DACs (Digital to Analog converters) are extremely powerful audio components if they are used properly. However, many tend to forget the fact if they are actually worth it or not.
So, are DACs worth it?
DACs are worthy if you’re using a powerful audio source or format. Also, when the impedance causes an issue with volume, you should definitely get one. However, they are not worth it if you’re using gaming headphones. Because gaming headset does not benefit too much from an external DAC.
While this short answer might be enough for many, you should definitely stick for a bit. Then, you’ll truly get to know whether DACs are worth it or not!
What is a DAC?
In layman’s terms, DAC stands for Digital to Analog Converter. The name itself should be self-explanatory. However, there are certain technicalities that make a DAC stand out!
To begin with, the information processed in our systems is digital. However, most sound sources cannot process digital sound. It needs to be converted to an analog source of sound first, and that’s where the DAC comes in.
Thus, most modern sound systems have a DAC on their own. However, the built-in DACs often fall short when it comes to providing the right output. Thus, making audiophiles resort to external DACs of many kinds.
Why Do You Need a DAC?
Before stating whether DACs are worth it or not, let’s discuss one important thing! And that is whether you actually need it or not.
So, you might be thinking “Why do I need a DAC?”
DACs are built-in components that convert digital audio signals to analog for conventional digital music. Without a DAC you won’t be able to hear any audio in your ears.
During the conversion from digital to analog, some additional sounds might get into it. These include crackling noise from the amp, sound distortion, etc.
Moreover, in a DAC, the bits of data from the digital files are translated into an electric signal. This allows the DAC to get rid of the additional noises and give you a fresh sound experience.
That’s why it’s best to go through different scenarios one by one.
Let’s start with IEMs and DACs combo!
Do you need a DAC for IEMs?
Yes, DACs are an absolute necessity for IEMs when there’s high resistance or low sensitivity. Otherwise, you can use your IEMs with a mobile phone without much problem.
However, there’s another key query left to discuss.
“Can you plug earbuds into a DAC?”
Yes, you can plug earbuds directly into a DAC if your DAC supports it. However, if your earbuds need an amp, then you’ll have to use an external amp as well.
So, do IEMs need an amp that’s one thing out of the way? Now, let’s check on the headphones scenario.
Do you need a DAC for headphones?
No, most headphones come with a built-in DAC that’s powerful enough for regular use. However, if you notice buzzing, humming noise from your headphone, you’ll need an external DAC.
Now, most headphones users also pair their headphones with a PC. So, the following question is very common to come to mind-
“Do I need a DAC for my PC?”
You don’t necessarily need a DAC for your PC, but you can benefit from an external DAC. Generally, external DACs offer better audio output and potential. They also reduce the audio noises.
So, even if you don’t need one for a PC, you’ll get to enjoy a better audio experience.
Finally, the last thing to consider (and probably the most important one!)
Do you need a DAC for lossless audio?
For lossless audio above the 24-bit/192kHz range, you’ll most definitely need a high-end DAC. Otherwise, you’ll not be able to differentiate between CD-quality and Lossless audio.
Now that we’ve moved past the whole necessity aspect, let’s narrow down the discussion a bit more.
Is a DAC Worth It?
I know that not everyone wants to use DACs with their devices. As discussed before, you don’t even need it for everything! So, the discussion of whether it’s worth it or not comes up.
Let’s start with gaming! Is a DAC worth it for gaming?
DAC for gaming is totally not worth it if you’re a casual gamer. Yes, you can benefit from better audio output but it won’t be a value purchase. It’s better to have good gaming headphones rather than DACs in my opinion.
So, if you’re asking me, “Do I need a DAC for gaming?” Then, the only answer is no! You don’t need DAC for your PC or console gaming.
Now, you might be thinking about the cases where DACs are truly worth it. Well, you can use DACs for your music listening, audio-centric works, and many more. However, you will get very different depending on the DAC quality.
However, you might be quite skeptical about cheap DACs. So. are cheap DACs worth it?
Getting good affordable or cheap DACs can be worth it depending on the budget. If the chip inside the DAC is good, then a cheap DAC will serve you well.
There are many great budget DACs if you ask me. If you’re looking for the best budget DACs, then I can strongly suggest Reiyin MCA1 Type-C DAC Audio Converter. As most PC now has USB-Type C now, you can easily use it with PCs as well.
