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DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter): What It Is And Benefits

  • 9 min read

DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter): What It Is And Benefits - Auris, Inc

Do you like listening to music? Are you curious about how sound works? Do you have an opinion about the analog vs. digital debate? Have you ever wondered, “What is a DAC?”

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’re in luck! In this article, we discuss the DAC in all its glory and offer tips for making your music sound better.

Table Of Contents

Analog And Digital Sound

Record player

Analog and digital sound each have their benefits and drawbacks, and some people may prefer one over the other. But we can all agree that listening to music — in whatever form — is one of the greatest ways to relax after a long day.

It’s something that we often take for granted because audio streaming is actually an extremely complex process.

And this complexity has only grown now that wireless technology, like Bluetooth, has come into the picture. But for people who want a truly authentic sound, it’s necessary to use a wired analog cable to try to match a song’s original recording.

But when we play a CD or a tape, how exactly does the sound work? What is going on behind the scenes that’s able to bring us the gift of music wherever we go? It’s thanks to DACs, so let’s take a look at what they are and how they function.

What Is a DAC?

DAC - digital-to-analog converter

DAC stands for digital-to-analog converter. It takes digital data and transforms it into an analog audio signal. When you’re listening to a recording on a CD player or even on your phone, you’re actually listening to an analog signal that was converted from a digital file.

DACs really became popular in the early 1980s during the rise of CDs. Compact discs were able to allow for digital recordings in studios, which are much easier to work with when compared to analog recordings that require a physical copy.

An analog recording is accomplished by imprinting an audio signal directly onto a master tape (via magnetization) or a master record (via grooves). Copies of these can be made on cassettes and vinyl records but require tape players or record players in order to replicate the sounds.

Digital signals take those signals and convert them into a series of computational values. This is a process called encoding, in which the data is simplified into numerical terms so it can be distributed elsewhere.

Digital files can be copied onto discs, hard drives, or streamed through auxiliary cables.

Why Are DACs Important?

DAC next to a radio

Years ago, when record and tape players were the only ways to enjoy music, we didn’t need DACs. This is because the data never gets transmitted into a form other than analog, as this is used in both recording and playback.

Analog is limiting, however, especially with new pieces of technology requiring digital 3.5 mm jacks or USB cables to stream our favorite albums. This is why we need digital-to-analog converters to enjoy new technology without having to sacrifice music.

What Does a DAC Look Like?


You can get external DACs to convert films from analog to digital on your computer. These usually look like a small box with a wire USB output and digital/analog inputs.

However, your phone, computer, and television have DACs inside of them! Most DACs are implanted inside the device, so you never actually see them. Regardless, if you're able to hear sound, it means there’s a DAC in there somewhere.

How Does the Conversion Process Work?

DAC next to a radio

To best exemplify the DAC conversion process, let’s look at an example of how a sound might be recorded and then played back.

An artist records a track using a microphone that picks up their voice and instrumentals as analog audio signals.

Recording engineers convert the analog file into a digital file so they can store them on a computer. This allows them the ability to send tracks through the internet, which analog devices would never be able to accomplish.

When the digital sound is played back, a DAC must convert the digital file back into an analog signal. This is because your ears would not be able to hear the numerical code that composes a digital audio file — it must be turned into an analog sound wave.

The analog signal is sent to an amplifier, such as a speaker or headphones, which magnifies the sound so that you are able to enjoy it.

Something important to note is that even if your device incorporates a DAC, it might not be a high quality one. This can account for a difference in audio quality depending on the type of speaker or headphones you’re using.

Benefits Of DAC

what is a DAC

1) Better Sound Quality

When people ask us, “What is a DAC?” one of the very next questions they often ask is, “Is it better to buy a DAC or an amplifier to improve the quality of my sound system?”

In most cases (and for most audio enthusiasts), the DAC will provide better sound quality when compared to a standalone amplifier.

There are a number of reasons this is typically true — some of which we’ll discuss in the next few sections — but it mostly comes down to the hardware inside the unit and what that hardware is capable of.

2) Reduced Noise

In an amplified system, “noise” describes the random electrical signals produced by the components in the audio chain (e.g., microphones, media player, amplifier, effects/EQ deck, speakers, headphones, etc.).

Lower-quality DACs may introduce extra noise into the signal, which can result in a less accurate representation of the original sound.

High-end DACs (like the Auris bluMePro), on the other hand, are engineered to reduce noise across a broad spectrum of signals and reproduce the original sound with as much fidelity as possible.

3) Less Distortion

Some people often use the terms “noise” and “distortion” interchangeably to refer to a general sense of corruption or degradation in the signal to which you’re listening.

But in reality, noise and distortion are not synonymous. Why? Because they mean two very different things.

In the previous section, we referred to noise as random electrical signals produced by the components in an audio chain. Distortion, on the other hand, is unwanted harmonics produced by the components in an audio chain (typically, the amplifier).

And just so you know, a harmonic is an audible signal at an integer multiple frequency of the input signal.

There’s a lot of very complicated math involved in describing harmonics, but what you really need to know at this point is that the presence of harmonics can distort the original sound.

Quality DACs have circuitry built in to filter out unwanted harmonics, reduce overall distortion, and produce an amplified signal that is as true to the original experience as possible.

4) Lower Latency

Radio on a counter

In all audio systems, humans can typically detect delays in the sound wave around 20 or 30 milliseconds.

