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Please explain different sounding DACs

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#1
Ok so , i've just changed my audio setup , bought a pair of dynaudios hooked them up to my old HK AVR - they sounded great , nice imaging ( didn't had that befeore and was WOW ) nice soundstage pleasant sound to my ears :) .
I was so happy with my new sound and was curious what can i do to make it even better... then when i started to ask for advice on audiophiles fb group all hell broke loose :) .
1st my AVR was not good , i needed better Stereo amplification - everybody knows that dynaudio's need more power to sound good .. so i got myself a xtz edge a2 - 300 class D poweramp ... and since i don't listen very loud it made absolutley no difference to my ear. BTW nobody approves my class D .. "it sounds like shit, buy a 6000e class A 45kg to hear the diferences "
2.nd i was left with no money for a "good" DAC so i bought Yamaha WXC-50 ( sh on the cheap) , the difference between my avr and the yamaha - absolutley 0! A friend gave me a Pro-Ject pre box s2 ... i sold my yamaha and avr with the old speakers and was looking for a better dac with a nice price/quality/performance so i started reading reviews and topping d70 was the chosen one for the "bigger soundstage, intrument separation , etc"
When i received the Topping D70 and listen to it vs Pre Box S2 i didint heard any difference .. switching from one to another and trying to find some difference.. and then i started searching on google form " whats the best affordable dac bla bla etc. " to " why can't i hear a difference between 2 Dacs .. and found more info and blind tests and etc. So i listed my D70 for sale and ordered a DX3 Pro ( cheaper , has BT and headphones amp) . BUT THEN after more listening to both Dacs i could hear a difference ... Pre box has more tweeter/separation ( i don't know the audiphile terms) .. but D70 sounds more "complete" the music instruments are better matched it's like a "whole", and to my ear.. i like it more it sound's better.

Now i understand that if i do a blind test with maching levels and so on i can't tell them appart .. BUT ... tell me what's the difference when there's no matching levels ? It can't be just volume .. since i tried to set the volume louder on the dac that i "don't like" and has nothing to do with the musicality. What are the other aspects of a dac that make it sound "different" tone? amplitude? volume? akm vs ess? Or it's just my brain playing tricks? .. ( i found myself listeing to the same random song on both and D70 makes me move my head :) )

p.s. sorry for bad english
 

solderdude

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#3
I suggest to test blind. Have someone else swap the DAC's (or pretend to) and you listen and make notes. The one swapping (or not swapping by unplugging and plugging in again) must make notes as well.
Then after 10 attempts see if you got them all correct.
Make sure you cannot see what DAC is connected and the helper does not give away any clues.
 

BDWoody

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#4
Ok so , i've just changed my audio setup , bought a pair of dynaudios hooked them up to my old HK AVR - they sounded great , nice imaging ( didn't had that befeore and was WOW ) nice soundstage pleasant sound to my ears :) .
I was so happy with my new sound and was curious what can i do to make it even better... then when i started to ask for advice on audiophiles fb group all hell broke loose :) .
1st my AVR was not good , i needed better Stereo amplification - everybody knows that dynaudio's need more power to sound good .. so i got myself a xtz edge a2 - 300 class D poweramp ... and since i don't listen very loud it made absolutley no difference to my ear. BTW nobody approves my class D .. "it sounds like shit, buy a 6000e class A 45kg to hear the diferences "
2.nd i was left with no money for a "good" DAC so i bought Yamaha WXC-50 ( sh on the cheap) , the difference between my avr and the yamaha - absolutley 0! A friend gave me a Pro-Ject pre box s2 ... i sold my yamaha and avr with the old speakers and was looking for a better dac with a nice price/quality/performance so i started reading reviews and topping d70 was the chosen one for the "bigger soundstage, intrument separation , etc"
When i received the Topping D70 and listen to it vs Pre Box S2 i didint heard any difference .. switching from one to another and trying to find some difference.. and then i started searching on google form " whats the best affordable dac bla bla etc. " to " why can't i hear a difference between 2 Dacs .. and found more info and blind tests and etc. So i listed my D70 for sale and ordered a DX3 Pro ( cheaper , has BT and headphones amp) . BUT THEN after more listening to both Dacs i could hear a difference ... Pre box has more tweeter/separation ( i don't know the audiphile terms) .. but D70 sounds more "complete" the music instruments are better matched it's like a "whole", and to my ear.. i like it more it sound's better.

Now i understand that if i do a blind test with maching levels and so on i can't tell them appart .. BUT ... tell me what's the difference when there's no matching levels ? It can't be just volume .. since i tried to set the volume louder on the dac that i "don't like" and has nothing to do with the musicality. What are the other aspects of a dac that make it sound "different" tone? amplitude? volume? akm vs ess? Or it's just my brain playing tricks? .. ( i found myself listeing to the same random song on both and D70 makes me move my head :) )

p.s. sorry for bad english
Don't worry about the English...we have many where English is their 2nd or 3rd (or more) language...don't let that stop you from asking questions!