Another great thing is that you check out Reiyin MCA1 on Amzaon!
If you’re looking for something a bit less affordable, then check out FiiO JadeAudio KA1.
While these DAC are very cheap considering their performance, others are not. If that happens, you have to consider getting expensive DACs. But then again, are expensive DACs worth it?
Yes, expensive DACs are worth it because of the better materials and shielding against noises. The chipset is also more efficient and provides better sound output. However, for general music streaming, expensive DACs are overkill.
So, getting high-end DACs is definitely worth it, given that you’re utilizing it the right way. However, choosing the right one is always a struggle. Let me ease that pain for you-
- The best high-end DAC I can recommend is the Topping D90SE MQA DAC. It’s the best one I ever laid my hands on!
- Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M is another great DAC in the high-end range.
Now, if you ask me, “Do expensive DACs make a difference?”
Then the answer will be yes, expensive DACs can make a huge difference for lossless audio. It can also increase the soundstage and sound background of your audio experience.
So, you can definitely benefit from expensive DACs!
Does DAC Make a Difference?
Well, in the previous section, you learned about whether expensive DACs make a difference or not. But there are still some things to discuss! You can’t really ignore the general DACs.
So, does a DAC really make a difference?
Yes, DACs do make a great difference in the audio output. You’ll definitely notice better sound conversion and higher resolution audio. However, you’ll not feel anything if the sound source is bad itself.
I think you got the answer to the “Does a good DAC make a difference?” question as well.
Because even if the DAC is good, you always won’t notice a difference.
Now, do you even need an external DAC? It’s pretty evident that you’d need a good bitrate and fewer distortions to enjoy your music at its very best.
When it comes to internal DACs, they often fall short on a few factors. They might not support all kinds of video files and might have poor conversion. Furthermore, most built-in DACs don’t have a good clock system. So, when the system gets old, it starts jittering.
Therefore, having an external DAC can really help you. Also, most external DACs are asynchronous. So, it takes over the clocking duties from the computer. This ensures high-end clocking and sound all the time.
What Type of DAC Do you Need?
Up until now, you acquired much knowledge about whether you need a DAC or not. Now the question is about specific DACs. Let’s go through 4 different DAC types one by one.
Are portable DACs worth it?
Yes, In most cases, portable DACs are worth it. portable DACs are much better than built-in ones. So, you’ll get better sound output if the power output is high enough.
If you ask me about the best portable DAC, it’s definitely AudioQuest – DragonFly Red. And for PC users, there’s nothing better than iFi Zen DAC V2. These two are really the best in their price range.
While these two are portable enough, you might be a dongle person and that’s fine. But are dongle DACs worth it?
Dongle DACs are worth it if you use headphones or earphones having more than 100 impedance. Otherwise, you won’t hear much of a difference with or without dongle DACs.
So, make sure you have good headphones that can utilize your dongle DAC. Speaking of dongle DACs, there are a lot of good options out there.
Compact USB DACs
The most common type of external DACs is the compact USB ones. They offer high-end portability and are the most affordable. Since they’re small, they’re not very power-intensive. So, they can power themselves directly through your device.
So, you can just connect them to your PC and they’ll power themselves through it. The mechanism is also pretty simple and there are not a lot of features to it. They mostly have a headphone socket and line-level output.
As the portable and dongle DACs are the focus now, you might be thinking about something else. And that probably is-
“Are USB DACs worth it?”
Yes, USB DACs are definitely worth it if you’re using high-end speakers and headphones. When you use FLAC or lossless audio, you hear the difference loud and clear.
Desktop USB DACs
If you want a better sound experience, getting a desktop USB DAC could be the way to go! They’re bigger and need more energy. As a result, you need to provide them with an additional power supply.
However, in terms of the final output, they’re miles ahead of the compact USB ones. Also, they provide additional analog inputs for more audio and video. Also, they provide additional services such as better control and specific software.
The iFi Zen DAC V2, for example, has Bluetooth connectivity. Allowing you to connect your DAC to your smartphone and tablets as well.
Headphone AMP DACs
However, you have to use a headphone DAC if you want to experience authentic lossless music. Still, you might be skeptical about the headphone DAC and its purpose.
So, is a headphone DAC worth it?
