Topping DACs?

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
I think some people I’ve gotten into discussions with online have thought I was anti-objectivity. I’m not. But I see enjoying music as a subjective experience. So we have objectively measurable gear created in the pursuit of a subjectivity enjoyable outcome. Unless you’re just looking at the measurements and never listening for how the correlate to an enjoyable or not enjoyable listen. And I know some think that objectively perfect means there’s no chance for anything other than an enjoyable listen if the person is free if bias. I ...have not observed that perfect correlation. I think our measurement set is therefore either incomplete or simply doesn’t take into account the fact that the limitations of recording technology leave some subjective wiggle room as far as what tricks our mind into a suspension of disbelief ...believing that we are listening to a real performance and not a recorded facsimile of it.
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
I'll sit this out.
I’m actually curious as to why you think you should.

I’m not suggesting that my impressions of this thing will mean much. It’ll be an impression of it in one or two contexts with a few different preamps or amps and a comparison to an old, once state of the art DAC with a studio lineage. If it measured horribly on the objective end I’d not even bother. The seemingly perfect measurements are why I bought it.
 

JP

Junior Member
I’m actually curious as to why you think you should.
I'm at a loss as to how to convey myself without the (high) risk of being misconstrued in a manner which incites the usual issues with these topics.
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
I'm at a loss as to how to convey myself without the (high) risk of being misconstrued in a manner which incites the usual issues with these topics.
That’s why the Haven was started. So if these discussions popped up, they wouldn’t devolve into tribalist shouting fests.

Add to that the fact that I’m not really that vested in the outcome. I like turntables more than DACs that theoretically should sound extremely similar. And usually do.
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
It won't be here for another month, given how Drop seems to work, so by them I may have forgotten about this thread entirely.
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
Note also that I'm not under any assumption that I'm adding to the -science- behind this. I'm the flawed human variable lost in a sea of subjective evaluation that comes at the end of a long slog that somebody else took to get this thing to where it is...plugged into a stereo.

Anybody curious about this thing, I encourage them to read the thread or at least the first post about it on Audiosciencereview.com. The host of measurements done on it is thorough and the person doing them knows precisely what they're doing, its an incredible effort for a forum. While this is certainly not my preferred way to go about this hobby, I find it fascinating nonetheless. And while I seem to have disagreements with some of the assumptions about correlating measurements to human perception and enjoyment (note the author of the thread makes no claims about perceived sound quality, merely recommends it on solid engineering and performance), I cannot fault their methodology used. In fact I wish that this hobby had a happier coexistence between the objective and subjective. There seems to be this notion that people are all in on one or the other... and some of us, maybe many of us, see the worth in both ends of the pool. One -should- correlate with the other.

Here is the thread:

 

airdronian

Junior Member
I don't think the objective and subject will ever completely meet. Whereas measurements are critical to the development and construction of these devices, what seems to get lost is that people aren't measuring devices.

Add to that there is a certain type of personality that seems to require corroboration that their choice or belief is correct. With that "backup", they take comfort that they are "right" - whatever that means.

In a non-audio example, some years ago our family was visiting relatives around one of the holidays. The men had moved off to discuss the things that bore our wives to tears. Sports was the topic and the news had reports of a football player that been arrested for some kind of uncommonly violent crime. I made some comment about "roid rage" and before you know it my brother-in-law starts on a tangent about research and in ever increasing volume states "there's NEVER been any research that has proven that steroids cause this". By this time he's half way out of his chair, almost shouting and waving a finger in the air for emphasis. I guess he thought I was challenging what he thinks is true. It was a casual, non-serious comment and he went off the deep end, the nutter.

The ASR site has some value, but they have their critics as well. They don't do product reviews in a traditional sense, but they do have their fans.
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
I find that they do, but it's personal.
Generally I have, too, and am moving more towards this way of picking gear. Or, rather, I use objective competence as a filter, and then subjectively pick from whatever makes it through. If that makes sense.

