​DAC-What is it, do you NEED it, & how to use it

If you're anything like me when I jumped in the audio world, the first conversation you had about what a DAC is and what it's used for, went something like this.

Oh, you want to convert your binary audio signal into an analog audio file that can be pushed to an amp so you can listen to it in your headphones?

Simple, use a DAC...duh.​

As I looked around I could see bits of my brain floating in space, because my mind had just been BLOWN. So we're going to break it down a bit more simply for you on this site so that you don't walk away with more questions than answers.

Precursor information to know what a DAC is & what it does

There are two terms you're going to need to be familiar with in order for all of the rest of what we're going to talk about to make sense. Digital & analog audio signal.

What is an analog audio signal

An analog signal is a representation of instantanious changes in pressure caused by a physical action, like producing a sound. This is what microphones use to collect sound and transfer it to headphones. 

The fact that it detects instantaneous changes is what gives it the most realistic amplification of what is actually being produced. Because when you sing into a microphone the sound that's coming out is the result of millions of seemingly instant changes in wave frequencies. Because sound travels through air, which is just the result of a bunch of molecules bumping into each other.

 ​Don't get too caught up on this. Just understand that an analog audio signal is the truest representation of what we hear face to face.

what is digital audio information

Digital audio information is basically binary code. Meaning that it's a sequence of 1s and 0s that can be interpreted by a computer to make a sound, picture, text, etc..(source)

What is a DAC & what does a DAC do

If DAC stands for Digital to Audio Converter, then we can assume from the information we just went over that a DAC takes the digital audio information (binary computer talk), and converts it into an analog audio signal that can be listened to.

However, in most situations you'll need an amp if you want to use a DAC with headphones to get the absolute best sound quality. ​

How do you use a DAC with headphones?

A DAC is used to get the best sound quality out of your headphones when listening to music on your computer or mobile device. It does this, like we said before, by converting the binary information in the computer or mobile device from digital audio to a listenable analog audio signal.

If you've ever owned a computer or mobile device that plays music you're probably wondering "I've listened to music on my phone and computer before, why do I need one of these DACs??". (source)

And you would be right​.

Most tech comes with a DAC built in, it's just a really mediocre one​. So if you get a really high end pair of headphones and wonder why they sound the same as your apple ear buds, that's why. Your built in DAC is just not able to give you the best listening experience that a high quality DAC and amp would be able to.

So if this is something that you value, you can either buy a DAC and amp separately, or together​ built into one unit. That's up to you.

Cory H.

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