I'm seriously not trying to start anything, I'm trying to understand what makes one processor "better" than another regarding how it sounds, putting build quality aside. I have owned some performance cars and have a pretty good understanding of what made them "better" regarding performance. They had bigger brakes, better tuned suspension, a better tuned engine, more torque, more HP etc. The differences between my jacked-up Audio S4 and my wife's Camry were immediately obvious to anyone to got behind the wheel and I could open the hood and show people where the extra money was spent on performance parts and actually measure the performance differences with a stop watch and a speedometer. (I think better/more durable construction is a separate issue from performance/sound quality and, while obviously a desirable trait, just not what I am interested in for this discussion.)
Now, with a pre/pro, I guess I'm not a 100% sure all the functions it performs and what parts of that process make it better. Putting vinyl records aside, my picture of what a processor does is take Ones and Zeros that fly into it through a cable and channel them to a DAC, and the DAC converts the Ones and Zeros into a line-level analog signal that is supposed to accurately estimate the analog signal that existed before the signal was converted to Ones and Zeros. The processor also regulates the level of the analog signal and sends it to the amplifier, which determines how loud the sound is coming out of the speakers. The modern processor also does things like room correction/equalization and functions as an HDMI switchboard for all the input devises and has fancy networking features like Airplay, etc.
So, what attributes of a processor should I look at to evaluate what makes it sound "better"?
Off the top of my head, and having a poor math and engineering background, I can think of things like: (1) better DACs and a more powerful/better processing to convert the ones and zeros into an analog signal; (2) better insulated or shielded parts and electronics, to keep the noise floor low; (3) balanced outputs and XLR connections for a better connection and lower noise floor; and (4) better, more powerful room-correction software. Is there anything else I should be looking at when evaluating a processor that could make it sound better? Is my conception of what a processor does reasonably accurate?
I'd like to learn these things just to better understand what I am buying and where my money goes when I pay for performance parts. I am pretty happy with my Denon 4311, but I also want to understand what I might be missing out on, and I don't really have the opportunity to just go listen to a bunch of different gear for comparison purposes. And I obviously don't begrudge anyone who buys expensive, well built gear, for whatever reasons they personally choose to buy the gear.
Thanks for your time,