Audio Interface vs. DAC: The Differences Explained


To produce the best quality possible when playing or producing music, you’ll need great equipment. If you’re not familiar with the equipment used in musical production, you’re probably feeling a bit overwhelmed. For starters, let’s talk about the differences between an Audio Interface and a DAC.

An audio interface is a device used to produce music and hear playback simultaneously. In contrast, a DAC converts digital sound into analog sound. Therefore, a music producer uses an audio interface, while a listener will use a DAC.

If you want to learn the differences between Audio Interface and DAC, read on to learn more. We’ll also explore which one you should purchase. So let’s take a look, shall we?

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What Is an Audio Interface?

An Audio Interface is the nucleus of a home recording studio. Everything that you need to record your music will be run through this piece of equipment. Your computer, instruments, and microphone all connect to the Audio Interface.

This process records your instrument at a high quality.

An Audio Interface is essential if your goal is to produce high-quality guitar, piano, or vocal pieces from your computer. It’s also an excellent tool for podcasts and audiobook recordings.

An audio interface will also give you excellent playback. You can connect both high-quality headphones and speakers so that you can listen back to your work.

Ultimately, an audio interface is an incredibly versatile tool. It’ll allow you to improve the sound you record instantly, give you access to layering your music, and will enable you to convert digital sound to analog sound.

How Does an Audio Interface Work?

An Audio Interface converts analog sound into digital sound, recorded in 1s and 0s (also known as binary code). When you play your chosen instrument, you are essentially recording an analog signal — the Audio Interface changes it to digital.

This digitized audio stream can be stored on your computer, on an external hard drive or card, or in the cloud.  

Simultaneously, any digital audio from your computer is streamed through the digital interface. This digital audio is converted into analog sound- something that you and I can interpret and hear.

On the front panel of an audio interface, there are generally 1-2 inputs. This means you can connect up to two instruments at once. In addition, built-in preamps allow you to adjust the signal to get the highest quality recording of your device.

A typical audio interface will also contain two volume controls. This allows you to change the volume of both studio monitors and your headphones.

An audio interface will allow you to ‘Direct Monitor.’ This will enable you to layer tracks and hear what you’re doing at the same time, without any delay. YOu can also adjust the volume of these layers, making the Direct Moninter incredibly versatile.

The back of an audio interface contains the USB output, allowing you to connect your laptop or desktop. You’ll also find ‘midi’ outputs and several other outputs that will enable you to connect to amplifiers or mixers.

So, an Audio Interface is an excellent tool for music listeners and producers. But, how does it differ from DAC?

What Is a DAC?

A DAC, or Digital to Analog Converter, is a tool that converts a digital signal to an analog signal, which can be amplified. DACs generally come preinstalled to any digital audio equipment, meaning you shouldn’t need to worry about them.

Digital sounds can be stored in several ways, such as CDs and tapes or even a computer file. But, all of this digital sound is useless to humans unless it’s converted to analog sound because we cannot interpret it. (We can’t listen to 1’s and 0’s!).

DACs come into their own when used with computer audio. For instance, they can convert any computer files to headphones or speakers and play them in the highest quality possible. However, the audio quality can be compromised when you use the soundcard on your laptop or desktop. A DAC will fix this in an instant!

Soundcards can also cause a ‘dirty noise’ when you use headphones. If this is happening to you, then a DAC is perfect for you. It’s a quick, easy, and relatively inexpensive solution, but one that will improve the quality of your sound tenfold.

To connect a DAC to your computer, all you’ll need is a USB cable. Many DACS now have built-in headphone amps, too, so you won’t have to worry about that.

DACs can also be found preinstalled on your computer’s external speakers. So, you may be using one without even realizing it!

Differences Between an Audio Interface and a DAC

  • An Audio Interface is a tool used to produce music. On the other hand, a DAC converts Digital sound into Analog sound.
  • DACs are designed more for music listeners than producers. On the other hand, an audio interface is a tool best suited for music production.
  • An Audio Interface is a more versatile tool. For example, audio interfaces have ultra-low latency, multiple analog outputs, volume control, and USB outputs. A DAC, however, contains only output for headphones and loudspeakers.
  • An audio interface has audio inputs, allowing you to plug microphones and other instruments. A DAC, however, contains no audio inputs.
  • DACs are generally more expensive than Audio Interfaces. Audio interfaces also have a more diverse price range, including budget and premium offerings.
  • A DAC is a much more passive tool than an audio interface. This is because, once set up, you just have to connect your audio device to use a DAC. On the other hand, Audio Interfaces require a lot more active management for you to use them to their full potential.

Similarities Between an Audio Interface and a DAC

  • Both DACs and audio interfaces interpret digital sound to analog sound and vice versa.
  • Both an Audio Interface and DAC are great tools for high-quality music production. Your Audio Interface will be at the heart of the production, and your DAC the brains of your playback. They go hand in hand for an excellent production set-up.
  • Both tools can be used to improve the sound in your life drastically. A DAC will make your music, and home entertainment system sounds better, while an audio interface will enhance your record sound.

For more information, check out whether you need a DAC with an amp.

Which Device Should I Buy?

If you’re looking to record music, then an Audio Interface is the clear choice for you. However, if you’re looking for an increase in sound quality, then a DAC is your best option. You’ll get better quality sound for your money than an audio interface could give you because a DAC has only one job. 

Audio Interface

An Audio Interface is best for recording music. It will open you up to a variety of new options when you’re recording, including layering. In addition, an audio interface will allow you to store your music on your computer and convert your music into computer files.

An audio interface simply has more tools for the music producer than a DAC. Considering audio interfaces can be much cheaper, they are a clear choice if music production is your goal.

DAC

When you’re looking for quality sound, choose a DAC. DACs are simple devices, ideal for listeners. These devices provide good sound quality — although not much more. With that said, the extra features of an Audio Interface are more likely to get in your way if you’re not looking for production tools.

Final Thoughts

Overall, both the Audio Interface and the DAC are two excellent tools in their respective fields. However, they are very different and should be treated this way because they’re not interchangeable. When you use them for the correct job, you will revolutionize the way you listen to or produce music.

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Vinnie

I'm Vinnie, and I'm here to support you to create your own studio at home, whether it’s for photography, recording audio, podcasts, or videos!

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