Page 1 of 2

To DAC or NOT to DAC ?

Posted: 23 Feb 2019 13:18
by nniemiec
I'm still on the sidelines on why I would pay $100's of dollars for another gadget when the macbook pro seems to do fine on it's own. What can I expect to gain from spending upwards of $500 on a DAC? I remain very skeptical on the benefits.

Re: To DAC or NOT to DAC ?

Posted: 23 Feb 2019 13:23
by dysmike
I can state, without hesitation, that my audio quest dragonfly is much better sounding than the DAC in my MacBook pro, or any phone I've had.

Re: To DAC or NOT to DAC ?

Posted: 23 Feb 2019 13:30
by nniemiec
what's better about it? I can understand how to a point you can improve analog reproduction, but what's so distinctive about another piece of digital gear?

Re: To DAC or NOT to DAC ?

Posted: 23 Feb 2019 14:33
by Jim Leach
Maybe you won’t appreciate it.

Sounds to me you should save your money and enjoy the MacBook.

Re: To DAC or NOT to DAC ?

Posted: 23 Feb 2019 14:46
by nniemiec
sounds like you're unable to articulate why DACs make sense & how they improve things. That's my question Charlie. I'm not in this forum to dismiss DACs - just want to know why & how they improve things.

Re: To DAC or NOT to DAC ?

Posted: 23 Feb 2019 15:24
by dysmike
nniemiec wrote:
23 Feb 2019 13:30
what's better about it? I can understand how to a point you can improve analog reproduction, but what's so distinctive about another piece of digital gear?
This is a fair question. In my experience, with this DAC and a 2018 13" mbp, is that the sound over-all was more accurate. I'm a drummer, so I tend to pay attention to the sounds I know. For instance, the recent Police box set came with digital downloads that are sampled at 96kHz and 24 bits. Listening to this, the high hat sounds more like a high hat (more crisp, less shimmer) and the kick drum sounds tighter and deeper than they do just plugging the same headphones (and cable) into the headphone jack. Over all, everything sounded clearer and was more enjoyable to listen to.

BTW, this is a ~$100 portable USB DAC.

Re: To DAC or NOT to DAC ?

Posted: 23 Feb 2019 15:35
by nniemiec
thanks man - so overall, the DAC focused the definition in a way that your ears were able to latch onto. I checked your device out. Like everything, sky is the limit, and the price is certainly palatable. I would be inclined to date before marrying on something like this.

Re: To DAC or NOT to DAC ?

Posted: 23 Feb 2019 20:32
by kalaur
Same could be said for the speakers on your macbook. Why would anyone spend hundreds or thousands of dollars for speakers when there are speakers adequate of reproducing sound already in the macbook?

Just like any other audio upgrade, if you like the sound from another piece of equipment better, and its worth the cost, then its an upgrade for you. Other people may or may not agree with your decision, whichever way it is.

Re: To DAC or NOT to DAC ?

Posted: 23 Feb 2019 22:14
by nniemiec
what you're saying is self-evident. I'm more interested in knowing HOW a DAC makes things better. Naturally, If I spend $1000 on a pair of speakers as an upgrade, I'll be rationalizing how awesome they are. duh.

Re: To DAC or NOT to DAC ?

Posted: 23 Feb 2019 22:50
by Jim Leach
Well, let’s compare to tuners for example.

Some tuners have three gang front ends and adequately tunes in stations. Other tubers have seven gang front ends. But, better tuning is not necessarily better sound.

The way the signal is handled down stream and amplified, quality of components (even wire) in the signal path, down to output connectors. They all play a part.

So one tuner may cost more, and have better specs, and sound poor for reasons not covered by typical specs. Or put a better way, two tuners with identical specs, the one with more attention to the finer details will probably (but not always) sound better.

Moral: audition stuff before you buy.

Re: To DAC or NOT to DAC ?

Posted: 24 Feb 2019 03:29
by kalaur
nniemiec wrote:
23 Feb 2019 22:14
what you're saying is self-evident. I'm more interested in knowing HOW a DAC makes things better. Naturally, If I spend $1000 on a pair of speakers as an upgrade, I'll be rationalizing how awesome they are. duh.
Same way you rationalize any other audio upgrade. The blackest blacks, the highest highs, the bumpin bass, the intricate mids, sound so real it made you cry, sounds like the band is right in the room with you, lower noise, more dynamic, better this or that :-)

There's a number of implementation differences in dacs that could affect sound. How they implement the USB interface and timing with the dac chip could affect jitter, the dac filters could affect ringing and frequency response, the analog amplification stage could do any number of things to the sound. See if you can listen to a few at your local stereo shop. If you're still satisfied with the output of the mac, then at least you learned you can spend your money elsewhere.

Re: To DAC or NOT to DAC ?

Posted: 24 Feb 2019 08:55
by Tonybro
The DAC in a MacBook has to compete with all the other sub-systems in the computer and RFI and other electrical signals will be bouncing around. Don't get me wrong, the designers try to minimise any effects but take the DAC out to a separate unit and you can control all of those things, design elements to manage jitter and the overall effect is a big difference in sound.

Dysmike uses a Dragonfly and I use a small Meridian Explorer (neither are expensive <$200) but make big improvements.

Re: To DAC or NOT to DAC ?

Posted: 26 Feb 2019 02:07
by maxwellite
I've had laptops (and desktops) with really horrible DACs that had lots of buzzing and noise. Mixed signal design requires some care and many laptop makers don't care. Apple usually does audio well, in my experience. A Berhinger UCA-202 gets the job done for computers with poor audio sections. I don't think I would notice any improvement from a more expensive DAC. If you don't hear any obvious problems, than an external DAC will marginal improvements at best.

A MacBook's speakers, while far better that those on a ThinkPad, are still only 2cm accross and are bound by the laws of physics. An external speaker has a much better chance of success.

Re: To DAC or NOT to DAC ?

Posted: 26 Feb 2019 03:28
by zlartibartfast
Tonybro and szinger are correct - the DAC integrated into a computer cannot be as clean (accurate) as one that is external. I use a Focusrite Saffire Pro 14 (firewire bus) with my 2018 Mac Air (also 2 older Macs that are still in service).

Another factor affecting the quality of the DAC is the internal processing resolution. Even if your original file resolution is 44.1/16, you're going to get better performance with a DAC that runs internally @ 192/32.

Of course you'll need amps & speakers that can reveal that difference, and ears that can discern it

Re: To DAC or NOT to DAC ?

Posted: 26 Feb 2019 15:04
by Whitigir
Any DAC will do a better job than your intergrated one. However, asking for it to be as good as a proper turntable and a good record is something that the digital is still chasing.