Analyzing DACs

As I am new to the hifi hobby, reading various product reviews and noting the details of the test environment have made me very confused.  I understand Stereophile is the hifi bible. In the publication’s DAC published tests the reviewers almost always tested the DAC connected directly to the amplifier. I think I understand why—nothing in the chain influencing the DAC sound. Is that the correct assumption? If that’s the case why incorporate a preamp if the DAC has a preamp section that is a common feature even on high end DACs? I’m in the market for a new DAC. I’m trying to avoid unnecessary components if possible. Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks.  


@mastering92 : so you imply that Amir is being bribed by unscrupulous audio manufacturers? And that's why Benchmark is highly rated? I'd like to have Amir respond to this!

What a wealth of great information despite different views on components. Thanks for chiming in.

I like the advice to test in my own environment and trust the ears. Reviews and measurements have their place but a poor room set up and equipment matching might matter more.

I currently have a fairly entry level set up:

Bluesound N130>Brooklyn DAC>Parasound P 6>Parasound A21+>Revel M106 speakers.

My concern is that a $3k-$5k higher quality DAC requires an equivalent or better separate preamp. It sounds like the jury is out. Whether the preamp section is good enough I'll have to determine the best set up for my room and tastes.

Also, from my experience with my current equipment, some tracks are mastered at high levels. I assume the double gain (eg from the DAC and the preamp) exacerbates the loudness. Some tracks sound like screaming vocals. I assume that won't allow me allow to realize the full potential of the amplifier if I have to listen at low levels.

I won't even spark the debate about cables and power cords!

@mastering92 : why not level the same charge at the scribes that write for Stereophile, TAS, HiFi+ ...? All those glossy ad pages ...