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.  


Have a PS Audio amp and preamp, dac sounds better without the preamp, dac sound much fuller with better clarity. . Have a Don Sachs Amp and preamp, dac sounds more lifeless. Have a Conrad Johnson cav45 S2 it has no preamp/control amp. It sounds big and full on Denafrips dac but can sound week if not enough gain on phono preamp or cartridge. I think only way to know is plug it up and turn up the volume and see what happens. Buying blind can be problematic.

Meant to say dac going directly into Don Sachs sounds lifeless without the preamp.

Anyone have thoughts on a dedicated DAC (eg. no headphone amp) vs. a multi-function unit? I haven't found extensive info on the pros/cons of such units? Also, I wanted to explore the longevity of DACs. It appears that DAC tech is ancient. While it has been around for years, the process itself has not evolved much. In other words, a 10 yr old DAC functions much like a current one. The features around the DAC essentially are the "upgrades" (eg. power supplies). If that's the case, I'm inclined to hang onto my Brooklyn. Not only that, but it also does full MQA--a feature many $3k+ DACs don't offer. A member here posted in this thread that the MSB select is older tech yet it seems to be among the echelon of high end DACs today. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

@tee_dee Look at the tech in Mola Mola tamabqui (though old now, still unique). PS Audio, Playback Designs, and Chord with their FPGA approach, which I think is something that potentially can last for a very long time. This is new DAC technology. My next DAC will be an FPGA.

A 10 year-old DAC may not even have a USB input and if it did it is likely really bad, say unlike the USB on the modern Musetec 005 DAC. 




ASR is pure garbage as far as information about which DAC sounds good; they admit as much themselves.  The entire site is premised on the idea that no DAC sounds different than any other.  Anyone who disputes as much is quickly banned.  

So its rankings are pure garbage (and would correlate less than 1% with any rankings of DACs done by people who actually listen to them).