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.  



no need to further belabor this already tortured subject of measurement vs listening for dacs- the credible folks on this particular forum listen to music, evaluate gear through listening, measurements are of relatively minor significance

I agree 100%

I’m curious how everyone evaluates a DAC disregarding the measurements. What is the hallmark of a good DAC? I suppose one could spend insane amounts of money but is there such a moneyball DAC?

Hmmmmm..... by listening? I understand you cannot possibly listen to all the DACs, but for starters:

1 - Determine your budget, how much you want to spend

2 - Do your own research, read reviews, users' impressions on public forums, read measurements (if that is your thing, nothing wrong with that)

3 - Get as much exposure as you can: friends with good systems, dealers showroom, audio shows, etc. etc.

4 - See if you can get a trial at home, or buy used at heavily discounted prices.

Now of course, this does not happen overnight, it takes years, and sticking with the hobby, but you can start somewhere small, and can always upgrade from there, when you find a better DAC, a good deal price wise, etc. etc.


P.S. you don’t have to spend "an insane amount of money" on a DAC. Good DACs exist at all price ranges. Noone is forcing you to to spend a lot of money. It also depends on the rest of your system. Matching what you have (speakers, amp, etc.)


Back to the original question- this is an important topic for those with a single source trying to decide between going DAC-pre straight into a power amp versus adding a separate preamp or integrated. It is difficult to find reliable information about the preamp qualities of a DAC to predict this. In theory, the output impedance of the DAC and the input impedance of the amp should help decide, but this seems nonspecific in practice. Maybe it is marketing, but the separate preamp option offered for the Holo Spring would seem to fit the bill.


The RME ADI-2 DAC FS Desktop DAC & Headphone Amp DAC provides a lot of features which eliminate the use of a preamp, as long as you only listen to digital sources.

It is also actually made in Germany & not China.

Here is one of many reviews of this product:,complexities%20of%20high%2Dend%20audio.


I just listened to white flag by Dido. Lovely voice I added it to my playlist. It seems like the volume on her mic was up a bit maybe? Not piercing though. The parts  I didn’t really like as much are when the back up singers join in or maybe it’s an effect. Her voice is much better when it’s just her. Perhaps your electronics and or speakers are on the bright side. The room would also play a big factor if not treated. Happy listening