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DACs: Old vs New

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#1
I am hoping that the experts on this forum can help me with this.
It is a commonly held belief that digital audio is much better today then it used to be. But what exactly does that mean?
I have a 1990s DAC - Aragon D2A MkII - that I still use today. I think it sounds great. I took it over to my local audio tech to have him repair a broken rca inut and he put it on the bench and after fixing it he measured it. I was silly not to have asked him for the measurements but he told me that the technical measurements were exemplary - on par with any current DAC/CD player he had measured.
So help me out here - is it possible that this old DAC can still sound as good as what is available today?
In other words - if my 1990 DAC measured the same as a 2018 DAC would they basically sound the same?
 

amirm

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#2
The DAC in my main system is nearly 20 years old. In past measurements it easily beat (mass market) audio products some 15 years newer than it. I plan to formally measure and publish it here. But for now, if a DAC is well designed, it can indeed compete with modern designs.
 
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#3
Thanks Amir. It would be so interesting to see how your DAC measures up vs some of your current "champions".
Which DAC are you currently using?
 

garbulky

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#4
I am hoping that the experts on this forum can help me with this.
It is a commonly held belief that digital audio is much better today then it used to be. But what exactly does that mean?
I have a 1990s DAC - Aragon D2A MkII - that I still use today. I think it sounds great. I took it over to my local audio tech to have him repair a broken rca inut and he put it on the bench and after fixing it he measured it. I was silly not to have asked him for the measurements but he told me that the technical measurements were exemplary - on par with any current DAC/CD player he had measured.
So help me out here - is it possible that this old DAC can still sound as good as what is available today?
In other words - if my 1990 DAC measured the same as a 2018 DAC would they basically sound the same?
Since you mentioned "I think it sounds great" I don't think it's out of order for me to mention my subjective non level matched impressions too. Just keep in mind that is what my impressions are - subjective and prone to bias, just like yours. And when I say "I Think", it doesn't mean that "it is".

The D2A MkII uses a PCM 58 true multibit R2R DAC chip which from some brief googling is a pretty great sounding dac.
I have a Denon DCD 660 CD player from the 80's and a more modern Emotiva DC-1 DAC from just a few years ago.

Though the Denon sounds a bit different, I honestly find myself really liking the sound and think it sounds fantastic. The Denon also uses a Burr Brown PCM 61P multibit R2R DAC versus most dac chips out now which are delta sigma. DS dacs tend to measure better in linearity at very low volume levels than multibit R2R dacs and the chips are a lot cheaper to make. Multibit dacs have some cons like glitching which I don't know much about and resistors matching precisely.

But I plugged in the 80's Denon and man I was really stunned. I remember what audio sounded like back then (and it wasn't good). But man this Denon really sounded great. I had an easier time telling where instruments were in the soundstage and following individual melody lines. Dynamics felt like they appeared "more quickly" than with my DC-1. So since the PCM 58 looks similar in your Aragorn, I would say if you are liking what you hear, then just stick with it. :)
 
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garbulky

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#5
The DAC in my main system is nearly 20 years old. In past measurements it easily beat (mass market) audio products some 15 years newer than it. I plan to formally measure and publish it here. But for now, if a DAC is well designed, it can indeed compete with modern designs.
Out of curiosity, what equipment and speakers do you normally use for listening?
 

amirm

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#6
Thanks Amir. It would be so interesting to see how your DAC measures up vs some of your current "champions".
Which DAC are you currently using?
It is a Mark Levinson No 360S.
 

amirm

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#7
Out of curiosity, what equipment and speakers do you normally use for listening?
They are listed in my profile. I plan to do a write-up on it "one of these days." :)
 
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#8
Since you mentioned "I think it sounds great" I don't think it's out of order for me to mention my subjective non level matched impressions too. Just keep in mind that is what my impressions are - subjective and prone to bias, just like yours. And when I say "I Think", it doesn't mean that "it is".

The D2A MkII uses a PCM 58 true multibit R2R DAC chip which from some brief googling is a pretty great sounding dac.
I have a Denon DCD 660 CD player from the 80's and a more modern Emotiva DC-1 DAC from just a few years ago.

Though the Denon sounds a bit different, I honestly find myself really liking the sound and think it sounds fantastic. The Denon also uses a Burr Brown PCM 61P multibit R2R DAC versus most dac chips out now which are delta sigma. DS dacs tend to measure better in linearity at very low volume levels than multibit R2R dacs and the chips are a lot cheaper to make. Multibit dacs have some cons like glitching which I don't know much about and resistors matching precisely.

But I plugged in the 80's Denon and man I was really stunned. I remember what audio sounded like back then and man this Denon really sounded great. I had an easier time telling where instruments were in the soundstage and following individual melody lines. Dynamics felt like they appeared "more quickly" than with my DC-1. So since the PCM 58 looks similar in your Aragorn, I would say if you are liking what you hear, then just stick with it. :)
Well written Garbulky! You are right - totally subjective! I am having a case of audiophoolitis - I keep thinking as to how an almost 30 year old DAC can sound this good (subjectively!). But since I have been told that the measurments of the unit are stellar, am I to conclude that a present day DAC with equally stellar specs will basically sound the same?
 

RayDunzl

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#9

fredoamigo

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#10
intrinsically is a dac of the 90's whether it is "ds" or r2r" has different set aside usb inputs or supported formats? very few dac today exceed 20 bit real? ..

what are dac's greatest innovations in the last 20 years? what innovations can make a difference with a good dac of the 90's?

clocks, chips, are more powerful...but what is the end result?
 
