Sep 17, 2018937 views

Are people generally able to tell the difference between DACs?

I am not talking about run of the mill computer and phone dacs. I am talking about if you go up to a Schiit Modi 2 for example, will you be able to tell a difference between that dac and say a $1000 DAC?
I am personally in the camp of no you won't be able to tell the difference. Higher end DACs definitely provide more utility but in terms of sound, I think diminishing returns start sooner for the DAC category.
I am curious to see what people's opinions are. I am listening on a Focal Elex - Liquid Carbon X - SMSL SU8 so maybe my set up doesn't have the resolving power needed? I do not know.
BurritoJustice, AudioFaze, and 1 other

I have Lipinski's L707's driven by a Hypex amp in a dedicated room just to give you an idea of my listening environment, my source is a RME pcie card in a Mac going SPDIF to a Presonus Central Station (AKM DAC (4396)), Recently I bought a Philips CD player with a TDA1451A DAC beceause I was curious how this would sound. With my Presonus I can easely switch between the CD player and the Mac, first I was dissepointed and found the difference was not really notticable, though after a period listening between the same songs i began to notice the differences, the TDA has more attack in transient sounds, the bass and snare drums became more noticable, at the same time other sounds got muffled, very strange? the highs where also better but not as notticeble, It would have been difficult in a blind test. Was it worth it? Yes and No: Yes, for the experience. No, don't expect drastic changes, for a purist going after the perfect sound its a chalange.
BS. The reason that you can’t tell the difference between DACs is that your system doesn’t have enough resolution to be able to tell the difference. And that’s fine. Just use your DAC and be happy. But - if your system has enough resolving power to hear the difference, hooray! Your music probably sounds better because your system is more fine-tuned.. instruments and voices will sound more realistic, bass will go deeper, highs will go higher, and midrange more transparent. To recap, it’s OK, honey, it’s not you (your ears), it’s me (your system).
Get ready pal, the "ever-thirsty" are about to beat a path to your door on this one ;- )
I've got a Cambridge DacMagic 100 with a Wolfson chip and a ifi iDac2 with a Burr Brown chip and there is a noticeable difference. Of course, one is 24/192 and the other 32/PCM384
A very good question, answers will by very subjective of course. I have several DACs, Schiit Multibit along with some SDs. To keep this brief, I use the Schiit Gungnir Multibit as my go to DAC. Before that I used a Modi 2 Multibit (current model) and a Pro-ject S2 with MQA. I use strictly headphones, Focal Clear, Audeze LCD X and XC, Mrspeakers Ether Flow and Flow C, Senn HD800S. I'll switch headphones daily, but always with the Gungnir, that doesn't change.
Yes, to me it sounds the best. I did some "blind" testing with the Pro-Ject and Gungnir using MQA Masters music from Tidal. The Gungnir was smoother. Now what that means on paper is beyond me, but I could consistently identify the DAC being used. I did this by listening to both pretty loudly focusing on the high treble. The Pro-Ject had an edge that COULD be pronounced, the Gungnir had even better treble but it never sounded sharp.
From my experience, the Pro-Ject is a great DAC, but is not as good as the Schiit Gungnir Multibit.
By the way I have a Focal Elex as well (listening to it as I am writing this directly connected to Mojo Fed with microRendu and Audirvana +). Try and find a Mojo and try it with your Elex. I think it will surprise you.
jitter and noise are really common issues even in higher end dacs. I can hear the differences between some dacs, but not all. I remember hearing a Pagoda Labs Orchid V2 next to the Border Patrol SE, and the Orchid was obviously warmer, where listening to the same song on the border patrol sounded like vocals were much drier and clearer. Schiit Yggy is really gorgeous sounding, but it has a small soundstage. It measures ridiculously low in eliminating jitter and power noise. I would say yes when a/b, but if the same DAC is at my desk all year then I'm not gonna appreciate that it may sound better, because I would listen to most things through it, not other gear. Differences aren't huge, but IMO definitely noticeable
In may case it was night and day.
I went from oppo HA-1 to Chord Mojo and it was a revelation.
Mojo is just in another league with smother sound, tons of detail that I did not hear on oppo easily and just all around better sound.
Then I got the microRendu and that was another jump. This little deceive made Mojo bring out even more detail and clarity and the image just expanded and became more stable.
I now only use HA-1 as preamp/headphone amp feeding it through RCA input from Mojo. Also Audirvana + software on my Mac mini makes a big difference.
