External DAC : 6 Things You Must Know About

The High-quality sound on desktops from drop-in sound cards and external DACs are quite a weird subject. It is not as important as it once was. Now nobody even thinks about it much anymore. There is no particular song or game that you won’t be able to listen to because of underpowered gear. So you might be wondering What is an external DAC? Well, in this article, we will brief you on External DAC and its usage. 

Sound vs Graphics Hardware

Your computer’s inbuilt sound is pretty good for most of the tasks. If we contrast that with gaming, where if you might want to play the newest AAA games at high frame rates, you require a graphics card. A CPU’s integrated graphics processor is not simply up to the challenge.

Nevertheless, some users still want better sound than their motherboard can offer. When that is the case, it comes down to the two primary choices: a sound card or an external DAC, which is a digital-to-analogue converter. A quality listening experience requires a minimum of electrical interference, which is an issue because a PC motherboard is a hotbed of any electrical activity. That is why the onboard motherboard audio has shielding to protect itself as best it can from the rest of the other board.

However, a better alternative to this is to move your audio delivery device (be it be a sound card or an external DAC) away from the source of all that hindrances.

External DAC

WHAT IS DAC?

Digital information is information which has been made up of 1s and 0s – “on” or “off” signals respectively. It can make an infinite number of things happen through the electrical impulses. On the other hand, Analog is physical, moving and continuous. Somebody talking to you is an analogue signal from an analogue source. If you are hearing a recording of two people talking is a digital source being received as analogue information. An external DAC then converts to digital (audio) to analogue. You will always use a DAC at any given moment when you are playing out anything from your electronic device like a phone, a TV box, your Xbox, a DVD player, an MP3 player, and so on. All of these electronic devices store the audio as the digital files that without conversion, doesn’t mean anything useful or entertaining, and that is where the DAC comes in.

What is the need for external DAC?

If you already own a DAC, why do you require another one? Firstly, a DAC is typical of higher quality than the DAC which is present in your motherboard or USB headphones, thus offering better audio potential.

But we also have to go back to our original problem with the motherboard. All that electricity running through the board creates a high potential for what audiophiles call it as “noise.” It means the interference that reduces the quality of sound reproduction. If you own a good pair of headphones or even crank up the volume on an average pair during heavy computing loads, you might probably hear some of this interference. It will sound like a hiss or static.

Some unpleasant sound or “noise” is inevitable since you are dealing with electrical equipment, but reducing the noise as much as possible is the key for a better listening experience.

That is why many people choose an external DAC for their computer. It is removed from all that electrical noise around the motherboard, hence improving the audio quality. By comparison, a sound card is raised just above the motherboard but is still inside the case, which some audio fanatics think is just as bad.

Importance of DAC

Many people are so much concerned about interference that they try to put their DAC as far away as they can from their PC case. However, for most of us merely putting it on the desk next to or above the PC is enough.

Even though a DAC is not a magical solution to all of your audio problems, however, it is good to understand what to expect. If we are considering gaming, a DAC will help you bring quieter sounds to the fore. In some of the cases, your positional audio might get better, thus making it easier to locate stealthy NPCs and other players.

However, If we are talking about music every aspect from the quality of the recording to the mastering by the engineer to the file size to that of the quality of your headphones comes into play.

Most of the DACs connect to your computer via a USB cable and have a volume knob on the front as well as a jack for headphones and speakers. Many DACs even have just 3.5mm jacks, but some will also have a jack of 6.3mm. It differs from device to device. But, as usual, you have the choice to pick up an adapter to work with either.

One of the greatest things about a DAC is that it isn’t not tied to one machine. So if you want to spend most of your time on a desktop PC but want to like to improve your audio experience on a laptop, you can move it amongst devices.

What should we Look for in an external DAC?

Firstly, your DAC must have a built-in amplifier to make it more economical and to take up less space. Most of the options for computers do have an amplifier, but you will also find high-end audio DACs that require a separate amplifier.

If you are just looking for a DAC that improves your gaming experience and another listening aspect, then something like the FiiO E10K is a perfect option. If you are looking for higher-end hardware might want to look at Schiit’s Modi DAC, which needs the purchase of a separate amplifier.

Is Your PC’s Audio Good Enough?

Whether or not your computer’s current audio situation is good enough is very much subjective. There are no such real numbers to show how much better a listening experience is with a particular device. It will either sound better to you or it doesn’t.

If you are not so happy with motherboard audio—or if you notice moments of different background noise, for instance, static during game loads or other CPU-intensive moments then upgrading to an external DAC is worth noting.

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