DAC Advice Need for my system - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 32 Old 12-18-2013, 09:14 PM - Thread Starter
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[Hello everyone, this is Stephen, I am new here in this forum. Though am into the hifi gears for about 7 years. I need you guys advice now for my current set up: Speaker: Audio Physic Tempo 25 driving by the VTL IT 85 (EL34) sACD player: Denon DCD 1520AE; I mainly listen to the Classical and Jazz. My question is: the system overall performing very well with good synergy and decent density for Jazz. The violin is smooth and sweet and female vocal is almost as good as on my Harbeth SHL5. However, I feel the big scale symphonic are lack of impact and some instruments positions are not very well positioned, also a bit lag on the clarity. I well understand the limitation of the Tubes and EL34 but my space is limited (a moderate living room in the apartment) do you guys think the Denon is the bottle neck of the system? Can it be improved by a decent standing alone DAC? If yes, what kind of DAC I shall be looking at? Thanks a lot everyone.smile.gif
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post #2 of 32 Old 12-19-2013, 01:03 AM - Thread Starter
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It looks a bit quiet here. Am I put my question in the right section ? wink.gif
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post #3 of 32 Old 12-19-2013, 01:44 AM
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Originally Posted by stephengu View Post

[do you guys think the Denon is the bottle neck of the system?

No but I have no idea what you mean by a bottleneck. Audiophilia is an endless treadmill. No matter what you change in the system you will encounter some other "bottleneck" in the future. My advice is to stop worrying about equipment and just enjoy the music.
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Can it be improved by a decent standing alone DAC?

No. Outboard DACs have no effect on sonics. They only affect a soothing of the desire for more and new equipment.
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post #4 of 32 Old 12-19-2013, 02:20 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by FMW View Post

No. Outboard DACs have no effect on sonics. They only affect a soothing of the desire for more and new equipment.
I hear you well. I love to keep the system simple while no need focusing on the equipment themselves. It's just the DAC market is now indeed a heavy battlefield where all the brands want to share a piece of pie. The mass online reviews and releasing of the eye catching equipment stimulate my upgrade bug...biggrin.gif
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post #5 of 32 Old 12-19-2013, 05:05 AM
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Originally Posted by stephengu View Post

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No. Outboard DACs have no effect on sonics. They only affect a soothing of the desire for more and new equipment.
I hear you well. I love to keep the system simple while no need focusing on the equipment themselves. It's just the DAC market is now indeed a heavy battlefield where all the brands want to share a piece of pie. The mass online reviews and releasing of the eye catching equipment stimulate my upgrade bug...biggrin.gif

So upgrade your speakers or room acoustics, if you aren't afraid to make a serious difference!
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post #6 of 32 Old 12-19-2013, 05:13 AM
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I don't think a DAC will give you any improvement, The combo of your speakers w/EL34 tubes will give you a lush warm sound. Unfortunately you can't roll some KT88's in to replace the EL34's. The unit is not as flexible as say Prima Luna which allows you to use either tube a a flick of a switch. Very nice system you have but a DAC will not change the personality of the sound.smile.gif
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post #7 of 32 Old 12-19-2013, 05:44 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by stephengu View Post

I hear you well. I love to keep the system simple while no need focusing on the equipment themselves. It's just the DAC market is now indeed a heavy battlefield where all the brands want to share a piece of pie. The mass online reviews and releasing of the eye catching equipment stimulate my upgrade bug...biggrin.gif

That upgrade bug is the problem I referred to above. I realize that many companies make and compete to sell outboard DACs. Remember there are companies that compete to sell exotic interconnect cables and tweaks, none of which have any effect on sound. Outboard DACs are truly a waste of money. But, in the end, it is your money.
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post #8 of 32 Old 12-19-2013, 08:31 AM
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Stephen...I don't normally weigh-in on topics like this, because they're nothing but flame-bait. But I did want to give you a perspective from the "other side".

I'm a DAC advocate, and think some of the absolutes thrown around in this thread are ridiculous ("Outboard DACs have no effect on sonics", "Outboard DACs are truly a waste of money"). Whatever; everyone is entitled to their opinion, and again...let's not go down the road of debating the topic.

