• WANTED: Happy members who like to discuss audio and other topics related to our interest. Desire to learn and share knowledge of science required as is 20 years of participation in forums (not all true). Come here to have fun, be ready to be teased and not take online life too seriously. We now measure and review equipment for free! Click here for details.

Serious question-How do you deal with people thinking a DAC has a SOUND SIGNATURE?

Joined
Jan 11, 2020
Messages
90
Likes
54
I have seen this argument spawn on way too many forums here. Has anyone ever taken a set of two DACs in question, volume matched them at DAC output aka RCA, XLR etc ( not post the AMP and Speaker or Headphone), then used a spectrum analyzer on a musical or encoded test source and then A/B to see if there is any measured difference? This way it is measured and not heard. It will help stop the debate. If you want to go further A/B the two DAC outputs against the recoded master and see if there is delta. Again stop other arguments
 
Joined
Jul 1, 2019
Messages
11
Likes
4
Location
Pune, IN
went through 30 pages of this debate and now seriously wondering if there is something wrong with my ears.
Leave alone DAC differences, i can’t hear any difference between a 700 INR ($10 ) TPA3116D2 board and an old integrated amp that cost me 100x back in the day ...
The less I say about digital or speaker cables the better... :(

The only 2 things I have seen making a difference in the chains I use are speakers (D-uh) and digital room correction ...
but then there is this other board I visit where a user wanted his system to sound comparably good at low volumes at night as it does at reference levels.
I suggested REQ / dynamic volume algorithms and I swear I was hounded down - his final solution was $700 ceramic/tungsten carbide roller blocks that go under the pre-amp and amp ..
and I quote “installing them resulted in immediate difference in the rhythm - it became faster - which usually makes the songs more musical. This was easily perceivable in rock` drums as well as classical tabla etc. Must have been a result of the further reduced boom and improved bass definition."

I must start a quest for hearing aids now - more specifically a set with unobtainium casing and vibranium coated cables that is so transparent that it lifts the veil around me
 
Joined
Nov 26, 2019
Messages
43
Likes
35
Location
Canada
There is no way to deal with this issue except shake your head and walk away. The Republican senators in the United States have just demonstrated this admirably. People, no matter how educated, will ignore facts and continue to wallow in the mud of their ignorance and denial.
 
Joined
Feb 7, 2020
Messages
70
Likes
44
Okay, so based on your experience, at what point on your measuring scale do the differences become effectively inaudible?
SINAD 85,90,95,100, etc?
Seems to me that logic would say there is some level at which the differences measured become inaudible, and then a $300 DAC with, say, SINAD of 90, is just as good sounding as a $2000 DAC with SINAD of 115. What does your experience tell you?
Okay, so based on your experience, at what point on your measuring scale do the differences become effectively inaudible?
SINAD 85,90,95,100, etc?
Seems to me that logic would say there is some level at which the differences measured become inaudible, and then a $300 DAC with, say, SINAD of 90, is just as good sounding as a $2000 DAC with SINAD of 115. What does your experience tell you?
Has anyone ever answered this question? I notice that you have asked the same question or one very similar to it elsewhere on this site. It raises a fundamental issue: How do differences in these specific measurements relate to what one hears? What data can be presented to support the assumption that a SINAD of 115 is superior (from the standpoint of listening) to one of 100? Otherwise, I can't see how this anything more than elaborate upmanship about specs.
 
Joined
Dec 26, 2019
Messages
71
Likes
69
Has anyone ever answered this question? I notice that you have asked the same question or one very similar to it elsewhere on this site. It raises a fundamental issue: How do differences in these specific measurements relate to what one hears? What data can be presented to support the assumption that a SINAD of 115 is superior (from the standpoint of listening) to one of 100? Otherwise, I can't see how this anything more than elaborate upmanship about specs.
I doubt they have any audible difference at all.

DACs sound the same to my ears.

The important thing is their build quality, the guarantee policy, and what features and connections they offer.
 

solderdude

Major Contributor
Joined
Jul 21, 2018
Messages
4,749
Likes
8,749
Location
The Neverlands
Has anyone ever answered this question? I notice that you have asked the same question or one very similar to it elsewhere on this site. It raises a fundamental issue: How do differences in these specific measurements relate to what one hears? What data can be presented to support the assumption that a SINAD of 115 is superior (from the standpoint of listening) to one of 100? Otherwise, I can't see how this anything more than elaborate upmanship about specs.
SINAD is not a measure of sound quality. One can have 2 DACs with the exact same SINAD yet can sound very different depending on phase or amplitude deviations.

