Gaming vs Audiophile DAC/Amp (What To Consider BEFORE You Buy)

Gaming DAC/Amp vs Audiophile DAC/Amp

If you wish to take your gaming audio experience to the next level, then one of the best upgrades that you can make is a DAC/Amp. However, buying the right DAC/Amp for your needs isn’t quite as simple as you might think. You do not just get one from a reputable brand and expect the best results.

Additionally, there are countless products out there that offer different kinds of features. There are audiophile DAC/Amps from brands that you may not have heard before as well as gaming DAC/Amps from more familiar brands such as Sennheiser and Sound Blaster. So, how do you know which one is right for you?

To briefly answer that question, gaming DAC/Amps have more gaming-oriented features and are readily compatible with gaming headsets and game consoles. Audiophile DAC/Amps, on the other hand, have fewer consumer features and focus more on delivering the best sound quality possible.

In this article, we will be talking about gaming and audiophile DAC/Amps in more detail. We will be going over the specific features that will hopefully help you determine which one is right for your setup.

What does a DAC/Amp do?

FX Audio DAC D01 and X6

 

Before we dwell deeper into this topic, let us first discuss what DAC/Amps are. A DAC or a Digital-to-Analog Converter is the brain of any audio device. This chip is responsible for translating digital data into the sound that comes out of our headphones or speakers.

A headphone amplifier, on the other hand, is the device that is responsible for feeding power to headphones or speakers. DACs and headphone amplifiers are installed in any device that can reproduce audio.

So, if our gaming PCs, Laptops, or game consoles already have a built-in DAC and Amp, then why do we need to purchase a separate device? The reason for this is because of the quality of your built-in DAC/Amp.

You have to remember that there are many different parts that go into your PC or game console. This means that most manufacturers will not spend a lot on audio components. Instead, they will focus on the more important aspects such as the CPU and GPU.

And in most cases, the built-in  DAC or sound card doesn’t sound that great. This is why it is recommended to buy an external device that is made specifically to give the best audio experience possible.

Why Choose a Gaming DAC/Amp

Creative Sound Blaster X7 High-Resolution USB DAC 600 ohm Headphone Amplifier with Bluetooth Connectivity
Creative Sound Blaster X7 (Image: Amazon)

Now that we know what DAC/Amps are, let us discuss why you should potentially go with a gaming DAC/Amp. If you do not wish to have a complicated setup and simply want a plug-and-play solution, then gaming DAC/Amps are the way to go.

For PCs, gaming laptops, and game consoles, all you have to do is plug in your gaming DAC/Amp and you are good to go. Of course, you still have to check the compatibility of your game console (especially if you own a Nintendo Switch).

But generally, you should not have any issues with using a gaming DAC/Amps. If you are unsure, make sure to check out our gaming console DAC/Amp article.

Additionally, gaming DAC/Amps have a 3.5mm microphone input that is optimized for most wired gaming headsets. There are also software features that can enhance the quality and clarity of your microphone.

EPOS | SENNHEISER GSX 1200 PRO Gaming Audio Amplifier / External Sound Card, with 7.1 Surround Sound, Daisy Chain, Gaming DAC and EQ, Headphone amp Compatible with Windows, Mac, Laptops and Desktops.
EPOS | SENNHEISER GSX 1200 PRO (Image: Amazon)

And speaking of software, most gaming DAC/Amps already have dedicated software to help you get the most out of your device. Most gaming DAC/Amps have virtual surround sound, which can theoretically help increase the sound stage and give a more lifelike audio experience.

There are also digital equalizers that can help tune the sound of your gaming headset to your liking. Most models even include presets genres such as FPS or even specific games such as Valorant or Apex Legends.

And best of all, there are gaming DAC/Amps that are manufactured by reputable brands such as EPOS (formerly Sennheiser Gaming) and Sound Blaster. To sum it up, the main advantage of going for gaming DAC/Amps is the simplicity and the gaming-focused features that you get. 

Why Choose an Audiophile DAC/Amp

ifi nano bl with hd660s

Despite the number of features that you can get with a gaming DAC/Amp, most users still recommend getting an audiophile DAC/Amp. And the reason for this is mainly due to the sound quality.

Just like gaming headsets, gaming DAC/Amps are generally inferior sounding to audiophile products. They utilize a lesser quality DAC chip and focus more on the gaming-oriented features.

Additionally, the headphone amplifiers on most gaming DAC/Amps are not the best. So if you try to use high-impedance headphones such as the Sennheiser HD660S for gaming DAC/Amps, you will most likely not get the best result.

Of course, since audiophile DAC/Amps are not specifically made for gaming, they will inherently have some faults. Unless you are using them for PC, you will most likely run into issues when connecting them with your console. Our iFi Nano iDSD Black Label, for instance, does not work with our Nintendo Switch despite utilizing USB Type-C for its connection.

Additionally, most audiophile DAC/Ampsnlack a microphone input. Aside from models such as the Schiit Hel and Mayflower Arc Mk2, you are pretty much out of luck. Although, this should not be a big problem since the microphone on most gaming headsets and the microphone input on most gaming DAC/Amps are not the best.

Conclusion

Creative 70SB181000000 Sound Blaster X3 Digital Audio Converter - Black
Creative 70SB181000000 Sound Blaster X3 (Image: Amazon)

Buying a DAC/Amp for gaming is not the most simple task. But to make things simple, here is everything you need to consider.

If you are a console player, then we highly recommend purchasing gaming DAC/Amps. It will save you all the trouble, and you will be sure that you will have a working product out of the box.

iFi NEO iDSD Desktop DAC, HiRes Bluetooth Receiver, and Balanced Headphone Amplifier
iFi NEO iDSD Desktop DAC/Amp (Image: Amazon)

But if you are a PC user, then consider the equipment you already have and the equipment you are planning to buy. If you already have a high-end gaming headset, then it will make more sense to buy a gaming DAC/Amp.

But if you own audiophile headphones or if you plan on buying high-end audiophile headphones for gaming, then audiophile DAC/Amps are the clear answer. Or if you just want to have the best audio experience, then you can’t go wrong with audiophile products.

Pros and Cons

Gaming DACs

Pros:

  • Usually has a microphone input
  • Optimized for modern gaming consoles
  • Additional features such as a virtual 7.1 Surround Sound and Digital Equalizer

Cons

  • Generally inferior sounding to audiophile DAC/Amps
  • Does not have the best headphone amplifier

Audiophile DACs

Pros 

  • Superior sounding to gaming DAC/Amps
  • Better compatibility/synergy with high-end headphones

Cons

  • Usually lacks a microphone input
  • Incompatible with most gaming consoles

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