Would I benefit from a dedicated DAC?

  • 30 December 2011
  • 74 replies
  • 43398 views

Userlevel 2
In my living room, I have a ZP90 connected to an older Sony A/V receiver (STR-DE597) that I bought on Craigslist. Earlier this year I added a pair of Polk TSi400 with a Polk subwoofer that I use for Sonos and my television.

As I've been learning more about digital audio, I keep seeing references to dedicated DAC units as something that will really boost sound quality.

My question is: with the components that I already have, would a DAC like the Peachtree DAC-iT make a difference? My concern is that since my other components are not very high-end, the better sound quality of the DAC would not really come through.

Since this unit is about $500, would that be better spent on some other component, like a new A/V receiver?

And a related question: how would the DAC be wired? Does the output from the Sonos go to the DAC and then the output from the DAC go to the receiver?

This topic has been closed for further comments. You can use the search bar to find a similar topic, or create a new one by clicking Create Topic at the top of the page.

74 replies

To reiterate for the benefit of users of all Sonos devices since all include a capable enough DAC - nothing that will be audible in a well controlled level matched blind ABX test will be audible in any external DAC, no matter how high it is priced. Or, rephrasing more accurately, nothing has been proven to be heard so far in such a test anywhere in the world. I too haven't found any difference in various DACs although I admit that the most expensive one I used was priced at only USD 1500.

DACs sometimes come with sound shaping filters - these are akin to tone controls - and DAC performance needs to be compared with this feature defeated to allow for apples to apples comparison across DACs.

DACs will sound different for psychological reasons though and anyone that believes that a modern day DAC needs to be run it before it delivers best performance is under the influence of these reasons.

Today a basic DAC is a cheap commodity.
Some people really do talk about rubbish here regarding their systems. One person said you build from the speaker first. No you don't. There is an old saying in hifi, if you put rubbish in you get rubbish out so you start with the very best source you can. The Connect is not the best source of music, it's very good but not the best. However if you do use one like me then adding a decent DAC will improve the sound source going into the amplifier which in turn shows itself through your speakers. I am not quoting prices because it's all relative. I have owned budget systems right up to one's costing £20K new although I purchased second hand at 40% of that cost. Thats another tip, buy good second user kit if you can. With the Connect chances are it will be new but everything else buy 2nd hand and that way you will get a great system. If you look at reviews for a product make sure at least 3 different magazines give it a great review because 1 great review only usually means that mag is bias and you will probably see adverts in that magazine for the great product. However, music is like art, if it makes your emotions change as it changes that is good enough for you to like it. We are too keen for the approval of others that our system sounds great. Only you should decide that. So people on here like Kumar telling you to spend on speakers first is rubbish, spend it on what you hear is the best for you regardless of cost, if you can afford it and it makes you happy...do it. Once again I am not talking about how much you should spend, thats your decision
Userlevel 3
Badge
Unless the only thing you are playing is FLACs on your Sonos, then the compressed file formats 99.9% of users are listening to are the biggest source of rubbish in the entire system. An external DAC vs the one in the CONNECT/CONNECT:AMP is going to be inaudible for pretty much everyone, even the self-proclaimed audiophiles...
people on here like Kumar telling you to spend on speakers first is rubbish
Sonos has made things a lot simpler for everyone with their play units, and underlined that via the recently released 5. Now one needs to just spend on the speakers, first and last - there isn't anything else required for home audio! Separate systems and boxes is technology of the last century.
sorry, the Play units do not out perform many speakers I have come across. I once heard a Sonos Connect directly connected to Meridian DSP6000 speakers which have 4x75 watt amps built in each speaker and Wow it kicked ass and they also have a DAC built into them. The sound was way better than anything from a Sonos Play unit and I'd say from anything else I've heard a Sonos Connect connected to

So the Meridian is DAC,Amps and speakers which you say are not needed
it kicked ass and they also have a DAC built into them.
I do hope that these units have digital inputs that can accept an external USD 50k DAC that will then get them to kick bigger ass:-).
A modern DAC like a Chord Hugo makes a huge difference. If you run a Sonos connect optical out into a Chord Hugo, 2 qute, or even a mojo, and RCA from the DAC into quality amplification, which is powering great speakers, the musical experience is dramatically different and better than RCA directly out from the sonos into the same downstream chain. Amplifiers, like speakers, have different sonic signatures. My Octave v80se compared to a Naim Supernait 2 is smooth sparkly punchy and warm, but lacks the soundstage differentiation (depth, width, and height) and urgency of the supernait 2 presentation. When you power something like a Dynaudio Contour or Focal Electra BE with aforementioned chain things are pretty stunning. Stock sonos class d amplification is woefully average by comparison.

