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How can you hear an MP3 file? To a computer, an MP3 file is nothing but a collection of 0s and 1s, much like an image file. But while there is no way for you to hear a picture, a music file has digital signals that need to be converted to analog before it can be piped into your earphones or speakers.
This job is reserved from digital to analog converters. You might have never heard of DACs, but they are everywhere: inside that smartphone that you have, or one of the hardware in your computer, and even your TV. Anything that needs to process digital signals into something that you can hear has a DAC built-in somewhere.
One of the best options you have for a digital to analog converter is the AudioEngine D1, a DAC that serves double duty as a headphone amplifier. This device is packed with features and might be the perfect DAC for your needs.
The AudioEngine D1: What You Need to Know
The AudioEngine D1 is a digital to analog converter that also doubles as a headphone amplifier. What’s more, it’s powered by a USB, so it’s very portable.
What Is a Digital to Analog Converter, Anyway?
A digital to analog converter, or DAC, transforms digital signals into analog signals. This conversion allows your headphones to create sound. There are DAC chips that are found in your smartphone and other music sources.
However, standalone DACs became available because of terrible audio quality. Over time, however, technologies have improved, and digital music became more and more commonplace. As such, there are only a few reasons why you would need a DAC today:
- When the source of the sound, such as your smartphone, computer, or TV, introduces noise
- When these sources have difficulties outputting sound at your files’ bitrates
- When your device doesn’t have an RCA output for speakers
What Is a Headphone Amplifier?
A headphone amplifier allows you to increase the maximum output of your smartphone, laptop, and other music sources so that your headphones can deliver the output level you want.
You will need a headphone amplifier if your wired headphones cannot get the volume you want.
Features of the AudioEngine D1
If you are now in the market for a digital to analog converter, you will know that there are several great options that you can consider. And to help you decide on the AudioEngine D1, here are the features that this DAC has to offer:
- Handles up to 192 kilohertz and 24-bit content. The AudioEngine D1 has both USB and optical inputs. The USB connection can handle files with 92 kilohertz at 24 bits. But the optical connection takes it notches further: able to process 192 kilohertz at 24 bits.
- Works with PCs and Macs. The AudioEngine D1 will operate out of the box without requiring you to download drivers for Mac and Windows computers.
- Lengthy USB cable. The package comes with a two-meter () USB cable.
- Excellent sound quality. The AudioEngine D1 gives you balanced sound even with high-resolution recordings. You will like how refined and highly-detailed the sound is.
- Full range sound. The AudioEngine D1 has a frequency response range of 10 hertz to 25 kilohertz, which means that it can reproduce very low bass sounds to clear mids and highs.
- Compact. This DAC and headphone amplifier is small in size, measuring only 3.5 by 3.75 by 1.0 inches (89 by 92 by 25 millimeters).
- AK4396 D/A converter. This product uses the AK9346 DAC, which is known for its high fidelity while also keeping the noise levels low. You get sound that has low distortion and low noise.
- OPA2134 headphone amplifier. The OPA2134 is an opamp that is known for its high performance.
- RCA outputs for your speaker. If you don’t see yourself using headphones for a long time, you’d appreciate how the AudioEngine D1 also has an analog RCA output where you can plug your speakers in.
As such, the AudioEngine D1 can help you get excellent sound quality for devices that traditionally do not have an output for amplifiers or receivers such as your computer. Not only that, it allows you to send audio to your speaker and headphones.
What You Will Like About the AudioEngine D1
If you want a more precise sound from your computer, you will undoubtedly appreciate the AudioEngine D1. The high frequencies are more apparent, and you get crisp treble. If you’re listening to live recordings, you can better hear the background instrumentals with AudioEngine D1.
For most people, the Audio Engine D1 will give them a better experience while listening to music sourced from a PC or Mac. What’s more, you can now use your regular speakers with the AudioEngine D1 because of its RCA outputs.
