy to design? My impression is Speakers are the most difficult part to make "right" (and usually the part making most distortion) and amps are not much easier thus I haven't seen Chi-Fi speaker and amps start to take over the hi-end market yet.

Is it because DACs, as long as being extremely transparent, measures very low in all kind of distortion and noises, would DEFINETELY be a good DAC? and definitely SOUNDS good?

I won't be expecting sweetness or lush sound from a DAC like audiophiles. I'm just curious cuz my shallow knowledge about electric and acoustic won't allow me to generate a definitive speculation about what a "Theoretically perfect DAC" actually sounds like.

I've used around a handful of dedicated DACs during my life. Currently I'm using RME ADI-2 DAC. I'm quite satisfied with it and I've AB'd with my (audiophile :) )friend's Krell Hi-End CD player's analog output and I found the Midrange on Krell was brought forward slightly compared to RME. I think it was some kind of distortion since that midrange boost did sound weird when I'm listening to symphony on both units. However it was a decade old model so it is expected that RME would beat it.

Understood that the top DACs all have extremely low distortion and noises (I think in most of the top DACs on the ranking here, Noise and distortion would be inaudible) However I'm curious whether any other DACs (at the moment) would sound better than the RME? or human's ears just cannot differentiate them anymore as long as distortion and noises are below the audible threshold?

I guess your response made me have a better understanding about what I want to ask.
 
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M00ndancer

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#4
Is it because DACs, as long as being extremely transparent, measures very low in all kind of distortion and noises, would DEFINETELY be a good DAC? and definitely SOUNDS good?
This is my opinion: We (as in the technology) have more or less perfected the design of DACs a long time ago. If you take the upper 75% of the DACs in the Master list, you'll be hard pressed to find any audio differences. They are all way below the human audio perception. This kind of posts are flogging a dead horse. Put the energy on other things like functions, easy of use, materials or design when choosing a DAC or a cable.
But as you also stated, amps, speakers, room correction/treatment and headphones are a whole different ballgame. There I totally agree and @amirm has already started to device tests for speakers. That's the next frontier.
 

M00ndancer

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#6
Design and Brand is definitely audible.
Design as in visual design, not electric/electronic. Brand has nothing to do with it really. If you brand of DAC is audible different than any other (exception, filters) then you should get another one that's made correctly. Brand is more a about customer relations, service and support after the thing is sold. But that's just my opinion.
 

solderdude

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#7
If there are two DAC and both have perfect measurement, say 0% THD and also good score in everything else that's been used to test DACs.

Is it possible that there are ANY kind of difference in how they sound like?
When subjectively evaluated (knowing what is playing) and levels are not matched chances are it is very easy to hear differences, reliably and repeatedly.

When subjectively evaluated but not knowing what device is playing that is level matched to the other device and statistically relevant samples are made it will become very clear to those that understand statistics that the obvious differences are not there and cannot be shown to exist.

This is what the whole 'opposite camps' issue is all about.
The WAY the test results are obtained and how they are interpreted.

It has nothing to do with the actual measurable differences between DACs (they all measure differently) nor does it have anything to do with measurements not showing everything, not even with audibility differences between the listeners (unless they are reall clueless).
It is solely depending on the way things are tested and things the evaluators 'believe'.
 

JohnYang1997

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#8
Let me put it this way. Everything can be measured, but not everything are interpretable yet. Though we can use things we can understand and measure to overcome the things that are not yet interpretable. If we shoot for perfection, we can achieve greatness.
 

solderdude

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#10
The things we love are usually priceless, just like some one-liners
 
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#11
Even if there is unmeasureable distortion on dac, there are a lot of distortions that is measureable and more obvious in typical audio system. For example, the main component that degrades dac performance is amplifier. Most amplifier have trouble when there is a heavy load. Typical measurement of headphone amplifier in loaded condition is presented in 32ohm condition. But there are so many headphones that has lower impedance than 32ohm. If a dac has 'sound signature', it is most likely to be high output impedance or gain problem.
 

