Delta Sigma: An Inconvenient Truth

Discussion in 'Digital: DACs, USB converters, decrapifiers' started by k4rstar, Jun 21, 2020.

  1. k4rstar

    k4rstar Done his time

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    i'm about to go full Al Gore on you guys because this is a discussion topic i have wanted to flesh out here for a while now

    if you love music, and i mean really love it, not just as background noise - why are you still bothering with D/S converters?

    i feel as though there has been an increase in discussions and interest regarding D/S DACs on this forum in the past two years. i attribute this mainly to two things:

    1) PRO AUDIO MEMES FOTM (AKA 50 SHADES OF GREY)

    there is an age-old fallacy in audio: "if it's good enough for the recording engineers who produced the music, it should be good enough for listening at home"

    this statement makes a few Dangerous (no pun intended) assumptions which i won't detour too far into debunking in this post. it may have made more sense in the 1950s, when recording studios were working with equipment from Telefunken, Altec, Westrex, Western Electric, Ampex, etc. but in an age of ProTools and DAWs it really holds no water.

    i know a few people, myself included, fell for @Psalmanazar's sermons about pro audio DACs. i would describe my many run ins with these DACs a lot like touching a burning stove to see if it's hot - i really shouldn't have been surprised every time i tried one and it was completely absent of any traits that make music worth listening to, and yet i would still be foolish enough to try another one after the disappointment

    i refer to these DACs as '50 shades of grey'. they have flavor differences, strengths and weaknesses in areas of technical prowess; but they all lack the same 'je ne sais quoi' that allow us to connect with long-dead performers on an emotional and spiritual level

    2) ASR

    there has been a real effort on this forum to promote a healthy approach to audio measurements as a result of the tomfoolery over at the AudioScienceReview forums. this is a noble cause, and i can appreciate the burning desire to combat blatant misinformation of the masses. but to do so means actually taking the time to buy, measure and listen to D/S DACs which otherwise aren't really worth the time of day (Topping).

    my perspective after 4 years

    i joined this forum in 2016 and since then have been around the DAC merry-go-round more than once. looking back at it, it was a severely autistic obsession that i wish i never started - but at least it has ended.

    i tried Schiit, chi-fi (AGD), pro audio (Dangerous, Crane Song), discrete R2R (Soekris), Israeli-fi (Teddy Pardo) and lo-fi (Border Patrol) to name just a few. i would rate my experiences with each not on any spider chart or audiophile lingo but based solely on my listening habits and willingness to seek out new music and recordings. for this, the delta-sigma DACs all occupy a place at the bottom, and the better R-2R implementations will start forming a ladder towards the top.

    i'll copy this apt description of D/S DACs i wrote from the TeddyPardo thread:
    your perspective

    i know all of this has been hashed out to some extent one way or another before, but i feel like an honest and stark refresher is in order. i know there are several community members who had similar experiences to me, and i would like to ask anyone who messed around with D/S converters in the past and settled on R2R as the righteous path to share their experience.

    paging @RobS
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2020
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  2. Armaegis

    Armaegis Friend

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    I still prefer my D/S pro audio dacs over the multibit whatevers, but you know what the real problem is? For the amount of money I've spent on the rig, I could have bought a pair of season tickets to the symphony and had enough left over to chase after some local bands and kept busy 3-4 times a month. (before covid that is)
    It's a shameful realization, because I walked away from those tickets thinking they were too expensive. I prioritized gear above the music.

    I'm doing this wrong.
     
  3. k4rstar

    k4rstar Done his time

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    i mean, yeah, we can talk about the opportunity cost of owning audio equipment all day but that's not really what the thread is about.

    i have a lot of $$$ in my two channel and headphone rigs, and i get a personal concert from long dead performers of every genre every night, so...

    what D/S dacs do you use now and why do you prefer them to the R2R ones you have tried?
     
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  4. GoodEnoughGear

    GoodEnoughGear Evil Dr. Shultz‎

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    I'm not sure there's an epiphany here or a stand to be taken per se. D/S has been improving, that's clear - maybe it will continue. Maybe some people prefer it, maybe you don't. There's no accounting for taste.
     