The RCA outputs will be useful if you have traditional speakers. But you can also connect an external amplifier to these RCA outputs a wide range of audio equipment if you want.
What You Might Not Like About the AudioEngine D1
There is not much to complain about the AudioEngine D1, and for the most part, looking for a con for this product will feel like nitpicking.
However, there seems to be some kind of disconnect here when it comes to the headphone jack. AudioEngine probably put out the D1 for the more serious audiophiles who want nothing to do with harsh trebles and bungled up details.
Having a 3.5 mm audio jack limits the device to mostly portable ones. Most high-end and professional headphones have a 6.35 mm plug.
- Excellent build quality and compact size
- RCA output makes this device expandable to speakers and amps and not just limited to headphones
- Separates detail in your sound
- Ability to resample higher bitrates
- The headphone amp can be better, but considering that it’s only 250 ohms, it is decent
- It has an optical port, but no cable is included
- Only for 3.5-mm headphones
- Maybe a bit too pricey for some
Alternatives to the AudioEngine D1
There are some products that you should also consider before buying an AudioEngine D1. These products may be more suitable for your needs, or perhaps even be the best device without you going over your budget. These are:
1. PROZOR 192KHz Digital to Analog Audio Converter
The PROZOR 192KHz Digital to Analog Audio Converter will convert digital signals and sends the analog signals out the left and right RCA output or 3.5 mm headphone jack.
Inputs include a Sony/Philips digital interface and coaxial port. Like the AudioEngine D1, it can handle sampling rates of 32 kilohertz to 192 kilohertz as well as 24-bit files.
You can connect this to a variety of devices, including your TV and game console. This device is powered by a 5V adapter but comes with a USB to DC adapter that can serve as your power cable.
- It can be connected to your TV box, game console, HDTV, or BluRay player
- Impressive sound quality
- Powered by a DC adapter
- Has problems with some Samsung TVs, where the DAC delivers a very low volume that you can hardly hear the music
- No volume control
2. Auris Blume
While the Auris Blume is primarily marketed as a long-range Bluetooth receiver, it does have an impressive DAC. You can get superior sound quality with its high fidelity DAC that can support resampling rates of 384 kilohertz and 32-bit files. Even true blue audiophiles will love it.
More than just a DAC, you can use the Auris bluME to upgrade your old sound system to a smart one. You can use your old receiver and stream music from your phone or computer. You just connect the Blume to your receiver using the RCA ports and then connect wirelessly to your smartphone.
The set up takes a few minutes, and you don’t need to download anything to your phone. You get up to 100 feet (30 meters) of coverage so that you can control your music anywhere from the house.
The Blume has a premium finish and can be placed alongside some of your most expensive equipment. It also doesn’t take up space as it measures only 2.95 by 3.5 by 1.0 inches (75 by 90 by 25 millimeters).
- Looks great
- A good way to update your analog sound systems
- Excellent price point
- Excellent sound quality
- Some users report getting static when the device is not in use
3. Audiolab M-DAC Nano Portable Wireless DAC and Headphone Amplifier
The Audiolab M-DAC Nano Portable Wireless DAC and Headphone Amplifier allow you to improve your laptop or desktop computer’s sound quality. This wireless DAC and headphone amplifier converts digital signals to high fidelity sounds.
If you want impressive sound quality with booming bass and crisp tones, then this is for you. The device also helps add more loudness to your laptop or desktop.
On top of turning your headphones into Bluetooth devices, you can also leave your OTG cables at home. Further, this device can also support sampling rates of 384 kilohertz at 32 bits.
The Audiolab M-DAC Nano Portable Wireless DAC and Headphone Amplifier connect to your computer, smartphone, or tablet via Bluetooth. You can put your earphones on this device so you’re not bogged down with a wire connected to your playback device.
