I'm usually the first in with a strong opinion when it comes to audio but I've always tempered that with the belief that to be prepared to change your mind strengthens rather than weakens the validity of your opinions. The scientific method works, and although music is art, audio is definitely science. We should let our assumptions guide us but we owe it to ourselves to test those assumptions from time to time.
I've always been very sceptical about the claims made about aftermarket converters. I'm reasonably au fait with d/a converters and my experience comparing 192s with HD I/Os has reinforced my opinion that D/A converters make a difference but not enough for me to lose any sleep over.
Then yesterday I spent some time A/B ing a DAD converter against an HD I/O. The test wasn't rigorous, certainly not scientific. The monitoring paths weren't identical but we could A/B and the difference was dramatic. Improved stereo imaging, a fullness in the frequency domain and the elusive "depth" of imaging were all dramatically improved. We're not talking lean in, listen hard and you'll hear a small difference. This was night and day in favour of the DAD. I’m not going to speculate too hard about exactly why this is, both converters were clocked from a common master, the analogue paths differed significantly.
There could be plenty of reasons why this difference was as great as it was but that isn’t really my point, My point is that this experience reminded me of something far more important - that it is always a good idea to make time to test your assumptions and to be open-minded enough to accept the evidence when tests contradict your expectations.
I recall a friend who ran a PA company had recently upgraded one of his rigs. He had spent a considerable amount on some modern, professional, high power amplifiers (I won’t say the brand). Soon afterwards he borrowed an amp rack loaded with Lab Gruppen FP series amps and he described the sinking feeling he experienced knowing that he was going to have to sell his new amps and invest yet more money in these amps, the difference was that great. When telling this story to a friend we decided to perform a similar test with equipment we had access to and using a variety of inexpensive PA amplifiers we found that the most expensive amplifier, from the most upmarket manufacturer was, through those particular cabinets, clearly outperformed by a very inexpensive amp from a well known manufacturer beginning with “B”.
Another example of practice defying my expectation has to be a friend explaining that his Creamware soundcard sounded different depending which driver he used. I absolutely expected the performance, particularly the latency to be affected but when he showed me he was absolutely right. Of the drivers available one sounded significantly worse. I can guess at how this could happen but I didn’t expect the difference to be as great as it was.
So my point? Don’t let this stuff get in the way of productive work, the desire to test and compare can in the worst cases replace productive work entirely, but all of us assimilate opinions which if repeated often enough become “facts” which should occasionally be tested. If my own opinions can be so wrong why should the many opinions that we all encounter every day on the internet go untested? (The irony of me saying this on the internet isn’t lost on me…).
As they say in Spinal Tap “you don't do heavy metal in doubly”