Do I Need A DAC for Console Gaming (PS4/PS5 or Xbox)?

Video game consoles are one of the biggest markets in the video game industry. They are also the easiest way to get into gaming since all you need is a game console. Each year, thousands of games are released and played by countless fans.  With how advanced games are these days, users want their gaming experiences to be as immersive as possible.

The Xbox Series X and Sony PS5 have great built-in audio capabilities that have reduced the need for a DAC.  Microsoft actually removed the optical output on the PS5 used to connect a digital-analog converter. Also, USB DAC/Amps are not officially supported by the Series X. However, the PS4 does have an optical audio output and its USB ports are also compatible with some DAC/Amps.

In this article, we will be discussing if gaming consoles need external DACs and DAC/Amps. And we will also be discussing if it is even possible to connect these devices to consoles in the first place. We will be going over the Xbox Series X, Sony PS4 and PS5, and the Nintendo Switch

Console player playing with a controller

Do I Need a DAC for My Gaming console?

Does Xbox Need a DAC (Series X)?

Trexonic Xbox Series X 1TB Console with Gaming Accessories Kit
Xbox Series X (Image: Amazon)

The Xbox Series X is the latest generation of Microsoft’s long-running Xbox series of consoles. It presents the latest and greatest tech from Microsoft and is able to bring the most demanding and graphics-intensive titles to life. 

With how immersive games are, users may be wondering whether or not they need external accessories to get the best gaming experience. And the best audio upgrade to your gaming setup is arguably a high-quality DAC/Amp combo and a nice pair of headphones

However, for this generation, it seems that Microsoft is shying away from giving the user options for connecting their own high-end audio system. For Series X, Microsoft has decided to remove the console’s optical output. This is understandable since there are barely any first-party accessories that use this port. 

However, this is a big problem for users who want to use their external DAC/Amp with the console. Additionally, USB DAC/Amps are not officially supported by the Series X. Some DAC/Amps that are specifically designed to work with consoles, such as the Sound Blaster G6 or Astro Mixamp, may work.

However, the majority of audiophile-grade or professional equipment will not work from the Series X’s USB port. So right out of the box, there is no way to use your desktop or portable DAC/Amp with your Xbox Series X.

Streamers who use devices such as the Go XLR will also be affected. Fortunately, there are some alternatives to make them work. 

The first method is to connect your console with a TV or display that has optical audio output. But if you are using a monitor that does not have an optical output, then you can also opt to use an HDMI audio extractor converter.

This device separates the audio and video and gives you an optical audio output which can then be connected to your DAC/Amp.

Of course, these alternatives are still not perfect. Those who use devices that can only connect via USB, such as the iFi Nano BL, will be left out.

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Also, those who own DAC/Amps with microphone inputs, such as the Schiit Hel, won’t be able to use the microphone input. 

Unless you are a streamer who needs to connect the Xbox Series X with a special device or someone who owns high impedance headphones such as the Sennheiser HD660S or Sennheiser HD800S, we do not recommend buying a DAC/Amp for your Xbox Series X. With its current state; it will take a lot of effort just to hook up an audio device with the console. 

Sennheiser HD660S (Image: Stephen Menor/WIE)

Does the PS4/PS5 Need a DAC?

PS4

PlayStation 4 Console - 1TB Slim Edition
Sony PS4 (Image: Amazon)

The PS4 is Sony’s fourth-generation home console and is also one of the best-selling consoles in the market. And while the end of its life cycle is near, it is still one of the best consoles in 2021.

It is also home to some of Sony’s most immersive titles, such as “Uncharted 4″ and “The Last of Us Part 2”.

The PS4 already has great audio out of the box. Even with just a basic audio setup, you will still have a great gaming experience. But if you have more advanced audiophile equipment or if you wish to use the PS4 for streaming, you can easily do so. 

