What is the benefit of very expensive DACs?

jpetek

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Feb 12, 2013
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I heard a M2 Vaughan. Sounds very good, not as good as the best analog gear but anyhow.

Now my Question: What is the benefit of a DAC lets say for over 20k? The last 5% or less or just the name?

I am using a Windows 8 with Foobar and Jplay (please do not start any discussion). I do not think that JRiver 19 is better.

Josef

In Germany it is impossible to get one of the big DACs for testing
 

edorr

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I heard a M2 Vaughan. Sounds very good, not as good as the best analog gear but anyhow.

Now my Question: What is the benefit of a DAC lets say for over 20k? The last 5% or less or just the name?

I am using a Windows 8 with Foobar and Jplay (please do not start any discussion). I do not think that JRiver 19 is better.

Josef

In Germany it is impossible to get one of the big DACs for testing

The conventional wisdom is they sound better (no big surprises here). The question is how much better and at what price difference, and how fast is price performance improving.

I was slightly disheartened to read the Stereophile review of the new $3500 Marantz NA11-S1 network streamer / DAC, and the reviewer commenting he was hard pressed to hear ANY difference between it and the $43,000 MSB stack. While this observation should delight the general audiophile population, it inevitably has the small population of uber expensive DAC owners (of which I am one) second guessing the wisdom of their investment.
 

rblnr

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I think once you're into quality territory (I can think of a couple right around 2K), DACs present the least value as you spend more than any other active component.
 

LL21

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Hi Jpetek,

I am not a fan of expensive items, but I am a big fan of well-made things that make me feel like I got 'the one'. I have listened to the following digital equipment:
- Metronome Kalista Ref/C2a
- Emm CDSA
- Esoteric X-01SE
- Krell 505
- ARC CD 3, 5, 7, 8
- Meridian 808.i2
- Weiss Medea
- DCS Elgar, Scarlatti, Vivaldi
- STahl-Tek Vekian
- Zanden 4-box

I also have listened to the [relatively] more moderate levels: Oppo 83, 95 and some modd'd versions (excellent). I have heard AMR, Unico, Rega, NAD, Rotel, Yamaha, and the list goes on...

To give you my personal bias...I ran a pretty high end system (SF Strads, Guarneris, CJ equipment...using a $60 Daewoo DVD player that embarrassed an $800 Rega player in front of the dealer who admitted there was no point in my upgrading). I did that for almost 10 years because I knew high end digital was better, but I found better places to spend my money and I had not found anything that triggered my interest that seriously.

In my own personal experience, [some] of the digital in the 'expensive tier' possesses a 'magic' that incorporates the following which I find comes at an extraordinary premium for the money (hence why I refused to upgrade in instalments until I could find something magical second hand):

- detail, detail detail without throwing it at you, carving it out space, forcing it
- quiet, quiet quiet noise floor which allows both detail and micro and macro dynamics
- and effortless that makes you really feel like you are listening to music more...and listening less to music reproduction
- You also get incredible full-range presence...the bass I enjoy along with the density of signal, the depth of the note, the meat of the note, and the purity of tone...are all at a level that makes my Oppo 95 (and excellent player) very hard and mechanical. Very. And its a darn good player! Sure, within 3-5 seconds on the right track in the right moment, you might be fooled...but honestly, its tough to be fooled, and in any rationale amount of time, it is so much harder it is not really worth 'testing yourself' anymore...you just go back to listening to music on the bigger DAC.

That said, [for me]...I tried and tried and tried to convince myself to buy the DCS Elgar (over my $60 Daewood player) 3 times...and could never get myself to do it...despite it being a deep discount. I really wanted to upgrade and do it...but never could pull the trigger. It was not worth it to me, even at 35 cents on the dollar of retail. Along came the Zanden (also second hand)...but at 2x my original budget. Took me 20 minutes as the store was closing to ask for an official audition the next day (in my own mind, the next day's 2-hour audition in the store was just a sanity check on my foregone conlusion I was going to buy it)...and mind you, at the time, I had never even heard of Zanden before. I had to google it. And I was already ready to buy it after 20 minutes.

A longwinded way of saying for me, when its right, its right. And in a number of cases, its costs more...but that's the price of magic. I wont pay for other people's magic...I certainly wont pay if there is no magic...would rather pay $60 bucks and save my money. But when its right, magic is wonderful...
 

microstrip

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(...) I was slightly disheartened to read the Stereophile review of the new $3500 Marantz NA11-S1 network streamer / DAC, and the reviewer commenting he was hard pressed to hear ANY difference between it and the $43,000 MSB stack. While this observation should delight the general audiophile population, it inevitably has the small population of uber expensive DAC owners (of which I am one) second guessing the wisdom of their investment.

These are great news for me :) - I still have not committed to a top expensive player, as I always feared digital obsolescence. In what issue was published such comment?
 

edorr

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These are great news for me :) - I still have not committed to a top expensive player, as I always feared digital obsolescence. In what issue was published such comment?

Latest issue (probably October). Came in the mail Tuesday. Not out electronically yet. I really like the Marantz stuff - owned their ud9004 universal player.
 
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edorr

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I think once you're into quality territory (I can think of a couple right around 2K), DACs present the least value as you spend more than any other active component.

Despite the comments in stereophile I have the exact opposite experience. Better DAC is more bang for the buck than any other active component....
 
