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Question about DACs  

post #1 of 546
Thread Starter 
Current equipment: Sony STR-DA1000ES AVR
Sony SCD-C2000ES matching CD/SACD changer

SCD-C2000ES is being replaced due to a worsening mechanical problem.

Question: I'm using the coaxial digital connection for the CD player. This seems to have much better sound than when using L/R analog inputs. I have been told that this bypasses the DAC in the CD player and relies on the DAC in the AVR. I have no clue as to what DAC is in the AVR other than a 32 bit processing sticker on the AVR. I wish to get a good CD player to replace the current Sony, but don't want to spend for hi-end DACS if bypassed by the coaxial connection. I don't want to rely on the current DAC in the AVR (even if 32-bit) if a current DAC in a new CD player would yield better results (using the analog outputs of the new CD player.) So, does anybody here have an opinion as to 1) the quality of the DAC in the STR-DA1000ES (32-bit?), and 2) if using the analog L/R outputs on a new CD player might yield better results? [I am extremely happy with the sound of the current setup.] Thanks.
post #2 of 546
I can't speak to the DAC qualities of the Sony AVR, but it would seem to me that since you like your sound now, that you should make your selection of the replacement disk player and then decide which you one you prefer to do the conversion. Do you have an idea of the replacement for your player yet?
post #3 of 546
Do a search on "DAC" in Audio Related section and you will get tons of answers.
post #4 of 546
Hi Domino,

Here are just some ideas to think about. They may help with your decision.

First, almost all of the DAC chips used today are 24-bit. There are no 32-bit, although the DSP chips often process the audio in 32-bits. Your Sony changer may be an exception as SACD is an encoding (DSD) that is not compatible with typical (PCM) DAC chips. Also CDs are only 16-bit, so your changer might not have a 24-bit DAC (DSD is said to be comparable to 20-bits at 96kHz). So I suspect your AVR would have a better DAC.

Second, if you feed your AVR analog audio from your new CD player, the AVR would do one of two things: 1) process the audio (volume, balance, bass, treble) with analog circuitry and on to the amp, or 2) convert the analog audio to digital, process it with its "32-bit processing" DSP, output the digital audio to its DAC and on to the amp. I suspect it will be the latter, which means you can't get away from using the AVRs DAC.

My preference would be to keep the audio digital until as late in the signal-chain as you can. That would mean sticking to your digital coax.
post #5 of 546
The "32-bit processing" usually refers to the DSP chip, not the DAC. A quick Google search comes up with info on the 1000ES DAC:
http://forum.agoraquest.com/viewtopi..._page_number=2

SCD-C2000ES DAC (capable of DSD decoding):
http://archive.avsforum.com/avs-vb/s...hreadid=483707

The answer to your queries depends on whether you believe DACs sound different. By asking in this thread you probably belong to the yes camp. Bear in mind that there are of course newer DACs and the most recent ones are 32-bit (not saying necessarily you can hear any improvement but many claim they can). Also what may matter is how it is implemented and the whole analogue section. For example there are different filter characteristics and some higher-end players have one DAC per channel.

The other important thing is, if as you say you've been using SPDIF then you couldn't have been listening to high resolution SACDs. So if you want to listen to SACDs at high rez SPDIF is generally not an option.
post #6 of 546
SACD will require analog unless I'm missing something about this receiver - there is no DSD via S/PDIF. You'll have to find a player that can do that. CD won't matter, PCM will go via S/PDIF or it can be decoded in the player. Should make no difference, again, unless you "believe."
post #7 of 546
If you want to hear SACD disk in native resolution you need player that sends DSD via HDMI and HDMI capable receiver. That should be you target of upgrade. SPDIF interface can't transfer DSD or high definution multichannel PCM.
post #8 of 546
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kilian.ca View Post

but many claim they can

Claim doesn't mean s***, proof does.
post #9 of 546
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by someoledude View Post

I can't speak to the DAC qualities of the Sony AVR, but it would seem to me that since you like your sound now, that you should make your selection of the replacement disk player and then decide which you one you prefer to do the conversion. Do you have an idea of the replacement for your player yet?

