Can any DAC make 16/44.1 sound as good as 24/192?

I’m thrilled with 24/192 from the GainCell DAC, but 16/44.1 does not have the same “in the room” detail and air. I suspect the main limitation is the capability of the 16/44.1 format.

Has anyone experienced a DAC that can get the “real instrument” sound from 16/44.1?

Edit: If so, please give me some recommendations. Thanks

Is this a trick question? :wink: The easy answer is no - 24/192 should sound better than 16/44. Granted, it doesn’t always.

The closet I’ve heard is the Naim nDAC with an external power supply, whether from Naim or Teddy Pardo. It gets the leading edge of piano notes correct (assuming a quality transport, of course) and the correct balance of attack-sustain-decay in a way I’ve not heard from another DAC at both 16/44 and 24/192.

It of course sounds even better with higher sampling rates, but it can put a Bosendorfer grand piano in the room (I grew up learning to play on one - grandfather had one - so I have at least some basis). Or a Steinway, or, if we’re really slumming it, a Yamaha/Baldwin/etc. :wink:

The short answer is yes.

The long answer lies in the techniques used to interpret the bits back to analog. 44/16 leaves a lot to the digital imagination to restore. 44/24 leaves substantially less to recover.

The reason many DACs sound better with higher res files is attributable directly to the sophistication of their digital to analog techniques – or rather, lack thereof. Imagine someone who draws straight lines to connect dots vs. someone who draws Bezier lines between the dots – the former would look like incomplete waveforms where the latter would look like waves.

I’ve compared multiple DACs and I strongly prefer 16 bit to 24 bit.

I don’t hear more air but instead a lack of tone and tone density… it’s smoother but I feel there is a wall in between me and the music with 24 bit. Bass is not right

There could be an argument that 24 bit generates more noise in analog conversion.

Actually if you use the new PSAudio transport with the DSD Sr CD’s at 16/44 sound close to SACD in quality.


Resolution only gets you so far…IMO, its the quality of a recording, followed by the artistry/musicianship captured therein that makes an album or track special.

I often find the resolution of the recording to be of tertiary importance.



I want to hear the DS MK II. I think it might make a CD sound amazingly lose to 192/24. Can hardly wait until @tedsmith finishes working his magic, and beta testing then production starts. @Paul, @scottm, whoever, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE get me on the beta tester list (dang, I feel as if I should drop an my knees like James Brown!).

A good DAC should be acurate. It should reproduce the signal as it is and not enhance or degrade it. It should show how good or bad a recording is. If a 16/44 is mastered and recorded really well, it can as good if not better than from a higher format that’s not recorded as well.
24 bit generally will sound better than 16 bit because it can store more information. It is similar to like a vinyl 33rpm and 45rpm recording.

I get plenty of "in the room " detail and air with 16/44.1 with my DS DAC if the recording has it. You should also with the GainCell DAC. It is a very high performing DAC. The problem might not be the DAC, but is in the source component or recording.


I agree with Scotte and Wayman.

That said, a thing of primary importance that you often get with a “better DAC” is a better analog output stage. A DAC is not purely a digital device - it is a D-to-A.

If you build the DAC with the same chip (take your pick) and build in a better analog stage that works well with that chip, you will typically have two things: A Much More Expensive DAC, and a better sounding DAC.

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Good point!

When I first heard a CD played through a dCS Vivaldi stack in 2013 I formed the view that 16/44 is plenty sufficient if processed well. There are many processes promoted by manufacturers, but I found a processor/system with a low noise floor and conditioned clean power can result in a very transparent sound from digital files.

When I bought my DAC in 2016 I chose it partly because of its very low noise floor, much better than the DSD Snr DAC at the time, although I suspect it has been improved by software updates. I seem to remember at the time Stereophile tests showed it could only resolve about 17 bits.

Some DACs that are quite noisy seem to popular, I don’t know why, but others by the likes of RME are hugely popular as they are very quiet and revealing at low cost.


DAC chips are cheap, good sounding analog output stages tend not to be. Not a hard and fast rule. Though I’m not sure there are any in audio.

