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haydukej

Standalone DAC necessary?

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Just checking to see if the general consensus agrees: I'm running audio from my computer via HDMI into a Denon AVR-X4100W, which bypasses? any DAC in the computer and only uses the Denon. There's likely no sonic benefits that I'd be missing from adding a standalone DAC, correct?

 

Thanks for the replies 

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There are many technical advantages: https://benchmarkmedia.com/blogs/application_notes/19947905-the-audio-path-in-consumer-grade-audio-products

 
I sold off my XMC-1 and Emotiva amps, and went for a 5.1 actively tri-amped setup (DAC is inside Xilica XD4080 speaker crossover units).  My speaker crossovers are fed AES digital off a 16 channel RME card.

 

If you can get a high quality speaker crossover 8x8 and feed it AES, I bet it sounds better than an AVR.  My setup is like nothing I have ever heard (it wasn't cheap though).  If you just want stereo, USB is going to be your simplest/cheapest DAC input option, but this is limited as you can't crossover your front speakers to your subs.

 

I personally will never go back to wasting money on processors or AVRs that quickly get outdated, limit you on crossover filters for your subs, etc...

 

3 hours ago, haydukej said:

Just checking to see if the general consensus agrees: I'm running audio from my computer via HDMI into a Denon AVR-X4100W, which bypasses? any DAC in the computer and only uses the Denon. There's likely no sonic benefits that I'd be missing from adding a standalone DAC, correct?

 

Thanks for the replies 

 

 

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4 hours ago, haydukej said:

Just checking to see if the general consensus agrees: I'm running audio from my computer via HDMI into a Denon AVR-X4100W, which bypasses? any DAC in the computer and only uses the Denon. There's likely no sonic benefits that I'd be missing from adding a standalone DAC, correct?

 

Thanks for the replies 

It is very possible(not definite) to improve your sound quality by adding an outboard DAC.  The Denon's built-in DAC chip(TI PCM 1690) which has a SNR(signal to noise ratio) of 113dB is decent for a multi-channel chip but a better DAC chip and implementation most likely will improve your sonics to some point.  If you added a better quality stereo DAC with a higher SNR then the noise floor will be quieter and that alone can improve sonics.

 

Bill

 

 

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Unfortunately, it is one of the "it depends" answers.  You have a very simple (and good) audio path right now.  If you add an outboard DAC, it may be better than the one inside your AVR on paper, but would you be able to tell the difference?  Not sure.

 

Keep in mind that if you go with an outboard DAC and feed its analog outputs to analog inputs on the AVR, the AVR will convert it back to digital, run it through its internal DSP and bass management logic, then convert back to analog again...ADA conversion.  There are very few AVRs out there with a pure internal analog path, and Denon is not one of them AFAIK despite what marketing says about 'Pure Direct' or whatever.

 

 

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As worded... a stand alone DAC is not "Necessary"... but once you get a good one, an integrated just won't do.

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18 hours ago, haydukej said:

Just checking to see if the general consensus agrees: I'm running audio from my computer via HDMI into a Denon AVR-X4100W, which bypasses? any DAC in the computer and only uses the Denon. There's likely no sonic benefits that I'd be missing from adding a standalone DAC, correct?

 

Thanks for the replies 

Depends on how far up the food chain you want to go.  A good DAC / preamp with better amps will make you wonder why you have been  using your Denon so long (provided your speakers are up to it).

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Multiple quick, insightful, and respectful responses. Thank you all again. Based on your responses, it looks like I'm a bit away on the required funds and WAF to go further down this path of the rabbit hole. 

 

Justin

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Get a used Yamaha Pre Pro with the amazing ESS Sabre DAC and get the best of all worlds.

 

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22 hours ago, haydukej said:

Just checking to see if the general consensus agrees: I'm running audio from my computer via HDMI into a Denon AVR-X4100W, which bypasses? any DAC in the computer and only uses the Denon. There's likely no sonic benefits that I'd be missing from adding a standalone DAC, correct?

You are correct.  It's time to enjoy some music, and forget all about those little consumerism voices telling you that you need to spend more. 

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32 minutes ago, Ski Bum said:

You are correct.  It's time to enjoy some music, and forget all about those little consumerism voices telling you that you need to spend more. 

That is NOT correct.  Adding a good outboard DAC will be easily noticeable.  You don't have to spend a lot, and I have found that the Schiit Bifrost is absolutely outstanding for the money.

 

http://www.schiit.com/products/bifrost

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17 minutes ago, jimjimbo said:

That is NOT correct.  Adding a good outboard DAC will be easily noticeable.  You don't have to spend a lot, and I have found that the Schiit Bifrost is absolutely outstanding for the money.

 

http://www.schiit.com/products/bifrost

I have heard good things about the bifrost as well. I have the Modi2 and its a decent device. A quick word on caution on picking an outboard DAC. Windows has recently made an update or something which causes issues with DACs that are only USB powered like the Modi. The Bifrost has its own power supply so its fine but I have not been able to get my computer to recognize my Modi 2 in the last few weeks despite resetting the drivers etc.

