Wireless headphones have become very popular with both audiophiles and general consumers. More people are convinced to own one due to the convenience that it provides. The only downside that they have is that they do not sound as good as wired headphones.
However, audiophiles know that high-quality sources such as DACs play a big role in determining the overall sound. This may lead them to think that DACs can also improve the sound quality of wireless headphones.
However, is this truly the case? Do wireless headphone users need to purchase an external accessory to fully enjoy their headphones?
Join us as we delve deeper and answer this question. We’ll go through what a DAC is and its benefits to traditional wired audiophile-grade headphones. We’ll also discuss whether or not it is even possible to connect a DAC to wireless headphones.
And of course, we will help you decide whether you should purchase an external DAC or DAC/Amp for your wireless headphones or if you should skip the purchase.
Do Bluetooth Wireless Headphones Need a DAC?
What is a DAC?
Before we start discussing if we need a DAC for wireless headphones, let us first define what a DAC is and what it is used for.
A DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter) an important component that converts digital signals to analog signals found in any device that can produce sound. Without this component, we won’t be able to hear music stored on our devices.
You can purchase an external DAC to improve the sound quality of your device. These DACs use higher-quality DAC chips compared to the ones installed in our devices. A computer is a source of sound interference, and the hissing sounds will also be avoided with the help of an outboard DAC.
You can purchase a variety of DACs for your intended purpose. Standalone DACs and DAC/amp combos are the ones to purchase for your computer setup. These DACs are more capable of improving the sound quality. If you want to enjoy better quality music while traveling, you can purchase either a portable DAC or Dongle since both are small in size.
Does a DAC Improve Sound Quality?
Generally speaking, a regular DAC will not improve sound quality. In fact, most devices already have a built-in DAC. But if we are talking about audiophile-grade DACs, then yes, there is a significant improvement.
This is because Hi-Fi DACs are capable of decoding higher bitrate files as well as proprietary codecs such as MQA.
Additionally, Hi-Fi DACs offer cleaner sound to your headphones. This is because they do not mesh together with other electronic components and are therefore less prone to electronic noises.
Of course, this will highly depend on the DAC chip used as well as the implementation of these DAC chips. But generally, Hi-Fi DAC chips will beat most consumer-level DAC chips found on most electronics.
Do Wireless Headphones have DACs?
Wireless headphones are also electronic devices. And since there is no wire connecting your audio source and headphones, all electronics, including DACs, are found inside the headphones.
Of course, these internal DACs are not on the same level as external Hi-Fi DACs. The internal DACs found inside most wireless headphones are very small and are specifically designed to work with the headphones. They do not have components as advanced found on most Hi-Fi DACs and are therefore not as good sounding.
This leads us to the question. Will wired external DACs benefit wireless headphones? But before we get there, let us first find out if wireless headphones are compatible with DACs in the first place.
Can I use a DAC or DAC/Amp with my Wireless Headphones?
The answer to this question depends on which wireless headphones you have. Generally, Bluetooth headphones with a 3.5mm jack, such as the Sony WH1000XM4, are compatible with most external DACs and DAC/Amps.
However, there are some wireless headphones that either do not have a headphone jack or simply do not play well with wired sources. A good example is the new Apple AirPods Max.
Another example is the Hifiman Ananda BT. Despite being an audiophile product, it does not have a headphone jack and is only capable of connecting via USB Type-C. For both of these cases, it would be impossible to use them with a DAC simply because they cannot be used in wired mode (3.5mm).
Do I need a DAC for my Wireless Headphones?
If an external DAC makes your headphones sound better, then the natural assumption would be that they would also make your wireless headphones sound better. And while this is a subjective topic, we think that dedicated DACs aren’t that great for wireless headphones.
As we have discussed in our dedicated article, wireless headphones are generally inferior to wired headphones because of their design. The drivers used in most wireless headphones are made to be efficient, meaning they will work with very little amplification. As a result, they cannot match the complexity and performance ceiling of wired headphones.
Some headphones, such as the Drop Panda that utilize planar magnetic drivers, may benefit from an external DAC or DAC/Amp. But most wireless headphones will see little to no improvement when paired with a higher quality source.
Additionally, using your wireless headphones with a DAC or DAC/Amp pretty much makes them a wired pair. This defeats the purpose of owning wireless headphones that are free from the confinement of wires. And of course, aside from losing the wireless feature, you also do not get huge benefits for most wireless pairs.
If you already have a DAC or DAC/Amp combo, then feel free to use them with your wireless headphones. However, if you wish to purchase a DAC/Amp solely for your wireless headphones, then we highly advise skipping the DAC. Instead, buy a high-quality pair of headphones first before investing in a DAC or DAC/Amp.
Stephen is a musician, cinematographer, and headphone enthusiast who is passionate about reviewing audio equipment. He has been playing guitar for at least a decade, which introduced him to professional recording equipment such as headphones and in-ear monitors. With the help of reviews and online content, he was able to learn the ins and outs of the hobby. His goal is to give back to the community by providing quality content to help others enjoy the beautiful (and expensive) world of audio.
Favorite Headphones: Sennheiser HD660s