Why you should spend most of your budget on your DAC

TL,DR: This thread is now basically “Why you should not spend most of your money on a DAC unless you have multiple 1000$+ things in your signal chain”. :grin:

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Well I wish I could say the same about this being your one post that contains valuable information but you managed to do it again…

You think that the RME is not value (which once again I have agreed on multiple times) but then you name the Hilo Lynx as a step above - something which is over double the price (currently £3,555 on Thomann) with worse measurements and limited features… :man_facepalming::man_facepalming::man_facepalming: - great for it’s time and a workhorse of a unit but…

And if your focused on the ADC side maybe check out below where a direct comparison to the earlier RME (non FS version before the jitter fix) was conducted:

Maybe 5-8 years ago I saw these in studios but not for awhile. Noone claimed the RME is used in high end studios - in fact I actually stated that - perhaps if you read the posts before commenting you may gleam that valuable information you were looking for as you have in the main agreed with everything I have stated and then recommended software DSP/EQ and UA & Motu interfaces for value just as I did…

Most converters do not have DSP because (again as written previously) you separate things out in the studio and Io and routing are a bigger factor. Again - as was posted - studio converters are focused more on the ADC side than the DAC which I am sure you are aware of. Let’s not pretend studios use great DACs.

If your recommending switching power supplies for performance please do some reading on this topic…

Really no point continuing this as it’s getting embarrassing now

That there is the truth of the matter…I have zero interest in graphs, eq, any type of measurement and I don’t volume match etc however I do listen to music and keep stuff I enjoy. Yes I know graphs and measurements exist a bit like algebra and trigonometry and I’ve managed to live quite happily without them since my school days. No one is ever going to woo me with some fancy assed figures or graphs I listen first and base my thoughts around that, after all the enjoyment of listening to music is such a subjective one which can’t be measured with :chart_with_upwards_trend::bar_chart::moneybag:

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im no expert. but i quite enjoy my setup. my dac costs the most in my chain. by a healthy chunk. i like my headphones a lot. i don’t feel the need for better, so i wanted to get the best out of them. and i am quite happy.

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While the Hilo isn’t my favorite, I’d take it over the rme any day of the week, and I’d happily spend my money doing so. Don’t consider the Hilo a good value in it’s price point dac wise, but it sure sounds a lot better than the rme to potentially justify the expenditure, at least in comparison to the rme. This isn’t meant to be any suggestion to consider a hilo, but it’s yet another example of why the rme falls short at it’s fundamental job for the price. RME ends up in a real weird price bracket where it makes more sense to either go lower and implement a software dsp/eq solution and get similar dac quality, or go higher and get a significant jump in dac quality

Sure, however that’s something that’s almost implied by what you’ve said about it, and if it’s oh so great why isn’t it being used in those? Obviously there’s many reasons for why it isn’t, but I wasn’t trying to argue if it was or wasn’t, I was just pointing out what I’d consider the true pros to use, and transitioned into that after I mentioned what I’d potentially consider over the rme. Don’t know why you feel the need to keep shifting what this is about each time

Which is why I mentioned all of that, not trying to argue you on that point. Only thing I’m complaining about is the RME. Basically saying why bother with the rme when you can do that instead for much less with equal or better performance, was saying that from the beginning

Sure, when they’re lower budget integrated at least. If you take for example a lot of what I mentioned such as the crane song solaris quantum, forssell mada-2, dangerous music convert 2, a lavry da11, weiss dac2, etc are dac only/focused studio units, you’ll find as you move up that many run separate dacs alongside separate adc, which end up being focused on about equally. There are also high quality combo units as well. If you’re limited on budget as a studio, it makes more sense to put more into your adc to at least ensure you capture things best as you can as you can always listen to/work with it on a nicer dac down the line but not vice versa, however there is a lot more dac emphasis when the budget is available as it gets very apparent when it’s ignored when the rest of the chain such as the monitors, room, potentially amps, etc are up to snuff. You’re going to want to prioritize your clients the most and ensuring you get the best recording is a way to do that, listening back for yourself is of inherently less important in comparison as long as what you have is good enough (considering you’ll already likely be working with a system that far exceeds anything the mass majority of your clients will listen to), but when you get into the big leagues and host some massive clients in your studio where more critical attention is required, that’s when it makes a lot more sense to prioritize the dac, or if you’re focusing on producing content designed for people who will be putting it back though high quality systems so you need to make sure to allow yourself to hear what they might hear

