There was a time when I thoughts bits were ‘just bits’; that a CD was the closest we could get to the master tape; that a DAC would sort out any upstream inconsistencies. In a broader sense, I also one believed that digital audio offered a cleaner, brighter future for recorded music.
And then, one by one, over a number of years, listening experiences began to tell me otherwise. Some early CDs sounded thin and hard. The loudness wars meant that “Remastered from the original tapes” wasn’t necessarily an improvement on the original. Not all DACs sounded the same (not even with the same DAC chip inside) and that those DACs weren’t immune to upstream differences.
Over the course of twenty years, eight of them spent as a hifi reviewer, the received wisdom that ‘bits were just bits’ was slowly eroded by first-hand experience.
Case in point. It’s convenient to our bank accounts to think that our DAC will sort out a digital signal’s timing errors – i.e. correct for jitter – and red card any incoming electrical noise.
Promises of Femto clocks with single-digit pico-second accuracy and galvanically isolated inputs see (some) DAC manufacturers and their marketing departments pile on with the theoretical reinforcement. Doubt be gone! (That’s their job).
Giving lie to the theory and promotional promises are first-hand listening experiences. A Sonore microRendu’s USB output sounds quite a bit better than a Raspberry Pi’s USB output. Adding a USB-S/SPDIF converter HAT (‘Hardware Attached on Top’) to that same Raspberry Pi takes its digital sound quality up a notch. And not all DDC-ing HATs sound alike. We also net improvements to the Raspi’s digital SQ when swapping out the stock 5V SMPS for a low noise varietal.
In other words, first-hand experience, it matters. All of it. Read my latest piece for AudioStream here.