Having a DAC and integrated amp in your audio setup is an excellent way to drastically improve the sound quality of your home audio setup. But it can be quite expensive to purchase both a standalone DAC and an integrated amp.
So the question on many newbie audio enthusiasts’ minds is, “do integrated amps have DACs built into them? After doing a little bit of research, here is everything I learned.
Not all integrated amps have DACs built into them. Most integrated amps only have a preamp and a power amp. However, many new and modern integrated amps have a built-in DAC to receive and convert digital audio into an analog audio signal.
I’ll provide you with tips on how to tell if an integrated amp has a DAC and recommend some of the best integrated amps with DACs for your convenience. But first, let’s quickly take a look at the difference between an integrated amp and a DAC.
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Difference Between Integrated Amp and DAC
The difference between an integrated amp and a DAC lies in their primary functions.
An integrated amp is an audio unit that has a power amp and preamp built into it. Integrated amps are primarily responsible for amplification. They provide more power needed to drive your speakers and headphones. Thus, they boost low-power audio signals into high-power signals.
On the other hand, a DAC is responsible for changing digital audio signals into analog. A DAC takes digital signals from computers, phones, and other electronic gadgets and converts these signals into low-power analog signals. If you are interested in learning more about DACs, read this.
How to Tell if an Integrated Amp has a DAC
These days, lots of integrated amps come with DACs built into them. Thus, they can convert digital signals to analog. The best way of identifying if an integrated amp has a DAC is by looking out for digital inputs among its ports.
A DAC works by receiving digital signals from digital sources. Therefore, if an integrated amp has a DAC, it should have one or more input ports for receiving these digital signals from the digital outputs of digital devices. These ports are typically referred to as digital inputs.
These digital inputs include coaxial digital input, optical digital (Toslink) input, USB inputs, and Ethernet ports. In some rare cases, some integrated amps may come with an HDMI input.
These inputs ports enable an integrated amp with a built-in DAC to receive signals from digital sources. Therefore, the presence of these ports on your integrated amp is a signal that it has an internal DAC. Thus, you should look out for these ports in the specifications of your integrated amp.
Benefits of Having an Integrated Amp with Built-in DAC
Having an integrated amp with a built-in DAC expands the extent of your audio experience. It allows you to plug your integrated amp into virtually all analog and digital audio sources.
With the way the world has advanced, purchasing an integrated amp without a built-in DAC is one of the bad investment decisions you will make. This is because the source of most of the music we hear is from digital sources.
Thus, having an integrated amp with an internal DAC will help you maximize the use of your digital devices while saving costs as well.
However, it is worth noting that the overall benefits you may get from having an integrated amp with a built-in DAC will depend on the quality of the built-in DAC present in the integrated amp.
Are Integrated amp DACs Better than External DACs?
No, the built-in DACs found in integrated amps are not better than external DACs. External DACs perform a more accurate signal conversion than built-in DACs.
Also, most of these built-in DACs tend to introduce some amount of hissing, noise, and other issues into the sound signals they convert. Due to this, the quality of sound converted by built-in DACs does not sound as great as that which external DACs produce.
Nowadays, most of the in-built DACs found in some integrated amps are of high quality and are capable of producing a sound of relatively high quality. However, they are usually not better than external DACs.
The first reason is that built-in DACs come with many compromises. Manufacturers use lesser quality electronic components to make DACs found in integrated amps. And this is an effort to reduce the final product cost.
On the other hand, standalone DAC manufacturers usually go all out to make the best quality DACs. So there are fewer compromises when it comes to the parts and components they use in making them. This results in a DAC that sounds much better than built-in DACs.
Also, just as I said in my article titled “Integrated Amp vs Separates,” a standalone device is mostly better than a component that has been fused with other components to form a single unit. Thus, a standalone DAC is definitely better than a DAC found inside a preamp and an amp unit.
External DACs provide you with the best possible sound that is crystal-clear. This is because an external DAC will help you distinguish between the varied vocals and instrumentals present in the audio signals they convert.
This means that the sound produced by most external DACs has clearer and smoother quality than those from the built-in DACs of integrated amps.
It is rare to notice that sound from an external DAC contains unwanted noise and hissing as well. Thus, using external DACs helps to reduce and eliminate most of these issues that affect sound signals converted by built-in DACs.