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  5. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

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    I can kind of get where @k4rstar is coming from in some respects. In the not-so-distant past, most delta-sigma implementations were just varying degrees of crap, with some being particularly poopy and some less so (who's heard one of those terrible Sabre 9018/9028 implementations?).

    My history on audio stuff isn't that polished; from what I understand, Schiit Audio's emergence onto the scene with their R2R/2R implementations both brought back the resistor-ladder DACs into the modern era, and also sparked much-needed progress in the delta-sigma front. There are legitimately very good DACs that use delta-sigma chips: X-Sabre Pro, CraneSong Solaris, Modius, to name a few. The last one is also relatively cheap, which brings me to my next point.

    It's simply impossible to get R2R/2R DACs to be cheap. To increase the bits, they need 2^n parts (or something like that; someone please correct me if I'm wrong). It becomes very expensive very quickly, and is at least partly the reason why Bifrost 2 commands such a premium over Modius. Delta-sigma allows the conversion to be done without costing as much. Of course, in the beginning, these DACs exhibited terrible qualities like digital highs and just terrible timbre. However, some clever engineers seem to have figured out how to make delta-sigma actually pretty good. No, they don't sound like the resistor-ladder stuff. But if you want that kind of sound, well, buy a resistor-ladder DAC.

    In conclusion, I think it's definitely possible to really love listening to music and enjoy a delta-sigma DAC in the current times. Of course, this could all be me justifying the crap out of using the X-Sabre Pro, but you'll never know. At any rate though, I'm glad that you found a sound that you truly enjoy.

    Note: this thread's premise reminds me of the argument between NOS DACs and oversampling. Personally, I don't think I like NOS, but I have a sample size of one.
     
  6. RobS

    RobS RobS? More like RobDiarrhea.

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    I need to get my ears on more R2R DACs. I simply don't have any experience outside the Schiit Multibit stuff, however I'm super interested in trying other stuff out like Soekris.

    Outside of Bricasti which is $$$, what other D/S implementations below $5k can even compete with the likes of say a Bifrost 2 for musical engagement as you described? The problem with the D/S converters I've heard are all plagued by a certain kind of unsatisfactoriness. Like they are unable to adequately resolve the finest textures and detail that give life to music and pull you in emotionally. It's not "natural" sounding, the feeling of knowing something is missing. I know this is lazy but this kind of "satisfaction" resists description, you'll know it when you hear it. If I get that feeling from a converter, then I can forgive its other sins (maybe the bass isn't the best, soundstage isn't deep, etc.).

    I've gotten so jaded to the point where I know something is not for me within the first 15 seconds (that's hyperbole, but it doesn't take long now). Even my initial fondness for a particular DAC can wane over time. Like what happened with the Convert-2. Out of the gate it is immediately impressive, but with more critical listening over time I realized how much detail was missing. @Psalmanazar summed it up perfectly by saying it scrubs music so clean in order to make shitty pop music sound better. If all you listen to is modern music made in DAWs and ProTools, its the perfect DAC. Get all the slam you need for trap music. But its very underwhelming with older recordings, you lose the sense of an acoustic space, lack of bass texture, detail I know is in a recording are absent and so on. It tries to universalize every track with a particular high intensity sound signature instead of being faithful to the recordings. I don't know if you have ever heard the album Endtroducing by DJ Shadow, but it has this dreamy, atmospheric, FM-Radio-fuzziness-beamed-from-another-dimension sound to it where the Dangerous converter cleaned it up way to much. It should be muddier. It ruined the feel and atmosphere of that album.

    Anyway, I know I have my "Psalmanazar Groupie" tag from liking all his audio related posts, agreed with him on many things, followed his pro-audio advice on gear and so on. But I think it might be better to place his opinions on various converters in the context that he is a budding audio professional who needs the right tool for the job. Those tools may not belong in your toolkit. I'm after a particular audio reproduction and those are the wrong tools for me. I've said this before, but I don't see the recording or mastering engineer as the measure of all audiophile things. We simply don't have the same equipment they did when albums were mastered. But on a more philosophical level, once you realize that music reproduction is itself a re-interpretation of an acoustic event, then you are free to chose the interpretation you like the most. It's a fool's errand to do otherwise IMO.

