If you’re a novice audiophile, terms like DAC and amp can be confusing. We’re sure you’d like to simply plug your expensive headphones into your laptop and listen to music.
When do you require an amplifier or DAC? How do you connect these? How do you connect DAC to amp to source? Questions like these may arise in your mind, leaving you puzzled.
Don’t worry! This article will tell all about a DAC and how to connect DAC to amp, not to mention that we’ll answer some other burning questions as well, so make sure you read until the end.
What is a DAC?
Digital-to-Analog Converter or DAC transforms digital audio data into an analog signal that is then transmitted to an amp.
A DAC is a necessary element of any computer’s audio system. Sound cards, USB headphones, smartphones, other digital gadgets, and motherboard audio have one. If there isn’t a DAC to transmit digital audio signals into analog, you can’t get sound from your digital device or PC and into the human ear.
Also, a headphone cannot be connected directly to a DAC in most cases. This is where an amplifier comes in – a headphone amplifier will act as an intermediary between your headphones and DAC.
How Does a DAC Work?
The sound produced by this audio equipment is an analog representation of digital input data. A DAC allows audio to be transmitted from a digital format, a simple kind of audio used by various electronics or computers, to an analog format, which is made up of deviations in air pressure that make a sound.
DACs convert a binary number of digital audio into an analog current or voltage. It then produces an audio wave representing the digital signal and generates an analog variety of the digital audio in “steps” based on each reading.
The DAC generates a stair step wave before producing audio. This wave has a slight jump between the digital readings. DACs use interpolation to transform these leaps into a smooth analog reading. For those unaware, interpolation is a method for determining the values between two points on a stair step wave.
This smoothes out the sound and makes it less distorted. These voltages, which have been smoothed into a regular waveform, are output by DACs. A microphone that picks up audio signals, as opposed to DAC, gets converted into a digital signal with the analog-to-digital.
What is an Amp?
An amplifier, also known as an amp, is a device that increases the power of a signal. So, while a DAC transforms the digitally encoded music into an analog signal, an amplifier magnifies it to make it loud enough to be heard through headphones.
Simply put, a sound amplifier takes sound at its input end and produces louder sound at its output end while attempting to reduce distortions as much as possible. An amplifier can be a separate device/equipment or an electric circuit embedded within another device.
So you only need an outboard amp if your audio isn’t loud enough, even when you turn the volume up. This arises when the amplification power is insufficient to move the headphones, causing them to remain quiet.
How Do I Connect DAC to an Amplifier?
Here’s how to connect a DAC to an amplifier:
- Connect the DAC to a USB or FireWire port on your computer. Log in as administrator after booting the computer.
- Connect the DAC to headphones or an external amplifier using a stereo or RCA cable. Also, be wary when choosing the RCA cables. Usually, oxygen-free copper cables are the best way to go since they ensure proper contact.
- Connect one end of the cable (two RCA plugs) to the DAC connectors and the other end to the amplifier connectors.
- Connecting the power is the next step in integrating the DAC into the audio system. Connect the amplifier to any external speakers with a stereo cable and turn it on. If your DAC has power in the form of a transformer, simply connect the cable to the 220 V or 115 V. Remember, DACs with an external 9-12 V power supply are also available in case you want to use them.
- Open and play an audio file to test the DAC. Double-click a playable digital audio file to open it in the software audio application. If no sound is heard, go to the audio application’s “Tools” menu and select “Preferences” or “Options.” Select the audio preferences tab and select the connected DAC as the audio output device. Select “OK.”
How to Connect a DAC to a Preamp?
You can connect the DAC’s output to the preamp‘s input by choosing the suitable audio cable. This will send the DAC’s output audio to the preamp for preamplification.
Connecting a DAC to a preamp can significantly improve sound quality. A DAC should be placed before a preamp in an audio chain so that the preamp can amplify the weak signal after the digital signal conversion.
Most DACs have the standard right and left RCA outputs on the back. You can directly connect your DAC to your preamp using an appropriate connection cable, depending on the input port on your preamp.
Can I Use a DAC Without an Amp?
Ideally, it would help if you got both a DAC and an amplifier. A DAC converts digital audio signals into analog form, allowing you to hear sounds, while an amp boosts your speakers and makes the signals loud. Simply put, you can’t enjoy good music unless you have both.
Without the amplifier, the DACs would simply convert the digital data to an analog signal, with no way of amplifying the data to a level detectable by the playback device.
Your headphones are an excellent example of this explanation. In the first stage, the converters convert the digital signal, which is a series of binary digits, into an audio wave.
The processed waveform then requires an increase in volume; otherwise, your headphones will not detect it. The converted signal is sent from the converter to a headphone amplifier, where it’s amplified and delivered to headphones. There are several companies that sell amps and DACs in combos to maximize your listening experience.
