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Can DAC's mature in sound?

My friend thinks his media player/DAC has "matured" and changed its sound. He was content with the "old" sound and is likewise with the "new" sound, so there's not a dramatic difference he says - but he can hear it. I try to argue that it's all in his imagination, but he is very certain and says he has eliminated all other parts of his equipment to be the cause of the change in sound. He also says that he has compared his player/DAC to an identical but newer unit. He's generally a determined, thorough guy so I'd like to believe him, but I just can't.

I've listened to the player/DAC, which is about 7 years old. It just sounds normal to me, but I can't compare to the "old" sound of course, if there ever was one...

What do you think, is there any chance that DAC's can age, with even the slightest change in sound?

Re: Can DAC's mature in sound?

Reply #1
I'd suggest he's matured. People's hearing and the psychological process of listening can mature. Perhaps he's simply become accustomed to the sound of his system.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?  ;~)

Re: Can DAC's mature in sound?

Reply #2
Typical gradual hearing loss doesn’t work that way and you can’t A/B it.

Save for objective evidence, toss this one in the anecdote bin.
Is 24-bit/192kHz good enough for your lo-fi vinyl, or do you need 32/384?

Re: Can DAC's mature in sound?

Reply #3
Being able to remember well enough over several years to notice a subtle change in sound is incredibly unlikely. I'm not able to keep that kind of memory fresh for more than a few seconds.

Re: Can DAC's mature in sound?

Reply #4
It's simply not possible.  Our neurology-physiology doesn't provide any such mechanism.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Echoic_memory

3-4 seconds and then you can stick a fork in it.
Is 24-bit/192kHz good enough for your lo-fi vinyl, or do you need 32/384?

Re: Can DAC's mature in sound?

Reply #5
Well there is no objective evidence in this case of course. I've asked him about the comparison with the other identical unit, and he said that a blind test wasn't performed because there was an obvious difference between the units.

The thing is that I generally don't believe these sorts of claims, but this guy is very trustworthy in my eyes. He's an engineer, he's has a critical mindset and he doesn't claim things he's not sure about, he'd rather say that he doesn't know. So when he does make a claim, I find it interesting.

But I don't believe his claim here, most probably he's got this one wrong. I guess I'm trying to find out if there are any physical/electrical properties/qualities in ageing electronics that I'm not aware of that could support his claim - hence my posting here.

Re: Can DAC's mature in sound?

Reply #6
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I try to argue that it's all in his imagination, but he is very certain and says he has eliminated all other parts of his equipment to be the cause of the change in sound... 

...He's generally a determined, thorough guy so I'd like to believe him, but I just can't.
You can remain skeptical but you'll probably never convience him that he's wrong.

It's also not helpful if he can't explain exactly what's wrong with the sound (or the difference) in commonly-understood terms...  Noise, distortion, or frequency response.    ("Audiophiles" often use meaningless words to describe what they hear.)

As a general rule, solid state electronics don't deteriorate slowly or subtlety.   They usually "work forever" or they die quickly and badly.   DACs tend to be very-good.  The "cheap DACs" built into soundcards are usually better than human hearing (although, sometimes you can get electrical noise "leaking-into" the soundcard from the computer).    If something's changed it's probably not the DAC.  

Sometimes, the filter capacitors in a power supply can age and you can get power line hum, or higher-frequency noise with a switching power supply.   Speakers can deteriorate.   For example, with some foam-surround woofers, the foam can "rot".  Or a voice-coil can loosen and rattle, or you could fry a tweeter etc.   Vacuum tubes age & deteriorate slowly.

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He also says that he has compared his player/DAC to an identical but newer unit.
But of course, this was not a scientific, blind, level-matched ABX Test.



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It's simply not possible.  Our neurology-physiology doesn't provide any such mechanism.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Echoic_memory

3-4 seconds and then you can stick a fork in it.
True, but it depends on how "subtle" it is...   If you've got a blow tweeter you could notice a year later.  Or, we could flip that around...  If you can hear a difference a couple of days later it's not a subtle difference.

Re: Can DAC's mature in sound?

Reply #7
I've run into quite a few engineers who know nothing about the human auditory system.  Engineers normally just work to meet a specification; at least that was what I did.

