Need advice on external DAC that outperforms Denon x4200W for music - AVS Forum | Home Theater Discussions And Reviews
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post #1 of 22 Old 08-14-2017, 10:20 AM - Thread Starter
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Need advice on external DAC that outperforms Denon x4200W for music

My home theater doubles as my music listening environment and I currently use a Denon x4200W receiver. I love this receiver. Absolutely love it. However, I find that listening to digital music (lossless 16/44.1 up to 24/192) can feel a bit lifeless. I think having a separate DAC for listening to music can help here, but I'm not sure what I'd need to buy to perform better than the DACs in my receiver.

For example, would something like the Schiit Bifrost be an improvement? I hear nothing but good things about it, but I'm not sure if it would be an upgrade given the relatively low cost of the unit (I'm aware that high cost doesn't always mean high quality). it doesn't help that I don't really have options around me for going to demo different DACs.

I'd prefer not to go over $1000 if I can help it. If the $400 Schiit would do the job, then that's even better.

Any suggestions here would be greatly appreciated!
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post #2 of 22 Old 08-14-2017, 08:03 PM
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The only way to know for certain is to sample different external DACs. Most if not all companies allow you to return the DAC if you don't like it. I have not heard the Schitt Bifrost but I have read good things about it for the money.

I tried out 7 different DACs before I finally settled on the PSAudio Directstream but that one is way over your budgeted amount. Each DAC I tried certainly had its own sound characteristics.

I will say it may take good quality loudspeakers to be able to distinguish the sound quality differences between DACs. Some people on this board claim there are no detectable differences between DACs but they either have poor hearing or are using low quality loudspeakers.
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post #3 of 22 Old 08-14-2017, 10:25 PM
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The issue with receivers as far as I can tell (also from experience) is that even if you feed them an analog signal the signal will still get converted to digital for DSP processing, and re-convert to analog before sending out to speakers.
I personally don't believe in the direct / pure direct mode thing...
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post #4 of 22 Old 08-14-2017, 11:41 PM
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Originally Posted by Spleen View Post
Each DAC I tried certainly had its own sound characteristics.
Did you listen to them at matched level? I'm asking because the difference can be heard from the same DAC when listened to at different levels.

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I will say it may take good quality loudspeakers to be able to distinguish the sound quality differences between DACs. Some people on this board claim there are no detectable differences between DACs but they either have poor hearing or are using low quality loudspeakers.
I would like to read more about the process that revealed this. Would you mind sharing it?
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post #5 of 22 Old 08-15-2017, 02:53 AM
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Originally Posted by balky View Post
The issue with receivers as far as I can tell (also from experience) is that even if you feed them an analog signal the signal will still get converted to digital for DSP processing, and re-convert to analog before sending out to speakers.
I personally don't believe in the direct / pure direct mode thing...
This is probably the big part. If you don't like what your reciever's dac sounds like, an external dac may not help. I don't think pure direct is a true analog signal path, but just cuts off the audio signal (DSP) processing and unused video circuitry. It's never been really clear, I've asked this about my denon 3311ci (just an earlier version of the 4200) and never got a clear answer.)

From the 3311ci manual:
This mode is for playback in higher sound quality than in "Directplayback" mode.• The following circuits that affect sound quality are set to off.• Main unit's display circuit (The display is turned off.)• Analog video input/output circuit• Surround back signals or front height signals are not created.• In this mode, the following items cannot be adjusted.• MultEQ ® XT (vpage 75)• Tone (vpage 75)• Dynamic EQ ® (vpage 76)• Dynamic Volume™ (vpage 76) Restorer.

It makes no mention of creating a separate analog only audio path, just cutting off unnneeded circuitry and ignoring any DSP. My guess is you are still getting a ADC then a DAC conversion with just the above cut off.

I have very good speakers. Salk Supercharged Song Towers. I don't have any particular problem with the sound quality of the DACs used in the 3311ci.

If you want a better DAC, my guess is you'd need an old fashioned integrated amp to take advantage of it. Or a receiver that has amp in connections. (my older denon 1910 used to have amp in connections, ext in.) Denon has dropped 'ext in' connections for the most part.
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post #6 of 22 Old 08-15-2017, 12:20 PM - Thread Starter
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So it turns out that something was wrong with my receiver.