Similar to USB DACs, headphones DACs are also worth it. Unless you’re using a low-power output device, you’ll immediately notice the sound difference.
Hence, any audiophile would love to pair their headphones with a good DAC. AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt and FiiO Q3 Headphone DAC are prime examples of good quality DACs. You can never go wrong with these two.
Whether you’re a professional audio engineer or someone who wants high-end sounds, professional DACs are the way to go! They’re made ideal for most professional systems so they’re mostly feature-packed.
For example, DACs like Benchmark DAC3 HGC have features like AES/EBU sockets, better connectivity, and better clocking. If you are willing to pay a premium, these might be worth the effort.
These are the most common types of DACs out there!
Since DACs can be a bit technical, they can be a bit hard to understand as well. As a result, there are a lot of myths around DACs. To help you make your experience better, we’ve decided to bust some myths once and for all!
Are DACs a Must-Have?
The answer to this is both yes and no! Any sort of sound system you use already has a built-in DAC. And in most cases, they get the job done decently. But Moondrop moonriver 2 DACs are making it difficult to resist.
If you’re not a music enthusiast, you probably won’t be able to notice the difference. Unless your DACs are actually damaged, the chances of distortions are pretty low. But if you are, the difference is easily noticeable.
So, while most audio devices have their own DACs, an external DAC isn’t a must-have.
External DACs are Always Better
This depends on a number of factors. To help you understand, let’s give you a rundown on how the entire process works. The digital signal needs to travel a distance through wires and then come back through a different DAC chip.
So, if you’re investing in a high-end DAC, you have to pair it with a good wire. Otherwise, it’s very likely that there will be some losses along the way. So, unless your external DAC is vastly superior to what’s built-in, it won’t work for you.
For this reason, it’s better to have a clear idea about your built-in DACs before investing in one.
Cheap vs Expensive DACs
There are definitely some differences in the quality between cheap and expensive DACs. However, an expensive product won’t always mean a better value. Because there are a lot of other factors that go into it as well.
Just consider the price comparison between topping d30 and Schitt. You get the point.
There are certain things a cheap DAC might provide better. One of these includes better engineering. If the DAC is built better, it’ll shield your music from losses and electric noises. However, your DAC needs to suit well with the rest of your system for that to work.
Alternatives to DAC
Are there any alternatives to DAC? The answer is, not directly! A good DAC will drastically improve your sound experience. And as we’ve mentioned before, almost every sound product has a built-in DAC.
However, if you’re looking for something to improve your sound quality, but don’t want to invest in a DAC, here are a few alternatives!
The task of an amplifier is pretty simple. It takes a weak analog radio signal and amplifies it. Thus making it clearer and more bass-heavy. Not only that, in fact, you can use a combo of DAC and Amps for the best possible outcome.
So, if you’re looking for better bass in your music, getting an amplifier is the way to go!
The sound card is an integral part of every system. In a computer, the sound card is what controls all the music. It contains both a DAC and an ADC (Analog to Digital Converter). So, it deals with both audio coming in and out of your system.
An audio interface isn’t for everyone. It’s generally more reserved for audio engineers. However, a good audio interface has all the features of a DAC. Also, it gives you complete control over your sound.
However, learning to manage an audio interface can be a bit complicated. any small error in setting it up could make it stop working. So, you need to know what you’re doing before getting into it.
So, are DACs Worth it?
Finally, let’s ask the question again, are external DACs worth it?
The answer is, absolutely! If you enjoy music and want top-notch sound all the time, a good DAC is the way to go! You can try a good R2R DAC for starters, However, you need to take all the factors into account before getting into it!
Why are Some DACs Better than the Others?
The key here is in engineering! Some DACs are engineered better and provide a better final product to the customer. For this reason, you have to research well before getting a DAC!
How Long Do DACs Last?
Generally, most DACs come with 3 years of warranty. However, if you take care of it right, it would last 5-6 years without any hiccups.
Can you Connect a DAC to an Audio Interface?
Yes! If your Audio interface has ports for DACs, you can connect your audio interface to your PC. But you need to check it beforehand.
DACs are a must-have in any sound system. However, when it comes to external DACs, it’s hard to make a decision. While some might appreciate the advantages it brings, it might now be worth the money to others.
In this article, we went through both sides of the debate to find out are DACs worth it, or not. We hope you find this helpful!