Here's the deal:
If you think there's a difference where there actually is none you can still hear that difference, though what you hear is completely contrived in your own head.  It is real to you.  Once you conduct a controlled experiment things start to unravel.

Is 24-bit/192kHz good enough for your lo-fi vinyl, or do you need 32/384?

Re: Can DAC's mature in sound?

Reply #8
Here's the deal:
If you think there's a difference where there actually is none you can still hear that difference, though what you hear is completely contrived in your own head.  It is real to you.  Once you conduct a controlled experiment things start to unravel.
Another way of stating the same phenomenon is "placebos work"! You can feel the effect, even though nothing drives it. The feeling is real, but your understanding of the cause may not be.

Re: Can DAC's mature in sound?

Reply #9
I've asked him about the comparison with the other identical unit, and he said that a blind test wasn't performed because there was an obvious difference between the units.
And the units are "identical" because ... they have the same enclosure and the same brand name?

If there are indeed such differences, I would just guess that the newer edition had a different output level.
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Re: Can DAC's mature in sound?

Reply #10
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The thing is that I generally don't believe these sorts of claims, but this guy is very trustworthy in my eyes. He's an engineer, he's has a critical mindset and he doesn't claim things he's not sure about, he'd rather say that he doesn't know.  So when he does make a claim, I find it interesting.
That can be a good thing because engineers (usually) think logically and scientifically.   The DAC is engineering but hearing is physiology and psychology.  ;)  A psychologist or psychiatrist might be more skeptical of their own perceptions.

There’s a chance that they guy is right, but there is a LOT of nonsense, misinformation and literal-misperception in the audio world and the “foundation” of HydrogenAudio is proper, blind, listening tests.    We tend to be skeptical and blind listening test are required (TOS #8 for any actual claims posted here.    (You're OK.  You are not making claims, you're just reporting hearsay.) 

Re: Can DAC's mature in sound?

Reply #11
There’s a chance that they guy is right,

I appreciate that you are honest about that. But this is also very frustrating because if there was one guy whose claims I could trust it would be him - and I tend to not believe him in this case.

Let's speak hypothetically: If he's right, what potentional reasons could there be for it? Is it possible for electronics to sharpen or soften with age (i.e. soundwise)?

Different output levels as Porcus suggested could be a reason but I doubt it since my engineer friend is thorough.

Please tell me if this type of discussion isn't allowed.

Re: Can DAC's mature in sound?

Reply #12
I've run into quite a few engineers who know nothing about the human auditory system.  Engineers normally just work to meet a specification; at least that was what I did.
This could very well be the case. I'll gently suggest it to him, let's see how he responds.

Re: Can DAC's mature in sound?

Reply #13
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Let's speak hypothetically: If he's right, what potentional reasons could there be for it? Is it possible for electronics to sharpen or soften with age (i.e. soundwise)?
"Sharpen" or "Soften"?    Whatever that means...  A change in frequency response?

Of course it POSSIBLE for the electronics to fail or degrade.   A change in frequency response from a DAC is unlikely, but "anything is possible".   Noise or distortion (the ONLY other possibilities* from a DAC) would be more-likely defects.    Also, if there's a failure in the "signal chain" it usually shows-up in only one stereo channel.  Or a chip burns-up or the power supply burns-up and the whole thing just totally dies.    

BTW - Of course there were listening-level changes over the years (and from day-to-day or moment-to-moment) in normal use.    He may, or may not have, attempted to match the levels when comparing the old &  new hardware.   


* See Audiophoolery for the 4 characteristics/parameters that affect/define sound quality .

Re: Can DAC's mature in sound?

Reply #14
As he's an engineer, perhaps he'd be interested enough to do a true DBT between the two units.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?  ;~)

Re: Can DAC's mature in sound?

Reply #15
When I asked him about DBT, he said he didn't perform one since the difference was obvious to him. Maybe I should challenge him on this one.

Re: Can DAC's mature in sound?

Reply #16
Of course it POSSIBLE for the electronics to fail or degrade.   A change in frequency response from a DAC is unlikely, but "anything is possible".   Noise or distortion (the ONLY other possibilities* from a DAC) would be more-likely defects.
I'm struggling with his statement that the DAC has matured, i.e. improved in sound. It's easier to believe that if the sound has changed, it would be for the worse. I think that what you are saying here only strengthens my view.

Re: Can DAC's mature in sound?

