How to Set Up a Digital Audio System

Digital products have no standard formula for setting them up, and therefore you should not be worried if you have problems setting one up. The products have different features and functionalities. It is for this reason you should not be surprised when you find a DAC that has an amplifier.

Let us first look at the frequently asked questions about how to set up a digital audio system.

What is a DAC?

This is a digital to analog converter, and it’s fundamental to unlocking digital music convenience. It takes a large number of digital information and converts them into analog signals. The information could be from platforms including Spotify, YouTube, a hard disk, or Netflix. Any device that produces a digital sound, whether a games console or a digital TV box, requires a DAC to convert its audio sound to an analog signal before releasing it through an output.

digital audio system
From Chord

Can I Connect A DAC to an Integrated Amp or A Preamp?

Since a DAC is a digital-to-analog converter, you can connect it to an amp or an integrated preamp. The fact that it takes digital information and converts it into an analog signal makes this possible. The conversion is not different from the one that takes place in your CD player’s output.

Can One Connect A New DAC to an Old Preamp and Get the Full Effect of High-Res or MQA?

This answer to this question is yes; you can get a full effect of High-Res or whatever your DAC can hold. This is a possibility that is also not limited to old preamps. It is made possible by the fact that a DAC’s output is analog. So by the time your information reaches the preamp, the High-Res or MQA is processed and turned into a periodic electrical signal. 

Can I Connect a DAC to My Power Amp?

Connection of a DAC to a power amp is possible, but only if it has a voice DAC. You can’t tell if a DAC has an attenuator by simply looking at it. You have to check on the specifications. Some DACs have no controls that you can see; however, you can control their volume using an iPad application. A good example is the PS Audio direct stream DAC, whose volume is controlled on the unit’s touch screen. Therefore, having a DAC that has no volume control doesn’t mean that you can’t connect it to a power amp. 

The most important thing to do is to ensure the signal path has an attenuator before proceeding with the power amp and DAC connection. Otherwise, if you connect and the signal path has no attenuator, you might blast your ears and the speakers with a volume of 100. On the other hand, if there is a volume control on your DAC, you will have the best musical solution that’s easily upgradable, provided there are no other connection sources.

What’s A Streamer or Streaming DAC?

This device receives a digital audio signal from the internet or a computer via WiFi and converts it into an analog signal. The good side of a streamer is that it has fewer power cables and noise. A good example is the CD player because it is like one box with two devices. The connection between the CD player, which is digital, and the analog DAC, is known as streaming. Here are the characteristics of each side of the connection.

DAC

  • Receives stream up samples if it features the streaming design
  • It aids in the conversion of line-level output for preamps

CD Transport

  • Capable of sending a clocked music stream to the DAC
  • Features music controlling buttons
  • Can read CDs through the lasers, trays, and motors it boasts.
Audio T - AURALiC Vega G1 Streaming DAC
From Auralic

Streamer Plus DAC

In this case, a streamer can be a mobile device or a laptop that feeds its audio output to the USB port. On the other hand, it can be a smartphone that streams over Bluetooth. Additionally, some streamers are standalone, with Lumin U1 being a good example. Other streamers include different models of streaming cards, with the Mytek Roon Ready Card and PS Audio bridge 11 being good examples.

In simpler terms, a streamer is a computer that uses WiFi or Ethernet to connect to a network. A smartphone app or a tablet can control such a computer and feed a DAC with a digital stream. All these are possible whether a DAC is on a different shelf or in the same box. So long as it is connected through a digital cable, the digital to the analog conversion will occur.

Let’s look at the features of a streamer and a DAC.

Streamer

  • It can communicate to the iPad app and allow music control
  • Connects to networks through its circuits and ports
  • Can send a clocked music stream to a DAC.

DAC

  • It is responsible for receiving UP samples so long it boasts the features to do so
  • It helps in the conversion of analog output for preamps.

