Do DACs/Amps matter?

Just as it is impractical to demonstrate they make a difference, it’s just as impractical to demonstrate that they don’t. Until there is a well controlled and robust study that demonstrates that all DAC and AMPs make 0 difference, I guess we are at an impasse.

Sorry for pulling you in since you responded while I was typing up a response. Seems strange to be posting on a thread expecting nobody to respond to you.

You can respond to me, but please don’t misconstrue what I said. To be clear: what I said, succinctly, was that there is way too much conviction in this scene given the lack of science and research that must underscore such conviction.

The fact that these strong convictions are also highly profitable certainly incentivizes manufacturers to maintain the status quo.


You know what, though? They are probably saying the same thing about us - that we “spew utter nonsense when it comes to audio.”

I personally don’t subscribe to the “my truth” philosophy, only to “the one truth.” So with that said, I have a simple solution: prove to the other side that you’re right.

Me too. I just can’t easily “prove” it, so I don’t get fired up over the topic anymore. I also choose not to purchase certain things, even if they sound better, because the cost increase doesn’t justify the gain in performance. That’s where true subjectivism, personal experience and opinion comes into play, which is what I was alluding to earlier.

Sort of, but it’s not that simple, and it’s not the same as claiming that I said what they believe is truth (which I didn’t). Truth without fact (proof) is not truth, and so if we cannot factually prove to them that we’re correct, then can we say our stance is indeed a fact?

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I don’t agree with this. Gravity existed before we “discovered” it and defined it. Same with anything that have been “proven” with science. All of these existed before we could prove them. Was everyone floating on earth before Issac Newton existed? Was gravity not a fact?

Yes, but if we don’t yet know it’s truth, how can it actually be defined and fully accepted as truth by mankind? :wink: There’s a difference between simply being uneducated to the facts and having discovered and legitimately proven something to be a fact.

Hopefully technology will advance and more truths/facts about this subject will be revealed.

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It’s worth reviewing @Resolve 's 10 stages of the love-hate relationship with the Harman curve. Some of the points are equally relevant to this discussion. Not only is the individual’s head, ear, and psycho-acoustic apparatus unique, nobody really knows what the other person’s perception is.

Further, as you point out about clinical listening, I found for years in professional publishing that experience creates changes. Once you see or hear something, you won’t unsee it, as I pointed out in a discussion back in 2019 What are you upgrading? - #178 by pennstac

And the herd mentality is not merely flavor of the month, it’s a key sales technique. It’s taught explicitly in quite a few sales books.

Good luck with your work on doing your own reviews. Make them really your own and you won’t go wrong. Trust, but verify, your own perceptions.


Oh, you underestimate the impact of recent inflation. That $35 bottle would cost at least $1,000,000,000.99 with 2022’s worthless money! My wife doesn’t drink much these days, so some guy with a $35 bottle of vitamins might steal her away.

Are you telling us something? Using “plugs” while blinded always seemed like living on the edge.


I haven’t addressed your underlying questions because, as @junki alludes, these are routine epistemology and philosophy of science topics. These concepts are well, well, well trod and have been beaten to death for decades and centuries.

Search for: “God’s-eye view.” “Role of the observer.” " Schrödinger’s cat." “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear, does it make a sound?” “Mental models.” “Cognitive construction of reality.” Etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.

These are bread-and-butter topics in college philosophy and psychology of perception classes. There are hundreds of books that sketch the range of interpretations for “knowledge” and “facts” and “ways of knowing.” In practice, most people approach the world through “naive realism.”

That’s all I have to say.


It’s an interesting discussion and I do feel that it’s getting addressed in a more balanced way than other places.

I have read Head-Fi, ASR and even some Archimago.

I have some take aways.

First, measurements are taken using a sine wave or a test tone, it’s not music, it’s a flat, 2 dimensional tone.

Stereo music isn’t flat. It’s two 3 dimensional signals interacting with each other. This, along with our brain’s ability to interpret, is what gives us imaging.

That tone also has very tightly controlled time alignment. It’s a pure wave that is generated. Music isn’t that. It’s complex and, when you listen to DAC designers like Mike Moffat and Rob Watts, they are very concerned with getting the time and frequency domain right in their products. Something that I’m not sure would be measurable on SINAD, THD and FR.

I’m not saying that those measurements are worthless, just that they don’t have a complete picture. It’s why a headphone that misses the Harmon curve can be pleasurable to listen to.

My second thought is that we are all different. My wife has significant hearing loss in one ear. She will never hear true stereo imaging like I do. This upsets me. Differences in our physical ears and nervous system, will change how each person hears something.

When you talk to 2 channel audiophiles using speakers, everything is dependant on the room and the interaction with the room and the speaker. I feel that with headphones the shape of your actual head starts to play a part.

Amps to me, clearly make a difference. Especially, their interaction with the driver. It needs to be able to handle the impedance swings of the transducer and control it, especially when the technology differs, such as with a planar magnetic or dynamic driver. Some drivers need more current, some more voltage

DAC’s make smaller differences, again, I think the time domain stuff might make a difference. What I have observed is that to me, multi bit is more important on my 2 channel setup as it gives greater depth to the soundstage, whereas delta sigma gives more width, that is actually more useful on headphones. Not that they can’t sound good on both, just a difference I have observed.

Finally, music is art. Concert pianists all play the same notes in roughly the same timing. But there is still interpretation within that, that makes one better than the other.

If Leonardo Da Vinca also had a DSLR camera and took a photo when he painted the Mona Lisa, which would we prefer if he hung them side by side? Would the photo enhance or diminish our appreciation of it? Do we appreciate the painting because generations of art critics have told us it is a masterpiece? That last one is a bit philosophical for a Monday morning, my apologies!

