The DAC, It Clips

Even though the speakers are here now, the cable that I need in order to put them onto the bookshelf is not, of course. 😜 My evaluation of the sound in my room remains inconclusive at this point. In today’s post, I’m going back to the DAC, the AudioEngine D1: as mentioned in the previous post, I wasn’t able to hear any difference in sound quality between the DAC and the iMac’s analog headphone output. Both sound absolutely identical to me.

Which would be just fine, if it weren’t for the fact that the D1 clips and distorts at higher volume levels, and much sooner than the iMac’s analog output. That happened on my headphones, and I initially dismissed that since it wasn’t relevant for headphone listening β€” but now that I have the powered speakers, the distortion and clipping through the D1 at higher volumes is the same.

Having what’s essentially just a handy volume knob on my desk that distorts, for US$199, does rather feel like a waste of money. I think I understand how this thing is supposed to be used: set the volume on the DAC to a fixed, “safe” level, and leave it alone from then on. Control the actual volume on the speakers instead. (in my case, that would be either with the knob on the speakers, which will be out of reach for me once they’re on the shelf, or with the remote.)

But having the remote, and without any difference from the Mac’s analog out, the D1 obviously doesn’t seem to serve any purpose. Well, except for making me feel like something should be better β€” which is what a lot of the geeky audio stuff is about, I guess. But what’s more, with the D1’s volume control there’s silence, and then immediately “something”. The transition isn’t smooth. And if I make it too loud, it distorts. Why does this thing even have a volume control?!

With regards to the clipping distortion I can only guess of course, but since the D1 is entirely passive (ie. it has no power supply) it probably doesn’t have enough juice? While it only puzzled me that this clipping would occur on my earbuds, on powered speakers it doesn’t make sense at all. The D1 distorts the sound at a volume level that isn’t even loud. If I’d add an amp after the D1, the distortion would go into the amp I guess, if I’m not careful enough to avoid accidentally messing with its little volume knob? I feel like I’m missing the point here. There may be terrible on-board sound solutions that justify a DAC, perhaps. But my iMac isn’t one of them, I guess…

So as much as it pains me to be “that guy”, I have decided to return the D1 and re-evaluate what I truly need. For the time being, I’ll just plug the speakers directly into the iMac’s headphone output. Which means that I need either an adapter from 3.5mm to RCA, or a different cable, to get the speakers off my desk and onto the bookshelf. πŸ˜–πŸ€£

While I’m at it, I’m also returning the tilted silicone feet for the speakers. As I mentioned, they don’t seem entirely trustworthy to me, and since I’ll be moving the speakers away from my desk once I have the longer cable, I won’t need them then. That’s my fault, I should have considered the dimensions of the new speakers more carefully. I’m grateful that Amazon makes this return so easy.

NB: with regards to DACs, I’m actually beginning to think of them as a sham: Apple’s US$9 (!) lightning or USB-C to 3.5mm dongle is a DAC! It’s SINAD (signal to noise and distortion) ratio beats much more expensive external DACs. Like the Schiit Yggdrasil which costs, oh, US$2299! And the SNR of Apple’s US$9 dongle is better than the Schiit Modi 3’s β€” which costs US$129. But don’t take it from me, look at the bare naked data at:

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