As has been suggested, this is more psychoacoustically tricky than it seems at first...that's why all your friends have talked you out of all your money, and why the marketing and 'reviews' in the mainstream press have cost them theirs.

At some level, they fall back on the mysterious, and what can't seemingly be explained by science *as we know it*... Very high level mumbo jumbo follows, a subjective review making you feel like you are missing out on the next best thing...trust my special ears...and around and around you go...

It isn't mysterious... It's just science.

Keep reading on the site...do searches of this exact subject and you will find... I think it's 48 billion posts on the subject (last time I counted), so there no lack of reading material.

Seriously though...you came to the right place to figure out what matters and what doesn't...and what can matter but probably won't...and what definitely will matter.

Welcome. I feel your pain...many of us have been there.
 
Joined
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#6
I suggest to test blind. Have someone else swap the DAC's (or pretend to) and you listen and make notes. The one swapping (or not swapping by unplugging and plugging in again) must make notes as well.
Then after 10 attempts see if you got them all correct.
Make sure you cannot see what DAC is connected and the helper does not give away any clues.
I'll try that
 

Wes

Senior Member
Joined
Dec 5, 2019
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#7
I suggest to test blind. Have someone else swap the DAC's (or pretend to) and you listen and make notes. The one swapping (or not swapping by unplugging and plugging in again) must make notes as well.
Then after 10 attempts see if you got them all correct.
Make sure you cannot see what DAC is connected and the helper does not give away any clues.
Bingo.

If a pre-amp can sound slightly different from another one, and a DAC contains similar analog circuits, then...
 
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#8
i did the blind test. So 15 tries / 3 songs

song1
1. Prebox - correct
2. D70- correct
3. D70- correct
4. Prebox - correct
5. D70 ( not 100% sure ) - correct

song2
1. D70 - correct
2. This was Prebox with inverted channels ( L=R and R=L ) ( dunno why he did that but it messed me up) - i said D70 - Incorrect
3. D70 with inverted channels - i said Prebox - Incorrect
4. D70 ( not sure) - Incorrect
5. Prebox (not sure) - Incorrect

song3
1. Prebox with inverted channels - i said D70 - Incorect
2. D70 - correct
3. Prebox - correct
4. Prebox - correct
5. D70 - correct

So D70 - 8 times - 6 times correct, 1 fail with inverted channels , 1 normal fail
Prebox - 7 times - 5 timesc correct , 2 fails with inverted channels , 1 normal fail

That inverted channel made no sense for me in the blind test :/

What makes me choose one over another ... the bass response on D70 is smoother , combines better with the rest of the song/instruments and makes it more "whole", more pleasing to my ears.

Another thing i noticed.. if i set -15db from prebox it sounds the same as D70 .

The test was not volume matched with any electronic device ( 0db on both dacs - and 20 volume in windows)
 

majingotan

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#9
Invalid: Not volume matched test. I suggest to get a decent ABX switch box with volume match. Better yet, get a good one such as ABX Switch Comparator by Van Alstine that can volume match within 0.1 dB https://avahifi.com/products/abx-switch-comparator
 
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#10
Invalid: Not volume matched test. I suggest to get a decent ABX switch box with volume match. Better yet, get a good one such as ABX Switch Comparator by Van Alstine that can volume match within 0.1 dB https://avahifi.com/products/abx-switch-comparator
yea right ... pay 1000 to test 2 dacs that combined value less
i said in the 1st post
" tell me what's the difference when there's no matching levels ? It can't be just volume .. since i tried to set the volume louder on the dac that i "don't like" and has nothing to do with the musicality. What are the other aspects of a dac that make it sound "different" tone? amplitude? volume? akm vs ess? "
 

Sgt. Ear Ache

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#11
Volume matching is absolutely critical to blind testing. You want to try and test the sound quality of the components. If they are at different volumes (and the difference doesn't have to be more than even half a decibel) you are highly likely to choose the louder as sounding better. It's really important to eliminate anything that could bias your choices that isn't specifically the thing that you are testing.

If you know the dac you "don't like" is the louder, you are now biased to select the quieter as sounding better.
 
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#12
" tell me what's the difference when there's no matching levels ? "
The only thing I can think of is THD. THD is volume dependant on most DACs and amplifiers. For DACs, the THD is lowest at full volume (0dBFS). As you reduce the volume, THD increases.

Though I am still not sure that you could tell it apart since the THD of headphones & loudspeakers is much higher than the THD of the DACs unless your DAC is crappy to begin with.
 

majingotan

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#13
Though I am still not sure that you could tell it apart since the THD of headphones & loudspeakers is much higher than the THD of the DACs unless your DAC is crappy to begin with.
The A/B test wasn't volume matched which anyone can tell which DAC is which due to volume difference.
 

