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"DESIGNER COMPONENTS: Some audiophiles are “component snobs”. Someone once told me the Benchmark DAC1 isn’t worth considering because its Alps volume control only costs a few dollars. But, being objective, the DAC1 has great crosstalk performance (a weakness of some volume controls), good channel balance tracking, the volume control feels solid, turns smoothly, and doesn’t make any audible noise when turned. So what exactly is wrong with the volume control? The answer: Nothing significant. But some think you’re supposed to spend way more to get those hidden designer labels. They can go enjoy their latest issue of the Robb Report. They’re after something very different than simply getting the most accurate sound and the O2 isn’t their kind of amp.
DESIGNER PARTS GONE WRONG: I tested a commercial headphone DAC with a fashionable trendy DAC chip and op amp in it. The PC board layout looks fancy with everything arranged neatly in rows (always a bad sign—more on that later). But whoever designed it apparently couldn’t be bothered to read (or perhaps understand) the datasheet for the DAC. The oversampling digital filter in the DAC chip—a very critical aspect of a DAC—defaults to 24/192. But as a USB DAC it runs at 16/44. Because the filtering is all wrong high frequency content in music creates alias artifacts that are “mirrored” down into the audio band. It measures poorly on the dScope and I’m pretty sure you can hear all the extra high frequency garbage. A typical Head-Fi subjectivist might buy this DAC, hear the extra high frequency crud, decide the added HF content is newfound musical “detail”, and give the half baked DAC a glowing review on Head-Fi. Others run out and buy one and, courtesy of subjective bias, hear what the first reviewer described. Next thing you know the Half-Baked DAC Company becomes a Head-Fi sponsor, and well, you can see where this is going. But the real crime is whoever designed it either never properly measured it, or if they did, they didn’t care they got it wrong. But hey, it looks nice and uses all the right fashionable components. That’s what matters most, right?