 

I personally really like my Aune T1 although it is not as well known as other brands and you can swap out different tubes in the buffer stage which is cool. 

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26 minutes ago, jimjimbo said:

That is NOT correct.  Adding a good outboard DAC will be easily noticeable.  You don't have to spend a lot, and I have found that the Schiit Bifrost is absolutely outstanding for the money.

Correct or not depends on if you're interests lie in the truth of the matter as it relates to the reproduction of audio vs. the commercial interests of a DAC vendor.  You have to provide more substantial and convincing evidence than you have, at least if the truth is your aim. 

 

Just because you felt there was an improvement, you have not established that there actually would be, outside of your own expectations and foreknowledge influencing your perceptions.  Under what conditions did you perform your comparison?  Any bias controls whatsoever?  You've probably fallen victim to what Feynman pointed out, that the easiest person to fool is ourselves.  To subsequently report your subjective opinion as unvarnished truth, as justification that the OP should use to buy kit he doesn't need and may or (more likely) may not provide any audible improvements, is NOT correct.  

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Just save up and get a "Ladder" day with no chipset(s). If you do get an ess  chipset dac,  get one with multiple chips and separate channels.

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7 hours ago, Ski Bum said:

Correct or not depends on if you're interests lie in the truth of the matter as it relates to the reproduction of audio vs. the commercial interests of a DAC vendor.  You have to provide more substantial and convincing evidence than you have, at least if the truth is your aim. 

 

Just because you felt there was an improvement, you have not established that there actually would be, outside of your own expectations and foreknowledge influencing your perceptions.  Under what conditions did you perform your comparison?  Any bias controls whatsoever?  You've probably fallen victim to what Feynman pointed out, that the easiest person to fool is ourselves.  To subsequently report your subjective opinion as unvarnished truth, as justification that the OP should use to buy kit he doesn't need and may or (more likely) may not provide any audible improvements, is NOT correct.  

Well said.  I would wager the OP will probably not hear any improvement going through an outboard DAC and then piping that output right back through the same DAC inside the AVR he's currently directly connected to via HDMI.  

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On 10/12/2017 at 8:29 PM, pbphoto said:

Well said.  I would wager the OP will probably not hear any improvement going through an outboard DAC and then piping that output right back through the same DAC inside the AVR he's currently directly connected to via HDMI.  

Depending on the speakers, going separates with a dac can make a vast improvement as long as you are updating the rest of the chain.  If you are just plugging the dac into the receiver, not so much when you get to $1K range of receivers.

Also, with a dac, to get what you need you would have to get one with HDMI from the sounds of it.  Not an easy task and again, the best gain is separates with the dac, not plugged into the receiver.

 

NOW, if your receiver had main in bypasses and the dac had a built in pre, then.....  too many variations and you'd probably miss the flexibility that a receiver provides.

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On 10/12/2017 at 8:29 PM, pbphoto said:

Well said.  I would wager the OP will probably not hear any improvement going through an outboard DAC and then piping that output right back through the same DAC inside the AVR he's currently directly connected to via HDMI.  

 

On 10/12/2017 at 12:47 PM, Ski Bum said:

Correct or not depends on if you're interests lie in the truth of the matter as it relates to the reproduction of audio vs. the commercial interests of a DAC vendor.  You have to provide more substantial and convincing evidence than you have, at least if the truth is your aim. 

 

Just because you felt there was an improvement, you have not established that there actually would be, outside of your own expectations and foreknowledge influencing your perceptions.  Under what conditions did you perform your comparison?  Any bias controls whatsoever?  You've probably fallen victim to what Feynman pointed out, that the easiest person to fool is ourselves.  To subsequently report your subjective opinion as unvarnished truth, as justification that the OP should use to buy kit he doesn't need and may or (more likely) may not provide any audible improvements, is NOT correct.  

  What these guys say. There is a propensity here to throw dollars at things and many times I begin to think it is bragging rights driven. I can understand if it is a hobby and people with gobs of cash want to play around but I am assuming the OP wants an economical effective solution that works for his purpose. I intend to buy an Onkyo 8270 and use it to drive audio from my PC workstation to whatever speaker I am using that day. I may at times use it to feed my Crown XLi 800 because I think the commercial amps provide a more realistic concert performance environment since it is a commercial amp and produces the sound you hear at concerts the way it was produced at concerts.  But it was only $235.00 delivered and has way more power than my ears could ever stand. These are the only things I would ever buy at this time to feed my speaker monsters using my PC as a source. Good cheap used Crown amps are all over the place if you want to go that route.   Check out the Onkyo specs and that yummy  DAC: 384 kHz / 32 bit  output for just $100 dollars more at Parts Express. As cheap as $439 on ebay with factory warranty. Or buy this and that and the other thing and tinker. 

