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.  


You cannot pick a components by measurements alone.  Price has nothing to do with sound quality.  You have not mentioned what type of sound you prefer so every recommendation here is completely useless.  Do you like a tube sound or SS sound and do you know why they sound different?
Most products use less expensive parts no matter what the price.  Parts make sound quality.  Power supplies are where you should start first.  Computer grade PS capacitors or Nichicon Supers?  Bradly resistors or Takman, Amtrans or Audio Note.  V-Capacitors?  If not then you get what you pay for.


As far as a DAC without a preamp, I would suggest that method until you find a preamp that helps your system sound better to your own ears.

You do not mention a price range.  So without that, I cannot assist you.


Happy Listening.

+1 @bigkidz "You cannot pick a components by measurements alone."


Glad to see this statement in the first sentence to advise newbies more. A few years back I followed ASR tests, bought (and later returned) a highly praised DAC, with 125-128db signal to noise ratio, and all of these great measuring parameters.

Then, later to discover all of the different type dac connections were not tested and reported, and after playing the dac for a while it was one of the most sterile and boring sounding dac units I’ve ever tried or owned. The dac got returned for a full refund, thankfully. Agree, you cannot pick a component by measurements alone if you care about how it sounds too.

I sense the preamp is an afterthought for some of these low end DAC/preamps. Super high end ones may warrant a discussion however. I read the MSB select manual; the OEM suggests direct to amp connection. I'm not playing in that league. A high quality DAC in the 3k-5k range is ideal. Holo Audio and Exasound DACs are interesting. And maybe the Qutest.

I read the MSB select manual; the OEM suggests direct to amp connection.

as dacs go it is a bit of an older model now, but my beloved msb analog dac functions not only as a streaming dac (with lan card) but also has an extra set of analog inputs (for a phono stage for example)... it works brilliantly going into power amps - with both rca and xlr outputs, and a terrific remote control

My pre is a Freya + do this allows me to add tubes or not depending on the sound I want. Even though I never use with out the tube stage it is nice to have the option. IFi dac’s have a very good amp stage and you can buy dac’s with tubes if that is your sound choice. Does not mean you have to add a pre amp. Listen to what you like don’t feel the need to chase or catch the rabbit. Enjoy the music!