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The DAC In Our Signal Chain Is Critical

By May 26, 2012No Comments

Digital Vs. Analog

Music can be recorded in the digital domain. It can be recorded in analog and then converted to digital. If it is recorded in digital it must be played back to use in analog. We can only hear analog waves. Our ears and brain are hardwired to receive analog data. We must receive it at the speed of analog not digital if we are going to connect to the music in an emotional manner. Music must first portray emotion for us, regardless of created format.

Digital Domain

In our recordings which are produced by recording studios and home recording studios, most music is recorded in the digital domain because digital is much easy to use for the functions the engineers uses in the recording process. Instant play back, separate track playing, compression, you name it there is probably an electronic application for the sound you are trying to create. The digital domain is an audio playground for audio equipment designers, especially the software writers for digital data. Just search through all of the plug ins that available in today’s marketplace.


Digital sound is all about resolution. We are trying to record or sample every sound in a vocal or instrument with as much clarity (headroom) and the least noise possible (lower noise floor). We are after clear and concise sound energy that has no noise only pure signal. Pure signal is good in the digital domain because it lends itself to easier monitoring in the control room. An engineer can “hear” digital music easier than the older analog data. It is also easier to electronically manipulate for desired sonic effect in the final mix.

Hearing Is Analog

It is a blessing we hear in analog. The goal is to take the recorded digital data and then in playback mode reproduce the digital music in the analog domain. To do this, we need some electronic assistance from a digital to analog converter. A DAC as they are termed is the electronic link between the digital domain data and our ears. It is a converter of digital data to analog sound. We must pay special attention to the quality level and cabling that we use to tie this piece to our recording system. A quality DAC can make all the difference in your playback data.

Hi-Fi Digital To Audio Converters

For a good quality DAC, we must look to the Hi-Fi market. Hi-Fi DACs are expensive, but well worth it. A good quality Hi-Fi- DAC can be obtained by spending in the neighborhood of $2,500 – $5,000. Any more than this amount will bring you different perhaps better sound but the cost vs performance ratio becomes strained and you pay at lot in this price point for small incremental changes. Hi-Fi engineers pay attention to detail when they build their DACS. They know that taking a digital signal and converting it to analog is not easy, but if you listen to various company Hi-Fi DACS, you will immediately hear the attention to detail. Their DACs must provide the emotional connection to the music which hides somewhere between the ones and zeros. DAC do many things correctly that we need to hear in the analog domain.

Sound Stage

A good quality DAC will assist you in creating a wide sound stage. A DAC will open up the sound stage and make it acoustically appear that we have a sound stage that extends past our speakers. If we turn off the lights, we will “see” the sound stage as wider than the physical positions of the speakers. This openness and expansiveness provides for a more realistic presentation of our digital data into the analog domain.


A good quality DAC will provide a separation and distinctness to each vocal and instrument. It will define each vocal and instrument in a way that makes our ears pay attention. All energy presented is focused and laid out in front of us in a realistic manner. We can “see” each instrument on stage and we can point to the guitar player and we know the location of the drummer.

Air Injector

A good quality DAC will interject a smoothness and add “air” to our presentation. Digital data is harsh. It needs conversion. A DAC will provide a smoother sonic presentation for the sterile and clean digital data stream. It will take the digital data and provide a type of filter to the digital data. It is not a filter in the sense of taking something out. It is a filter that puts something in that takes the harsh and sterile edge off of the digital signal. It makes it sound more analog.

Our recording domain is digital but we hear analog. We must convert that digital data to an analog signal that our speakers can interpret and create music with. Our digital to analog converters preform this function. The Hi-Fi world is the first place to look for a quality DAC with a top retail price point of $5,000. One can spend less but the technical advancements allowed at this price point provide for a wonderful sounding unit. Be prepared to spend at least $2,500.00. Hi-Fi DACS sound better than professional units and cost proportionally. Our DACs do so much for our final sound in the recording. Their quality level must be addressed.


I am a structural engineer as well as a master furniture maker. I design cabinets for low frequency, activated carbon absorbers. Connect with me on Google+

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