 

 

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get revealing speakers and I would bet your perspective would change.

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Consumer grade AVR's and processors are a waste of money if you are in search of ultimate sound quality.  You cannot get there with an AVR.

 

The smartest thing I did (and most expensive) was listen to DrWho and ChrisA and go with full active tri-amping.  The next smartest thing was to use an all pro gear signal chain with a single DAC at the end. 

 

My basic signal chain: RME HDSPe soundcard outputs digital AES into a Xilica XD4080 speaker processor that has FIR filters for W/MR/TW and then feeds an analog signal to Benchmark AHB2 amps.  My setup is a little more complex as it involves 5.1 system that is fully tri-amped with 5 subs individually DSP'd, but the results are absolutely world class and like nothing you will ever hear in any hifi store (no matter the price point).

 

Here's some quotes from the technical article I linked to discussing the Marantz AV8801 and 8802:

https://benchmarkmedia.com/blogs/application_notes/19947905-the-audio-path-in-consumer-grade-audio-products

Low-Voltage Signal Path

It appears that internal audio signals are kept small, normally 1 V rms (1.4 V peak) or less. The low signal levels allow the use of low-cost low-voltage integrated circuits, but these low signal levels affects the signal to noise ratio (SNR) of these units. The SNR is also affected by many other design decisions, but low voltages always make it more difficult to achieve a high SNR.  For example, if the level of noise in a circuit stays constant, but the signal level is reduced, then the SNR will be reduced. The 1 V rms internal signal level also makes attenuation necessary at the analog inputs.

Volume Control ICs Cannot Handle High Voltages

In the AV8802 and the AV8801, the balanced inputs are attenuated by at least 6 dB (perhaps even 12 dB) as they enter the unit and are converted to single-ended signals. This means that balanced analog signals are reduced by a factor of 2 or by a factor of 4 before they reach the internal signal path. This attenuation reduces the SNR of the audio system, but it is necessary to prevent overloading of the volume-control IC.

...

The volume-control IC will handle 2 V rms signals, given the 5 V to 7 V supply rails used in these products. But, the volume control IC delivers its best distortion performance when signals are 1 V rms or less, with distortion rising rapidly over that level. I don't know if the single-ended inputs are reduced in level. There may be a 2:1 (6 dB) attenuation on the single-ended inputs, but it is hard to tell without a full schematic.

...

The output of the AV8802 is rated at 1.2 V rms single ended, and 2.4 V rms balanced. The higher output of the balanced circuit is achieved by an inversion of the single-ended signal, to provide a non-inverted and inverted signal to the balanced output connector. Curiously, the buffer has 12 V rails, but the active circuitry won’t see input signals close to those levels because of the limitations of the the volume-control IC. 

Driving a Power Amplifier

Marantz rates the balanced outputs of the AV8802 at 2.4 V rms. This limit makes sense when examining the internal components, but it is a fairly low signal level for a balanced output. The single-ended outputs provide 1.2 V rms. 1.0 V rms will drive a typical power amplifier that has a gain of 29 dB to an output level of 100 watts into 8 ohms. If the balanced output of the AV8802 is used to drive the Benchmark AHB2 amplifier at the high-gain setting (23 dB), or say a Bryston amplifier at its lower gain setting (also 23 dB) the pre-pro will be very near its 2.4 V limit.  At an amplifier gain of 23 dB, it takes 2 V rms at the amplifier input to deliver 100 watts into an 8 ohm load at the amplifier output. The noise levels of the amplifiers will be very good at this level, but the system noise performance will be limited by the noise performance of the Marantz pre-pro.

Hybrid Approach to Volume Control

A DAC like the ESS ES9018 provides an excellent internal 32-bit digital volume control, but an analog control would still be required for the analog inputs. Providing separate volume control systems for digital and analog inputs is a path to good audio quality. This technique is used in the Benchmark DAC2 HGC. Analog inputs are controlled by a variable resistor tied to the motorized volume control knob. Analog inputs do not pass through a performance-limiting volume control IC. Digital inputs only use the 32-bit digital control. The position of the volume control knob sets the gain of the 32-bit digital processor. This hybrid approach is too expensive a solution for mid-range consumer AV products such as the Marantz and Emotiva pre-pros.

 

 

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etc6849:  I'm sure your system sounds awesome but I submit it isn't because of the DAC - it's because of all the other high-end digital processing going on prior to the stream hitting the DAC.  The OP asked if adding a standalone DAC in front of an AVR, and then piping the analog sound directly back into that same AVR, would make a difference.  I still think the answer is 'probably not.'

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2 hours ago, Dave A said:

to throw dollars at things and many times I begin to think it is bragging rights driven.

Yep, I'm all about throwing money at things I know nothing about, and then bragging....yep, that's me.  Has nothing to do with years of in-home, listening experience, nope, not at all.

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