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#11
intrinsically is a dac of the 90's whether it is "ds" or r2r" has different set aside usb inputs or supported formats? very few dac today exceed 20 bit real? ..

what are dac's greatest innovations in the last 20 years? what innovations can make a difference with a good dac of the 90's?

clocks, chips, are more powerful...but what is the end result?
1. Power consumption and form factor. The ESS 9218p can run on less than 80mW and output 2.0V on a single chip.
2. 32 Bit architecture. A modern chip can play multiple format types.
3. Digital volume control. There's more headroom to do digital volume control

But for Redbook playing out of a regular component? I doubt you could hear much if any difference.
 

sergeauckland

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#12
1. Power consumption and form factor. The ESS 9218p can run on less than 80mW and output 2.0V on a single chip.
2. 32 Bit architecture. A modern chip can play multiple format types.
3. Digital volume control. There's more headroom to do digital volume control

But for Redbook playing out of a regular component? I doubt you could hear much if any difference.
I've done several listening tests using old CD players, the DACs built-in to tablets, network players like the SBT and a few standalone DACs and USB recording interfaces . When level matched and blind, I can't find any difference between any of them using Red-Book files ripped from CDs or CDs played directly. When looking at the measurements for all of them*, they are well below what would be considered conventionally transparent, so my conclusion is that even CD players from 1983/4 were 'good enough'. As a consequence, I don't bother with external DACs and use whatever comes integrated with the player.

* I saw a DAC advertised on eBay for £3.45 including postage from China, so couldn't resist buying one. I'm pleased to say it's utterly awful, distortion of well over 1.5% even at -6dBFS, with a very high noise floor, not dependent on the external power supply. I must get round to listening to it some day, probably sounds great!

S.
 

Frank Dernie

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#13
I have loads of DACs. When I last did a careful comparison, level matched, between a range of (conventionally engineered) DACs about 8 years ago I was unable to distinguish between them. Having written that I haven't done a careful compare since, so if there has been a big gain since then I won't have tested it, but I am unaware of anything new of consequence since then.
What does differ is the features, facilities quality of manufacture and styling.
My oldest DAC (Sony DAS-702ES) is only capable of dealing with 44/16, 32/16 and 48/16 iirc and only has 2 SPDIF inputs on phono sockets.
More recent units have inputs on Ethernet, SPDIF wired and optical, AES/EBU, USB and can decode a plethora of different file types.
As an amateur recordist I have not found digital audio to be much improved over the years. Easier to use?, yes, cheaper?, yes much, better sound quality?, negligible, if any on properly engineered kit.
 

fredoamigo

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#14
1. Power consumption and form factor. The ESS 9218p can run on less than 80mW and output 2.0V on a single chip.
2. 32 Bit architecture. A modern chip can play multiple format types.
3. Digital volume control. There's more headroom to do digital volume control

But for Redbook playing out of a regular component? I doubt you could hear much if any difference.
yes and that's what interests me because I don't use digital volume I always listen in NOS (never heard differences with oversampling). I use a usb interface to attack the dac in AES and I have hundreds of HDCD format that I would like to use with a compatible dac .
so no reason to have a 21st century dac

 
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DonH56

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#15
My answer would be "it depends".

Back in the 1980's when the CD started to become popular I listened to a number of players using various DACs through headphones (easier to compare). At that time I did not have any real trouble distinguishing among most of them, remembering "most" is relative when there were so few on the market. Some were great and would probably compete sonically (if not in measurements) and others, meh. The change to delta-sigma designs was interesting and of course after the very early models (some of which were very good!) folk figured out what was lacking and fixed it (for the most part). These days I'd be hard-pressed to tell any difference unless something was really bad in the design and/or execution. Advances in technology, ears of clay, whatever.

FWIWFM - Don
 

fredoamigo

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#16
yes I think it would be appropriate to make a difference of dac from the end of the 90's and the beginning of the 2000's .. because if I remember well the dac of the 80's because those of the cd player had a horrible sound (I had a cec cd player ......a horror !)

we have to ask ourselves what could do better than a spectral sdr 2000 today ?This dac's engineering is amazing !! http://www.spectralaudio.com/review2w.htm


but the capacitors of that time age badly it seems?
 
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garbulky

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#17
Well written Garbulky! You are right - totally subjective! I am having a case of audiophoolitis - I keep thinking as to how an almost 30 year old DAC can sound this good (subjectively!). But since I have been told that the measurments of the unit are stellar, am I to conclude that a present day DAC with equally stellar specs will basically sound the same?
When I heard my Denon DCD 660, I about fell out of my chair. I had auditioned many modern dacs and wasn't really taken with most of them mostly due to treble timbre issues and lack of resolution that I I heard or at least thought I heard.
Then I heard this one and I was like ....get outta here, late 80's dac?! This should have been trash. I was actually not even going to entertain the idea of listening to it. But I was thinking are you kidding me? It's one of the best I've heard!
 

DonH56

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#18
but the capacitors of that time age badly it seems?
Capacitors, especially electrolytics, lose capacitance with age. That is usually only an issue with decoupling (power supply) capacitors, rarely with caps in the signal path (which tend to not be electrolytics anyway and most other types are if not practically immune much less sensitive).
 

fredoamigo

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Capacitors, especially electrolytics, lose capacitance with age. That is usually only an issue with decoupling (power supply) capacitors, rarely with caps in the signal path (which tend to not be electrolytics anyway and most other types are if not practically immune much less sensitive).
so the risks are very limited if the dac is not too exotic?
 
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