DAC stands for “digital to analog conversion.” John Darko has been one of the most consistent reviewers in this category since 2016.
Darko compares rating DACs to trying to hit a moving target. You can find upgraded models, re-contextualization, newcomer perspectives, and the RRP movement all provide influences in this category.
Although the John Dark DAC index was not meant to be a definitive assessment of every possibility, many people used this information to create their own audiophile experiences at home.
It is important to remember that every system has unique features that alter the sound profile produced. The information provided by Darko is from his opinion based on how items perform with his personal system.
John Darko DAC Index Is Now Password Protected
The Darko DAC index is now a Patreon perk. That means it is now behind a paywall if you want to get access to the information. The cost of being an official all-access patron is $10 per month. In return, you’ll also receive exclusive music recommendations and video content.
Over the years, many visitors enjoyed checking the Darko DAC index, including his rankings for music streamers. In 2020, John Darko reconstructed the content to become a Patreon-only service.
Patreon changes the ways that art gets valued. Over 200,000 creators are currently on the platform. It’s a place where fans become active participants in the work created to generate a recurring income stream.
In exchange for this freedom, artists like John Darko can do their best work while financially stable.
Although the cost is now something that pushes some visitors away from the DAC index, it does help him produce better content with more reliability.
It allows him to avoid conforming to popular taste or ad-based monetization to focus on his passion.
If you don’t mind looking at older rankings for the DAC index, Hypertrap offers the Darko DAC index up until May 10, 2017.
You can cycle through several years of rankings on that site, with the first entry listed as October 27, 2013.
In his final free ranking on Hypertrap, Darko lists the Aqua Hifi La Scala MKII as the best choice.
How Does Darko Create His DAC Index?
Darko uses English football structures to rank the various DAC options he tries at home. The best products are always listed as a “Premier League” choice.
After reviewing the best, you’ll typically find Divisions 1-6 offering a handful of choices. If more options are available, you’ll find the DAC index giving you a “here’s the rest” listing of everything seen and tested in the marketplace.
On the May 2017 ranking, he lists only the Aqua Hifi La Scala MKII and Aqua Hifi La Scala MKII Optologic as the only Premier League options.
When you can settle for Division 1, he offers five choices for consideration.
- Chord Hugo TT
- PS Audio DirectStream
- PS Audio DirectStream Jr.
- Resonessence Labs INVICTA Mirus
- Mytek Brooklyn
Several additional choices are available in the lower divisions, along with a few listed as available, but not worth a formal ranking.
You can always click on the links from John Darko for a deeper review of the product based on your operations.
Finally, Darko always ends the DAC index by saying that people should proceed with caution. The information is only one person’s opinion, so each reader should “salt to taste.”
Do I Need to Have a DAC?
Before you spend any money on a DAC, it helps look at what you’ve got before losing cash needlessly.
A DAC converts a digital audio signal into an analog one. The purpose of this transition is to play the sound over speakers or headphones. These chips are found within the source component that you’re using for listening, such as a smartphone.
Standalone DACs were produced as a response to the poor audio quality found in consumer-grade products.
When people started using computers as an audio source, the output stages and converters were quickly exposed as some of the weakest links within the audio chain.
Some DACs would have poor filtering. Others didn’t have the correct shielding, allowing them to introduce noise.
You can even find some poorly regulated power supplies when looking at the history of audiophile listening in the past 25 years.
There were tons of issues that came about in the 1990s for those who wanted a hi-fi listening experience. Low sample rates, terrible MP3 encoding, and even codec problems contributed to a lackluster listening experience.
Is it any wonder why so many people settled for cassettes or skipping CD players back then? Who would want to listen to digital files that sounded worse than AM radio?
Digital music has come a long way since its infancy. With improved technology, even the cheapest chips can still have their shortcomings become inaudible. We have gone past the point of diminishing returns.
The average person can use a portable device with their headphones and enjoy the experience. It’s only when you have noise to remove from the system that a DAC becomes necessary.
How Does a DAC Work?
All audio forms a compression wave when it gets played back. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing an MP3 or one of your favorite vinyl records.
When a computer records an analog signal, it displays it as a waveform. That means “X” on most charts represents time while “Y” is the amplitude, or how powerful the wave is when active.
Each wave provides different crests and valleys, which we call a “cycle.” When you can count how many of them are per second, you’ll get the frequency rating in a measurement called “Hertz.” You’ll see this information listed as “Hz” on most audio equipment.
Higher notes equate to higher frequencies.
When you have a DAC included as part of your audio setup, it takes the digital samples in a stored recording and turns them back into a continuous analog signal.
This process happens because the equipment translates the digital bits from the file into electrical signals at thousands of times per second – which are its “samples.”
The DAC then outputs a wave that intersects all the points to create an accurate listening experience – at least, it does if it makes the Premier League list from the John Darko DAC Index.
DAC technology is imperfect. The problems can include jitter, narrow range, limited bitrates, and high-frequency mirroring when the equipment doesn’t get things right.
What Bitrate Should I Use for Listening to Music?
If you have audio files listed with a 320-kbps rate, you should be fine listening to any 16-bit files. It’s what most online stores use today, including Amazon.
The average person out there can’t tell the difference between a 320-kbps file and the first one underneath it.
Some audiophiles prefer FLAC files, which works well for archival purposes. It is less practical to use it for mobile listening.
Although that might not have been the case in the 1990s, the compression standards can do a lot more work with less effort. Low bitrates are not an immediate indication that your listening experience will be terrible.
FAQ on DAC Technology
◼️ Would headphones with high electrical resistance benefit from a USB DAC?
Yes – but only if your headphone amp has reasonable power output. The DAC would help drive it to get the most out of the tech. For most people, a standalone amplifier also gets the job done.
◼️ Is it worth getting a DAC if I have an older phone?
On smartphones like the Pixel 2, a DAC makes sense because it doesn’t have a built-in option and the dongle offers a strange sample rate. The errors or noise you hear in those situations are typically minor, which means you’d only hear it during a quiet listening session.
◼️ Should I use a DAC with Bluetooth® technology?
Bluetooth headphones already come with a DAC chip. That’s what handles the digital signal conversion to an analog one as the information gets sent to the headphone drivers. Adding another one would create unnecessary redundancies.
A Final Thought on the John Darko DAC Index
I’ve had a great time following Darko’s DAC index over the years. It’s helped me to select equipment more efficiently when I’ve wanted to upgrade my listening experience.
I can honestly say I don’t always agree with Darko. What I love about his perspective is that he often sorts out the worst items for me so that I can spend more time going through the best product available.
Although I will say that a FLAC file with 1,400-Kbps or higher sounds impressive, it isn’t always practical to take a bunch of music on a smartphone or mobile player at that level.
With space limited, using a 15 MB 320-Kbps file makes more sense than one that takes up three times the storage.
Is it worth spending $10 per month to access the John Darko DAC index? That’s up to you.
Since the update, I’ve enjoyed the occasional investment, but you can also compare this equipment online to find the right specs for your system.