Author Topic: So what do you actually listen for in a DAC?  (Read 3862 times)

Offline Rick

So what do you actually listen for in a DAC?
« on: January 19, 2018, 12:08:43 AM »
After listening to probably 10 different DAC's on and off through the same system - Forget the list for now but its wide with new and old thrown in- and trying to judge to my own taste what I like and the criteria I am choosing, not just that it sounds "good" or "bad" to me but what exactly is it that am I hearing that I may like or dislike?

I actually found this really difficult to pin down?

My own preference in a DAC came down eventually to three things:

1) What I call a "dark" background quiet or very quiet and music can emanate very vibrantly from that "darkness" and vanish back into it (Probably referring to dynamic range doubt I am hearing a noise floor?)
2) The ability to handle extremely complex sounds such as some classical with around 20 or more instruments playing together clearly without it sounding like a random wall of noise (I found many I heard fall flat on their face here) with only a few "types" of DAC chip handing it - to my ears at least - subjective
3) The ability to play very low frequencies whilst still maintaining perfect clarity of other much softer higher frequency sounds in the background

This is just my 2 cents what I listen for and found that the sound of a DAC can range from painful and annoying to just perfect and sublime, how do other forum members evaluate a DAC, what do you actually look for in a "good" DAC?
« Last Edit: January 19, 2018, 12:14:44 AM by Rick »

Offline 1200GXman

Re: So what do you actually listen for in a DAC?
« Reply #1 on: January 19, 2018, 07:13:49 AM »
What is your preferred DAC then which meets your requirements?
Sansui AU-101, Sansui AU3900, Rotel RA935BX, Pioneer SA-6500 Mkii, Marantz PM53, DIY kit amplifier

Offline Lupo

Re: So what do you actually listen for in a DAC?
« Reply #2 on: January 19, 2018, 10:48:08 AM »
Interesting read.  Helpful guidelines to use in any audition I'd say  :thumbs:

Offline Dubya Jay Dee

Re: So what do you actually listen for in a DAC?
« Reply #3 on: January 19, 2018, 12:23:47 PM »

I listen for stereo imaging, dynamics and timbral accuracy.

Must sound neutral to slightly warm overall.

Offline GoodEnoughGear

Re: So what do you actually listen for in a DAC?
« Reply #4 on: January 19, 2018, 12:38:43 PM »
I have issues with sibilance, so it's that hot region around 5-8k, graininess and sibilance first since that is a disqualifier for me. Then timbre and tonal accuracy (especially through headphones since I know my room needs correction). I also listen through monitors and try to relax and let the DAC make an impression on me rather than A/B ing or getting too clinical. Blackness and detail come after that.
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Offline chrisc

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Re: So what do you actually listen for in a DAC?
« Reply #5 on: January 19, 2018, 03:18:50 PM »
I have also listened (in my own system) to about 10 DACs and another 5 in other people's homes, my criteria are:

Plenty of detail
Well-balanced sound
Slightly warm, as opposed to a general clinical sound
Very good signal to noise ratio
Must resolve all types of digital signals
Balanced output is a boon
Need to have USB, co-ax and SPDIF inputs

For me, the one that ticked all the boxes is the DENAFRIPS Ares
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Offline kamikazi

Re: So what do you actually listen for in a DAC?
« Reply #6 on: January 20, 2018, 09:25:41 AM »
The best DAC is the one where you forget that you are listening to a DAC and only focus on the music. One DAC that I've come to really appreciate and enjoy on this aspect is the Lampi Amber DAC.

My experience with most modern day DACs appear that of detail dredgers and I can definitely relate to Rick's comments about a "wall of noise", but it felt like the better the analogue output stage was designed the better this to delineate instruments and different melodies became, it is also noticeable in the quality of the bass.

Offline Nidri

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Re: So what do you actually listen for in a DAC?
« Reply #7 on: January 20, 2018, 12:26:43 PM »
I've noticed that when I'm happy with my system overall,
I enjoy it even when I'm not seated optimally.
I.e. even at some distance away, nowhere near the sweet spot,
with all kinds of obstacles between me and the speakers, I can still really enjoy the music.

I suppose that tells me I'm less concerned with imaging, soundstage, timing, etc. than I am with tonality/timbre.
And whilst achieving the most pleasing (to my ears) tonal balance is obviously a function of total system synergy,
I do feel some DAC's are more likely than other to help me get there.

Though I've tried all manner of (reasonably priced) DAC's, I keep gravitating towards (and being happiest with) those based on older Burr Brown multibit chips like the PCM63, PCM1702 and PCM1704.
(Previously an Ayon CD-5, currently an Aqua La Voce S2 (magical), occasionally an EAD DSP 7000II.)

I know it's all about the implementation, output stage, etc. as opposed to just the DAC chip, but my ears must be old school or something.

That said, I'm open to new things.
The Sabre-based Bricasti M1 is said to be quite warm, 'analog' and smooth, so if someone would lend me one I'd be happy to take up the challenge and become a Sabre convert. I'll wear a T-Shirt and everything.

