The wondrous world of Digital to Analog Converters


I’ve been living in this world of music for as long as I can remember. I’ve always felt the need to surround myself with music.

One of my most famous quotes is: “If I don’t have music in my ears (IEMs) or music in my brain, I’m as good as dead”.

With this love of music came a thirst for musical quality. For me, that meant listening to music as close as possible to how it was made in the recording studio.

At first, it was an obsession with high-end stereo components (especially loudspeakers). My cousin (who shared my passion) and I would travel around Israel, where we lived, to listen to speakers and just enjoy the experience.

But the fact of the matter was, you can’t get great quality from a speaker that’s meant to carry the sound a few meters, the sound will fade and distort along the way.

If you start to examine the world of earphones/headphones however, the sound only travels a few centimeters at most to reach your ears, which makes earphones/headphones a better candidate to provide a good listening experience at a more reasonable price.

A Chinese miracle

At first it was very hard and expensive to buy good earphones/headphones and there wasn’t much choice (this was the 1990s).

The real breakthrough came with the Chinese market. As it opened up to the West (aliexpress and such), not only were you exposed to Chinese manufacturers who could make you happy for $20, they also encouraged other manufacturers to lower prices and innovate, and eventually some Chinese manufacturers also leapt forward (like Moondrop lab & Kinera audio). The IEM/headphone market began to blossom. With this awakening, headphone DACs (digital-to-analog converters) began to appear.

There was a lot of debate among audiophiles about the necessity of a DAC for a phone+earphones/headphones “audio system”. Everyone agreed that digital sound would never be as good as analog sound. I would occasionally read a pro opinion and then a con opinion. I had not yet made up my mind.

A new era

Remember the cousin who shared my passion for high quality speakers?

One day he starts talking to me and tells me that this DAC thing is amazing, it is an absolute must.

Turns out he had just bought a minimal DAC for a ridiculous price and was so surprised at what a difference it made to his listening experience.

Remember that Chinese revolution I mentioned earlier? One of the companies that came out of China, called FIIO, quickly became very famous among audiophiles. They had produced a general purpose USB DAC/AMP for $40, and my cousin decided to buy one to see what it added to his listening experience. His words to me were “I cannot recommend it enough!”.

Knowing that I could trust his word when it came to sound, I started doing my own research on a DAC/AMP for myself. I was looking to invest a little over $40.

There was this high-end audio company called Cyrus Audio. I had encountered their equipment many times when I traveled to listen to speakers back then. I couldn’t afford their hi-end audio products, but they had just released a new marvel, a small portable USB DAC/AMP called the Soundkey. After reading some reviews, I decided to buy one for myself. The cost was about $160 and it took some time to reach me because I was living in Israel at the time and they are a UK based manufacturer, there were no suppliers for the equipment in Israel, I had to do some self importing (you know, a friend of a friend coming to Israel from the UK to visit).

The first time I connected the Cyrus Soundkey to my phone and headphones, it changed the way I listened to music forever. Every DAC I’ve bought since has been like sprinkling pixie dust on my music. For me, music regained something it had lost in the transition from the analog to the digital age. I had to rethink everything I knew about my earphones/headphones after connecting them to the Cyrus Soundkey.

DAC to every music lover out there

Those days are long gone. Because of technological advances and the aforementioned Chinese market competition, good audio equipment is accessible and cheaper than ever before. There are so many good manufacturers, and DAC magic (I know, it’s also a product name) is no longer in question.

If you want to upgrade your listening experience, buy a DAC. If you have a DAC and want to upgrade your listening experience once more, buy a more expensive DAC.

Enjoy your music,


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