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?



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.


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.

Agree with arafig, have spent the last month trying 2 new dacs that have been praised by reviewers at their price point. When comparing the two against my  yggy OG,  Gustard X20, chord 2qute, and a Bitwise Z (which is a vintage sigma delta) using every option available USB, DDC-coax, i2s, AES and streaming with switched optical isolation. I found at first listen difficult to say that any one of them is the clear winner with all music. They all do the expected and some are better at certain things. I like them all for different reasons with different music. The 25 year old Z puts me in the sound stage on some recordings but it is veiled and slow. I still listen to it occasionally and with the right music I am still wowed. I want to be transported to the venue and feel it, not just listen to a hyper detailed reproduction. One piece won't do that, it takes a system.  I had a very enjoyable system 50 years ago, the era might have contributed though, sex drugs and rock and roll.                  

"Significant" "Outstanding"  "Profound"

Maybe folks should look these terms up in the dictionary.  Differences YES. Important enough to spend money on? Personal but probably.

This I challenge: Even current chip based entry level the differences are barely discernable. About the same level or less than different filters. If one left the room and "reset" their ears for an hour, could you come back in and identify which was which with certainty?  I doubt it. 

Step up to the next tier. Same challenge.  If you can't absolutely every time with different music and different levels, then I propose the difference is not "profound". Valued, preferable, sure.   From my first Wolfson to the current entry, yes as the circa 2000 DAC had clear faults in sibilance and edginess. Those problems are surpassed even in $100 entry units. From there, we are splitting hairs. 

Too many You-Tube shills shoveling out superlatives that are parroted again and again because no one would watch if they said: " Yup, pretty nice. The end"

Transported to the venue?  First that has to be recorded which as far as I know has not been even closely achieved.  Magic electronics can't supply information that was not there to start with no matter how expensive your system is.  We can try to make it enjoyable.  Listen all day and not get fatigued.  Get excited by a big crescendo. Feel chill with some nice smooth Jazz.  Yea, we can do that. 

Joan Baez sounds pretty nice right now through the Qutest. Might like the "green" filter but I was warned they take a long time to burn in. Her voice can get ugly if there is a problem.