Topping DACs?

How does that work? Do you run it at low volume and use the SUT for gain? Do you encounter any loss in resolution due to how digital volume control works?
No digital volume control. I’ve got these lundahl 1538xl mic input transformers wired 1:2.5. With the transformers, the low end is a lot richer and the sound is slightly less hashy. Sounds much closer to my analog. I use a passive pre, basically a 25k stepped attenuator. They say, on the interwebs and all, that passive pre’s are light on bass, so maybe that’s part of it.

Anyway, it’s way too hot a signal, so I put a voltage divider after the transformer before the 25k attenuator to knock it down pretty close to where it was.

I can’t tell you exactly why it sounds better, it’s not the extra voltage, clearly. It sounds significantly better though. Maybe it’s the decoupling.
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
No digital volume control. I’ve got these lundahl 1538xl mic input transformers wired 1:2.5. With the transformers, the low end is a lot richer and the sound is slightly less hashy. Sounds much closer to my analog. I use a passive pre, basically a 25k stepped attenuator. They say, on the interwebs and all, that passive pre’s are light on bass, so maybe that’s part of it.

Anyway, it’s way too hot a signal, so I put a voltage divider after the transformer before the 25k attenuator to knock it down pretty close to where it was.

I can’t tell you exactly why it sounds better, it’s not the extra voltage, clearly. It sounds significantly better though. Maybe it’s the decoupling.
I can’t argue with the outcome. I use a transformer volume control instead of an active preamp and am at a similar loss to describe how it sounds. But it sounds significantly better than my system does with any other preamp I’ve tried.
 

Ilusndweller

Junior Member
Why the lack of thoughts on how it sounds on the science-based audio site? How about because writing about/describing how something sounds can be a difficult thing, especially for some people...like me. While I can use words like clear and soundstage, that is about it. And when I read other peoples reviews on how something sounds, it is not uncommon for me to put some thought in trying to figure out what they mean. Ive got my simplified view of things (like dry = clean/clear and wet=tubey/warm/distortion) that I have no idea is correct but many of the words used to describe audio are foreign to me. I feel audio is mixture of science and art and this is the art side of things. I am not trying to dog “fancy smancy” reviews at all. I can definitely relate to and appreciate a lot of them and their way of describing nuances in and differences bw pieces of gear. I wish I could decribe what I hear better, much better.
 
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JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
I think I'm more bewildered by the fact that they don't even seem curious as to how it sounds, as there's almost no mention of it at all in their forum...perhaps its frowned on as being the den of subjectivity, I don't know, but it just seems odd to me when the end result is music..an art form. It seems entirely a technical exercise to them and to what end I'm not sure. Bragging rights or just knowing you have the best measuring DAC? Simple curiosity on the progress of sound reproduction? I can't say I'm bothered by it, its just a different mindset than my own mind exists in. If they're having fun, more power to them. There's too little of it in the world today so find it where you can, even if its measuring DACs. I do sense that there's an inherent understand there that the best measuring DAC will be the best sounding DAC. And that...well... while I generally hold that gear that measures well sounds good, I've not found that it always sounds the best to my own ears. But that's an age old debate in this hobby and it will never be settled. People seem to like it, actually... its a team to be a part of.
 

JP

Junior Member
Because those who have done controlled listening tests between DACs measuring at that level (assuming the right suite of measurements done right with the right test equipment, and that they actually know how to set up a proper test) know they’ve not a chance in distinguishing them; they know how it sounds.
 

Ilusndweller

Junior Member
Unfortunately, Ive yet to hear any high end/excellent measuring dacs. But if I can get a “as good as it gets” DAC for under $500, that is very good news.

“No digital volume control. I’ve got these lundahl 1538xl mic input transformers wired 1:2.5. With the transformers, the low end is a lot richer and the sound is slightly less hashy. Sounds much closer to my analog. I use a passive pre, basically a 25k stepped attenuator. They say, on the interwebs and all, that passive pre’s are light on bass, so maybe that’s part of it.

Anyway, it’s way too hot a signal, so I put a voltage divider after the transformer before the 25k attenuator to knock it down pretty close to where it was.

I can’t tell you exactly why it sounds better, it’s not the extra voltage, clearly. It sounds significantly better though. Maybe it’s the decoupling.”

Interesting and good to know. On a related note and my to do list is to replace the dead battery of a Grace Designs Lunatec V2 mic pre (super clean and clear sounding, reminds me of my Forte Model 3 amp) and try it in a playback setup. It has 0-60 dB gain in 10 dB increments and 10 dB trim pots for each channel. Also high pass filters of 6 and 12 dB @50, 75, 100, and 125 Hz. Ive got a Creek OBH-12 passive pre I could use to change both L and R volume simultaneously as well as vary the mic pre: passive pre ratio. Then, if the amp has volume control, I will have 3 options for changing volume with this setup. :)
 
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JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
Because those who have done controlled listening tests between DACs measuring at that level (assuming the right suite of measurements done right with the right test equipment, and that they actually know how to set up a proper test) know they’ve not a chance in distinguishing them; they know how it sounds.
I have to think its like the photographers who buy ultra expensive cameras and then shoot parallel lines and charts to see how well the camera performs... but they never seem to take photos of the world outside, unless its a brick wall with parallel lines to measure distortion. I don't understand the fascination, but its not that I disagree with it..I just don't get where the joy is derived from. And that's actually what interests me, the different ways of being human. It's hard to discuss this stuff without coming across like I'm criticizing it.
 

JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
Unfortunately, Ive yet to hear any high end/excellent measuring dacs. But if I can get a “as good as it gets” DAC for under $500, that is very good news.

