Back to stories Back to stories

What is a USB DAC?

There's an intimidating range of audio products available to us and whether its headphones, smartphones, speakers or even streaming services, they’re all promising you incredible sound.  But there’s an undisputed way you can make your existing setup simply - better. By adding a DAC.

For those of you new to this concept, you’ll want to understand exactly what’s behind this sharp sounding acronym before you take our word for it so read on…

So what is a DAC?

A DAC, or digital to analogue converter, is the device that translates digitally stored information from a laptop, iPod or other such device into the analogue sound that we can hear.

Why does a signal need to be converted at all?

The original analogue sound made by our favourite bands and artists are recreated in a digital format for our storing convenience – i.e. MP3, FLAC or Apple Lossless.  While computers can understand these digital signals, we as humans (assuming our readership is of this world) cannot, nor can your speakers or headphones. So before we can listen to it, the digital signal needs to be returned once more to analogue.  This is the function kindly undertaken by the DAC which will be built into your laptop or music player. The better the DAC, the higher quality the conversion and therefore the better sound you’ll hear from your speakers/headphones.

I’ve never used a DAC before, so why should I get one now?

You may not have realised it, but you’ve used a DAC every time you have played music through your laptop or smartphone. These products have their own built-in but usually very poor quality DAC because it’s been designed to do one small part of a devices total functions on a budget. So if you’ve been investing in some nice speakers or headphones, you’re not going to be making the most of them unless you use a separate DAC which has been designed and optimised entirely for making hi-fi sound quality.

How does a DAC fit into my current setup?

DACs are available in all sorts of sizes and price points, so if it’s going to be staying put you can invest in a more premium, larger unit which might fit into your Hi-Fi stack, or a mid size one to sit alongside your PC/Laptop.

But if you’re looking for something small and portable you need look no further than a USB headphone DAC like our DacMagic XS.  Not only is it an excellent little DAC to perform a higher quality conversion on your audio, it’s also got a headphone amp built in.  This amp is 10 x more powerful than the headphone output on your laptop. It hooks straight up to your laptop via USB and has a headphone jack so you can plug your headphones straight in and bypass that inferior built in DAC in the laptop for superior sound on the go. Thanks to the extra power from the amp, you’ll get a load more volume, detail and bass for your buck, finally making the most of your headphones.

For more information on our range of DACs, check out our award-winning  DacMagic Plus, the small but mighty DacMagic 100 or the highly portable DacMagicXS which we’ve just released in a range of colours! Need more convincing? Then check out our video explaining the need for a DAC below: