Home Digital Drive

Upsamplers, DACs, jitter, shakes and analogue withdrawals, this is it.

RE: Color your DAC to align with your preference

i didn't discount your possibility but you still don't acknowledge the possibility that I laid out.

Vacuum tubes are part of the equation but only part.

"Better or far superior is hard to define in recent DACs and more about personal preference. "

There are objective things that can be compared, such as tone compared to real instruments tone, soundstage and imaging that has 3d and depth compared to flat. Dynamics are another big factor. Most of these cheap DACs sound compressed regardless of the musical content. Perhaps you only realize this once you have heard one that is unbridled. BTW. also some expensive ones sound this way too...but it is a serious issue with low cost DACs.

The DACs you claim are so good for low money are not really very good once you compare them to better designs.

I do not believe the trope that the DAC chips are now so advanced that the rest can be cheap and the sound great. Where most of these budget DACs fall down is in the power supply and the output stage. They simply don't sound very good...again once you compare to superior sounding DACs. On their own, they sound "ok". But if you were listening to CD only, an old Mark Levinson No.360s will sound far better (yes it's all SS) for around $2K used than any of these new DACs. Or an OLD PS Audio.

I have one that uses the UltraAnalog 20 bit chip and has discrete output stage (again all SS) and it sounds VERY good with 16/44. You wouldn't understand why people were so harsh with digital in the past as it is smooth, resolved, nice tone and has plenty of drive...it just won't do high res or USB. Same for the Kinergetics Research KCD-55 Ultra that I have. It is also 16/44 only. It also uses the UltraAnalog chips (2 of them...that still go for hundreds of bucks used!), and once its been on for a few days...damn it sounds good too.

Finally, I also have a Metrum Octave MK2 (I used to also have the two-box tiny MKI as well). This uses 8 unknown R2R chips NOS with no output stage at all. This is resolved, slightly warm but quite upfront and honest and would be my choice (or whatever the company makes now that replaced it) for a DAC under $1K. Or for just over that a Monarchy M24 DAC (20bit version). For under $2K the Metrum Hex (used) would also be an interesting option.

The truth about digital from the past is this: It MIGHT be slightly lower resolution but the care in design of the digital filter, power supply and output stage resulted in DACs that sound GOOD. A used Sonic Frontiers DAC would also be a superb choice. A ML No.35 is also an excellent choice for those who don't want "tube" coloration. Oh, and the Moon Eclipse cd player, which will also work as a DAC, is a superb option as well for the non-tube crowd and can be found used for reasonable money.

I stream with Qobuz and it is possible to limit the streaming choices to 16/44...so, an old DAC could be used with modern streaming as long as your streamer has SPDIF or AES/EBU outputs. I limit my streaming to 24/96 because my DAC doesn't lock very well to 192.

As I mentioned below, I compared my Ayon Skylla with an Ayon Stratos that uses much more up-to-date ESS chips. The output stages are IDENTICAL. the result? More similar than different. Both sound great and better than the chifi I have heard by a large amount.

A friend of mine had a Chif Topping DAC and he thought he was happy...until I brought over an APL DSD-AR DAC (again all SS). The difference was stunning to the point that he happily paid me $3500 for the privilege of owning it (I found my Ayon better sounding but the APL is very good).

Edits: 11/05/23

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