Over the years I've moved from tubes to a more solid state based setup. As the noise floor dropped, I started to gravitate towards things that measured objectively better. Direct Drive tables, for instance. With how quiet my system is now, my TD-124's idler noise, subtle as it was in my tube setup, became really distracting when leaping out of dead silence.
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
The ASR site has some value, but they have their critics as well. They don't do product reviews in a traditional sense, but they do have their fans.
I'm happy sites like that exist. Just as I'm happy that places like Stereophile exist. One can exist solely in the objective camp, one more solidly defined in "hey man, if it sounds good it is good" camp. And then I can use information from both to make a call on what to take a gamble on. The purpose being to make it less of a gamble I guess.

What I don't like is the all or nothing approach. Like, I believe that one cable can sound different than another cable. But I also think that something like a $36,000 pair of Nordost Odin speaker cables is totally absurd if not just outright fraud.
 

JP

Junior Member
What I don't like is the all or nothing approach. Like, I believe that one cable can sound different than another cable. But I also think that something like a $36,000 pair of Nordost Odin speaker cables is totally absurd if not just outright fraud.
Most times what happens is very firm lines are drawn in a sea of misunderstanding.
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
I think there's a measurable difference for everything we subjectively hear. There's no magical "it just sounds like that, there's no explanation". But I also own some suspicious devices of dubious objective merit, and get results that make me enjoy the music more...even if it is all in my head. I like to think it isn't, and that something measurable is actually happening, but I don't lose sleep over that fact that it could all be me manipulating my own perception.

I have everything plugged into a Synergistic Research PowerCell. Which just ooozes of snake oil and audiophile goofiness and when evaluating it I was fully prepared to laugh. But something happened in it that took an edge off of things and seem to take away, a bit, the feeling of listening to a stereo rather than listening to live music. So I borrowed it and kept it. I hide it, though, as I think its all a bit embarrassing. Far from my bias being towards such things and wanting to show them off, I think a lot of my audiophile stuff is just silly if not outright embarrassing and I try to not tell my friends the extent of the absurdity involved here in just playing some tunes. There's also been many things that I've tried that made me just shrug my shoulders, as I couldn't hear a lick of improvement.

I have this one friend who is hopeless. He'll, as just one example, he'll play a CD then take it out, 'demagnetize' the CD on this huge crazy device, put said CD back into his $25,000 CD player, and then hop up and down all giddy like gravity has been reversed or the sun has turned into the moon given the gravity of what he's heard in this comparison. Meanwhile I can't tell a bit of difference and am instead just wishing we could listen to something besides Jennifer Warnes. But we still manage to get along and his enthusiasm is contagious, if not medically explainable.
 

DC

Active Member
... if not medically explainable.
I laughed.

I think there's a measurable difference for everything we subjectively hear. There's no magical "it just sounds like that, there's no explanation". But I also own some suspicious devices of dubious objective merit, and get results that make me enjoy the music more...even if it is all in my head. I like to think it isn't, and that something measurable is actually happening, but I don't lose sleep over that fact that it could all be me manipulating my own perception.

I have everything plugged into a Synergistic Research PowerCell. Which just ooozes of snake oil and audiophile goofiness and when evaluating it I was fully prepared to laugh. But something happened in it that took an edge off of things and seem to take away, a bit, the feeling of listening to a stereo rather than listening to live music. So I borrowed it and kept it. I hide it, though, as I think its all a bit embarrassing. Far from my bias being towards such things and wanting to show them off, I think a lot of my audiophile stuff is just silly if not outright embarrassing and I try to not tell my friends the extent of the absurdity involved here in just playing some tunes. There's also been many things that I've tried that made me just shrug my shoulders, as I couldn't hear a lick of improvement.
I have the opinion (?) that technology simply hasn't caught up to what we can hear. While something may have a compelling (if subtle) sonic property that can't otherwise be quantified by science as we now know it, that's not to say that technology in 25 years (if Earth isn't f**ked by then) won't then be able to identify and/or measure what we were hearing all along. But that's also not to say that there isn't other stuff that really isn't up to scrutiny, now or in the future. (Yes, Synergistic Research does come to mind, I'm afraid, but I have no argument with anyone who uses and/or buys their stuff. It's just not for me, for the reason(s) you alluded to.)

