Digital audio is still a mystical concept, I think, to most audiophiles. I know it is to me. Yet, if you put in the effort and do some digging on the internet you can turn up some priceless nuggets of information. Hopefully some of the following links will be useful and leave you with a deeper and more nuanced understanding of all the technologies involved. It also made me marvel at all the hard work and engineering that went into creating devices used for the sole purpose of recreating music.
But first, let’s start off with the most basic of things. Is the signal coming out of a DAC really a staircase? What is dither and what is it used for? Do more bits equal more resolution? Chris “Monty” Montgomery explains it all in Xiph.org’s wonderfully practical video Digital Show and Tell. Yes, it’s a few years old, but a recent email from Benchmark Media brought it back to mind recently and I think you’ll find it enlightening as well as entertaining.
If you really want to get into the weeds of digital conversion of analog signals, then what better way to start than with Analog Devices’ Data Conversion handbook? This volume spans nearly every topic an audiophile would be interested in – from the history behind digital conversion to brief overviews of various ADC/DAC architectures and application notes. If you’re ready for a deep dive, check out their equally excellent series of tutorials that provide even more detail on digital systems and digital converter architectures.
Putting all that information together helps you appreciate articles like this excellent look inside the Sabre ES9018 DAC from Benchmark Media even more.
Now for some food for thought. Chris Montgomery also authored an interesting article on ‘high-resolution’ audio, titled “24/192 Music Downloads …and why they make no sense”. I’m sure some of you probably have already read it… and relegated it to the dustbin since you’re positive you can hear a difference. But to illustrate the point of that article better, first have a look and listen to Audiocheck.net’s Dynamic Range, Dither, and Noiseshaping page. Then try out the 16-bit vs. 8-bit blind test. Your reaction might range from surprise to shock to amusement.