Do You Need a DAC?
A DAC or Digital-Analog Converter is an essential piece of equipment that makes listening to digital music files possible.
But do you really need one? If so, which one to get? That’s what we’re going to find out right here in this guide!
What Is a DAC?
A DAC (Digital Analogue Converter) is a device that transforms digital files on computers and smartphones into analog signals that we can hear.
When an artist records a piece of music in a studio, the song is transformed from analog into digital format for ease of storage and distribution. Computers can understand this digital information, but our speakers can’t.
That’s where a DAC can be useful; it allows you to listen to your favorite songs at great sound quality and high volume.
Do You Need a DAC?
Alright, now that you know what a DAC does, you’re probably asking yourself whether you need one in the first place. After all, all laptops, desktops, smartphones, and music players have built-in DACs that get the job done with no involvement from your end. How would a dedicated USB DAC be useful?
Well, for starters, most electronic devices have low-quality built-in DACs that heavily alter the original sound of music. With a separate DAC, you’ll be able to listen to your songs at noticeably better and clearer sound quality. The volume will be higher, too.
There’s one thing that you need to keep in mind, though: you won’t feel a noticeable difference unless your speakers or headphones are high quality. A cheap pair of speakers will sound awful whether you use a separate DAC or not.
In short, a DAC would definitely improve the sound of your music, but only if your speakers or headphones allow it. So, make sure that you upgrade your headphones and speakers first.
On a side note, it’d be best if you invest in a dedicated AMP before thinking about getting a DAC, but more on that later.
The Best DACs
1. Chord Mojo Black DAC/Headphone Amplifier
The Chord Mojo is one of my favorite DAC/Amp combos that’ll satisfy the audiophile inside you. The headphone amp can play audio files up to 768kHz 32bit and quad DSD 256, delivering unadulterated sound quality for your ears. You can easily connect it to your iPhone, Android, PC, or Mac, and it’ll do all the magic needed to revamp how you listen to music.
The Chord Mojo requires 4 hours to be fully charged, providing you with up to 10 hours of continuous playback on a single charge. It’s also worth noting that it has 2 3.5mm analog inputs, meaning that you and your friend can listen together at the same time.
2. iFi Hip-dac Portable Balanced DAC Headphone Amplifier
If you’re on a tight budget, I’d recommend that you give the iFi Hip-dac DAC headphone amp a shot. It’s nearly the size of an external HDD, so you can easily carry it around with you in your laptop backpack. Additionally, it has 2 ports: a 4.4mm balanced port and a standard 3.5mm one.
This device integrates a Powermatch switchable gain trigger that matches the level of drive to your headphones’ load. And with XBass II, the iFi Hip-dac DAC can improve low frequencies without messing up the midrange.
Amp vs. DAC
An amp is a device that you can use to amplify the signal that is being sent to your headphones or speakers. On the other hand, a DAC converts the music files into something that we can hear at great quality.
Also, remember that since many headphone amps are equipped with DACs, investing in an amp could make more sense. Many people also recommend testing out an amp first and see if it produces a good sound. If you’re still not satisfied with how the music sounds, a new DAC can be a good idea.
Differences Between an Audio Interface and a DAC
An audio interface has a wide range of outputs that include both DAC (Digital Analogue Converter) and ADC (Analogue Digital Converter). This means that if you have an audio interface, a separate DAC won’t be necessary for you.
So, which one should you get? The answer is that it depends on your needs. For example, a professional music composer or producer can make use of all the functions that an audio interface offers. Not to mention, unlike DACs, an audio interface is capable of playing audio at ultra-low latency.
On the flip side, if you just need a device to convert digital to analog, a DAC would suffice.
Is the DAC in Your Computer Good Enough?
One way to test out whether your computer’s DAC is good enough is to listen to a song and notice if there are any audible issues. If the music sounds good enough for you, then your computer’s DAC is working just fine.
However, just because there are no problems in your computer’s DAC doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement. A dedicated DAC, in most cases, will provide you with better performance.
If you’re not sure whether it’s worth it or not, you can borrow your friend’s DAC and see if it makes a difference for you.
Do I Need a DAC with Bluetooth Headphones?
Nope, you don’t need to get a DAC for your Bluetooth headphones as they already have a built-in digital-to-analog chip. Getting another DAC won’t really make any difference in your listening experience.
So that was everything you needed to know about DACs. Now, the question is, do you need one?
Well, I’d recommend getting a pair of high-quality speakers or headphones first. Then, match them up with a good headphone amp instead of investing in a standalone DAC. After all, many amps have built-in DACs.