If you’ve got digital music (and who doesn’t these days?), you need a DAC, or digital-to-analog converter. Almost every audio device contains a built-in DAC, and you probably use a few smaller DACs every day without even realising it – there’s one in your computer’s sound card, and a tiny one inside your phone. The DAC takes a digital signal and transforms it into audible sound. Not all DACs are created equal, however. An external DAC decodes music files with much greater precision than that tiny one in your phone. Low quality DACs have poorly designed circuitry and introduce unwanted noise during playback, and can also add extra distortion due to jitter. A great DAC, on the other hand, gives you audio that’s detailed and rich, revealing a sound you never knew was there.
DACs come in all shapes and sizes and have a huge variety of functionality and input options. Some are integrated into an amplifier, like the Pathos Logos Mk2, which What Hi Fi says “has it all”, with “looks, fine sound, and excellent build”. Or how about the Devialet 120, called the “single most impressive product” that Hans Wetzel of SoundStage has ever reviewed. Many headphone amps also have a built-in DAC, like the Oppo HA-2, a five-star rated headphone amplifier and DAC unit that’s also portable.
There are also several options for standalone DAC units, which can be a great option to get the very best sound out of your system (especially if you’re currently relying on the wimpy, pitiful DAC that came inside your receiver or laptop, in which case we beg you to give dedicated DACs a go. You’ll never look back). We carry the very best, including the Arcam FMJ D33, which is a SoundStage Hi-Fi Reviewers’ Choice.
As always with a DAC or amplifier, make sure the one you’re looking at has all the connections you need for the type of music sources you use, and that you match it correctly to your existing (or future) system. Also make sure that you’re using the best quality cables, as upgrading from the ones included in the box usually pays off in much better sound quality. The best DACs also have higher possible bit rates and resolutions, and lower levels of distortion, so pay attention to those specs.
Have questions about which DAC is best for your setup? Let us know, and we’ll be more than happy to help out with our expert audiophile advice. Our pros are available via phone, email, and in-store to answer your questions and help you choose.
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