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Relationship between objective and subjective DAC quality?

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#1
G’day all,

Big fan of this forum so wanted to put my current conundrum “out there”.

Recently obtained two used USB DACs that are both currently hooked up and being regularly switched for non-blind subjective assessment within my particular system.

Subjective DAC test 1: PS Audio Digital Link III
Subjective DAC test 2: Meridian Prime (running off DIY 12V linear power supply in lieu of Meridian Prime Power Supply)
Subjective reference: Meridian 598 CD/DVD Transport and Mac mini connected to Meridian 568.2MM Processor (24/96 up-scaling Burr Brown DAC)

Both DACs being subjectively tested are asynchronous and up-sample digital audio to 24/96 or 24/192 (user selectable). The PS Audio Digital Link III has three standard digital inputs (USB,Toslink, Coaxial) whereas Meridian Prime is USB only but utilizes proprietary apodizing filter to remove pre-echo that resides at the nyquist frequency of 22.05kHz.

My plan is to keep the more prefered one and resell the less preferred one, with the resale funds likely going towards another DAC to compare against the winner from Round 1. This comparison isn’t completely neutral given my slight bias towards selling Meridian Prime as only this DAC can likely be sold for notably more than was paid (i.e., potential for resale profit to result in PS Audio DAC being obtained for free). As such this comparison is skewed towards the core question: is the Meridian Prime DAC “really” better than PS Audio DAC?

Thus far both DACs sound subjectively great and the difference between them is very slight, more so differences in “tonal character” than “reproduction quality”. Tests have included 16/44.1 WAV rips of CDs, 24/48-24/96 WAV rips of DVDs, and 24/96 FLAC live recordings. Up-scaling accuracy seems equally accurate for both; however, I’m unsure how much variability there is in the objective accuracy of up-scaling between units (based on crystal oscillators, chipset, and board design/components/wiring).

It appears that neither of these DACs have gone through Amir’s rigerous testing so I don’t have any objective test results to factor into my decision and, thus, it comes entirely down to subjective impression regarding how these two DACs compare to my subjective reference (see above).

While looking around at what’s available on the used market here in Australia I happened upon Amir’s review of the Gustard X16 DAC, which impressed me with its stellar objective test results and left me wondering “how might this DAC with glowing objective results subjectively perform in my system as compared to my other two DACs that perform subjectively well but might have less-than-stellar objective test results?”.

Thus my conundrum is whether or not to obtain a Gustard X16 based on its stellar objective test results to add into the comparison with other two DACs so that my subjective listening based decision regarding which DAC to keep is based on at least one reference DAC with known stellar objective test results?

This led me to wondering if there a real (objectively determined) correlation between stellar objective test results and stellar subjective reviews? More specifically, it seems that many people “love” certain DACs (i.e., strong subjective dataset) that have average-to-poor objective test results (i.e., weak objective dataset), which makes me wonder if/what the real (quantifiable and defendable) relationship is between these datasets? In other words, how much weight should be given to the subjective versus objective dataset? Subjective > objective because subjective impression/perception is all that “really matters” or objective > subjective because objective data is (essentially) immune to user- and system-bias?

Based on the Gustard X16 objective results I am very tempted to purchase one ($640AUD) in an attempt to address this question myself as I don’t currently have an objectively ”great” reference; however, I’m concerned that this could be, in actuality, a fool’s errand in that this objectively superior unit could well sound subjectively worse in my particular system.

So, in summary, does anyone have direct personal experience with comparing subjectively “very good” DACs against objectively “very good” DACs? If so, which one proved to be the preferred unit when used in conjunction with in your particular system (i.e., subjective > objective or objective > subjective)?

Thanks heaps for any and all insights.
 

sq225917

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#2
People like to listen to all sorts of crazy distortions. We're a weird subset who like low distortion, but not representative off the market.
 

DHT 845

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#3
This led me to wondering if there a real (objectively determined) correlation between stellar objective test results and stellar subjective reviews?
There is no objective correlation, subjective reviews relay mostly on "taste".
 

DHT 845

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#4
People like to listen to all sorts of crazy distortions. We're a weird subset who like low distortion, but not representative off the market.
That is true. I just love my tube amp distortions!!! :)
 

Mart68

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#5
So, in summary, does anyone have direct personal experience with comparing subjectively “very good” DACs against objectively “very good” DACs? If so, which one proved to be the preferred unit when used in conjunction with in your particular system (i.e., subjective > objective or objective > subjective)?
.
Yes. I perceived slight differences, My instinct was I preferred DAC which did not measure as well. Comparison done sighted with no controls.

Even assuming that the differences I perceived were real and not psychological I didn't think them sufficient to be worth worrying about, certainly not to the extent of buying another DAC. Sound quality was outstanding with all of the three units compared.

DACs were Soekris 1541, Soncoz SGD1, Topping E30.
 

FrantzM

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#6
Hi !
Welcome!

The most prudent way would be, before your make any acquisition to learn how to level match; then, find a friend that would switch between the DACs... easier said than done so do it yourself but your baises would kick in and they are stronger than most people think they are....

Spoiler

I am close to certain you may not tell them apart under blind conditions
The Science says that past a certain level of objective metrics , say a SINAD over 90 dB, an FR of 20 Hz to 20 KHz plus or minus 1 dB, you won't be able to tell them apart. I would suppose the 2 DACs you have are in that category.

Now, if you do want to move to an objectively better DAC, just for the sake of it, then the Gustard ;)
 

abdo123

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#7
There is no objective correlation.
yeah this is far from correct.

