DAC's?

Discussion in 'Digital Audio' started by ramzijw, Jul 24, 2012.

  1. macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Jul 13, 2012
    #1
    Hey guys! I've just got my new headphones (audio technics m-50s in white) which I love and enjoying the burn in,but I keep reading about people using DACs to improve sound quality even more, as I don't mid spending some money to get the most out of my new headphones when I listen to music from my laptop/iPhone (Sony vioa soon to be a mbp13/15 still deciding) could someone explain abit more details what DACs really do and recommend a pair to compliment my headphones. Sorry of things like have been posted before and any insight will be greatly taken!
     
  2. macrumors 603

    nuckinfutz

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  3. macrumors 601

    zimv20

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    #3
    dac's simply convert digital audio (e.g. mp3) to analog. since you don't mind spending some money, i can recommend a combo dac/headphone amp that i use in my studio and for listening to itunes, the Benchmark DAC-1.
     
  4. macrumors 6502a

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    Hanover MD
    #4
    I really like the Audioengine D1, im running 2 of them in my home.
     
  5. ramzijw, Jul 25, 2012
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2012

    thread starter macrumors newbie

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    Jul 13, 2012
    #5
    Hey guys thanks for the replies! Ive had a look at the dac today and seems to get great reviews and a good price...$169 in australia! Can you tell me how well they work with a amp? As i have one back in uk and would like to hook one up to that.

    I looked at the benchmark and abit overpriced considering my headphones are only $160, when it's 10 the price of that! But I guess I did say I want to spend some cash :p
     
  6. ChrisA, Jul 25, 2012
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2012

    macrumors G4

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    #6
    I get good results from my Presonus gear. That make a "audiobox" which has the DAC and a good headphone amp built-in

    http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/AudioBoxUSB

    Be sure and watch the first video all the way to the end.

    BTW: "DAC" is Digital to Audio Converter and it is built into every audio interface even the one built-into your Mac. But some are better. The one in the Mac is good but the ones make for use in recording studios are better and with nice volume control knobs. The ones made fro use with consummer stereo equipment can be good also but are a little harder to use with computers. The above box uses USB to connect.
     
  7. Destroysall, Jul 25, 2012
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2012

    macrumors 65816

    Destroysall

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    #7
    DAC means Digital-to-Analog Converter, something important and is within most (if not all) audio players. Mike from Headfonia.com explains the term very well:
    With that being said, I would make sure most of your music is at least in AAC-256kbps codec if not in Lossless codec first. MP3 is a terrible and horrid codec (excluding MP3-320kbps).

    Now as far as combo setups go, I'd recommend the FiiO E17. You can use it with both your laptop and iPhone/iPod. However, bear in mind that it is not an iDevice approved DAC, meaning it will not be able to bypass the built-in DAC of the iPhone/iPod you would be using. The amp will work fine and sound deliciously great!:D

    I also recommend that you grab an LOD cable so you can connect your iDevice with the E17 properly.

    Anyway, hope that helps!
     
  8. macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2003
    #8
    1. None of what you suggested will bypass his iPhone/iPod's DAC. It'll bypass the headphone amplifier (by using the line out on the dock), but it won't bypass the DAC... The DAC of that device is only used when connected USB to a computer.

    2. MP3 is not a "terrible and horrid codec" - it's MARGINALLY worse than the much newer, more processor hungry (there was a time that mattered) AAC for most content. It's far from terrible and horrid, and MP3 with a good encoder and a sufficiently high bitrate is transparent for essentially everyone with most content, same with AAC. And actually, in OLD versions of iTunes, Apple's AAC implementation was so bad MP3 sounded better.
     
  9. macrumors 6502a

    ohbrilliance

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    #9
    Apologies if this is slightly off-topic. Would any of the above recommendations be particularly suited as a DAC to sit between an airport express and analogue amplifier?
     
  10. macrumors 65816

    Destroysall

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    #10
    Most iDevice approved DACs that will bypass the built-in DAC of the iPhone/iPod and that are portable are much more higher in price. If portability is not of concern, you can get the HRT iStreamer.

    My apologies for my comment. I didn't mean to say it is completely terrible, just that the usual bit and sampling rate of MP3 is often largely compressed. I do however remember when AAC was terrible. I forget the reason why though. Lol.
     
  11. macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2003
    #11
    Agreed, PreSonus is great. Been playing with a StudioLive 24.4.2 up at a campground that I am one of the house sound techs on call for, LOVE IT. Other than the lack of motorized faders. That gets old REALLY quick.

    ----------

    A DAC to use with the Airport Express would need to go S/PDIF to analog. Honestly, it's not really worth it - just go S/PDIF directly into a good receiver/amplifier or use the analog as is. The DAC in those things is pretty decent.
     
