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Beginner's Guide to the Best USB DAC Headphone Amps, 2016-2017

Even very good sound cards need a little help to convert digitally stored music into a high-quality, genuine sound.

If you store most of your music on a Mac or PC, a special digital-to-analog converter will go a long way in making it worthwhile to invest in a good pair of headphones.

Whatever your heart's desire, from a concert hall experience to a full beat festival, a good conversion will bring your digitally stored music to life.

Even MP3 files on your phone or tablet will lose less "loss". The compression results of lost files can produce a watery sound and reduce the dynamic range of the audio. A DAC helps fill in the gaps.

Do you want more than just a music amplifier?

Many people will want to use a digital-to-analog converter amplifier to get the best sound from movies and videos. The sounds of a cable box get a big boost in quality. The sound of the game console can be greatly improved.

Portable units for smart devices

Portable DACs have been the big area of growth in recent years. Geek Out, Microstreamer and other devices offer excellent quality sound options from smartphones and tablets in motion.

Improve speaker sound

Some DACs of external headphones have RCA outputs. This is useful to convert a laptop into a quality portable music player or to make being connected to a desktop computer more enjoyable.

What does a DAC do?

DACs are used to convert digital audio to an analog signal that speakers and headphones can convert into sound.

All digital information is a sequence of ones and zeros. Analog signals have a much more subtle waveform.

Currently, digital storage is preferred because many more data can be stored in the same space. Old-style vinyl records store music in analog form and may sound better than CDs, music on a hard drive or anything that is transmitted, but they are huge.

Rebuilding music in a digital form
The best sound from a digital source is only achieved through processes that interpret the fixed points of the digital code in an intelligent way.

The fixed points in digital format must be converted into smooth and fluid electrical signals without spaces or disjunction. This process of "filling" or reconstruction should be subtle. A single musical instrument can achieve many different tones, with a wide variety of effects.

The human ear is exceptionally good at reading the emotional quality of music, and it is also very good at realizing when emotion is lacking (a common complaint with music stored digitally).

In addition, every time a signal is converted from one format to another, there is a possible loss of quality. This is why it is important to have a high quality DAC every time you are converting audio signals.

The same applies to recording music in digital format. This requires an analog-to-digital converter, or ADC. There's not much you can do if poor-quality ADC recording equipment has already taken the life of a function.

Fortunately, you can do a lot to get the best of well-recorded digital music. Below on the page are some of the best DACs available.

Are the valves better than the solid state?

The valve amplifiers will always have their fans. The sound tends to be warmer and softer. This does not mean that the sound is of better quality.

At the lower and medium price points, a tube amplifier can be a good investment. For audiophiles who want to get as close as possible to the sound of music as it was established, the best types of solid state devices are a good choice.

Disadvantages of the tubes

Portability is not a point of sale for tube amplifiers. The tubes are big, hot and they break if you let them go!


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