How Do I Connect A Streamer Or Streaming DAC To Recognize Tidal Or Qobuz Or My NAS Drive?

The navigation of audio information with Qobuz, Tidal, or NAS drive is not an obvious thing, and mostly the connection will challenge you. Music digitalization has made things take a new turn making it easy for you to connect your DAC to other sources without altering the quality or format of your audio.

If you want Tidal or Qobuz to be recognized by a streamer, you must plug the streaming DAC to the network router you are using at home. This could either be via a WiFi or Ethernet cable. Do not forget that Wi-Fi is a version of your Ethernet cable only that it is wireless, which makes it different from the data network of your mobile phone. To simplify this explanation, streamers work just like cellphones. This is to say, the way your phone’s network is on because it is connected to the router is the same way a streaming DAC should be connected to the router for it to recognize Tidal, Spotify, or NAS.

Have you noticed that all these connection relies on either a wired or wireless router? Since all devices are connected to the router, they must notify each other. So it would be okay to say that Wi-Fi or Ethernet routers are the basis on which a streamer recognizes Tidal, Spotify, or other audios.

What is Tidal and why should you care?
From PocketLint

Does The iPad Need To Play Music Directly To The Streaming DAC?

As explained above, the same way a streaming DAC is connected to Tidal or Spotify is the same way that an iPad is connected. However, iPad does not stream music through them, but you can stream the music from a smartphone. All you need to do for your music to play to the streaming DAC is ensure the streamer features Bluetooth or Airplay. Through these features, your smartphone will be able to send music to it without the hustle of cables. The other alternative is to connect your iPad or iPhone to your DAC’s USB output by using either a cable or a USB camera adopter that’s connected to Apple lighting.

Can A NAS Be Directly Connected to the Streaming DAC Using AN Ethernet Cable If One Doesn’t Want Streaming Audio?

This is possible, but there is a slim chance that the connection will work. This is because most network devices do not connect directly. Instead, they use a switch between them. If you want them to connect directly, the only alternative is to set an IP address for each device. This might be timing-consuming though. Besides, if the direct connection between the streaming DAC to NAS were possible, the two would not recognize your home network. This is because the two are not connected to your home’s router. As a result, your iPad would acknowledge both the DAC and the NAS, which will hinder your iPad’s app from being remotely controlled.

Definition of a NAS

Network Attached Storage is a device that shares and stores data for remotely accessible computers. Most NAS devices feature flexibility meaning that you can keep on adding data to them. However, this depends mainly on the size of the drives and the storage space you want. NAS device is connected to the router of your home or office using an Ethernet cable. These devices empower even a tiny computer to turn a program that can capture the loss of information from CCTVs, music servers, or even videos. Nevertheless, if the NAS device is being used in music servers, it must first receive a request from the streamer to send music to it. You can access NAS via browsers since it is available on the internet.

Reasons for Running a MINI SERVER/ DLNA/UPNP Server Programs ON The NAS 

This is a broad explanation right here but to begin with; you don’t need any server to play music. This is because both the NAS and the streaming DAC are connected to the router and therefore see each other. As much as a streaming DAC can send or receive any data for a network, it is not intelligent enough to blend with these servers or navigate different folders searching for music. However, this does not mean that all DAC streamers can’t access folders on the network, but anything linked to hi-fi these servers chooses the fastest solutions. Unfortunately, the streamer focuses more on sending the DAC a music stream that is super clean and does little processing on the other hand.

The inner functionality of NAS is well understood by the Minim server or other servers program. The NAS also tells if there is any available music on the network. All you need to do is install the minim Server on the NAS device and ensure it is pointed to the music folder. After that the minim server will automatically scan the music folder and read the file tags, some of which include the artist’s names, music genre & album name.

Now that your iPad control app and the DAC streamer are notified of the music availability, they can request specific music tracks and wait for the Minim server to work on the request on the NAS and ensure that the requested music has been sent to the streamer.

