Using external DAC with AVR for Direct music audio

H

Hattrick17

Enthusiast
Has anyone used an external two channel DAC with their AVR for digital music audio playback?

Example:
Some AVR's have a Direct bypass feature. If one wants to use the analog ins of the AVR for lets say a phono pre for their turntable and doesn't want AVR processing the signal of the analog input they can.

In the case mentioned in this thread. Same concept for musical digital content connected to an external DAC to the analog inputs of the AVR utilizing the same Direct routing without any AVR DSP or DAC processing. Thus a true bypass sound coming from the external DAC via analog in.

The purpose of me asking of this is one if anyone has done this? Two to see if one has found significant audio improvements of the external DAC used verses the internal DAC of the AVR.
 
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lovinthehd

lovinthehd

Audioholic Jedi
I haven't found that a different or external dac from the avr's makes any significant difference myself. Can restrict processing options in the avr, tho. Depends what you want....
 
P

PENG

Audioholic Slumlord
The purpose of me asking of this is one if anyone has done this? Two to see if one has found significant audio improvements of the external DAC used verses the internal DAC of the AVR.
It depends on many factors such as:

- The performance specs of the DAC and the AVR
- The types, and quality of the digital media content
- The speakers, room, placement, that may or may not benefit from RC (Room correction). In some cases, the sound quality improvements with RC (Dirac, Audyssey, AARC etc..) could out weigh the better performance of your external DAC.

Bottom line, need to know the specifics of each individual case.
 
H

Hattrick17

Enthusiast
Please refer to my comments on your post.

It depends on many factors such as:

- The performance specs of the DAC and the AVR

Well these would be known prior to the test. Dac Selection would have to have higher specs and reviews that counter part of chip dac in AVR.

- The types, and quality of the digital media content
To make the test simple using CD's for reference. Mainly those which have known high quality recordings and most likely not over produced. Using CD transport or a CD/BR which has internal DAC bypass digital out.


- The speakers, room, placement, that may or may not benefit from RC (Room correction). In some cases, the sound quality improvements with RC (Dirac, Audyssey, AARC etc..) could out weigh the better performance of your external DAC.

Good point. Test would be apples to apples no room correction would be available for the external DAC being internal analog output and AVR set to Pure Direct. However for the AVR DSP would be set for Digital Stereo only for internal AVR DAC output.

To your point a comparison using the internal DAC with room correction would also be considered. As stated if the AVR internal DAC utilizing room correction brings a better sound to ones ears then the simple answer is don't by an external DAC use the AVR DAC with room correction and DSP if it sounds better.

I have a feeling the later will be the case but as stated was curious if anyone has tried this concept and their findings. If the answer is some have and their findings are as I mentioned in the "To your point" that would be enough for me.



Bottom line, need to know the specifics of each individual case.
 
P

PENG

Audioholic Slumlord
Well these would be known prior to the test. Dac Selection would have to have higher specs and reviews that counter part of chip dac in AVR.
Just higher specs is not always enough. For example, if the AVR is an NAD T758 V3, or Anthem MRX520, then external dac or not would likely not make any difference because the bottleneck will be the AVR's power amp, not the DAC. In other cases, the preamp of the AVR could be the limit and in that case the DAC itself will not make a difference.

So yes in a generic sense, using an external DAC with SOTA performance or has performance specs such as at least 10 higher SINAD than the AVR's DAC, then you will likely hear a difference under some conditions.

Other than that, I would also consider the DAC's capability to play various digital files. If you have one that can play DSDs up to 512, or at least 256, and PCM up to 24bit/192 kHz or higher then you will have a wider pool of high quality recordings to choose from.

In my experience, even 16bit/44.1 kHz files can sound better than some DSD256 or 24bit/384 kHz files but I also find that there are more top quality recordings in the higher resolution pools.

Also based on experience, and that is highly subjective, I have external DACs that "sounded" better than the ones in my AVRs and AVPs using analog input/direct mode. No night and day kind of difference for sure, so in a blind listening comparison session, I wouldn't know if the perceived difference would hold, or disappear.
 
H

Hattrick17

Enthusiast
Comments inside of post:


Just higher specs is not always enough. Agreed. For example, if the AVR is an NAD T758 V3, or Anthem MRX520, then external dac or not would likely not make any difference because the bottleneck will be the AVR's power amp, not the DAC. In other cases, the preamp of the AVR could be the limit and in that case the DAC itself will not make a difference. The AVR is an Arcam AVR 850. I don't for see any issues similar to the NAD.

