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Thread: DAC's?

  1. #1

    Default DAC's?

    Hello folks,
    I've noticed several times in people's messages or their signatures something mentioned about things called DAC's and cd transports. Now, you all know that I am still a bit of a newbie with all this stuff, and I am just trying hard to catch up on all the knowledge to be had around here. I am coming from the depths of consumer electronics, that is where my knowledge started, so please don't be too harsh on me.

    I have done some research on the subject of external DAC's. I figured that since Joey's was the first one I could find in his signature, the PS Audio Digital Link III, I would research it first. I like the idea of being able to upgrade the sound without having to get another cd player to do it. Basically getting the sound electronics out of the player and using the cd player as a "transport" device only using the digital outs. So ok, now that I have that concept down, I went on. I noticed that the PS Audio uses a Burr Brown 1798 chip or something like that. I thought, hey I've heard of Burr Brown before, in Denon products. So I checked out Denon's DVD players, and found sure enough, in their 3930CI that it uses a Burr Brown 1796 chip. I thought, hmmm, what is the difference between these two, and I can't seem to find any information on it. Perhaps if anyone out there can shed some light on this, I would appreciate it.

    In any case, I also noticed that every DAC I looked at seemed to be only for 2 channel cd's. I've also noticed that most high end audiophile equipment is stereo only, even on the SACD's. I hope I'm not being too pedestrian by saying this, but I REALLY like my SACD's in multichannel! It really has such a neat sound to it. Yes, I like it in Stereo too, but it's neat to hear it in multichannel. In any case, back to my point, I don't see any "DAC's" for SACD or DVD-A, unless I am not looking in the right spots. Though I suppose to make any good use of that, you would probably have to have some kind of a digital out from the player to begin with, like IEEE1394 or DenonLink or something, and perhaps since most audiophiles are stereo only people, that just isn't a priority to build stuff like that? Maybe it's also that the only players that even have those kinds of outputs must already have some amazing DAC's in them so why bother using them to begin with?

    I suppose that if I was to go completely into separates that this would definitely be the best way to go, but I think I could still utilize something like this with my current setup. My only real issue is that I am finding even though I like the way my SACD's and DVD-A's sound, I can tell that the Pioneer 588A I am using to play them does not have as nice of a sound as the PCM DAC's in my Marantz receiver. I was able to get a little bit better sound using a better cable, but in the end I think the problem is in the source electronics.

    One other thing, if using an outboard DAC using the Digital out, let's say I wanted to play a DVD video using either Dolby or DTS, I don't know if it would play it through these DAC's would it? I'd probably have to have one digital out from the player go to the DAC for music, and the other digital out go to the processor such as the receiver or pre/pro in order to play movies. Is that correct? Either that or I would have to just use two players, one for CD's only, and the other for DVD's, SACD's, DVD-A's and DTS cd's.

    I am just trying to make sure that I am understanding correctly.

    -capT
    I haven't lost my mind; I have a tape back-up somewhere. ~Author Unknown
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  2. #2
    Senior Member Jeff Zaret's Avatar
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    Cap_T,

    Well you do have a good grasp on what they are about. There are many different DAC's out there in various price catagories.

    Your CD/DVD player must have a digital out to take advantage of an external DAC. A transport is basically a CD player without the internal DAC. All digital devices had some form of a DAC, hence the name digital to analog converter, DAC.

    To address your concern about SACD, basically no it can not be done today with out lots of money. I believe there maybe one or two which do have it but a great expense. The issue is the difference with the "signal" produces and the "copyrighted method" in which it is derived. (Sony & Phillips)

    I not sure how easy it is to use a DAC with a DVD player but it is possible.

    I hope this helps a bit. I know it is simplistic.

    Jeff

  3. #3
    Senior Member lugano's Avatar
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    Default let's make it easy...

    Cap, PS Audio - the brand that manufactures Joey's DAC (and my amp, and lots of other things) can be found at www.psaudio.com. They offer a 30 day try before you buy thing. I suggest you to get the same DAC Joey has from them, try it out for 3 weeks (don't forget to get a 75 ohm coax cable somewhere, too) and then return it, if you don't notice an improvement worth the money. This way you will solve the problem: you will know what a DAC is, what it brings and what it does not. Easy pie.

    you will keep it
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  4. #4
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    There are a few companies which has DAC's with the 30 day trial. One that I liked, and Jeff Z had for a bit was the Channel Islands VDA-2 with the VAC-1 Power Supply. Many good things said about the Benchmark, but not sure if they offer a 30 day return or not.

    Give the CI, Benchmark, and the PS Audio a try and see which one you like better. And even if some of the units use the same DAC chips, they can sound different depending on the design, so the need to try before you buy.

    BTW, the external DAC's are for Redbook and not SACD.

    Dan
    .............

  5. #5

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    Folks,
    Ok then, so at this point, I am pretty well understanding just what a DAC is and what it should do. Here is what I really want to know...

