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DAC - is this the latest "snake oil" hi-fi product?

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Hardwriter
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Hardwriter posted on Sun, Jul 15 2012 10:35 PM

Over the years I seen much written in hi-fi magazines about the huge improvements that can be obtained by investing in hugely expensive speaker cables or using filters on power supplies. Most of these gains seem to be unsupported by any hard measurements and even where it is possible to measure a difference it is questionable - I would argue - whether it is significant when set against the huge variations in sound quality due to factors such as poor original recordings or room characteristics.

So, is the DAC the new speaker cable? It appears to be a widely held belief, for instance, that the quality of Apple's DAC is poor and can be hugely improved upon be using one of many alternatives - some of which carry price tags that make even B&O customers wince. I use an Airport Express with BL8000s running 320k AAC files and it seems pretty decent. I've seen measurements that show a big difference between the Apple DAC and state-of-the-art alternatives but I can't say I notice any big problems in reality. Maybe my hearing is just not sufficiently honed to determine the difference - but if that's the case I don't think I'd be on my own.

I ask this question because I see a number of Beoworld contributors saying that the Playmaker DAC is much better than Apple's. I've seen no data to justify this claim and was not aware the product had even been released long enough for a serious comparison to be made. Just makes me wonder whether the DAC is set to become the latest hi-fi "snake oil" product!

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moxxey
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Answered (Verified) moxxey replied on Mon, Jul 16 2012 11:19 AM
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mbee:

First, you say that today's music is "produced for the headphone generation", then you say that one should invest in BL3's... Isn't hat's a bit of a nonsense?

If you want to think of it that way, fair enough. However, *any* track sounds more open on the alt-based speakers than they do on "lesser" speakers, such as those on a Beosound 8 or worse. They just make poorly produced tracks even worse.

If you believe that you must have 24-bit music to fully appreciate your BL3s, fair enough. No-one is going to stop you. But there are a hell of a lot of people on here who are - don't take this the wrong way - a bit an*l about getting the best possible audio source/DAC etc for their music. As I said, the human ear struggles to differentiate the difference between a 16-bit CD quality compressed audio track and the 24-bit equivalent. Maybe for some classical music, but for most modern music, it won't make much different. It will be negligible.

There's much more of a difference between speakers, so saying it's "nonsense" is non-sensical. If you went along to Argos and picked up a pair of £100 Phillips speakers and played the same track on them, compared to, say, the BL3s, of course there will be a huge difference. However, the same modern track at 24-bit (and where on earth do you get these tracks at 24-bit?!) will make less of a difference between those £100 speakers and your BL3s.

If you were so obsessed about your audio experience, you won't be buying BL3s anyhow, btw. I can tell you a lot of audiophiles would prefer Spendor and other speakers for 24-bit audio.

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Søren Hammer
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DAC's have been considered important since the first CD players. You often pay for a "better" DAC if you buy/bought an expensive model. 

I believe that there is a difference between DAC's, but that only lies in the analog IC's that is placed after the converter; a lot of inexpensive outboard units are much better than original PC soundcards as an example.

Vinyl records, cassettes, open reel, valve amplifiers and film photography.

Carolpa
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Info:

the Apple DAC is limited to 44,1kHz 16bit.

 

moxxey
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moxxey replied on Mon, Jul 16 2012 7:25 AM

Carolpa:

the Apple DAC is limited to 44,1kHz 16bit.

So, "limited" to CD quality. Since when did CD quality audio become not good enough to cope with modern music produced for the headphone generation? Maybe if you want to listen to Pink Floyd or classical music, it but for 99% of most music, I'm sure CD quality audio is more than sufficient for most ears.

As I've said before, the quality of the speakers makes more of a different. I can listen to tracks through my Beosound 8. They sound good. Move up to my BL3/BL11 combo and they sound much better again. This isn't a DAC issue (indeed, the BS3/BL11 is via the Airport Express), but a speaker quality issue.

kokomo
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kokomo replied on Mon, Jul 16 2012 8:44 AM

Hardwriter:
Just makes me wonder whether the DAC is set to become the latest hi-fi "snake oil" product!

 

A reasonable point I think 'Hardwriter'. Like you I've seen much comment regarding how sound can be hugely improved by the addition of DACs, particularly that from the AE. Claims of improvement are backed up by quoting various technical specifications and figures. They may be all true of course and indeed probably are, but does the resultant audio produced actually sound markedly better to the ears?

Perhaps it does, I don't really know.  