JohnYang1997

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#12
Even if there is unmeasureable distortion on dac, there are a lot of distortions that is measureable and more obvious in typical audio system. For example, the main component that degrades dac performance is amplifier. Most amplifier have trouble when there is a heavy load. Typical measurement of headphone amplifier in loaded condition is presented in 32ohm condition. But there are so many headphones that has lower impedance than 32ohm. If a dac has 'sound signature', it is most likely to be high output impedance or gain problem.
wut?
 

JohnYang1997

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#14
I am talking about a complete product like benchmark dac3. Not dac chip itself. Most people can think that if a signal coming out from a 'dac' is weird, than this problem is originated from dac chip. But every complete dac box has its amp stage too. Some of them are only for filtering high frequency noise, but some have ability to drive headphones or speakers too. I am talking about that part.
Could you please educate yourself a bit more?
Or you are expressing very chaotically
or I'm completely misinterpreted your replies.
Sorry.
 
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#15
Spatial imaging

When a musical performance is recorded, the instruments/ voices are recorded either with one mic (with each having a different position relative to that mic) or several mics. A hypothetical listener listening to that performance live will be located away from the mics and will have a different perception of the music spatially based on his/ her position relative to the sound emitters.

The challenge then would be for the sound engineer to master the recording so that it can render the most pleasing sound spatially for the listener; and for the audio equipment that plays the sound to reproduce that 3d sound field with fidelity.

How do you measure that?
 

solderdude

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#16
What do you feel needs special measuring about this ?
Stereo is just 2 'channels' that need to have the same phase and amplitude response over the audible range.
This is extremely easy to measure and there is nothing more to it.

The responsibility for this lies with the recording/mixing engineer and producer.
During reproduction the acoustics, speakers and brain are the ones doing 'the work'.
A DAC merely reproduces the 2 signals it does not change the amplitude nor the phase nor the timing nor does it need to 'recreate' 3D images' or do processing to the reproduced file.
 
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#17
The issue is that live, the vocals and instruments are individual sound emitters in 3d-space. When they are recorded and played back through an audio device, the sound emitters are the pair of loudspeakers. This is not the same; it is a transformation of the rich spatial information of the live performance into a stereo representation of that. While a DAC can 100% replicate the recording, it cannot replicate the spatial resolution of the live performance

When you write of phase and amplitude response over the audible range, human ears (lt and rt) process that using the brain. The relative differences in phase and amplitude for the same sound emitter being heard by each ear at the same moment - allows one to perceive the 3d-space within which the sound generates. The result is qualitatively different for a live performance with multiple sound emitters, compared to a stereo representation of that live performance via a recording.

Many high-end DACs market themselves as being able to replicate this spatial resolution with high fidelity. I'm not convinced - I think loudspeakers and room treatments have a role to play, but they are not the full picture.
 

solderdude

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#18
Many high-end DACs market themselves as being able to replicate this spatial resolution with high fidelity. I'm not convinced
Many high-end DAC manufacturers state a lot of nonsense and marketing bla bla so they can sell their DACs to folks that have money burning in their pockets.
They all claim superior sound... they have to, otherwise they won't sell anything. One has to believe they sell a dream come true for folks to fork out high-end prices.

Spatial sensation recreation happens in the brain and as many experience this (with speakers) it can obviously still be reproduced.
Why would an high-end DAC be able to, but not a cheaper one (often using the same DAC chips) ?

What should need to be measured extra that isn't in the current set of measurements that would 'catch' and show poor spatial reproduction other than amplitude and time aspects ?
 

SIY

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#19
What should need to be measured extra that isn't in the current set of measurements that would 'catch' and show poor spatial reproduction other than amplitude and time aspects ?
More importantly, has anyone demonstrated that there are differences between DACs (and most other electronics) in this respect that are not completely characterized by simple amplitude and time aspects? I suppose one could theoretically have a really pathological DAC that has horrifically bad crosstalk, but it would have to be REALLY bad, and that would stick out like a sore thumb in basic measurements.

I've asked variants of this question over and over and have never gotten anything beyond handwaving and semantics. No actual listening tests.
 
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#20
One approach could be to measure sound at the listener's ears with binaural microphone - for both the live performance and the stereo reproduction of that live performance played though the loudspeakers. This would demonstrate measurable differences between the two forms of sound reproduction that could be correlated with their subjective perception of spatial resolution.
 

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