If you are wondering what a DLNA is, it is a software protocol that permits digital devices to access your network and discover whatever content you have stored in your computer. The software is helpful because it permits you to use various media devices to explore the media storage of your media collection all from one location. DNLA is linkable to your home router through Wi-Fi.

How Is Roon Run?

Roon is not only an app but also a platform for all types of music in your home. Therefore, it has a significant role to play in the Digital Audio Connection. One of the things that Roon does is to discover and number all the available music on the network and then connect it with the services. After that, the music is sent to the network’s audio zones and endpoints.

The other function of Roon is managing all the files and streaming content of your music. It also processes digital signals and does up-sampling.  This means that Roon is a giant of functionalities.

Roon Software Downloads - PC, Mac, Linux, Android & iOS | Get it Now
From Roon Labs

How to Move CD Collection to a Hard Disk?

Before moving the collection on your CD to a hard disk, the first thing to do is to find out if the same is available on Qobuz or Tidal. There is no need to have bulks of CDs when you have the option of a streaming service.

If you still insist on moving your collection to a disk, it is as simple as copying the CD to the hard disk. However, some ripping will be necessary because music data on CDs are stored differently. This, therefore, means that you need a CD ripper program that converts your audio CD into different files. For accurate CD ripping on your PC or desktop, use programs such as dB PowerAmp.

On the other hand, if you have an extensive collection that requires ripping, the ultimate CD ripper to use is the Naim Uniti Core. All you do is insert a CD and leave the Ubiti core to rip it instantly, locate the track names, and store the ripped files on your hard disk.

What’s The Ideal Way to Store and play a Collection of Music Files Including High-Res on my PC?

There are several options through which you can store and play your music content. The options include putting it onto a USB external hard disc or thumb drive and connecting it to the streamer’s back. The other storage option is a solid-state drive that you use on a Roon nucleus to enable the Roon Core Computer to adopt the functions of a server.

What You Need to Know About DAC Chips

The sound that a DAC chip makes while converting digital information to analog is greatly influenced by the output stage, power supply, and the choice of your circuit design. For instance, you can pair a sabre chip with a warm tube output stage, and you won’t hear the DAC sounding like it has been paired with an output stage. As much as the design of a DAC can give you an idea of the sound you should expect, it is not wise to purchase a DAC chip with the assumption that one will have a similar sound to another one. Get reviews on the sound quality factor from people that you can trust first.

How to Choose a DAC?

If you thought that knowledge about DACs was confusing, then you are wrong. The most challenging part is choosing the proper DAC. We understand this well, and that’s why we have a guide to help you select a DAC that will serve you well. Here is what to look for when buying.

Sound Quality

As much as the digital to analog conversion is automatic, there might be some errors in sound timing. This can affect the quality of your music. On the other hand, a good DAC has a maximum capacity to minimize such errors and present you with the best listening experience.

Portability

A DAC doesn’t have to be connected to a computer for it to deliver. Some DACs are portable, and therefore you can walk with them. Such are the ones that you can connect to your headphones or phones. As you make a choice consider this factor.

Amp Inclusion

For a good audio system which powers several headphones or pair with a speaker, a DAC would be wised to be paired with an amplifier (either in-built or via a line-out). This will aid sufficient headroom for headphones or a speaker system which requires it.

Conclusion

This article has discussed everything you need to know about setting up a Digital Audio System. We believe all your questions have been answered, and you will now have your DAC setup within no time. If there’s any aspect you need us to cover, please let us know in the comment section.

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2 thoughts

  1. Since when must a dac have an amp? All you need is a line out to go to an amp. ( of course if you want to be pedantic you could say they all have amps but that is not really in the remit of this article, it just confuses the majority of readers.)

    1. Thanks Keith, you are correct. It is not necessary for DAC to have in-built amp (but a line-out to an amp would work if users wish to have a DAC/Amp combo to power headphones). Line has been amended.

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