SINAD only says something about the noise level + distortion of a 1kHz testtone (at a specified level) at a certain output voltage.
You see it says nothing about sound. It is just a number generated by a test device.

Just like S/N ratio or THD at a certain frequency, IM distortion at certain frequencies or specified within a certain frequency band are generated numbers one can easily rank.
When one ranks such numbers you can get a good sense how various devices perform in that single department.
It does not include ALL measurable aspects that matter. Just the one in the graph.
One can say the one with the best numbers is the best performing one and could conclude that (at least at 1kHz) it is objectively the best measuring DAC.

Then look at FR response, filter response, multitones and other aspects such as waveforms etc. and then you could rank the whole DAC and perhaps get a better 'feel' of the actual sound quality.

Our persistent, but hard learning, friend in this forum compares output to input (nulling) and ranks according to that. In principle this could generate a better 'single number'. Nulling, however, has the disadvantage that time and amplitude differences are both converted to amplitude. So one needs to 'ignore' time issues that are inaudible and psycho-acoustic effects of certain types of distortion should be taken into account as well to get a meaningful 'number' out of it. Requires more effort.

In the end specs matter and DO say a lot about signal 'fidelity' but one needs to look at far more than SINAD and needs to understand audibility thresholds with music (and not all music and recordings are the same). It takes effort and knowledge to say something about SQ based on a set of measurements. Those that do not (fully) understand will say: measurements are worthless.... yeas to them because they do not understand it and may have a warped sense of audibility thresholds of various measurement aspects. Doesn't make measurements worthless.

Then we have the next hurdle .. the brain ... but that's another story.
 
Joined
Nov 9, 2019
Messages
28
Likes
12
If all DACs sound the same, then why bother measuring them? Or are DACs measured purely to find the "bad" ones, and only poorly measuring DACs will sound bad?

Most DACs will measure well, and therefore all of these DACs that measure well, will sound the same?
 

solderdude

Major Contributor
Joined
Jul 21, 2018
Messages
4,749
Likes
8,749
Location
The Neverlands
I guess you did not read what I wrote above your post.
Not all DACs sound the same. There are some that sound different.
Measurements can show the ones that measure differently.
If that is different enough this can be audible.
Audible doesn't mean poor sounding per definition, just different sounding, or indeed poor sounding.
It all depends on the rest of the system as well, for instance when speakers are tipped up in the highs a rolled-off treble may sound 'better'.
 
Last edited:

Robin L

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Joined
Sep 2, 2019
Messages
736
Likes
619
Location
1 mile east of Sleater Kinney Rd
I recall listening to a lot of digital, as far back as 1985. I was using fairly decent component gear to play LPs, found the sound of CD players for the most part as vague, lacking resolution. Some details might pop up in digital playback that were not as present in LP playback, but for the most part LPs ruled my world in the 1980s. So a lot of my biases around digital replay developed some 35 years ago, and were justified by the playback I was hearing at the time.

Around 1995 I acquired a t.c.electronics M2000 audio processor. I bought it for the reverb functions, using it in post-production of recordings. It's got a great, useful set of Hall sounds. But what makes this unit special are the high-quality ADCs and DACs. 20-bit capable, which was a big deal back then. I remember taking this digital Swiss army knife to the local high-end audio shop, comparing its output to the DAC built in a Krell CD player, theoretically superior due to the very short distance between the transport's output and the DAC. The quality of the sound was so much better from the M2000 than the Krell. Particularly in the bass, with the M2000 much more pitch-specific. It was much easier to hear the tunes in the bass.

Of course, 1995 is 25 years ago.

As far as I can tell, the biggest breakthrough in digital replay came back around 2009. We got a blu-ray player. The sound of CDs played on that machine was significantly better than what I heard before. The de-facto standard of 24/192 playback changed the game. It's not that we hear 24 bits of resolution or 90khz tones. It's that 24/192 capable gear gets out of the way of what's in the CD's pits. Or the file's bits. Anyway, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

What that means is that today's DACs are required to do things that make it very difficult for modern DACs to sound all that much different, save such issues as the quality of the op-amps buffering the DAC's output—as witnessed on this forum, the output of DACs are all over the place as regards voltage levels, impedance and distortion. But for the most part modern DACs get out of the way of the music. My Fiio M3K DAP is that company's "low-end" offering at $70. It's low-power but has higher output than my tablet or phone. I'm hearing more meaningful musical detail via that player and some halfway decent headphones than I did back when it was Stax earspeakers and that t.c. electronics processor.
 

raistlin65

Senior Member
Joined
Nov 13, 2019
Messages
473
Likes
635
Location
Grand Rapids, MI
This has also been my experience. I'm trying to go through as many related posts as I can on here before I purchase my next DAC.
The problem you have is that if people did sighted listening comparisons between DACs, then their subjective impressions are unreliable. Read this to learn more: http://nwavguy.blogspot.com/2012/04/what-we-hear.html

So the best strategy can be to come up with a budget and choose a DAC based on the features you need and how it measures, and not stress too much about how it will sound.
 

