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Types of DAC connections  | DAC 101- Part 5

Types of DAC connections | DAC 101- Part 5

Most DAC connections are quite self-explanatory. If they aren't, here's a little breakdown: 

Connection
Details
RCA Outs - Analog (unbalanced)
The most common type of hifi outputs - normally resembling a pair of white/red phono plugs.
Mini-jack (1/8" / 3.5mm) out - Analog 
The most common mini-jack connection as found on smartphones, laptops etc.
1/4" Jack (Balanced or Unbalanced) - Analog 
1/4" jack connections are uncommon in hifi products. They can be found in PA amps and recording studio equipment. Since they are smaller than XLR, 1/4" jacks can be used for balanced outputs on some devices.
XLR Out - Analog 
XLRs look like a three pin - within a circle - they use regular mic lead (cannon) connection plugs. You’ll find them mostly when balanced output circuit is present - in larger high end type DACs.
S/PDIF - Digital 
This stands for ‘Sony/Philips Digital InterFace’, and these digital connections have a slightly squarish look. Often called a ‘lightpipe’ connection, S/PDIF cables let out a bright red light at their end. Good for linking DVD/Blu-Ray players or similar.
Optical (TOSLINK) - Digital 
These look like a single RCA plug, but carry stereo digital audio.
Optical (3.5mm) - Digital 
Same as above but with an ending of the same size as a minijack (3.5mm) but carrying a stereo digital audio (as found on some Mac computers). 
AES / EBU (XLR) - Digital
AES/EBU is Audio Engineering Society’s digital protocol lead, transferring a stereo digital audio feed over a single XLR to XLR digital cable.
Wordclock / Clock Sync (BNC/Coaxial)
These connections use the so called BNC type plugs, also used for some aerial / antenna-type attachments. Wordclock keeps the ticking of digital ones-and-zeros between digital devices in sync. The first device is normally set as a master, syncing connected digital devices (set as slave devices) and keeping them jitter-free (no dropouts of digital data). 
USB (A, B, mini, C-type)
USB connections are the most common way of linking an external DAC to a computer. Depending on the size of the interface, different types of USB plugs may be present.
Thunderbolt (Rare)
Thunderbolt is the way to go (into the future). DACs featuring this connection are extremely rare at present, but the protocol has slowly began replacing USB or Firewire in recording studio-grade converters due to Thunderbolt’s increased bandwidth.
Firewire 
Firewire is now pretty much a legacy connection, quickly fading away. An extremely rare digital connections for standalone DACs.

 

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