DACs: Do You Need an External Digital to Analog Converter for your Hifi System?

Discussion in 'CD/DVD/Blu-ray & Misc Hardware' started by admin, May 14, 2014.

  1. admin Audioholics Robot Staff Member

    admin
    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2004
    Messages:
    172
    Likes Received:
    1,615
    A Digital to Analog Converter, or DAC, takes your digital content and transforms it into analog so that your hifi system can amplify it and play it through your speakers. If you think you already have DACs in your system, you would be correct. So, if you already have DACs, why would you need an external one? More to the point, could you actually use it and would it make a difference? We walk you through the reasons you might need an external DAC and what problems you can expect it to fix.
    [​IMG]

    Read DACs: Do You Need an External Digital to Analog Converter for your Hifi System?

    Are you running an external DAC in your system? Tell us which one and why you decided to add it and how it sounds.
    • Like Like x 1
  2. agarwalro Audioholic Ninja

    agarwalro
    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2005
    Messages:
    3,972
    Likes Received:
    1,033
    Location:
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Very well written and balanced article Tom.

    Was this pun intentional :)?

    In the context of, 'But Seriously, Do I Need an External DAC', barring justified needs mentioned by you, my take is that the speakers and room make such a huge impact to the overall sound that the "sonic signature" of DACs is completely swamped beyond measurement by even the most sensitive room response measurement gear. Yet, audiohiles with untreated "critical listening rooms" will wax eloquent about their external DACs having improved the sound.

    Conversely, with high quality headphones, the external variables are better controlled and therefore, it may be possible improve the sound by moving to an external DAC.

    Last but not the least, there is something to be said for number of D-A-D-A conversions. Frequently, we see folks with high end disc players using analog outs fed into AVRs that then overlay room correction process. Another AD-DA step has been introduced and the benefit of the high end DAC in the disc player is lost. In this situation, one might as well send digital signal to the AVR and let its DAC do the D-A conversion once, after all processing is overlayed in source signal.
    • Like Like x 1
  3. Josuah Senior Audioholic

    Josuah
    Joined:
    Apr 4, 2005
    Messages:
    533
    Likes Received:
    51
    Location:
    San Jose, CA
    Your choice of DAC can still make a huge difference in an untreated listening room, and is definitely not swamped beyond measurement. Of course, if the gear you are comparing are already very close, then the difference is going to be very small.

    A follow up on do you "want" an external DAC might be a good article. :)
  4. skizzerflake Audioholic Field Marshall

    skizzerflake
    Joined:
    Oct 15, 2006
    Messages:
    1,608
    Likes Received:
    417
    Location:
    Baltimore, Maryland
    I got one recently in the hopes of improving indifferent computer sound through headphones that I use a lot. It seemed like an impulsive purchase until I plugged it in. Basically, whatever the source, the sound has improved. I would not say that it makes a low bit rate mp3 sound as good as a CD that it was ripped from, but rather that both the mp3 and the cd are better than what they were. DVD sound is also improved. I bought an AudioEngine D1 and am using it with a Macintosh. It was a very worthwhile $170. I definitely recommend this little gadget for computer - headphone sound.
  5. agarwalro Audioholic Ninja

    agarwalro
    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2005
    Messages:
    3,972
    Likes Received:
    1,033
    Location:
    Pittsburgh, PA
    My stance is based on the reasoning that, first having good speakers (with flat on axis FR, controlled roll of as one goes off axis, well designed crossover, low distortion, etc.), good placement in room and finally, working towards not having strong first reflections (within 30dB of original) and an overall RT60 of 200-400ms will go a lot further than changing DACs if the aforementioned are not optimized.

    Can you elaborate on your reasoning for saying this?
    • Like Like x 1
  6. anamorphic96 Audioholic General

    anamorphic96
    Joined:
    Aug 21, 2004
    Messages:
    1,317
    Likes Received:
    187
    Location:
    Northern California
    I gave up on DAC's awhile back as I never hear any differences. I have switched to a Fiio D3 after my receiver stopped working and have never looked back. 30.00 bucks and sounds the same as the Yamaha CD-S300 I picked up, a Marantz DV-4001, and my old NAD C541i. It also handles my 24/96 files with no problem.

    My ears tell me the most important changes someone can make to the sound of a system is to TREAT THE ROOM, POSITION THE SPEAKERS CORRECTLY, AND UPGRADE TO BETTER SPEAKERS. These are the three most important aspects in my book assuming someone already has a good amp and source.
    Last edited: May 14, 2014
  7. FozzieT Enthusiast

    FozzieT
    Joined:
    Mar 24, 2014
    Messages:
    17
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Arizona
    I had used an external DAC in my system. I had read great reviews about the Audioquest Dragonfly, so I bought one and ran it out of one of the USB ports on my Mac Mini. I ran the converted, analog signal through my Emotiva UMC-200 pre-amp's analog inputs, bypassing the pre-amp's internal DAC.