    This is getting too long and boring, but the other problem I hear with every D/S converter is there still exists some level of digital hash. Sometimes its more easily apparent like with a Modi 3, other times more difficult, but it's there. It just kills the realism for me.

    I've thought about doing a proper take down of ASR and fight Sauron and his one-measurement-rig-to-rule-them-all, but it's time consuming and I don't know enough about audio science to properly do it well. And reading their forum is always a reminder it ain't worth it. If folks just engaged in a little more critical thinking, ASR wouldn't exist as it does.

    LOL yeah that's me. I'm still obsessed. For whatever reason, I always heard the largest differences in my systems whenever I switched out DACs. They obviously don't matter as much as speakers, but I'm insane so I continue to burn more money at source components. Like purr1n said awhile ago, I'm like Goldilocks trying to find the perfect bed.
     
  7. Jay

    Jay Almost "Made"

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    I think the R2R vs. DS dogma has many of the same tenets as the balanced vs. single ended headphone gospel. At the end of the day, a poorly implemented R2R will not be as good as a masterfully implemented DS.

    However, taken on technical merits alone, I feel that R2R is the superior technology based strictly on the waveform it produces. Yet, it's what the designer does with this waveform is what differentiates the final sound. Some chefs could be given a golden egg and will produce the world's best eggs Benedict, while some will struggle to make an Egg McMuffin.

    I have the Gungnir multibit A1 and I truly like it. However, it's not always convenient for me. For starters, it's not portable. I listen to a lot of music on the go. Also, I live in an area with frequent thunderstorms, so I turn off my gear and unplug it often. The two-day warm up to optimal sound is not always conducive to enjoying the music, especially if I want a quick listening session. I recently bought the Schiit Modius to be my "summer dac." It sounds near 100% immediately upon turn on.

    Because of these, and as much as I like the R2R sound, DS will always be a part of my life. When I switch between the tech, I can hear the difference. But then I remind myself that I'm supposed to listen to the music and not the gear.

    Back to my original point about dogma, I feel the Modius when run balanced is uncomfortably close to the Gungnir. No, you'll never mistake it for the Schiit multibit sound or the Moffat bass slam, but it's a very good implementation. Is it $1000 different? I guess it's up to you in how you try to achieve that final 1-5% improvement. It shows what a master Mike Moffat is when it comes to designing dacs. I can pick apart the technical merits of the sound, and I could dwell on the shortcomings of the DS treble and smear, or I can enjoy the music for what it is.

    It seems like there is usually competing tech for each end, and usually one flavor wins out for the masses and one is relegated to niche, even if it is technically superior. Take VHS vs. Betamax for example. VHS won out for the masses, even though Betamax was better. But, Betamax didn't die completely because it was still used professionally. Football teams (NFL, college) used Betamax to film all their practices and games. Only recently did they go all digital, but that shows just how good the tech was.

    Until R2R can handle the portability and warm up issues, DS will reign supreme, especially since the chip manufacturers make it so easy to implement and takes risk-taking designing out of the equation. Here's a great interview with Mike Moffat on the subject:

    .
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2020
  8. Phantaminum

    Phantaminum Friend

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    I'm on the side of the fence that it's half implementation and half synergy.

    As of now, I only have headphones so I'm not able to relate when it comes to speakers. I can say that the Bifrost 2 pairs very well with both the ZMF Pendant and the SW 51+. These two amps have strong transients that work well with Bifrost 2 somewhat rounded presentation.

