Why DACs /Headphone amps?

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I see a lot of DAC and headphone amps on the site, and I'm wondering why I would need one (or both?). I listen sometimes on my computer, sometimes on an iPad or iPhone, and sometimes on an old school stereo with a Sony receiver. All of these are compatible with headphones, so what's the purpose of getting a DAC/Headphone amp? And what is the difference? And do I need both? Thanks in advance for any light you can shed on this for me. Bob
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danny87
204
Apr 5, 2021
DAC: Digital-to-analogue converter. A PC's soundcard is an example of a DAC. Your iphone/ipad would have this built in as well, but due to space/cost/other constraints, it's probably not the best DAC, especially when you have a headphone worth hundreds or thousands of dollars. Amp: Amplifier, which as the name suggests, amplify an audio signal. Some headphones are not as efficient as others, and require more power to perform optimally, hence the need to amplify the signal being fed to them. If you have a high impedance headphone plugged in directly into your ipad/iphone, chances are it's not gonna play loud enough. Both DAC and Amp, apart from the functions mentioned above, may also alter (colour) the sound. These colouration may or may not be favourable, as it's entirely up to personal preference. Do I need a DAC?- Maybe, maybe not. If you think your headphone sounds fine out of your iPhone, then you may not need a DAC. If you have the chance, try to borrow a standalone DAC and then you can compare and decide whether it's worth the investment. Do I need an amp? - If you headphone is playing loud enough on your iphone, then you probably dont need an amp. Although, if you're using a standalone DAC, then you might need an amp as some DACs don't have a headphone output. Hope this helps. Experts or senior members please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.
Bob_Voges
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Apr 5, 2021
Thanks for the thorough answers. Perhaps I should have explained that I know what a DAC is and what an Amp is, but no matter. ;-) I'm going with a relatively low priced amp for now. We'll see how that goes and whether I eventually decide on a DAC.
Michael-Q
222
Apr 5, 2021
My response coming from an enthusiast that enjoys quality audio. I don't think I have golden ears to truly take advantage of my setup. If you have amazing hearing, amps/dacs become more essential. TL/DR: Results may vary with headphones and users. There's definitely improvements but depends on your ability to pick out (hear) details and/or perhaps simply how much you are willing to invest for potentially small incremental improvements to the experience. I'd say Amp first then DAC upgrade. A DAC is nearly useless without an amp unless it's an amp/dac combo unit. Perhaps modern technologies are different (past couple years), but when I tested my fiio x1 gen1 (a portable music player) with and without an amp the bass became more defined when using the amp. Other users might notice changes in the clarity of the treble or vocals. For me it was a small difference but now that I'm used to it, it's hard to revert back to never using an amp. Granted I didn't actually do an ABX test so perhaps it's just placebo. Compared to my 2011 computer (the on board mother board amp/dac), the results were even more drastic. Using my current motherboard/computer (2016), I think it would be difficult to hear differences unless I turned the volume up to and/or beyond my normal loudness comfort level. Without an amp using my current computer, the Sennheiser 6xx (HD650) didn't get loud enough (needs amp). With other headphones, the headphone not getting loud enough wasn't an issue. DACs are harder to justify imo. Often you can get CD quality bit perfect results with many devices - they just might not have a lot of power available (needs amp). With my current computer, when using super sensitive headphones and the gain at the max setting (high voltage multiplier-loudness multiplier), I easily hear noises that shouldn't be there. A decent DAC solves that issue. If you can't hear any issues outright, I think it's harder to justify a DAC. The issue becomes you might not realize what you're missing until you get the DAC.
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danny87
204
Apr 5, 2021
The new version has a TRRS connector. You can see it in some of the buyer's pictures. Drop (and even Helm's own website) shows pictures of the old version.
It uses a THX AAA mobile module, there are 8 THX modules grouped in three different series (Catalyst, Frontier and Vanguard). The former two are mobile aimed, the later class "Vanguard" is what most of the desktop based units implement.
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