Do IEMs Need A DAC? The Facts Explained

If you’re an audiophile, musician, or audio engineer who’s trying to listen to music, or hear a personal mix of vocals then you’re probably using an In-ear monitor. However, many people aren’t all too sure how to use them, so it’s quite often that people wonder if IEMs need a DAC like a high-quality Headphone.

You might not need a DAC for your IEMs, but they are always a worthwhile investment. If the DAC isn’t suited to your IEMs then it can distort their sound. However, if working properly they can vastly improve the overall sound and audio-quality of your IEMs.

There are a bunch of facts and aspects of using a DAC with your IEMs that are often not discussed within the audiophile landscape. We hope that by honing in on these issues, we’ll be able to give you guys accurate and worthwhile information to make an informed decision about future purchases.

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Do Your IEMs Need a DAC?

When you begin your journey down the rabbit hole that is audio-gear then you will probably meet many people who like to say that you need to buy a Digital to Analog Converter, or DAC. Most of these people you’re able to tune out, but some of their voices stick, and you wonder if you even have the right equipment?

It can be quite startling to figure that you don’t have the right equipment to accomplish what you set out for yourself. However, we’d advise that before you rush to buy one for your IEMs that you thoroughly do your research first, and understand that a DAC might not be appropriate for your system.

There are many systems, most, of which significantly improve with the aid of a DAC. Even so, this is not for all IEMs and you might experience completely different results based on what type of IEM you are using and how much money you spend on obtaining a DAC.

If You Connect Your IEMs To A Computer

If your primary mode of listening to music is by connecting your IEMs with a computer or laptop then we have to say that getting a DAC might be very beneficial. This is because you might experiences some drops in overall sound quality if you’re connecting your IEMs to these devices directly.

Moreover, many people report that they usually end up hearing a light hissing sound from their IEMs if they allow for them to be directly connected rather than routed from a DAC. So there can be some massive impacts that need to be mitigated with the help of your DAC.

One major aspect to remember is that the IEMs work best with a DAC if they have that distinct hissing sound we mentioned earlier, or if there is some pretty noticeable distortion as you attempt to listen to music on your IEMs. In both of these cases DACs become an efficient tool that can be used to solve the issue.

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If You Connect Your IEMs To A Phone

The reasoning for why you would want a DAC attached to your IEMs on the phone is completely different from that of the computer. Where the hissing was only slightly noticeable, it should be far more pronounced within this version, which can be a cause for concern for many people.

Additionally, the smaller build of most cellphones means that they generate less power, and as a result of this lower amount of power aren’t able to do justice to the sound quality and loudness that the IEM is capable of.

In such circumstances, it can be beneficial to use your DAC, which can provide helpful amplification to the sound, as most DACs come with built-in Amps. And they can drastically increase the amount of power experienced by the IEMs, which means that they can be yet louder still.

However, if you don’t notice any difference then we suggest that it is probably best to not spend the extra money and that it is often best to try to connect directly with the device first, before attempting to fix the issue with a purchase.

What is a Digital To Analog Converter or DAC?

Understanding a DAC is simple. It is a converter above all other things and its primary function is to convert the digital audio signal that is being transmitted by your output device i.e. computer or cellphone into an analog signal. This analog signal is important because it is the sound which your speakers or IEMs can play.

So the essential duty of a DAC is to act as a translator that allows the output device to talk to the device that is sending the initial digital signal. Without this translator or in-built translators, devices such as headphones and IEMs would become utterly useless.

Though the audio jack seems to be dying now that many DACs are even available with Bluetooth connections, they have internal DAC chips fitted into them that can operate in the fashion of a full DAC, and give you profound results.

Many internal DACs have poor internal filtering, are unable to reduce noise and have very poor regulation of power. This can have a particularly compounding impact on the quality of the sound or audio that you are listening to, and which is the main reason why external DACs became so necessary in the first place.

Benefits Of Using A Digital To Analog Converter?

If you’re using IEMs then as we’ve been discussing there are several benefits and improvements that a Digital to Analog Converter, or DAC, can offer to your audio setup. These benefits can be a multitude of things, but perhaps the most important is the boost in sound quality that your system will receive.

Although the degree of this boost will largely depend on the quality of your IEMs and the Digital to Analog Converter, or DAC, that you choose to utilize. Overall, however, we’ll be providing an example regarding this process to help better illustrate this.