    Most, but not all, of the DAC's I found have some form of the Burr Brown DAC in them:

    PS Audio DLIII: Burr Brown 1798
    CI Audio VDA2: Burr Brown PCM1794
    DAC I-MK3: Burr Brown OPA111

    These two looked very nice too, but I was unable to tell if they had a Burr Brown DAC in them:

    Benchmark Dac-1
    Musical Fidelity X-Dac

    Denon's 3930CI DVD player has the Burr Brown 1796 DAC in it. So, would it be worth it for someone like me who enjoys SACD's and DVD-A's in multichannel to spend the $1500 on the Denon or about the same amount in some cases on one of these DAC's, use my Pioneer 588a as the CD transport and stick with the Pioneer's DAC's for SACD and DVD-A? I would almost venture to say that maybe the Denon would be the better buy in this case. However if I were a two channel only kind of guy, then heck, those DAC's are sure looking pretty darn good!

    So can anyone here compare the sound of the Denon's internal DAC's to these external DAC's? Is there any comparison at all, or do the ext DAC's just blow it away? I don't have a point of reference because I have not heard either the Denon or the DAC's.

    -capT
    I haven't lost my mind; I have a tape back-up somewhere. ~Author Unknown
    Back up my hard drive? How do I put it in reverse? ~Author Unknown
    See My System!

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by DTB300 View Post
    BTW, the external DAC's are for Redbook and not SACD.
    Capt, "redbook" means REGULAR! I still don't know why Dan and others continue to use this word, it is a regular plain old freaking CD, so call it a CD! It is NOT a CD-V, a DVD-A, or an SACD, it is a plain old CD.

    I didn't know what the hell that meant forever...I thought folks were referring to something special that I was unaware of...NO, just a way to make the regular guy feel stupid.

    No offense of course there Dan...
    James Morrison
    Martin Logan Prodigy, Theater, Ascent, Script, Descent
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    Rega P2 w/ RB300 and Exact, Richard Gray Power Co. - Substation, Pole Pig, 400 Pro, 400 Mk II, 400
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  7. #7

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    Captain... there are TONS of threads arguing the virtues of various outboard DAC's in various audio forums, and specifically regarding use with a Squeezebox here...
    http://forums.slimdevices.com/forumdisplay.php?f=7

    Of note, I am using a Benchmark DAC-1, which is admittedly, a tad on the cool and analytical side, but VERY detailed. The Lavry DA-10 is reportedly a bit warmer, and some "tube DAC's" like the Paradisea and others, even warmer yet.

    IMHO, I prefer to add "tube warmth" with a tubed Pre, and keep my DAC output as pristine and detailed as possible. I would try to audition various models if at all possible, before buying.
    Squeezebox Touch/Bel Canto DAC 3.5VB + Oppo BDP-95 > Conrad-Johnson CT5 preamp and Premier 350 amp > ML Summits. ML BalancedForce 210 sub. Audience Au24e I/C's, speaker cable.
    Click here to see my entire sytem. Member of the Suncoast Audiophile Society.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pcar928fan View Post
    Capt, "redbook" means REGULAR! I still don't know why Dan and others continue to use this word, it is a regular plain old freaking CD, so call it a CD! It is NOT a CD-V, a DVD-A, or an SACD, it is a plain old CD.
    How the term Redbook came about when describing CD's:

    "The Red Book is the 1980 document that provides the specifications for the standard compact disc (CD) developed by Sony and Philips. "

    When SACD and DVD-A came about, people started to use the term Redbook instead of saying CD. All the formats "looked like" a CD. It was a way to state without question what format was being discussed. And in a forum, where you are not talking face to face, a lot of misconceptions can occur.

    No offense of course there Dan...
    None taken......now where is that bottle.....

    Dan
    .............

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by captain_tinker View Post
    So can anyone here compare the sound of the Denon's internal DAC's to these external DAC's? Is there any comparison at all, or do the ext DAC's just blow it away? I don't have a point of reference because I have not heard either the Denon or the DAC's.
    Generally, but not always, external DAC's on low end players will sound better than the internal DAC's. But how much better is a matter of opinion and taste.

    In regards to the chips used. It is not what chip is used but how it is used along with the rest of the design. Some of the audiophiles will swear on one type of chip over another, some hate OpAmps in the signal path (OPA### chips). Each to their own, and it is a good thing there are so many players out there to listen to and find the one you like best in your budget.

    Dan
    .............

  10. #10

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    I have owned a Benchmark DAC1, a Stello D220, and a Musical Fidelity X-DACv3. Presently, I own a CDP (w/o an outboard DAC).

    IMHO, once you get to the level of either a higher end CDP or a good quality outboard DAC, the differences tend to be small. Sure, there are some subtle differences in flavor, but I would be unwilling to declare that a certain brand slays all others. In fact, for the price, I really enjoyed the Musical Fidelity as much as any of them, and they can frequently be had on the 'gon for $500 or so.
    System #182
    Accustic Arts CDP Mk. II -> Mcintosh C220 Pre -> Innersound i330 amp -> ML: Vantages/Depth

    "Keep in mind we're talking degrees of subtlety that have led lesser souls to long periods of rehabilitation in quiet, grassy places."

