Products recommended in this post contain affiliate links. If you buy something through our posts, we may receive a commission at no extra charge to you. See our full disclosures here.

Audio Interface vs DAC – Pros And Cons

Audio Interface
Focusrite Scarlett Solo (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools | First
DAC
FiiO E10K USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier (Black)
Focusrite Scarlett Solo (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools | First
FiiO E10K USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier (Black)
-
Audio Interface
Focusrite Scarlett Solo (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools | First
Focusrite Scarlett Solo (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools | First
-
DAC
FiiO E10K USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier (Black)
FiiO E10K USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier (Black)

Last update on 2020-12-01 at 11:00 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

If you have been in the sound production business for a while now, you’ve probably come across the audio interface vs. DAC debate. The argument over which is better and what you need first seems to be never-ending!

However, there is a quick and easy way to decide. Understanding what an audio interface and DAC are can help you decide which is more suitable for your needs and budget.

Even though many people use these terms simultaneously, there are significant differences in the pros, cons, and uses of these technologies.

If you are stuck and can’t decide whether you want the former or the latter, this article will benefit you. We’ll discuss what a DAC and audio interface is, what each of them does, their benefits and drawbacks, and everything else relevant.

All this information and awareness will help you decide what you want to spend your money on!

What Is An Audio Interface?


Video: “What Is An Audio Interface And What Do We Do With It?”


If you want to connect your speaker cables and microphones to computers and other technical stuff to record through USBs, an audio interface is what you need.

This technology allows you to listen to whatever you’ve recorded through headphones, speakers, and studio monitors.

How Do You Set Up An Audio Interface?

Even though it might look and sound intimidating, setting up an audio interface is not that much of a hassle!

  1. Start by connecting your desktop computer or laptop to your interface. You can use any recommended connection for a USB for this purpose.
  2. Next, you are supposed to install all the basic, recommended drivers. Now, this part is usually an automatic step with a new system. However, sometimes, you have to install or download them yourself.
  3. Connect your audio interface’s outputs to the powered speakers.
  4. Next, launch or install your playback software or the selected audio recording.
  5. Select the audio software’s output and specify it for routing to the audio interface you just installed.
  6. If you have pre-recorded audio samples in your software, you can play them and test them.
  7. Connect your cables, microphones, and any other inputs to your new interface.
  8. Finalize the setup by testing an input signal. You can do this by routing a specific input channel to a particular software input and recording a tiny clip, as long as a few seconds or minutes.
  9. Now, play this short clip back and listen to the quality of sound coming from your speakers. If everything sounds good, it means that it is! Congratulations, you’ve successfully set up an audio interface!
back to menu ↑

What Is a DAC?


Video: “What is a DAC? – Explained”


A Digital to Analogue Converter, commonly referred to as DAC is a system that transforms digital signals into analog signals.

Simply put, a DAC converts all the signals that come from your music equipment and turn them into sounds that you can hear through the headphones.

You can commonly find Digital to analog converter chips inside the sound sources, and their prices vary according to their quality, manufacturing company, and many other factors.

How Does A DAC Work?

All kinds of audio signals are compression waves when you replay them, be it an MP3 signal or a vinyl. When your computer records a particular analog signal, you will see it as a waveform.

A waveform literally looks like a wave, and it has two axes: axis X represents time, and axis Y represents amplitude or the power of the wave. This wave, like any other, has two components: valleys and crests. One crest and one valley create a single period.

The number of periods in every second determines the frequency or Hertz. This frequency corresponds to notes and pitches; for example, higher frequencies correspond to higher notes, and lower frequencies create lower notes.

A Digital to analog converter receives a recording that was stored digitally, and then it transforms it into analog signals. It does so by translating data bits from different individual digital files to analog electrical signals.

A DAC completes this process at the rate of thousands per second. Then, the unit produces intersecting waves at all points and, since DACs aren’t always accurate, this intersection might lead to potential problems.