How to Connect Dac and Amp to PC
Most DACs only require a USB cable connected to a free port on the computer. More often than not, the USB line serves as an output, input, and power source for the DAC unit.
Other computer connections include FireWire, which can control audio output and input but may not offer power, and S/PDIF connection via RCA cable or TOSLINK, which will only deliver audio output or input (but not both) and will not give any power.
After connecting the DAC to the computer, connect the necessary device to the audio output. For audiophile DACs or consumers, this means linking a pair of powered speakers or headphones via 3.5mm or RCA cables or quarter-inch jacks to transmit the output to an outboard amplifier. For example, a standalone device, stereo system, or the inputs on a home theater.
As far as pro audio DACs are concerned, you can connect XLR microphone inputs and outputs to pro audio DACs or quarter-inch line level.
How to Connect DAC to a Mobile Phone?
A micro USB OTG Cable or USB Type-C is the most popular way to connect a DAC/Amp to your smartphone.
Connecting your smartphone to a desktop DAC/Amp is a tad more challenging than you’d have thought. Most desktop DACs/Amps offer a variety of connectivity options. However, none of them are typically designed to connect directly to a smartphone. This is why you’ll need to get your hands on a special cable.
Simply connect one end of either a USB OTG Cable or USB Type-C to your mobile phone and the other to your portable DAC/Amp, and you’re set. You will get a notification when an external audio device is connected to your smartphone.
If you prefer a more visually appealing solution, go ahead and buy a specialized USB cable. If your DAC/Amp has a Micro USB input or USB Type-C, you can buy a USB Type C-to-Micro USB cable or USB Type C-to-Type C. Also, remember if your DAC/Amp has a dedicated volume knob, you must set Android’s volume to maximum.
Will an Amp Improve Sound Quality?
Simply put, no. Amplifiers do not improve sound quality. An amplifier boosts the volume of an audio signal, meaning it won’t objectively or subjectively improve the recorded audio or its reproduction.
While an amplifier is essential for increasing playback volume, it does not have nearly the same impact on sound quality as other components in your audio system. Amps are frequently required for more powerful premium audio devices. They are unnecessary for less expensive audio devices, such as $30 earbuds, and those earbuds will not benefit from them.
The increased power provided by the amp to the headphones allows them to reach their full potential, often sounding better. Better speakers, for example, will have a far greater impact on overall audio than even the most expensive amplifiers.
READ MORE: How to Choose an Amplifier for Speakers?
Why Do You Need an External DAC?
While built-in DACs are common in most technology, they are not made from high-quality components, resulting in mediocre sound. That’s why we recommend adding an external DAC to any listening setup, whether it’s a portable headphone amp and standalone DAC or a DAC combo. In any case, your ears will thank you!
Here’s a breakdown of how an external DAC improves the listening experience:
Clean audio: A good DAC produces depth and clarity, converting the best hits into works of art. It enhances any setup’s sonic background and overall soundstage, creating a remarkably wide and deep listening scape. As a result, you can hear the finer details in vocals and instruments.
Immersive listening: If you enjoy classical music, live concerts, or tracks with complex layers, an external quality DAC is an incredible asset to your setup. A DAC brings such music to life by allowing each component to shine.
We hope you now know how to connect DAC to amp. In a nutshell, an amplifier and DAC function as a system, meaning they are designed to complement one another and improve your listening experience. You won’t be able to hear music from your speakers without a DAC because a DAC is the one responsible for converting stored digital audio into an analog format.
Similarly, you won’t be able to enjoy your favorite song playing on your phone, home stereo, or PC without an amplifier because an amplifier powers your speakers, making sound audible. As a result, you need to have both for the best listening experience.
Does a DAC Need an Amp?
If you’re after the best listening experience, you’ll need both a DAC and an amplifier. A DAC’s sole function is to convert digital signals to analog waveforms. The audio signal is too low to be received by the sound source after the conversion. As a result, an amplifier is a must to boost the signal to an acceptable level.
Can You Plug a DAC Directly into an Amp?
Indeed, you can. A DAC converts a digital stream into a line-level stereo analog signal, similar to the output of your tuner, CD player, and phono stage. If you can connect a tuner or CD player to your integrated amplifier, you’ll be able to connect a DAC to it as well. As for your system, a DAC is just another analog device.
Can You Plug a DAC into a DAC?
No, it’s not possible to connect a DAC into a DAC. A DAC is a digital to analog converter, meaning it’s of no use unless you connect it to a digital output. It would be pointless and affect sound quality — the more links in the system, the greater the possibility of interference.
Will a DAC Improve My Sound?
The short answer is yes, although occasionally. A high-quality external DAC, much like a premium pair of bookshelf speakers for your two-channel system, will greatly enhance your sound and overall listening experience. Since they have better components, external DACs will boost the audio in your headphones by offering more clarity and accuracy, allowing you to get the most out of your devices.