Audio Asylum Thread Printer
Get a view of an entire thread on one page
|For Sale Ads|
To compare 2 DACs (or any other 2 components for that matter) in a system to discern which one sounds "best", some "experts" say to listen to one for a few days and then the other for a few days and see which one is more to your liking and needs. Others say to A-B them back and forth one after the other as quickly as possible using what acoustic memory you may have. If neither approach seems to work well,is there another way?
I would suggest that comparisons first and foremost need to be level matched. Not hard to do, but few people do it.
I remember one comparison "shootout" where the "winner" was a pretty poor chinese made unit using the cheapest TI made DAC chip going. All DAC's showed a preference expressed with almost 100% confidence relating to level. The higher the level, the higher the DAC scored. Listening was done with the same volume setting for all DAC's.
The second thing is to remember that rapid "A/B-ing" and "King of the Hill" shootouts, even if level matched, tend to emphasise easily audible differences, including giving a tendency for all the most experienced listeners to prefer "overly spaced/spiced/sugared" presentations, which become annoying/fatiguing/boring in the long run.
Meanwhile long term listening tends to reveal differences relating to listening fatigue and emotional connection with the music but tend to gloss over differences in tonality or 3D imaging.
A third thing is that both system, environment and listener(s) need to be up to the task. If I had a solid nite down the pub yesterday, I will not even try to listen critically, same goes for climate extremes etc. And some systems while sounding mighty pleasing, tend to gloss over differences in sound quality upstream, while others overemphasise tiny differences, but fail to satisfy long term.
So the truth is surely out there and probably somewhere between the lunatic fringe and the stolid middle.
Personally I'd say if I cannot hear a difference in quick AB nor feel more drawn into the music by one or or the other product in long term listening, there may still be a difference to others - but non that I care about.
If the piece in question makes me fatigued so I just want to stop listening, or it makes me bored enough to prefer to head over to the Pub or switch over to TV, well, then the device/system is failing fundamentally at it's job, no matter how spectacular or pleasing it sound in an A/B KOH situation.
At 20 bits, you are on the verge of dynamic range covering fly-farts-at-20-feet to untolerable pain. Really, what more could we need?
"If neither approach seems to work well,is there another way?"
Yes, use both approaches.
I use the quick A/B comparison to spot any immediate weaknesses that would annoy me long term. ;-) Really. If one DAC stands out as lacking something I desire, the quick A/B comparison quickly reveals it especially if the two DACs sound noticeably different, and some do.
Beyond that, if I find both DACs to sound outstanding by my initial standards, I'll listen long term to determine the 'winner'. In some cases it's a toss up and I'll keep the less expensive DAC.
Many good DACs will not exhibit significant weaknesses but may be 'voiced' slightly different by their respective designer. IMHO many buyers place too much emphasis on which latest DAC chip of the month is listed on the manufacturer's marketing slick. There have been many excellent DAC chips available in recent years and it's up to the designer to get the most out of it including the very important analog output stage of the finished product.
A couple A/B losers that I threw out in short order:
- Luxman DA-06 DAC
- Wavelength Brick USB DAC v3
Both of these were very 'smooth' but noticeably rolled-off at the frequency extremes and lacking dynamic punch. Maybe the designer was going for a very polite presentation. They were fine with female vocals and smooth jazz but music with more complexity and slam had no slam. A case of significant weaknesses immediately revealed in a quick A/B test against other DACs I had.
The problem with DACs and digital audio playback in general is that most people haven't heard a really good one..... To better know what to listen for......
Also, I personally need to live for at least a month with a DAC to determine whether I really like it. I've often rejected a DAC after just a few days. (Often after being "wow'ed" by it on initial listen.) The better ones I can live with for a few weeks, but I still ultimately reject them. I've owned only three digital sources that I could live with for at least six months time. The Prism DA-2 (maybe the 2nd best DAC I've heard, but expensive), Schiit Bifrost (Uber or later), and Philips 935 changer with its output stage replaced by a good high-end circuit. (The DAC on the 935 is to die for, but only after replacing the output stage.)
The first item, if you know anybody who has a Wadia 7/9 combination, that is the reference to judge all digital audio playback against. Most stuff put out since the year 2000 hasn't impressed me all that much.
The second item, do you start feeling like shutting it down after just half an hour to an hour? Do you have the urge to play vinyl or open reel?
I don't find quick A/B comparisons particularly useful for digital audio..... Analog audio, yes. But not digital audio.
I owned a Wadia 7/9 DAC and Transport. Believe me, this is no reference compared to modern DACs such as the Ayre QX-5 Twenty. Not even close.
"I owned a Wadia 7/9 DAC and Transport. Believe me, this is no reference compared to modern DACs such as the Ayre QX-5 Twenty. Not even close."