Also Read: Can I Use My Laptop As A Speaker? 3 Ways

1. Jittering and Hissing

One of the primary issues that we discussed in earlier sections was the potential for your IEMs to start jittering, or as we like to call it begin hissing. This can be extremely annoying and problematic if you’re trying to listen to music or audio at the best possible quality.

One potential benefit of using a DAC with your IEM then is that it is the go-to solution when it comes to eliminating jittering and hissing. Nowadays, even the cheapest available DACs are able to eradicate these sorts of issues, and the more advanced ones are able to completely mitigate them.

2. Improves Soundstage

A second facet that is very important when it comes to DACs and their uses with IEMs is their positive effect on the soundstage of the device itself. Soundstage determines the space and environment of sound, as created by the device.

When you’re using a DAC then you’re able to make the music feel far more lovely, engaging and exhilarating. DACs are able to drastically improve the circumstances wherein a soundstage exists and thus are highly coveted by people attempting to improve that aspect of their overall audio output.

This feature is also particularly popular with gamers as it benefits them by making surround sound gaming far clearer and more accessible. A good example of such an occurrence is upon the usage of the GSX1000 DAC which not only improved on my old regular DAC, but it truly heightened the true surround sound of my audio setup.

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Is It All About the DAC?

Although for the majority of this article we’ve talked about how the DAC can help your IEM, we haven’t discussed much what role your IEM should be playing in improving your overall sound quality. The quality of your IEM is greatly going to improve your experience with your music and audio.

And that is the fact that many people ignore when looking up deficiencies within their setup. Getting too hung up on the device that you need in addition often precludes us from being able to see the gaping hole that is our current device’s limitations.

Certainly, an IEM that has a very high impedance can be particularly cumbersome. This is because a high impedance value can ruin the audio output that you otherwise might have been able to enjoy. This can be mitigated by a DAC, yes, however, we would rather not burden an extra machine with the improper function of another.

Instead, it is often best to get a new more viable upgrade for your IEM especially if you’re seeking to improve your overall sound and audio quality as a result of these purchases.

What IEM Do We Recommend?

In our mind there is absolutely no competition when it comes to making a singular recommendation as to what you should be using instead of your old or worn out IEM. The Shure SE846 Pro is perhaps the best overall IEM on the market as of 2022.

This device has many unique and useful benefits that make it stand out amongst a sea of competitors and genuinely desires careful consideration by anyone leaping audio quantity. The first advantage is that the device has exceptionally good impedance at 16 Ohm. So no worries about hissing or jittering in your audio.

Moreover, the device has a stable 110 dB sensitivity, which is a facet that needs to be considered when making the purchase associated with the IEMs. Its audio and precision in producing audio has been praised several times over by many tech reviewers and other audiophiles.

The only drawback is that the device in some instances can look incredibly generic. However, the fact of the matter is that this is the best pound-for-pound IEM on the market right now. And would greatly improve your overall sound experience.

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What DAC Do We Recommend?

If you’re going to buy a new IEM, and yet do not feel or hear any difference in how you experience music then we believe a change in DAC is warranted. In this section we’ll be highlighting our DAC of choice, and the one that we believe would give the most benefit to new and returning users of these devices.

The RME ADI-2 DAC FS is perhaps the overall best DAC that you can obtain on the market right now. This device is not for those that can’t afford it, however, the machine is hefty and recently the device was at over $1000. However, these prices may fluctuate based on global appeal.

The best aspect of this DAC is that it has an in-built system for amplification, which can even be connected with headphones that have an audio jack. Moreover, it has an outstanding sound quality and a super intuitive and easy-to-learn interface. It’s the perfect little grab for your IEM needs.

The only issue is that this particular brand of DAC does not contain Bluetooth within the system. Nonetheless, this solid system will provide a lot of additional power, control and crispness to the original image and sound.

And that’s pretty much it when it comes to answering whether your IEM needs a DAC or not. We think that it is largely dependent on what sort of IEM you have in the first place. And if it has glaring weaknesses, then getting a strong DAC can help.

However, there are instances where an IEM upgrade might be the route to improving your sound quality instead. Through this article, however, we hope to have given you the tools and understanding you need to intelligently provide information about the topic in the first place.

Till next time! Ciao.

Audiophile Haven

AudiophileHaven is a site dedicated to Hi-Fi audio, and helping others learn more about premium quality sound equipment.

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