Inside every computer is a little chip called a DAC – Digital to Analog converter – it takes the audio from whatever you’re doing on your PC which is all 1’s and 0’s and converts them back into Analog signals ready for your simple headphones to receive via that little 3.5mm jack in your PC. I’ve been listening to a new sound from the same computer but through an external DAC – the Arcam rPAC.
You’ve got the best headphones, plugged into your computer, and you’re playing audio, or video or even games and think the sound is impressive. I’ve got news for you – it should and could sound better.
The DAC in every digital technology that outputs audio is the thing which determines just how good things are going to sound – even before you consider the speaker or headphones involved.
Even in the highest quality PC or Mac you’re not getting a super high quality DAC – these are components put onto the motherboard of a computer in the factory and when it comes to which DAC the manufacturer puts on-board you’ll likely find it’s not the most expensive one out there, after all – we want our computers to be affordable, so adding $100 because it has better audio probably won’t cut it.
So what happens if you have a little black box which has a high-grade DAC inside it and takes a digital audio signal from your PC via USB and does all the hard work for you – giving you a 3.5mm jack ready to output a different sound.
That difference is stark. I’m no audiophile – in fact my ears aren’t all that great at all. However when I’ve got a good set of Bose or Sennheiser headphones plugged in I do enjoy being immersed in the music. So what is the difference.
I plugged my headphones into my Mac, then back into the Arcam rPAC, then back to the Mac and so on. I listened to studio recordings and live recordings of concerts – I felt a deeper and fuller sound – not different like you get when you use a set of headphones which claim to boost base or something like that, just a more true and genuine sound.
The clapping in the crowd, the whistles in between those claps, the steady touch of piano keys or the subtle beat of the drums and symbols in the background all seemed to push through more – but not in an overbearing way. The music was the same, the feeling was the same – but my immediate reaction was a fuller sound – more precise.
Inside this weighty little box is that quality DAC as well as some advanced circuitry which is all fully shielded to eliminate the obvious digital interference that is prevalent around our computers
We’re talking here about High-resolution audio. What’s interesting is how often the resolution of screens is discussed, as is the frame-rate of gaming and other high-end applications – we simply wouldn’t settle for a laggy and jittery video experience, so why do we accept a lesser audio output?
Perhaps it’s that we don’t know what we’re missing? I for one am worried I’ll be questioning the sound of the audio coming from my phone as I sit at work, or my PC without the rPAC. It is that noticeable.
The fact is, most people can’t appreciate good audio – the test is to try it out and hear it for yourself.
You won’t find an Arcam rPAC in a mass retail chain, you’ll need to look around at a higher-end audio retailer. Off the shelf this thing should be around $299, you may find it cheaper if you push hard.
And while you’re getting back up off the floor, consider this – that $299 is a long-term investment. This is something that works with your current PC as well as your next one, and the one after that.
If you love music, video or gaming on your PC – it’s time to realise that you can and should get a better audio experience.
Trev is a Technology Commentator, Dad, Speaker and Rev Head.
He produces and hosts two popular podcasts, EFTM and Two Blokes Talking Tech. He also appears on over 50 radio stations across Australia weekly, and is the resident Tech Expert on Channel 9’s Today Show each day and appears regularly on A Current Affair.
Father of three, he is often found down in his Man Cave.