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How Does Digital to Analog Work?

The world of music is a mysterious arena. Music is the only element you cannot touch or see but can affect your mood, thoughts, and psyche, significantly taking you to unimaginable worlds. Over the years, the world has seen a transformation of music production from the analog arena to the digital realm. However, it is still not possible to completely abandon the analog roots. The quality sound you get from your headphones emanating from music stored in a smart device results from DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter), which helps convert digital data into an analog signal.

When the music industry was still in its analog realm, sound engineers could use microphones to capture analog sound signals and store them in a tape. They would then press this signal into recorded grooves. If you wanted to listen to this music, you just needed to set this tape against a turntable needle to feel the grooves and enable it to create an analog electrical signal that could then get transmitted through an amplifier and to your speakers.

Sound today is stored in the digital form of ones and zeros. You need to convert this digital signal into an analog one to hear the sound. The conversion takes place in a rather simple, but seemingly complicated process. Here is how it happens.

Step One

While in the studio, the artists and their recording group lay down the sound signals. The microphones in the studio pick up the voices and the sound from the musical instruments and store them as analog signals. Sound or recording engineers pick the analog signals and convert the same to digital signals for storage as audio files in computers and other smart devices. Storing them in this format enables them to quickly transfer them from one device to another and even carry the same from the studio for editing.

Step Two

Once captured as audio files, you can only listen to those signals if they get converted back to analog. Your computer and other digital smart devices contain a device called DAC. When you insert your flash disk into your computer to listen to your audio files for editing, the device converts the digital signal back into an analog one. You can then hear the sounds from your stored audio files.

The DAC takes these digital signals from your device and sends them as analog signals to your amplifier. Even a seemingly small headphone has an amplifier. The amplifier then sends the audio to your speakers or stereo system, enabling you to perceive or hear the music. Without this conversion, it would be impossible to derive the sound from your speakers.

DAC picks up the digital signals and creates a stair-step wave phenomenon. This wave is characterized by small jumps or waves between each digital reading. Through an interpolation process, the DAC smoothens these waves or jumps into a continuous reading that allows you to perceive the sound from your speakers. Interpolation determines the values of points next to one another in the stair wave to help smoothen them into one continuous flow. It makes the sound less distorted and flows smoothly.

Outboard and Inboard DAC

The sound quality you receive after this process depends on the type of DAC you are using. Most modern devices have inbuilt DACs that help convert the signals. The inbuilt devices only serve the primary function of enabling you to hear the sound. If you want to enhance the quality of your sound, you should consider investing in an outboard or external DAC device.

External DAC goes a notch higher when converting digital signals to analog. When doing so, the infernal devices may fail to be consistent with the timing sequence leading to clocking errors. When this happens, the errors produce what sound engineers call jitters when playing back your audio. The jitters affect the quality of your audio, causing it to lose its clarity and quality. It can be detrimental if you are performing in a live concert.

You can correct or avoid such errors by using an external DAC. Unlike the internal ones, these are specialized to correct the jitters by reassembling your audio from the digital form of ones and zeros to a clear and crisp analog sound.

Type of Outboard DAC

The type of DAC you select depends on the equipment you use to produce your audio. Computers and home stereos use different connections. You must get the proper DAC and connect it correctly to your system for it to work efficiently.