In recent years, Sonos has revolutionized the way that many people listen to music. A wireless system that allows for multi-room listening, Sonos offers multiple options for audio playback.
Can you use a DAC with Sonos?
In a nutshell, yes. Using an external DAC is possible, and is likely to improve the overall sound quality of your Sonos audio system. There are various ways that you can do this. As a matter of fact, without a DAC of some description, Sonos would be unable to function.
A DAC performs the vital function of converting the digital signal produced by a sound source, into an analog audio signal which can then be amplified and played back through speakers.
In this article, you’ll learn how you can use a DAC with Sonos, why it is beneficial, and whether it is better to opt for an external device or stick with the pre-installed DAC.
DACs & Sonos
Not only is it possible to use a DAC with Sonos, but it is also necessary if you want to play music through speakers. Sonos allows for multi-room control over your audio system, and therefore it relies on a DAC to operate effectively.
To emphasize the importance of a DAC, consider this.
Any device that is capable of audio playback, whether it be a computer, smartphone, or MP3 player, will have a built-in DAC. Granted, these devices are often of lesser quality in comparison to standalone DACs, but they still have the capability required.
So if your Sonos system is linked to a smartphone or computer, there is already a DAC present. The question of whether it is better to upgrade to a dedicated DAC to improve the overall quality of your Sonos system is one that requires further inspection.
DACs and Sonos go hand in hand.
When you select a song on your chosen device for playback, it is presented in a digital format. This means it consists solely of a series of 0s and 1s. Speakers and headphones are incapable of playing digital signals, so a conversion process is required.
This conversion is performed by a DAC. Regardless of whether the DAC you use with Sonos is the inbuilt one your device offers or an external one, the conversion is the same. With that being said, some DACs are more efficient at what they do than others.
The DAC takes the digital signal and converts it into an analog waveform.
At this point, the signal is too weak to be played back through speakers, and therefore it requires amplification. This amplification is provided by an inbuilt amp, which boosts the signal to the optimal point so that the speakers connected to Sonos can play it.
All things considered, Sonos would be rendered useless without an accompanying DAC.
You can choose to either use an inbuilt version or upgrade to an external standalone unit in an attempt to improve the conversion process and consequently boost the overall audio quality.
This decision is subjective to a degree, and many audiophiles would argue that there is a significant benefit that can be attained if you use an external DAC with Sonos. However, the other side of the argument is that the improvement is barely noticeable compared to the inbuilt DAC in your smartphone or computer.
I have written an article that discusses using a DAC with powered speakers. You can read it here.
Using an External DAC With Sonos
Whether external DACs offer benefits is a divisive topic amongst audio-enthusiasts.
Some claim that pairing one with Sonos is likely to get the best possible performance out of your audio system. Others fail to see much improvement and consider the onboard DAC in an audio device to be sufficient.
It’s fairly straightforward to use an external DAC with Sonos. The fact that these devices have been specifically designed to improve audio quality, and maximize the digital-to-analog conversion process, indicates that they are worth considering.
One issue you may run into when looking for an external DAC to use with Sonos is the sheer volume of options available.
There are several different styles of DACs on the market. Some are better suited to driving headphones, while others are more compatible with a home stereo system that uses Sonos.
The most common type of external DAC, and perhaps the best suited to being paired with Sonos, is the desktop USB variety.
These DACs connect to your computer via USB and often require external AC power. The thing that makes them highly compatible with Sonos, is the line-level outputs they offer.
Line-level outputs are essential for connecting your DAC to an amplifier, or powered speakers. The majority of Sonos sound systems will use either powered speakers or an amp. Additionally, desktop USB DACs also commonly offer headphone outputs for personal listening.
USB DACs And Sonos
Another common type of DAC is the portable USB variety.
These are less compatible with Sonos and are better suited to headphone listening. They often draw power from the USB port of a computer, and some are battery-powered and can therefore be used on-the-go.
The third type of DAC, which operates wirelessly, can also be used with Sonos.
These devices broadcast digital content into an audio system that is situated in another room. If you intend to use Sonos for multi-room listening, this type of DAC is your best option. The DAC connects to a computer smartphone, or tablet via Bluetooth, or using a transmitter system.
The wireless range of these DACs varies greatly. For a sound system that spans multiple rooms across a wide distance, pairing one of these wireless devices with Sonos is recommended.
Component Hi-Fi DACs And Sonos
There is also a less common, but highly effective type of DAC that can be used with Sonos.
These are known as component Hi-Fi DACs and are designed specifically to link your home audio system together. They often house complex inner circuitry and are ideal for Sonos systems that use two-stereo channels.
Component Hi-Fi DACs boast the widest range of connectivity options. They come with several features, which include wireless connection, compatibility with external devices, and a range of streaming possibilities.
In the table below, you can see a summary of the different types of DACs.
|DAC Type||Sonos Compatible||Main Uses|
|Portable USB||No||Powering headphones|
|Desktop USB||Yes||Powering Speakers|
|Component Hi-Fi||Yes||Powering audio system|
Getting The Best Out Of Your Sonos System
Sonos is a great tool for any audio system.
It improves the functionality of the system and offers numerous convenient benefits. Now that we’ve established that you can indeed use a DAC with Sonos, let’s look into the ways to get the best out of the combination.
The first thing that is likely to impact the audio quality that Sonos and a DAC are capable of combining to produce, is the music source itself. Sonos is available both as an app for tablets or smartphones or as a program for computers and laptops.
A DAC is essentially only able to produce the level of detail that the sound source device allows it to. The device itself must have the capabilities to produce a good standard of signal quality for the DAC and Sonos to do their jobs effectively.
High-quality streaming services that are integrated into your Sonos sound system offer sonic benefits.
The better the resolution of the music you play, the higher quality it will be once the DAC has converted it from digital to analog. Some streaming services label themselves as “lossless”, which means they play MP3 audio without compromising file size.
You can use a DAC with Sonos, but the speakers you use will ultimately play a large role in determining the overall audio quality. Even if you purchased the best possible external DAC, without a good set of speakers, you wouldn’t get the full benefits.
If you are using Sonos for a multi-room audio setup, it’s always a good idea to do some research into the acoustics of the spaces. Using a treatment like acoustic paneling is a great way to combat problematic frequencies that may be caused by the dimensions of a room.
Where you position your speakers is also likely to impact the performance of the DAC and Sonos pairing.
Recorded music uses panning and stereo imaging, which means certain sounds are sent through the left-sided speaker and others through the right-sided speaker.
Another factor that should be considered when using Sonos with a DAC, is the quality of cables you have at your disposal. High-quality cables are less likely to suffer interference and can carry the audio signals more effectively than sub-par offerings.
Take a look at this Youtube channel for more information on Sonos.
Can you play your TV through Sonos?
Yes, it is possible to play your TV audio through Sonos. You need to connect it via the Sonos Playbar, which uses a single optical cable or HDMI to link up with your TV.
Do I need a receiver for multi-room audio?
Yes, to play audio in multiple rooms you need a stereo receiver. It should offer A and B speaker outputs, which allow you to play music simultaneously in two rooms.
Can you daisy chain speakers?
Daisy-chaining more than two pairs of speakers to a single output is not advised. This could result in the equipment being damaged because of the total impedance level.