Cables are rubbish.
A modern DAC like a Chord Hugo makes a huge difference. If you run a Sonos connect optical out into a Chord Hugo, 2 qute, or even a mojo, and RCA from the DAC into quality amplification, which is powering great speakers, the musical experience is dramatically different and better than RCA directly out from the sonos into the same downstream chain.

Meh.

Amplifiers, like speakers, have different sonic signatures.


Not if they're accurate, the don't. Only the ridiculous overpriced "audiophile" amplifiers sold to know-nothings, which color the sound, emphasizing certain frequencies, or adding lots of distortion on purpose, will sound significantly different.
Amplifiers have different sonic signatures.
@chicks: anyone that has the above as a credo is impossible to argue with, I have found. It is like arguing against a creationist.
PS: Should I link the Connect Bit Perfect thread here?;)
Amplifiers have different sonic signatures.
@chicks: anyone that has the above as a credo is impossible to argue with, I have found. It is like arguing against a creationist.
PS: Should I link the Connect Bit Perfect thread here?;)


I didn't mean to start a pissing contest with a couple of trolls. But if you both are telling me that all amplifiers and DACs are perfectly linear and there is zero variability (audible) then I'm with you hundred percent. But how do you know what is truly linear? My old technics, while good, wasn't as nice as the nakamichi stasis that replaced it. The Denon and Yamaha units I compared the Nak when I bought it were also different (worse). Nor is the stock radio in my current Honda nearly as good as the Alpine I had in my youth. I don't disagree that most stuff is pretty good these days and capable of accurate sound with power. But are you really saying it's all the same? On a side note, have you heard the output from a chord dac? Do you really not hear a difference between it and the stock Sonos?
After many years of exposure to high end - read expensive - audio kit, I now find that audible differences are caused by just these variables that are therefore worthy of attention:
1. Mastering/recording quality
2. Speaker quality/sonic signature, in turn driven by levels of technology that active crossovers in active speakers bring to the table
3. Speaker placement
4. Room acoustics
5. Room response DSP including herein the basic EQ settings
6. Sound levels, as in that all it takes for something to sound better than another is as little as a 0.2dB higher sound level

All else, even in those instances where small audible differences may survive, is lost in the ambient noise level of a typical domestic listening environment, even a quiet one. Not counting here an amp that is so poorly designed or chosen such that it is being driven to clip almost all the time by the speaker load, that then confers a sonic signature that was missing in the source signal.

Of course, I accept that the listening experience is also driven by many biases like confirmation/expectation ones as well as visible inputs, and there is nothing to argue with the listening pleasure derived by things like backlit dancing Vu meters, or glowing valves as long as they are accepted to be subjective and therefore by definition variable from person to person.
After many years of exposure to high end - read expensive - audio kit, I now find that audible differences are caused by just these variables that are therefore worthy of attention:
1. Mastering/recording quality
2. Speaker quality/sonic signature, in turn driven by levels of technology that active crossovers in active speakers bring to the table
3. Speaker placement
4. Room acoustics
5. Room response DSP including herein the basic EQ settings
6. Sound levels, as in that all it takes for something to sound better than another is as little as a 0.2dB higher sound level

All else, even in those instances where small audible differences may survive, is lost in the ambient noise level of a typical domestic listening environment, even a quiet one. Not counting here an amp that is so poorly designed or chosen such that it is being driven to clip almost all the time by the speaker load, that then confers a sonic signature that was missing in the source signal.

Of course, I accept that the listening experience is also driven by many biases like confirmation/expectation ones as well as visible inputs, and there is nothing to argue with the listening pleasure derived by things like backlit dancing Vu meters, or glowing valves as long as they are accepted to be subjective and therefore by definition variable from person to person.


So with all things 1-5 being constant, audible differences between two different receivers is purely related to volume or preconceived perception? What is it about speaker crossover circuitry that is unique / special / different to affect the sound in your point 2, but the signal path from Dac, to receiver preamp, to amp section is exempt from audible variations and thus all kit is the same? There is significantly more complex circuitry and power regulation going on within that system no? But hey it's all the same because any differences when all things held constant are due to volume or in your head because you paid more for the kit? Why is it that my Grado headphones sound literally one hundred times better through my chord Hugo than through my iPhone with built in DAC? Volume? Or I want to hear a difference because I paid $2gs for it and it's my brain rationalizing.