    Throw Bifrost 2 before the EC Studio Jr and transients hit with the force of a goose down pillow (exaggerating a little). Because of this, I recently purchased the Matrix Sabre Pro with some hesitation. I've personally never been a fan of any sabre chipset solution. Always pulled the headphone off and walked away. With its filter set to square out transients, it worked to bring some snap and crunch back into the music. The Matrix surprised me in that it's probably the first D/S solution I've enjoyed. It doesn't sound like any previous sabre DAC I've heard. The Bifrost 2 still does several things better than the MSP but the MSP also does several things better than the Bifrost 2.
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2020
  9. RedFuneral

    RedFuneral Almost "Made"

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    In my experience D/S struggles on value. I've moved back to on-board audio(the newest Realtek 1220) over a couple budget minded DACs and its simply less flawed. The fact all but one of these budget DACs were AKM may help explain my conclusion. Most budget DACs sell themselves on measurements & neutrality and on the later count they fall behind freebie mobo audio.

    As for >1K S/D I get the impression they are targeting the same consumers who are considering R2R, designing for specific sound-signatures for listeners who want more than graphs. Bothj the Questyle & Exogal I owned were chasing desired analog/tube traits to my ear having fuller mids & a vivid colors. I haven't heard the Dangerous, Solaris, etc. but by descriptions they seem more like R2R DACs in having strong 'love it or hate it' traits.

    My point being: Does it make sense to lump in budget & premium S/D into the same camp? They target different demographics and the philosophy behind high-end S/D strikes me as being closer to R2R than it does to 'best measurements & most features at the lowest price.'
     
  10. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    I'm glad you are taking a strong stance here. Please continue.

    Only one thing to ask: can we not use the word "meme"? It reminds me of Discord stupidity where everything is a meme. Marv likes Schiit is a meme. Everybody is subject to Marv's mind control and buys Schiit is a meme. Everybody bitches that everybody listens to Marv and buys Schiit is a meme. I wish SBAF was Changstar is a meme. I'm an audio 1%er and hate everyone who buys Schiit is a meme.

    I prefer the more mature "opinion", "train-of-thought", "outlook", or "method". I mean JFC, everything is fricking a meme, including Christianity, democracy, rock-and-roll, Art Deco, and R2R.
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2020
  11. Cspirou

    Cspirou They call me Sparky

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    i feel like I'm the only one that prefers studio albums recorded in a controlled environment where they have several takes to produce the best version of a song. Symphonies are the exception but rock concerts with LA kids and their "cool" parents in back get obnoxious after awhile
     
  12. tommytakis

    tommytakis Gear Cycler SoCal Edition

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    Yeah I feel the same way regarding D/S vs. R2R and don’t really see things in absolute black and white, as long as the synergy is good. XSP is a good example because I too generally hate sabre DACs. First time I heard the Matrix XSP was at @ChaChaRealSmooth ’s place during the SBAF meet and when I plugged my 3F with it, tbh I did not enjoy it at all. It was way too aggressive and sharp, I stopped listening after a couple seconds. But, later that day when I heard it with the DNA Starlett, the synergy was pretty insane. XSP helped remove some of the roundedness and softness that some amps have (DNA stuff, Black Widow) while maintaining most of what I like about them ( dynamic contrast, tone, smooth vocal rendering, etc.)

    For certain amps like SW51, BHA1, 3F that have a more crisp and sharp transients, I prefer pairing it with R2R DACs like the Bifrost 2 that helps add a bit of warmth and body while softening the edge.
     
  13. Dzerh

    Dzerh Friend

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    offtopic, sorry
    for me it is just two completely different things - live music is about atmosphere and energy and studio recordings is about sound. Talking about sound only, in most cases I prefer studio sound.
     
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  14. mitochondrium

    mitochondrium Friend

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    I do neither believe in absolute truth nor in any kind of -ism, so neither DSism nor R2Rism for me.
     
  15. YMO

    YMO it's not drinking alone if you're on Zoom

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    I don't really focus on the R2R/S-D stuff that much, I focus on the SQ and does it work well in a setup. I do fully understand some of the grievances of the S-D sound in general. In matter of fact, I thought all Sabre DACs are utter shit until I heard a ESS9018 in a Ayre Codex. That told me that not all Sabre DACs sound bright as shit.

    Currently I have two DACs that are consider the R2R stuff, but I got it more for the sound than what tech is in it. However, I'm thankful for S-D stuff for giving us cheap stuff for the masses. Some might cringe on that statement, but without S-D no $99 Modi 3.
     
