Can't discern a difference

Hi. Problem here, tell me if you relate?

I cannot discern the difference between a cheap DAC and a more expensive one. For instance Zen Dac vs Topping D10 DAC.

I can barely tell the difference between cheap headphone amp and expensive one. THX 789 vs vintage Pioneer Amplifier. Both sound so similar to me.

I can tell differences between sources. Tidal vs Spotify was noticeably different. Why is difference between DACs so hard? Or do I have to spend marginally more money to discern difference?

It’s hard to tell the difference between DACs. Zeos spent 10 years basically saying “DACs don’t matter”. Unless you got 500$+ or 1000$+ headphones, you won’t notice any “bottleneck”.

IMO it’s a good thing you got the 789, just sell it and get a 100$ JDS Atom and buy great headphones with the rest :stuck_out_tongue: because obviously 95% of the differences you’ll hear will be when you buy another pair of headphones and A/B the ones you got.

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Hi thank you for the reply.
So then why is there so much talk about this DAC vs another etc? Surely I’m missing something in the sound?

Yes, I find it hard to tell the difference between many pieces, the reason for this though is that not every piece makes enough difference in each scenario and use. Many items at certain price points won’t have enough quality in them to really perform beyond a certain level. Also a certain amount of synergy between equipment needs to exist for there to be noticeable differences. And lastly some of us just aren’t trained enough to know or understand certain aspects of music. if you have no idea what a live trumpet, piano, piccolo, or violin sound like in a room how the heck are you supposed to pick apart those elements in a recording…there’s more I’m just too lazy to type it out…

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You have to do some “critical listening” to notice the differences between DACs or Amps. Maybe it’s not that you don’t notice the differences, but that it’s so subtle you don’t even care about them.

Also, try with CD-quality files instead. Tidal (non-CD-quality?) and Spotify is really not the best way to find the difference between DACs and Amps.

Well to start off, what headphones are you using? Having poor quality phones can make it real difficult

Listening is also a skill and takes time to develop, so getting more experienced will let you more easily notice these differences

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Lol yeah good idea to ask that. I kinda forgot about this wtf :no_mouth:

I’ve tried a lot of blind A/B compare. Sometimes I might notice more bass here, more resonance there, but really so subtle and sometimes my results aren’t 100% consistent.

Headphones Sennheiser HD 650 Open Back

I mean most decent headphones/iems/speakers will let you hear the differences, just to different extents

Hmmm. That should be real simple then

This might not be the best way to go about it imo. For example, spend a couple days only listening to your thx, and then a couple days only listening to the receiver. Then after that start playing around and listen to both on the same day and see if the differences are more apparent. You have to give your brain some time to digest and understand the differences and get a feeling for it, as going back and forth rapidly really won’t yield any useful results imo

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Okay yes, I can try this. I usually do fast A/B blind which I will stop.
What to listen for? Is there a guide online? I mainly listen to Jazz and Classic Rock via Tidal.

I mean you can listen for certain things, but really you want to get an overall feeling for stuff. Typically after spending a few days with something exclusively and switching over will be more noticeably different, you will either notice stuff that is present and stuff that is missing on your own.

I know myself that I wouldn’t trust my impressions unless I have spend ample time with something

I see. Okay, will try.
Thank you

So really is DAC or Amp easier to discern a difference?
Or it depends?
@LeDechaine & @Nick_Mimi thoughts?

It depends on your source material, the tier of the equipment, and your own experience level as a listener imo.

So with what equipment you have it should be easier to tell the difference between the thx and the pioneer imo, the d10 vs zen dac is still pretty noticeable too imo. I won’t say anything to make sure I don’t color your results too much lol. I would say make sure to listen to a variety of music that you know well, and make sure it’s at least decent quality (preferably lossless), as with stuff you know well you are more likely to be able to tell differences

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Lossless is the keyword here. I don’t know if I would hear the differences between anything (except headphones obviously) with low-quality streaming or 128kbps mp3s killing everything below 100hz and above like 10khz.

I am not sure if I could tell the difference between my SU-8 and D30.

I can state in the last few months though I have seen HUGE improvements in headphones and amps. The changes have been startling as in:

  1. When I got my Elex’s in I wore them for 21 straight days. That is a first! And I had lots others to choose from.

  2. The LP amp just sounds so far ahead of everything else I own or have owned, with the exception of my new tube amp.

Really not sure about the DAC’s though. Although I have never done any A-B’ing with DAC’s.

With the lower end dacs my experience has been pretty much that they all sound relatively similar and deliver relatively similar performance with different features and slightly different flavors. Stuff only starts getting really radical when you get into the higher end side of things for dacs imo

In my experience here is a rough idea of some situations where I am able to discern differences.
$125 solid state amp compared to $2000 tube amplifier. Yep, yes sir, I hear an audible difference, I have an appropriate level source and dac in the chain. Can I hear a difference on $95 headphones, nope they simply sounded bad to me. How about $300 headphones? Well yes on some models. How about $1500 headphones, well yes actually on all of them.

Next scenario, $150 Dac vs completely unrelated style $3K dac both being run on $125 amp with $100 HP. Hmmm, not really hearing a very big difference there.
Now try same DACs with $2.8K amp and $1.5k headphones and good quality music source. Well yes there is a difference, it is hard to describe but genuinely there.

Does any of this make sense? Also much depends on the music source quality and lastly Genre of the music. You will really be able to hear differences in blues, jazz, orchestral and classical tracks much more vividly than pop, rap and techno. Well at least I do…

Not that it answers anything but I notice this… Listening to the album Secret World Live by Peter Gabriel, or Dark side of the moon by Pink Floyd. Both of which I have had for years and listen to a lot… Using the same source so to speak Foobar 2000 and my Asgard 3 multibit then listening with different headphones. I hear different sounds that I never used to hear and did not know they existed on these tracks. My headphones are he4xx, hd58x, hd558 and my Nighthawks. Price wise not that far apart but all drastically different sounding to me. Yet I have a Schiit Jotunheim with the 4490 dac and that is a different story. I also have the Smsl su8 and a schiit magni 3+, Once again I hear a difference.