I contacted Denon about my problem and they suggested to bring it to a service center. I did so and they found something strange which only occurred when the unit was fed 2 channel audio from a digital source. The problem showed itself as substantial volume dips spread across mid and high frequencies. I previously had a problem with the receiver handling 2 channel audio differently between HDMI vs optical, but that was solved with a reset of the receiver. The sound still wasn't where I expected it to be though.

They found the problem happened regardless whether any of the EQ / Dynamic Volume settings were enabled or not. After messing around with it for about an hour, they performed a factory reset, but using a special keypress on the unit rather than through the on-screen menu (if anyone knows the keypress, please share as they wouldn't tell me). Once the reset was complete, there was a huge improvement in the sound and they no longer saw the odd dips.

I brought it home and confirmed it sounds much better.

No one was able to provide an explanation as to how the unit got in to this weird state. They said there's no feature they're aware of that could have been enabled to cause this problem.

Seems like I won't be needing a new DAC after all.
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post #7 of 22 Old 08-15-2017, 05:29 PM
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Originally Posted by LFEer View Post
Did you listen to them at matched level? I'm asking because the difference can be heard from the same DAC when listened to at different levels.


I would like to read more about the process that revealed this. Would you mind sharing it?
I listened at various volume levels including the same level. Other people also listened.

The Mytek Brooklyn DAC in particular had incredible transparence and detail but sounded very dry and soon became very fatiguing. Mytek says it is not a euphonic DAC and it's certainly not. Interestingly, my girl friend who is not an audiophile did not know I had the Mytek installed and after she listened to music for a few minutes with it she soon said it sounded too dry and not rich at all. She did not like it at all but she loves the DAC I ended up keeping...the PSAudio Directstream.

Some DACs emphasized low frequencies and others emphasized mid range frequencies.

I guarantee if you were in my home during the testing you would have noticed different sound characteristics of each DAC on my stereo system.
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post #8 of 22 Old 08-15-2017, 05:42 PM
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Originally Posted by Spleen View Post
I listened at various volume levels including the same level. Other people also listened.
Unless the volume levels are precisely matched and double blind listening condition, human bias start to skew the results no matter how hard one tries.

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The Mytek Brooklyn DAC in particular had incredible transparence and detail but sounded very dry and soon became very fatiguing. Mytek says it is not a euphonic DAC and it's certainly not. Interestingly, my girl friend who is not an audiophile did not know I had the Mytek installed and after she listened to music for a few minutes with it she soon said it sounded too dry and not rich at all. She did not like it at all but she loves the DAC I ended up keeping...the PSAudio Directstream.
I've seen other poster who said the same thing except it was his wife who was in the kitchen (not knowing that a component was changed) all of a sudden noticed something sounding better...
That's not how objective comparison is done for electronic audio.

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Some DACs emphasized low frequencies and others emphasized mid range frequencies.
That would certainly show in measurements. Do you know where that can be seen?

Quote:
I guarantee if you were in my home during the testing you would have noticed different sound characteristics of each DAC on my stereo system.
I've noticed different sounding DACs many times on my own and I know what cause such difference. The most common one is the volume level mismatch.
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post #9 of 22 Old 08-15-2017, 09:39 PM
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Originally Posted by LFEer View Post
Unless the volume levels are precisely matched and double blind listening condition, human bias start to skew the results no matter how hard one tries.


I've seen other poster who said the same thing except it was his wife who was in the kitchen (not knowing that a component was changed) all of a sudden noticed something sounding better...
That's not how objective comparison is done for electronic audio.


That would certainly show in measurements. Do you know where that can be seen?


I've noticed different sounding DACs many times on my own and I know what cause such difference. The most common one is the volume level mismatch.
There was absolutely no bias on my part. I had no reason other than what I heard to prefer one over another.

I don't give a damn about "measurements". I base what I like on what I subjectively like. Music, like good wine, is subjective. Relying on "measurements" would be more likely to cause a bias.

You obviously don't think there is any difference between DACs and that's fine with me. For the DACs I sampled I noticed a significant difference. A couple of them were a horrible match for my loudspeakers and a couple of them were mostly okay.

I certainly noticed a big difference and improvement on my PS Audio Directstream DAC when I recently upgraded its operating system firmware version from Torreys to Huron. That is one amazing DAC!

In case you are wondering my system includes McIntosh amps, McIntosh A/V Processor, the previously mentioned DAC, and GoldenEar Triton One loudspeakers among other components. I will say that the internal DAC on my new MX122 A/V Processor is excellent and I might not have purchased an external DAC if I had this Mac first even though the DS is slightly smoother.

