CD player's internal DAC vs. a dedicated DAC? - diyAudio
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Old 19th January 2015, 10:44 PM   #1
folzag is offline folzag  United States
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Default CD player's internal DAC vs. a dedicated DAC?

Greetings, kind of a newbie question if folks don't mind the indulgence.

tl,dr:
What is the benefit of a dedicated DAC vs. the one that's in my 20 y.o. Kenwood CD player?


Longer story:
I have an older Kenwood CD-404 5 disc CD changer/player. It has TOSLINK out as well as a variable line-out (2V max) and a headphone jack on front.

I don't think it was a particularly expensive machine back in the day. I bought it as a college student some 20 years ago, but I'd bet it was made in Japan when things were meant to last more than the next 4 year planned obsolescence cycle.

Anyway, I've gotten the itch to upgrade my system with a pair of self-powered monitors/speakers, dump my old integrated A/V receiver, and mostly use my iPod and laptop for music sources.

But I'm wondering a few things about this old CD player.

1) According to the manual, the analog line-out should be at max, unless one is using it with headphones (or I reckon self-powered monitors), in which case the gain can be turned down to a desirable sound level.

2) Since this has TOSLINK, what would I expect to benefit from running the digital out to a dedicated DAC or headphone amp, then to the self-powered speakers?

3) Can one really trust their line-out not to clip? If I were to ever use it with a dedicated pre-amp and amplifier or if I ever go back to a receiver of some kind, I'm wondering if it would be better to adjust the gain down 3 or 6 dB (the nominal range is from 0 to -49dB) and then simply turn up the volume a little more than I ordinarily would. I've already been doing this for a few years running my iPod and laptop into the "Video 2" of my A/V receiver.


Incidentally, for the first time in 20+ years I did some A/B comparisons with headphones connected directly to it vs. using the headphone jack on the receiver. Well, maybe no surprise, but the sound directly from the CD player was noticeably better than from connecting to the receiver, a Kenwood KR-V6030, fwiw.


Thanks much!
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Old 21st January 2015, 10:02 AM   #2
DF96 is offline DF96  England
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Quote:
Originally Posted by folzag
What is the benefit of a dedicated DAC vs. the one that's in my 20 y.o. Kenwood CD player?
An external DAC may be better designed, or it may be worse. All you can be reasonably certain of is that it will be different. Whether it sounds different is a separate issue, and whether it seems better or worse is partly a matter of personal taste.
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Old 22nd January 2015, 06:51 PM   #3
folzag is offline folzag  United States
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Thanks. That was the conclusion I was starting to wonder about. Essentially, it's listen to it and decide if you like it (like anything else in setting up a hifi system).

FWIW, in further digging trying to understand how to distinguish among the various DACs available in the market, something that really surprised me was the iPhone 6+ is as clean and transparent a DAC one will find.

Maybe it's just me, but it leaves me skeptical of a lot of expensive DACs that are out there if Apple can roll a perfect one into the cost of a cell phone. Or put another way, Apple sells a $500 DAC with integrated cell phone, wifi, and camera. Maybe this is too simplistic, but if I can rip a CD to a lossless file and play-back on the iPhone, what else is there?
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Old 23rd January 2015, 02:38 PM   #4
Julf is online now Julf  Europe
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Quote:
Originally Posted by folzag View Post
FWIW, in further digging trying to understand how to distinguish among the various DACs available in the market, something that really surprised me was the iPhone 6+ is as clean and transparent a DAC one will find.
Confirmed by Archimago.

Quote:
Maybe it's just me, but it leaves me skeptical of a lot of expensive DACs that are out there
For a good reason.

You can get a perfectly good DAC for $30 (proven by a number of good USB DACs). Beyond that you pay for a fancy enclosure, "design" and deliberate non-transparent "voicing".
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Old 23rd January 2015, 07:24 PM   #5
folzag is offline folzag  United States
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Thanks for the pointer to Archimago. I like his blog.
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Old 24th January 2015, 04:27 PM   #6
Julf is online now Julf  Europe
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Originally Posted by folzag View Post
Thanks for the pointer to Archimago. I like his blog.
He has a sensible, evidence-based approach.
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Old 24th January 2015, 07:16 PM   #7
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DACs are everywhere.

A reasonably respectable test found no difference between $2 and $2000 DACs.