- Wireless connections to your computer, smartphone, or tablet
- Supports Qi wireless charging
- Turns your headphones into Bluetooth ones
- Portable and convenient for people who’s always on the go
- But what makes this DAC stand out is its compact size. Measuring only () (44 by 44 by 14 millimeters), it weights only () (28 grams). The wireless capability, small size, and lightness make this one of the most portable digital to analog converters out there.
Should You Buy the AudioEngine D1?
For somebody who’s looking for a DAC and a headphone amplifier for their mobile devices, the AudioEngine D1 is not difficult to recommend at all. It provides an easy way to improve the playback device’s sound, be it a phone, a tablet, or a computer.
If you’re looking for something much less expensive than the AudioEngine D1, then you can check out the PROZOR 192KHz Digital to Analog Audio Converter. This device is for your home theater system, including game consoles, TV boxes, and HDTV.
If your computer has terrible audio, you might not get too much improvement using AudioEngine D1. However, you can bypass that and connect wirelessly using the Auris Blume. You can also use the Blume to make analog sound systems wireless.
You get the same advantages with the Audiolab M-DAC. But this one has the added benefit of being very portable wth is lightness and smaller dimensions.
But Do You Really Need a DAC?
However, the bigger question is whether you need a digital to analog converter like the AudioEngine D1. As we have mentioned before, a DAC is necessary if there is some level of noise created by the source of the sound or when your devices have a rough time outputting your files at their native bitrates. A DAC is also a good idea if you want to use speakers, but your device doesn’t have RCA outputs.
For the most part, however, most people will not need an external DAC. Their devices would probably have one embedded in them. People mistakenly think that when they get bad sound quality, buying a DAC will fix it. It doesn’t.
For one, you will need high-quality sound files. You can’t expect digital content that is stored at 128 kilobytes per second to have astounding sound quality. In much the same way as having an ultra high definition TV will make low-resolution videos look better.
If you already have files in high bitrates, a DAC can make it sound better, with more booming bass and crisper mid and high frequencies.
Answer: A digital to analog converter makes music files usable. Your Blu-ray, TV box, smartphones, game consoles, music players, laptop, and computers already have them.
The DAC converts your digital files, which are nothing but a collection of 0s and 1s, into something that you can hear. In short, a device that doesn’t have a DAC will not allow you to enjoy music.
Answer: When you’re buying a DAC, you will be looking at the bitrates that it can handle. A bitrate describes how much data is being converted to audio. As such, having a higher bit rate translates to better sound quality.
In short, a higher bit rate will determine audio fidelity, or how accurate the DAC reproduces sound from its source.
Answer: When choosing a DAC, you might want to look at:
• The resolution, or the number of output levels that a digital to analog converter can reproduce. It’s usually stated in bits, where a one-bit DAC can produce two output levels, an eight-bit DAC can handle up to 256 output levels, and a 24-bit DAC is getting around 16.8 million output levels out. A higher resolution means a higher audio bit depth.
• The maximum sampling rate, or the top speed that the DAC can operate without any loss in output.
• Monotonicity, or ensuring that the DAC’s input and output go the same way as if the input decreases, the output also decreases.
• Total harmonic distortion and noise measure the noise and distortion introduced by the device.
• Dynamic range, or the gap between the smallest and largest signals that the DAC can produce. Dynamic range is often seen in decibels.
The Final Word: AudioEngine D1
While your computer, DVD, Bluray, smartphone, MP3 player, and other devices may already have a DAC on board, there are still rare instances when an external DAC is recommended.
You cannot go wrong with the AudioEngine D1 if you want to improve the sound quality of your laptop, desktop computer, or smartphone.
It will also be an excellent way to hook up your devices to traditional speakers with RCA inputs. However, if you’re looking for a DAC for your home entertainment devices, the PROZOR 192KHz Digital to Analog Audio Converter might be the better choice.
Or, if you’re looking for a way to improve your computer’s or your sound system’s audio, you will do better with wireless options such as Auris Blume and Audiolab M-DAC Nano.