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byakuya83's picture
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Tell me about DACs

How do DACs that vary so much in price make a difference when placed between the same input/output?

I'd like to understand a little about the job they do, the components they comprise of and why the differ so largely in cost.

For example, does an expensive DAC improve sound quality over a cheaper DAC by a large margin? Does a more expensive DAC use superior components?

In a simple system of digital source, DAC, integrated amplifier and passive speakers how would you rank the order of importance on each separate on the resultant sound quality?

quadpatch's picture
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RE: Tell me about DACs

I am curious about these things as well but I don't think that there are any easy answers to any of your first 3 questions. The differences are relative and some aspects can take experience to fully notice. I think you are best off testing these differences with your own ears. If you are tempted to add a DAC to your system I would suggest trying one out on a home trial to see what you think for yourself. Don't get too caught up in specifications, reviews and general price banding are more useful.

As for your last question: Here is how I would balance it (I reserve the right to change my mind about this with more experience however, this is just a rough estimate based on my rough opinion):

Digital Source: 0-2%

DAC: 15%

Amp: 33%

Speakers: 50%

Anonymous
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RE: Tell me about DACs

I won't consider price banding to be a sign of a good DAC or not. A DAC with loads of features and expensive electronics would cost more to make. I am thinking of such thing as a display, remote control, case size, weight, etc. These things add to the cost, but don't contribute to the sound quality in any shape or form.

It is quite possible to buy a DAC at less than £200, and there are a few, that would make far more expensive DACs look like level entry products as far as sound reproduction is concerned.

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RE: Tell me about DACs

I'm not saying that price banding is the only factor because of course that's silly but I do think it's a useful element for beginners. I do think it's more useful than looking at what chips are used. For example: Two DACs with the same chip, one can be bad at £100 and another can be great at £500 so the usefulness of looking at that chips is pretty much zero. Compare that with the reviews which will jump on a DAC if it sounds worse than another at half the price. this says a lot about value and it's related to price making it more of a valid guide than the DAC chip itself.

Anonymous
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RE: Tell me about DACs

DACs are not graded by their audio performance and then sold accordingly. If that was the case I would have been a very rich man by now. Having been involved in product pricing and marketing I have stopped believing in any hard and fast rule. That's why it is very helpful for any beginner to read mags like What HIFI etc., where expert listeners are in the main not informed by the editorial team how much the product that they are testing cost. So you get as close to an unblinkered review and test that you can imagine. Over the years many a cracking "sleeper" product has been unearthed that way. The NAD3020 amp springs to mind. If you had to go on price alone, it wouldn't have even been put on the same shelf with any of the well known Japanese brands.

So wallet safely tucked away and What HIFI carefully consulted beforehand is a far better method of selecting a giant killer, than glancing at price labels.

quadpatch's picture
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RE: Tell me about DACs

I'm sure What Hifi's review scores and opinions are based on price. Otherwise how does a cheap product and an expensive product from the same manufacturer get the same 5 stars? Grado sr80 vs Grado PS1000 springs to mind. I'm sure that nobody is suggesting they are both exactly the same quality.

Anonymous
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RE: Tell me about DACs

I don't work for WHF, but I very much doubt that they score products the way you suggest.

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