What is a DAC anyway?
It’s a question I hear quite a bit, coming from almost everywhere — from people who consider themselves tech savvy to those who may have just heard the term for the first time.
Basically a DAC converts your digital music signal to an analog signal that can be understood by your amplifier. It’s like the translator of your sound system, but instead of the result being fewer communicative misunderstandings, you get great music instead.
But that’s not really what anyone is asking.
The real question behind it all is: how does it work?
We know that the DAC is essentially a real-time translator, taking the language that is “digital” and translating it into “analog” for your speakers and headphones. There’s different quality of translators however.
A basic DAC, like one found in your iPod or in an older stereo system, is a bit like hiring a second-year high-school student to do your translation. You’ll (maybe) get the general point of what’s being translated, but you won’t get any nuances in the audio. There’s always going to be something lost in translation, and the sacrifice for size and convenience tends to be depth.
A more advanced DAC, like those found in Peachtree or NuForce for example, is more like a professional translator for the UN. These DAC not only get the point across, they also won’t lose any of the nuance of your audio. You’ll get the full sense of depth in your music, little things you don’t miss until they’re not there like vibrato on a stringed instrument or the trailing wail of a guitar.
A large part of this difference comes from the processing power that’s available to both of these DACs. Because of their small size, an iPod just isn’t going to be able to fit in the systems that a larger (or dedicated) DAC can. These larger DACs are better able to handle the math required to take your audio from 1′s and 0′s into electrical current smoothly, making fewer guesses, and constantly error checking themselves to keep from creating unrecognizable tones.
So the next time you wonder what makes music from your Peachtree amp sound so good, take a minute and thank your personal translator — your DAC.