What is the benefit of very expensive DACs?

microstrip

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Solid state DACs have indeed improved, but as someone who’s owned a lot of solid state DACs over 30+ years, I sometimes wonder if that’s really the case. Certainly, the modern DACs resolve more codecs, so if you want DSD 512, you will not find that on a 20 year old DAC. I owned the dCS stack 25 odd years ago (the Verdi SACD player, the Purcell upsampler, and the Elgar Plus DAC). If you restrict yourself to high bit rate PCM, are modern solid state DACs really better than this classic dCS stack? I sold mine a long time ago, sadly. I do have the Chord stack (Blu2/M-scaler/Dave), and yes, it’s a nice combo, but I can‘t say it’s unequivocally better than my distant memory of the dCS stack. (...)

Well I own an Elgar Plus DAC. I use it from time to time side by side with my Vivaldi APEX DAC and can assure you it is a nigh and day difference, particularly with complex music. Both share great transparency to the recording, showing cues and soundstage, but the Vivaldi is much closer to my perception of real music is aspects such as decays, liquidity and easiness. In my system, the way the Vivaldi handles bass is also very different from the Elgar.
 

LL21

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Well I own an Elgar Plus DAC. I use it from time to time side by side with my Vivaldi APEX DAC and can assure you it is a nigh and day difference, particularly with complex music. Both share great transparency to the recording, showing cues and soundstage, but the Vivaldi is much closer to my perception of real music is aspects such as decays, liquidity and easiness. In my system, the way the Vivaldi handles bass is also very different from the Elgar.
I have heard both, nearly bought the Elgar Plus full stack but could never convince myself after a few auditions to do it...and surprised myself after discovering Zanden and moving to bring it home for 'final audition' after 20 minutes in-store and knowing absolutely nothing about it or even the name/brand.

Having heard the Vivaldi full stack and the Vivaldi full Apex stack in multiple systems...I instinctively concur about night and day difference.
 

christoph

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Having heard the Vivaldi full stack and the Vivaldi full Apex stack in multiple systems...I instinctively concur about night and day difference.
Have you directly compared Apex against non-Apex?
If yes, what is your verdict?
 

AMR / iFi audio

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Have you ever heard a cheaper tube dac that you liked such as the musical paradise? I talked to one amp builder who said he really liked it but the lampi pacific was in 'another universe'.
There are not many pure tube analogue stage DACs like Lampi. Most of the market belongs to hybrid DACs. Like in our iDSD Pro Signature, the tube stage is an addon to the solid state analogue stage.
 

Gregadd

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Xduoo makes excellent tube based dac/amp you can obtain.
I promise you will be wowed.
Distributed hy Apos.
 

germinal

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As an analogy, you can buy a $300 digital camera to take pictures with a run of the mill plastic lens. Or you can buy a $8000 Leica. The difference in quality is obvious to my eyes. But if you don’t care about image quality to that extent, save your money. Go el cheapo.... Just as with cameras. The world’s best photographers shoot with Hasselblad and Leica for a reason.

Actually I think this is a bad analogy. The analogy between camera's (sight) and audio-gear (sound)

Everyone can quite easily see what the 'sharpest' (best) picture is.. there is no question about it in most cases. Either something is sharp, completely in focus or it's not.. This is either due to the technique being used or because of difference in equipment (sensor size, lens, resolution). Colours and everything else can be adjusted and tweaked to anyone's liking in post.

Now, sound (music) is much more ephemeral. It seems more a thing of taste, nobody can say or declare : this sounds best because of this or that.. everyone thinks/hears something different. Making things even worse. The space you are listening in even determines the sound you hear, probably to a greater extent than anything else. So even the 'best' system (whatever that may be) can sound worse than the worst system if you are listening in a cave... a picture is the same everywhere, unless ofcourse you turn off the lights.

Sound seems too subjective.. just look at all the reviews.. how fluffy can it get... pages of pages filled with fancy words and actually saying nothing. The truth is in the eye of the beholder.

I've personally tested numerous DAC's ranging from a few 100 $ to 10k and I can't really hear much difference.. on the other hand there are those who claim to be in nirvana when they hook up those new 20k interconnects and a magnet here and there an all is well :s



PS You say that it's easy to tell a camera system of let's say 20.000 dollar apart from a 2.000 dollar system. I bet you, it's not.. certainly not when it's printed. I'd even go as far as to say that a picture taken with Canon 5D camera (with decent lens) a camera from 2005 btw is as good as a the same picture taken with a recent 20k camera-lens combo. There is of course much more to a camera than the image quality alone (other features, size, sensor size, resolution, build quality, frames per second, brandname...all adding to the final cost of the product)

So maybe, it is a GOOD analogy after all! all DAC's sound basically the same but the feature set is different, a bit like comparable camera's have comparable IQ. In DAC-speak :If you want a special implementation and you don't want a chip DAC.. well then the DAC will be much more expensive.. will it sound better? that's up to you...


