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What is electrical noise and how does it affect your DAC?

  • We’ve been here eleventy billion times before: the sound quality of a digital audio system doesn’t rely simply on the safe arrival of each and every bit but how accurately those bits are timed into the DAC chip. Any mis-timing is called jitter. Electrical noise – entering hi-fi components via the mains and via cables acting as antennae – can seriously disturb the timing accuracy of a DAC’s clock oscillators.

    Not only. According to Garth Powell, Direct of Power/Engineering at AudioQuest, electrical noise will also make its way into the analogue section of a DAC to potentially mask the very low-level signal retrieval for which it was designed/purchased.

    Powell’s extensive knowledge paints a worrying picture for those looking to extract the very maximum performance from their high-end audio hardware. A house in the woods isn’t a complete escape. It’s not all bad news. According to Powell, linear power supplies can be more effective than their switching counterparts in catching and killing some (but not all) electrical noise.

    My 30-minute chat with this electrical noise expert goes a long way to explaining why we hear differences between network streamers, their external power supplies and interconnecting digital (and network) cables.

    Further information: AudioQuest

    John H. Darko

    Written by John H. Darko

    John is the editor of Darko.Audio, from whose ad revenues he derives an income. He is an occasional contributor to 6moons but has previously written pieces for TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile. John used to live in Sydney. Now he lives in Berlin.

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