The DAC is the fastest evolving HiFi component. New hardware arrives in the market place, standards and formats continue to evolve and there is greater understanding of how the underlying theory behind the engineering affects sound quality. We have become accustomed to the continual evolution of computers and anticipate replacing them regularly. There is an annual expense for software and cloud based services. If there is an old DAC in your system, getting a more up to date one is going to be a worthwhile upgrade. Like a phono cartridge, ongoing cost of ownship should be considered along with performance.
Originally DAC chips at heart of the DAC component were generic not specifically designed for HiFi use. A greater selection of audio DAC chips are now available. Some manufactuers implement their own chip designs in architecturally configurable programable chips (FPGAs) as this allows them to set up the hardware to process the digital information according to their own proprietory methods in a more effective beneficial way without the constraints of the off the shelf chips. However the power supply, analog output stage, and processing methods are just as important on the final sound than the capability of the converter chip itself.
The greater capability of newer DACs enables them to handle high resolution media that are closer to the original archive recording and to unpack compressed or encoded formats. The limit to the dynamic range that can be comfortably reproduced in domestic listening environments, and the loudness contours of our hearing apparatus, remains the same. As does the art of microphone placement and the talents of the recording and mastering engineers. Nevertheless better recording and reproduction tools help enormously.
It's not too hard to appreciate the difference in sound quality of a modern DAC compared to an older one. Bass is far better defined (bass frequencies take longer to reconstruct than high frequencies) High frequencies are softer and more delicate (less interference from processing artifacts). There is more separation, depth, layering, ambiance and air (the full dynamic window of the orginal recording is processed without truncation). There is far less homogenization of complex passages (all the processing can be completed within the brief time available between musical events).
Because DAC functionality is implemented in CD players, streamers/network players, integrated amplifiers, preamplifiers, all-in-one units, actively powered loudspeakers, and as dedicated stand alone components, incorporation into an existing system, or new electronics/listening platform, can be achieved in a number of ways. kemela can guide you through this process from functionality, performance, useful life, and cost of ownership perspectives. kemela carries brands that will suit your particular situation, the ways in which you listen to music, and what matters most to you.
kemela maintains close contact with manufacturers and new product launch planning and release. It is for each potential customer to decide the authority they assign to reviewers versus their own ears but DAC reviews are more likely to be out of date compared to other products and, as is always the case, many great products never get to be reviewed.
DACs operate at very high frequencies and are particularly sensitive to the quality of mains power fed to them and the cabling used.