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Is there an audible difference in Low-end vs. High-end DACs? (Listing to stereo)

  • Yes, there is a clear audible difference.

    Votes: 13 44.8%
  • Yes, it is audible, but really hard to hear.

    Votes: 3 10.3%
  • No, there is no audible difference.

    Votes: 5 17.2%
  • I don't know.

    Votes: 8 27.6%
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
When the quality of a DACs is above a certain threshold, it's very hard to distinguish audible differences. For hearing the difference between high-end vs. pro-end is very hard.


But I'm wondering how DACs compare in low-end vs. high-end.


For example buy the latest cheapest Yamaha receiver (Denon, H/K or whatever) and compare this to the most expensive model of Yamaha receiver.


Will there be an audible difference?
 

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Yes, but not entirely due to the difference in the DACs.


It is rare for the analog output stage of two designs to differ ONLY in the DACs -- unless you have someone replace them yourself. The "cheaper" design likely also differs in the quality of its power supply and power distribution, analog/digital section isolation, interference shielding, parts selection quality in manufacturing (i.e., limiting the variation between what are supposed to be identical parts going into each unit), and manufacturing quality control.


And of course the digital audio section that precedes the DACs will ALSO be different in the two designs.


All of these also impact what you hear.

--Bob
 

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At one time, I had a Marantz bottom-of-the line CD changer which had a very average DAC but generally nice sound. When I connected it via optical to a fairly high-end Bel Canto outboard DAC, with the rest of the system being unchanged, it was a huge improvement in sound. And the improvement was in all aspects of the sound - it was smoother all around with better imaging and tighter bass. It was so obvious that even my wife commented on the improvement...and believe me, that's uncommon.


Now, I don't know if that comparison would bear fruit the same way in an AVR. There are too many variables involved in comparing a $300 AVR to a $1K AVR to say that the difference you are hearing is the DAC, as Bob mentioned. But from my experience, I'd certainly say that it's a significant contributing factor.


As such, for my home theater, my strategy is to get good DAC's in the AVR, then use them for everything - use digital outs from every possible component that goes into the AVR, even my computer. That way I get quality sound from every source, even the relatively inexpensive (or in the case of the computer, the non-audio) sources. There's no point in paying for good DAC's in every component you buy, cause you can only ever be using them in one component at a time!
 
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