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?



Congratulations and good call on improving the source by switching to N200. Now if you bring a high quality DAC, you should be able to appreciate the nuances (or not) over your integrated DA2. I also like your approach of long term listening before forming any conclusions.

I believe the main issue with DAC costing 2x, 3x or 4x times is not whether they sound better or not. It’s the added cost that doesn’t quite commensurate with the perceivable differences in SQ. Most folks are quite content with a $1500 DAC that gets them close to 80-85% performance of a DAC’s costing, say $5K.

Not sure if the hearing test question was directed at me, but in my case I did have one done a few months back.  I don't hear past 13k or so, I think.  It might have been even lower.

mhwilliford, have you noticed differences in sound after going to an Aurender?  

I didn't realize what was used as a server had an impact on the sound.

@ invalid, 

I offer you should rethink your chip vs discrete preamp blanket bias. It was very true back in the days of TLO72's.  By the time of the NE5558 ( POOGE, biased into class A) it got a lot fuzzier. With modern OPA series chips, it comes down to execution.  Just picking OP-Amp vs. discrete is no guarantee the discrete was well executed either. Some can be of course. So "it depends".  An inherent advantage of discrete is higher current so the possibility of cable impedance matching at the load end may have some possibilities.  Paralleling op-amps can do the same thing. 


... just choose the DAC that has the output stage built on the chip because it measures great, would you buy a preamp that uses an opamp output stage because it measures better than a discreet output stage?

Many fine preamplifiers use opamps. For example, it’s how Audio Research configures its balanced differential preamps. Fully discrete. I don’t understand the prejudice against them just because they’ve sometimes been badly implemented in ICs. You could say that about virtually any audio circuit.

@audiowebe  Yes - the N200 made an audible difference, a little cleaner, a little more solid.  Particular improvement in Hi-Res (with regard to sampling rate) content for some reason. I also noticed a big jump in the playback quality of my ripped CDs - best I have ever heard them, and I did own the last of the top-end OPPO players.  The minor downside to the Aurender for me has been the UI.  It is not as feature rich as Roon and does not offer a PC-based platform.  That said, the UI (Conductor) is super-reliable and supported by real people who actually respond to your questions promptly - you are never lost in a crowd-sourced feedback morass.  There is talk of Aurender being a Roon endpoint soon, but I do not know how much of the Aurender sound quality advantage will be lost by operating in that mode.  Sorry - I went off for a while there.