There’s no need to pretend when it’s true, not all of them of course though as not every studio can afford/justify the expenditure right off the bat, or some might use a rme

Good switching psu are getting better, in the past linear seemed to be the clear option for sound quality but with better filtering and more interesting implementation they can at this point be considered viable in higher sound quality applications, and you’re starting to see even higher end mfg make the switch without really harming the sound in their designs. Your average shit smps will still be your shit smps, but I’d say you’re being pretty ignorant on what they can do in a high quality well designed unit if that’s what you’re trying to imply, especially since you’ve already complained about linear? My personal preference has always been linear and I used to always think of smps as universally worse sounding, but in recent years they’ve genuinely gotten pretty good, feel similarly about class d as well (at least well implemented units). Hybrid supplies are cool, although I feel like you just don’t see them as often in audio applications, but that’s an interesting inbetween

Why are we even talking about psu anyways? I think I mentioned it once in an initial post just alongside a dac used as a comparison point, since it doesn’t come with a psu and out of the ones they offer from the same brand, their linear I like the most, but it can come with a nice switchmode as well if desired. Was just offhand, not really relevant toward anything else on here though so no clue why you even bothered to bring that up

Don’t know what I can say outside of you did this to yourself, at least you can acknowledge it though

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Which makes sense…haha

UH HUH

I just can’t follow the logic - your advocating that a fully featured RME is overpriced but a Hilo at over 3x that cost can be justified when it objectively performs worse. Can a DAC even subjectively provide a commensurate performance to cost benefit to this degree? You clearly think a DAC has greater importance in the chain than any ABX or measurement has shown to date. So if ‘ignorance is bliss’ is your thing more power to you… It’s your money after all. As I said before as soon as I saw the DACs you listed there was no point continuing this as we value different things and you have your audio “beliefs” regardless of evidence or description (of which you have produced none be it subjective or objective).

And whilst I stand by that ADC is always prioritized in the studio over DAC - the measurement of the Hilo at 104/105db Sinad DAC but 116db Sinad ADC bare this out. Looking at the mastering DACs you suggested solely for audio SQ:

Cranesong - I will give you sounds decent (better than HiFi at a fraction of the cost? - nope) but at a significant price increase. Reality is that the spec and design alone wouldn’t allow it to outperform anything though - it’s just a competent, well made but overly expensive DAC which is now a little dated - nothing special but it is semi popular.

The levy has a whole host of documented problems with it - jitter being the main one which makes it difficult in the studio setting where that is of importance.

The Convert 2 along with the Burl are highly coloured to my ear and by their own admission - and given their age are no longer seen as worthwhile mastering DACs to anyone worth their salt.

I haven’t had the pleasure of hearing the Forssell - so I cannot comment but I am aware they do not measure & test equipment prefering to solely tune by “listening with the ears” - which at their price to me is not sufficient to warrant further investigation. I expect more technical data than that even from $20 IEM purchases. But would be delighted to be convinced otherwise when I get the chance to hear one.

I think the issue is more that like the Weiss you named - where I am only familiar with it’s successor DAC1 - most of these are quite dated now. Again nothing special here subjectively and the spec on the successor though is lower than the RME at a more than significant price increase. Weiss make well designed & built stuff, great buffers, DSP and op-amps but they love to use outdated chips and make bold claims without releasing any data to back it up. I am sure you are aware of the controversy surrounding their HiFi DAC 501/502 which feature wise rivals the RME but which was released and remains priced at nearly £8,000 and used an ESS9018 chip until 2022 when they were forced to move to an ESS9038 Pro. That’s was a c.$15 and a currently c.$90 chip at consumer (not manufacturer) retail prices. Don’t mind that mark up.

Yes, they are workhorses just like all of these, with impeccable servicing and CS - but is that enough to justify their price with what we know today - for the RME you said no (which I agree with if you dont have a specific application for it) but I just struggle to see the value then in something 5x it’s price with no benefit apart from analogue throwback name recognition - especially as nearly all studio DACs are D/S DACs - so limited to the chip spec and mostly throttled to certain decoding formats to align with ADC & DAWs instead of consumer playback.