Synergy is often thrown around and I kind of agree, but I often wonder if we truly understand how amps and transducers really interact with each other. Maybe the designers do.

I don’t think we’ve found the truth yet.


I feel they definitely matter. I didn’t feel dacs made much of a difference until I got to the bifrost 2 level. I remember that be a significant jump for me. And I was thinking, man this is crazy to pay $700 for a dac… I hope I hear a difference… And I did :grin:. When I had my original Jotunheim 1 with the dac chip and tried a smsl dac with it, it wasnt really noticeable. But eventually I moved to the RNHP and then added the bifrost 2, as I mentioned above. I felt I started to really understand what was going on. I started to notice the blacker backgrounds, depth, separation, etc. And after I made the jump to the tt2, I felt I had even more of an understanding of how dacs are working within my chain. Unfortunately, I feel they’re just more noticeable as you climb the latter.

And with amps it’s definitely noticeable. Run a HD800 off a brighter ss amp like a thx 789. Then run it off a tube amp. Even an affordable tube amp like a bhc or dark voice. You’ll notice a difference. If you can’t then just enjoy something really simple off an affordable ss amp and be happy. Even airpod pros are solid for what they are.

The wrong amp pairing with a headphone can make them sound too bright, too warm, no bass punch, etc. So, yes it matters. To think otherwise is silly to me. If you can’t tell a difference or don’t want to go down the upgrade path, enjoy what you have, or just enjoy something like Porta pros off a simple dongle (nothing wrong with these either, I have a pair :grin:).

So imo they both matter. And synergy matters. Just because it’s a good amp or dac doesn’t mean its going to be good in your chain if you’re not pairing it properly. Same with the headphones. The wrong chain with the wrong headphone won’t sound like it should… We could even get into cables and power as well but that may burn this thread down :laughing:



I guess we should just let our resident expert explain to us if there are any differences.


I would call “steady state”. Those tones are so fast that they reach a steady state very quickly, and this is what gets measured.

Agreed. Looks like the community is still waiting for a test that captures these transients, whether to complement or even debunk the SINAD paranoia.

I look forward to stopping reading this kind of statement: for the price of this DAC one can purchase ‘n’ Topping E30s. :weary:


Just wanted to jump into this thread and give a big thank you to our community. These types of discussions can often get heated very quickly and I appreciate the amount of civil discourse that has been had in this thread so far. You guys rock!


Hmm, yeah I remember that video. What ever happened to doing “more of this kind of stuff” @Resolve?


More will come hopefully haha.

Edit - just to clarify, the reason it hasn’t happened yet is that we’re still in the process of building the tools to do it right, and there are also things that get in the way from a priority standpoint. But it’s in the works.


I never really understood this conversation. I mean, I get the whole NWAvGuy thing that for $100 you can get an amp or a DAC that performs well. Even the $8 Apple dongle is pretty great, as long as you don’t have hard-to-drive 'phones. But there’s no question that higher quality amps and DACs can improve sound quality, it’s obvious to anyone who’s listened to them. I A/B’d my Atom Amp against my RebelAmp, for example, and the difference wasn’t even close, and that’s not even the high end of the market. The Atom amp sounded great. The RebelAmp sounded better. Likewise I have a RU6 dongle and it sounds better than the Apple dongle or my Qudelix, especially on gear it pairs well with. And I know people get twisted into a knots about what’s more “accurate”, but for the life of me I can’t understand why someone who isn’t mixing music would prefer an “accurate” sound to a “pleasing” one.

If you just don’t want to get into all that because your headphones already sound good on an Apple dongle, that’s wonderful! I’d probably like tube amps but don’t really want to put the time, energy, and money into figuring out different amps and tubes and replacing tubes and so on, so I just leave it alone because my music already sounds good. Same goes for vinyl, only moreso. I also don’t want to spend $10,000 on source gear, so I reached a place where I’m happy and basically stopped. Only go as far as you want, it’s a hobby, it’s supposed to be fun not stressful.

But absolutes about source gear not mattering or what other people should and shouldn’t prefer are absurd.

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I’ve gotta say… I kind of hate that video because it creates the semblance of S-C-I-E-N-C-E, but at the end the takeaway is, hilariously, that USB cables make a difference. Those who understand the very basics about digital information, know that digital data either come in, or they don’t. They’re either perfect (readable) or they’re broken (not readable). With poor and long cables that generate a lot of interference and/or ground loops, it might mean that a really crappy DAC may not be able to tell what is a 1 and what is a 0 or whose operation may be impacted by the interference above the audible threshold, but they’re using two Chord’s here with cables that seem to be more than functional, so those phenomena are highly unlikely.

Much more likely interpretation is unit variation between the two Chord’s or somewhere else downstream the USB cables that is part of the analog chain, but suggesting the USB cables as the factor is just… I guess to put it politely, it suggests how difficult it is to both set up a proper test and to properly interpret results.

But many non-technical audiophiles will watch that and, like the host of the video, conclude, “USB cables make a difference.” And I guess the goal of selling expensive cables is accomplished.

I guess this is where I stop posting.


I really like what Passion For Sound is trying to do here and in his other videos. I’ve even participated in one of his online listening tests. But I gotta say, this particular test is fundamentally flawed. You don’t tell the participants that there is a difference in the configuration and then ask them if they hear it. You’ve already primed them to perceive a difference.

It’s interesting that while a significant majority hear a difference, the preference is split much closer to 50/50.

Here’s another USB cable video where he attempts to measure the difference. I found it much more convincing. I mean, I’m still not convinced but…

I hope you mean you decided to stop posting just to this thread and not this entire forum.