In practice, I would say no, despite the fact that I really want the answer to be yes. That's been my experience based on blind a/b testing. I think it's just the reality that the precise conversion of 0s and 1s to analog sound has been solved. Absent some system flaw, a certain set of bits reliably translates into the same analog signal if you're using a modern DAC. The variance in sound comes from other parts of the chain.
Here's an article on a blind test that goes into detail:,3733.html
Law of diminishing marginal return definitely applies to Hi-Fi but more so to DACs than any other part of the stack. There's also the issue of misinformation and snake oil in the higher end market. For instance the price of components inside a $1000 DAC is probably around $100 maybe less. 99.99% of all DACs I've seen out there use off-the-shelf, highly commoditized chips and electronics. The "famed" premium AKM chips, for example cost like $5 -- yup, five dollars -- when bought in lots of 100 ( much cheaper with higher quantities). Analog Devices, maybe $7-8 for their top of the line DAC, Silicon Labs's $5, ESS about the same. Capacitors, resistors, etc, even when using top-of-the-line we're taking pennies on the dollar. So, even if you were to add to the price stuff like R&D, time and labor, there's no reason for a "$1000" DAC to cost more than $300-400. Then there's complete snake oil like $100 "audiophile grade USB cables" which is absurd at many levels given a $2 USB certified cable will do an *identical* job.
This is a long-winded way to say that anything above $300-400 you're buying into brand and your own psychological biases because unless it's an awful, noisy, jittery unit the differences between a $250 DAC and a $2000 DAC are marginal at best.
I found that in the beginning I did not really catch the differences between DAC's. All I heard was a lower version of my pro and home theater amps, but once I began refining my headphones collection I began to hear the differences which came from everything from the electronics, headset choices and even tubed or not tubed. My panda stack has great sound on my 598 but crap on my 800s, my jotunheim sounds great on my 800s and so does my lyr 3 but both have a different sound quality to them and neither sound good on my tacstar 80 when compared to my 1more triple driver. They do make a difference and even the same company (as with the two I named from Schiit) can sound different. My SMSL AD18 and my Panda pro have different sound textures to them as well. So in the end, it is more about defining the sound that you like and building something that gives you what you want, as I can tell you that even when it comes to desktop and portable dacs, things can get weird, wonderful and very confusing. If you can, post what headphones you use and what you like and don't like about them. Maybe we can help make some suggestions, just remember, this rabbit hole is deep and different for everyone so take suggestions as just that... a suggestion, then see if you can find someone that has the product or somewhere where you can sample it before you buy or you will wind up with a pile of equipment that you just don't use like a great many of us have.
I personally don't believe there is a big difference between DAC's with an outboard power supply. The features are what I tend to focus on. Moving from my prior Emotiva XDA-1 ($400 MSRP) to the Teac UD-501 ($849 MSRP) wasn't a major difference but the enhanced USB functionality and codec support made it worth the upgrade. More than double the list price and maybe 1-5% improvement, more than likely related to selectable filter options and the dual mono design.
No, and these are the headphones I own. HD800s SR009 D7000 HE500. You've probably heard it but as long as your dac doesn't have any significant artifacts such as jitter and distortion and is audibly transparent you are golden. It would probably be worth it to upgrade from a Schiit Modi to something like a D50. It measures much much better. From there on in you can stop worrying about the DAC in your audio chain.
IMHO, once you get into a stand-alone DAC with its own separate power supply, no, you can't tell the difference unless you're doing A/B comparisons switching back and forth between the two quickly. There may be exceptions to this, but that has been my (maybe limited) experience. With DAC units I'm more interested in features than sound.
The differences can be subtle but they do exist. Certain DAC chips have unique "quirks" to their sound and they all tend to have multiple variations (which also affects their SQ). Honestly though, once you move up to a certain price bracket, they all start to sound the same since they're aiming for neutrality, clarity, speed, etc. Other than that, it'll boil down to what file rates and filters they use that will set them apart (among other small things).
With a purifier I find it quite easy to discern