How easily can you distinguish between different DACs?

When I read reviews or watch them on YouTube the reviewers talk about the vast differences between various DACs.  I haven't compared too many, but found the differences pretty subtle, at best.

Which got me into thinking:  Is my hearing ability really that bad?

Do you notice the differences as easily as folks make out?


Jusy my observations and your I’m sure YMMV.

Only the listener can determine if the difference they hear is huge or not - it’s all in their perspective. You can only go by your ears tell you and really, nothing else matters.

Reviewers on the internet are going for clicks. Kinda hard to get them if all they say is "Meh, I can tell a little bit of difference but not much"

I believe many people embellish their findings to insure they stay with the in-crowd. Especially if a lot of coin has been dropped to get their DAC - No one wants to look like a fool.

There are many DACs that can be grouped together as sounding very much the same. There ARE DACs that definitely stand out!

Listener’s seems to love arguing (discussing?) while comparing apple to oranges to peaches to pears. Everything is just so system dependent when you’re dealing with audio.

The higher sound quality of your system, the more you’ll be able to hear the difference in DACs

I’ve improved my system over the years and in doing so I’m better able to discern differences in components. Many time the improvements are small but noticeable, other times it hits you like a frying pan in the face.



It is quite easy to discern the differences between DAC's. Even moderate priced DAC by Schiit easily show how moving up the product line affects sound quality.

It would be easiest if you had the DAC's side by side, but once you have listened to one DAC for a while, you will note the differences easily. All this is subject to how resolving your system is. 


I find it hard to tell the difference between DACs. I took this test and couldn't tell between a 90dB SINAD and 120dB. That was a super cheap trashy one vs a SOTA performing one. Some DACs add coloring of their own, and I don't think it should do that. I prefer my color to come from my choice of speaker.

So, I got a cheap DAC but it has killer features such as balanced outputs and DSD Direct bypass. Transparent beyond audibility with a 117dB SINAD. I have no complaints with the thing and DSD Direct mode sounds wondrous. So much juicy detail yet smooth and warm, this is the sound of analogue master tape. My digital side has never sounded this good, sounds like my turntable minus surface noise, achieved at like 1/30th the budget. 

i agree, learning to hear differences and assessing sonic qualities is a learned skill, moreso for some than others, but true for all

for some top tier dacs, their sounds can be very very similar -- couple examples in my travels...

i had the bricasti m1 mdx, and the weiss 501 side by side for a month, a-b-ing back and forth, each using their own streaming front ends, both very highly respected and prized dacs... as much as i tried and tried, i simply could not reliably tell the difference ... so in the end i kept one and sold the other based on non-sonic considerations

otoh... i compared a topping d90 mqa to a chord qutest... listening to a single song, i could tell the chord was significantly better... clearer, more musical, more extended, less mechanical in presentation

To me the DAC is the signature component of a digital system and easy to hear the differences.  Just had a guy bring over a PA Audio Directstream MK2 DAC to compare with my Chord Dave. Both are FPGA but from different continents.  Differences were obvious.  

You may have to listen a few minutes using songs you are very familiar with.  If you stil can't tell the difference, you may need to work on the rest of your system.  Make sure you use good cables, but even bad cables should reveal differnces.