Does DAC size matter?

November 12, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

24 comments on “Does DAC size matter?”

      1. NO; measurements alone won’t tell you everything; but without them; How do you know If and How Your Brain is tricking you ?
        Did you go to the site for an explanation and Test results ?
        I am certainly no engineer and barely an audiophile; but I have gained more reading this site than all the ‘fine wine emotions’ I have suffered for decades.
        Isn’t most audiophiling mere as-if-stating ‘something sounds better’ without any Science measuring that Reality ? ( power cords be damned )
        I will tell you that after reading ASR’s testing and reviews; I Amazoned a $200cdn Topping E30. Things became clearer than my two decade old $150 Audioengine D1; which I bought after trying a couple other 3x and 4x the price ones because I couldn’t hear a difference.
        Now I know enough that I will only apply ‘fine wines’ to speaker selection; because these more than anything in the chain have too many ectoplasmic forces in play to rely on mere measurements.
        The Real problem with Stereo is that Frank Zappa is dead and with covid hangin’on it is a long time till Dweezil tours Canada again.

        1. gforce,
          Respectfully, I don’t place any real stock in ASR.
          Amir thinks that he’s doing something useful; but he’s not.
          After being an audio enthusiast for 43 years & in home audio retail for 22 years I have learned that measurements are only important during the development stage of designing & production, after that it’s all about how it sounds to the individual prospective buyer.
          People buy audio gear to listen to music; the operative word here being ‘listen’ & for that you only need your ears & not a plethora of measuring devices.
          I place no stock in this “your ears play tricks on your brain” crap, it’s a load of rubbish as far as I’m concerned; like CoViD is not real & Donald Trump cares about Americans…it’s all ‘fake news’ in my not so humble opinion.

          1. ‘Respectfully? and then you quote yourself and your decades of stereo ‘enthusiasm’… If If measurements matter to the designer; then what is he trying to do by changing different parts AND HOW WOULD HE ACTUALLY KNOW WHICH WAY IS UP ?
            If measurements don’t count ‘-except in designs’; then all we are left with are your ‘experienced’ ears -and what the ‘packaging’ looks like. If you are in the mood for some vinyl Led Zep through your Sansui and Philips then it will probably ‘sound good’… but where would it stand after a four speaker ABX ??
            Anything goes if it sounds ‘good’… but I expect the sound will be better with a bit more Science.
            Amir has shown his ABX test results; that he knows what and how to listen for: his results are statistically significant … like 10/10 or 19/20 etc.
            He measures and demonstrates what actually works versus what is snake oil sold on an appeal to authority.
            Here is a convincing page :

            Quote Your Sources.

            1. ps: If you guys want an appeal to authority how about this chat where Amir says he blew $100K on a Kleppel speaker analyzer and then in 2020; did 270 electronic reviews and 120 speaker reviews. Quote your sources.

        2. “How do you know If and How Your Brain is tricking you?”

          What does that mean and why does it matter? You ears/brain connection is what you’ve got, take it or leave it. Nothing else matters. No measurement or other ideologies, nothing that anyone else says, etc. Just your ears, your brain and their interaction.

          1. Fine; if it don’t matter then Anything goes. But then it depends on mood, attention span; the reverb and head-room of the recording; or amp and speakers; or the MP3 etc…
            Perhaps some Science can show us wtf.

            Look:This is Not about Amir. It is about the Measurements and Methods. How about if stores started ABX Blind testing for their customers. How would That change things ?

            1. Are you listening to measurements or music? You say anything goes. In a sense, exactly. Ears/brain, genes, mood, recording, room acoustics, etc., etc. That’s all you have to deal with from what’s coming in front of you. Instead of focusing on component measurements, figure out what pleases you to listen to and go with it. Nothing else matters. This is entertainment, that’s all. The idea that something else matters is ideology, a belief in whatever that has nothing, absolutely zero, to do with the enjoying the music.

              It comes down to what are you looking for. Have you articulated that for yourself?

              1. I hope I am listening to The sound.You can’t hear measurements; you can oly hear what they measure. If I was only listening to the music then any MP3 would do.
                Do you read audio mags or watch yootoob audio reviews: audio-reviews using the old saws or fashionable saws ? If all ears are different then how do you find a reviewer with similar ears to yours ? Can you trust these ears ? Are your rooms similar ? etc.
                Speaker Measurement results show coincidence with listener results: this is Fact. If measurements can describe What equipment sounds like; then perhaps you can narrow it down.
                Electronics tests show results that are able to be heard -or in the case of power conditioners -Not heard. etc etc.
                I don’t know art; but I know what I like. $$$$: please.