Of course, but I'm trying to get away from spending $500-$1000, when a $150 player with a coaxial digital output would do. My short list of candidates includes the Marantz CD6004 and the Cambridge Audio Azur 651C. Possibly others depending on the outcome of this DAC situation.
post #10 of 546
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by MarkHotchkiss View Post

Hi Domino,

Here are just some ideas to think about. They may help with your decision.

First, almost all of the DAC chips used today are 24-bit. There are no 32-bit, although the DSP chips often process the audio in 32-bits. Your Sony changer may be an exception as SACD is an encoding (DSD) that is not compatible with typical (PCM) DAC chips. Also CDs are only 16-bit, so your changer might not have a 24-bit DAC (DSD is said to be comparable to 20-bits at 96kHz). So I suspect your AVR would have a better DAC.

Second, if you feed your AVR analog audio from your new CD player, the AVR would do one of two things: 1) process the audio (volume, balance, bass, treble) with analog circuitry and on to the amp, or 2) convert the analog audio to digital, process it with its "32-bit processing" DSP, output the digital audio to its DAC and on to the amp. I suspect it will be the latter, which means you can't get away from using the AVRs DAC.

My preference would be to keep the audio digital until as late in the signal-chain as you can. That would mean sticking to your digital coax.

Mine too, but it seems weird that CD players are paying so much attention to the DACs they employ, and then offering digital outputs to bypass their DACs. BTW, both the existing CD player and AVR are seven years old, so I'm wondering about improvements in DAC technology over the years.
post #11 of 546
Quote:
Originally Posted by domino92024 View Post

. . . BTW, both the existing CD player and AVR are seven years old, so I'm wondering about improvements in DAC technology over the years.

24-bit DACs have been around for a long time. I first started using them in 1998. But back then, they were all single-speed (48kHz). The improvements have been in their speed: they went to double-speed (96kHz) and then quad-speed (192kHz). But for playing CDs (16-bit, 44.1kHz), that is all pretty irrelevant. (hmm . . . it seems I'm always stating the irrelevant).

The specifications of all DAC chips are very good these days. It is the analog circuitry after the DAC (filter and buffering) that is the current challenge. A crappy DAC can give you -95dB THD+N, but an analog circuit that can keep the distortion and noise that low takes a fair amount of skill.

But as others have said, we really are just splitting hairs. The technology has progressed beyond what most people can hear.
post #12 of 546
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kilian.ca View Post

The "32-bit processing" usually refers to the DSP chip, not the DAC. A quick Google search comes up with info on the 1000ES DAC:
http://forum.agoraquest.com/viewtopi..._page_number=2

SCD-C2000ES DAC (capable of DSD decoding):
http://archive.avsforum.com/avs-vb/s...hreadid=483707

Thanks. I did the search as well, but was far less successful. Hat's off!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kilian.ca View Post

The answer to your queries depends on whether you believe DACs sound different. By asking in this thread you probably belong to the yes camp. Bear in mind that there are of course newer DACs and the most recent ones are 32-bit (not saying necessarily you can hear any improvement but many claim they can). Also what may matter is how it is implemented and the whole analogue section. For example there are different filter characteristics and some higher-end players have one DAC per channel.

The other important thing is, if as you say you've been using SPDIF then you couldn't have been listening to high resolution SACDs. So if you want to listen to SACDs at high rez SPDIF is generally not an option.

I'm still undecided on the DAC issue. Most engineers, including the one I spoke with from Oppo, see slight improvements in the best DACs, but not enough to justify the increase in price - especially in the entry level BD-93. They settled on the Cirrus Logic CS4382A instead of the CS4398.

As far as SACD goes, I dabbled with it when I first got the SCD-C2000ES. I was so underwhelmed I stopped playing with it. I only have a dozen SACDs. They are all Hybrids, so no big loss.

So, I guess I'll go with a hi-end DAC, and see if the analog or digital sounds better. Thanks.
post #13 of 546
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by walbert View Post

SACD will require analog unless I'm missing something about this receiver - there is no DSD via S/PDIF. You'll have to find a player that can do that. CD won't matter, PCM will go via S/PDIF or it can be decoded in the player. Should make no difference, again, unless you "believe."

Thanks, but I'm leaning toward abandoning SACD until my Oppo BD-93 arrives.
post #14 of 546
Quote:


Mine too, but it seems weird that CD players are paying so much attention to the DACs they employ, and then offering digital outputs to bypass their DACs.