Such problems include:

  • A narrowed dynamic range (the difference between potential sound volumes in a particular file)
  • Aliasing (strange oscillating sounds mostly found in high-frequency notes)
  • A limited bitrate (the amount of data expressed in a single second), and,
  • Jittering, which is imperfections in the sound’s pitches
back to menu ↑

The Major Differences Between Audio Interfaces and Digital To Analog Converters (DACs)

While moving towards the debate of audio interface vs. DAC, let’s get to the point and start discussing their differences.

Now that you’ve learned and fully understand what each of these two technologies is, it’ll be much easier to comprehend why they’re two different phenomenons and why there’s a comparison being made.

  • While starting from the fundamental differences, a DAC is a converter that transforms digital signals into analog ones so you can play them on your audio systems, like speakers, studio monitors, and headphones. In contrast, an audio interface also consists of a DAC, but it can also convert analog signals into digital ones so you can record them. This way, you can record your content through devices like microphones.
  • While digital to audio converters are portable and charged by batteries, the same is not the case with audio interfaces.
  • Since audio interfaces are more complex and professional, they are relatively more expensive. In contrast, if you are on a budget, you would want to go with a digital to audio converter since they are more pocket friendly.
  • Audio interfaces are a convenient choice if you are looking for something high quality for your home studio. This technology allows you to record sounds directly through MIDI, TRS inputs, or XLR inputs to the DAW. Digital to audio converters are of good quality, and they do an excellent job at what they do, but they’re not as Hi-fi and professional as an audio interface.
back to menu ↑

Pros And Cons Of Audio Interface And Dac

Moving on with the discussion over the audio interface vs. DAC, let us discuss the pros and cons of each technology.

Understanding the advantages and drawbacks of both audio interfaces and digital to analog converters can help you realize whether a particular technology suits your needs and likings.

Go through each of these lists below and determine what pros you’re looking for and what cons you can compromise on; let’s begin!

1

Audio Interface

Sale
Focusrite Scarlett Solo (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools | First
10,502 Reviews
Focusrite Scarlett Solo (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools | First
  • One of the best performing mic preamps the Scarlett range has ever seen, now with switchable air Mode to give your...
  • High-performance converters enable you to record and mix at up to 24-bit/ 192kHz.
  • Quick start tool to get up and running easier than ever.
  • Includes Pro Tools | First Focusrite Creative Pack, Ableton Live Lite, Softube Time and Tone Bundle, Focusrite’s Red...
  • LIMITED TIME OFFER: FREE D16 Devastator 2 upon registration and download.

Last update on 2020-12-01 at 11:00 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Pros
  • The most significant advantage of audio interfaces is their easier accessibility and larger physical size. Thanks to these factors, an audio interface holds the potential to build various input types in the unit.
  • Audio interfaces can significantly improve and expand a computer’s sonic capabilities. This technology dramatically improves the overall sound quality that comes out of your computer. Thus, if you produce audio content through computers, these interfaces will help you out a lot.
  • If you produce audio content on a professional level, an audio interface is what you need. Give you the quality, clarity, and pureness in the sound that you need. Plus, not all audio interfaces cost you a whole lot; if you look deep enough, you might be able to find an excellent affordable brand with high-quality products.
  • Another essential advantage of an audio interface is its high usability. Since it is easier to use and manage, many people prefer using audio interfaces over other technologies like sound cards. It is also one of the primary reasons it is so prevalent in the first place. Audio interfaces provide high-quality recordings with ease of use- who doesn’t want that?
Cons
  • Audio interfaces can be quite expensive. The reason behind their higher prices and costs include functionality, reliability, and quality. These are specialized devices, and they have a relatively smaller market, so they are not manufactured in bulks.
  • If your audio interface is not expensive or high-quality, there are high chances that you might find faults in it. Thus, if you want to invest in an audio interface and produce high quality and professional content, being cheap isn’t going to help. In fact, you might as well not spend anything since, for the most part, there is no such thing as a good-quality yet budget-friendly audio interface.
2

DAC

FiiO E10K USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier (Black)
3,260 Reviews
FiiO E10K USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier (Black)
  • DAC Chip¡ªThe Internal DAC chip is a PCM102 and can handle PCM files up to 24-bit/96 kHz while improving audio quality...
  • LOW NOISE FLOOR ¡ª The unit has an optimized low-pass filter and selectable bass boost circuit that are designed for a...
  • CONNECTION VARIETY ¡ª The variety of connections include a front-panel 1/8¡± headphone jack, a rear-panel 1/8¡±...
  • USB CONNECTION ¡ª Connects to your laptop via its micro USB connection, which also provides it with power.
  • PORTABLE DESIGN ¡ª A sleek, brushed aluminum shell and chassis allow for durable, portable use.

