Would I benefit from a dedicated DAC?

  • 30 December 2011
  • 74 replies
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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?

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74 replies

A simple blinded test will re-ground you....

It´s just as I stated already:

It´s all about speakers and room accustics, the rest of the chain is not so important as them.

nevertheless - I am happy that we agree, that selling junk like "special cables" and other esoteric things is very much indeed nothing else than criminal.

cheers

D.


Like I said, it's an agree to disagree thing...but what it boils down to is to what degree we are talking about, we could hook up a 20 dollar amp to a 2000 dollar pair of speaker and it could sound as bad as a 2000 amp on a 20 dollar pair of speakers.

As long as we like what we hear its all good. 😃
Userlevel 2
As I have experienced it for the last ten years, progress in the upstream is now happening in the realm of convenience as in the case of the Sonos offering, and not in that of source/amp quality to an extent where it can be heard. I refer to straight audio here of course, the Home theater stuff is a different ball game.

What do you mean by "the Home theater stuff is a different ball game"? You think there're not playing in the same category ? That audio amps are superior to HC amps?

Because if the DAC inside the Sonos is quite enough for Hi-fi, so why not pushing this reasoning a little bit further and taking a network amp (A/V Receiver), which does reading + amp for you in one step ? 😉
What do you mean by "the Home theater stuff is a different ball game"? You think there're not playing in the same category ? That audio amps are superior to HC amps?

No, they are not superior/inferior, just different. HT amps have more channels, and digital processing software to cater to the needs of the application that has different demands from straight 2 channel audio. In the latter domain, there hasn't been much technical progress in the last three decades perhaps.
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All right. Thanks.
Actually, I am in the process to buy a stereo system with network reading. Most of the professional I've visited told me I was looking for a sonos + external DAC + amp + speaker. I answered that perhaps I could just take one HT amp with network capability (DLNA) + speaker.
I really like the sonos system, but it's quite expensive, especially if you add a DAC behind !
I mean, for the price of the sonos + DAC + amp, can't we get a HT amp that sounds almost the same ? And we get the extra possibility to upgrade the system later with more speakers to take full advantage of some SACD (5.1, like Pink Floyd, Dire Straits or classical music).

I hope I am not completely off topic...

Actually, I am in the process to buy a stereo system with network reading. Most of the professional I've visited told me I was looking for a sonos + external DAC + amp + speaker.


Sonos makes sense only if you are looking for multi room, multi user audio, from a common music server, where anyone at home can play the music they prefer, in the room they happen to want music in. One - or more - of the zones(rooms) can be a high end 2 channel audio system, and using just a Sonos Connect to feed a 2 channel amp+good speaker pair will give you stereo sound as good as what the speaker pair is capable of producing from any source. You also have the option of playing the same music in all rooms, in perfect sync.

5.1 channel music doesn't get better than what high end 2 channel stereo can deliver, considering the influence of speakers on the delivered sound, and a speaker pair can be expensive enough:)

If your interest is to have networked audio in just one room - 2 channels or more -there are better/cheaper solutions than Sonos.

Note also that while Sonos is probably the best solution out there for its application, it does need periodic attention/software maintenance as an inevitable price to pay for its multi room, multi user wireless architecture. If you want music in just one room, other solutions will be more stable, particularly if you can live with a wired network connection to a network ready amp, eliminating the need for wifi.
Userlevel 2

If your interest is to have networked audio in just one room - 2 channels or more -there are better/cheaper solutions than Sonos.

This is exactly what I'm looking for. Playing music from a NAS.


If you want music in just one room, other solutions will be more stable, particularly if you can live with a wired network connection to a network ready amp, eliminating the need for wifi.

Yes, I want music in one room only, and I can live with a wired network !
But, as far as I know, there is no network ready amp for stereo music. The only amps with network discovering are HT amps. But yes, a good stereo amp with network capability is definitely what I am looking for ! 😃
a good stereo amp with network capability is definitely what I am looking for ! :D
You might want to check out the denon rcdn7. I think there are others as well now in the market, I think Marantz has some products that should meet your needs.
There are countless cheaper ways of playing digital music on a stereo system. Sonos is for those who want to develop it into a multi-room system.
Userlevel 2
There are countless cheaper ways of playing digital music on a stereo system. Sonos is for those who want to develop it into a multi-room system.