PPS Funny you mention Leica, because 99,9% of pro's don't use it... why? cause it's not suited for the job (in 99,9% of the case) there are of course the exceptions
 
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keithc

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I'm just an amateur compared to most of you, but analogy aside, I "discovered" something about my system today that, for me, directly addresses one facet of "why a good dac?":

My Lampizator directly feeds a supposedly good dual mono tubed headphone amplifier (Ampsandsound Nautilus). For the past several weeks I have ran the Lampi at full volume (-0dB) and used the amplifier's stepped attenuator to control the volume... with the belief that I want the source to be at its max output, optimize matching between the source output impedance and amp's input, etc.

Just for giggles, today I reversed the setup. The amplifier's volume knob was turned to its max, and instead I used the Lampizator's volume, which at a comfortably loud listening level is around -40 dB, give or take.

Lo and behold, the music is amazing. WOW. In comparison to using the amp as the attenuation, the music seems more cohesive, fun, as if life has been breathed into it. The Nautilus is supposed to be a dual mono class A tubed amp, so the channel-matched stepped attenuator shouldn't /color/ the music... but clearly it does, and more so than the Lampi's volume control.

On the other hand, it speaks to the Lampi's volume control circuitry. That level of execution, to me, is part of what makes a great DAC. Details to the n'th degree matter at this level.
 

admin

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Interesting. There may be impedance and other factors here as well. And the fact the attenuation is in the DAC close to the source? It pays to experiment!
 

AMR / iFi audio

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I'm just an amateur compared to most of you, but analogy aside, I "discovered" something about my system today that, for me, directly addresses one facet of "why a good dac?":

My Lampizator directly feeds a supposedly good dual mono tubed headphone amplifier (Ampsandsound Nautilus). For the past several weeks I have ran the Lampi at full volume (-0dB) and used the amplifier's stepped attenuator to control the volume... with the belief that I want the source to be at its max output, optimize matching between the source output impedance and amp's input, etc.

Just for giggles, today I reversed the setup. The amplifier's volume knob was turned to its max, and instead I used the Lampizator's volume, which at a comfortably loud listening level is around -40 dB, give or take.

Lo and behold, the music is amazing. WOW. In comparison to using the amp as the attenuation, the music seems more cohesive, fun, as if life has been breathed into it. The Nautilus is supposed to be a dual mono class A tubed amp, so the channel-matched stepped attenuator shouldn't /color/ the music... but clearly it does, and more so than the Lampi's volume control.

On the other hand, it speaks to the Lampi's volume control circuitry. That level of execution, to me, is part of what makes a great DAC. Details to the n'th degree matter at this level.
You couldn't have said it better @keithc. It is about the qualitiy of the attenuator. This is a great experiment everyone should do. What fascinates you about your set up?
 

acousticsguru

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I'm just an amateur compared to most of you, but analogy aside, I "discovered" something about my system today that, for me, directly addresses one facet of "why a good dac?":

My Lampizator directly feeds a supposedly good dual mono tubed headphone amplifier (Ampsandsound Nautilus). For the past several weeks I have ran the Lampi at full volume (-0dB) and used the amplifier's stepped attenuator to control the volume... with the belief that I want the source to be at its max output, optimize matching between the source output impedance and amp's input, etc.

Just for giggles, today I reversed the setup. The amplifier's volume knob was turned to its max, and instead I used the Lampizator's volume, which at a comfortably loud listening level is around -40 dB, give or take.

Lo and behold, the music is amazing. WOW. In comparison to using the amp as the attenuation, the music seems more cohesive, fun, as if life has been breathed into it. The Nautilus is supposed to be a dual mono class A tubed amp, so the channel-matched stepped attenuator shouldn't /color/ the music... but clearly it does, and more so than the Lampi's volume control.

On the other hand, it speaks to the Lampi's volume control circuitry. That level of execution, to me, is part of what makes a great DAC. Details to the n'th degree matter at this level.
Good move! To my knowledge it’s not a digital volume control but a resistor ladder, so there’s no reason to assume it’ll (have to) negatively affect resolution. This would seem to be a matter of “riding the gain”, in short, there’s no way to find out what sounds best without trying.

Greetings from Switzerland, David.
 

JackD201

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That's great keithc!

I don't know what to add the what iFi and acousticsguru said. Sadly even the highest quality attenuators have a sweet spot in their usable range. For forever stepped has been regarded as the purest way to go but as Ifi covered that requires really, really good resistors. Then there is wear on the contacts and even dirt or eventual corrosion in cases. This suggests that the Lampi has got the better attenuators. Perhaps the fact the lampi DACs have more than amazing output voltage max capacity is what allows them to use less finicky attenuators. Like AG says...."riding the gain".

Thanks for sharing this. Strangely enough I've never run my CH C1 DAC directly into any amplifiers, also believing max out into a pre or integrated is the way to go. It is the logical view to output at ~unity gain. Thanks to this I'll give DACs with volume controls a go again.
 
