Onboard vs Outboard DAC For Blu-ray?

analogsunset_0Since analog sunset began in 2013, most Blu-ray players ditched their on-board DACs and analog RCA jacks limiting their outputs to digital only HDMI, USB, and Coaxial, like this $100 Sony player above.This saves space and parts cost so the cost of Blu-ray players comes down without sacrificing quality. The players in the $100 price range are all fantastic performers, its hard to believe but true. You dont need an Oppo to enjoy great Blu-ray performance.

There’s a group of players that kept their analog outputs and on-board DACs, Oppo leads that pack but select high end players from Denon, Yamaha, and Sony and others retain on-board post-processing from their own built-in DACs even though most AVR’s and preamp processors have them too.  I’ve compared all the on-board  player DACs to our own Essence outboard  24/192K HDACC and noticed a huge difference in performance.  Dedicated HDACC owners know what I’m talking about.

DTS master audioWhen you set-up a Blu-ray player to output its audio by HDMI Bitstream to a downstream LPCM decoder like our HDACC, and choose the uncompressed DTS HD Master Audio or Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, you unleash the highest resolution 24/96K native uncompressed LPCM soundtrack with no pre or post production by DTS or Dolby processing. The files may be compressed with either of those codecs to fit on the disc but the player automatically converts them back to the original uncompressed LPCM version for the data transfer to the downstream HDACC.  The HDACC de-embeds the left and right front channels only, with no down-mixing or secondary audio so you hear just the original stereo mix.  The HDACC converts the digital stream to analog stereo for output to your preamp, amp, or powered speakers.  The dynamic range of the original master recording is there, we’ve never had audio content this good to play at home.

For all those with vintage analog equipment they cherish, the HDACC is a bridge that brings all the latest hi res digital media, superior to all previous Essence HDACC hi res HDMI copyformats, to your analog receiver, preamp, or pre-pro. You get HDMI for Blu-ray, SACD, and DVD-A tangible content. You get USB for low res music files and ripped CDs from your computer, including hi res downloads of many classic albums from years ago, all matching the original master recording. There’s also Coaxial and Optical inputs and outputs for older CD players so you dont have to rely on the DACs in those players either. Avoiding the DACs in players is the rule of thumb, they usually dont sound very good.

There is something about the player DACs that even when using the best parts leaves a lot to be desired, perhaps a form of copy protection that down-rezzes the analog output so you wont want to copy it, the long sought dream of the record labels.  My point of view is why give them a chance? If you disgorge the data without the players interference, stay in the digital domain as long as possible, and connect with short RCA’s or XLR’s to your amp, the improvement is quite audible. The difference is more than minor, by staying with HDMI, you are assured of the decryption of this protected Bitstream content from a high performance 24/192K DAC with its own implementation being its primary purpose, not just an output option on a player.

So here’s what I recommend; get a low cost Blu-ray player for $100 and the Essence HDACC for $599, the combination of these two devices outperforms the Oppos and other more expensive options and gives you the flexibility of A to D and D to A conversion in the same box, along with RCA and XLR outputs and a headphone amp with user selectable impedance matching.  Its the alternative audiophile way to go and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  You get remote control and a vivid OLED display too.