Unlike other modern gaming consoles, the PS4 still has an optical audio output. Its USB ports are also compatible with some DAC/Amps. For best results, we highly suggest DAC/Amps that have official PS4 compatibility. 

So overall, if you want to level up your gaming experience, we highly recommend getting a DAC/Amp for your PS4. 

Playing console game with a wireless controller

PS5

Spot Sony PS5 console PlayStation 5 Ultra HD Blu-ray 8K home body sense video game console
Sony PS5 (Image: Amazon)

The PS5 is the latest and most anticipated console from Sony. It is the successor to the best-selling PS4 and will be the home of Sony’s first-party titles in the coming years. The PS5 has received a lot of hype from Sony fans because of the significant hardware improvement that it has. 

However, similar to the Xbox Series X, the PS5 has also removed the optical audio output. Furthermore, USB audio output is limited, and is unclear if Sony will address device compatibility in the future.

Previous generation devices such as the Sound Blaster X G6 and Sound Blaster X3 still work. But owners of audiophile DAC/Amps may currently be out of luck. 

The reason for the incompatibility of external DACs on the PS5 is due to the use of the USB audio class 1, similar to what they use on the PS4. And most external DACs use the USB audio class 2.

Similar to the Xbox Series X, users may purchase an HDMI audio extractor as a workaround. You can also connect the PS5 to a display that has an optical output. Of course, your DAC/Amp must-have optical input in order to work. 

Sony has plans to develop its own in-house 3D audio implementation. It is currently unclear how they will implement this. However, this may be an indication that Sony will primarily focus on first-party equipment or third-party accessories specifically made for the PS5. 

If you are a PS5 owner who hasn’t purchased a DAC/Amp or a pair of high-quality headphones, we suggest waiting to see how Sony handles the situation. 

Does the Nintendo Switch Need a DAC?

Nintendo Switch + Sennheiser HD660S (Image: Stephen Menor/WIE)

The Nintendo Switch is a lot different from the Xbox Series X and Playstation 5. It is a hybrid console that serves as both a handheld console as well as a home console.

It is also the home of Nintendo’s amazing first-party titles such as “Mario” and “The Legend of Zelda”.

Nintendo doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to audio. Most of their consoles offer decent audio output, but there is nothing to write home about.

We found that their most recent handheld, the New Nintendo 3DS, and 2DS XL, didn’t pair well with Hi-Fi headphones and IEMs. 

Fortunately, the Nintendo Switch is their best-sounding console. Most headphones, IEMs, and earbuds that we have tried have sounded great. The only time that we ran into an issue was when we wanted to use high-impedance headphones with the Switch. 

But despite having great audio quality out of the box, it still doesn’t compare to the sound of external DAC/Amps. Since the Nintendo Switch has a USB Type-C port and is Android-based, pairing it with an external audio device should be straightforward. But unfortunately, this is not the case. 

The Nintendo Switch’s compatibility with external DAC/Amps is fairly limited. Most of our DAC/Amps did not work whether we had the Switch in docked or portable mode.

There are some DAC/Amps that are compatible. However, we do not recommend limiting your options to these models since they may not be the best solution for your headphones. 

iFi Nano iDSD Black Label (Image: Stephen Menor/WIE)

For DAC/Amps that have an optical input, you can use them if your TV has an optical output or if you purchase an HDMI audio extractor. 

Some companies, such as Shanling, are producing dongles that are compatible with the Switch. But generally, there aren’t many DAC/Amps that are designed for the Nintendo Switch. 

USB audio output isn’t the Nintendo Switch’s only problem. Even Bluetooth headphones do not work and require a separate dongle to be purchased. So overall, unless you need to plug the Nintendo Switch into a high-quality set of headphones, we do not recommend purchasing a USB Type-C DAC/Amp for it. 

Verdict 

Generally, most consoles are not designed to work with external DAC/Amps. And while there are workarounds, most of them include purchasing a third-party product. And with how hard the setup process is, we highly discourage purchasing a DAC/Amp for your gaming console.

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