Using Equalizers and DACs (How to)

What Are Equalizers and DACs?

An equalizer is an audio device or software that allows you to adjust the frequency response of an audio signal. Equalizers let you boost or cut specific frequency ranges, which allows you to customize the sound to your preferences. For example, you might boost the bass to get more thump and power in the low end. Or you could reduce harsh treble frequencies if a recording sounds too bright. Equalizers give you control over the tone and balance of the sound.

A DAC, or digital-to-analog converter, converts digital audio signals into analog so they can be amplified and played through headphones or speakers. Digital audio, like MP3s or streaming music, is stored as numerical values. DACs transform those numbers back into the original analog soundwaves so you can hear them. Higher quality DACs more accurately reproduce the full detail and warmth of the audio. Most audio players and AV receivers have built-in DACs, but external audiophile-grade DACs offer superior sound quality.

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Choosing the Right Equalizer

The type of music or audio you’ll be playing is an important factor when selecting an equalizer. For example, if you mainly listen to rock music, you may want an EQ that can boost the low and high frequencies for a more powerful sound. On the other hand, for classical music, you’ll likely want an EQ that can gently shape the midrange frequencies where most of the detail lies.

There are two main types of equalizers – graphic and parametric. Graphic equalizers allow you to adjust specific frequency bands using sliders. This provides a visual representation of how you are changing the sound. Parametric equalizers are more flexible and allow you to control the frequency, bandwidth, and gain for individual bands. They take more expertise to use but allow finer control over shaping the sound.

The number of frequency bands also differs between models. Entry-level graphic EQs may have 5-10 bands, while professional studio equalizers may have 20-30 bands or more. The greater the number of bands, the more precisely you can target specific frequencies. For most casual listening, 10 bands should suffice, but for audio production work, 20+ bands gives you more fine-grained control.

Equalizer Settings and Controls

Equalizers allow you to adjust the amplitude of specific frequency bands in an audio signal. The most common equalizer controls include:

Low, Mid, and High Frequency Knobs – These control the gain of low, mid, and high frequency bands, generally centered around 60Hz, 1kHz, and 10kHz. Turning a knob up boosts those frequencies while turning down attenuates them. Boosting lows gives more bass, mids increase presence, and highs add crispness.1

Cutoff Frequencies – The specific center frequency controlled by each frequency knob/slider. For example, the “Bass” knob may control around 60Hz while “Treble” controls 10kHz. Adjusting the Q factor changes the width of the band.

Q Factor – Also called “Q”, this controls the width of the frequency band. A higher Q value narrows the band while a lower Q widens it. Narrower Q targets a precise frequency while wider Q affects a broader range.

Gain/Amplitude – The amount of boost or attenuation for each frequency band. This is controlled by the position of the frequency knob/slider. Gain is measured in decibels (dB).2

Understanding these core equalizer controls allows you to shape an audio signal’s frequency response and tune it to your liking.

Using Equalizers Creatively

Equalizers can be used for more than just correcting tonal balance. Creative EQ techniques allow you to enhance musical elements and create interesting effects.

One tip is to boost frequencies that accentuate key parts of a sound. For example, boosting around 2-3kHz on a vocal can add presence and clarity. On guitar, try boosting 600-800Hz to emphasize the body and low mids. Just be careful not to overdo it and create harshness. According to Creative EQ Tips – How to use EQ creatively in your tracks, another creative EQ technique is to sweep the frequency spectrum to find sweet spots for each instrument or element.

Equalizers can also be used to create filter effects. By drastically cutting frequencies, you can mimic the sound of a wah pedal or telephone filter. Make very narrow boosts or cuts at low Q values to generate resonant peaks and notches. The more extreme the EQ moves, the more pronounced the effect. As noted in 5 Creative Ways to Use the EQ –, you can automate filter EQs to build energy and motion.

Get creative and use EQs as an effect instead of just a corrective tool. Sweep frequencies to enhance elements or generate wild filters. Just be careful not to overdo it and ruin your mix.

Choosing a High-Quality DAC

When selecting a DAC, two of the most important specifications to consider are bit depth and sample rate. Bit depth refers to the amount of data used to represent each audio sample, with higher bit depths allowing for more detailed and accurate sound reproduction. Most decent quality DACs today support at least 24-bit depth, with high-end models supporting 32-bit or even 64-bit depth. Sample rate determines how many audio samples are captured per second, with higher sample rates resulting in higher frequencies being reproduced. For excellent audio quality, look for DACs that support sample rates up to 192 kHz or higher.

It’s also crucial to choose a DAC that’s a good match for your headphones, speakers, or other playback equipment. Sensitivity and impedance ratings are key – if your headphones have high impedance, you’ll want a DAC with plenty of power and current to drive them properly. Conversely, low impedance headphones pair better with lower powered DACs. Consider connectors as well – your DAC should have the proper outputs, whether that’s 1/4″ headphone jacks, RCA, XLR, optical, etc. to connect seamlessly with your gear.

Some top performing DAC chipsets to look for include ESS Sabre, AKM, Cirrus Logic, and Burr-Brown. Brands like Topping, SMSL, Schiit Audio, and others utilize these chips to make great sounding DACs across a range of price points. Assess your budget, preferred specs, connectivity needs, and equipment matches to choose the right high-quality DAC for your listening setup.