Fluffy

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#14
Realizing that most DACs and even amps sound the same is basically like finding out you were living in the matrix up until then. People keep pushing on you the idea that everything sound different, and you need to buy the most expansive thing to get the best sound. But then you do a proper blind test (and yes, it needs to be volume-matched), and you realize it was all in your head the entire time.

So you either can take the blue pill and blindly swallow all the marketing nonsense and go deep into the rabbit hole of buying pricier and pricier gear with rapidly diminishing returns. Or, you can take the red pill, get some empiric evidence, and find out what is actually real.

I took the red pill, found myself here in ASR, and stopped mindlessly upgrading gear. If saving money and heartache is of any importance to you, I suggest you do the same. It not only saves you money, but also saves you the stress of believing you need to constantly upgrade your system to achieve some arbitrary "perfect sound" goal.
 
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#16
The A/B test wasn't volume matched which anyone can tell which DAC is which due to volume difference.
if both are set to 0db and i set the volume from windows higher on the one i dont like .. i still dont like it! its not just volume

Volume matching is absolutely critical to blind testing. You want to try and test the sound quality of the components. If they are at different volumes (and the difference doesn't have to be more than even half a decibel) you are highly likely to choose the louder as sounding better. It's really important to eliminate anything that could bias your choices that isn't specifically the thing that you are testing.

If you know the dac you "don't like" is the louder, you are now biased to select the quieter as sounding better.
might be this! if i set the dac that i dont like (prebox) to -10 -15db and set the volume higher in windows to "volume match" i like it better . but that makes no sense if thd should be worse no?
 

Sgt. Ear Ache

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#17
you are missing the crucial point. YOU can't know which is which. If you do, it's not a blind test and you are allowing your brain to influence your choices based on a slew of biases that have nothing to do with the actual sound quality.
 

Fluffy

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#18
Taking the red pill doesn't have to be a bad thing for the audio-enthusiast btw. Personally, I've found it really liberating. I can focus on the stuff that REALLY makes a profound difference - which I've come to realize is transducers, EQ/room set up/mental state (yep, mental state lol).
True that. transducers are the most important thing, followed by acoustics (which is irrelevant in headphones). But to be honest, mental state can make even the best system playing your favorite track sound obnoxious, just because you're not in the mood.


I'll also add that the difference is meaningful only if you can accurately describe it. Vague terms like imaging, soundstage, completeness, wholeness – these are all things that may very well exist in your mind, as a result of mental state or any other psychological reason. If you can deterministically say what is the exact physical difference, it's more likely that there actually is a difference.

For example, I once blind tested two headphone amps. It is known that high output impedance affect the tonal balance of headphones. And I was testing one amp with pretty low out imp, and one with a pretty high one, with headphones that are known to be greatly affected by this phenomenon in a very particular frequency range. I was able to blindly distinguishing them based on the different frequency response each imbued in the headphone in the 50-150 hz range. Yes, this difference could have been interpreted by the less knowledgeable as "fullness" or "tighter bass", but these are all metaphors used to describe actual physical characteristics.

So, if you can't verifiably pin point the exact difference and connect it to a physical aspect of the gear – I wouldn't consider it a real difference, even if you supposedly passed what you considered is a blind test (it's very hard to perform a truly blind test that gives you absolutely no helping clues which component you are listening to, even subconsciously).
 

solderdude

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#20
i did the blind test. So 15 tries / 3 songs

song1
1. Prebox - correct
2. D70- correct
3. D70- correct
4. Prebox - correct
5. D70 ( not 100% sure ) - correct

song2
1. D70 - correct
2. This was Prebox with inverted channels ( L=R and R=L ) ( dunno why he did that but it messed me up) - i said D70 - Incorrect
3. D70 with inverted channels - i said Prebox - Incorrect
4. D70 ( not sure) - Incorrect
5. Prebox (not sure) - Incorrect

song3
1. Prebox with inverted channels - i said D70 - Incorect
2. D70 - correct
3. Prebox - correct
4. Prebox - correct
5. D70 - correct

So D70 - 8 times - 6 times correct, 1 fail with inverted channels , 1 normal fail
Prebox - 7 times - 5 timesc correct , 2 fails with inverted channels , 1 normal fail

That inverted channel made no sense for me in the blind test :/

What makes me choose one over another ... the bass response on D70 is smoother , combines better with the rest of the song/instruments and makes it more "whole", more pleasing to my ears.

Another thing i noticed.. if i set -15db from prebox it sounds the same as D70 .

The test was not volume matched with any electronic device ( 0db on both dacs - and 20 volume in windows)
I don't think you have to worry about level matching 1 was spec'd at 2.0V and the other one 2.05V = 0.2dB apart.
As there was time between switching an exact level match is not really needed.

Your observation of the -15dB setting on the prebox and sounding the same as D70 (also at -15dB ?) seems to point at one of the DAC's not performing optimally ?

Kuddo's for doing the test. Now comes the hard part which is finding out why at -15dB you cannot tell them apart.
 
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