Like beef said. More money gets you more performance. Pretty simple. A$12k DAC should outperform a $6k DAC.

Key word being "should":cowboy_hat_face:

Correctomundo :face_with_monocle:

Thanks for pointing me to dCS. I read the Vivaldi review in Stereophile which includes this paragraph addressing my question.

Which is not to say, “Come back, Compact Disc—all is forgiven!” With hi-rez recordings at my fingertips, including some for which I also had the CDs, two things were clear: 1) While the best-engineered and -produced CDs can sound pretty good, CD sound pales next to SACD or hi-rez PCM; and 2) Those who trumpet CD’s transparency and claim that higher resolution is inaudible are being guided by mathematical “proof”—not their ears, which for some reason they fail to trust.

So, even with a $70k+ DAC stack, the CD recording is limiting the performance. This is what I expected, since my GDAC sounds wonderful for 24/192 and my vinyl. I’ll have to try the new DS DAC when it comes out to see how it compares.

Thanks all

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Just because Fremer says something, doesn’t mean it’s true.

Analysis of many academic studies shows that HD music can only be differentiated by a few people, apparently with the benefit of “extensive training”, whatever that is. I’m in the untrained camp. The only definitive tests that a difference can be heard was with test tones, which is great if you listen to test tones. Not for me, thanks.

Fremer’s comparisons are at very different volume levels, which invalidates any comparison, as an sort of test should be level matched to within 0.5dB or less.

I don’t think the dCS Vivaldi can be discussed in the context of the Gain Cell DAC. The GCD has a very good DAC chip, widely used, but there are several independent reports that the DAC is swamped by noise from the Gain Cell. So whatever people are hearing, I cannot believe it is a difference between the resolution of 16/44 and 24/192, as that would be smothered by the noise floor of the device.

I wasn’t intending to poke that bear here, but I easily hear the difference between 16/44 and 24/192. This is why I asked my question. I hear it easily with the GDAC and with a Node2i, plus can hear it with some effort with my AVR. So, I’ve been trying to figure out why. The best technical explanation I’ve found is the paper linked below, actually from dCS back in 1997, measuring the time domain degradation caused when producing the recording.

My belief is that BOTH the 16/44 recording format is degraded relative to 24/192 AND the playback DAC introduces more degradation to 16/44 than 24/192. Better DACs should do less damage. My posted question was seeking feedback from those who can hear the difference and have listened to very good DACs. If the very best DACs make both formats sound the same then I need a better DAC, but if the best DACs still have a significant difference between formats then most of the damage is on the recording side.

I’m very happy with the GDAC, so I’ll choose to believe that Stereophile review.

Here’s the paper I mentioned and my summary.

“A Suggested Explanation For (Some Of) The Audible Differences Between High Sample Rate And Conventional Sample Rate Audio Material”

It is commonly recognized that human hearing is sensitive in the frequency domain up to 18 kHz, rounded up to 20 kHz. It is rarely mentioned that human hearing in the time domain is sensitive to as little as 5 to 10 microseconds. The frequency domain is important for understanding sound and the time domain is important for locating sound. The Nyquist theorem requires sampling at least twice the bandwidth of the signal to avoid aliasing distortion. Some musical instruments have frequency content up to 100 kHz, but filtering would be required even if it were only noise. For CD quality 44.1 kHz sample rate, the recording must be filtered to less than 22.05 kHz to avoid aliasing. Most professional music recording use ADCs at a higher sample rate, which is maintained through mixing, then digitally filtered to reduce the sample rate for the final product. Digital filtering smears audible energy across multiple sample periods. For 44.1 kHz the audible energy is spread across more than 1000 microseconds, 96 kHz spreads it across 100 microseconds, and 192 kHz spreads it across 50 microseconds.

I don’t have the trained ears that many here have but I can also tell the difference between 16/44 and 24/anything coming from my Pink Faun. That is if the recordings are good enough to show the higher sampling rates.

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It is akin to PCM v. DSD. Some hear a difference, others do not, others do not care, etc.

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