I really have no interest in arguing this or trying to convince you of anything. My ears don't lie.
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post #10 of 22 Old 08-16-2017, 08:06 AM
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There was absolutely no bias on my part.
I've read others claiming such too. It's not possible for us (humans) to control bias on our own. It's part of our subconscious. We cannot turn it on / off no matter how hard we try.
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I had no reason other than what I heard to prefer one over another.
Great. I wasn't responding to what you preferred. I responded to the sound claims you posted on this forum.

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I don't give a damn about "measurements". I base what I like on what I subjectively like. Music, like good wine, is subjective. Relying on "measurements" would be more likely to cause a bias.

You obviously don't think there is any difference between DACs and that's fine with me. For the DACs I sampled I noticed a significant difference. A couple of them were a horrible match for my loudspeakers and a couple of them were mostly okay.

I certainly noticed a big difference and improvement on my PS Audio Directstream DAC when I recently upgraded its operating system firmware version from Torreys to Huron. That is one amazing DAC!

In case you are wondering my system includes McIntosh amps, McIntosh A/V Processor, the previously mentioned DAC, and GoldenEar Triton One loudspeakers among other components. I will say that the internal DAC on my new MX122 A/V Processor is excellent and I might not have purchased an external DAC if I had this Mac first even though the DS is slightly smoother.

I really have no interest in arguing this or trying to convince you of anything.
You missed the point. Read post # 8 again.

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My ears don't lie.
Sure but when you couple that with visual & confirmation bias, all bets are off.
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post #11 of 22 Old 08-16-2017, 11:50 AM
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I've read others claiming such too. It's not possible for us (humans) to control bias on our own. It's part of our subconscious. We cannot turn it on / off no matter how hard we try.
Great. I wasn't responding to what you preferred. I responded to the sound claims you posted on this forum.

You missed the point. Read post # 8 again.

Sure but when you couple that with visual & confirmation bias, all bets are off.
Fine, you think all DACs sound alike. My ears and others say they don't.

Riddle me this Batman... How do you explain why when my gf walked in my house one day and said my stereo system suddenly sounded dry and unpleasant to her when she did not even know that I had the Mytek Brookyn installed or even what a DAC was? The next day she said my stereo sounded fantastic and very rich and she did not know that I had replaced the Mytek with the PS Audio Directstream. I was playing the same music that she was very familiar with on both occasions. By your argument everything should have sounded the same to her but it did not and she commented on it without my prompting. I suppose you will argue that she had a bias against Sunday but favored Monday.

I really really wanted to like and keep the Mytek because it is a beautiful piece of equipment but after several days of listening to it and trying to convince myself that I liked its sound I just did not. When I got the Directstream I knew right way that it had the sound quality I was searching for even though I really hated paying that much for a DAC. My "bias" should have favored the Mytek but unfortunately it did not.

I really have no interest in trying to make the blind see or in this case the deaf hear.

If I missed your point again then you are not making yourself clear.

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post #12 of 22 Old 08-16-2017, 02:06 PM
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Originally Posted by LFEer View Post
I've noticed different sounding DACs many times on my own and I know what cause such difference. The most common one is the volume level mismatch.
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Originally Posted by Spleen View Post
Fine, you think all DACs sound alike. My ears and others say they don't.
.
.
.
.
I really have no interest in trying to make the blind see or in this case the deaf hear.

If I missed your point again then you are not making yourself clear.
My post quoted at the top is pretty simple and clear statement on DAC sound. I'm not sure why it's not getting through you.

Quote:
Riddle me this Batman... How do you explain why when my gf walked in my house one day and said my stereo system suddenly sounded dry and unpleasant to her when she did not even know that I had the Mytek Brookyn installed or even what a DAC was? The next day she said my stereo sounded fantastic and very rich and she did not know that I had replaced the Mytek with the PS Audio Directstream. I was playing the same music that she was very familiar with on both occasions. By your argument everything should have sounded the same to her but it did not and she commented on it without my prompting. I suppose you will argue that she had a bias against Sunday but favored Monday.

