A Digital Audio Converter (or DAC) is simply a piece of electronic circuitry that converts musical signals from digital music file formats (MP3, AAC etc.) into analog electrical signals, which drive your headphones stereo speakers.
For example: if you plug your headphones into your laptop and listen to a music track, the digital music file is going through a simple DAC before it goes into your headphones to create the sound.
The DAC in your laptop or PC is the soundcard. Normally, this will be pretty low quality. This is partly because the soundcard has to be small and simple, but it's mostly since computer companies want to keep their manufacturing costs down.
Basically, it's a cheap soundcard!
So why do you need to know about Digital to Audio Converters?
Because there are some situations where you can MASSIVELY boost the quality of your sound by simply adding a self-contained Digital Audio Converter to your home audio system, to by-pass the one you are currently using (i.e. your computer soundcard).
When could you use a stand-alone DAC? The following situations are typical...
Plugging a DAC into your PC and putting the output through your amplifier or headphones will dramatically improve the sound quality. This is because the cheapy soundcard in your computer is being skipped in favor of a much much higher quality one.
As always, you'll hear the biggest improvements if your original digital file is higher quality, and if the other components of your home audio system are also high quality.
There are lots of brands of Digital to Audio Converters on the market, at many price levels, depending on your own requirements.
Well-known, reputable manufacturers include Beresford (the Caiman) and Cambridge Audio (DAC Magic). These are suitable for PC-based systems.
For dedicated home audio systems with a CD player, a top-of-the-line audiophile model such as the Naim DAC can cost ten times as much as the ones above!
So, if you're looking for a simple way to hugely increase the sound quality of the music you listen to from your computer, why not try out a Digital Audio Converter?
You might be looking for other ways to improve your audio quality. Don't get fooled by the myth about audio cables...
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