Reply #17
He’s clearly in the realm of religion.  If you think you can convert him or want to get under his skin then by all means.
Is 24-bit/192kHz good enough for your lo-fi vinyl, or do you need 32/384?

Re: Can DAC's mature in sound?

Reply #18
Back in the Bad Old Days when I sold costly hifi systems and believed that a person could be objective about subjectivity, I convinced skeptical electrical engineers about all sorts of stuff including the value of fancy cables. Of course none of us knew about level-matched ABX comparisons. And on many occasions experienced the "Everyone in the room heard the same thing" phenomenon, which may only prove that whole groups of people can be fooled!

The one situation where I think aging or "burn-in" may be worth a closer look: Circuits which employ something like 50V electrolytic capacitors for signal coupling applications which may see only millivolts across their leads, but that's a bad design decision, better to replace with any sort of film capacitor and be done with it.

Re: Can DAC's mature in sound?

Reply #19
I made that quip about engineers, but I have a hard time believing a competent EE would be fooled about cable woo.
Is 24-bit/192kHz good enough for your lo-fi vinyl, or do you need 32/384?

Re: Can DAC's mature in sound?

Reply #20
I made that quip about engineers, but I have a hard time believing a competent EE would be fooled about cable woo.

Why? Unlikely that anything in their education prepared them for how powerful a signal-processing instrument the human brain can be when faced with sighted, non level-matched comparisons.  And educated skeptics-turned-believers can be some of the hifi salesman's best friends!

Re: Can DAC's mature in sound?

Reply #21
If you can’t accept that the human ear can’t detect much past 20k and slept through first year circuit theory and transmission line classes, then sure.  It isn’t complicated enough to be likened to magic.

To be blunt, if you’re telling me you’ve sold a competent EE on magic cables I don’t believe you.
Is 24-bit/192kHz good enough for your lo-fi vinyl, or do you need 32/384?

Re: Can DAC's mature in sound?

Reply #22
If you can’t accept that the human ear can’t detect much past 20k and slept through first year circuit theory and transmission line classes, then sure.  It isn’t complicated enough to be likened to magic.

To be blunt, if you’re telling me you’ve sold a competent EE on magic cables I don’t believe you.
Facts about human hearing are typically not a part of EE education.

Insights into the scientific method and philosophy are typically low priority in a EE education.

Most EE people that I know have never carried out a DBT.

What one might expect EE to do well is the practical application of physics, statistics and various tools in order to solve problems and finding "the answer". They should be able to solve differential equations, delve into Maxwell, etc. In the case of audio cables, an EE might be able to serve a range of _potential_ mechanisms for audible differences between audio cables. They might be able to do calculations (of the napkin kind of somewhat more rigorous) to predict the physical consequence of doing this or that to the cable choice. But when it comes to evaluating ones own (sighted) perception, the interaction between physics and perception, we EE should not _generally_ have any special weight compared to the general populous. (Those EEs that have actually focused studies and work experience within the relevant topics are an exception, but they make up a vanishingly small fraction of the EEs out there)


There is a thing where people with higher education (such as EE) and some years of experience have grown accustomed to a situation where they are regarded as "oracles" within their own comfort zone, and they start believing that they are generally smarter or more knowledgeful than others. Someone who designs e.g. aircraft turbines for a living might think that they have unique knowledge about audio cables even without consulting the relevant literature or doing careful studies themselves.

The combination of high self-confidence, knowledge about physics and terminology that scares most people, and a *(potential) burning conviction about religion/climate/<insert hot potato topic> makes us EEs "interesting" subjects in public debate. I think that is an argument that we should let data and arguments speak for themselves.

-k

Re: Can DAC's mature in sound?

Reply #23
To be blunt, if you’re telling me you’ve sold a competent EE on magic cables I don’t believe you.
That "competent" is too close to the "true" in "no true Scotsman", unfortunately. I've heard at least one professional in a field where cable design actually matters (long distance power, handling the trade-off between more expensive cable and another transformer power station ... or whatever the correct term is) - so of course he "believes in cables" at some level.
So why should he not believe that it extends to audio, when he has, ahem, heard it with his own two ears? Because something that is way outside his field - he is not at all educated in how the human brain is wired. There is no "blind" in the way they test their cables.
High Voltage socket-nose-avatar

 
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