Audio and Video

Published on September 11th, 2018 | by Bibhuranjan


9 Top Tips When Buying a DAC-AMP

If you’re looking for the best audio quality from your digital devices, be that via headphones or speakers, you should consider buying a DAC-AMP, otherwise known as a Digital-to-Analog Converter.

People often say they found this the most confusing aspect of purchasing their sound setup, so let’s take a closer look at 9 top tips to consider before buying one …

1) Why Buy a DAC-AMP?

Before the sound from your PC, phone or another device can enter your ears it needs to be converted from digital data to sound waves. Your devices will have an in-built DAC to accomplish this, however, the sound quality is not always great or not loud enough. That’s why you might buy an external AMP.

You definitely need an amp if you cannot power your headphones at all.

2) Headphone Amps or Stereo Amps?

Take note that depending on how you wish to listen to your audio will determine what amp you should purchase.

There are different amps for headphone and stereo speaker listening and generally, you should buy according to this rule.

That being said, some stereo amps will be able to power headphones and come with headphone amps included. If you can ‘kill two birds with one stone,’ why not?

All you need to do is put in the headphone jack and turn down the power dial slightly.

However, if you want the absolute best sound quality you should consider spending a bit more money to get a dedicated headphone amp.

3) You Also Need Good Headphones

If you’re on a sound quality kick, buying a DAC-AMP is just the first step. To really take advantage of the improved power and quality you also need a good set of headphones. The standard buds that came with your phone or an old pair you’ve had since the early 2000s won’t cut it. So, remember to factor this into your budget.

It also goes the other way. Buying a top end pair of headphones won’t automatically give you great sound quality if you don’t have the power, which is why you would also by a headphone amp.

If you don’t have the funds upfront for all of this tech you might consider applying for an installment loan online.

4) Do Your Headphones Need an Amp?

If you have a set of headphones and are considering buying an amp, a simple test to determine whether this would even benefit you is to look at the impedance (should be listed in the specs).

Typically, many cheaper headphones or headphones that came with your smartphone will have lower impedances—usually 35 ohms or less. In these cases, an additional amplifier would be unnecessary and wouldn’t improve the sound quality.

Higher-end headphones and ones with impedances of over 50 ohms can benefit from an amplifier and will give you better quality. Using headphones with a higher impedance without an amp can also result in quiet sound levels and a ‘muddy’ sound.

5) Use an Online Calculator

To find out exactly how much power you need from an amp for your headphones to sound the best you can use an online calculator. These will usually ask for the impedance number and the sensitivity, which is displayed in the specs as ‘dB SPL/mW’ or ‘dB SPL/V’.

You will then be told how much power you need (from an AMP) to get your headphones to the optimum level. When you choose your AMP, simply check that its power output is at least as high as the number you’ve been given (higher is ok, lower isn’t).

6) Headphone Amps as Pre-amps

One interesting capability of some headphone amps is that they can function as preamps, allowing you to send the signal to a power amplifier for your speakers and control the volume. This might not be of much use to you, but it’s good to know so you don’t double-up on equipment.

7) Standalone DAC?

While all computers and devices have an inbuilt DAC you might consider buying a standalone DAC to go with the AMP for a cleaner and better quality sound.

The benefit will not be that great if there’s no detectable distortion, but if you can hear a humming or obvious distortion a standalone DAC will fix this.

8) Size

The physical size of your equipment needs to be taken in to account, especially if you’re planning to listen to your smartphone up the street. In that scenario you’ll want to find a smaller portable amp—you can’t carry around a giant box.

The boxier solutions may be perfectly fine if you’re using them as part of a home sound system.

9) Check the Online Reviews

As with any purchase, it’s wise to check the online reviews to make sure you’re not buying something that is complete junk or has a common fault. If you search for solutions for your specific setup (i.e. the speakers or headphones you use and the device that will be powering them), you can also find some very useful information.

Note: Some manufacturers will pay YouTubers to hype their products, so it is best to check the review tabs of online retailers where the average customer has shared their experiences.

Have you gone down the DAC-AMP path? Let us know your tips and personal setup in the comments below!

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Editorial Officer, I'm an avid tech enthusiast at heart. I like to mug up on new and exciting developments on science and tech and have a deep love for PC gaming. Other hobbies include writing blog posts, music and DIY projects.

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