Four Devices Tested: From $2000 Down To $2 - What Does It Take To Turn The PC Into A Hi-Fi Audio Platform?

DACs are in mobiles, tablets, computers, TVs, satellite receivers, Bluray players, DAPs... I have a USB DAC, an S/PDIF DAC.

As time goes by it's increasingly rare to find one that's no good.

By focussing too much on DAC quality you lose the advantages of modern connectivity. I keep my music on a standalone networked drive. I stream data to whatever device is nearest or most convenient. I can put TV sound or any one of a multiplicity of sources independently through any one of 3 main full-blown systems, all without using anything more than the standard remotes and a tablet or phone. It's all off-the-shelf, nothing custom.
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Old 24th January 2015, 09:45 PM   #8
Nanook is offline Nanook  Canada
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Default a dissident opinion

Hi guys,

sorry for crashing the party, but...

In my 20+ years of critical listening I have found that I can hear a distinct difference regarding DAC types, and implementations. I am not suggesting that I am "golden-eared", but I do have a significant listening experience.

I did look over the article comparing the 4 audio devices, as linked to a couple of posts ago. It was well written and pretty well thought out. And it was about as objective as one can be. However listening (particularly to any recorded media) is in its very nature subjective. This is the crux of almost all reviews and comparisons.

Because listening is so subjective, I might suggest that one must consider the listening "chain" in its totality. Even the reviewer indicated that he can not attest to the guidelines in regards to listening via a full audio system using amplification and loudspeakers (as well as any other electronics or equipment needed to listen to audio through loudspeakers).

Regarding the comments that all DACs sound alike (which is the end result of the review and the last posts here), I disagree. If implemented correctly, using appropriate power supplies and internal passive and active components, the goal for the audio designer should be the same (whether for computer audio or home-based listening. Pro audio sound reinforcement is something altogether different.) and the differences are often minimal. What one might choose to pay for these differences is another thing altogether.

If each of the 4 devices tested had been implemented on a manufacturer's reference board (often available direct from the manufacturer) and built using the same quality output stage(s) and power supplies, The differences heard would be based (mostly) on the performance of the DAC chips and support circuits themselves and not on the quality of the power supplies (which I believe to be of critical importance throughout the listening chain) and its components. Power supplies in the audio chain are paramount in all components. If each device used the same power supply then I could see a validity to the test. I might also suggest that if each DAC were implemented as per the manufacturer's reference boards or reference designs including each having a power supply optimized for it, the differences (if the designers' goals were the same) should be minimized. Unfortunately in my experience often improved circuits can help one to distinguish one DAC from the other.

Also to complete any authoritative comparison, one should have been able to configure all of the DACs for use within a hi-fi system of reasonable quality. I might suggest a system in the price range of listener "A" in the comparison test: a $3000 2-channel system with at least one good digital source; an integrated amplifier or amp/preamp; reasonable near full range quality loudspeakers and reasonable quality cabling. This might represent a system many users might be able to afford. In this way should a DAC sound superior to another it can be at least qualified based on the system and one's own listening preferences.

And as an aside: a friend has purchase separate sound cards and hot rodded them to allow implementation as stand-alone DAC within an audio system. As a complete ready to use piece he may have USD $250-USD$300 tied up into one in particular which compares verity favourable to a commercially available DAC that now sells for 750 (USD $840.49) without power supply, analog interconnect wires or a digital cable. These additions can easily add another USD $500 or more. That's without freight from Germany (where the DAC is made). So please don't think I'm trying to stir the pot or appear to be an "audiophile snob", which is a far from the truth as is possible.
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Old 24th January 2015, 10:12 PM   #9
Julf is online now Julf  Europe
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nanook View Post
In my 20+ years of critical listening I have found that I can hear a distinct difference regarding DAC types, and implementations.
Would that be controlled, double-blind ABX, or sighted listening?
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Old 24th January 2015, 11:48 PM   #10
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I frequently listen using IEMs and amplifiers widely regarded as transparent. I think they offer far greater insight into DAC performance than speakers.

I don't seek to argue the validity of the tests however. It's would be enough for me that these DACs were indistinguishable in average installations.

Life goes on. I'm talking about getting wired. 21st. Century. I just think you miss out on a lot more than the difference between one DAC and another if you can't pay attention without your security blanket.
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