TomB19

Active Member
Joined
Oct 13, 2019
Messages
106
Likes
76
I swapped out a Topping D30 for a brand new D50s when a buddy was over. He watched the unboxing and wanted to check it out.

I noticed a lot more midrange immediately. That upset him and he stormed out. That was a couple of months ago. No joke, we haven't spoken to this day. lol!

Swapping the D30 back in lowered the midrange back. It took a while to figure out how to configure the D50s to sound roughly identical to the D30. I had to turn off the preamp in the D50s, change the config on my player, etc.

Yeah, the sound quality is nearly identical. I feel I can tell the difference between the two, even now.

So, Mr. Screan, I suggest you put me on ignore and make yourself happy in whatever world you enjoy.
 

SIY

Technical Expert
Technical Expert
Joined
Apr 6, 2018
Messages
4,229
Likes
8,141
Location
Phoenix, AZ
I swapped out a Topping D30 for a brand new D50s when a buddy was over. He watched the unboxing and wanted to check it out.

I noticed a lot more midrange immediately. That upset him and he stormed out. That was a couple of months ago. No joke, we haven't spoken to this day. lol!

Swapping the D30 back in lowered the midrange back. It took a while to figure out how to configure the D50s to sound roughly identical to the D30. I had to turn off the preamp in the D50s, change the config on my player, etc.

Yeah, the sound quality is nearly identical. I feel I can tell the difference between the two, even now.

So, Mr. Screan, I suggest you put me on ignore and make yourself happy in whatever world you enjoy.
Level match, double blind. That is critical if you want an accurate evaluation.
 

Julf

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Mar 1, 2016
Messages
1,519
Likes
1,668
Location
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
People hear, based on whatever bias they take into the listening room. This means if someone believes there can be no difference because the measurements say so, then their brain will trick them into not hearing a difference.
Even if that would be the case, all it takes is one person that believes they can hear a difference and actually proves they can do it in a proper double-blind. For some reason we don't seem to see that happening....
 
Joined
Nov 26, 2019
Messages
43
Likes
35
Location
Canada
The argument over subjective and objective evaluations in audio has been going on as long as I can remember and at the age of 70 I can still remember a long way back. It really is unimportant and neither protagonist should feel the need to convert the other to their way of thinking. It’s old hat, and I wish folks would get onto more important debates such as how many angels would fit on the stylus of a moving coil cartridge.
 

Julf

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Mar 1, 2016
Messages
1,519
Likes
1,668
Location
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
The argument over subjective and objective evaluations in audio has been going on as long as I can remember and at the age of 70 I can still remember a long way back. It really is unimportant and neither protagonist should feel the need to convert the other to their way of thinking. It’s old hat, and I wish folks would get onto more important debates such as how many angels would fit on the stylus of a moving coil cartridge.
Yes, it is an age-old debate. It reminds me of that debate between Bill Nye ("the science guy") and creationist Ken Ham. At one point both were asked "what would it take to make you change your view". Bill Nye answered "evidence", while Ham basically said "Nothing, I believe (my view of) the Bible".
 

BDWoody

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Jan 9, 2019
Messages
2,157
Likes
4,100
Location
Mid-Atlantic, USA. (Maryland)
It should be obvious by now that there’s a parameter that no one has yet discovered how to measure. i will call it Audio-Umami. Some are more sensitive than others in discerning it’s subtlety. More power to them. They can listen, enjoy, and smile whilst others babble the worn out ‘snake-oil’ cliche.
Uh huh...

People hear, based on whatever bias they take into the listening room. This means if someone believes there can be no difference because the measurements say so, then their brain will trick them into not hearing a difference.
Mmm hmmm...

It really is unimportant and neither protagonist should feel the need to convert the other to their way of thinking. It’s old hat, and I wish folks would get onto more important debates...
Right...

Most of us here don't believe in Audio-Umami, and when it's suggested as the missing answer...but only if we are of the lucky enlightened few...you don't expect a response?
 
Top Bottom