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PYP

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I'm just an amateur compared to most of you, but analogy aside, I "discovered" something about my system today that, for me, directly addresses one facet of "why a good dac?":

My Lampizator directly feeds a supposedly good dual mono tubed headphone amplifier (Ampsandsound Nautilus). For the past several weeks I have ran the Lampi at full volume (-0dB) and used the amplifier's stepped attenuator to control the volume... with the belief that I want the source to be at its max output, optimize matching between the source output impedance and amp's input, etc.

Just for giggles, today I reversed the setup. The amplifier's volume knob was turned to its max, and instead I used the Lampizator's volume, which at a comfortably loud listening level is around -40 dB, give or take.

Lo and behold, the music is amazing. WOW. In comparison to using the amp as the attenuation, the music seems more cohesive, fun, as if life has been breathed into it. The Nautilus is supposed to be a dual mono class A tubed amp, so the channel-matched stepped attenuator shouldn't /color/ the music... but clearly it does, and more so than the Lampi's volume control.

On the other hand, it speaks to the Lampi's volume control circuitry. That level of execution, to me, is part of what makes a great DAC. Details to the n'th degree matter at this level.
Makes sense to me given my own experience. I use the digital attenuator in my DAC for volume control and find it very transparent. Transparency = dynamics in addition to other qualities. Since I only use a digital streaming source, there is no need for a preamp. Clearly minimalist, but it makes listening to music enjoyable.
 
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Bruce B

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Bragging rights... once you get above a certain threshold, they all sound the same. It may sound different.. but is it better?

Expectation bias.......
 
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Sampajanna

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Bragging rights... once you get above a certain threshold, they all sound the same. It may sound different.. but is it better?

Expectation bias.......
Not my experience at all.
 

PYP

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Bragging rights... once you get above a certain threshold, they all sound the same. It may sound different.. but is it better?

Expectation bias.......
Is the threshold lower when a DDC is used? Just recently fed a very inexpensive DAC with my DDC/streamer and am very surprised by the result. Sounds musical. Can't believe it (expectations incorrect).
 
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keithc

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Bragging rights... once you get above a certain threshold, they all sound the same. It may sound different.. but is it better?

Expectation bias.......

I think there's /some/ value in bragging rights, depending on the beholder.

Your avatar suggests you're a car guy (like probably many here). We know that a Model 3P can smoke many European exotics for way less money. But who cares? I'd take my European cars over a Tesla any day... I want my build quality, engine symphony, steering feel, handling, and.... bragging rights.
 

Mike Lavigne

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Bragging rights... once you get above a certain threshold, they all sound the same. It may sound different.. but is it better?

Expectation bias.......
one can say that about just about anything. do differences, preferences, matter? no right answer for all.

it's part of the hobby, just not the same for everyone. at every moment, in every mood. but if you are posting here it matters, just maybe not right now in this thread. fair enough.

it's part of what drives us and get's our minds off that stuff 'out there'.
 
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gerihifi

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Bragging rights... once you get above a certain threshold, they all sound the same. It may sound different.. but is it better?

Expectation bias.......

Fully agree to Mike... part of our crazy hobby ;) and for many of us having the economic luxury to do so!!!

Of course if you buy a 1m€ hifi system it will sound better than a 0.5m€ setup, but worth the step and is it 50% from "YOUR" hearing experience better? sure not (maybe 5%), but if someone is able to spend that, I'm the last one to complain...because if I'd be a billionaire...would do the same, as crazy hifi enthusiast ;-)
 

Al M.

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Fully agree to Mike... part of our crazy hobby ;) and for many of us having the economic luxury to do so!!!

Of course if you buy a 1m€ hifi system it will sound better than a 0.5m€ setup, but worth the step and is it 50% from "YOUR" hearing experience better? sure not (maybe 5%), but if someone is able to spend that, I'm the last one to complain...because if I'd be a billionaire...would do the same, as crazy hifi enthusiast ;-)

If it's better depends on if the setup is actually well set up. I can guarantee you that a well put together system of 1/10 the price, which is well set up in a room that in turn is well sorted out in acoustics and with properly sorted out electrical power, will sound (possibly vastly) better than a simply just purchased 1m€ hifi system thrown in some room hoping for some miracle.

Money is not everything. Without proper effort it's worthless. But it seems in this hobby some just throw money at their problems.

Of course, if that 1m€ hifi system is well sorted out according to the above, then all bets are off and it may sound amazing. But it may take considerable time and effort to get there.
 

gerihifi

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If it's better depends on if the setup is actually well set up. I can guarantee you that a well put together system of 1/10 the price, which is well set up in a room that in turn is well sorted out in acoustics and with properly sorted out electrical power, will sound (possibly vastly) better than a simply just purchased 1m€ hifi system thrown in some room hoping for some miracle.

Money is not everything. Without proper effort it's worthless. But it seems in this hobby some just throw money at their problems.

Of course, if that 1m€ hifi system is well sorted out according to the above, then all bets are off and it may sound amazing. But it may take considerable time and effort to get there.
You didn't get my point ;-)

Of course EVERY hifi system can sound great, if well-thoughted put together and proper room treatment.

But there will be ALWAYS a better system out there ;-)

Cheers
Gerald
 
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