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TAA: It’s the DAC, Stupid!

by on October 30, 2012

On a whim, I decided to try a CD on our cheapo Panasonic BluRay player. It sounded…better. Much better, as a matter of fact. The bass seemed…extended. The grey veil was…missing. The transients were…impactful. Drum sticks seem to pop right off the skins. I could hear Paul Desmond’s breath during “Take Five.” THESE were the speakers I heard at Audio Systems.

And so after a bit of internet sleuthing, it occurred to me that it is, in fact, the DAC, stupid. Computers, apparently, are well known for not sounding all that great; it’s fine for background music, but to get the most out of your PC based music source, you’ll need to invest some money. How much? Stereophile’s 2010 equipment guide lists a Vitus Audio’s MP-D201 at $36,500. On the other hand, there are cheapie $30 DACs available on eBay. You can purchase a standalone unit, or get an amp with an integrated DAC. The Audio Research Dragonfly DAC, a USB unit running just under $300 looks to be a great option. On the other hand, yes, it is $300. In my efforts to keep the audio stack simple and clean, my plan is to purchase an integrated amp with an integrated DAC. You know. Someday. Stay tuned. The takeaways:

  • You’ll probably want an external DAC if you’re pulling music off your computer.
  • If you have a CD player, try some A/B comparisons to see if you’re fully satisfied with what you’re getting from your computer. If you’re not, you’ll need to invest in some additional equipment. Or trade up equipment.
  • It occurred to me that because I’m using TOSLINK optical cables, that it’s the DAC chip in my Sony receiver that’s doing the conversion, and NOT the PCs internal DAC. And NOT that DAC in the CD/DVD player. Schematics show there is a D/A A/D converter in the amp.
  • This lead me to believe that…

Next: Oh. It could be the player.

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