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iDemand a DAC

March 3, 2012

Many people visiting this blog will own an iPod, or some device that plays music from digital files. You probably own a pair of headphones, and may have invested in a new pair to improve the quality of your tunes. Many have.

But how many own a standalone DAC, or know what it does? Don’t worry, you don’t need to know the technical stuff, but if you had one you would be amazed at what it can do. It would bring your music to life. Let you hear details and sounds you never realised were there, hidden in your digital files.

Let me explain. I’m not an expert, not an audio engineer, but I do have a keen interest in HiFi and try to keep up with technology. So I am sharing what little I know, and maybe others will add their comments. I hope this will spark your interest, so that you will want to learn more.

The growth in demand for DACs is increasing more and more, as people are listening via headphones from their portable devices, and/or streaming their music around their homes. Wireless technology now allows you pick up music tracks stored on any connected device in your home.

A DAC stands for Digital to Analogue Converter. You already have one in your iPod or smartphone. Your music is ripped and stored as digital data, but sound-waves are ‘analogue’. In days of vinyl the vibrations from the groove in record track were transmitted and amplified as ‘analogue’ all the way to your ears. But today we need a DAC to convert the sound. And how well it converts the sound is the theme of this blog.

Standalone DACs range in price from a few hundred pounds to a few thousand, so they are not an impulse buy. You won’t find them in your local supermarket, and maybe not even in a specialist electrical retailer. But maybe soon you will. You will have seen many versions of iPod Docks. Devices that add speakers to your iPod and maybe charge it up. Some of these will have DACs inside that upgrade the quality of your tunes.

But let’s assume you have a good pair of headphones, and maybe have some HiFi equipment that drives your stereo speakers. If you add a good quality DAC between your digital files and either your headphones or Hifi you will be amazed. You can also hook up to you iPod. Let me tell my story.

Some years ago I invested in a pair of Grado S125 headphones, and I was very pleased with the results. I also bought a pair of iGrados to listen to my iPod, while at work. Increasingly my music was being ripped to PC’s or my laptop. Listening to CD’s, even via my Naim CDi and Naim Nait  amplifier, was no longer as convenient. But as you do, I became curious about upgrades. I knew Grado made better headphones and I found some on eBay. It was time for an audition and some friendly advice from a local HiFi dealer.

So we visited Stone Audio in Dorset. A fun day out and they were very helpful. A pair of Grado S325i’s could set you back over £300, but it doesn’t end there. You need a headphone amp and DAC to drive them. Stone had set up a demo using using a Chord CD player that cost an eye-watering £13,000. So the music source was impressive. We tried a number of combos, which I won’t detail here, and came away realising that I had to invest in a DAC to really make my Grado’s come alive. And that I needed to rip my entire CD collection as Apple Lossless files, rather than 320kbps. After some internet research, I settled on a Beresford Caiman TC-7520SE. A simple compact box of tricks that delivers great value for £150. An essential partner for my S325i’s.

Many early standalone DACs are not aesthetically exciting, as this link shows.

This could be the end of my story, but that was over a year ago and the market is evolving. The magazines are finally reviewing DAC’s as demand increases. And then we went to Sound and Vision, in Bristol last weekend.

If I have wetted your appetite for more, watch out for my next blog Sound & Vision feedback, which will include info about:- Audiolab’s M-DAC and Arcam’s D33 SuperDAC, the new Naim ND5 XS network player, streaming  all your tunes, plus radio, to delight your ears. And the omnipresent iPad; everyone controlling their demos via an iPad, save the vinyl kings. They still used ‘manual mode’ to lower the tone-arm.

PS – not sure why “Comments are closed” on this post. Have tried to fix, with no luck – sorry.

AV Forum Arcam D33 SuperDAC


From → Fun, Music, Personal, UK

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