Help me understand DAC and create a way of playing from laptop/HDD


New member
Aug 10, 2019
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Hi all, I think time has come to bite the bullet and embrace DAC but I am unsure what I need to use this current set up is below, can someone please explain how DAC works and ideas on set up..

Rega Apollo

Rega Mira

Rega RS3

I have on laptop (iTunes) hundreds of albums..

Andrew Everard

New member
May 30, 2007
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At its simplest, you can do what you want to do with no more than a cable from the laptop's headphone/line out socket into a spare line-in on your amp – you'll need a cable with a 3.5mmm stereo plug on one end and two phonos on the other.

However, this can be prone to interference and noise, and will also be limited by the quality of the laptop's soundcard and headphone amp, so the better bet is to use a DAC - a digital to analogue converter - between laptop and amp. If your laptop has an optical digital output - sometimes hidden inside the headphone socket - any DAC will be suitable; if it hasn't, you'll need one designed to take a USB input from the laptop.


Basically you get three parts to making music:




The transport get the ones and zeros off the media, so this could be your CD player spinning.

The DAC takes the ones and zeros and turns them into a small analogue signal

Tha amp amplifies it so you can hear it.

If you take a CD player and connect it using phono cables to you amp then you are using the CD player as a transport and also using the internal DAC built into the CD player, the phono cables are your tiny analogue signal that goes to your amp for amplification.

If however you take the optical out from you CD player to your amp then you have now shifted to using the CD player as a transport and the Amps DAC is doing the conversion to analogue before amplifying it. You chose to do it this way by connecting with an optical cable therefore only letting ones and zeros come out of the CD player.

Now you move the same idea to a laptop. Plug the headphone socket from the laptop to the amp means you are using the DAC in the laptop to create your analogue signal.

However, if you can plug an optical cable into your laptop you will use the DAC in your amp for the conversion.

Put your money into a DAC, it is one of the hardest working components that defines your sound detail.

Hope this makes it all clear for you.


New member
May 5, 2009
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For Hi Fi music source you have your standard hi fi digital outputs that have been around for years:



For the amplification you have your standard hi fi analogue inputs that have been around for years:



So for traditional Hi-Fi. The Dac is the part in the middle of the source and amplifier that plugs into the above connections and turns the sources digital 0s and 1s into waves that the amplifier can amplify. You just have to make sure the DAC has the correct type and number of inputs and outputs that you require. Apart from that its the usual listening to see if you like the sound.

The computer only introduces new inputs ton consider. Firstly a computer may or may not have the traditional Hi-Fi digital inputs. If it does then you can just treat it like any other hi fi source. If it doesn't then you need a DAC that has a computer type of input. There is one common and two not so common computer inputs on DACs. It is perfectly fine to choose this option even if you computer has traditional Hi Fi outputs.

USB (the common one)

One benefit is the increased number of sources you can have with a CD player like quality DAC to play stereo:



Blu Ray

Set top box

Portable MP3 player

A second benefit is that it may upgrade the DAC quality compared to an old or cheaper CD player. The CD player would then be used as a transport only and you would connect the digital out to the DAC rather than the analogue out from the CD player ot the amplifier.

A standard computer setup would be (in my case):

Computer playing music with a music player such as iTunes, Foobar, MediaMonkey. (mac mini, itunes)

A digital cable such as optical, coaxial, USB. (USB)

DAC. (rdac)

Analogue cable. (atlas hyper)

Amplifier. (cyrus 8vs2)

Speaker. (Spendor)

There is one complexity with a computer, and that is making sure the music is sent out in the musics format and not converted by the computers mixer. ie for CD rips making sure the rate is set to 44.1khz. It isn't that complicated but I would google it once the setup is working fine, as how to do it is operating system & music player specific.


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