CW Yeo, the principal behind local brand diyparadise, takes time away from his soldering iron to tell us indiscreetly why his latest product, Discreet Monica, is significantly more discrete than others’.
What led to you taking this direction to build a discrete DAC? After all, even the big boys buy in chips for their top products.
I’ve been toying with DACs for quite a few years now. What I’ve learned is that you can get good sound from any DAC chip … provided you work at it!
However, to bring things to a higher level, sometimes you hit a bottleneck. It could be the design of the DAC chip, it could be the limitation of the circuitry, it could be so many things beyond our reach.
If one builds a discrete DAC, one can optimise every part of the circuit the way one thinks is best. Some engineering is required, of course, but then I’m not the first person to have built a discrete DAC. Quite a number of folks have built it, and virtually all have reported impressive sonics.
So, to build a discrete DAC is to rise above the market of commercial DACs using off-the-shelf chips, which all have some limitations built in. No matter what you do with commercial DAC chips, you are confined by its circuit limitations.
There’s some high technology available from modern chipsets from the layman’s perspective. The numbers do indeed impress, for eg, some commercial chips offer 32-bit 384kHz resolution! Can you do better?
The number of bits is nothing more than a marketing gimmick. No matter how many bits you have, you can’t hear beyond 16 bits. In fact, to achieve 14-bit resolution is considered very good.
How many bits you have doesn’t matter as what really matters is the effective number of bits. Unless your power supply is soooooo quiet, it’s not likely you could even achieve 16-bit resolution.
What’s more important is the sampling frequency. I’m talking about native sampling frequency here, not the manipulated up-sampling stuff … meaning I’m talking about the way the music is converted from analogue to digital. If it’s sampled at 44.1khz (the CD standard), there is so much limitation with this format. However, if it is sampled at 88.2kHz, or 96kHz or higher, then we are talking about real music!
Music just sounds so “right” if sampled at higher sampling rates. If possible, take a 24-bit/88kHz track and down-sample to 24-bit/44.1kHz and compare it with say, 16-bit/88kHz, tell me which you prefer.
Also, almost every audiophile says that vinyl records sound better. How much resolution is there in an LP’s groove? Just 12 bits. How about its sampling frequency? Infinite sampling!
While your prime motivator for the entire exercise is, as it should be, sound quality, don’t you feel that, at this price, your new DAC is going to face a tough time competing … even if it does sound better? One can get DACs with transports attached at this price, as well as those which also function as headphone amps or full-fledged preamps, not to mention those that offer ease of use such as wireless connection and the like.
My niche here is I have a discrete DAC which is more affordable than others who similarly produce discrete ladder DACs. Just look at how much the highly-rated MSB convertors go for, as an example. Yes, you can get more features for the price … but I’d bet it won’t be a discrete ladder DAC in the box.
One has to assess what one’s own priorities are as a buyer, but I believe my product will find its place in the market, though, to be realistic, not in the same volumes the previous Monicas had.