There was a time where I thought CD playback was hopelessly flawed, and it would never sound right regardless of technology or money spent.... (I've felt this way about high-resolution digital audio for the past 15 years.) The experience with the Wadia 7/9 at an audio store in Cleveland in the early 1990s transformed my outlook on CD playback. The Wadia/Rowland/Avalon system, to this day, threw the most sculpted soundstage I've ever heard.
(One of the CDs was a Deutsche-Grammophon Pierre Boulez Stravinsky "Petrushka" w the Cleveland Orchestra..... It felt like I could smell the floor polish inside Severance Hall.... I have this CD, but never sounded like it did in that Cleveland audio store, "Sound Resource", which closed just a few years after that.)
But this doesn't mean everybody who experienced it would like it.....
If the Wadia 7/9 system weren't so darned expensive (even used- the resale value of this product is insane), I would have sought one.
There are plenty of great DACs around, if one is prepared to do a little research. Schiit might make nice ones, but they are far from the only ones about.
Many of us have heard great DACs, commercially available or not. Give us some credit!
"... only a very few individuals understand as yet that personal salvation is a contradiction in terms."
> > To compare 2 DACs (or any other 2 components for that matter) in a system to discern which one sounds "best", some "experts" say to listen to one for a few days and then the other for a few days and see which one is more to your liking and needs. Others say to A-B them back and forth one after the other as quickly as possible using what acoustic memory you may have. If neither approach seems to work well,is there another way? < <
If there were a definitive answer to this question, the world would be a much happier and nicer place. Here is what I've found so far:
1) Quick A/B testing tells one thing with exquisite sensitivity - differences in frequency response (ie, tonal balance). Unfortunately that is the *only* information that can be gained from this test. What's worse is that this is almost totally meaningless. Deviations in frequency response between any piece of electronics will be totally swamped by differences in the FR of the transducers (speakers or headphones) and the listening environment (room or shape of your head and ears). Every 3' of air will attenuate 20 kHz by almost another 1/2 dB. A/B testing tells us nothing of soundstaging, resolution, inner detail, focus, transparency, continuity, et cetera, et cetera.
2) Long-term listening can tell us much more. Forget about the "studies" that "prove" human aural memory is very short. That is clearly wrong, as you can recognize a loved one's voice after many years, even on a such a low fidelity device as a modern telephone which digitizes the signal at 8 bits and has a frequency range of 300Hz to 3kHz.
My preferred process is to choose at least a half dozen or a dozen recording that you know intimately (because you love listening to them), play them three at a time through component A and then the same three (in any order) through component B.
3) There are two ways to notice differences. One will be in all of the "audiophile" terms - soundstaging, focus, inner detail, bass impact, treble extension, transparency, et cetera, et cetera.
The other way is to simply listen to the music for the reason that *anybody* listens to music - because it is *enjoyable*. Almost always one component will engage your attention and mental focus more than the other. That is the better component. With the poorer component you will find yourself thinking about the bills that need to be paid, the argument you had with your kids, how many things you need to finish before the day is over, and so forth.
Judging equipment in this last way is usually not automatically easy. It does however explain how the significant other in the next room will call out and say, "Honey the stereo sounds great - what did you change?". The problem for the audiophile is that, as humans, we generally only train our brains to do one thing at a time. The *instant* that you ask yourself the question, "Am I engaged in the music?" you are automatically no longer engaged in the music!
I've found two ways around this conundrum. One is to meditate and train your mind to do more than one thing at a time. If you don't have time to practice meditation, the easiest thing is to forget *everything* but the music itself. Then *after* the music is over, remember how much you did or did not enjoy it.
I believe our current understanding of the ear/brain mechanism is woefully incomplete and that the next decade will reveal amazing new insights that will explain much of what is currently inexplicable regarding the reproduction of music and sound. Hope this helps.
As always, only my personal opinion, prone to error and not necessarily those of my employer of neurophysicist.
"I believe our current understanding of the ear/brain mechanism is woefully incomplete and that the next decade will reveal amazing new insights that will explain much of what is currently inexplicable regarding the reproduction of music and sound."
Indeed, Cognitive and Hearing sciences are spending a large amount of time to try to understand perception. There is enough out there, that if someone familiarizes themselves with the science, you can "connect the dots" into some interesting, testable hypotheses. This is what appears is happening for memory, vision, and also sound.
The problem with sound perception is too many people are relying upon "survey" style data gathering rather than more objective measures. I think this will likely change, as the COgnitive Scientists tend to rely upon the FMRI to get a direct read on where the brain activates which can give them clues as to what the brain is doing.