It doesn’t matter if it’s sound traveling from a powered instrument through an electronic system to your ear or from an acoustic instrument through the air to your ear, depending on where you’re at in the chain, you may experience the effects of a delayed signal.

In the world of hi-fi and pro audio, this delay is called latency.

DACs are typically designed to allow the free flow of whatever audio signal is introduced, thereby lowering the latency of travel from the source to your ear. This often results in a more immersive experience for the listener.

5) Higher Sound Detail

Relatively speaking, the sound of a single instrument doesn’t contain a lot of detail — just the note or notes that the instrument produces.

But, when you add more instruments (or sound sources), the level of detail increases dramatically. Additionally, all of the instruments in a band aren’t going to be reproduced at the same level.

The cello and percussion might be relegated to the background (i.e., reproduced at a lower level) while the violins and vocals might be pushed to the forefront (i.e., reproduced at a higher level).

Lowering the level of the cello, for example, might mean that your ears don’t register it as strongly as they do the violins. In this case, the cello detail is lost underneath the violins.

But, with a high-quality DAC, the sound waves are often reproduced in such a way that you can hear higher detail in the recording.

6) Potential For Equalization

Listening to music is often about accepting whatever the recording engineer gives you. But not every ear is the same, and we all experience sound slightly differently. That’s where equalization (EQ) comes into play.

Equalization is the process of adjusting the intensity of different frequency bands within the audio signal.

Most amplifiers allow you to adjust the bass and the treble, but high-quality DACs often give you access to anywhere from five to upwards of 30 or more different frequency bands.

When you adjust these settings on your own DAC, you can make the audio signal more appealing to your particular ear and create a much more enjoyable experience.

7) More Control

Other than equalization, most audiophiles and hi-fi enthusiasts aren’t overly concerned about the level of control they have over the signal and how it applies to the listening experience.

But, for sound engineers, the more control the better!

A DAC allows for precise control of the timing, pitch, volume, and other aspects of the audio signal. With this control, an experienced sound engineer may be able to create a recording that is incredibly natural and extremely close to the original performance.

How Can You Get The Best Sound Quality?

Woman listening to music on headphones

If you’re an audiophile, you know how much of a difference great sound can make when listening to music or watching a movie. But even if you’ve never paid much mind to this, good quality sound can revolutionize the way you appreciate music.

Bluetooth headphones and speakers have become the new normal. In 2015, over 40% of Americans had Bluetooth enabled on their phones, and this number has only risen since then.

It’s an extremely convenient technology, but it can’t really match the same audio quality as a wired system. Bluetooth files become so compressed during transmission that they lose some of the original quality. This is called lossy audio.

Analog stereo systems will always be able to give you the best sound, as audio remains uncompressed. This is known as lossless audio, meaning no quality is lost between recording and playback. These are your record players and cassette players that have an authentic tone unmatched by digital devices.

Digital systems have lesser quality than analog, yet they do remain of a higher standard than Bluetooth. You’ve used a digital output before if you’ve ever used the headphone jack on your phone.

You can make wired headphones sound even better with an amplifier. This makes your digital headphones compatible with Bluetooth while using Sony’s LDAC audio codec to enhance the sound. This is an efficient way to improve your sound quality if you use a digital system.

Will Bluetooth Ever Sound As Good As Analog?

Woman with bluetooth headphones on

Because of the way Bluetooth works, it’s unlikely that we will see a day when audio transmitted wirelessly matches the quality of audio streamed through cables. With that said, Bluetooth is constantly updated and is nearing CD-level quality.

The company Qualcomm has created a Bluetooth codec called aptX, which has a variation by the name of aptX HD. This is a codec specifically engineered with quality in mind, and it gets extremely close to the sound quality of CDs. Devices that utilize aptX HD will sound authentic when compared to most standard Bluetooth peripherals.

There’s also the problem of latency when it comes to Bluetooth devices, as it can take some time for the information to travel through the air.

The standard latency of an SBC device is 170-270ms, compared to only 7ms from a wired connection. AptX has another variation called aptX Low Latency. AptX LL has a latency of only 30-40ms, virtually eliminating syncing issues that are common with most Bluetooth gadgets.

But if you have an analog or digital system that you really love because of its crisp sound, you can use a Bluetooth receiver to make them wirelessly compatible. This lets you retain the quality you love while allowing you to stream your favorite playlists from Apple Music or Spotify.

Premium DACs From Auris

Premium DACs From Auris

Sound is a tricky and complex topic, but it’s vital to our daily routines. What used to be reserved for tape players and record players can now be transmitted through so many different mediums thanks to digital-to-audio conversion.

DACs like the Auris bluMe HD convert the originally recorded analog sound into a series of computational values, allowing them to be copied onto CDs or streamed through the internet. While the conversion process can lessen quality, it makes transmission much simpler.

And while Bluetooth technology is not as pristine as wired, you can combine the accessibility of wireless tech with the quality of wired peripherals by using transmitters and receivers, like the Auris bluMePro, to your advantage.

Although complicated, it’s important to appreciate the ingenuity behind sound recording and playback. Without DACs, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy music in many of the ways that we can now.

Visit today to unlock the world of lossless Bluetooth music streaming and to see how easy it is to add high-resolution wireless audio to your existing sound system.

And, take a few minutes to peruse the Auris blog for more information about all things Bluetooth and the hi-fi audio it produces.


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