Good luck with your journey

But subjectively a lot better imo, if you can’t understand that disconnect, then you aren’t going to understand anything I’ve said as it’s relating to both my and I can even factor in others that I know’s experience if that does anything. Really if you try enough equipment, you’ll find that once you get past the bare minimum in measurements (like perhaps 60-70 sinad and .1% thd and whatnot) it’s not really relevant to compare anymore because they end up fairly independent of perceived sq in the end. Are they worthless? Course not. But do they really truly tell you much about the sound of a unit, especially compared to another? Definitely not to me.

Another thing to consider that a lot of things commonly used in production really don’t measure all that well, compare a lot of outboard compressors, mixers, mics, what have you that are either vintage or modeled after vintage that end up being the most lauded and sought after in the pro scene, and after you run your shit though them into an adc, doesn’t really matter as much anymore if you’re going to worry about measured performance. Or even running from a dac into a hardware piece and back into an adc, that is not an unusual use case either. Mostly anything you can feed into an adc will not even come close to the levels of what it is theoretically capable of handling, and same for what comes out of a dac for most that you’d use it for

That is if you’re going to come from the studio perspective

Clearly (to me), considering how many different designs, products, examples exist, how many have been sold, and how many are currently in use, and the many many varieties of experiences, if it really was that simple of a game where the best measuring thing sounded the best, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion and there wouldn’t really be a point to a lot of forums like this either.

Which is more telling about some of the flaws with ABX testing in audio than anything else. Just because something is a scientific method of testing doesn’t mean it’s an appropriate one for the application that will yield meaningful scientific results. Personally I prefer much longer extended blind a/b if I was going to take a more scientific approach to testing, but also consider that sort of testing isn’t really representative of real world performance anyways

Yep, I put my money on what I think sounds the best, and if something doesn’t sound it’s worth, I either don’t buy it if I was able to demo, or sell it pretty quickly, no other justification to keep it around. Personally only really interested in the sound of things, don’t really care about the brand behind or company interaction, don’t really tend to care about what’s currently being hyped or the new hotness, don’t really tend to care about what it looks or feels like or whatnot, just really my main priority is “is this worth the cost of what I spend for myself.”

I can also understand that what makes sense for me may not make sense for someone else, and understand what sounds good to me may not sound good to someone else. However I can’t understand those that take this hobby from the simple perspective of “higher number better” because that’s just really baffling to me as from my own experience it really has little to do with it in the end (again as long as measurements aren’t truly atrocious, something like distortion into the single to 10 percents and sinad well at or below 50 would constitute as atrocious). There’s so much nuance to this hobby and the overall science of audio, and to blindly disregard it because you consider someone connecting a unit to an analyzer and pressing a button to get a report “science” is somewhat foolish imo. Really if things were that simple this hobby would be incredibly incredibly different, as would science in general lol. Despite this, while I can’t understand this take, I can see how some do, and whatever. Believe what you will, but the moment you start trying to disguise your opinions as fact under the guise of science and push those to people, that’s really where it goes too far imo. I have no problem with disagreeing with someone and moving past the differences, however dealing with someone who believes their opinion to be “right” universal fact is quite irritating, as you’ll realize many things about this hobby are seldom hard truth. All of what I’ve said is opinion, and really outside of the data you’ve provided in terms of the pure measurements and nothing more is also opinion. The data might be objective (although there’s a lot of ways to measure, skew, and present that data that adds plenty of subjective influence), but the moment you interpret that data, it’s now a subjective opinion on (somewhat) objective data

Also made very apparent to me, although it is fun to continue poking to see what responses I get

Sounds a whole lot better than decent imo, again something that the only reason to buy it would be for it’s sound. Although I’ll also say that it’s overall latency performance over usb was pretty good, better than some other mastering converts I have tried, although if your focus was raw lowest latency you could likely do better

From my experience the modern lavry have no real issues with jitter, in fact do a pretty solid job of being somewhat antagonistic of the quality of aes coming into it, and since I specifically mentioned the da11 which is no longer modern, I also had no jitter issues with it over either usb or aes. Honestly even in the past and now they’ve been known for their jitter rejection so don’t really know where this claim comes from. Again another one if that it weren’t for the raw sq, it wouldn’t be worth investing in

It is for sure, it’s got a notable house sound that admittedly didn’t work well in most my chains at the time for me, although still fine for mastering if chain permitting. Same thing with the burl, very distinct character by design, although I personally liked it’s house sound a bit more in use

