Recently the external DAC has made a bit of a comeback in popularity. While they were once most commonly paired with a digital transport, now you're more likely to see them hooked up as part of a home media server. With disk space now cheap enough that anyone can keep their entire collection archived in a lossless format, and even keep a backup copy of it around, people are using their PC to serve up their audio collection. However, getting the most out of that lossless archive has been a challenge for many as most computer sound cards left much to be desired in the audio quality realm. In this review, we cover the Wyred4Sound DAC-2 and STI-500 Integrated Stereo Amplifier.
Introduction to DAC Reviews
External DACS (digital-to-analog converters) first came into vogue a number of years ago as a way to enhance the playback quality of the humble CD player. The rationale being that if you separated the components that converted all those “ones and zeros” into music, lavished some additional resources and attention to its design, you could tangibly improve the ultimate sound quality of your digital source player.
Today the “digital source” has broadened to include home computers, laptops, cell phones, networked digital media players, and more. Also storage space on modern devices, being as plentiful as it is, no longer limits us to lossy music file formats like MP3. Bit-perfect digital music reproduction can be had virtually anywhere and, to achieve that end, there are a plethora of modern DACs available. Most DACS are still strictly two-channel affairs but there are a few multi-channel units on the market geared for home theater use as well. They truly do come in all manner of sizes and price points, with interfaces like SPDIF, Toslink, AES, USB and even HDMI that suit most conceivable applications. Some DACs even have room and speaker correction capabilities as well as volume controls, so they can act as preamplifiers too.
Through listening and measurements, our reviews can help you sort through the best of what’s available in DACs and, hopefully, guide you to a choice that will fit your needs and be musically satisfying.