The use of DAC&amplifier
May 27, 2015 at 7:00 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 7

Abasees

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Hi guys, I'm curious to know what the DAC and amplifier do.
 
As I understand, the DAC acts like a soundcard and the amplifier essentially amplifies the volume, due to the impedance of headphones. I was curious to know what else do they do? I currently have fa-011's with a e17 DAC/amp and was looking at possibly upgrading to get more out of more headphones, and was recommended a Matrix Audio M-Stage HPA-2 Headphone Amplifier with 24bit/192kHz USB DAC (Black). However for $80 cheaper there is just the amplifier of it, indicating the DAC add-on is only $80. What am I missing here? my e17 amplifies the fa-011 quite well, and the DAC may only be a minor improvement at this point, wouldn't I just be better to get a good soundcard?
 
May 28, 2015 at 1:55 AM Post #2 of 7

ProtegeManiac

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DAC - Digital to Analogue Converter. Turns the 11000101000101000000110000101000001001010010100000101010011110000010101001010 into an analog electrical signal.
 
Amplifier - Takes the analog electrical signal and amplifies it into a stronger signal to drive a transducer at lower distortion. A good amplifier also has high current capability thanks to its power supply design so it can handle dynamic peaks in the music.
 
All soundcards have a DAC along with a DSP (Digital Signal Processor), as well as an ADC (for the mic) but not all have a real headphone amplifier; some do, and some rout the signal to the front audio ports for convenient access. If anything soundcards are more susceptible to noise from other components inside the computer chassis but you can't know if you have this problem until you try it. If you're a gamer then a soundcard's DSP - which can do 3D positional audio simulation on headphones is more important.
 
If anything a separate DAC and amp will have a more convenient volume control, but then again some soundcards have that too. Some use the digital audio output from the soundcard so they get surround sound simulation but then feed the signal into a DAC-HPamp or DAC then HPamp to better drive more demanding headphones, but the thing is you can just choose an efficient headphone that won't need that to begin with - Beyer's T70 is one good example of that.
 
May 28, 2015 at 3:13 AM Post #3 of 7

cel4145

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As I understand, the DAC acts like a soundcard and the amplifier essentially amplifies the volume, due to the impedance of headphones.


That's a good way to think of it :)


I was curious to know what else do they do? I currently have fa-011's with a e17 DAC/amp and was looking at possibly upgrading to get more out of more headphones.


Your headphones have decent sensitivity. So you probably don't need more amplifier power unless you are listening at very loud volumes--are you "pushing" the limits of the E17 amp?

If you don't need more power, you'll get some improvement in audio quality. Don't count on a lot. For the price of the Matrix dac/amp, you could also consider getting different headphones.
 
May 28, 2015 at 8:40 AM Post #4 of 7

superjawes

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DAC - Digital to Analogue Converter. Turns the 11000101000101000000110000101000001001010010100000101010011110000010101001010 into an analog electrical signal.

Amplifier - Takes the analog electrical signal and amplifies it into a stronger signal to drive a transducer at lower distortion. A good amplifier also has high current capability thanks to its power supply design so it can handle dynamic peaks in the music.

All soundcards have a DAC along with a DSP (Digital Signal Processor), as well as an ADC (for the mic) but not all have a real headphone amplifier; some do, and some rout the signal to the front audio ports for convenient access. If anything soundcards are more susceptible to noise from other components inside the computer chassis but you can't know if you have this problem until you try it. If you're a gamer then a soundcard's DSP - which can do 3D positional audio simulation on headphones is more important.

If anything a separate DAC and amp will have a more convenient volume control, but then again some soundcards have that too. Some use the digital audio output from the soundcard so they get surround sound simulation but then feed the signal into a DAC-HPamp or DAC then HPamp to better drive more demanding headphones, but the thing is you can just choose an efficient headphone that won't need that to begin with - Beyer's T70 is one good example of that.
This, basically. If you're listening to music in this century, you're probably already using a DAC and amp even if you don't realize it. An iPhone has both. However, they may not be very good, they might not pair well with better headphones (they certainly can't drive unpowered speakers), and there are other tradeoffs.

If you ever want to improve your SQ, start with transducers (headphones/speakers). If they need an amp, get an amp to drive them. If your source is noisy, upgrade to a better DAC. Just always start with the headphones (or speakers) and treat any piece of electronics as a supporting device.
 
May 29, 2015 at 7:50 PM Post #5 of 7

Abasees

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Thanks for the reply and sorry for the wait in reply, been busy with uni. 
@cel4145 thanks for the advice, the E17 amplifies it very well, the music is very clear, and goes quite well with the fa-011's. Okay I may then look at just putting off a standalone DAC/amp until I get higher impendence headphones. Where do you think the sweet price point is for headphones?
 
@ProtegeManiac @superjawes thanks for the replies, you have clarified a lot for me. I will start at maybe looking at higher tier headphones then, just wondering where do you guys reckon the sweet price point is for headphones (i.e.: not much return after spending $x on some).
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May 29, 2015 at 10:19 PM Post #6 of 7

tomb

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  Thanks for the reply and sorry for the wait in reply, been busy with uni. 
@cel4145 thanks for the advice, the E17 amplifies it very well, the music is very clear, and goes quite well with the fa-011's. Okay I may then look at just putting off a standalone DAC/amp until I get higher impendence headphones. Where do you think the sweet price point is for headphones?
 
@ProtegeManiac @superjawes thanks for the replies, you have clarified a lot for me. I will start at maybe looking at higher tier headphones then, just wondering where do you guys reckon the sweet price point is for headphones (i.e.: not much return after spending $x on some).
  1.  

 
The sweet spot for price is highly variable.  I hit mine at about $500. $1000 headphones do not have the improvement I'm seeking for the price point.  Once you're satisfied with the headphones, then you start looking for an amp that can bring out the best in them.  It all depends on which side of the equation you're on - headphone or source/power.  Applying ever-improving amplification or sources have much greater effect if you're already happy with the headphones..  
 
May 29, 2015 at 10:33 PM Post #7 of 7

cel4145

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Thanks for the reply and sorry for the wait in reply, been busy with uni. 
@cel4145 thanks for the advice, the E17 amplifies it very well, the music is very clear, and goes quite well with the fa-011's. Okay I may then look at just putting off a standalone DAC/amp until I get higher impendence headphones. Where do you think the sweet price point is for headphones?


Like tomb indicated, it's tough for anyone to say. It's an individual choice. I don't want to spend more than a few hundred dollars on headphones because I would rather upgrade my speaker system instead, and that costs more money.
 

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