DAC

DAC

Every digital audio device with an analog output is equipped with a DAC. DAC stands for Digital Analog Converter. As its name clearly suggests, its function is to convert digital audio signals into analog signals. In most consumer products this is done by a chip that is integrated into the circuitry of the audio device, but for high-end HiFi systems, a stand-alone DAC is needed since they are specially designed to convert digital to analog signals in the most natural way. They can also be the central point in your audio setup. When you are going to buy a DAC be sure to know exactly which one you need: a stereo or a surround DAC. It is also important to keep in mind which formats the DAC should be able to convert to because there is, for example, a big difference between PCM files and DSD files. Not every DAC can handle high sample rates but most of them are able to handle 192 kHz. When you are only going to listen to CDs, however, you probably don’t need a DAC that reaches 192 kHz.

Tech talk

As mentioned before, DACs for PCM files and DACs for DSD files operate differently. With PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) every sample contains the exact value of the analog signal at the moment the sample was taken. However, a DSD sample only contains the difference relative to the previous sample which is called ‘Delta Sigma Modulation’. Due to their different operating they need a different DAC. DA converters for PCM signals can be quite simple but DSD DACs are much more complex. Nowadays, most DACs, even for PCM, use a form of Delta Sigma Modulation to prevent sudden drop outs in the audio which can be very annoying and even damage your audio system. Due to the nature of DSD files there is a need for a much higher sample rate that with PCM files. DSD files have a sample rate of at least 2.8224 MHz (64 time the sample rate of an Audio CD, 44.1 kHz). Because of the higher sample rate and the use of Delta Sigma Modulation, PCM DACs usually cannot handle DSD files.

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