Digital to Analogue Converters (DACs)

Chord Qutest DAC

What are they?

A DAC is a device that turns a digital signal into an analogue one. To understand why we need it, we do need to understand a few concepts in this guide to DACs;

Sound that vibrates our ear drum is an ANALOGUE sound. When say a drum is beaten it creates a sound wave that vibrates air molecules. The sound wave consists of an amplitude and frequency. Generally the higher the amplitude the louder the sound will be. The frequency changes to create different pitches of sounds, so we can discern what the sound is.

So when a file of music file is streamed or downloaded from the internet or ripped from a CD and stored on a hard drive, it essentially involves storing a code of the music. This code is in 0’s and 1’s and is a digital code. It needs to be converted to analogue, so it can be heard, and hence why we need a DAC.

You probably would not have heard of them if you are a newbie to HiFi. They are the hidden component of pretty much all digital electronic devices from TVs, to phones and computers – anything than needs to turn digital into a sound we hear!

My Drawing : The Chord Hugo TT2 is a premium HiFi DAC

Relating to or using signals of information represented by a continuously variable physical quantity


Expressed as a series of digits 0 and 1, typically represented by values of a physical quantity

Digital Data

Types of DACs

In an explanation of DACs there are various types of DACs from R2r ladder DACs, FPGA, or off the shelf chips from the likes of Wolfson, Burr Brown or ESS (eg Sabre). It is not essential to understand how they work because at the end of the day they can all sound very different and perform differently too.

Much of the sound qualities of DACs in this guide are not just in the converting electronics used but the implementation of the analogue electronic stages and power supplies involved. Contrary to beliefs on internet forums, it is is not possible to predict the sound qualities of a DAC based on the DAC chip it uses, simply because of these reasons.

The PS Audio DirectStream is a premium DAC for premium HiFi
The Schiit Jotunheim headphone amp with included Multibit DAC card


Generally standalone DACs utilise left and right output channel connections that follow all the way through the audio chain to the speakers. They will connect to the line input connections of your pre-amplifier or integrated amplifier.

Chord Qutest DAC showing typical digital input(s) and analogue output connections

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Written by Simon Price

I'm music lover who shares experiences of faithfully reproduced audio in an ENGAGING way with HIGH VIDEO PRODUCTION VALUES. I enjoy and make reviews as I love audio gadgets, being a voice on audio and producing creative videos that ultimately benefit the industry and new participation. I keep technicalities easy, as I believe great audio serves music and music is inclusive and to be enjoyed by all!

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Assessing speaker wire : Tellurium Q Black II