HA, anyone worth their salt would know that age doesn’t determine what’s worth it’s salt in the pro world, I mean hell half of the existing outboard components that exist are trying to copy what components in the 50s, 60s, and 70s had going for them. Just because something in digital is older doesn’t inherently make it sound worse than the newer stuff, at their core, dacs really haven’t changed as much as you think when it comes to sound quality in the higher end, if you bought pretty high end 10 years ago, that’s still high end sound now, and you’ll find that dacs of the same price category really haven’t eclipsed them in sound. Of course exceptions exist and newer and potentially better products are developed, but I also think it’s unwise to write off something simply for it’s age. The dangerous music only came out in like what 2015, that’s really not long ago especially for studio gear. If you’re comparing some really early 80s-90s studio digital gear I might understand your concern, but really not much has changed in that scene since 2015 at least on the higher end dac side of things

Speaks for itself there

Yes, but still reasonable value if you can pick up one used at a good price, although basically aes/spdif in only. I’ve not really ever spent a bunch of time with a DAC1 so I can’t comment on that

Would also disagree there of course otherwise wouldn’t have mentioned it

Great processors for sure

The data is the product itself, really if their claims didn’t hold up, they wouldn’t continue to get sold, a company of that age really wouldn’t survive or be lauded for their components otherwise. If we’re talking some random startup that makes high claims but starts and dies within a few years, that’s also the proof of that lol. Of course actually giving some measurements and more specs never hurts to have, although it doesn’t change the results in the end

I was irritated to see that mark up as well, value wise I thought the previous 501 was fair enough priced considering the combined features and sound quality, although wouldn’t be my first choice if I wasn’t going to use the dsp and the built in streamer, although now with the recent raise it is a bit steep. But I’d also consider that that’s msrp, and working with a dealer will get you a lower price (as with a lot of things in higher end audio) so I wouldn’t take msrp as strongly as you would in the lower range. But I do agree the current price raise is steep. Apparently there were some sonic improvements made to it, but I’ve only heard the first one and not this newer one, so no clue if that’s really any meaningful improvement or not, but basing off the sound of the first one, that price increase is hard to justify if you’re looking toward one

And the reason you struggle is because you seemingly can’t see anything past a spec sheet, and if that’s the case then yes absolutely these make no sense. If you’re actually buying for sound quality to the ear though, these become a lot more potentially compelling (depending on the chain, level of listening ability/experience, and priorities of course). It’s very clear to me that you either haven’t really heard these, or if you have, it was with very very limited experience or without a proper chain to see what they can actually do (throwing back to my initial post and the chain is only as good as the weakest link thing). I’ll take your word for it, but I’d really suggest reevaluating some of these with a more proper chain and more time and really see what you pay for. But as with everything it all depends on the person and everything surrounding them

Good luck with yours as well, I’m basically nearing the end of mine as I’ve found what I like the most and the most that I can financially justify as going any farther and I didn’t think I was getting what I paid for in sound anymore from my experience. You’re pretty lucky in this case, as you said ignorance is bliss, and that will really save you a lot of money in this hobby lol. Don’t plan on making any more responses here for the sake of this thread and whatever might be left of it lol

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My BF 2 sounds better than my E30 and I am happy with that investment!

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There is a distinct difference between vintage analogue gear used to shape sound in the creation process and vintage electronics/software used for playback or digital creation but I am sure you know this. I don’t know any software or dated DACs that have gone up in value as they age - studio gear, instruments, tube amps - yes but DACs/DSP/ADC?. For me - to try and conflate the two is disingenuous. I mean I hope your not running your DAC outputs back through analogue mixers, compressors, etc otherwise you are definitely degrading the SQ - in which case why care about the DAC SQ?

I am certainly not a TOTL measurement chaser (as demonstrated by my “implied” championing you have claimed of the RME which is not TOTL by any measurements) but as you suggest there is a hurdle that competent audio gear should pass and mine is different/technically more demanding than yours it seems - I would balk at the base measurements you suggested (up to 10% THD… Really?) as they would add distinctive tone to any and all playback be it appropriate or not. But again everyone has their own taste - I just prefer a neutral start to then apply DSP rather than being hamstrung by a limitation in the hardware before I have even begun. I want to model for other systems & genres which becomes hard to do when locked into a specific chain synergy as your suggesting.

