In Search of – USB DAC

I have been in the market for a DAC – a USB / Optical / Coax DAC to be specific and on a whim I went into one of our long time audiophile stores and asked the sales person to show me what they had, and I was presented with 3 options, DAC #1 was a Music Fidelity V-DAC for about 300.00; next up was a Music Hall 25.2 headphone amp – DAC retailing in the $500.00 USD ballpark;  DAC #3 was the Bryston BDA1 coming in at $2100.00 USD.

When I enquired about which one sounded the best I was told the Bryston, then I asked if the Bryston sounded as $1800.00 better than the Music Fidelity? And instead of letting me listen to both in the same system, the sales person told me that of course the Bryston would sound better… then he went to explain that it has a “very thick machined aluminum faceplate”, then I was told, “some people spend $200,000 USD on a car or drink $500.00 bottles of wine and a DAC is similar!” Now I want know how a heavy machined aluminum faceplate helps something sound better unless it is a musical instrument. After the monologue Mr. Audiophile Salesman took me into a dimly lit room full of high end gear and directed my attention to the magical Bryston BDA1 next he pointed out that it had every connection on the back that I was looking for, in addition to a few that I would never use, he then explained that is would handle all of the current high end bit rates and sampling rates. Still without turning it on; all I wanted to do was compare it with the 300.00 Music Fidelity V-DAC.

So why was I not trying to learn about the 25.2 DAC, well it has a headphone amp and that was something that I do not need since I rarely listen to headphones unless I am at work.

After about 10 minutes of this I asked him if I could make an appointment to come back and A-B the Bryston with the Music Fidelity, and at that time he figured he didn’t have a sale so he emailed me the link to the Bryston website so I could research the product and so I could email him a time when I could come in and audition the Bryston.
So here we are, I am skeptical of Mr. Audiophile Salesman, (even though it most likely sounds fantastic), if the high priced DAC is that good it should make the cheap DAC sound bad by comparison; I bet it sounds better but not enough to make it worth the price. If it did then they would use the low cost DAC to sell the high cost DAC  why not put them head to head and let the consumer decide? I bet I would not hear $1800.00 USD difference. What did I learn from my interaction with Mr. Audiophile Salesman?

  • Once you get to a certain plateau all gear will sound great provided you are listening to music you like, and your speakers are placed correctly
  • All DAC’s have the same chips in them, with the biggest difference being the analogue output stage and power supply
  • Your brain is wired so that if you think something is better or are told it is better, you will hear or feel that it is actually better. When you know something costs more, your brain has to justify the cost and will trick your consciousness into thinking that it SOUNDS BETTER – TASTES BETTER – LOOKS BETTER
  • When you get home from the store and are no longer A/B’ing the device in question,  whichever one you purchased will sound good, and will continue to sound good until you compare it with another device perceived to sound better.

In case you are wondering what DAC I ended up purchasing… well it is a VALAB- TDA1543 Non Oversampling – RE-Clocking USB DAC, with an independent power supply that is connected through an umbilical. Stop back in a few weeks and I will post a review.

2 Responses

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  1. Very interested in your review to come. As an audiophile on a “reasonable” budget, I find your 2-cents very helpful. I have not gone digital yet but am eager to find the right combination that makes it too good to pass up. Thanks!

  2. Hello,

    I sent you query on to my associate Paul, he is doing the DAC shootouts


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