“No digital volume control. I’ve got these lundahl 1538xl mic input transformers wired 1:2.5. With the transformers, the low end is a lot richer and the sound is slightly less hashy. Sounds much closer to my analog. I use a passive pre, basically a 25k stepped attenuator. They say, on the interwebs and all, that passive pre’s are light on bass, so maybe that’s part of it.

Anyway, it’s way too hot a signal, so I put a voltage divider after the transformer before the 25k attenuator to knock it down pretty close to where it was.

I can’t tell you exactly why it sounds better, it’s not the extra voltage, clearly. It sounds significantly better though. Maybe it’s the decoupling.”

Interesting and good to know. On a related note and my to do list is to replace the dead battery of a Grace Designs Lunatec V2 mic pre (super clean and clear sounding, reminds me of my Forte Model 3 amp) and try it in a playback setup. It has 0-60 dB gain in 10 dB increments and 10 dB trim pots for each channel. Also high pass filters of 6 and 12 dB @50, 75, 100, and 125 Hz. Ive got a Creek OBH-12 passive pre I could use to change both L and R volume simultaneously as well as vary the mic pre: passive pre ratio. Then, if the amp has volume control, I will have 3 options for changing volume with this setup. :)
On the recording side of things, and you are aware of a lot of this I'd assume.. outside of the ADC/DAC conversion points and whatnot, there's a fascination in some/many circles with the careful use of adding what amounts to distortion to make things sound 'better'. They don't call it adding distortion but that's basically what's going on. And you'll see people praise classic gear from the '50s, '60s like the Teletronix LA-2 compressor or old tube EQs that you can set in a way that it almost fights itself pulling sound up and down in the same frequencies but which results in a sound people have liked, something with more character, or what this or that transformer sounds like in a microphone preamp. Things that are chosen not because they measure totally flat, but because they subjectively result in 'good sound'. Compression itself being a distortion, but one purposefully applied to a recording...and then choosing the distorter that distorts things in a way that they find most pleasing, most full of "character". And I think the situation with the step up transformers and DAC must be playing in that world. So the DAC is doing its measurably good thing and then that bad word distortion is being added to make it have more character. I don't think a DAC or ADC should add ANY character, because I think you need these perfect conversion points...but I'm all for adding seasoning elsewhere if the cook is good.

I use a Transformer Volume Control passive pre, there's no lack of bass but its a different kind of passive than what is often thought of when it comes to passives. I like it because it seems to distort the sound less, to my ears, than any other preamp I've heard. Objectively that may not be true, subjectively I've not heard anything that sounds more like an open window without putting an electronic imprint on the music.
 

Ilusndweller

Junior Member
My friend (their tour manager at the time) was present for the recording of Robert Walter’s 20th Congress album “Money Shot”. All vintage recording gear -recorded to reel and this was in about 99, also lots of vintage 1” diaphragm Neuman tube mics, and lots of tubes in general so plenty of distortion added. Dan Prothero’s (the producer) specialty is using vintage gear for recording. He’s from New Orleans so plenty of opportunities to practice recording. Thing is, it doesnt sound distorted to me, but rather has plenty of character. It seems to match the type of music the band plays better than the latest/greatest recording gear would (for example, the Schoeps CMXY-4V in my avatar combined with a Grace Designs Lunatec V2 mic pre/PS). Super sounding CD. And even though my Forte Model 3 is my cleanest sounding amp, that does not mean it is my best sounding (to my ears) /fave amp. Ive got 4 or so amps that I consider equal, but with slightly different flavors/character. These are generally subtle, but noticeable differences.

“So the DAC is doing its measurably good thing and then that bad word distortion is being added to make it have more character. I don't think a DAC or ADC should add ANY character, because I think you need these perfect conversion points...but I'm all for adding seasoning elsewhere if the cook is good.”

I like this theory and the D70 appears to have the numbers that would suggest it doesnt add any character. I hope the sound (or should I say lack of character) of this dac is very enjoyable to you.
 
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JohnVF

Administrator
Staff member
That's what I"m after at least. I like seasoning things in a way that doesn't appear to be seasoned. But the DAC is not one of those places. Just do the conversion and stay out of the sound.
 

airdronian

Junior Member
That's what I"m after at least. I like seasoning things in a way that doesn't appear to be seasoned. But the DAC is not one of those places. Just do the conversion and stay out of the sound.
Once you get your D70 you can amuse yourself with filters and DSD upsampling. :)
 

Ilusndweller

Junior Member
Because those who have done controlled listening tests between DACs measuring at that level (assuming the right suite of measurements done right with the right test equipment, and that they actually know how to set up a proper test) know they’ve not a chance in distinguishing them; they know how it sounds.
Where do I sign up? You are talkin the talk and I dont doubt youve walked the walk, but out of 1000 people, how many would pass this test? Though Im confident I would and I do see this number in the upper/upper-upper 900s given todays technology. Cheers. :)
 
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airdronian

Junior Member
Does it have different filters? My Berkeley Alpha has them but they're there more for studio use, replicating worse gear than itself.
I'm not sure what capability it has thru the front panel. I do software upsampling and perhaps it's there the filters are applied. "DSD sigma-delta modulator filter type" are where the settings are in Audirvana and there are audible differences depending on choices. Whether one is "better" than another is subjective. Totally optional settings these are.

I spent an afternoon once messing with them, and before too long got tired of it. Turned it off for a while in fact. Currently I'm upsampling all PCM but MQA to DSD64, just because I can.
 

Ilusndweller

Junior Member
My feelings on my last comment are more based on non-audio reasons than audio reasons. I think this is an example that falls under the bell curve. I feel in a group of 1000, there will be 1-3 +/- people who could name 5 randomly played “top spec” dacs (that they were familiar with and I dont think this would take much time) by name within a few seconds of hearing a song. Think of the much, much, much crazier (IMHO) things humans can do. The curve covers the rest of my predictions.
 
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