Do you really need an external DAC for listening to CDs?

I decided to check the opinion voiced to me by one experienced audiophile that the quality of digital-to-analog converters (DACs) built into cheap or mid-budget CD and DVD players is worse than DACs built into professional digital technology models. I decided to check on the equipment that came to hand, or rather on the one that was available. This is an old but working Pioneer DV-355 DVD player from 2004, if my memory serves me right, and a SONY PCM-R500 digital DAT recorder from about 1997.

Test idea. We take the same track from a branded Japanese disc and digitally digitize the signal from the linear outputs of the DVD player and tape recorder (from the unbalanced RCA outputs) with the highest possible quality. This track is fed to a digital tape recorder through a digital coaxial input, directly from the DVD player, bypassing its DAC, that is, in fact, the tape recorder plays the role of an external DAC, converting the soulless “digital” into analog sound. Next, we synchronize these two digitized tracks in time in the multitrack sound editor program and alternately switch tracks, cutting out pieces for 20 seconds, as a result of which the sound will always come from only one of the devices, in turn.

So the recording is done.

The signals are precisely converged and even practically coincide in level, although I did not make any additional changes in the levels.
















The signals from the outputs of two different devices are visually almost the same.

Now it’s time to watch the video and listen to the sound. I recommend watching from 1:28.

To my inexperienced and already aged hearing, the sound quality of the devices is practically the same. Perhaps SONY has a slightly deeper bottom. When blindly listening to sound in high quality, I did not even determine where the transitions between the devices were. Other listeners, to whom I provided the link, also found it difficult to identify the source with blind listening.

A standard CD has clearly specified parameters of the sampling rate and bit depth of the digital signal with which it is output, these are 44.1 kHz and 16 bits, respectively. The sound on DVD has better characteristics, so the use of DACs with higher bit depth and sampling rate looks justified. The Pioneer DV-355 under review uses a 192 kHz, 24-bit DAC, which is significantly better than CD quality. Digital tape recorder – the same quality as CD, but recorded on tape. Same 16 bit and 44.1 kHz sampling rate for CD recording. Therefore, one could immediately assume that the DAC quality of the DVD-player will not be worse than that of the professional model, at least obviously. And since this is the case, why pay more?

The use of external DACs can be justified for playing SACDs and for digitizing files with high quality vinyl records.

Since evaluating the sound quality from a compressed YouTube video is a thankless task, I will share a link to a FLAC file with sliced ​​high quality audio: Yandex.Disk