Better home audio, Tip #14: Use an outboard DAC
Ralph Graves is one of Crutchfield's blog editors, and part of the company's social media team. He writes about home audio/video gear, specializing in Apple-related and wireless technologies. Ralph holds a master's degree in music composition, and his works have been released on various labels. He's served as product manager for an independent classical and world music label, produced several recordings, and worked extensively in public broadcasting. Since 1984 he's hosted a weekly classical music program on WTJU, and is also active as a blogger and podcaster.
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A common misconception is that there's no difference between an inexpensive and a top-of-the line CD player. After all, they're both just reading digital code off of a disc, and since it's binary, it's either there or it isn't, right?
While both players might start with the same CD, how well they convert its code to an analog signal depends on how sophisticated the player's digital-to-analog converter is. "Lost in Translation" isn't just a movie title.
Tip #14: Try a smokin' outboard DAC - get shockingly good sound from your CD collection.
For nearly as long as CD players have been around, audiophiles have been enjoying richer CD sound by connecting an outboard DAC (digital-to-analog converter). A DAC's only job is to convert digital bits, such as those from a CD or DVD player, into a stereo analog signal to feed to your receiver or preamp.
You connect your player to a DAC using either an optical or coaxial digital cable, and then use a high-quality audio patch cable between the DAC and your receiver. We've been very impressed by the PS Audio Digital Link III. This versatile unit not only breathes new life into your CDs, it also includes a USB port, which allows you to connect your PC and enjoy better sound from your MP3s, too.
This post is based on the article "15 Tips for Better Sound from your Home System" by the Crutchfield Writing Team.