I thought The Sonos Connect alone was a not too expensive way to read music from the network...
But yeah, it seems I have to investigate more...
While you're investigating, don't forget to take a good look at the user interface. Someone who likes to tinker won't mind a less-than-optimal interface, but many have no patience for that.

Sonos is the only audio system my wife has ever consistently used. Everything else was clunky enough that eventually it wasn't worth her bother; but that's not the case with the Sonos system. She uses the Sonos all over the house, every day, and has for years now. That's about the highest praise I can give a UI.
Userlevel 2
While you're investigating, don't forget to take a good look at the user interface. Someone who likes to tinker won't mind a less-than-optimal interface, but many have no patience for that.

Sonos is the only audio system my wife has ever consistently used. Everything else was clunky enough that eventually it wasn't worth her bother; but that's not the case with the Sonos system. She uses the Sonos all over the house, every day, and has for years now. That's about the highest praise I can give a UI.

I had the patience for that. But not anymore.
And actually, the sonos ZP90 / Connect is as expensive as the denon rcdn7 right ?
So in my case, I will probably go for the sonos Connect, except if I find a good network DLNA amp that sounds like a stereo amp.

And actually, the sonos ZP90 / Connect is as expensive as the denon rcdn7 right ?


Yeah, that's part of the reason I really started to look at the sonos.... more functionality with the multi-room, and similar-ish price point to fill the original space.

And actually, the sonos ZP90 / Connect is as expensive as the denon rcdn7 right ?

Remember that you will need a stereo amp that will have to be added to the zp90 price. The zp90 usually makes sense if you already have the amp as part of a 2 channel set up.

An alternative is to look at the Connect amp. With easy to drive speakers, it is a good way to get digital/networked/internet music into a room. Later, you can decide to give in to the inevitable temptation of expanding to other rooms:)
Userlevel 2

An alternative is to look at the Connect amp. With easy to drive speakers, it is a good way to get digital/networked/internet music into a room. Later, you can decide to give in to the inevitable temptation of expanding to other rooms:)

Hmmm, I'm not sure the Connect Amp can equal a good stereo amp. Of course I'm not sure.
In that case I would probably prefer a solution like the Denon AVR-3312, which is a little bit more expensive, but can be upgraded to a 5.1 Home Cinema later. And the DLNA technology allows to use the TV directly for browsing and choosing music, whereas the sonos needs the remote or an Ipod / Ipad, which I don't have. Actually, I have an android phone, but my wife has nothing (a good old "normal" phone), so what is she going to do when I am not home ? 😃
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"My question is: with the components that I already have, would a DAC like the Peachtree-Audio-Dac--Digital-Converter make a difference?"

YES, IMHO.
Userlevel 2
I went through the same questioning of the need for an external DAC with the Sonos Connect (purchased in August 2012), and did buy an Emotiva XDA-1 DAC before my Sonos arrived.

My Opinion, Bottom Line: Unless each component of your system cost as much or more than my entire system, don't spend any money on a DAC, you won't improve on what the Sonos DAC does on its own.

I spent about 90 minutes listening critically, not extensive, but enough to say with confidence that my system does not benefit. I can hear absolutely no difference in sound between using the Sonos analog outputs to my preamp compared to using the Sonos digital out to the XDA-1 with the XDA-1 analog output to my preamp, regardless of music, from classical to jazz to rock.

I think that the XDA-1 is a great value as a DAC, but that the Sonos DAC is equal for my system and hearing ability.

So far have only tested this myself, no other listeners.

My System:
Rotel RC-1070 preamp (2005)
Rotel RB-1070 amp (2005)
Large Advent speakers (1973 vintage, refoamed surrounds)
Emotiva XDA-1 DAC/preamp (2012)
Denon DCM-360 CD changer (1997)
AKG-400 headphones (1997)
Sonos Connect (2012)
Western Digital MyBook Live network HD
Apple Airport Extreme router
All music files in Apple Lossless format

I did testing both with the headphones connected to the Rotel preamp headphone jack, and speakers. Sonos connect is connected to the XDA-1 by digital coax RCA (emotiva brand cable), and to the Rotel preamp with high quality Monster cable RCA coax. When switching between sources using the headphones, there is no interruption or gap in the sound.

It is slightly harder to tell if there is a difference when using the speakers, as the is a short interruption in the sound on switching, but I could could hear none.

Also tested the sound from the Sonos system in both configurations against the CD played in the Denon. The Denon may be the weakest part of my system (??) but again, I could hear little or no difference between the three sources, and even if there is a difference, it was so small and hard to pin down.
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PJ48inMN,

Thanks so much for putting the effort into doing a listening test and also for providing your set-up. This is all good information for helping the rest of us make good, educated decisions about our equipment purchases. Great stuff!!
Userlevel 2
Thanks Jonis. More music, less noise.
More music, less noise.
+1 to that.

People seem to like adding and tinkering with new toys, and then the music has to sound better to justify the activity. I was on that train once:).
Userlevel 2

People seem to like adding and tinkering with new toys, and then the music has to sound better to justify the activity. I was on that train once:).


A person needs to spend ever increasing amounts of money to gain ever decreasing improvements in sound quality. Where does it end? Bankruptcy? Divorce? (talk about expensive...)

It's not hard for someone to drop $50 grand on a sound system. I'd rather spend $3 grand on a really nice stereo that buys me 99% (or better) of the sonic performance of the $50 grand system, and invest the remaining $47,000 in an annuity that pays interest and allows me to attend well over 900 live performances at $50 each. An extreme example, for sure, but I think most people will get the point.
An extreme example, for sure, but I think most people will get the point.
At the end of the day it is each person's take on priorities isn't it, and I suspect it is also a time of life/age thing.

The point you make is very valid, and it applies to so many other things in life. I could make the same argument about cars, or many other so called bso - bright shiny objects. I always remember something I read in a Warren Buffett interview, the man refuses to buy fancy brand clothes. A shirt is a shirt he says, and refuses to pay more for the brand named ones. Maybe that is how he got to be so wealthy:).

In your face marketing that is the norm today also contributes and plays heavily to this syndrome, making suckers of us all.
Userlevel 1
Hi - one point that didn't get any airtime in this thread is that the DAC will add additional delay to your playback, meaning if you use the DAC on your hifi (via Connect), your sound will no longer be synced in all rooms. This is fatal in my case, as I always hear an echo. (For this reason, I've connected the analog out to my A/V receiver, not the digital one.)

(Just wanted to throw that in there...)
Hi - one point that didn't get any airtime in this thread is that the DAC will add additional delay to your playback, meaning if you use the DAC on your hifi (via Connect), your sound will no longer be synced in all rooms. This is fatal in my case, as I always hear an echo. (For this reason, I've connected the analog out to my A/V receiver, not the digital one.)

(Just wanted to throw that in there...)

Not necessarily true, about the delay. I have mine connected to the DAC in my SACD player because it has been in my system from before Sonos came home, and it has to justify its existence, and I see no delay/echo. But my amp is a 2 channel one, the delay you see must be on account of signal processing taking place in your AV receiver.
Old thread, but 3 years later I have to disagree with most posts, at least for my Sonos setup. I purchased a Peachtree DAC ITx for my Sonos ZP80 and the change is dramatic. It's like a curtain in front of my speakers has been removed, much more detail and insight, stage is becoming deeper with more air around instruments and vocals. Of course the rest of the equipment must be of a certain quality to display such a change, in my setup this was a very good investment. I don't know if this will be the case for a new Sonos Connect, but I'm very happy with it.

My setup for now is:

Synology DS 211j (audiofiles: FLAC)
Sonos ZP80
Peachtree DAC ITx
Marantz PM KI Pearl Lite
Dynaudio Audience 8

alternative listen: Meier Audio Corda Rock headphone amplifier with AKG K701 headphones.

The DAC took quite some running-in time to get to its best results.
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However, the original poster was thinking about going with an external DAC along with what sounds like fairly commercial amp and speakers. Most posters said it can make a difference but speakers and amplifier would be the first to replace. You have higher end speakers and amp so naturally then the DAC becomes the weakest link and therefore the higher end DAC makes a noticeable difference. Would you notice that difference with some department store Polk speakers and home receiver? Maybe a little but not as much as replacing the speakers and amp.