It's not weird; it's good marketing. The cost of even a great DAC chip is trivial, and the digital output even more so. So for pennies in incremental parts cost, you get a product that will appeal to as wide an audience as possible.

Quote:


BTW, both the existing CD player and AVR are seven years old, so I'm wondering about improvements in DAC technology over the years.

DACs keep getting better, but the bandwidth of the human ear hasn't budged in many millennia.
post #15 of 546
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by mcnarus View Post

It's not weird; it's good marketing. The cost of even a great DAC chip is trivial, and the digital output even more so. So for pennies in incremental parts cost, you get a product that will appeal to as wide an audience as possible.


DACs keep getting better, but the bandwidth of the human ear hasn't budged in many millennia.

After thinking about all of the above overnight, I ask:

IF I plan on using the coaxial digital connection, and...
IF I'm content with the Burr-Brown 192Khz/24bit DACs in my AVR, and...
IF the coaxial output of the player bypasses all the DACs and filters in the player's analog section, then...
WHY shouldn't I just get an inexpensive no frills player, or just a transport of some kind?

Do any of the higher priced CD players have benefits that would still be realized using the coaxial digital output? Reading through the website propaganda, I'm thinking...NOT MUCH.
post #16 of 546
Quote:


IF I plan on using the coaxial digital connection, and...
IF I'm content with the Burr-Brown 192Khz/24bit DACs in my AVR, and...
IF the coaxial output of the player bypasses all the DACs and filters in the player's analog section, then...
WHY shouldn't I just get an inexpensive no frills player, or just a transport of some kind?

Do any of the higher priced CD players have benefits that would still be realized using the coaxial digital output? Reading through the website propaganda, I'm thinking...NOT MUCH.

Bingo.
post #17 of 546
Quote:
Originally Posted by domino92024 View Post

Thanks, but I'm leaning toward abandoning SACD until my Oppo BD-93 arrives.

If you're getting an Oppo why are you thinking of buying another disk player?
post #18 of 546
Quote:
Originally Posted by domino92024 View Post

After thinking about all of the above overnight, I ask:

IF I plan on using the coaxial digital connection, and...
IF I'm content with the Burr-Brown 192Khz/24bit DACs in my AVR, and...
IF the coaxial output of the player bypasses all the DACs and filters in the player's analog section, then...
WHY shouldn't I just get an inexpensive no frills player, or just a transport of some kind?

Do any of the higher priced CD players have benefits that would still be realized using the coaxial digital output? Reading through the website propaganda, I'm thinking...NOT MUCH.

Well, expense is not a relevant metric. What is relevant is the quality of the signal over that link which may or may not get better if you spend more. This can be shown using measurements so propaganda has nothing to do with it . You can indeed reduce/increase the measured distortion on the output of the DAC by how you feed it digital bits.

Audibility though may fit in the category you mention. We are talking about small differences. If you are the type that hears the difference between analog input to your AVR vs digital feed, then ironically the difference may apply to you more than some others .
post #19 of 546
My advice is to save money by not spending it on a more expensive changer, get something that just works (and is highly likely to be audibly indistinguishable from the expensive ones), and apply that money to something more useful. Things like more music or movies, room treatments, speaker or sub upgrades or additions, room eq, or a media server come to mind.

And on that note, if you're beginning to (correctly) believe that sending digital out to your receiver is fine and perhaps preferred (as it likely skips an additional ad/da step) and largely immune from audibly problems, have you considered an actual media server instead?? The advantages over a simple cd changer can be substantial, though you likely won't put one together for as little money as a basic and functional changer would cost.
post #20 of 546
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by amirm View Post

Well, expense is not a relevant metric. What is relevant is the quality of the signal over that link which may or may not get better if you spend more. This can be shown using measurements so propaganda has nothing to do with it . You can indeed reduce/increase the measured distortion on the output of the DAC by how you feed it digital bits.

But this is not relevant if using the digital coaxial output, correct? Both the DAC and all of the noise shaping circuitry is bypassed using the coaxial output, correct?

Quote:
Originally Posted by amirm View Post

Audibility though may fit in the category you mention. We are talking about small differences. If you are the type that hears the difference between analog input to your AVR vs digital feed, then ironically the difference may apply to you more than some others .

