How Does a Digital to Analog Converter Work?


Ever listened to music and wondered how the whole process works? Are you considering buying a Chord Hugo 2 USB DAC headphone amplifier but want to have a better understanding as to what the device does? If so, you’ve come to the right place! We’ll discuss how digital to analog converters (DAC) work and their benefits, especially for music lovers. Keep reading!

What is a DAC?

Whether you’re listening to a CD, WAV file, or an MP3, you can thank the digital to analog converter (DAC) for processing all of the magic. Without DACs, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the convenience of digital audio. Simply, a DAC converts digital data into analog audio signal. From there, it sends the analog signal to an amplifier. The DACs used in smartphones and tablets are generally basic and low quality. They produce sounds that are just good enough but often lack depth and clarity.

How the Process Works

Here’s the ins and outs of how DACs work.

  1. A musician records music using microphones or instrument cables. Voices and instruments are recorded as analog audio signals.
  2. Recording engineers use a DAC to transform the analog signals into digital signals. The digital signals are stored as a digital audio file aka song.
  3. When you choose to play a song, a DAC decodes the digital signals, converting them back into analog audio.
  4. The DAC then sends the converted signals to an amplifier. The amplifier then sends music through your headphones or speakers.

Know that you know what a DAC is and how it works, another question you’re probably wondering is whether or not the DAC you have is good enough.

All About External DACs

If you’re using a DAC in a mobile device, chances are that you’d enjoy your sounds much more if you use an external DAC. Low quality DACs can cause jitter during playback because of timing sequence issues. Because internal DACs aren’t designed to deal with timing issues, they tend to produce a lot of jitter. But, external DACs are designed to provide high quality playback. In turn, you can better enjoy your music without the risk of lag or jitter.

There is a DAC for every device that can be play audio. When choosing an external DAC, you need to choose the one that fits the device that you’re looking to use for playing music. For example, if you want to use the audio from a laptop or desktop computer, you’ll want to find a USB DAC. A USB DAC can also be used for headphones. When using a USB DAC, be sure to assign the audio out to the DAC.

In stores you’ll also find DACs for smartphones, tablets, as well as home stereo systems. There are also DACs meant just for headphones! No matter your listening device, using a DAC will take your experience to a whole new level. There’s nothing better than great sound.

Top DACs

Convinced you need a DAC? Before spending money, be sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck. Here are the top 3 DACs to consider purchasing.

  1. Chord Hugo 2

The Chord Hugo 2 DAC is definitely pricey, but the cost is well worth the improved sounds. This DAC uses an HD USB input which means high quality sounds going in and high quality sounds going out. The DAC offers 3.5mm, 6.35mm, and RCA analog outputs so that you can play music on all sorts of devices.

One of the top benefits of the Chord Hugo 2 is that the DAC allows you to set the music to your liking. No matter if you prefer precise and dynamic sounds or warm and soft ones, you can achieve whatever you desire with this DAC. With four preset functions, you can tailor your musical experience.

  1. AudioQuest DragonFly Black

Want to improve the sound from your laptop? If so, take a look at the AudioQuest DragonFly Black. This DAC is about the size of a flash drive and can plug directly into your laptop. You can connect speakers or your headphones and voila, you’ve got amazing sound! For under $100, this DAC is quite impressive and won’t break the bank.

  1. Naim DAC-V1

The Naim DAC-V1 offers 5 different digital inputs as well as variable and fixed analog outputs. The Naim DAC-V1 connects perfectly with any hi-fi system or set of headphones and offers high quality sound. With a built-in headphone amplifier, this DAC is the jack-of-all-trades.


If you’re all about quality sound, a DAC should definitely be part of the equation. With a DAC you can improve your existing audio equipment and surround yourself with amazing sounds! No matter if you’re upgrading your headphones or improving your tablet, definitely consider using a DAC. What are your favorite methods or devices for getting the most enjoyment out of your listening experience? Leave us a comment in the section below.