@Krazywaffle

the noise floor is the easiest element of objective measurements that translate very easily to subjective measurement (tweeter hiss).

it is very easy to tell whether one DAC is noisier than the other using just the human ear (to a certain extent).

however if you found no difference in noise between the two then you're probably limited by another component somewhere in the chain or the noise floor is too low to be heard by ear.
 

DHT 845

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#8
yeah this is far from correct.

@Krazywaffle

the noise floor is the easiest element of objective measurements that translate very easily to subjective measurement (tweeter hiss).

it is very easy to tell whether one DAC is noisier than the other using just the human ear (to a certain extent).

however if you found no difference in noise between the two then you're probably limited by another component somewhere in the chain or the noise floor is too low to be heard by ear.
You are far fom the truth. Have you not red great reviews of tube DACs?
 

abdo123

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#9
You are far fom the thruth. Have you not red great reviews of tube DACs?
reviews are sponsored, they're neither subjective or objective.

even if they don't get paid per say for a review, they will still provide positive feedback so that the company would continue to send them products in the future.

but to say that objective results do not correlate to REAL subjective performance is just bonkers.

low power means less volume

high distortion means less volume

high noise means annoyance.

we're not reinventing the wheel here.
 

DHT 845

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#10
ok. let alone reviews. Don't you know anyone who prefers tube DAC to objectively great measuring, best SINAD, lowest noise floor DAC? I know many, There in no objective correlation. It can't be. It would be illogical. Taste is subjective. Objective correlation cannot embrace sth. subjective.
 

abdo123

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#11
ok. let alone reviews. Don't you know anyone who prefers tube DAC to objectively great measuring, best SINAD, lowest noise floor DAC? I know many, There in no objective correlation. It can't be. It would be illogical. Taste is subjective. Objective correlation cannot embrace sth. subjective.
Don't jump to extremes just to prove your point, just because some people have masochistic desires to listen to noise doesn't mean that measurements are pointless subjectively.
 

DHT 845

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#12
Don't jump to extremes just to prove your point, just because some people have masochistic desires to listen to noise doesn't mean that measurements are pointless subjectively.
I am talking about logic. If you do not respect logic do not even use word "science".
"Masochistic desire to listen to noise" argument is "extreme...
 

DSJR

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#13
I remember a private discussion decades ago where a designer mentioned to me that listeners actually do quite like a touch of far background noise, say 70dB or so down. Also, reduced stereo separation (as in most vinyl pickup cartridges which at very absolute best in some samples may achieve -40dB in the mids with the wind behind them - usually 25 - 30dB - and I remember a little 'Francinstein' box which did just that to line level devices). I remember back in the day that 'digital silence' could be quite concerting. Add a little 'ringing' to give a nice reverberant halo to the perceived sound, I'm not surpriced that 'valve dacs' or maybe CD players with valve output stages are liked and perhaps in preference.

I remember years ago (mid 1970's - yikes) at being surprised how 'dry' and spacially 'flat' master recordings often sounded compared to the squidged-up vinyls made from them which audiophiles preferred. I'm sure it's all easily explained today in certain digital preferences.
 

abdo123

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#14
I remember a private discussion decades ago where a designer mentioned to me that listeners actually do quite like a touch of far background noise, say 70dB or so down. Also, reduced stereo separation (as in most vinyl pickup cartridges which at very absolute best in some samples may achieve -40dB in the mids with the wind behind them - usually 25 - 30dB - and I remember a little 'Francinstein' box which did just that to line level devices). I remember back in the day that 'digital silence' could be quite concerting. Add a little 'ringing' to give a nice reverberant halo to the perceived sound, I'm not surpriced that 'valve dacs' or maybe CD players with valve output stages are liked and perhaps in preference.

I remember years ago (mid 1970's - yikes) at being surprised how 'dry' and spacially 'flat' master recordings often sounded compared to the squidged-up vinyls made from them which audiophiles preferred. I'm sure it's all easily explained today in certain digital preferences.
this is not a fair comparison because vinyl does not produce noise when music is not playing.

On the other hand, hearing tweeter hiss on a quiet passage on a movie or when everything is turned on but not playing anything is really a new level of annoyance. it's like existential dread because it keeps going on and on slowly chewing your hearing up till you can't hear a fucking thing in your 50s

btw A-weighted SNR of modern cartidages is much higher than what you think, this is the groove noise of a vinyl with my Ortofon 2M Blue

1621677756469.png
 

DSJR

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#15
Not bad at all - the 2M Blue is a sparkly sounding pickup as well (I'm not criticising). Still kind-of matches the -70 - -75db I mentioned in the lower midrange though :D
 

DHT 845

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#17
this is not a fair comparison because vinyl does not produce noise when music is not playing.
I have to disagree with your point again. If you meat constant noise not related to the signal, then our brain can eliminate it from the experience.
Unless it is very loud...
 

DHT 845

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#19
Great, so we finally agree that noise add nothing positive to the experience. glad we're back on track with common sense.
Don't try to be rude. Again you did not heard that some can even like to sleep with white noise. There are applications on phones and tablets for it.
 
OP
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Thread Starter #20
Thanks everyone for the thought-provoking replies.

It seems the essence of my conundrum is addressed in this thread:

https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...y-sound-perception-and-music-perception.5549/

This discussion reminds me of a TED talk I saw years ago about the negative influence of choice on satisfaction/contentment with the outcome. In other words, if you only had one DAC and couldn’t ever got another one then you’d be very happy with it whereas endless choices appear to result in less overall satisfaction with the decisions (choices in audio gear) that we do make. So it seems we need to determine our own personal threshold for what stereo qualifies as “good enough” so that we can halt unnecessary scrutiny and, rather, enjoy what we do have to the maximum potential that human consciousness will permit.
 
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