I was not holding out that the best DAC is the one with the highest measurements - it’s the one that fits the application, functionality requirements and budget for someone after a measurement and good implementation hurdle - as I stated multiple times about the RME. A DAC just isn’t significant enough to the final output to be spending that kind of money on or thinking it has significant sound differences subject to intentional manufacturer coloration. So having objective data let’s people understand what we are getting. It allows people to rule out lemons or see if there is distortion/FR changes/power limits/etc being imparted. If you are mastering it is truely important to know and account for your system’s base measurements - otherwise how can you understand replay on the multitude of other systems that playback will be made on. It’s why studios have so many different monitors - why modelling software was invented. I don’t know how you would do that in any other way.

Instead what I was actually asking was - given the small measurement differences and using the same DAC topology and class of chips - do you really think there can be such a large subjective difference generated by the DAC to justify thousands of extra expenditure since we are already at the limit of audible on playback and the pre DAC filtering is defined in advance by the chip maker and happens outside the audible band, not to mention everything else in the chain runs at substantially lower measurements? I just, for my own application, can’t see the value in DACs over a certain value that are not offering something novel (eg different circuitry, DSP, multichannel, etc) or have impeccable measurements to go with their ‘perceived’ subjective SQ performance.

Again our views on scientific method & ABX are at odds. If the difference is night and day as you have alluded to then that should not require extended testing - if it’s more nuanced and needed weeks then maybe the value proposition suggested is off? Either way it would still be interesting to see it actually done even as a proper Double Blind RCT even if over an extended period otherwise it’s just talk…

Personally, I find it sad when anyone has to reject objective data to rationalize their point of view. Remember this all started as it was commented that the RME was shit without any qualification or explanation. As you said this is a very nuanced hobby so what you consider shit may not be for someone else by your own logic - yet you took your opinion as fact, have continued to state it despite what anyone else opines and even alleged that I had not actually heard it. I merely showed objective data to counter that and asked why it was shit. Then we fell down a rabbit hole to here so please also heed your own advice.

I would never discount something because of age but I would if it’s measurements are not up to modern standards and value. In regards to DAC development please look at the chip specs from the last 20 years to now as well as measurement data on the implementation of some high performing dated & modern DACs to determine the large technical advances that have been made - specifically in the last 5-10 years. I am not sure how you can look at digital technical performance any other way. And having people actually measuring these devices has sure changed how manufacturers behave - look at Shiit in the HiFi space and the Weiss we both commented on above.

A Weiss DAC1 is around $8.5k new - so maybe $5k used. And that is good value considering the chipset used and against the results that chipset generates in devices worth 10-25% of that across HiFi & Pro Audio - Yeah we can only agree to disagree so again shall we just leave it here?

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The DAC itself does not really do EQ-work. It is either in the digital (before the DAC) domain or analogue (after the DAC).
Doing EQ before the DAC has the advantage of being able to void frequencies without having to deal with now surplus power.
EQ in the analogue domain requires filters of some kinds. These filters have to absorb the unwanted frequencies and dissipate that energy to some place, that may be heat or influence on other frequencies.

Digital Signal Processing (DSP) on an already analogue signal leads to double conversion, which may be undesirable, is very much acceptable in many live settings.

All high-end test gear uses linear PSUs. Often as a follower to a switching stage or fed from different windings, both done to help efficiency. But linear voltage regulation is the current best way to clean DC.

Well, that’s good news then. It appears the RME does all the sound adjustments digitally before anything is sent to the DAC chip. (I kinda figured it must operate that way, but having a block diagram is helpful to show the flow)

100% - agree

It’s just that what is optimal on a test bench is not required in audio playback.

What tiny difference in noise leakage (putting aside the arguement of whether this is in the audible band / and also that it occurs mostly as improvement post 20Khz) between competent LPS & SMPS already gets filtered out by the modern DAC chip itself.

Since it was previously mentioned, the Allo Shanti, by the makers own admission, states that under ideal circumstances only a max 0.5db THD+N improvement can be seen on a USB DAC (still yet to be verified). This is also seen as an outlier - as the maker admits that for music this is solely a technical endeavour and that it has been shown numerous times (ASR pioneered these types of tests in its infancy) that there is no technical SQ performance uptick from using an LPS unless you are in an area of significant interference - ie a power plant.