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?


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.


Dacs can be pretty profound ,especially if it is say a $1k dac vs a $5k dac 

nigh5 and day better in every way.

A friend of mine, fairly new to the high end world was trying to decide between the Aurrender N100 ($3.5K new) I had lent him with his Schiit Yggdrasil (~$2.5K) he owned and a Linn DSM ($12K) with both streamer and DAC. So he hooked them both up and didn’t tell me which was which and asked me what I thought.

I would say it took maybe a minute to determine which was which and characterize the differences. After another 30 seconds… it appeared to be night and day between the two. I had him take my place, playing jazz, Blue Train. I explained… listen to the cymbals… hear that tssssss… that is distortion and high frequency trash… the Linn sounds like brass. Now listen to the sax… hear the richness and nuances as notes change… then listen to the drums… clearly located behind and natural sounding. I five minutes, he completely followed what I had said.

We also were able to use the Aurrender streamer with only the Linn DAC… this is where the difference was… it was virtually all the DAC.

He is driving back from the dealer with a brand new Linn in his trunk as I type this.

Most anyone can tell these differences… but it takes experience or a guide. Once you hear the differences it is hard not to. I know that my friend will be enjoying this Linn DSM for many years. He has it paired with an Audio Research LS28SE and VT80.


If I were you, I’d demo a broad range of DACs in your system before making any judgements, either about the gear or your ability to discern differences.


Differences between well designed DACs are tough to quantify. I use older Dacmagic (for older streamer and a CD player) and a current model Bifrost 2/64 for a newer streamer. Both sound amazingly good with an edge to the Bifrost, which will be tested further when I get a Schiit Urd (!) and use their bespoke USB system.