  16. Melvillian

    Melvillian Friend

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    I’m with you, but good multibit dacs are very expensive. I wish I liked the sound of Schiit’s multibit dacs but I don’t.

    my point is, I’d rather get a D/S dac that I can live with instead of a multibit dac that I dislike
     
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2020
  17. Jay

    Jay Almost "Made"

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    I don't have any other experience with R2R than Schiit, and I think I agree with you under some circumstances. I my current system, the synergy of Schiit MB, my amp, and Senn HD 650, there can be too much of a good thing. I think if I had more open and leaner sounding headphones with less of a mid-bass hump, the Schiit MB sound would be fully maximized. It's currently not doing any favors for my Senn HD 650s.
     
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  18. allegro

    allegro Friend

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    @Jay if you live in an area with frequent thunderstorms and power outages you should be using a good UPS on your main DAC to begin with. I burp my Yggdrasil a couple of times a year, otherwise it is on 24/7. No reason you can't enjoy your Gungnir year round.
     
  19. k4rstar

    k4rstar Done his time

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    OK, i think i glossed over a few important points in my original post

    WHAT DELTA-SIGMA IS GOOD AT
    you are absolutely right, D/S is good at being cheap and easy, i don't think anyone is arguing against that and it's place in the budget space. i'm actually very pleased with what Schiit is doing now on the low end, using next-gen opamps and targeting the sonic shortcomings of certain chips. but that's exactly where this stuff belongs: your phone, your car, your office/summer house system.

    if there wasn't a growing market of objective-minded buyers with purchasing power, i don't think Schiit would be pushing the envelope as much as they are. ASR is not the cause of this either, it's the result. it's all 20 to 30 year olds in the tech space buying this stuff, and technical thinkers tend to gravitate towards technical solutions. i wouldn't spend more than $100-500 for a D/S DAC depending on feature set.

    this is not to rag on people who own cheap gear. i'm just curious about the 2-3% of you guys who have premium D/S DACs (btw, i lump FPGA/DSD based conversion in the same camp, more on this later). have you ever been made consciously aware of a change in your listening habits, your willingness to seek out and be interested in new music, versus using R2R DACs? i guess the sample size of individuals who have tried both at length (and gone beyond just Schiit for R2R) is still a bit small :(

    THE RESURGENCE OF R2R?

    i wouldn't credit Schiit with any R2R resurgence. maybe interest in it in the personal audio space, when 10 years ago everyone was listening to some truly awful stuff. you have to remember digital audio started with CD players. in the 90s, DACs (digital processors as they were more commonly called) were a niche thing for dudes with lots of money and a 'separates are better' mentality. actually, the resurgence of R2R should be credited to the Japanese, who published articles in their domestic stereo magazines about the superiority of the original Philips TDA chips, talk which eventually trickled down to the underground US hi-fi scene, much like they did about SET amps and horn speakers.

    WARMUP TIME

    the situation with warm-up time, in my experience, is unique to Schiit DACs, and perhaps some discrete ladder DACs. my current DAC is TDA1541 based, with tubes no less, and sounds its best 15 minutes after turn on. again, you have to remember that all of this started with CD players. no one in the 80s or 90s was waiting 3 weeks or even 24 hours after turning their CD player on for it to sound good, that would be insanity.

    DOGMA/TRUTH

    the title of this thread was tongue in cheek and a homage to old threads about the Dynamic vs. Planar master race. of course i don't believe in absolute truths when it comes to audio, only personal ones. the whole point of the thread was to spark a discussion, to get people to think critically about what is out there and revisit things they may have previously written off. i really wish someone had grabbed me by the shoulders 4 years ago and screamed 'YOU WILL NEVER BE SATISFIED WITH DELTA-SIGMA, LET IT GO'. this is my kinda subtle way of doing that for other people now :)

    LOL, ok fixed. i am working on adjusting my vocabulary to exclude Zoomer phrases
     
  20. Jay

    Jay Almost "Made"

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    I had thought about this, but I was more worried about power surges that actual flickering or short-term blackouts. Although lightning power surges are rare, I've been around enough fried tvs to be slightly worried.
     
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