I agree all kit in theory can be engineered to sound the same but your devotion to ignore the entire chain from recording studio to speaker as universally the same or without audible differences is strange to me given your own argument of crossover influence and my own extensive 35 years of owning various low end and higher end kit. Theoretically it should be the same but it isn't. But hey- a Pinot is a Pinot. That's what my brother would say.

Final note. I just listened to Alt-J "intro" AB comparison Sonos DAC vs Chord DAC. Complex signal. Both amazing. Significantly more detail and spacious presentation with the chord- but it must be variation in DB or in my head.

it must be variation in DB or in my head.

Spot on! As long as the Chord DAC has been set to a flat position such that no sound shaping filters or EQ of any kind has been engaged on it, or on Sonos Connect either. If you disagree, prove it to be otherwise in a single variable level matched double blind test of a rigour that is commonly accepted in all realms and fields of scientific testing except in the field of amateur home audio. The kind of which is a term of service - TOS8 - on the Hydrogen Audio forum, unless you believe that too is a place set up, and administered by trolls.

Oh and by the way, oenophiles, like audiophiles, also hate double blind tests.

Last words with you; as I said, arguing with creationists is pointless.
On the wine subject, something with more than just a little truth in it and some learnings for the rare audiophile that wants to learn:
"our expectations of the wine are often more important than what’s actually in the glass. When we take a sip of wine, we don’t taste the wine first, and the cheapness or expensiveness second. We taste everything all at once, in a single gulp of thiswineisMoutonRothschild, or thiswineisfromSouthJersey. As a result, if we think a wine is cheap, then it will taste cheap. And if we think we are tasting a premier cru, then we will taste a premier cru. Our senses are vague in their instructions, and we parse their inputs based upon whatever other knowledge we can summon to the surface. It’s not that those new French oak barrels or carefully pruned vines don’t matter—it’s that the logo on the bottle and price tag often matter more.

So go ahead and buy some wine from New Jersey. But if you really want to maximize the pleasure of your guests, put a fancy French label on it. Those grapes will taste even better."
Italics added for emphasis

There is an even more hilarious example of experts that set out their tasting notes of a red wine in great detail ascribing the typical red wine attributes to it, never realising that it was a red coloured white.

I like my wines, but I have never much cared for those that insist I must have it only in Riedel crystal glasses to fully savour it. Nothing wrong with the glasses, especially if one can afford them, but by no means are they an essential part of the experience.

But I shall now see how to relabel my Sonos kit;)

it must be variation in DB or in my head.

Spot on! As long as the Chord DAC has been set to a flat position such that no sound shaping filters or EQ of any kind has been engaged on it, or on Sonos Connect either. If you disagree, prove it to be otherwise in a single variable level matched double blind test of a rigour that is commonly accepted in all realms and fields of scientific testing except in the field of amateur home audio. The kind of which is a term of service - TOS8 - on the Hydrogen Audio forum, unless you believe that too is a place set up, and administered by trolls.

Oh and by the way, oenophiles, like audiophiles, also hate double blind tests.

Last words with you; as I said, arguing with creationists is pointless.


Believe it or not we are saying the same thing. But manufacturers don't all produce things that are perfectly flat right, either by choice or capability? What is the evidence here? I get the whole signal with gain thing- flat is flat no way to tell a difference. Two more questions for you. In double blind tests are people able to consistently pick out the flat presentation (forget being able to tell flat from flat), and if so, do they generally prefer it?
Two more questions for you. In double blind tests are people able to consistently pick out the flat presentation (forget being able to tell flat from flat), and if so, do they generally prefer it?
It seems to me that you are mixing up two things here - there is no doubt that HiFi to the input signal - as in being straight wire with gain for an amp, or just a straight wire for a DAC, are widely desired attributes besides being HiFi by definition, so I don't know if you have a question about whether HiFi is a general preference.
If someone wants an amp with the kind of flavoured HiFi of the kind that a mildly clipping valve amp will provide, there are some that prefer that sound that, strictly speaking, is distorted sound. Akin to the vinyl distortion preference.
What is not usually preferred is a speaker with a flat frequency response when measured in the near field because by the time the room has done its thing to the sound from the speaker, what reaches the ear is sound with attenuated bass, something that is usually NOT preferred, as sounding too dry or thin.
So, what trait are you referring to when you talk flat and a preference for it in the quote above?
Some folks prefer the rendering that classic 1960s lenses from Zeiss, Schneider, etc can provide to certain types of shots, even though, by modern standards, those lenses are quite distorted. They can make a person look great through softer focusing, for example, where a much more accurate lens will show every flaw.