Connecting a DAC

Connecting your new DAC to your audio source is an important step to get your audio signal path flowing properly. Most DACs will have USB, optical, and/or coaxial digital inputs that you can use.

For many setups, connecting via USB is the simplest option. This allows you to send the digital audio signal directly from your computer to the DAC via the USB cable. Make sure to install any required driver software for the DAC when connecting via USB. Some higher end DACs like the Chord Mojo also allow connecting to smartphones/tablets via USB OTG cables.

Optical and coaxial connections allow you to connect sources like CD players, Blu-ray players, or game consoles to your external DAC. This bypasses the lower quality built-in DACs in these devices and routes the audio through your high quality external DAC instead.

When connecting multiple sources to your DAC, an AV receiver or preamp with multiple digital inputs can make switching between sources easier.

The key is configuring your system so that audio signals flow from source devices digitally into your external DAC. By bypassing lower quality built-in DACs, your music and movies can benefit from your external DAC’s superior audio processing.

DAC Features and Settings

When selecting a DAC, some key features to look for include filters, gain controls, and native DSD support.

Filters allow you to shape the frequency response to your liking. Some DACs like the RME ADI-2 Pro have adjustable filters with options like Sharp, Slow, Short Delay Sharp, etc that alter the rolloff and phase response (source). This lets you tailor the sound to your preferences.

Gain controls are also important. The RME ADI-2 DAC has an Extreme Power Headphone Output that can deliver up to +18 dBu balanced output level, providing plenty of power for even hard to drive headphones (source).

For high resolution playback, look for DACs that support native DSD playback rather than DoP (DSD over PCM). Native DSD keeps the bitstream in its original DSD format rather than encapsulating it in PCM. This avoids unnecessary conversions and provides the purest path for DSD audio (source).

Improving Audio with EQ and DAC

Using equalizers and external DACs together can significantly improve audio quality, fixing issues like muddy bass and enhancing detail, soundstage, and imaging.

EQs allow you to boost or cut specific frequency ranges to fix problems in the source audio. For example, you can reduce muddy bass by lowering the low end, or bring out detail by gently boosting the treble range (Head-fi). This gives you control over the tonal balance.

Pairing a high-quality external DAC with EQ provides even more benefits. DACs convert the digital audio signal into analog more accurately than onboard sound cards, resulting in clearer and more dynamic sound. External DACs also have higher bitrates and sampling rates, preserving more detail from lossy compressed audio sources like Spotify (Faster Capital).

Used together, EQ and DAC give you the tools to significantly improve audio quality. You can fix issues in the source audio with EQ, then let the external DAC convert it with greater accuracy and resolution for the best listening experience.

EQ and DAC Alternatives

Instead of relying solely on equalization and DACs, there are other ways to potentially improve your audio playback and listening experience.

One option is to focus on room treatment. Adding sound absorption panels, diffusers, bass traps, and other acoustic treatment elements can help reduce unwanted room resonances, reflections, standing waves, and other issues that can negatively impact sound quality. Well-treated listening rooms allow you to better hear the capabilities of your system. See for more on acoustic treatment.

Carefully pairing your amplifier or receiver with your speakers can also help maximize performance. An underpowered amp may struggle to properly control and drive speakers, while an overpowered amp could potentially damage speakers. Consult manufacturer recommendations for ideal pairings.

Using high-resolution lossless audio files, such as FLAC, ALAC, or DSD can provide higher fidelity playback vs lossy compressed formats like MP3 and AAC. The extra resolution preserves more musical detail compared to lossy compression. Streaming services like Tidal, Qobuz and others offer extensive libraries of hi-res music.

While equalizers and external DACs can certainly help improve audio playback, don’t overlook other important elements in your signal chain and listening environment when trying to achieve better sound.

Recommended EQ and DAC Models

When shopping for an equalizer or DAC, it’s important to find one that fits your budget while still providing the features and quality you need. Here are some top picks at various price points:


If you’re looking for an affordable option, the Behringer EQ700 7-Band Equalizer provides great value at around $50. It offers 7 bands of equalization and balanced XLR and 1/4″ connections. For an inexpensive DAC, the Fiio D3 DAC is hard to beat at around $30. It handles high-resolution audio up to 24-bit/192kHz over optical and coaxial connections.


For clearer sound and more control, the Klark Teknik DN360 Dual 30-Band Graphic Equalizer is a superb mid-priced choice at around $350. It provides extensive EQ adjustment and visual feedback. A great mid-range DAC is the Topping D30 DAC at around $130, offering precise audio performance up to 32-bit/768kHz along with a variety of digital inputs.


At the top end, the API 550b Discrete 4-Band EQ delivers professional studio quality for around $2,000. It has precise frequency control and an all-discrete signal path. For audiophile-grade sound, the Chord Mojo DAC/Amp performs beautifully for around $450. It handles up to 32-bit/768kHz audio via USB and coaxial/optical inputs in a compact, battery-powered design.

By selecting the right equalizer and DAC for your budget, you can significantly improve the audio quality from any system. The models above provide some excellent options across the pricing spectrum.

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