That being said...I don't really think a DAC is the answer to your problems. It sounds like you are getting a sound you like, from your other system; the one with the SHL-5s (and no wonder...I have 7ES-3s myself). I realize you have limitations with the space for this system; but I agree with these guys...I'd look at your speakers, and/or some placement/treatment solutions.

Just wanted you to hear it...from someone who isn't of the DACs-are-snake-oil variety. Good luck.

Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything. -Plato
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post #9 of 32 Old 12-19-2013, 11:00 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CDLehner View Post


I'm a DAC advocate, and think some of the absolutes thrown around in this thread are ridiculous ("Outboard DACs have no effect on sonics", "Outboard DACs are truly a waste of money"). Whatever; everyone is entitled to their opinion, and again.

You confuse my test results with opinion and call them ridiculous from a perspective of ignorance. I'm used to it. Best of luck.
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post #10 of 32 Old 12-19-2013, 11:40 AM
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Originally Posted by FMW View Post

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Originally Posted by CDLehner View Post


I'm a DAC advocate, and think some of the absolutes thrown around in this thread are ridiculous ("Outboard DACs have no effect on sonics", "Outboard DACs are truly a waste of money"). Whatever; everyone is entitled to their opinion, and again.

You confuse my test results with opinion and call them ridiculous from a perspective of ignorance. I'm used to it. Best of luck.

I duuno, I was kind of impressed with his honesty in saying that a DAC doesn't sound like a good solution to the problem at hand.

I do agree with the idea that it is unlikely for an external DAC to provide improved sound quality in any good system, and most such perceptions are based on flawed listening evaluations.
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post #11 of 32 Old 12-19-2013, 11:56 AM
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Sorry, Arny. Based on my tests, outboard DAC's are snake oil. Only exotic wire competes with it in a herpetological sense. I don't mind debating it but I get ruffled at terms like ridiculous.
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post #12 of 32 Old 12-19-2013, 01:43 PM
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Originally Posted by FMW View Post

Sorry, Arny. Based on my tests, outboard DAC's are snake oil. Only exotic wire competes with it in a herpetological sense. I don't mind debating it but I get ruffled at terms like ridiculous.

Case in point - I have a laptop with miserable built in sound. All sorts of noises when a program runs. Add an external USB DAC like a Behringer UCA 202 ($30) and all is well.

External DACs are the smelly stuff you mention when the existing DAC is a good DAC, which is the case for just about any audio gear with pretentions of quality (e.g. non bottom dollar junk AVR or music player).

For example the DAC and headphone amp in a iPod, iPad, or Sansa Clip tablet or music player, or a > $60 BD player can be expected to be fine. The DACs in CD ROM drives and $15 CD players can be dodgy.
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post #13 of 32 Old 12-19-2013, 02:51 PM - Thread Starter
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Sorry didn't mean to pull out the debate. It's just some thought on the DAC hunt me for some time. Glad I don't feel too keen and it will save some of my money. The SHL5 indeed gave me a lot of pleasure without too much demand. I'd try re position the speakers for now and also forgot to mention the speakers are new. I'd give them a bit time to run in. Soon I will have my LP12 move in from my old house and I will see what is the result to change the source.
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post #14 of 32 Old 12-19-2013, 04:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by arnyk View Post

Case in point - I have a laptop with miserable built in sound. All sorts of noises when a program runs. Add an external USB DAC like a Behringer UCA 202 ($30) and all is well.

External DACs are the smelly stuff you mention when the existing DAC is a good DAC, which is the case for just about any audio gear with pretentions of quality (e.g. non bottom dollar junk AVR or music player).

For example the DAC and headphone amp in a iPod, iPad, or Sansa Clip tablet or music player, or a > $60 BD player can be expected to be fine. The DACs in CD ROM drives and $15 CD players can be dodgy.

But we aren't talking about those. We are talking about high end outboard DACs.
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post #15 of 32 Old 12-19-2013, 04:49 PM
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Originally Posted by FMW View Post

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Case in point - I have a laptop with miserable built in sound. All sorts of noises when a program runs. Add an external USB DAC like a Behringer UCA 202 ($30) and all is well.

