DAC or Network Music Player: Which is best for home audio?

Converting data into an analogue signal is the name of the game for digital music systems. So plugging in a dedicated audiophile DAC can only improve things right? Hold your horses. Here’s why you should be considering a Network Music Player instead.

Why some corners just aren’t worth cutting.

Have you ever regretted cutting the odd corner? I have: the plasterer whose rates seemed too good to be true turned out to be worse than I could ever have imagined, and I had to pay a second plasterer to come and fix the mess.

I’m sure you’ve had similar experiences. Can I offer a bit of advice?

Don’t do it with a DAC.

Your audio system’s Achilles heel

Building your ideal music system takes effort. Even improving your computer’s audio performance means careful choice and research. There’s a pride in getting it right though; optimising performance that’ll let the music shine.

I’d urge you though: don’t undo your best efforts by plumping for a stand-alone DAC. Let me explain.

Digital Audio Converters are a key part in the delivery of all digital music; it is the circuitry that turns digital information into an analogue signal that your system can play.

Naturally, tech companies have zeroed in on this single area as the crucial element to great sound: it is easy to explain, box up and sell. And so the stand-alone audiophile ‘DAC’ is born. Drop it into your hi-fi system or plug it into your laptop’s USB port and you’re done.

Sounds great, but the reality is that a DAC will tie down your music in ways you may not have considered…

For starters, DACs can be a real pain if you want them to work with your other devices. A DAC needs to be physically tied to your computer, which therefore needs to be in the same room as your hi-fi system.

If you want to control and choose music using a phone or tablet—or have the whole family accessing music around your home using a device of their choice—you’re out of luck. So hunch yourself over that laptop and get used to it. That's the window to your music collection from now on.

They’re also very limited because they’ve been designed to do one job and one job only. Their hardware is designed for that sole task, and not what you might want it to do in the future.

So if you want multi-room audio, or maybe surround sound, or would like digital audio from sources other than your computer, your DAC will be obsolete.

That means it is the kind of product that may seem like a good buy in the short term, but it is likely to be a poor investment in the longer term. It’ll be the Achilles heel of your audio system, like the plasterer who comes along and ruins your room. It undoes all your efforts to get the ultimate in audio not just today but for years to come.

Don’t compromise on quality

My father Ivor proved in 1973 that the source is the most important part of any hi-fi system, because any musical information that’s lost from the source is gone forever. In engineering terms, the DAC is the source of your hi-fi system. It is as important as the turntable is for vinyl.

Delivering precise digital to analogue conversion is difficult. It requires the use of the best available components, but also extreme care and attention to the engineering of the power, the clocking system and the output circuitry. Otherwise the sound is compromised before it even arrives at your music system.

Most DACs are low-spec consumer devices, whose quality is further impaired by the computer they connect to. They’re built on the basis of price rather than performance. The music you hear is very different from the original source, because musical information is being lost along the way.

Connecting a sub-standard DAC to your high-end audio system is rather like hiring a cut-price plasterer to renovate your dream home. It might be cheap, but you won’t be cheerful about the result.

Network Music Player vs DAC: what’s the difference?

Trust me on this: get yourself a network music player, not a stand-alone DAC. You can thank me later.

A network player—or music streamer—such as the Linn DS, is a dedicated hi-fi component designed to work without being attached to directly to your a computer. It sits within your hi-fi system, and connects to your home network. It has got all the dedicated processing power it needs onboard and can handle any music you throw at it, wherever it is: streaming services, ripped CDs, YouTube, high-res music files… it is all accessible.

You can choose what to play by using your tablet or phone. Hell, your family and friends can use their devices too, browsing and selecting music seamlessly without a laptop in sight.

Further network players can be added into as many rooms of your home as you like, and all can access the same central store of music and share streaming services too. You can even bounce music between them if you want.

We use very powerful hardware without compromise or trade-offs: the most precise clock, dedicated power sources, and bespoke output circuitry that treat digital music with the respect it deserves.

Our mission is to remove every obstacle between your ears and the original performance, to deliver the most accurate, involving sound you’ve ever experienced. And that requires more than off-the-shelf components. Our products are precision engineered to extraordinary tolerances to deliver sound without compromise.

And the Linn DS isn’t just designed to deliver the best of today’s audio technology, it is designed to bring you the best audio technology for years to come too. That’s no hollow marketing claim. Like every Linn product, we build the Linn DS with the future in mind. Both the hardware and software are fully upgradeable, so when technology improves so can your music system.

Just try and get that from a DAC.

Why not compare them for yourself? Book a demonstration at one of our Linn Specialists and get hands on with a Network Music Player.