  12. macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2003
    #12
    Agreed, Apple actually uses really very decent low-noise low-distortion DAC's. I can tell you I run right off the headphone jack of my iPad ALL THE TIME at live events, concerts, DJing, etc. No complaints about the sound quality on my behalf. Sometimes through a DI box into an XLR for a long run, or a pair of DI boxes to keep it stereo.

    AAC was never terrible... Apple's implementation was. Apple screwed up AAC really badly when they first started using it with a really bad codec. And the sampling rate of most MP3's out there is just fine - 44.1KHz, which makes for 22.05KHz as the highest recordable frequency. 48KHz is often used in studio work, yes, but CD's are 44.1 and telling the difference is VERY difficult and only possible with some types of content. The bitrates even often aren't too bad... The codecs used are sometimes terrible, much of the MP3 content on pirated networks has been re-encoded multiple times, etc.

    Another issue is bad joint stereo and VBR implementations. Joint stereo is a method to record a higher bitrate center, and lower bitrate differences between channels. The idea being most of the main vocals, etc - and sometimes the whole track - is all centered (mono mix). During primarily mono portions, a 128kbps joint stereo MP3 would be ONE 128kbps channel instead of two identical 64kbps channels. That's a DARN GOOD thing. Joint stereo got a bad rap though? Why - because the encoders didn't live up to the promise of joint stereo. It often sucked, really bad. Rather than sounding BETTER, joint stereo encodings sounded worse and sometimes lost some of their stereo separation as well.

    Same with VBR. Good idea, turn down the bitrate during silence, turn it up during the most complex parts, keep the average lower. The problem with this was both BAD INTELLIGENCE - early codecs that would turn it down when it needed more bits, and also users setting too low of average.

    Good MP3 (VBR or CBR with a good codec, and high enough bitrate) will sound darn good. Good AAC can beat good MP3 at the same bitrate for most content, but honestly the encoder used matters as much as the format...
     
  13. macrumors 65816

    Destroysall

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    #13
    True, true. I never knew much about Joint Stereo, so I do thank you for clarifying that. :)

    Thing is, if the recording is good, sampling rate doesn't always matter (to some extent at least).
     
  14. macrumors 6502a

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    #14
    Sampling rate matters a heck of a lot, it just doesn't matter much between 44.1 KHz and 48 KHz, and the even higher rates don't matter at all. Nyquist-Shannon theorem states that for perfect reproduction, you need a sampling rate twice that of the highest frequency being sampled.

    The range of human hearing is approximately 20 Hz to 20 KHz at birth. Most audio equipment also is in this range of abilities, and as you get older human hearing drops even lower. Musical content stays well below 10 KHz. The higher frequencies, however, contain subtle harmonics that can make a huge difference especially to things like complex orchestra pieces - assuming you can hear them.

    48 KHz is THE standard digital audio sampling rate, but 44.1 caught on because of the CD. The sampling rate had to do with legacy video equipment being used in studios making a cheap way to master CD's. Seriously.

    One thing that does matter more is how many bit of information are recorded per sample. CD's are 16 bits per sample. 24 bit per sample recording (at any sampling rate) will give a more subtle, nuanced, cleaner recording - though for most content, on most equipment, to most ears, the difference is imperceptible.
     
  15. davidoloan, Jul 26, 2012
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2012

    macrumors 6502

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    #15
  16. macrumors 6502a

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    #16
    While I don't have any recommendations, a headphone amp will probably be a better bang for buck. Spending more on a DAC than on the actual headphones doesn't make much sense in my mind.

    The DAC is what convert the digital signal that's being read on your device to an electrical signal that will make your headphones play it back. A headphone amplifier is something that goes between your DAC and your headphones. The DAC it self usually has an amplifier section that should be able to drive headphones. But, having a dedicated device can do a better job in some cases. Some headphone might require more power and have different needs in terms of impedance and voltage in order to operate at their best, on top of possibly generating less noise than the built in amplifier.
     
  17. macrumors G4

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    Location:
    Redondo Beach, California
    #17
    First off I seriously doubt you can "burn in" those headphones, not in your lifetime. What happens is that your hearing adapts to the sound.

    The DAC built into the Macbook or an iPod is very good. Not much room for improvement. But the audio amplifier could be better.

    The prace to shop is the on-line store that sell to recording studios. That market mostly is not fooled by "snake oil" like is in so much of consumer audio.

    One thing if you want the best sound is "free". Turn ALL the digital volume controls to 100%. This will have the biggest effect on sound quality, most so then the choise of DAV or amplifier brand. If the sound is to pound use an ANALOG control to adjust it. The reason is simple. All digital controls multiply the samples by some number between zero and one. This reduces the dynamic range. Analog controls work differently, they typically use a resistive voltage divider that can't effect the dynamic range.