External DACs are the smelly stuff you mention when the existing DAC is a good DAC, which is the case for just about any audio gear with pretentions of quality (e.g. non bottom dollar junk AVR or music player).

For example the DAC and headphone amp in a iPod, iPad, or Sansa Clip tablet or music player, or a > $60 BD player can be expected to be fine. The DACs in CD ROM drives and $15 CD players can be dodgy.

But we aren't talking about those. We are talking about high end outboard DACs.

In which case we may encounter equipment with higher measured performance that has no audible benefits.

In Ethan's Audio Damn Lies video he correctly points out that spurious responses that are 80 dB or more down have no audible consequence.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zvireu2SGZM

That pretty much gives a pass to any reasonable DAC, even the DACs in sub-$300 AVRs and sub-$100 BD players.
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post #16 of 32 Old 12-19-2013, 06:09 PM
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Originally Posted by FMW View Post

You confuse my test results with opinion

Which is still just your opinion.
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post #17 of 32 Old 12-20-2013, 05:12 AM
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You confuse my test results with opinion

Which is still just your opinion.

The results of reliable listening tests and relevant technical tests are generally accepted as reliable evidence, while the results of casual evaluations are easy to impeach as just being someone's opinion.

One can argue that there is a fair amount of subjectivity with how you set up and analyze a test, but the procedures and guidelines for doing that exist in pretty full measure and are widely followed.
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post #18 of 32 Old 12-20-2013, 06:28 AM
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Well to first run a test, you have to make sure your measurement system has enough resolution and is capable and repeatable.

The same can be said for someone's system. If it does not have enough fidelity and resolution to show a difference, a bad conclusion of "DACs make no difference" can be made as well.

Its also perfectly within reason that someone may not hear a difference at all even on the most capable equipment. Hearing is an imperfect sense and it widely varies between people. We all have different eye corrections don't we? We dont have that level of ear corrections (yet).

I can hear very distinct differences between skipping the outboard DAC and using the built in DAC on my system. Many other people have been able to as well.

Sure, maybe the difference between some DAC "chips" are so minute that there is no audible difference. But, when you put a well designed power supply, analog output stage with high quality components, there for sure is a huge difference there. After all, 1s and 0s don't travel down a wire...Lol . The more accurately the DAC can produce the transient voltages on the output, the better.
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post #19 of 32 Old 12-20-2013, 08:38 AM
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Sure, maybe the difference between some DAC "chips" are so minute that there is no audible difference. But, when you put a well designed power supply, analog output stage with high quality components, there for sure is a huge difference there. After all, 1s and 0s don't travel down a wire...Lol . The more accurately the DAC can produce the transient voltages on the output, the better.

That doesn't seem to be the case. Excluding things like DACs in cell phones and laptops, we have never been able to find an audible difference of any kind let alone a huge difference between the DACs used in hifi systems. That includes the DAC's in A Radio Shack portable CD player from 15 years ago to every high end outboard DACs we tested. We had a panel of 10 audiophiles and the equipment we used for the bias controlled tests was not an issue. Terms like "huge difference" come from hearing bias, not from the DACs themselves. Sorry.
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post #20 of 32 Old 12-20-2013, 09:22 AM
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Originally Posted by PGibby View Post

Well to first run a test, you have to make sure your measurement system has enough resolution and is capable and repeatable.

Goes without saying.
Quote:
The same can be said for someone's system. If it does not have enough fidelity and resolution to show a difference, a bad conclusion of "DACs make no difference" can be made as well.

Goes without saying.
Quote:
Its also perfectly within reason that someone may not hear a difference at all even on the most capable equipment. Hearing is an imperfect sense and it widely varies between people. We all have different eye corrections don't we? We dont have that level of ear corrections (yet).

Goes without saying.
Quote:
I can hear very distinct differences between skipping the outboard DAC and using the built in DAC on my system. Many other people have been able to as well.