Last update on 2020-12-01 at 10:59 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Pros
  • DACs are relatively cheaper than audio interfaces. This affordability means that they’re comparatively more accessible, and you can find them easily on the market.
  • DACs significantly improve the sound quality and, that too, in a budget. Its design is specific for upgrading audio performance, which is why a good quality DAC will do its job well and make you happy with the final audio product.
  • Digital to analog converters own the fastest conversion circuits compared to other conversion methods.
  • Digital to analog converters are relatively simpler to manage and implement. Their operational mechanism is much more convenient than an audio interface, even though it depends entirely on how comfortable you are with either of the two technologies.
  • The final product you get through these converters is always high quality, high resolution, and accurate.
  • Digital to analog converters are portable and charged by batteries. Thus, if you are somebody who travels a lot, this particular technology will be quite convenient.
Cons
  • You must maintain voltage levels. The voltage must be exact and the same for every input. Sometimes, this factor can be an inconvenience.
  • Common problems from digital to analog converters include non-linearity, offset error, and gain error. Other possible issues include jitter, aliasing, and bitrate issues, as mentioned earlier.
  • The power input or batteries can be quite expensive. Thus, the Digital to analog converters can overall be very high maintenance for some people.

Do You Really Need An Audio Interface?

The correct answer to this question depends on what you are trying to record. If you are recording basic stuff and nothing Hi-Fi, you don’t necessarily need audio interfaces for that.

However, if you work with professional sounds and music, like voices, instruments, and other particular audio types, having an audio interface is good.

Do You Really Need A DAC for Gaming and Producing Music?

If you want to record any audio digitally, yes, DACs are necessary.

Similarly, since this technology helps you get the most out of any audio content, solid DACsare an absolute must if you are a gaming enthusiast or do it professionally.

Can You Use An Audio Interface As A DAC, Or Vice Versa?

In order to answer this question, we must go all the way back to the basics!

We know DACs convert digital signals to analog ones, but we also know that audio interfaces pretty much do the same thing. Any digital technology that gives out analog outputs consists of a DAC.

So, technically, DACs are a kind of audio interface, and many people use it as one.

Audio Interface
Focusrite Scarlett Solo (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools | First
DAC
FiiO E10K USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier (Black)
Focusrite Scarlett Solo (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools | First
FiiO E10K USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier (Black)
-
Audio Interface
Focusrite Scarlett Solo (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools | First
Focusrite Scarlett Solo (3rd Gen) USB Audio Interface with Pro Tools | First
-
DAC
FiiO E10K USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier (Black)
FiiO E10K USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier (Black)

Last update on 2020-12-01 at 11:00 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

back to menu ↑

Conclusion

While concluding the debate on audio interface vs. DAC, there is no definitive answer. Instead, it depends on what you need.

If you record music and wish to make high-quality content, audio interfaces will do the job well. They’ll allow you to maximize your sound quality and take it up to the level of professionalism you need.

However, if you only want something that improves your audio quality when you play it back on your smartphone, headphones, and computers, there is no need to invest in an audio interface. Get yourself a digital to analog, and you’ll be set!

Plus, they are also a much better option for those traveling a lot and would like something portable and powered by batteries that can stand by in no electrical energy area.

Even still, keep in mind that most of the modern technologically advanced DAC chips can give you high-quality audio content; even the most basic and affordable ones are quite good at what they do!

So, do a little bit of homework, some research on your part, and dig deep into the market. You might find something that gives you the best of both worlds!