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How to compare DACs and decide what to purchase for DSD playback...

How to compare DACs and decide what to purchase for DSD playback...


You've heard the difference and have made the decision to buy a DAC capable of playing DSD.  With hundreds to choose from now what?  

It's a tough decision.  The prices range from $200 to upwards and beyond $25,000.  Can a $25,000 DAC make that much difference? What is a DAC anyway?

Digital Audio Converter - DAC 

That is the piece of gear (or installed soundboard in the computer) that translates the information from digital (unaudible numerical sound) to analog (real sound).  They now come in all shapes and sizes and prices.

The first thing I suggest is to determine your price range based on your listening system.   For digital audio I would suggest no less than 10% of the cost of your playback system.  More is better and the DAC can make a difference in sound for better or worse.

Depending on the taste of the manufacturer, those devices using the same chips can vary in sound.  So, you need to use your ears.  Do you like more bass? Want more of a full midrange?  Do you want your music to pop?  Or full dynamic range for classical listening.  We've compared dozens of DACs in all price ranges over the same equipment and have found none to sound the same.

So how does the average consumer gets to hear and compare these different DACs?

I would suggest getting to know the taste of various reviewers.  See if one is using your gear or similar to review the DACs.  What are they comparing to?

Then join a local audiophile group.  Ask them what they think.  See if you can borrow a DAC from someone or offer to do a listening test at your home.

Go to the local audiophile store (or make a vacation of it to visit a few in your area).  There are times they might let you buy with 30 days to return (or maybe for a weekend and take home a few).

Go to audiophile shows with your favorite music... something you know in your headphones.  All the rooms are different so I would suggest a headphone test.

Definitely talk to customers of the device to find out if they've had mechanical problems over time.  I might even suggest paying a little more for a brand that you know will be in business in the next 2 years.  Someone might offer a trade-up for you.

It's not an easy decision and you can probably expect to trade in your first DAC within 2 years to upgrade.

Most of all, enjoy the journey and meeting people all interested in great sounding music!


Cookie Marenco
Founder and Producer
Blue Coast Music