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?

128x128audiodwebe

Hello audiodwebe!  Differences between levels of quality are easy to hear. I have several Chinese made DACS with good  reviews. The differences among them are subtle. I was able to get a discontinued Sony DAC for half price and it was immediately more relaxing with only a very slight loss of detail. With the Chinese DACS, it was clear that the rear wall of a voncert hall was made of bricks - that's detail!  The Sony (I'd like to give you the designation, but I am out of the home due to a flood.) sound was more relaxed, immediately more pleasant and I couldn't telll what the back wall was made of. Who cares?! Beautiful music is what I want to hear and I've got it. I have two versions of the Dragonfly and a German made Dac as wellm and a Furutec DAC in the upstairs studio, a very pleasant sound as well.

Cables are another matter. The match between the cable and the DAC is important. Some folks swear by a certain cable, but your results may differ. My experience is that the Zafino USB cable (from Canada) beats everything else (even the Wireworld Silver Starlight 7, which is very good) in my cable connection. It is not pricey, it is just a quality product.  Happy listening.

@duckworp 

Nice comparison process between the two DACs.  Many posts about equipment here from folks who don't put the effort into actually conducting direct comparisons or listening tests in a manner that reduces inherent biases, and other posts that state opinions as fact without any reference as to how they reached the opinion, so I appreciate hearing about your methods.

I recently compared two DACs literally side-by-side so that I could quickly change the digital input and two output cables and even though the comparison was sighted, my bias did not win out.  I could definitely hear differences but the DAC that I wanted to sound better actually didn't to my ears.

@audiodwebe 

Like you, I have not heard many dacs. Started with a Jolida glass dac and it really didn't sound any better than my MacBook. Bought a Bluesound and started streaming with that. Heard a slight improvement to my ears. Then on to a Denafrips Ares II. Night and day difference (for the better!) over the Bluesound. All associated equipment stayed the same. Of course, YMMV in this crazy hobby!  I'm content with the Ares for now.  

IME, what better (usually more expensive) dacs offer is a sense of realism. They do a much better job of transporting you to the venue. They're simply better at capturing the nuances, emotions, and the soul of the music. Once you hear that in your system, it's hard to go back to a lesser dac.

Other than that, when it comes to the usual suspects -- soundstage, imaging, detail retrieval, etc., most competent DACs have that covered. If that's what you're primarily listening for, then I agree it's hard to tell them apart ... especially, when you're doing quick A/Bs and wearing your analytical hat so to speak.

Of course, the rest of the chain, and very importantly the streamer, has to be revealing enough and synergistic with the dac to really hear what it's capable of.