Sonos does what modern cameras do. They correct the nonlinearities of the drivers (lenses) using DSP, so that they are as flat and undistorted as possible. Some audiophiles seem to prefer the distortions, or at least they've been conditioned to think they do.

Sonos takes things even further, correcting for room anomalies, which are far worse than that of any amplifier's, except perhaps the worst of those silly little SET amps. Sonos' approach is far more sensible, sticking to the things that truly make a difference to the reproduction of sound. The "high end" audio companies, and their shills in audiophile publishing, do exactly the opposite, to a very large degree. Expensive cables, tube/valve amplification, ridiculously overpriced speakers and DACs, all provide bragging rights to the ignorant, but don't advance the state of the art.
Quite right. Though if one wants to obtain these outcomes from Sonos approaches to sound quality improvement, one has to move on beyond quaint things like external DACs, to their integrated play units.
Two more questions for you. In double blind tests are people able to consistently pick out the flat presentation (forget being able to tell flat from flat), and if so, do they generally prefer it?
It seems to me that you are mixing up two things here - there is no doubt that HiFi to the input signal - as in being straight wire with gain for an amp, or just a straight wire for a DAC, are widely desired attributes besides being HiFi by definition, so I don't know if you have a question about whether HiFi is a general preference.
If someone wants an amp with the kind of flavoured HiFi of the kind that a mildly clipping valve amp will provide, there are some that prefer that sound that, strictly speaking, is distorted sound. Akin to the vinyl distortion preference.
What is not usually preferred is a speaker with a flat frequency response when measured in the near field because by the time the room has done its thing to the sound from the speaker, what reaches the ear is sound with attenuated bass, something that is usually NOT preferred, as sounding too dry or thin.
So, what trait are you referring to when you talk flat and a preference for it in the quote above?


No biggie. I think we would all agree that SONOS is AMAZING.

I'm just challenging you on how do you know WHEN you are hearing a straight wire. To my ears, the internal DAC on my Sonos Connect TRUNCATES the output signal, albeit slightly. Perhaps it is perfectly flat and therefore a perfect representation of HIFI. But the Chord by comparison sounds more rich and alive. The beats hit you in the chest a bit more, linger a bit more in the air, while the detail within the other parts of the music, the detail that colors the edges of the notes in the other spectrums has more sparkle- like information is not lost. I know you say its because I paid dollars for it or that it is artificially colored with EQ. But my point is how do any of us know when you are hearing straight wire vs. enhancement? I do know it sounds different, more impactful and interesting, and for that, agree to disagree with you. Before you discount my perspective entirely to religious differences, I would encourage you to optical out to a Chord Hugo digital to analog converter and hear the difference for yourself and then we can have an honest dialogue.
To my ears, the internal DAC on my Sonos Connect TRUNCATES the output signal, albeit slightly. Perhaps it is perfectly flat and therefore a perfect representation of HIFI. But the Chord by comparison sounds more rich and alive.

I would encourage you to optical out to a Chord Hugo digital to analog converter and hear the difference for yourself and then we can have an honest dialogue.

LOL, the old refrain from every audiophile! You are saying - drink my brand of Kool-Aid, and then let's talk; I don't see the need to and here is why.
I have done my optical outing with two other high end external DACs, both of which claimed to deliver the kind of magic you describe - these are boiler plate audiophile descriptions of better sound, the ones you have used in the quote above and in the unquoted parts of your post. In both cases tested, the differences vanished in a level matched blind test.

No one has ever published a controlled single variable ABX of any DAC with the Connect DAC, where the difference in sound has been picked reliably by listening alone.

Given both the above, I haven't the need or the inclination to run after every claimed black swan. It is for you to prove it is black in the way the world of science in general accepts as a valid test, to prove that what you have found is black and yours may even well be the first black swan in the world of external DACs. But not just because your existing claim for it to be so, which so far is no different in quality from the usual audiophile claim for every magical DAC its owner happens to have bought or heard.

If you haven't the time or inclination to do what no one else has either, I am perfectly content to agree to disagree, as I would with a creationist who doesn't demand that I be one too. Which was my first statement on the subject, if you recall.

