High-end DAC really necessary?

Well, now I’m regretting spending 50 albums worth of dollars on a high-end DAC:

This kind of makes sense. We’ve been building and engineering DACs for 30 years to put in CD players; their mysteries should be sorted out by now.


Kind of reads that way.

The thing is audio professionals have learned over a long time what aspects of what you hear to focus in on for the purposes of differentiating. Other people will hear unconsciously hear the same differences, but unless one item is terrible and the other isn’t, they may well struggle to work out what is different or even what is better to them.

We all hear roughly the same (ignoring damage), but people working with audio day in day out get very attuned to what they hear. I wouldn’t expect someone who is not used to critical differentiation to give a meaningful review. OTOH - most people are no different either and that is basically why they are often very happy with a chrome-cast audio playing mp3s for eg.

I didn’t look at the article too closely, since it’s about 4.5 years old and things ever advance. Advances include DACs, which will never be complete (eg, the relatively recent MQA support, if one cares). Of course, there may well be PC devices (cards) that offer DAC function. But my suspicion is that DACs, aimed at a specific market, are more likely to see the best technological efforts.

A further thought: Even with a PC, one needs some DAC-like function, somewhere. My setup involves several PCs/PC-like devices (a Win10 Pro x64 PC for a Roon server, one for Antipodes Edge in a stereo setup, one for a desktop where I also listen via Dragonfly Red through headphones) and further includes a stereo pre-amp, which has DACs built in. (And the Dragonfly has its own DAC function.)

In brief, a good setup will have PCs (or Apple computers and yet other kinds of computers) as well as DACs, somewhere. The specific types of components will vary with taste and budget.

Interesting. I hadn’t realized that MQA had anything to do with the DAC per se; bits in, current out. But when you consider the larger picture of “computation from source to analog”, you are of course spot on.

I’m pretty clearly in the “not an audio professional” camp, so that’s probably why the Google Home Mini sounds pretty good to me (wonder what DAC chip that uses?).

But I get the impression that most of these products are differentiated by the distortions they deliberately introduce into the audio output. “Filters”. To the discerning ear, they will in fact sound different.

50 albums? I spent a lot more than that on my DAC and I am very glad I did. I absolutely can hear a difference.

Hey, if you can’t hear a difference between inexpensive and expensive DACs, you are going to save yourself a lot of money in this hobby. You probably won’t hear any real difference in amps either. More money to be saved!

I think you’re probably right. After all, there’s a lot of ABX testing material on the Web arguing that all well-designed amps sound the same (which kind of makes sense). For instance,

Apparently the only real distinguishing characteristic is having enough power to drive your speakers at the desired sound levels.

That is rather condescending, Scott. Bad form.

And unless your DAC comparisons occurred under appropriately controlled and blind conditions, you know next to nothing about your ability to discern audible differences.


It’s not condescending at all. There are plenty of people out there that don’t hear any real differences between DACs. And there are plenty that don’t hear differences between amps. Often I wish I were one of them. It would save me a lot money!


Nah, your post smacks of audiophile superiority. Illusory superiority. Unless you can demonstrate your claims in legitimate testing, which you likely have not performed.



No, my post smacks of the reality that not everyone is the same. I wish I could not hear the difference between my $250 DAC and my $6000 DAC. I have friends that cannot and laugh at me for spending so much. That $250 DAC works great for my office system but falls short in my 2 channel setup.

These same friends think my 1980’s 30 watt Class A solid state amp sounds as good as my “modern” 65 watt Class AB push/pull KT88 tube amp. It close, but the differences are apparent to me.

You see, the sound quality differences between my DACs are a lot smaller than some would like to believe. The same is true for my amps. I notice the differences. They don’t and that is not surprising. The differences become more apparent over time and they don’t get the time listening to my stuff like I do.

I don’t ridicule people that don’t hear what I hear. What I hear is my reality and what they hear is their reality. These friends I have that don’t hear the same differences I do get to spend less on DACs and amps. They get to spend more on speakers. Smart!


I too have had many amps and Dacs and speakers and I would spend money on speakers (well I build my own) as my first priority.

I’ve had dacs from diy $30 to commercial $6000 units and sold off the expensive ones and I have a small stable of different ones that all give me pleasure to listen to.

More than anything I wish I had more space than another dac…

Certainly those that can hear a difference are perhaps in the minority, but we must all live within our own budgets and we will all hear differently that’s for sure regardless.

The differences between DACs and amps (assuming enough power) are much smaller than audiophiles wax poetic about. So buying value equipment probably makes sense for most people.

However, there are users who have passed blind tests listening to different DACs. They don’t all sound the same. It’s quite possible the reviewer simply isn’t a well trained enough listener to hear differences (not all audiophiles are).

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I think it is a bit more complicated than that. There are matching issues of impedance and power with amps and speakers. Some amps and speakers are more suited to each other. And even objectivists don’t deny that with speakers, even the speaker cable can make a difference in certain cases.


The vast majority of people pitch their purchases in an area they can afford. All the talk about being able to hear differences is academic. If you can’t afford to live with a 6K DAC, you’ll never know the difference. People buy expensive kit because they can afford it. That is the biggest and most salient reason. The rest is semantics. Now, to be clear this doesn’t mean they are not better. It just means the primary reason for ownership is the depth of your pockets or your willingness to spend your kids inheritance. I don’t think anyone cries themselves to sleep because they can’t afford that expensive DAC they heard at their last audio show.


In my setup. I got a lot of improvements by separating the computer from the DAC electronically. First (and most important) step is to use a transport that connects to the computer with an ethernet cable, then a final tweak was to use fiber converters to 100% electronically isolate the DAC (and HiFi system) from the computer.

But only one way to find out what works best in your setup: borrow or Buy & Try and test things in your setup. Let your ear decide, and don’t theorycraft your HiFi (and no, the old bits are bits argument is invalid but lets leave that discussion for another time).

Digital filters are necessary when performing ADC or DAC and involve trade offs. If you want them steep in the frequency domain, then they will be long in the time domain and vice versa. This is a mathematical relationship so is unavoidable. Every filter involves making a choice about where to make that trade off, along with others such as linear phase and pre-ringing. Other DSP techniques shift noise out of the audible spectrum.

You could also say my spectacles deliberately introduce distortion into their visual output, but the result is that I perceive a sharper image.

As to the difference between cheaper and expensive DACs I find a lot of it is in the “weight” of the output which I think has to do with the responsiveness of the power supply to microdynamics. I think this is where even expensive DACs continue to fall down, but it’s particularly noticeable in cheaper ones. You end up with something that sounds like the music, rather than the music.


This is the crux. We do not just hear, we perceive. Our brains will often fill in gaps it thinks should be filled. So, I don’t doubt people hear differences (myself included) but that doesn’t mean one exists. When we expect to hear a sound–clarity, articulation, soundstage …–our brains are quite accommodating. In other words, we cannot ignore the psychology of listening … comfort, sensation, continuity (or lack of), expectation and so on.

In reality, I suspect my dog benefits more from MQA than I do! :smile:


I agree with mr. Winders and can not emphasize enough, the selection of the dac is of great influence on the final sound coming from your speakers

Hi Bill: What exactly did you purchase -and regret, why ?


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