    So, what this says is that you need a headphone amp that has a PHYSICAL volume control knob on it. Look for this one feature as it is the one that matters
     
  18. macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Dec 16, 2011
    #18
    ^^^^^this!

    I am using one with my airport express and it does make a big difference, especially when listening to lossless audio.
     
  19. macrumors 6502a

    MAC-PRO-DEMON

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  20. macrumors G4

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    #20
    I have one I will sell you. In the box as new for 60% of the best on-line price you can find. No kidding I really do have one for sale.

    That said, the audio quality is not as good as what is built-into the Macbook or iPod. It would be a "down grade". It also lacks an analog volume control.

    What you really need is a good quality studio type headphone amp

    This one is good and it will drive four pair of headphones loud enough to damage your hearinghttp://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/HP4d

    But for about the same $$ you can buy a USB interface with one of the same amps inside and it will connect to speakers and has a seporate volume control for each and you can use it for recording and it has a few other functions and does 24 bits
    http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/AudioBoxUSB
     
  21. macrumors 6502a

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    Location:
    Sydney, Australia.
    #21
    I find the comments interesting from markie and ChrisA about the DAC in ipods and Macs being quite decent. I agree with this, but do you guys think the uppers and lowers are slightly rolled off?

    I use a Onkyo ND-S1 ipod dock to extract a digital signal from ipods and to get a coaxial digital signal from a Mac via USB. I prefer the sound of coaxial on the DACs I've used to the Mac's optical digital output.

    If you have a Firewire port and a pair of low impedance headphones (not sure how the M50s rate) an original FW400 Apogee Duet could be a good option with quite a few on the market and priced accordingly. I love mine for its balanced non flashy and non fatiguing sound, compared to something like the original up sampling by default Cambridge Dacmagic which sounded fake to me and irritating after initially impressive impressions.
     
  22. macrumors G4

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    #22
    The optical and coax "sound" should be identical. Not only is it bit per bit identical but the signal paths are the same. If you open up the device inside you see that the optical to electric conversion is done inside the jack and that jack is wired in parallel to the coaxial jack.

    I think if the highs and lows are getting rolled off it is in the analog circuit that is connected to the DAC. or your headphones. You can test this if you have an Apogee. Connect the output (that you think might be rolled off) to the Apogee input and record as you send. Later subtract the two files. If all is perfect you should get dead silence. I bet all you will see as noise at about -90dB.
     
  23. macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2003
    #23
    Listening to "audiophile" arguments about the merits of optical vs coax is one of my favorite things to laugh at and proof how RIDICULOUS the audiophile types can be. Musicians can be equally ridiculous. LOVE IT when they plug 2 m of insanely overpriced guitar cable into a DI that's going through a snake of the cheapest dang thin flimsy mic cables you could come up with 50+ m to the back of the auditorium. LOVE IT. I laugh.
     
  24. macrumors G4

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    #24
    The expensive guitar cable into the DI might not be so dumb. The DI box converts the high impedance signal down to (maybe) 600 ohms balanced. After the conversion the quality of the cable matters a LOT less. That is way mic cable is low impedance and balanced, so that the signal does not depend of the cable quality so much.

    This is something you can measure and put numbers on.

    The guitar/cable/amp system is poorly designed. I'd like to kick the person who first set the standard. It uses a single ended signal cable into a 1 meg input inpendance amp. and these cables are many feet long and lay on the floor. They should have put an XLR jack on the first guitar.
     
  25. macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2003
    #25
    I agree with you 100% and I was referring not to them using good quality cables (I agree) but rather EXPENSIVE cables. Pretty, net jacketed, NICE cables. That half the time are crap and I have to loan them a GOOD cable that's not nearly as pretty. But yes, I did state it poorly, cable quality matters a lot less as a mic-level, low-impedance, balanced signal. Thus why DI's exist in the first place instead of bringing the signal back to the console as an instrument signal :)

    Regardless, my general point remains, the "audiophile" crowd is hilariously gullible at times. $500 CAT5e Ethernet patch cables (serious product Denon tried to sell as receiver link cables at one point in history), "directional" audio cable, bogus pseudo-science words, etc. It's freaking hilarious - and ought to be illegal.

    There are worse crowds. I dare you to look up such products as Asea (VERY expensive salt water solution sold as a nutritional supplement), Amway (LOTS of their products, but "Perfect Water" is probably the most ridiculous), BioPro (and all the ridiculous similar products, bits of plastic and sometimes metal supposedly infused with some type of voodoo magic to keep cell phone signals from harming you), and such similar (mostly multi-level-marketed) products preying on the poor, the gullible, the ignorant, the stupid, and the desperate. Ideally, you fit in more than one of those categories for most such products.
     

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