I really really wanted to like and keep the Mytek because it is a beautiful piece of equipment but after several days of listening to it and trying to convince myself that I liked its sound I just did not. When I got the Directstream I knew right way that it had the sound quality I was searching for even though I really hated paying that much for a DAC. My "bias" should have favored the Mytek but unfortunately it did not.
That's not how bias controlled listening is done. Look up "level matched double blind test".
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post #13 of 22 Old 08-16-2017, 04:18 PM
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My post quoted at the top is pretty simple and clear statement on DAC sound. I'm not sure why it's not getting through you.
Humor me and restate your position on DAC sound as simply and succinctly as possible. Give me your bottom line position on DACs. Try one sentence without using the term bias.
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That's not how bias controlled listening is done. Look up "level matched double blind test".
I was already familiar with that.

I feel like I'm going in needless circles here.
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post #14 of 22 Old 08-16-2017, 07:17 PM
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Humor me and restate your position on DAC sound as simply and succinctly as possible. Give me your bottom line position on DACs. Try one sentence without using the term bias.
I already gave you the bottom line, the last sentence of post # 8.
One thing in common is that you and I both observed different sounding DACs. The difference is that I know what causes it and you don't.

Stick around if you want to find out what the causes are. Hint, one was given already.
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post #15 of 22 Old 08-16-2017, 09:46 PM
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I already gave you the bottom line, the last sentence of post # 8.
One thing in common is that you and I both observed different sounding DACs. The difference is that I know what causes it and you don't.

Stick around if you want to find out what the causes are. Hint, one was given already.
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See my reply to you above. I already did but you just don't get it.
So your bottom line assertion is that if volume levels are 100% equal then all DACs would sound the same. That's mostly it, right? No joke? Is there anything else that Ted Smith and other prominent DAC engineers/designers should know?

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post #16 of 22 Old 08-17-2017, 05:32 AM
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So your bottom line assertion is that if volume levels are 100% equal then all DACs would sound the same. That's mostly it, right? No joke? Is there anything else that Ted Smith and other prominent DAC engineers/designers should know?
Save yourself the trouble and go enjoy your system...

IMO, you have found a solution to your issue and that simply implies the thread has run its course... the likes of this guy will keep you going in circles until one of the mods steps in to officially close the thread.
Seen that happen quite a number of times on this forum.
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post #17 of 22 Old 08-17-2017, 06:44 AM
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Save yourself the trouble and go enjoy your system...

IMO, you have found a solution to your issue and that simply implies the thread has run its course... the likes of this guy will keep you going in circles until one of the mods steps in to officially close the thread.

Seen that happen quite a number of times on this forum.


I agree this thread had run its course and was going in circles. It became an amusement to me.
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post #18 of 22 Old 08-17-2017, 06:53 AM
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I agree this thread had run its course and was going in circles. It became an amusement to me.
Spleen

I enjoyed reading your thoughts on different DAC's: it is a shame so many threads end up this way

I also had the Mytek Brooklyn....found a much cheaper Parasound Z series DAC ($500.00) sounded better to me

I did not do double blind tests or any of that: but I know what sounds good to my ears...

also: please do not respond to the naysayers: they come into every thread like this and eventually cause fighting/ Moderator intervention, and thread closing (and this Moderator has had enough of it)

please take the high road in every post:do not respond to or quote a problematic post: report it
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post #19 of 22 Old 08-17-2017, 09:47 AM
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Originally Posted by markrubin View Post
Spleen

I enjoyed reading your thoughts on different DAC's: it is a shame so many threads end up this way

I also had the Mytek Brooklyn....found a much cheaper Parasound Z series DAC ($500.00) sounded better to me

I did not do double blind tests or any of that: but I know what sounds good to my ears...

also: please do not respond to the naysayers: they come into every thread like this and eventually cause fighting/ Moderator intervention, and thread closing (and this Moderator has had enough of it)
Thank you for your kind words and advise. We are in agreement.
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post #20 of 22 Old 08-17-2017, 04:49 PM
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[QUOTE=Spleen;54646872... Is there anything else that Ted Smith and other prominent DAC engineers/designers should know?[/QUOTE]

Logical fallacy of appeal to authority.
I am assuming that by your name dropping Ted can demonstrate in a credible manner that his DAC is audibly different or even superior to others?
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post #21 of 22 Old 08-17-2017, 05:05 PM - Thread Starter
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My apologies, as I didn't expect this topic to open up such a can of worms.

Mods, you can lock this thread since the original purpose of it has been dealt with.
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post #22 of 22 Old 08-17-2017, 08:23 PM
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thank you

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