USB DAC or Soundcard: Which Should You Choose?

USB DAC or Soundcard

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Which should you choose, USB DAC or soundcard? These two devices are popular audio converters, but they come with advantages and differences.

It is critical for audiophiles to understand their basics and choose the most optimal audio decoding device. It will give you a better listening experience and audio quality. 

This post will discuss USB DACs and soundcards’ fundamental characteristics to highlight their core differences. Based on the information provided, you can choose a more suitable option for your needs. 

An Overview Of USB DAC

DAC stands for digital to analog converter. As its name suggests, USB DAC is an audio decoding device that converts the audio to analog signals on computers. It is not integrated but connected to the computer via the USB port. 

The cost of USB DACs is not low at all. A common DAC can cost between a few hundred to even thousands of dollars. Although the laptops or mobile phones have built-in DACs, they are nowhere as capable as the external USB DACs.  

The original audio signal will be decoded by the IC chips and become the analog signals we can hear. These devices allow you to play the audio signals in higher resolutions, thus increasing the overall audio quality. 

An Overview Of the Soundcard

Soundcard is the term used to describe devices capable of decoding the audio signals, just like the USB DAC. Nearly all laptops or phones that can play music and generate sound have built-in soundcards.

However, these parts are of very low quality and cannot decode the high-resolution audio signals or formats. They also generate a lot of noise in the usage process. 

These reasons lead to the invention of the detachable soundcard. They can connect with the computer and function in a similar way to the USB DACs. 

These devices certainly bring superior conversion and sound quality. In addition,  the external soundcards generate less noise and provide cleaner sound, giving a more satisfying listening experience. 

What Are The Differences Between USB DAC and Soundcard?

Features

USB DAC

Soundcard

Conversion

Digital sound signal to analog 

Digital sound signal to analog 

Advantage

Sound Quality

Versatility

Form

Integrated or external USB DACs

Build-in or detachable soundcards

Connection

USB port

USB connection

Ideal For

Gaming

Streaming and content creating

Addition Features

IC chips

Analog to Digital converter

Micro pre-amp

 DSP units

Number Of Channels

Commonly 2 channels (L, R)

Has potentially more than 2 channels

Audio Quality And Features

As the built-in USB DACs or soundcards in your phones and computer don’t have very high quality, I will only cover the external types. 

In short, the detachable USB DAC gives you more excellent sound quality, while the sound card focuses more on utility. Both categories’ main function is to convert the audio signals into analog signals so users can hear and play. 

However, a soundcard commonly comes with more features, such as the micro-preamp and DPS monitoring units. They also have higher numbers of channels compared to the common L and R channels on USB DACs. 

As a result, soundcards bring lower latency and more utilities. In addition, if you use a high-quality professional soundcard device, it will provide even greater sound quality than most USB DACs. 

In other words, the soundcards are a combination of DAC and other additional features. They provide users with more utilities in the usage process. Meanwhile, USB DAC simply does a single task: decoding and converting the audio signals. 

Pros And Cons Of The USB DAC and Soundcard

Here are the advantages and setbacks of the two options to help you make the decision easier. 

USB DAC

Pros

  • External USB DACs don’t need the additional drivers and operate as a single unit. So users will get a more straightforward setup.
  • It is compatible with various connection types (Bluetooth, USB on computers, or RCA out on speakers).

Cons

  • High prices
  • You may need an additional amplifier.

Soundcard

Pros

  • More affordable prices 
  • Greater value for money
  • It has many other helpful features

Cons

  • You may get more sound distortion and interference
  • The detachable soundcards generate more noise

Final Verdict: Which Should You Choose?

To sum up, soundcards are the more optimal option as it gives you more features and utilities at lower prices.

If you are a hard-core gamer and want to enjoy the best audio when watching films, go for professional soundcard products. I hope that the information provided can help you make the right purchase decision. Thank you for reading!

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