So yes in a generic sense, using an external DAC with SOTA performance or has performance specs such as at least 10 higher SINAD than the AVR's DAC, then you will likely hear a difference under some conditions.

Other than that, I would also consider the DAC's capability to play various digital files. If you have one that can play DSDs up to 512, or at least 256, and PCM up to 24bit/192 kHz or higher then you will have a wider pool of high quality recordings to choose from. I believe the 850 would be in compliance to this. If I get an External DAC it to would be of at least the compliance of 850 internal DAC or better.

In my experience, even 16bit/44.1 kHz files can sound better than some DSD256 or 24bit/384 kHz files but I also find that there are more top quality recordings in the higher resolution pools. Comparisons would be more of standard CD quality. I would probably listen to more simple mixed music 4 or 5 instrument and or vocals. I would avoid heavy produced and layered processing of songs for testing. Though a Steely Dan tune or Alan Parson song would probably be listened. I have a Beck CD I absolutely love for reference.

Also based on experience, and that is highly subjective, I have external DACs that "sounded" better than the ones in my AVRs and AVPs using analog input/direct mode. No night and day kind of difference for sure, so in a blind listening comparison session, I wouldn't know if the perceived difference would hold, or disappear.

Interesting. I have done a somewhat comparison using two different digital outs on my Oppo 203. HDMI and Coax. When playing a CD via the HDMI to AVR and then switching to the COAX to the AVR there is a noticeable difference . To the point I choose the COAX of the Oppo 203 to sound better to my ears. My understand from reading the owners manual the COAX bypasses the internal DAC of the 203 thus the AVR 850 is processing the data.
 
lovinthehd

lovinthehd

Audioholic Jedi
HDMI and digital coax out from your 203 are both digital and both bypass your Oppo's dac and thus would be same info being presented to your avr dac.....the implementation could perhaps have slightly different levels which could alter your perception (louder is generally perceived as better in an informal comparison). You could rather compare your dac in the 203 by using analog output from the 203 into an appropriate set of analog inputs on your avr.
 
slipperybidness

slipperybidness

Audioholic Warlord
My philosophy for all of my work and hobbies is to start SIMPLE, then ONLY add complexity to solve a problem.

Adding needless complexity is a problem in itself.

Going by this philosophy, you are likely wasting time/$/rack space by adding needless complexity when you add an external DAC just willy-nilly.

The first step must be to define the problem. Once you have defined a problem, then you look for the ideal solution.

So, what is your problem that you NEED to resolve here? If you can't define that, then you don't NEED an external DAC.
 
P

PENG

Audioholic Slumlord
The AVR is an Arcam AVR 850. I don't for see any issues similar to the NAD.
You are right, based on measurements the AVR850 performed much better than the NAD. I used the NAD as an example because it measured so poorly, so it is easy to make the point that the answer to your question really depends on which specific AVR you will be using.

Now we know you are using the AVR850 for comparison, we can look at the known facts. If you look at the measured performance using CD direct, The AVR850 has relatively high THD+N. As most would likely agree, THD of even 0.1% may not be audible, but in a very quiet room you could hear noise (hiss/hum etc.) under certain conditions, example: listening to classical music during a quiet passage. The bench test results would seem to indicate that even with a best measured external DAC, you will not likely hear a difference, vs the Arcam's internal one using CD direct because the Arcam's preamp and power amp (more so the power amp) would be the bottlenecks anyway. I am not talking about the perceived sound quality, but just that in theory there wouldn't be audible difference between using the best external DAC and the Arcam's internal one for other factors including but not limited to the ones noted below.

Note: Even if you pair the Arcam with the best available power amp, external DAC still may not make an audible difference. That's because a) while the Arcam's internal DAC/preamp did not measured exceptionally well, but it is good enough such that the better specs/measurements of an external DAC will not likely result in audible improvements, and b) With the best available DAC IC, the Arcam's preamp will become the bottleneck, in terms of specs and measurable performance.

Arcam AVR850 Home Theater AVR Review | Audio Science Review (ASR) Forum

1651237655322.png
 
H

Hattrick17

Enthusiast
HDMI and digital coax out from your 203 are both digital and both bypass your Oppo's dac and thus would be same info being presented to your avr dac.....the implementation could perhaps have slightly different levels which could alter your perception (louder is generally perceived as better in an informal comparison). You could rather compare your dac in the 203 by using analog output from the 203 into an appropriate set of analog inputs on your avr.