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rblnr

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More than speakers or amps? We couldn't have more different experiences.
 

edorr

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More than speakers or amps? We couldn't have more different experiences.

I have yet to meet two audiophile that had the same experience on anything, so this does not surprise me. But yet, for me digital source the least, then poweramps, next preamps, and most impact DACs. Speakers are not active components so I did not consider them.
 
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LL21

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More than speakers or amps? We couldn't have more different experiences.

I totally hear you. AGain, I had a $60 Daewoo DVD player because I did not want to go in increments and the BIG increments in cost for higher end digital seemed not as worthwhile as putting that money elsewhere in the system.

At the same time, once one gets to a certain point in audio pricing, I observe the challenge becomes that some upgraded digital 'only' costs $10K-15K more. But upgrading to the next uber-level of speakers from, say Maxx 3s, might cost $75K$120K more which is a huge jump. And one might wonder...in a small room, are the X2s worth the nearly extra $100K? Whereas $10K-20K from Rega or ARC CD3 to Esoteric K-02 or Audio Aero La Source might well make a big difference for a lot less.
 

rblnr

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I have yet to meet two audiophile that had the same experience on anything, so this does not surprise me. But yet, for me digital source the least, then poweramps, next preamps, and most impact DACs. Speakers are not active components so I did not consider them.

Though I misidentified as active (excluding powered stuff like my ATCs for ex.), for me, the jump from a 5K to 15 or 20K speaker can be huge vs. a similar jump in DACs pricewise.
 

edorr

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I totally hear you. AGain, I had a $60 Daewoo DVD player because I did not want to go in increments and the BIG increments in cost for higher end digital seemed not as worthwhile as putting that money elsewhere in the system.

At the same time, once one gets to a certain point in audio pricing, I observe the challenge becomes that some upgraded digital 'only' costs $10K-15K more. But upgrading to the next uber-level of speakers from, say Maxx 3s, might cost $75K$120K more which is a huge jump. And one might wonder...in a small room, are the X2s worth the nearly extra $100K? Whereas $10K-20K from Rega or ARC CD3 to Esoteric K-02 or Audio Aero La Source might well make a big difference for a lot less.

Don't forget the logistics. It is just a lot more practical to fiddle with cables and electronics than swapping out speakers. Case in point - I recently passed on a par of TAD R1 offered to me for $40K. I can probably get $30 for my current speakers, so net outlay is $10K. Reason I passed is the logistical nightmare involved in moving the speaker. Meanwhile - I picked up more than $10K worth of powercords (6 x shunyata anaconda), which is a manageable project. It is very conceivable I would have gotten far more mileage out of a speaker swap for less money. Other side of the coin, of the speaker swap would have disappointed, I'd have been totally screwed. If the Shunyatas disappoint I can always resell them - no hassle.
 

edorr

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Though I misidentified as active (excluding powered stuff like my ATCs for ex.), for me, the jump from a 5K to 15 or 20K speaker can be huge vs. a similar jump in DACs pricewise.

I have mode both jumps, and found the impact on SQ comparable. This is a bit of heresy of course...
 

rblnr

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I have mode both jumps, and found the impact on SQ comparable. This is a bit of heresy of course...

We're walkin' different planets on this one.
 

Bruce B

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Once you hit the $8-10k barrier, then you're talking <1% difference and unless your room is acoustically treated and you have a great set of speakers, you're not going to hear it.

Case in point... these DSD transfers I'm doing with different A/D converters that I will soon post, I can not hear a differnce in a less than optimized room. That's why I cringe every time I read a review of a mega-buck piece of cable or something and the reviewers room is less than optimal... IMO
 
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edorr

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Once you hit the $8-10k barrier, then you're talking <1% difference and unless your room is acoustically treated and you have a great set of speakers, you're not going to hear it.

Case in point... these DSD transfers I'm doing with different A/D converters that I will soon post, I can not hear a differnce in a less than optimized room. That's why I cringe every time I read a review of a mega-buck piece of cable or something and the reviewers room is less than optimal... IMO

I could be kidding myself, but I thought the difference between the EMM labs DAC2X and MSB signature was quite substantial. Others have reported the same.
 
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rblnr

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That's why I cringe every time I read a review of a mega-buck piece of cable or something and the reviewers room is less than optimal..

Given some of the reviewers rooms and setups I've seen, I can't believe anybody listens to what they say -- they have no valid baseline to judge from.
 

LL21

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Given some of the reviewers rooms and setups I've seen, I can't believe anybody listens to what they say -- they have no valid baseline to judge from.

I have not truly made a decision based on anyone's opinion but my own...but I have followed certain reviewers. Some for quite a long time!...Martin Colloms and Roy Gregory have been writing as long as I think I have been reading the audio rags in the early '90s.
 

rblnr

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I have not truly made a decision based on anyone's opinion but my own...but I have followed certain reviewers. Some for quite a long time!...Martin Colloms and Roy Gregory have been writing as long as I think I have been reading the audio rags in the early '90s.

I trust my own ears too, and there are reviewers who I respect. Unfortunately, I run into audiophiles all the time who basically make decisions off of reviews. Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled programming...
 

mep

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If you own a computer that has a sound card, that's all you really need to enjoy digital music. :rolleyes:
 

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