Originally Posted by Kilian.ca
I wrote out a long reply 2 days ago but thought I better leave it because it'd beat a dead horse or open another floodgate...
No you don't 'need' a DAC esp. you're happy with your system and you ask this here where the mainstream opinion is 'all DACs sound the same'. But go to the Oppo and Cambridge Audio threads (and the thread on not happy with Oppo 105) in the BDP forum and it's completely the other way round. The Sabre DAC is THE major selling point of Oppo 95/105 and their owners swear by the SQ. Most DACs upsample or oversample internally so that reduces any difference among them.
Q: how much I would have to spend before I can hear a real sonic improvement.
A: depends who you ask...it's really subjective preference rather than improvement (of course the sceptics will say it's all in your mind or bias or suggestion ... you get the drift).
Your powt seems to make it sound like everything is an opinion and there is no real world where some differences can be heard and other things can't. You don't have to be a skeptic to understand that diminishing returns sets in at a remarkably low price level these days. All you need to do is perform a good listening test. Match the levels, synchronize the music and ensure that people decide only based on sound and voila - all good DACs sound the same.
BTW, nobody actually does reasonable listening tests but a select very few people. Most people just hook stuff up and switch into pontificate mode.
The ESS Sabre seems to be a pretty good DAC but it isn't without competition. Furthermore, while its performance with test equipment racks up a stunning collection of leading zeros, most of them do nothing for sound quality in your living room. Think of your DAC as a sterile squeaky clean operating room, and the signal going into it as a sewer pipe complete with fresh raw sewage.
Q: I am also debating if running a mac mini or some computer like that directly into a DAC will actually sound better vs. my current arrangement.
The best policy is to keep the music in the digital domain as close to the speakers as you can. Most people accomplish this by using the digital outputs of their music sources whether computers or music players, and doing the analog conversion deep in the bowels of their AVR.
A: some people like using USB DACs of the asynchronous variety but that opens another floodgate ... (all argued to death in the 2ch/audio theory forums)
External DACs of any kind are band-aids. Some times you do need a band aid, and for those days the Behringer UCA 202 does the job for 2 channels and USB. $29.95 on the web.
Q: if I have an external DAC passing through the Onkyo I cannot use any room correction?
A: right for Pure Mode, unless it gets re-digitised in Stereo Mode but then it makes no point using the DAC in the first place
The big question is "What's wrong with the DAC in the Onkyo". The answer is usually nothing at all. The simplest solution is often the best solution.
Q: would the DAC signal passing through the Onkyo get degraded?
A: the signal may bypass the digital circuit completely, or be re-digitised (you don't always have a choice). You can't be sure if Direct Mode bypasses digital or not in the Onkyo. Some say it doesn't matter but for purists it's to be avoided.
The short answer is that using an external DAC with any good modern AVR either gets degraded in the AVR by being re-digitized and then converted back to analog, or you have to put the AVR into a degraded mode of operation. Stupid=stupid.Edited by arnyk - 7/7/13 at 5:15am