With my player/AVR, I noticed improvement when going from analog to coaxial digital. I did not judge this to be an advantage overall for coaxial over analog, only that on those two pieces of equipment the coaxial sounded much better. The analog stage of the player may have had a defect. I don't know.

I guess my original question still stands: Why get a player with high-end DAC and analog stage circuitry if coaxial digital connection is to be used?
Nobody has attempted to address that question.
post #21 of 546
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by rick240 View Post

If you're getting an Oppo why are you thinking of buying another disk player?

Simple: Different rooms. The Oppo will be in my main room, and used primarily for video applications (although a SACD could be played if necessary.) The new CD player is for the music only room. [Yes, I have a room just for music. No TV, no internet, no telephone, etc.]
post #22 of 546
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bigus View Post

My advice is to save money by not spending it on a more expensive changer, get something that just works (and is highly likely to be audibly indistinguishable from the expensive ones), and apply that money to something more useful. Things like more music or movies, room treatments, speaker or sub upgrades or additions, room eq, or a media server come to mind.

And on that note, if you're beginning to (correctly) believe that sending digital out to your receiver is fine and perhaps preferred (as it likely skips an additional ad/da step) and largely immune from audibly problems, have you considered an actual media server instead?? The advantages over a simple cd changer can be substantial, though you likely won't put one together for as little money as a basic and functional changer would cost.

Thanks, but I have nearly 1K CDs. BTW, I am scrapping the changer or carousel setup in favor of a single disc player.
post #23 of 546
Hi Domino,
Quote:
Originally Posted by domino92024 View Post

I guess my original question still stands: Why get a player with high-end DAC and analog stage circuitry if coaxial digital connection is to be used?
Nobody has attempted to address that question.

I think McNarus agreed with you when he said "Bingo", and Bigus as well with "get something that just works".

I would second that bingo. You only need one good DAC, if you can pipe everything into it digitally. All the CD player needs to do if grab the PCM of of the disc and pass it on . . .

But you might also take Bigus's advice with regards to a media player. Having all of your CDs on magnetic storage and piping it into your AVR through the same digital connection as you now use for your CD changer is like upgrading to a much smarter changer. The quality would be the same, but it's nice be able to build playlists (wife's favorite songs for when she's cranky), or play randomly by genre (I feel like blues today), or tune in the "Frank Zappa" station on Internet radio, or simply selecting what you want to hear next without getting up off the floor. And it may be cheaper than a new CD player, as most of my media-players were under $30.
post #24 of 546
Quote:
Originally Posted by domino92024 View Post

But this is not relevant if using the digital coaxial output, correct? Both the DAC and all of the noise shaping circuitry is bypassed using the coaxial output, correct?

Not correct . I wrote an article for Widescreen Review magazine last year addressing how upstream issues to your DAC impact its performance. I just uploaded a copy that you can read. It is called Digital Audio: The Possible and Impossible.

Quote:


With my player/AVR, I noticed improvement when going from analog to coaxial digital. I did not judge this to be an advantage overall for coaxial over analog, only that on those two pieces of equipment the coaxial sounded much better. The analog stage of the player may have had a defect. I don't know.

It is hard to imagine that it was broken yet your observation was that digital sounded better. If something breaks, it rarely loses fidelity that way.

Quote:


I guess my original question still stands: Why get a player with high-end DAC and analog stage circuitry if coaxial digital connection is to be used?
Nobody has attempted to address that question.

You don't need to use the DAC in there to benefit from better quality digital output. Please read the article above that explains the fundamentals of digital audio transmission to an external DAC. Then we can discuss it more. Beyond that, I am not an advocate of high-end transports so am not in a position to try to justify you going that way.

For now, I say the good advice was given by Bigus. It makes no sense to buy expensive transports in this day and age. But yourself a lowcost laptop, get a nice digital interface for it and you will be good to go. You say you have 1,000 CDs. I probably had just as many but ripped them in a few weeks as I was doing other things. You can also get multi-drive jukeboxes that speed this up substantially. Best thing to do is to rip the music you like best first and then work on the stuff you don't like as time permits.
post #25 of 546
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bigus View Post

My advice is to save money by not spending it on a more expensive changer, get something that just works (and is highly likely to be audibly indistinguishable from the expensive ones), and apply that money to something more useful. Things like more music or movies, room treatments, speaker or sub upgrades or additions, room eq, or a media server come to mind.