    However, on certain solo piano recordings, I was hearing audible distortion. At first I thought I had blown a tweeter, which totally sucked because I absolutely love my Monitor Audio Gold speakers with their ribbon tweeters.

    But then someone on this forum suggested I try removing the external DAC and simplify the signal path. Voila! Problem solved! No more distortion, and no blown tweeters! The Emotiva's internal DAC does a perfectly fine job on its own, no need for the external DAC.
    Last edited: May 15, 2014
    • Like Like x 1
  8. BoredSysAdmin Audioholic Warlord

    BoredSysAdmin
    Joined:
    Aug 21, 2007
    Messages:
    9,976
    Likes Received:
    3,303
    Location:
    New Joisey
    I had horrible issues with hum and noise from PC's both on-board and add-on sound card. External dac with optical in solved the issue.
    I could've bought something like Fiio D3, but I also wanted to have good headphone amp, my Fostex heads are quite needy for extra juice.
    Very few of such combo devices are what I would call "affordable" and in my case AE's D1 fit the bill.
    Did I over-payed for it - heck yes, but external dac was needed for my setup- only question how much one needs to spend in the situation similar to mine.

    Also most older AVR's with optical inputs would've solved this issue equally as well probably cost less; I bet one can find right model on CL's for about $50, but I didn't want the bulky size of most AVRs on my work desk or near it. Besides since my speakers are active such AVR would also must have at least stereo preouts.
  9. Marshall_Guthrie Audioholics Videographer Extraordinaire

    Marshall_Guthrie
    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2007
    Messages:
    395
    Likes Received:
    163
    Location:
    Willamette Valley, OR
    I think that's the question that separates audiophile from audiophool: for noisy DACs in a laptop, an external will certainly show improvement. I personally use a variety of Line6 interfaces that do double duty for music production.

    ...But, in mid to high-range Home Theater AVRs, would anyone be able to reliably be able to discern the difference between audio via HDMI to the built-in DAC in your AVR vs optical/coax digital to standalone DAC to Analog Pre-ins on AVR?
  10. PENG Audioholic Warlord

    PENG
    Joined:
    Oct 23, 2004
    Messages:
    8,269
    Likes Received:
    2,280
    Location:
    Ontario
    I don't think I can hear the difference of the DACs in my gear and my two external ones but like IRV said before, over time one could somehow form a preference. Currently I prefer my latest acquisition that is a little DAP by Fiio but just slightly. After that I like my Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS just the same as my Oppo 105, Marantz AV8801 and Denon 3910. In any sort of blind tests though I would have no chance of scoring better than maybe 60%.
    PENG,
  11. jinjuku Moderator

    jinjuku
    Joined:
    Apr 6, 2007
    Messages:
    5,262
    Likes Received:
    1,679
    Location:
    Louisville, KY
    Charlie Laub just tested a $40, Cirrus 4396 based, DAC off of E-Bay and it measures great and he thinks it sounds fine.

    Here is the thread at PETT

    I think at the next DIY for them Markk from Audioheuristics.org is bringing his Benchmark and they are going to A/B. Be interesting to see a $40 vs $1800 DAC.

    I think DAC's are so well understood and solid implementations out there that the $40 unit is going to come off showing very well.
  12. swspiers Audioholic

    swspiers
    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2008
    Messages:
    139
    Likes Received:
    23
    Late response, but I see more money wasted on DAC's in the headphone arena than anything else.

    After 5 months of trying to hear a difference between my Oppo BDP-103 and a Schiit Bifrost Uber in my HP rig, I finally gave up and sold the Uber.
  13. wednesday Audiophyte

    wednesday
    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2014
    Messages:
    1
    Likes Received:
    0
    need some advice

    Hi, would need some advice and info from DAC. I had noise when i am connect to PC thru AUX to RCA cable to my HeadAmp. But it dissapear when i connect thru my Z5500 head out(toslink from PC to z5500) or directly to my phone. But somehow the audio quality dropped significantly when i connect to my z5500. Will an external DAC solve my problem? If i would have to get an external DAC. Do i get one with USB input or optical toslink? thanks

Share This Page

  • EMPTek.com
  • BlueJeansCable.com
  • SVS Sound Subwoofers
  • Experience the Martin Logan Montis
  • CEDIA