Doing that in a casual evaluation is easy, doing it in a level-matched, time synched DBT can take more than a little doing.
Quote:
Sure, maybe the difference between some DAC "chips" are so minute that there is no audible difference. But, when you put a well designed power supply, analog output stage with high quality components, there for sure is a huge difference there.

That issue is settled by the manufacturer's reference design for using the chip. Obviously he is not going to hobble his own product!

Here's an example:

http://www.esstech.com/PDF/Sabre_8_2Channel_64PIN_V3_SCH.pdf



Nothing esoteric or expensive, eh?
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post #21 of 32 Old 12-20-2013, 10:03 AM
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I played around with different DACs a few weeks ago to see if I could tell one from the other. I have an HK990 integrated amp that has built in DACs. I also have an Oppo BDP-80 with its DACs - an HTPC with a decent HT Omega sound card with its DAC - and a Emotiva XDA-1 which coincidentally has the same brand and model DAC as the HK990. I tried every combo I could think of - comparing the Oppo to the HT card using their DAC vs sending the analog out to the HK990. I think I could tell a difference between the HT cards analog out and its internal DAC but it was difficult to know for sure. I've since come to the conclusion that the DACs I own are all pretty good. I was especially surprised that the HT Omega card sounded very much like the XDA-1 connected via USB which by many accounts is 'night and day' difference according to some on the Emotiva Lounge. I used Dire Straights Brothers In Arms since I know it well - and I have it on CD and on the HTPC in FLAC form.

My conclusion: if you have older analog gear and want to funnel some of the latest digital content into that old gear then something like the XDA-1 with its multiple digital inputs and switching between source can be a great addition to older gear. And can be had for $150 or so used. I have one - and its doing nothing! No need for it since even the DAC in my HTPC sound card sounds pretty damned good. The HT card does 2 channel via analog or digital and 7.1 via digital.

That's my subjective 2 cents worth. YMMV.

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post #22 of 32 Old 12-20-2013, 10:57 AM
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The process for knowing if there really is an audible difference involves removing all the hearing bias from the test. It is also critical to have levels matched to tight tolerances (voltmeter across speaker terminals with a test tone.)

If you knew which DAC was playing and/or if you didn't level match on the money, then the test didn't really accomplish anything. Expectation bias is very strong in all of us. If we ask our brains to make a sonic comparison and the audible difference is either very subtle or non-existent, our brain will add kinds of other things into the comparison such as biases and experiences. If level matching is off, we all choose the louder one, even if it is very subtly louder. The fellow above provides a great example of hearing bias. We all suffer from it. It is the way our brains work.
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post #23 of 32 Old 12-20-2013, 01:20 PM
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I know this is beating a dead horse on here..Lol.

So, let's try to draw a parallel. For the people who don't think DACs make any difference, do you think the same thing about an amplifier? For example, replacing some budget type capacitors to something like Mundorfs. Does this not make any difference? Or, upgrading a speaker x-over with high end components? Does this make any difference?
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post #24 of 32 Old 12-20-2013, 01:24 PM
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FMW, just a comment to your mentioned:
Quote:
removing all the hearing bias from the test
This is absolutely necessary but not enough.
I think that all your statements, such:
Quote:
Hi-res" has no audible improvement over redbook 16/44
Quote:
Outboard DACs have no effect on sonics
Might be affected (just guessing), biased by the weak link in all your non bias auditioning: the "microphone", the most important instrument in those kind of judgments which instrumental error can be easily affected by aging.
For example, just as worst case scenario, when I will get older, one of my "microphone" will be able to register only up to 5kHz sonic frequencies, the other one even lower with even some frequencies falloff in that range. I will start dumping all my Hi res. SACD, DVD-A collection, before off course recording all of them on the old 3.82mm wide magnetic cassette tapes at 4.78 cm/s. And I will come back to this forum and will start spreading my truth based on my non bias auditioning results that it is no audible difference between CD, SACD and my lovely tapes, even going further, will start archiving SACD on the Phonograph Wax cylinders smile.gif
And will keep mentioning: if you hear the difference, it is either only in your head or your auditioning is biased.....