Sigh...

What is needed is a physically bullet-proof CD transport with a minimum of features and NO analog output. Just the loading tray, laser stuff, and digital output. No headphone jack or circuitry. No multitude of "shuffle play" options. Maybe a straightforward programming option. I can't find anything like this.

Other than getting new ear cushions for my Sennheisers, I'm pretty happy with the equipment I have now (except for the CD player's balky loading tray.)
post #26 of 546
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by MarkHotchkiss View Post

But you might also take Bigus's advice with regards to a media player. Having all of your CDs on magnetic storage and piping it into your AVR through the same digital connection as you now use for your CD changer is like upgrading to a much smarter changer. The quality would be the same, but it's nice be able to build playlists (wife's favorite songs for when she's cranky), or play randomly by genre (I feel like blues today), or tune in the "Frank Zappa" station on Internet radio, or simply selecting what you want to hear next without getting up off the floor. And it may be cheaper than a new CD player, as most of my media-players were under $30.

Under $30??? I sure hope you left a zero out of there.

Are you volunteering to copy 1K CDs over to HDD for me? [How much HDD space would 1K CDs take, anyway?]
post #27 of 546
Quote:
Originally Posted by domino92024 View Post

Under $30??? I sure hope you left a zero out of there.

He is not. He is talking about the cost of software media players on the PC. Most are free but there are a few premium ones.

Quote:


[How much HDD space would 1K CDs take, anyway?]

Roughly 300 Gigabytes.
post #28 of 546
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by amirm View Post

Not correct . I wrote an article for Widescreen Review magazine last year addressing how upstream issues to your DAC impact its performance.

But I'm not concerned with the player's DAC performance. Are you saying that issues upstream from the CD player's DAC can impact my AVR's DAC performance?

Quote:
Originally Posted by amirm View Post

It is hard to imagine that it was broken yet your observation was that digital sounded better. If something breaks, it rarely loses fidelity that way.

I didn't say broken. I said defective. I've seen audio amps that have had high frequency performance affected by higher than normal ESR in some of its electrolytic caps. I've seen bad filter caps on an IC's Vin affect that IC's performance. I don't know what was causing the difference (some day I may dig into it more), only that using the digital connection solved the problem.
post #29 of 546
Quote:
Originally Posted by domino92024 View Post

But I'm not concerned with the player's DAC performance. Are you saying that issues upstream from the CD player's DAC can impact my AVR's DAC performance?

Yes! I think I have said that three times . It will take you 5 minutes to read why in the article. Here it is again: http://www.madronadigital.com/Librar...dioJitter.html
post #30 of 546
Quote:
Originally Posted by domino92024 View Post

Under $30??? I sure hope you left a zero out of there.

Quote:
Originally Posted by amirm View Post

He is not. He is talking about the cost of software media players on the PC.

No, I did not leave off a zero, and I'm not talking about software. I'm talking about older steamers that fetch the music from my server. I don't use PCs to play music.

My current favorite for locations without a TV is an AudioTron. It has an optical S/PDIF output, and is pretty good at cataloging your music. The IR remote lets you select by title, artist, album and genre. It also has Internet radio. They are going for around $15 (plus shipping) on eBay.

For locations with a TV, I have no favorite. I have a couple of old Mediagates that were between $10 and $45 on eBay a few years ago that has both optical and coax digital output. My latest (2 weeks ago) is a Netgear NeoTV 550, which plays all music formats, which was $80 new. The TV is necessary to navigate.

I have my music and videos on a NAS, accessible by all of my players over Ethernet (as well as my PCs, but again, I don't use them).

I would agree with Amir's 300gB number, if you rip the CDs to FLAC format. A typical CD is 600megabytes, and FLAC's lossless compression will get it down to half that. Times 1000, and you have 300 gigabytes. If you rip to high-bitrate MP3, it would take even less space, but I wouldn't recommend that. Storage is cheap. One 3tB drive can hold 10,000 CDs.

And yes, ripping 1000 Cds will take time, even with an automated ripping program. I only have about 400 CDs, and they were ripped over the past 15 years.
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