Offline AlienLlama

Re: So what do you actually listen for in a DAC?
« Reply #8 on: February 13, 2018, 08:54:01 PM »
After listening to probably 10 different DAC's on and off through the same system - Forget the list for now but its wide with new and old thrown in- and trying to judge to my own taste what I like and the criteria I am choosing, not just that it sounds "good" or "bad" to me but what exactly is it that am I hearing that I may like or dislike?

I actually found this really difficult to pin down?

My own preference in a DAC came down eventually to three things:

1) What I call a "dark" background quiet or very quiet and music can emanate very vibrantly from that "darkness" and vanish back into it (Probably referring to dynamic range doubt I am hearing a noise floor?)
2) The ability to handle extremely complex sounds such as some classical with around 20 or more instruments playing together clearly without it sounding like a random wall of noise (I found many I heard fall flat on their face here) with only a few "types" of DAC chip handing it - to my ears at least - subjective
3) The ability to play very low frequencies whilst still maintaining perfect clarity of other much softer higher frequency sounds in the background

This is just my 2 cents what I listen for and found that the sound of a DAC can range from painful and annoying to just perfect and sublime, how do other forum members evaluate a DAC, what do you actually look for in a "good" DAC?

Very insightful, thanks


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Offline Wolla

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Re: So what do you actually listen for in a DAC?
« Reply #9 on: February 14, 2018, 01:00:19 AM »
Ooh, interesting subject.

I like a detailed, clean, natural sounding dac. The music will ad the necessary dynamics. The systemís clarity/transparency must be high and the combined noise floor must be super low.

I have not had that many dacs, but my favourite for the past 2 years onwards, is the Korg DS-DAC-100 which also happens to be very affordable.

My fav portable devices (and their built-in dacs) are Apple iPod Touch 6th Gen and the LG V20. These 2 arenít perfect, but fits all my must haves pretty well.

DACs which have NOT impressed me much and sold again:
Chord MoJo (fidly and not as effortlessly transparent as the Korg) Although I have only ever heard and owned the Mojo and I base this statement on that experience, is that: the Chord dacs are over hyped and I will not buy another one, even if I could afford it.
Audioquest Dragonfly 1.2 (did not sound much better than my notebookís onboard dac and ran quite hot)
Audiolab M-DAC (I particularly disliked this one, since it just did not sound natural at all and literally could not reproduce a piano - in any of its 100000 modes)
HiFiWow that was a group-buy here on the forum. (I bought one here used and it was DOA. I sent it back to the Seller and did not get any of my money back. Left a very bad taste indeed.)
Emotiva dac/pre it was ok, but ultimately a bit meh
Of course YMMV, so take what I say with a pinch of salt.

Lets hear from some more experiences.
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Offline Hi-Phibian

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Re: So what do you actually listen for in a DAC?
« Reply #10 on: February 14, 2018, 07:40:19 AM »
If I have to listen for something itís probably not a dac for me.
It mustnít bite but just as much it mustnít bore. 
When things get complex it mustnít confuse but it has to keep rhythm and timing intact.  An easy spec not as easy to fulfil. 







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Offline Rodney_gold

Re: So what do you actually listen for in a DAC?
« Reply #11 on: February 14, 2018, 08:30:27 AM »
I dont understand this "when things get complex" thing in relation to a dac...I have found this more to be a function of speaker/room/amplification than a dac...why would a dac get confused and make a hash of it when music gets complex?
Roon/tidal > Squeezebox touch> Trinnov St2 >2x Devialet D premiers>  Vivid audio Giya G1 spirits ..fully treated room

Offline Rotten Johnny

Re: So what do you actually listen for in a DAC?
« Reply #12 on: February 14, 2018, 08:47:53 AM »
Some DACs resolve detail better than others...when things get busy it can sound like a jumbled mess.  Decent cans are telling as are good rooms like yours.  Problem is you've never owned a crap DAC.
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Free your mind...and your ass will follow.

Offline AlienLlama

Re: So what do you actually listen for in a DAC?
« Reply #13 on: February 14, 2018, 09:03:47 AM »
Some DACs resolve detail better than others...when things get busy it can sound like a jumbled mess.  Decent cans are telling as are good rooms like yours.  Problem is you've never owned a crap DAC.
Very True

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Offline Rodney_gold

Re: So what do you actually listen for in a DAC?
« Reply #14 on: February 14, 2018, 09:36:16 AM »
I still dont get it...if a dac didnt resolve detail , why would it only do so on complex music .. it doesnt know what music its playing?
ALL music would be muddled .. even a simple plucking of a double bass would be compromised with loss of detail
I *have*  owned and played with some really cheap dacs ..whether they were crap is debatable
Roon/tidal > Squeezebox touch> Trinnov St2 >2x Devialet D premiers>  Vivid audio Giya G1 spirits ..fully treated room