The other major point where we disagree is based on your admitting the possibility that the Connect is a perfect representation of HiFi, but you prefer the Chord sound. Logically, since perfection cannot be exceeded, it means the Chord isn't HiFi, but is doing something to the source signal, to change it, that the Connect isn't. If that truly be the case, my vote is still for Connect because I would prefer to have the source signal. If I wanted to play around with it, I would rather have this as an option at my end via things like EQ level controls or, more advanced, things like Trueplay with an on/off toggle. I would not want to be forever stuck with "sound like Chord thinks it should be" where I would need to get rid of Chord to get the sound as it was recorded. YMMV, and note that I am not saying you are wrong in preferring the Chord signal over the originally recorded one. But it does mean that the Chord market is limited to people like you that like the permanent Chord flavour conferred on their sound.
By way of PS: as to which of the two is closer to straight wire becomes of interest only if audible differences survive ABX testing. If they do, it isn't a big deal to establish this little detail.
The internet is a marvellous place. Here is something interesting I found in about 5 minutes on how the Hugo DAC can be taken to the next level of audio nirvana:
"The HUGO still impresses after more than a year. But it can be bettered. Not by another DAC, but rather, the REGEN USB, a device that block the +/- 5 volts running up and down your USB cable and the noises with it that would otherwise enter your USB input. It replaces that dirty electricity and provides its own highly regulated and CLEAN voltage to the HUGO's input. Additionally, it reclocks the data stream to lower the jitter appreciably. Lastly, it provides a proper impedance by terminating itself right at the input of the HUGO. The improvement is astonishing and together it's almost better than sex. OK, not sex, but better than sushi.
Anyone who owns a HUGO will thank me forever and at least a day after that."

People with the Hugo will immediately realise that it will sound even better with clean electricity if they don't know how much they are losing out by not serving it the squeaky clean voltage it deserves. And of course, the jitter needs to be lowered, for it to fully bloom and flower, conferring music with both attack and decay. Not to mention pace and timing.

On the other hand, people with Connect are also advised to send it immediately for modifications - to its power supply, for reclocking and more. The certain loss of warranty and the probable loss of reliability is a small price to pay - in addition to the modification charges of course, that may exceed the price of the Connect. But if that is what it takes to fully serve those few gifted with golden ears....
Haha. That's pretty funny. I draw the line at such foolery.

The bigger point I want to make to you is how convenient it must be to label me the creationist first. Haha. You are right, there is no convincing me, because the world I live in is analog, and has a volume knob.

Thus far, you admit:

1) It is not only possible, but probable, that a signal can be modified or colored to alter from the original, such that an audible difference exists (Sonos Room Correction, or even Chord equalization)
2) You admit that speakers, crossovers, and DB levels (aside from room acoustics) are key determinants in the perception of sound quality.
3) You site that short of clipping, all amplifiers tonally neutralized sound the same (no argument there).
4) You accuse me and others of erroneously hearing differences in equipment and systems.

The flaw in your religion is the constant reference to poorly designed experiments of yester year. “No AB proof in blind studies and nobody can tell a difference so you must be wrong.” I’m surprised that someone of your intellect hasn’t challenged the validity of the test or thought of a more valid test procedure. Perhaps a properly designed experiment would test the system at different points in the energy curve, would measure power and voltage at those points, and continue to measure those values in the system at the boundary conditions at the point things start to clip, all the while gathering end user feedback of the users perception of sound quality. I’m quite confident the world doesn’t behave quite so linearly as you expect, especially when you get into the boundary conditions of the amplification and speaker system. Given that DB levels are one of the key determinants in perceived sound quality, how can you ignore a test of such scope? The reason why there is no test of such scope is because the answer is intuitive and proved out every day. Think Grateful Dead Wall of Sound. Differences do exist in this highly analog world we live in with varying energy levels distributed throughout.

The reality, none of us live in such a tightly controlled and parameterized world you describe. I turn up the volume. You turn up the volume. Speakers are different, crossovers are different, they consume energy differently, and energy is served up differently. The EXPERIENCE is different. If you deny it at this point, then challenge yourself in terms of who is the creationist here. You were quick to label. What a convenient weapon it is. I’m sure you’ve used that argument before, if not regularly.

So when I go to my friends house and he’s throwing an outdoor party and his Def Tech speakers are powered by a Connect Amp, and its sounding like crap because its encroaching into the performance limits because the party is cooking, but not as much as it could, don’t insult people by telling them they are imagining the difference.

The bigger point I want to make to you is how convenient it must be to label me the creationist first. Haha.

Lol. It isn't convenient, it is just so easy, on seeing the usual fancy footwork in your arguments.