Thank you for the information. I don't know what I was thinking the HDMI out of anything is bit stream. Not sure why I thought it would be processed by the internal DAC of the 203 then bit stream digital to my AVR. Thanks for clearing that up for me. I will disconnect the Coax being it really isn't needed. DAC topology can be a bit confusing for novices like me. My understanding of DAC is Digital Audio Conversion thus the DAC is used in the Oppo or any other device to do just that. That being said the DAC in the OPPO is for the analog outs to an amp. Thank you for clarifying.

But back to my thread topic. One using either the HDMI Audio or Coax from my Oppo to a high end DAC then analog L&R out to an analog in my AVR 850 using Pure bypass offer a better musical experience than just sending the bit stream direct to the AVR and using the internal DAC and DSP?
 
H

Hattrick17

Enthusiast
You are right, based on measurements the AVR850 performed much better than the NAD. I used the NAD as an example because it measured so poorly, so it is easy to make the point that the answer to your question really depends on which specific AVR you will be using.

Now we know you are using the AVR850 for comparison, we can look at the known facts. If you look at the measured performance using CD direct, The AVR850 has relatively high THD+N. As most would likely agree, THD of even 0.1% may not be audible, but in a very quiet room you could hear noise (hiss/hum etc.) under certain conditions, example: listening to classical music during a quiet passage. The bench test results would seem to indicate that even with a best measured external DAC, you will not likely hear a difference, vs the Arcam's internal one using CD direct because the Arcam's preamp and power amp (more so the power amp) would be the bottlenecks anyway. I am not talking about the perceived sound quality, but just that in theory there wouldn't be audible difference between using the best external DAC and the Arcam's internal one for other factors including but not limited to the ones noted below.

Note: Even if you pair the Arcam with the best available power amp, external DAC still may not make an audible difference. That's because a) while the Arcam's internal DAC/preamp did not measured exceptionally well, but it is good enough such that the better specs/measurements of an external DAC will not likely result in audible improvements, and b) With the best available DAC IC, the Arcam's preamp will become the bottleneck, in terms of specs and measurable performance.

Arcam AVR850 Home Theater AVR Review | Audio Science Review (ASR) Forum

View attachment 55738
Great stuff learned by you guys. I learned a lot. I will save my money and not go down the DAC rabbit hole while using a very good AVR like the Arcam 850. Maybe in my future media room I would have two systems but it would be something I would have to toy with with return policies per two channel gear to see if it really is worth have two system when one has invested in a nice AVR. Thank you again.
 
lovinthehd

lovinthehd

Audioholic Jedi
Thank you for the information. I don't know what I was thinking the HDMI out of anything is bit stream. Not sure why I thought it would be processed by the internal DAC of the 203 then bit stream digital to my AVR. Thanks for clearing that up for me. I will disconnect the Coax being it really isn't needed. DAC topology can be a bit confusing for novices like me. My understanding of DAC is Digital Audio Conversion thus the DAC is used in the Oppo or any other device to do just that. That being said the DAC in the OPPO is for the analog outs to an amp. Thank you for clarifying.

But back to my thread topic. One using either the HDMI Audio or Coax from my Oppo to a high end DAC then analog L&R out to an analog in my AVR 850 using Pure bypass offer a better musical experience than just sending the bit stream direct to the AVR and using the internal DAC and DSP?
Well, actually many players can decode the bitstream internally (like the Oppo) and send it out not as a bitstream but rather as multich pcm over hdmi (but can't send multich pcm via coax). YMMV but I don't find the dac to be crucial at all, and the ones embedded in your player and avr are just fine. If you want to work on better sound quality experiences I'd concentrate on your room and the speakers, as that is where the action is....your electronics are fine.

You won't find a lot of external dacs with hdmi. The dacs in your Oppo are quite good, so if concerned about dac try that one first. DACs are a long resolved commodity in audio, much of the information out there saying a dac will make big differences is mostly a crock IMO and far too many dwell on the subject unnecessarily. Some may have better spec, but for the most part we are talking inaudible differences in spec. With just the right gear in a quiet room played at very high volume....you might find "differences" but IMO mostly it's like this:
differences.jpg
 

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