Frequently Asked Questions
Why do I need a DAC?
The real question is why do I need a DIFFERENT DAC? If you are listening to digital music now you already HAVE a DAC. A DAC is required to have sound from digital audio. How good is that DAC? Do you even know WHERE that DAC is? Chances are you do not. It could be buried somewhere deep inside your computer, or in the radio you play your music through, or in the portable player you carry around with you in your phone.
Are you truly satisfied with how all of this is working? Does playing your favorite song give you goose bumps? Does a beautiful soloist bring a tear to your eye? Is your foot unconsciously tapping when playing a catchy rhythm? If you can’t say ‘yes’ to all of these questions then your music playback system needs help. A good DAC can be a central part of that makeover.
How does a DAC work?
DAC stands for Digital-to-Analog Converter. Your music, no matter whether stored on a removable disc, in your computer, or streamed from the cloud, is a continuous stream of 1’s and 0’s arranged in patterns. If accurately encoded from the original music and then decoded with equal or better precision, those digits can once again represent music.
While a simple enough process to describe, it is, in practice, an amazingly difficult series of events that must go right for the result to actually even sound close to the original recording.
Very basically the digital codes coming from your media, no matter where it is sourced from, are represented by very thin vertical time slices (the sample rate) which themselves are divided into horizontal steps (the number of bits) to describe the volume and frequency of the music at the instant it was encoded. If one recreates that exact tone at that exact volume from the time slice one by one at the same speed at which they were encoded, the result will be music. The precision and accuracy of this process affects the quality of the music. The higher, the better. It should make sense then that the thinner these slices, meaning a higher sample rate, and the finer the horizontal steps, meaning more bits, the better they should be able to be reconstructed into a smoother result.
What is Jitter Control?
In the basic description of a DAC given above the terms accuracy and precision are used to describe the width and timing of the slices. These inaccuracies are known as JITTER. Essentially a vibration of the time slice itself making it slightly imprecise. All efforts must be made to reduce this vibration to as close as zero as possible, in order to make these slices as distinct and definitive as can be. As one can imagine, the thinner the time slices (meaning the higher the sample rate) the more important the stability of these slices must be. Thus, to achieve higher resolutions the clock stability is very important, so jitter must be eliminated as much as possible.
Why is the format of the file I want to play important?
In the early days of digital audio the CD at 16 bits, 44.1KHz sample rate, was the de facto digital standard by which we all played. While flawed, there was plenty of potential to be realized as the recording and playback technology improved; and improve it did. In time, however, a new storage medium, solid state memory was envisioned as a way to store music for portable playback. Memory was expensive in those days so a way to store the music in a more compacted way had to be developed. Somehow the companies involved decided it was okay to hack away at the music and remove what they thought were unnecessary parts of the recording which “most people would not notice.” The result was a whole generation of portable audio players designed to reproduce the highly compressed MP3 format. While severely crippled with respect to fidelity, an industry was born which quickly supplanted the importance of sound quality with that of convenience and efficiency.
Fortunately there is a resurgence of interest in how digital files sound. Memory pricing has dropped considerably, so file size is not so important. Internet bandwidths have increased, decreasing file download speed even further. Uncompressed file formats like FLAC, WAV and AIFF can be downloaded quickly and easily stored and manipulated in ways that could not even be considered just a couple of years ago.
Can I connect speakers to the DDP-1?
The DDP-1 can do many things, but it can only run your speakers if they have their own amplifiers in them, which many “computer speakers” do. Unfortunately MOST speakers of that type are not worth using if you’re interested in hearing “real” music. If you have no choice, of course they can be used, but if you have the opportunity to add an amplifier (Audio Alchemy makes several) and a good pair of speakers, you should. If not, consider a fine set of headphones, you can run them from the DDP-1 very well. If you already have speakers and an amplifier, the DDP-1 will seamlessly fit into your system between your audio source and your amplifier, significantly improving the sound quality your existing system can achieve.
What music players or storage devices can I connect to the DDP-1
With 7 digital connections and 3 analog connects the DDP-1 can be used as a preamp for just about any device, including but not limited to the following:
· Desktop or laptop computer: The USB output to the DDP-1 USB input, or the COAX or OPTICAL digital output into the matching input on DDP-1, or the analog “LEFT” and “RIGHT” output into the analog RCA inputs on DDP-1
· TV: OPTICAL digital output into the matching input on DDP-1, or the analog “LEFT” and “RIGHT” output into the analog RCA inputs on DDP-1
· iPhone/iPad/iPod: Lighting output to the DDP-1 USB input, or the analog “LEFT” and “RIGHT” output into the analog RCA inputs on DDP-1
· CD Player: COAX or OPTICAL output into the matching input of DDP-1, or the analog “LEFT” and “RIGHT” output into the analog RCA inputs on DDP-1
· Turntable: Typical phono cartridges on turntables are very low level analog signals which must be attached to a special preamplifier designed just for phono before being attached to the DDP-1 (or any other preamp for that matter). Audio Alchemy will be making such a device in the near future. These days there are some turntables with built-in pre-preamplifiers or even USB outputs for some of the highly integrated “convenience” products. We do not recommend products like these due to quality issues.
Is the DDP-1 compatible with my amp?
DDP-1 should be compatible with virtually all outboard power amplifiers. If you have any doubt please contact your dealer.
Why do you offer an additional power supply?
DDP-1 comes standard with a power supply suitable to operate it to full specifications and sound wonderful. To exceed these levels and to reach performance competitive with products many times the cost of the DDP-1, one can add the PS-5 upgrade power supply. PS-5 is a highly sophisticated product in itself, consisting of both digital and analog-specific highly filtered voltage generators. The parts used simply would not have fit inside DDP-1 had we even wanted to, and would have pushed the price of the product higher than we preferred.
What is your warranty?
Audio Alchemy products extend a 2 year warranty for parts and labor to their original owners. Please carefully read the warranty statement in the owner’s manual for the exciting details.
Is this the same Audio Alchemy from the 90's?
Yup, it’s us, or at least most of us. Nearly all of the engineering staff from the original Audio Alchemy are the involved and have continued to work together since that time, developing hundreds of products for other brands in the consumer electronics market.
If you are using an Apple Mac, no driver is required. If you use a PC with your DDP-1 and connect them via USB you will most likely need to load our USB audio device driver onto your computer. This driver is required in order for your computer to correctly connect to, and communicate with the DDP-1. This is normal for any hardware one connects to a PC; similar to a printer or any other computer peripheral. See the DDP-1 instructions for details of where to download it and how it is installed. You should also consider a high-resolution music player application like J River, which will help you correctly set all of the parameters within Windows which control output resolution.