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Topic: Internal DACs in laptops, desktops, and phones (Read 850 times) previous topic - next topic

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  • mmrkaic
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Internal DACs in laptops, desktops, and phones
Dear colleagues, I have a few questions about internal DACs in laptops and desktops.

1a. How can one identify the DAC chip inside a laptop, desktop, or a phone? Is there some software that can probe the chip to identify it?

1b. Is there an online database of computers and prones with their DAC chips?

2. Why are internal DACs so often maligned? Is there any scientifically defensible reason for this attitude or is it just audiophoolery?

3. Where can one find data on measured performance of internal DACs? I mean, not just the manufacturers' data sheets, but actual measurements, that take into account the implementation.

Many thanks in advance for you answers.

  • saratoga
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Re: Internal DACs in laptops, desktops, and phones
Reply #1
It'll be in device manager in windows.

The model number of the DAC will tell you very little about performance.

Usually output is fine, but low impedance headphones may have issues.

  • 4season
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Re: Internal DACs in laptops, desktops, and phones
Reply #2
Ken Rockwell posted iPhone 5 audio measurements awhile back:

http://www.kenrockwell.com/apple/iphone-5/audio-quality.htm

Take his editorials and subjective comments for what they're worth, but it appears that he's got himself a very nice R&S analyzer.

Re: Internal DACs in laptops, desktops, and phones
Reply #3
Take his editorials and subjective comments for what they're worth, but it appears that he's got himself a very nice R&S analyzer.
Even more so if you consider his unorthodox and contentious stance regarding RAW shooting (practically: "RAW is for losers") or in-camera image manipulation.
Listen to the music, not the media.

Re: Internal DACs in laptops, desktops, and phones
Reply #4
@xnor 
 put his equally wacky, subjective claims regarding the so-called "tubey sound" through their paces a few years back on this thread.
Listen to the music, not the media.

Re: Internal DACs in laptops, desktops, and phones
Reply #5

1a. How can one identify the DAC chip inside a laptop, desktop, or a phone? Is there some software that can probe the chip to identify it?
As has been correctly pointed out, the Windows Device Manager usually tells much. It gives the name of the device driver for the audio interface, which is usually specific to a device or small familiy of related devices. Also check the spec sheet for the comptuer which may be more enlightening.

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1b. Is there an online database of computers and prones with their DAC chips?

Nothing that has even a tiny fraction of whats out there.

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2. Why are internal DACs so often maligned?

Originally, say back through about 2005 internal DACs in PCs could be pretty grim. Fpr example, there was a commonly used family of chips that was only 8 bit hardware. By 2010 that had largely turned around. There are still losers, and there are still situations where the built in chip goes bad, and there is a valid market for devices that will restore the sound function in those cases.



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Is there any scientifically defensible reason for this attitude or is it just audiophoolery?

As was pointed out, some internal audio subsytems are not at their best driving low impedance headphones or low sensitivity headphones. Inexcpensive headphone amps like the  Topping unit I use can be a big help. Most of them are USB powered, and you may want to use an inexpensive USB power supply with them to provide reliable operation and freedom from ground loops.

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3. Where can one find data on measured performance of internal DACs? I mean, not just the manufacturers' data sheets, but actual measurements, that take into account the implementation.

Many reviews are online. Search for Rightmark, the name of software that automagially runs a pretty useful test suite.

Or many times you can just loop the audio output to the line audio input with a 3.5 mm jumper cable, and run your own Rightmark test as the software is a free download and pretty easy to use.



  • mmrkaic
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Re: Internal DACs in laptops, desktops, and phones
Reply #6
Many thanks, great answers.

I tried to do a simple loop back using ARTA software to measure my on board sound card. But in my experience you really need an attenuator in the loop to avoid clipping.


  • saratoga
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Re: Internal DACs in laptops, desktops, and phones
Reply #7
You can lower the volume if its clipping generally.

  • DVDdoug
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Re: Internal DACs in laptops, desktops, and phones
Reply #8
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I tried to do a simple loop back using ARTA software to measure my on board sound card. But in my experience you really need an attenuator in the loop to avoid clipping.
If you're looping-back from headphone-out to mic-in on a laptop, that's not going to be very useful.   A line-level or headphone-level signal is something like 100 times higher than a mic-level signal, the mic input is often mono, and the mic preamp is often noisy and may have other "weaknesses".

Re: Internal DACs in laptops, desktops, and phones
Reply #9
You can lower the volume if its clipping generally.

I think that optimizing both playback and record gain is fair play.

I also have two old NHT Pro PVC level control boxes which are balanced passive volume controls. They came  with an OK quad pot, but mine have been upgraded with Alps RK40 larger diameter, higher precision plastic pots.  It is pretty linear over a 40 dB range, and solves a lot of these problems.


  • Audible!
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Re: Internal DACs in laptops, desktops, and phones
Reply #10
It's much less common with laptops, but quality technical review sites like anandtech will use RMAA loopback tests to measure the dynamic range of the analog outputs and inputs of desktop motherboards. That particular site also does DPC latency testing, which is relevant to audio processing.

Happily, nearly all of the motherboard manufacturers are putting real effort into the implementation of audio subsystems and using top-notch capacitors (even high power, high impedance-capable headphone amps). The principal CODEC manufacturer (Realtek) has put a lot of effort into making extremely technically capable PHYs, which is especially true of their "high-end" ALC1220 chip. As such it's possible to have integrated audio that is measurably superior to good standalone cards of a few years ago if you choose the right (typically higher-end) motherboard.