All the above was more kind of form of sarcasm, not the criticism......smile.gif
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post #25 of 32 Old 12-20-2013, 01:32 PM
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Lol
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post #26 of 32 Old 12-20-2013, 01:33 PM
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One thing for sure. I've made my last post about bias controlled testing. It just makes enemies. While I really don't care what others think, it isn't accomplishing what I intended which is to help by providing the truth. People, as usual, don't want to hear the truth unless it is their truth. But I stand by all the statements you criticized. And they aren't opinions. They are test results. I'll keep my test results to myself.
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post #27 of 32 Old 12-20-2013, 01:44 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FMW View Post

One thing for sure. I've made my last post about bias controlled testing. It just makes enemies. While I really don't care what others think, it isn't accomplishing what I intended which is to help by providing the truth. People, as usual, don't want to hear the truth unless it is their truth. But I stand by all the statements you criticized. And they aren't opinions. They are test results. I'll keep my test results to myself.

As someone who appreciates (and has been helped by) fact-based commentary, I do hope you'll reconsider.
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post #28 of 32 Old 12-20-2013, 01:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PGibby View Post

I know this is beating a dead horse on here..Lol.

So, let's try to draw a parallel. For the people who don't think DACs make any difference, do you think the same thing about an amplifier? For example, replacing some budget type capacitors to something like Mundorfs. Does this not make any difference? Or, upgrading a speaker x-over with high end components? Does this make any difference?

Changing the cap brand in an amp's power supply filtering section - assuming the replacement caps have the same specs as the original ones - will have no audible impact on the sound quality. Please tell me what you think is so special about a Mundorf cap. You could even easily make the argument that for the filter caps, you could even replace them with smaller, cheaper ones (ie, not the same spec) and still get identical sound quality in most listening situations (ie, except for at very high levels).

As for "upgrading" a speaker crossover with "high end" components, it will or will not make a difference depending on whether the replacement parts are of the same spec as the original parts.

If they're the same parts in terms of spec, then the name on them doesn't matter. Real engineers look at performance, both spec'd and measured. The name on a capacitor is not a spec and has no bearing on performance. It matters to engineers only in terms of pricing, quality control, supplier reliability, etc. Then people in marketing promote the design based on the "name" on the caps, and gullible customers/enthusiasts focus on that as the reason why some particular piece of gear *must* sound better.

If the replacement parts aren't of the same spec, then the change may or may not be audible, depending on how different the two are.

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post #29 of 32 Old 12-20-2013, 02:09 PM
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Interesting...thanks. Not here to start an arguement, just curious what your thoughts were.
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post #30 of 32 Old 12-20-2013, 04:30 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FMW View Post

The process for knowing if there really is an audible difference involves removing all the hearing bias from the test. It is also critical to have levels matched to tight tolerances (voltmeter across speaker terminals with a test tone.)

If you knew which DAC was playing and/or if you didn't level match on the money, then the test didn't really accomplish anything. Expectation bias is very strong in all of us. If we ask our brains to make a sonic comparison and the audible difference is either very subtle or non-existent, our brain will add kinds of other things into the comparison such as biases and experiences. If level matching is off, we all choose the louder one, even if it is very subtly louder. The fellow above provides a great example of hearing bias. We all suffer from it. It is the way our brains work.

I understand what hearing bias is. Ever heard of the McGurk effect? Ever watch 'Your Bleeped Up Brain'? I have.
I qualified my 'findings' with a tag on the end " That's my subjective 2 cents worth. YMMV." I never wrote what I did with the expectation that I would or would not hear a difference - it was simple curiosity - I think I explained that.

I don't need a double blind level matched etc etc test of any kind to evaluate how my audio equipment sounds. I never set out to do a DBX. I set out to see/hear if there were any audible differences to me. I heard none. It doesn't mean there is none. And I had zero expectations of what might sound better than the other. My FLAC and MP3 ripped to 312kbps sound pretty much the same - I've done that comparison over and over.

I'll repeat it - it was my subjective findings. An opinion - thats all. No written in stone hard cold facts - JMO.

When all else fails - RTFM!

♫♫♫ Two Channel Rules! ♫♫♫

GO SEAHAWKS!!!
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