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?


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.

@balooo2 My super bargain performer is the SMSL D-6.  Edges out my DO100 due to DSD Direct mode, as PCM performance is roughly equivalent (both fantastic). I'm amazed at what these cheap DACs can do nowadays, high fidelity available to the masses.

After many years of auditioning audio equipment and analyzing frequency,responses, inner detail, size and shape of the soundstage etc. I now focus mainly on PRAT and musical engagement. If a tweak or new piece of gear gets me toe tapping and frolicking through my music collection with glee, it's a keeper. Good listening. Jeff

@audiodwebe Im with you. I struggle to hear many of the differences that others seem to. For example, I enjoy the SQ of Spotify and although Qobuz occasionally (depending on the recording) sounds different, I wouldn’t say it necessarily sounds better. The very next recording may behave all together differently.

So much of this hobby occurs in the 5” between your ears. Spend a boat load on a component and psychoacoustics and confirmation bias absolutely come into play. We are human after all. Again…only speaking for myself. What I find is that SQ determination cannot occur on the spot (A/B). One recording may shine on one component but another may not. So many variables. It takes me several weeks to decide yay or nay. Two hours in are you surfing the net or are you still engaged with the music? For me that’s the real test. And remember, “different” does not always equal “better”.