INTRODUCTION TO THE DAC
Okay, so you are just starting and are confused by some of the terms in the audiophile equipment world. Don’t worry. Everyone has to start somewhere, and it’s really not that hard to get your head around some of the core principles.
First, you can start here with our hardware terminology guide or pick up on somewhat are the best audiophile file formats for your music. This article is going to cover a particular piece of equipment in the sound chain (e.g., Transport>DAC>Amp>Headphones); it’s going to explain what a DAC is.
A DAC, otherwise known as a Digital Analogue Converter, comes in many forms and from many different companies. We can integrate them into something like your phone or computer, or they can be a stand-alone unit that works in a connected chain.
Additionally, you may also come across a combined Amp (Amplifier) and DAC unit, where these 2 pieces of equipment are housed together in a single package. Whatever the brand, form factor, or price point, any DAC function remains the same as outlined below in the simplest possible terms.
WHY YOU NEED A DAC FOR LISTENING TO DIGITAL MUSIC
In this example, I will refer to using your computer with an external DAC unit, but the principle is the same in a phone or DAP. Nowadays, unless you are a vinyl junkie, it will most likely store your music in FLAC, MP3, etc. In this form, your music is essentially nothing more than a bunch of digital information.
In computer language, it exists as many 1’s and 0’s (e.g., 10100001110). Your headphones, however, can only output your music as an analog signal (sound). Conversion needs to occur somewhere between your hard drive and headphones, turning that digital signal into an analog signal. This, of course, is the role of the DAC.
When you get into the audiophile equipment world, you will, of course, hear people lauding the benefits of different types of DAC. There are many DACs on the market, ranging from good and bad sounding, budget-friendly to budget-breaking.
Some are power-hungry, some are efficient. Some are large, and some are small. A manufacturer may choose to implement a certain DAC unit for the absolute best sound, and some may choose to try and fit inside a super slim modern smartphone. It’s about reaching a balance suitable for the end-users needs.
WHAT IS A DAC – CONCLUSION
In the portable realm, you will come across a few DAC brands such as Wolfson, Cirrus, and Sabre, to name but a few. Each model will have its own benefits and limitations that you will discover on your journey into higher-end audio, but with this hobby growing incredibly fast, there is sure to be a product out there to meet your needs.
On the Audiophile ON website, you can find DAC reviews under the audiophile source review section. We hope to bring you as many articles as possible on this awesome bit of audio technology so you can decide what the best DAC for your needs is.