Sunday, August 4, 2013

dacs and our nutty memory

One of my hobbies is audio equipment. People, including my wife, think I am nuts because I am always buying speakers.  Well, I don't always buy speakers, sometimes I buy other stuff, like a DAC.  Do you know what a DAC is?  It's an acronym for Digital to Audio Converter.  In other words, it takes digital information (1's and 0's) like what are on CD's and DVD's, and converts them into analog information that can be played through a stereo system or watched on a television.

In the audio word, much ado is made over nothing. That is, people will make the biggest fuss over the most minute of differences in specifications and sometimes over no differences in specifications but they still insist they can hear big differences.  So there are big audible differences claimed, for things with microscopic differences in specifications.

One of those things is a DAC. Audiophiles claim to hear big differences between DAC's.

The other day I purchased a new DAC and connected it to my system. I set it up in such a way that I could compare it to another DAC I have, as well as the DAC that is built into a CD player that I have, too. I listened to various well-recorded song samples while switching back and forth between the various DAC's to determine what differences there were.

I heard no differences. I listened through speakers and I listened through headphones and it all sounded alike to me. Granted, it all sounded fantastically good, but nevertheless, there was no audible difference I could discern.

It made me wonder why can other people hear such "jaw dropping" differences between equipment like that, and I can't?  I have no trouble hearing differences between speakers and headphones but when it comes to comparing amplifiers or preamplifiers... or DAC's, I don't hear differences. If you compare the specifications among them, they vary so slightly that it is below the ear's ability to hear a difference. But yet some with golden ears claim to hear differences.

The other day I put myself in listening enjoyment mode and just sat down to listen to a bunch of tracks using the new DAC. I was wowed and happy. It sounded great.  If I had not done my previous comparison I would have said that this new DAC made a definite improvement in my audio system. It was sounding good, good, good.

But, the fact is I HAD done a comparison and at that time couldn't hear any differences. I don't think anything changed with this new DAC between the comparison time and listening enjoyment time. It seems my memory is just faulty.  Well not actually faulty; I mean, how can you really listen to something even several minutes ago that has only a teeny weeny difference, and then be able to accurately assess the differences you hear?  I believe that often when people write about the jaw dropping differences between old and new audio equipment, their mind is playing old Jedi mind tricks on them.

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