Comparisons: DACs and High-Resolution Digital Audio

To Doug Schneider,

A bug has bit. Again.

I’m not dissatisfied with my hi-fi system, but would like to expand its capability.

A key element of this is higher-resolution digital audio. I’ve been using a laptop, streaming via USB to a SonicWeld Diverter (original, not HD), and on to the S/PDIF input of a Danish Audio Design three-box DAC.

I am a “believer,” if that is appropriate, in improved musicality from higher resolution. I am happy that I can hear the difference between 320kbps MP3 and FLAC, even in scenarios where I do not hear the same track in different resolutions back-to-back, and when I have never heard a track before. Play me a 320kbps recording of something, and I’ll typically be able to tell you it is 320kbps. The only exception to this was a direct-to-DSD recording that had been very carefully converted to 320kbps MP3 -- if all recordings were handled as carefully, there would be much less argument over quality.

I find there is a similar improvement in musical quality when comparing 16/44.1 recordings with 24/192, in particular, and with 24/96 if the source was suitably good.

Any upgrade enabling higher-resolution playback would require replacement of both the Diverter and the Danish Audio Design DAC.

Anyway, that’s the background . . .

I saw your comments in reference to the MSB Technology Select II. OK, I have a little bias, but have you seen the Danish Audio Design DAC 30D? The concept is very similar -- custom-sourced components and best technology -- but a very different price bracket. I’d love to see a comparative review, but won’t be holding my breath!

New Zealand

I’d love to compare those MSB Technology and Danish Audio Design DACs, even if their prices are miles apart. The Select II retails for $90,000 in the United States, which makes it one of the most expensive DACs ever built. According to the Danish Audio Designs website, the DAC 30D with the 30T power supply can be ordered direct from the factory, which is located in Denmark, for €5500. The outcome would be fascinating. The problem is that neither company sends out review samples too often (at least from what I can tell), so we don’t have either coming in. So you are right to not hold your breath.

Insofar as music goes, I’m glad you’re finding improvements with higher-resolution files, as have I in certain instances. However, I do caution people about making comparisons because I’ve found that in a number of cases, the masters used to create the standard- and high-resolution versions were obviously different, which invalidates any comparison between them. Two examples I know of are Leonard Cohen’s Popular Problems and Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. I own both on CD, which I’ve ripped as 16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC files and now use for my listening. I also have both as high-resolution files (Popular Problems is 24/96 FLAC, while Random Access Memories is 24/88.2 FLAC). You would think you could compare them, but you can’t. The 16/44.1 versions and their high-resolution counterparts sounded so different when I first heard them that I knew something was up, so I imported all the files into Audacity to analyze their contents. As far as I can tell, for both albums, different masters were used to create the high-resolution and CD versions, which means that you can’t properly compare them. That is not always the case, but I am finding that very often it is. The key is to make sure you are always doing an apples-to-apples comparison for differing file formats and resolutions, which means that the masters they’re made from have to be the same. . . . Doug Schneider