Edit: And my apoligies, I commented without realizing the thread had gone 4 pages and I missed most of the leading discussion. Will read up now.
 
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Ilusndweller

Junior Member
It often comes down to personal preference when deciding what gear’s sound people like - 6 of one/half a dozen of the other, the gear is on the same level. But what about when what clearly sounds better to one person clearly sounds worse to someone else. In the bigger picture, perhaps everyone’s unique ears and brain are much more important to perceived sound quality than lab test results.
 
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JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
It often comes down to personal preference when deciding what gear’s sound people like - 6 of one/half a dozen of the other, the gear is on the same level. But what about when what clearly sounds better to one person clearly sounds worse to someone else. In the bigger picture, perhaps everyone’s unique ears and brain are much more important to perceived sound quality than lab test results.
I’ve struggled with this one. Generally in a group I’ve seen people react positively to the same stuff. But online I see people wowed by gear that I cannot fathom being viewed as good if people have heard all that’s out there. But they like it so who am I to argue with it?

On the digital side I once brought my Berkeley DAC and ran it from the digital out of a Sony SCD-777es at a gathering. Then compared it to the Sony playing with its own DAC section. There was no comparison. But since, to a large number of folks in this group digital was all supposed to sound the same, some time was spent by them trying to figure out why it sounded so different rather than actually accepting that one DAC was simply better than the other.
 

Ilusndweller

Junior Member
Sometimes external dacs do sound identical to built in dacs (to a particular person on a particular system). My first two dacs fell under this category. The first, an Audio Alchemy Dacman (BOTL), purchased used in 96 so that I could play music from my computer to my stereo via my Opcode Datport (USB<=>Coax converter box that I used to import DAT to computer) sounded identical to the built in DAC of a Sony 60ES DAT, Fostex D5 DAT, Tascam DAP1 portable DAT, and Sony CA8ES carousel CD changer. It bested the built in DAC of the Sony D7/8 portable DATs (same basically). As far as all the units that sounded the same, I tried and tried to discern subtle differences but it was tough and I concluded they all sounded the same to my ears. Having said that, I certainly think it is very probable that others, with better systems and hearing could. Maybe I could on a better system. That would not surprise me. I think my hearing is good/very good/maybe better but it is probably not as good as I think it is and I think there are many with much better hearing (and much, much better systems) than me.

Not exactly thrilled with this result (perhaps I should say I was thrilled with how good the built in dacs sounded, its not that I ever thought they sounded anything but great, but I hadnt compared them to anything), I purchased a newer, and I believe slightly higher end dac a year or two later (new, but on blowout for $100), a Musical Fidelity X-ACT 18 bit. It had been replaced by a “24” bit dac, the 24k?, another cylinder. Same thing, though if I had to pick one of the two, Id say the earlier Dacman (at less than 1/10th the volume of the cylinder-on-its-side X-ACT) sounded ever so slightly better. But that is splitting hairs, for all practical purposes they sounded the same. To me on my system.

I havent had/listened to those dacs since 01 and didnt own another until I bought the B&K AVP-1030 5.1 pre (1996 model) in 2011. The dac in this is clearly better than the earlier stuff, though for various reasons (sold Fostex to friend, CA8ES died while sitting in a box, Ben Harper 5-17-97 front row center master stuck in 60ES, wore out D7/8) I could only compare it to the Tascam DA-P1. The B&K (and Topping D30 with stock wall wart) is next level and change compared to the earlier stuff, though its not much newer. Actually its from the same few years (94-96) as the 60ES, D5, CA8ES, DA-P1 and D7/8. It was a significantly pricier unit though, $2500. The 60ES, D5, and DA-P1 were about half that, and the CA8ES and D7/8 about a third.

I suspect Id be extremely impressed, perhaps even blown away by a DAC such as the D70 or higher end. I wonder if a D90 is in the works? :)
 
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JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
There might be a D90 or at least something better in the pipeline but I don’t know. There is talk of an MQA capable DAC and also I think there’s an AKM DAC chip coming out with slightly better signal to noise. Which is getting silly at this point. Every DAC I can think of has a noise floor below the system background noise and any ambient room noise.
 
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