In the days when these things mattered more to me and before B&O style and quality became of equal importance to the sound, I used to read reviews (Hi-Fi News for example) where CD players costing thousands of Pounds were tested and the sound they produced praised for their clear superiority. But would the same disc played on a 100 Pounds player passing through the same top-end amplifier and speakers, really be that audibly inferior?

I've been considering the purchase of a DAC to connect between my AE & B&O system. Would I really notice that much improvement? Or is it more a case of convincing ones self  that it must sound better as a justification for the cash outlay!

Carolpa
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moxxey:

Carolpa:

the Apple DAC is limited to 44,1kHz 16bit.

So, "limited" to CD quality. Since when did CD quality audio become not good enough to cope with modern music produced for the headphone generation? Maybe if you want to listen to Pink Floyd or classical music, it but for 99% of most music, I'm sure CD quality audio is more than sufficient for most ears.

As I've said before, the quality of the speakers makes more of a different. I can listen to tracks through my Beosound 8. They sound good. Move up to my BL3/BL11 combo and they sound much better again. This isn't a DAC issue (indeed, the BS3/BL11 is via the Airport Express), but a speaker quality issue.

Wow. Did I sting an Apple addict? I just gave the limits of the specs. 

And yes for me it would not be sufficient. I already have a collection of aprox 2000 24bit music files.

kokomo
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kokomo replied on Mon, Jul 16 2012 9:04 AM

Carolpa:
And yes for me it would not be sufficient. I already have a collection of aprox 2000 24bit music files

 

Yes, but why do you feel the need to quote the bit-rate of the music files? Do you have this collection because they sound better than 16 bit? Or do many  of the artists & their recordings you favour just happen to be recorded this way? I hope so.

And what about the actual music itself? Isn't that the important element here, not just a particular bit rate? 

BTW, does anyone recall when CDs were designated DDD, ADD & AAD? At one time I often used to look for & select DDD discs because they must sound better, mustn't they? They certainly sounded different, but better & importantly, more enjoyable than ADD & AAD? No.

After a while I'd choose a particular artist & performance first rather than how the disc itself  was sonically and technically produced.     

 

Carolpa
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Also touchy about Apple?

 

kokomo:

but why did you feel the to quote the bit-rate of the music files? Do you have this collection because they sound better than 16 bit? Or do many  of the artists & their recordings you favour just happen to be recorded this way? 

First: the music; the artist; etc; but at the same time the best possible quality.

 

Ever heart the differens between 16bit 44.1kHz and 24bit 192kHz?

do you know the meaning about the difference between128kbit/s or lossless files of 12Mbit/s?

elephant
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kokomo:
BTW, does anyone recall when CDs were designated DDD, ADD & AAD? At one time I often used to look for & select DDD discs because they must sound better, mustn't they? They certainly sounded different, but better & importantly, more enjoyable than ADD & AAD? No

Me too - focused on the DDD but then I found some of my favourites were ADD ... the difference between an outstanding performance and a technically accurate recording.

BeoNut since '75

Vienna
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Vienna replied on Mon, Jul 16 2012 10:08 AM

Carolpa:

First: the music; the artist; etc; but at the same time the best possible quality.

100% agreed!

I OWN some AEs, they are cheap, easy to use and the (mediocre) analogue output is exactly what you can expect for
that money - fair enough - even Apple can't turn water into wine Big Smile

mbee
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mbee replied on Mon, Jul 16 2012 10:39 AM

moxxey:

So, "limited" to CD quality. Since when did CD quality audio become not good enough to cope with modern music produced for the headphone generation? Maybe if you want to listen to Pink Floyd or classical music, it but for 99% of most music, I'm sure CD quality audio is more than sufficient for most ears.

As I've said before, the quality of the speakers makes more of a different. I can listen to tracks through my Beosound 8. They sound good. Move up to my BL3/BL11 combo and they sound much better again. This isn't a DAC issue (indeed, the BS3/BL11 is via the Airport Express), but a speaker quality issue.

Hi Moxxey,

First, you say that today's music is "produced for the headphone generation", then you say that one should invest in BL3's... Isn't hat's a bit of a nonsense?

I have a set of BL3's, and I clearly like to use them "fully" with 24-bit tracks. It's mainly for jazz, but "today's generation music" can also be different in 24-bit. Listen to the bass of Masomenos or M83 in 16 or 24 bits (not via an Airport Express), and you will discover something new, going deeper... I'm 30, I went from CD to iTunes (not much, because I thought it was too expensive for what it is) to Qobuz. I just listen to music, and enjoy it, I don't only look at spec sheets. But when I like a song, I want to have it in the best possible quality.

