Do I need a DAC for Sonos?
We’ve come a long way from enjoying our music on a vinyl turntable, over Walkmans and MP3 players, over plain earphones and headsets, to the modern surround sound systems.
Though it’s undeniable that each of these listening modes offers a unique set of benefits, most audiophiles can agree on the fact that sound systems are simply superior in terms of a fully immersive, thoroughly enjoyable listening experience.
Now, once you get the bug of crafting your first 5.1 system at home, you’ll never stop at least thinking about how you can upgrade it. Adding more speakers, soundbars, woofers, and cabinets is the best, though the most expensive way to go. But you can also focus on a bit cheaper, more available gear, such as adding amps and DAC chips to the mix.
Today we’re here for that particular reason – answering the simple, but not so simple question of ‘Do I need a DAC for my home sound system’; more specifically, for the Sonos sound system.
What is Sonos?
In a nutshell, Sonos is one of the world-class leaders in the sound system industry. They’ve had many well-earned accolades over the almost two decades that they’ve been around the market, most notably for introducing some of the finest, best-sounding wireless systems to audiophiles and casual listeners around the world.
Aside from manufacturing top-tier speakers and everything of the ilk, they also dabble in various home audio system accessories, most of which are boutique models that are meant to complement the already-great sound quality each and every Sonos speaker offers, such as ports, in-ceiling speakers, amps, outdoor woofers, and more.
While we could argue whether or not you actually need these accessories and exactly how they could improve your music listening experience, Sonos never introduced dedicated DAC units to their catalog. They do boast premium-quality boosters, amplifiers, and docking stations, but digital-to-analog converters are currently not a part of the Sonos diet plan.
What would I get from installing a DAC in my Sonos Speakers?
Before we get to ‘Do you need a DAC’, let’s first discuss the potential benefits you could reap by acquiring one.
First and foremost, digital-to-analog conversion is something that most modern speakers, especially wireless models, specialize in on a fairly advanced level. The same can be said for all Sonos speakers, which are each and all of the tremendous quality both structurally, sonically, and design-wise.
It goes without saying that all Sonos speakers already feature a DAC chip, but the question is ‘will it be sufficiently strong and versatile for my listening needs?’. The plainest, most straightforward answer would be ‘yes, it would’. Now, let’s dive into all the minute details:
More Versatility in Terms of Sound Customization
Sonos speakers feature well-balanced soundstages and integrated equalizers, not to mention that most of them (all wireless models) are, to an extent, customizable via Sonos apps. So, what can you hope of achieving if you installed a DAC in your Sonos speaker system?
You will be able to have more control over the digital-to-analog process, as a dedicated (external) DAC chip and its accompanying features will allow you to specify certain parameters of the process. That being said, the first benefit is the hands-on approach, as opposed to the passive, pre-set functionality of your woofers, speakers, and soundbars.
Improved Sample Rates
While most, if not all, Sonos speakers boast impressive sample rates and sheer speed of digital-to-analog conversion, there’s no harm in going a bit over the top. The frequency loops, signal generation, and finally sampling are all processes that are affected by a myriad of tightly connected factors, all of which can be influenced, for better or worse, with a DAC.
Now, even though even the most basic digital-to-analog converters in Sonos speakers are fairly great at this, a dedicated DAC unit will, again, prove an invaluable tool when it comes to sound quality in its most pristine form.
DAC Chips are Generally Affordable
The whole point of DAC units being available at attractive price tags across all price point categories is that there’s really no reason for you not to introduce a standalone DAC to your Sonos system.
It’s up to you whether you’ll spend $10 for a budget chip or a couple of hundred dollars on a boutique DAC/amp combo. However, it’s advisable to steer away from both extremes for multiple reasons.
First and foremost, entry-level DAC units are inferior to Sonos built-in DAC chips in all forms and aspects. They’re barely customizable, relatively weak, and often poorly built, so it should be obvious that they should be left out of the consideration.
On another hand, you shouldn’t spend more than you really need simply for the sake of buying the trendiest, latest, most expensive DAC. These boutique models are typically supplied with features that will have little to no impact on your Sonos system.
For instance, boutique-tier DAC models feature integrated amplifiers and Bluetooth, both of which would be useless as your Sonos system already possesses such features, which are arguably better. If not, they do precisely what they’re supposed to with exemplary efficiency.
However, affordability for affordability’s sake is not a huge benefit in and of itself. Simply because you can buy a cheap DAC doesn’t necessarily mean that it will magically (and tremendously) improve the functionality of your Sonos system. However, most mid-range DAC units, especially high-tier models, will invariably yield better sound, and a more unique listening experience.
Your DAC can be used with other devices too
Finally, buying a DAC for your Sonos speakers doesn’t mean that you’ll use it exclusively in that particular setting. Most digital-to-analog units boast versatile connectivity, which means that they can be paired with pretty much any digital device.
They’re particularly great for modernized turntables and record players, which of course, means that you can mix and match various source devices with your Sonos speakers. This means that even if you use your DAC with some other device, you can still scrounge a bit of additional value in terms of improving the performance of your Sonos speakers.
Senior editor for Ultimate-Guitar, passionate about good music and quality gear. Bassist. King Crimson fan. Travel enthusiast. Compulsive buyer of Bose headphones and old Fender amps.