  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Pcar928fan View Post
    Capt, "redbook" means REGULAR! I still don't know why Dan and others continue to use this word, it is a regular plain old freaking CD, so call it a CD! It is NOT a CD-V, a DVD-A, or an SACD, it is a plain old CD.

    I didn't know what the hell that meant forever...I thought folks were referring to something special that I was unaware of...NO, just a way to make the regular guy feel stupid.

    No offense of course there Dan...
    Dude,
    I know how you feel, when I started to read the Audioholics forum, I heard that term tossed about all over the place. I was thinking it was some kind of gold cd or something, like a master. I wondered how in the world people got ahold of stuff like that. So I checked out the term on Wikipedia or something I think, and found out that it was just a regular old CD. I use the two terms interchangeably now, just depending on the context. I think Dan's explanation was pretty good saying that they all "looked" the same, so some term had to be used to differentiate it. I can accept that. But it sure does sound cool to use such a term, makes you sound like you know what you are talking about.

    As for the DAC's then, I guess there again, it all ends up to be what do you like? How do you like your music presented? Sigh... Here I was thinking that maybe this was some kind of a major discovery on my part. In any case, it's now another thing that I can say I am starting to understand better. As the commercial used to go as a kid, "Now I know, and knowing is half the battle..."

    I would still like to hear one though, just to see how it sounds. I'll have to see if I can find any nearby that I can either borrow or just listen to. I think that could be very interesting.

    -capT
    I haven't lost my mind; I have a tape back-up somewhere. ~Author Unknown
    Back up my hard drive? How do I put it in reverse? ~Author Unknown
    See My System!

  12. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by lugano View Post
    ....(don't forget to get a 75 ohm coax cable somewhere, too)
    Do NOT get the 75 Ohm coax. Get an XLR cable, forget toslink, fiber, etc. Once you get experience with a QUALITY DAC, you will never go back to a 'cd player' any more than one would go back to a 'receiver' after listening to a pre-amp / amp combination
    Mark Levinson: No37 Transport, No 360 DAC, No 380 Pre-Amp; Classe Ca-150 Amp; JPS Labs power cables; Purist Audio Designs: IC's, Digital and Speaker wires; Target Rack; Symposium: Roller Balls and platform shelves

  13. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by DTB300 View Post
    None taken......now where is that bottle.....
    Dan
    I know where it came from... STILL HATE IT!

    I need my bottle too! Pretty much any bottle at this point...been a long strange day... Love on ya there Dan!!
    James Morrison
    Martin Logan Prodigy, Theater, Ascent, Script, Descent
    Rotel RSP-1098; Rotel RMB-1095, RB-1090, RB-1050
    Rega P2 w/ RB300 and Exact, Richard Gray Power Co. - Substation, Pole Pig, 400 Pro, 400 Mk II, 400
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  14. #14
    Senior Member Joey_V's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by captain_tinker View Post
    Folks,
    Most, but not all, of the DAC's I found have some form of the Burr Brown DAC in them:

    PS Audio DLIII: Burr Brown 1798
    CI Audio VDA2: Burr Brown PCM1794
    DAC I-MK3: Burr Brown OPA111


    -capT
    Cap,

    The DAC chip does not determine the majority of the sonic reproduction you get from the DAC unit itself, but it does play an integral role, after all, the whole unit is built around the DAC chip itself.. but do not base your purchase on the DAC chip alone, this is a fatal flaw, IMO.

    Look at the topology; the power supply, the output stages, and the circuit bias along with parts used.

    Take for instance the PS Audio DAC III... it does not use OP amps but instead uses a discreet output stage using capacitors, resistors, and FET based transistors. The use of FET-based transistors is a departure from the regular use of bipolar transistors. Add to that it's biased to full Class A, and it has a humongous powersupply in balanced operation... you got yourself a pretty damn good DAC.

    I have yet to hear the other DACs in an A/B basis, but I am planning on getting my paws on the Benchmark, the XDAC, and the likes sometime in the future when I'm bored.

    Joey "kid grown up" V
    4 months away from the new and improved 2ch room...

  15. #15
    Senior Member lugano's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by silver98 View Post
    Do NOT get the 75 Ohm coax. Get an XLR cable, forget toslink, fiber, etc. Once you get experience with a QUALITY DAC, you will never go back to a 'cd player' any more than one would go back to a 'receiver' after listening to a pre-amp / amp combination
    Silver, I have a nasty habit: before giving advice, I document myself. In this case, it meant:

    - checking out Captain's system to see what CD player he has;
    - downloading the SD1600 owner's manual from here, mostly to see how the unit's back looks like: http://www.amazon.com/Toshiba-SD1600.../dp/B00004YMBK
    - browsing the user manual.

    If you'd have done your homework, you would know by now that the only possible way for Tinker to hook up a DAC to his Toshiba is a 75 ohm coax.
    It's never too late to have a happy childhood
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