Removing over

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“I am feeling somewhat overwhelmed,” writes one of our commenters to yesterday’s post and it’s easy to see why. The dizzying array of design choices to reproduce music in our homes can be exactly that. And I was going to move on to another type of accessory but instead let’s try to remove some of the over from the whelm.

A DAC/PRE is an analog-centric product. A better anachronism might be PRE/DAC, though that sounds prehistoric. The focus of a product is important both to its design and the user’s understanding. If you take an analog approach and add a digital component, you wind up with a very different product and sound than the opposite: a digital approach with an analog component.

For example, take a 100% analog preamp and add a modular DAC in the far corner of its chassis – its output another position on the preamp input selector. Change nothing else. You now have what we are referring to as a PRE/DAC (or DAC/PRE). If you never engage the DAC input of the analog preamp then you would never know it is anything BUT an analog preamp. Little would have changed.

But now let’s turn the tables around and rearrange our example. Take a digital DAC with built in digital volume control and add one set of inputs labeled ‘analog’. The analog signal must first pass through an ADC (analog to digital converter) before it is accepted by the DAC. If you never place an analog signal into this input, you would never know it is anything BUT a DAC. Little would have changed.

The two scenarios are not semantic differences. The devices sound unlike each other and the distinctions are fundamental to the design.

I am not bashing either approach, merely pointing out contrasts exist.

I hope we’ve made some progress reducing the over from the whelm.