I can't understand why people finding the sound of Airport Express good enough for their ears always want to avoid people buying other stuff than Apple.

My personnal evolution in digital music : I started to listen to digital music via Airplay with an Airport Express. I realised that it was not as good as when listening to the same CD with my Beosound 2300, so I tried Sonos, which is a nice multiroom with a DAC which gives a sound more natural, closer to what I like. Then I tried the BS5 Encore to listen to 24-bit tracks, and found that it really makes a difference on my bl3's. Now I'm hesitating between Sonos and Playmaker for "link rooms" (currently fed with Airport Express), and there is still a device that brings Airplay to my main system, but connected in HDMI to a Beovision, so that the DAC is good ;-)

henrik
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henrik replied on Mon, Jul 16 2012 10:45 AM

Carolpa:
Ever heart the differens between 16bit 44.1kHz and 24bit 192kHz?

Yes, sometimes when using my Sennheiser HD650s or my friend's Adam A7s.

Would I be able to hear the difference between 16/44.1 and 24/192 (using the same DAC) when using my Pentas or a par of BL8000s? No. To me, those speakers lack the definition needed for me to be able to hear those differences. That's how subtle those differences are to me, I need really good speakers/phones to hear them.

Would I be able to hear differences between different DACs when using these speakers? Yes, sometimes, and in those cases probably more due to the analogue circuits than the DACs themselves but those circuits are part of the package...

I've compared my Airport Express to my RME Fireface 800 (multichannel AD/DA for music production) and although I can hear differences when using the Pentas, the differences is much more easy to hear when using the HD650s or my studio monitors. Conclusion: it would be wiser of me to first invest in better speakers than in better DACs :)

What I'm trying to say is that I would worry more about my choice of speakers than my choice of DAC. If you have BL3/9s or better, then invest in a nice DAC, in other cases spend that money on better speakers instead. :)

This is of course my personal opinion, other members may have different experiences and opinions.

 

Carolpa
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Carolpa replied on Mon, Jul 16 2012 11:05 AM

henrik:

What I'm trying to say is that I would worry more about my choice of speakers than my choice of DAC. If you have BL3/9s or better, then invest in a nice DAC, in other cases spend that money on better speakers instead. :)

So true! The whole chain, from music to speakers should in balance.

But there are a lot of people out there with excellent speakers, DAC, etc. who tend to listen to poor quality audio formats. And often for the sole reason because it has a certain "label".

moxxey
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moxxey replied on Mon, Jul 16 2012 11:11 AM

Carolpa:

Wow. Did I sting an Apple addict? I just gave the limits of the specs. 

And yes for me it would not be sufficient. I already have a collection of aprox 2000 24bit music files.

No not at all, but then a lot of people here take things way too personally!

I'm just pointing out that it copes with CD quality and we're arguing CD quality audio tracks aren't good enough for the average human ear. The quality of the speaker makes far more difference than the DAC itself.

moxxey
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Answered (Verified) moxxey replied on Mon, Jul 16 2012 11:19 AM
Verified by kiwi4all

mbee:

First, you say that today's music is "produced for the headphone generation", then you say that one should invest in BL3's... Isn't hat's a bit of a nonsense?

If you want to think of it that way, fair enough. However, *any* track sounds more open on the alt-based speakers than they do on "lesser" speakers, such as those on a Beosound 8 or worse. They just make poorly produced tracks even worse.

If you believe that you must have 24-bit music to fully appreciate your BL3s, fair enough. No-one is going to stop you. But there are a hell of a lot of people on here who are - don't take this the wrong way - a bit an*l about getting the best possible audio source/DAC etc for their music. As I said, the human ear struggles to differentiate the difference between a 16-bit CD quality compressed audio track and the 24-bit equivalent. Maybe for some classical music, but for most modern music, it won't make much different. It will be negligible.

There's much more of a difference between speakers, so saying it's "nonsense" is non-sensical. If you went along to Argos and picked up a pair of £100 Phillips speakers and played the same track on them, compared to, say, the BL3s, of course there will be a huge difference. However, the same modern track at 24-bit (and where on earth do you get these tracks at 24-bit?!) will make less of a difference between those £100 speakers and your BL3s.

If you were so obsessed about your audio experience, you won't be buying BL3s anyhow, btw. I can tell you a lot of audiophiles would prefer Spendor and other speakers for 24-bit audio.

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