                1. gforce,
                  I disagree with your argument about measuring home audio equipment using man-made devices…let’s just leave it at that.
                  ‘highstream’ has made his & my point about audio.
                  You can believe what you want to believe, meanwhile I will do what I’ve always done & believe my ears.
                  All the best to you & try to trust your ears in future.

                2. gforce,
                  ps. If over forty years of first-hand knowledge in home audio experience means nothing to you, then I can only conclude that you are not a very intelligent human being, or maybe you need another 20 – 30 years of life on this planet; take your pick.

                  My source(s) is/are my years of experience, as is Paul McGowan’s, Herb Reichert’s, Steve Guttenberg’s, Sean Fowler’s, etc.
                  Amir has no idea about listening to home audio equipment (ie. using his ears) which is why he relies so much on measuring ‘stuff’, just so that he can feel relevant in the field of home audio…kinda sad really 🙁

                3. “If I was only listening to the music then any MP3 would do.”

                  That makes no sense. Why are you listening if not ONLY for the experience of the music?

                  “If all ears are different then how do you find a reviewer with similar ears to yours ? Can you trust these ears ? Are your rooms similar ?”

                  All ears are different. That’s fact. Only yours counts. As for reviewers, it’s like any other professional opinion: if in the process of trying things out yourself, you find someone(s) who seems to hear the more or less the same things you do and, even better, seems to like a similar sound that you do, at least as they describe it, then you have some reference points to work from, to experiment. And the converse for those that are different.

                  For example, perhaps because of my background playing classical piano growing up, tone is my *starting* point, specifically a modicum of warmth, along with reasonable tonal accuracy (it is reproduction after all). If a bit of warmth is not there, i.e., a “neutral” sound, then experience has taught me that I won’t be emotionally drawn into the music; I’ll find myself instead paying attention to “audiophile effects,” i.e., the hardware, so to speak. The latter makes me very unhappy (I’ve returned some items under audition because of that, much to developers’ chagrin). So when I come across a reviewer who seems to share my priorities, I pay attention. Jeff Day about power cords and tubes is one example. And my blind (unreturnable) purchases of ATC SCM 19A active speakers and then JL Audio e-110 subs flowed from reading Neil Gader’s reviews expressing a perspective that sounded up my alley. Fortunately, I wasn’t wrong in either case. I’ve since graduated to another ATC speaker, and belatedly following Day’s reviews of certain Sophia Electric tubes in my dac and preamp have helped turned me into a very happy camper. Not once through this several year process did I concern myself with measurements. I leave that to the developers, to the extent they find them of value (PS Audio’s Paul McGowan has a good discussions of where and when measurements are of value in a couple of his Ask Paul videos, posted on their website).

                  You seem to be turned around. Why are you getting audio gear? If the answer is to be drawn into the experience of music vs. the “sound” of hardware is your goal, then experimentation to get there, reading a lot, asking questions on forums, etc., is a good way to go. Good listening…

  1. Most “big” DAC I know are “full” with ambient air! And why should a tiny DAC powered by a noise free battery supply sound less good than a huge DAC with a noisy SMPS or a noisy LPS with an inherent amount of RFI produced by the rectifiers? However, Paul, I liked to see more of the coming PS Audio Statement DAC designed by Ted Smith.Ted’s most convincing multiple DSD rate design for the DS DAC will obviously be topped by new convincing technologies.

  2. How much have DACs improved over the years? Would I be missing something meaningful if I bought an older PS Audio (or other DAC)? Something 8 or 10 years old?

    1. What a lively discussion. 🙂
      Here’s my take on why some folks on the measurements side of the argument are reluctant or flat out refuse to accept the viewpoint that how something sounds trumps how something measures. This might be how a measurements guy at look at it:

      “My dac cost me 900 bucks. I bought it because it measures great. I don’t need to listen to a $6k dac or $20k dac because it doesn’t measure any better than my dac.”

      I’ve heard the same point of view from too many measurements guys. What I really think is they are afraid to really listen to one of those high priced pieces of gear because they would readily hear that it blows away their $900 piece of gear.

      It happened to me. A dac was one of the last items on my upgrade list. I was very happy with my great measuring $300 dac. But I had read really positive things about Oppo. It was available for $600 bucks at the time with the offer of free returns, so I gave it a try. I hated that is sounded better than my $300 dac, but I couldn’t deny it and I reluctantly forked over the extra bucks to get one. Of all components I thought a digital playback device had to be all about measurements. Wrong. This revelation ultimately took me down the rabbit hole seeking out better sounding dacs. I eventually arrived at the $6k DirectStream Dac.
      It exceeded my $600 Oppo by leaps and bounds – not even remotely close – measurements be dammed.

      So I gotta ask you, (punk) do you really want to know (Clint Eastwood finishes the question).

  3. If measurements are the end all and be all, then why do designers actually listen to the equipment they design and make changes to it before releasing it.

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