These are the reasons why external DACs are better than built-in DACs found in integrated amps. Therefore, even though modern integrated amps have built-in DACs, you can still invest in an external DAC component.
When Should I Use an External DAC with My Integrated Amp
If your integrated amp does not have a built-in DAC, getting an external DAC is a no-brainer. Since you may need to connect all your speakers and devices to an integrated amp, you need to have a DAC as part of your setup.
Therefore, when you do not have a DAC already installed or built into your integrated amp, you have to go in for an external DAC to do the conversion of digital signals to analog.
Another sign that you need an external DAC is when the built-in DAC of your integrated amp keeps introducing static and unwanted noise into the sound.
As we’ve already discussed, built-in DACs found in some integrated amps are of poor quality and do not convert audio signals efficiently. Therefore, when you tend to notice unwanted noise and hissing in your sound, you should definitely get an external DAC.
External standalone DACs reduce the hissing and white noise that may come from converting audio signals. Therefore, getting an external DAC will help convert all these digital signals into analog without introducing noise into them.
Nonetheless, if your integrated amp comes with a built-in DAC, you should consider getting a DAC to get the most out of your audio system. This is because using an external DAC with your integrated amp will greatly improve the quality of sound you produce.
How to Connect a Standalone DAC to an Integrated Amp?
Connecting a standalone external DAC to your integrated amp can improve your listening experience significantly. I will walk you through how you can connect an external DAC to your integrated amp.
To connect an external DAC to an integrated amp, you need to get an RCA audio cable that has left and right inputs. This cable will serve as the link between the external DAC and the integrated amp.
To link the two devices together, connect one end of the RCA audio cable to the left and right analog output of the DAC. This port is responsible for sending out the digital signal that has been converted to analog.
Afterward, connect the other end of the RCA audio cable to the integrated amp’s left and right RCA inputs. For those who want to learn more about RCA, feel free to read this article I wrote.
In summary, this is how to connect an external DAC to an integrated amp. It is not hard to do this. Thus it wouldn’t take too much of your time to set it up.
Great and Affordable Integrated Amps with Built-in DACs
You need to choose the right integrated amp with built-in DACs for your audio system. I will introduce you to some great and affordable integrated amps with built-in DACs that can help you make the most out of your stereo system. This list will help you find the right integrated amp for your audio system.
These integrated amps come with many connections and power to meet your audio needs. Thus, with the right setup, these integrated amps will greatly improve your audio experience.
The Yamaha A-S501 Integrated Amp (on Amazon) provides you with a great balance between power and quality. The sounds it produces are bold and dynamic. They do not sound bloated and distorted as well, and it comes with remote control.
This integrated amp has inputs and output circuits that have been laid out symmetrically. It has six pairs of analog RCA inputs, including a phono input. It also has coaxial and optical digital inputs that allow you to connect to Blu-ray players, TVs, and other digital devices.
For outputs, this integrated amp has an RCA recording and a subwoofer output. It has a ¼” headphone jack as well. The Yamaha A-S501 is built with an anti-resonance chassis that is able to prevent interference and distortion from entering your signal.
This ultimately means that the sound produced by this integrated amp is always clear and clean. It is available at a moderate price as well, thus, representing the best value for your money.
This is a stereo integrated amplifier that comes with a great internal DAC. It is a powerful integrated amp that can provide close to 85 watts of power to drive speakers. This integrated amp has a phono preamp which is compatible with moving magnet cartridges and coils.
The Denon PMA-600NE (also on Amazon) is a great DAC that produces excellent sound when streaming files or playing audio from digital sources in general. One great thing about this device is its Pure Analog setting.
This setting allows you to disable the digital circuitry inside the amp, thus preserving the warmth of analog signals.
This integrated amp has a ¼” headphone jack and lots of digital and analog inputs/output ports. It has optical and coaxial digital inputs and 6 RCA analog audio inputs.
It also has two pairs of RCA recording outputs and a subwoofer output. Overall, this integrated amplifier unit is built to have a solid chassis that is resistant to vibrations. It is available at a great and affordable price as well.
In summary, not all integrated amps have a built-in DAC. Primarily, integrated amps only have a preamp and a power amp built into them. However, with technological advancement and innovation, new integrated amps have many new features including the addition of a DAC.