One, could, for instance, examine the brain of a musician as they are reading sheet music, listening to a cheap clock radio and a high end stereo with optimized room, and determine if the thought that a musician is "performing" the song through memory or truly listening to the recording as compared to a non-musician "civilian"
I'd expect over the next 10-20 years we will be in a position where we will see that before, were all trending towards truth, but will have so much better tools, that we will have the pleasure of re-inventing new immersive experiences with music that make all of our systems seem like the quaint mechanical 78 players of our grand and great-grandparents! At least we can hope!
"We have met the enemy and he is us" - Pogo
I especially like your observation about voice recognition.
Back in the 90s, I did software tech support and got to recognize quite a few of my regular customers - never having met them face to face - by their voice alone. Once, a customer left a call without leaving their name and I was asked about it. Oh yes, that's George Sutton at Diversitech. :)
Recall many years ago visiting a speaker manufacturer with a group of audiophiles and other members of the equipment a speaker manufacturer communities. We were listening to vinyl with the owners system in a listening room be had at his large woodworking shop which included custom built SET monoblocks which everyone was sitting around enjoying when a guy walked in with a new 'audiophile' chip amp.
We plugged it into his system and marveled at how well (better?) it controlled the speakers and the dynamics and frequency range. About 5 minutes later I looked around the room and only myself and one other guy, tube amp manufacturer, were left in the room. Everyone else was off in the kitchen chatting.
"All that feedback in those 'chips' in that amp just steals the 'soul' from the music. That's why everyone left." said he.
Never forgot that.
Thanks for sharing. Unfortunately it will be written off by many as "anecdotal evidence". (Fewer here than at many other audio forums.)
Strictly my personal opinion, prone to error and not necessarily those of my employer or ABX test box.
I have bad hearing due to a chronic hearing disease for which I have been operated upon several times. But if i have listened to my system for a long while and make a temporary modification to a component, or add a new piece of equipment and listen for a week or so (yes, I have that luxury) I can tell what I prefer.
I suggest building audio memory by making a mental note of one vs. the other by first swapping them out after short-term comparisons, then at some point in time choose the one you wish to listen to the most. Give that one further listening for a considerably longer period of time, then swap them out again. That way you will have more evaluation time, and distinct observations to ponder, including subconscious impressions and irrational musical enjoyment.
Rapid switching between components may reveal differences in sound but will not indicate how good either is musically. In fact it will not necessarily even show which has the best sound. The most important factor is how the DAC plays music which requires more extended listening.
Audio Note's longstanding methodology fails too. What if every slight difference is deliniated clearly yet neither DAC in the comparison gets a single one of your blood corpuscles dancing? Their idea confuses sound with music. They are not the same thing.
I happen to know Peter Q and for him it is 100% about the music. The argument he makes is that the biggest problem with most music reproduction is homogeneous sound...a sameness in reproduction that will elicit boredom. A system that has the most differences will not be boring since you will be kept on your toes as every recording (and every track) will be different.
an example might be the Bose 901 that can creates a huge stage whether there is a huge stage or not. So while that may be impressive that the stage is 30 feet wide - it's not so great when a piano is 30 feet wide or a trumpet is 30 feet wide.
As someone who has read a lot of reviews of them and own some of it I find it interesting when I read a review of something from them that is polar opposite of the next review - even by the same reviewers. Vague small soundstage in one review - panoramic soundstage in the next. One review says coloured the next review wholly transparent. Fast versus slow, boxy VS open, Big, Small. Vastly dynamic, dynamically small. And that happens because it gives you the recordings and the equipment.
One of my biggest problems with very popular planar speakers is that I sat in front of a pair for about an hour and played acoustic piano/male singer, Compressed Lady Gaga pop music, Well recorded Beethoven, some trance, rock and roll - and a sameness didn't go away - it all had a kind of flat sheen to everything. Clear yes, crisp and clean, check. But it was a stamped on sound created by the speakers. It sounded best with live opera where you could practically see the singers walking across the stage. If that is what you listen to - awesome Corpuscles will dance. But across a wide range of music I'd be bored from the same presentation.
I think other stuff does a fine job of what Peter is talking about but I think it's a pretty good goal to reduce that homogeneous sound.
Yes. Audio Note suggests an intriguing alternative method. Rather than listening for how a given piece of music sounds better on one component versus another, listen for how each component maximizes the diffference among various pieces of music.
Below, is the URL:
"Yes. Audio Note suggests an intriguing alternative method. Rather than listening for how a given piece of music sounds better on one component versus another, listen for how each component maximizes the diffference among various pieces of music."
I happen to agree with this.... And also various recordings of the same music.... A lot of DACs put a "house sound" on the music. Which can get tiring over time.
If you can't tell the diff that way, try some other Dacs until it is obvious which you prefer.
Also, be SURE all settings are correct!
Post a Message!
This post is made possible by the generous support of people like you and our sponsors: