What I’ve Learned From the DAC Comparisons

After so many DAC reviews, if there is one thing I learn, is that the actual DAC chips tell very little to the particular sonic signature that a DAC unit have.

– The PICO, the Ibasso D10, and the Gamma2 DACs both use the same family WM8740 and 8741 DAC chips, yet they share nothing in common when it comes to sound signature, nor sound quality. The Gamma2 DAC, if I can say, is closer in signature to the DR. DAC2 DX which uses TI’s PCM1798 chip. And, the D10, I would not even place it in the same league as the PICO though they use the same DAC chip.

– The Styleaudio UD-1 (PCM2704), the Audinst HUD-MX1 (WM8740 chip), and the Dr. DAC2 DX (PCM1798) all use very different DAC chips, yet their sound signature can be considered to share the same “house sound”. And if you was to blind test them, you would be surprised to know that they all come from different manufacturers and use different DAC chips, because the sound are very similar in signature.

– The Dr. DAC2 DX (PCM1798) and the Dr. DAC Prime (PCM1796) comes from the same manufacturer (Audiotrak Germany and Audiotrak Korea), use almost the same DAC Chip, yet the sound is quite different in signature and technicalities.

I think those are enough examples, and the bottom line is, as a DIY expert told me, design, implementation, and parts choice often matters more than the actual DAC chip being used.

I’m going to complete writing about the Dr. DAC2 DX next week, and start writing on the superb Matrix Mini-I balanced DAC Next week.

Have a great weekend!

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  • thuantran

    IIRC, ESI sold their consumer name Audiotrak to Gyrocom in Korea and has nothing to do with them anymore.

    Also do you think that audio products from the same manufacturer typically have the same sound signature? That's what I found with Styleaudio Carat-Peridot and Carat-Ruby MkII.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hi Thuantran,
      Thanks for the update. I really can't say if the same company will always maintain the same sound signature. The D10 Ibasso is quite different from the D4, the latter being quite warmer than the former. It's logical to maintain the same sound signature though.

  • wwenze

    Welcome to the revelation.

    I won't say that the DAC chip used does not affect the sound, but other things – op-amps, capacitors etc also affect the sound, so amidst the crowd of sound-determining factors one cannot use just DAC chip to decide the sound.

    At this point I would like to remind those reading that component specs and entire-product specs are usually different, with the entire-product specs being lower if so. Often manufacturers put component specs instead of entire-product specs so you see many products with the same rated e.g. SNR Dynamic range and THD+N, but the products often fall short of this when measured.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hi wwenze,
      Thanks for sharing that. I definitely agree with what you said. And yes, specs like the SNR, Dynamic Range, and THD+N is often the specification of the chip, and not the actual product's specification.

  • Earfonia

    Beside the DAC chip, maybe it will be useful to list down the analog output stage of those DACS, discrete or Op-Amps, especially the headphone output stage.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Okay Bram, I bet you can list the opamps on the output stage of those DACs without even looking at the manual. You should be writing the reviews…. (That's the third time I said that!) :)

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