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Confused on the line of connections, difference between Preamp, DAC, Amp etc.

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 
Could somebody explain the line of audio or such or show pictures of how this all happens. Is a Preamp and a DAC the same thing? What about something like the Zero, which is a Preamp/DAC/Amp apparently. Does that mean you can use it as a preamp and an amp? What does this even mean? Explanation would be wonderful.
post #2 of 11

Pre-amp and DAC are not the same. A DAC is a digital to analog converter. It can be in your computer/cd player/mp3 player etc.

A pre-amp allows you to switch between multiple sources before going to the amp (which amplifies the signal). Think of a stereo receiver without the amp.

Don't have the Zero, but yes it sounds like the chain would be Source>Zero>Headphones, unless you wanted to use the Zero just as a DAC and put your own preamp or amp after it.

Others may be able to expound or explain better.
post #3 of 11
DAC: Digital-to-Analog Converter. This takes a digital signal (0s and 1s) from a computer or CD player and converts it into an analog digital signal at "line level".

Preamp: Takes an analog signal from an analog source such as a turntable or microphone and amplifies it to "line level". Think of it as the analog equivalent of a DAC. Some, if not all, microphones for example have a preamp built into the body since the diaphragm produces such a small voltage. If you tried to feed it right into an amp you would lose the entire signal in the microphone cable.

Amplifier: Takes a line-level input and amplifies it to drive speakers/headphones. Can also take an amplified signal (ie from a headphone jack) without damage, but this is a less than ideal configuration from a sound quality perspective.
post #4 of 11
Thread Starter 
So the Zero can be used as a DAC and a Preamp, but I need a separate amplifier to drive the headphones? I want the Computer to be the digital source and have headphones be the listening device obviously.
post #5 of 11
The Zero has a headphone-out and a line-out. It has a built in amplifier (I don't know if it's any good) so that you can plug you phones directly into the headphone jack, or you can connect your own amplifier to the line-out jacks on the back.
post #6 of 11
I'm very confused about this stuff too. If I have a cd player and headphones that I want to amp, what will I need to purchase? Lets say I have an Oppo dv980 and DT880s. Will buying an amp like the LD mkIII be sufficient? Will I have to also buy a preamp inaddition to the mkIII?
post #7 of 11

Ragonix: Most CD players have a built-in DAC and can be plugged directly into an amp, like the MKIII, through their line-out jack. Some players will also have an digital, optical, coax or SPDIF output that can be connected to a DAC if you'd like to bypass the internal DAC.

Many players include everything in one, it's a matter of what you want to control separately. For example an iPod is a digital source, a DAC, and an amplifier- but you can bypass it's amplifier with the line-out dock or even the DAC with a digital transport.

Players will give you an option of what signal you want to get out of them. Some form of digital (optical, spdif, coax, toslink, usb...) output will let you use your own DAC and Amp. A line-out will allow a separate Amp only. A headphone or speaker out means the signal is already "DAC'd" and Amped.
post #8 of 11
Originally Posted by Ragonix View Post
Will I have to also buy a preamp inaddition to the mkIII?
Nope. The LD MKIII can act as a pre-amp and amp.
post #9 of 11
Wow. I can see why you are confused. Maybe it's easier if we separate the different FUNCTIONS.

Many cd players just have "line out," meaning they cannot control the volume of the signal. Therefore, you need a volume control, and if you have more than one source you need something to switch between sources.

A pre-amp provides volume control and switching. Yes, it will also amplify really-low level signals like those out of a record player if the preamp has a "phono preamp", but it sounds like you don't need that. So think of a preamp as volume control and source switching (between a CD player, a dvd player, a tape player, for example).

Now, some CD players have the ability to control volume, so you could by-pass a pre-amp and go directly from the CD player into the amp. But you couldn't switch between any other components this way, and the volume control on the CD may reduce the quality of the sound.

A pure amplifier has no controls - it takes the low level signal from a preamp and makes it louder.

An integrated amplifier is an amplifier combined with the switching (sometimes) and volume control of a preamplifier. You could plug a cd or dvd player's analog output directly into an integrated amp.

A receiver is an integrated amplifier with a radio built in.

Now lets talk about digital. What is recorded on your CD are pits representing zeros and 1s. Lots of them. Something needs to convert those numbers into analog sound that can be amplified and heard. Your CD or DVD player has a built in DAC that converts numbers to analog sound. Many players are also capable of outputing numbers (called digital output) into an separate outboard DAC to do the conversion from numbers to sound. And you also can put a dac into a receiver or preamp and let it do the conversion. A digital receiver takes the numeric output from the cd or dvd player, converts it to analog, allows you to control volume and switching, and contains an amplifier.

All of these components are made in different qualities and for different prices. What is important is making sure that the equipment you buy will work together. There are many ways of outputting digital audio, and you need to be sure that your dac (or receiver) has a matching input.

So, if you just want to connect a dvd player to a pair of speakers, you would likely want to buy either an integrated amp or receiver (using the analog out of the dvd player), or a digital receiver (using the digital out of the dvd player into the dac of the receiver). You will need cables to connect the components, and speaker wire to connect the speakers to the amplifier.

Does that clarify the situation?
post #10 of 11
This is very interesting...I am still learning about all of this stuff.

Good explanation on what different components there are in this headphone universe. Seems like a good sticky thread for us "newbs"
post #11 of 11

Thank you, this stuff get very overwhelming. I am just starting the audio hobby.

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