Buying an external DAC can be a very good idea to improve the sound quality on your PC, especially if you have high quality professional headphones or speakers. But what are the characteristics you should look for to make sure you make a good purchase? We tell you everything below.
Let's see below what are the most important features that you should look at before buying a DAC.
We will see some of the characteristics of the most important DACs below, but before entering the technical specifications we have to see what other characteristics will make a DAC suitable for you or not.
Does physical size matter?
High-end audio components do not necessarily have to be large. Most DACs, in fact, are quite small in size, and yet they are capable of providing the best quality audio. Of course, those that are larger have - or usually have - a fundamental advantage, and there is more room for more audio inputs and outputs. The choice is up to you.
What type of connection is best for me?
It will depend on your audio configuration, but when it comes to choosing a DAC for PC or console , you will never be wrong if you take one whose input is USB, or even one with wireless connection (it is not a standard feature, but there are some models that count with apTX Bluetooth connectivity of much higher quality than conventional Bluetooth). In any case, do not be afraid because the output of the DAC will be analog, and it is the one that matters, so you will not lose quality because it is USB.
Of course, if you have a fairly advanced audio system, then you will be interested in a DAC that has several connections, such as two XLRs for a pair of speakers, but also a headphone jack. Logically, a small-sized DAC will not help you in that case.
Will a DAC make the headphones heard more loudly?
If you are thinking of buying a DAC to make your headphones can be heard at a higher volume, you have to be very careful when choosing the DAC. Although most incorporate a headphone amplifier that will effectively make them heard at a higher volume, you have to look at the impedance of your headphones.
While normal headphones usually have 32Ω impedance, some high-end models such as the Sennheiser HD800 have a whopping 300Ω, and not all DACs will be able to amplify the signal with them. The characteristic that you should look at in a DAC for this is the dynamic range, which is usually expressed in dB at resistance. For example, a Sennheiser HDV820 DAC has a dynamic range of -115 dB to 600 Ω.
How much do the sample rate and bit depth matter?
If you are thinking of buying a DAC to improve sound quality and you really are an audiophile who does not mind spending money in order to achieve this goal, of course they are the two parameters that should matter most to you, since they are the ones that determine the quantity and quality of the audio information that the DAC is capable of processing , and as a general rule, the higher these numbers, the better the quality of the audio that comes out of the DAC.
Of course, in most cases the limiting factor for sound quality is not going to be the DAC, but the speakers or headphones, or the audio you're trying to hear. If the numbers are not even and, for example, the audio source is not of good quality, we will not be able to improve it with a good DAC.
To give you an idea, HiFi audio (which is already of superior quality) has parameters of 44.1 KHz / 16 bit and will not be heard better than that. However, there are audio versions at 96 KHz / 24 bit that if we do not have a good DAC and good headphones, we will not be able to enjoy them in conditions.