Older is better - D/A chip?

I had three audio nuts over my house yesterday for a component shoot out. I have a highly modded Jolida JD100 tube cd player with Mullard tubes. We then swapped in an old Magnavox player running a TDA1540 chip. This player has been recapped, extensively modded, and the oversampling processor removed. Well, we were all blown away. It was clearly more open, detailed......had more decay versus my Jolida or a Sony 5400. I just assumed the more current chip sets would sound better. What an eye opener.
The older DAC chips, particularly ladder DACs and NOS DACs do sound better, provided they are driven by a low-jitter source. The reason for this is simple: no digital filtering.

The disadvantage is they dont support higher sample rates like 192 and they dont get quite as much detail in the HF as the newer chips.

It is possible to get the same great SQ with modern DAC chips, provided you can select or control the amount of digital filtering. This way you get the great sound of those older chips, but with none of the disadvantages. I set my digital filter on my DAC to 192 when I play all sample-rates. Sounds like a NOS DAC, but better.

The ancillary circuits, such as the output stage, I/V converter and power subsystem are all important as well to achieving an analog sound, but if the digital filtering is auto-selected, it usually wrecks the track, particularly 44.1.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
To all that feel that the older machnes sound better, I recommend trying one of the modern NOS (NonOverSampling)designs, like the Metrum Octave DAC. It does HiRes files as well.

The Nyquist Sampling Theorem requires the use of a reconstruction filter to remove ultrasonic images of the audio signal no matter what dac implementation one uses. This filtering can be implemented either digitally or by analog circuitry.

Digital filters were usually used in conjunction with ladder DACs and most nos dac chips. Back in 1982 the first Sony CD players (CPD 101) used no oversampling and analog brick wall filters at 22 khz. The Phillips players introduced oversampling and digital filtering (and used 14 bit dacs!). The controversy of the time was frequency dependent phase shift caused by the analog brick wall filters.

By 1985 or so everyone used oversampling and digital filters along with ladder dacs.

In the late 80's single bit dacs were introduced which required high oversampling rates (typically 64x or better) digital filtering and noise shaping just to function. They were really cheap to build since they didn't require the labor intensive calibration that multibit dacs needed on low order bits and became standard in consumer gear.

That launched the multibit vs single bit wars of the 90's.

A few high end manufacturers returned to the early days of no oversampling. Some even chose little or no filtering which dumped lots of ultrasonic energy into downstream components. These manufacturers also favor nos laddar dac chips. The choice to forgo (digital) filtering (yikes!) has nothing to do with the dac chip.
Along the way of realizing that good sound is timeless, I've also stopped worrying about keeping up with the latest technology. One CD player I own never really garnered much attention when it was offered, and as I have rediscovered it, find myself enjoying it more than some of the expensive machines I own.
Ghost - Thanks for the history, but I'm aware of it.

Many D/A chips do not give you the choice of avoiding the digital filtering, so the D/A chip does force this much of the time, and they auto-select the filter for each sample-rate. This simply sounds bad, not so much because of the digital filtering, because the digital filter implementations are so poor. If these were ideal, it would be great and the NOS DACs would not have such a following IMO.

But we live in a non-ideal world. I personally have had mostly poor audio experiences with typical digital filtering. This is why I made it selectable in my own DAC design. It is better IME to use more analog filtering instead.

However, I recently heard a DAC that had reasonable digital filter design, and that is the W4S DAC2 using the Sabre chip. This was using the I2S input on it driven from an Off-Ramp. World-Class SQ.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio