What makes good DACs good?

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Martin Rendall, Mar 25, 2002.

  1. Martin Rendall

    Martin Rendall Screenwriter

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    So what do expensive DACs do that cheap ones don't do?

    I've read in the past that the well regarded DACs "colour" (or "color" for my neighbours (er, neighbors) to the south) music in a pleasing fashion. I can certainly see how this could be true based on my own listening experience.

    So, do you agree or disagree? If you agree that "better" DACs colour music, then why would you want them? Wouldn't audiophiles want to avoid all alterations where possible, even if they supposedly sound better? Of you don't agree, then just what is they do better?

    Regards,

    Martin.
     
  2. KeithH

    KeithH Lead Actor

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    Martin, there are a lot of adjectives thrown around in audio, and not everyone uses them in the same way. I have read on this site the use of the term 'bright' in a positive way. In the usual sense, brightness is something to be avoided in audio. Likewise, I feel coloring the sound is a negative. Some people feel that a CD player, DAC, etc. can color the sound in a positive way, usually in the context of lackluster formats (e.g., CD) or, more frequently, poor recordings. For example, some recordings show harsh vocals, and some will seek a system that will hide that negative attribute. The problem I have is that a system that colors the treble to hide harshness could very well color the sound to alter other aspects of the music in a less than pleasing way. Anyway, I prefer a more literal-sounding system. If a recording shows harsh vocals, then so be it. In the end, we have to go with the sound that pleases us.

    In regards to DACs, like many other things in audio, some DACs have better specs. (S/N ratio, for example) than others. However, the important thing is how the DAC is implemented. A good DAC is not enough to ensure good sound. The overall quality of the component in which it is being used is important. Power supply, transport quality, clock mechanism (reduce jitter), chassis design, analog output stage, capacitors, etc. All of these factors influence the sound quality. Consider the fact that the $160 Pioneer DV-440 DVD player uses a Burr-Brown 24/192 DAC. It is impressive to see that a budget DVD player uses a state-of-the-art DAC, however, the '440 is hardly a high-quality CD player. This is because $160 doesn't get you quality build overall. Manufacturers of audio components often push the DACs employed as a means of conveying sound quality. We always see '24/96' and '24/192' thrown around. However, the DACs used in components are only part of the story.
     

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