As an avid Spotify user, I’m always looking at ways to improve my listening experience.
I’ve experimented with DACs, amps, expensive headphones, high-fidelity sound, (and more) in my search of the perfect listening experience.
I’ll walk you through the improvements you can make to take your Spotify listening experience to the next level.
The question is, will using a DAC improve the sound quality when streaming music through Spotify?
For streaming music through Spotify, a standalone DAC will make little difference in the sound quality. Most devices already have an effective internal DAC.
If the internal DAC is picking up unwanted noise, an upgrade could be worth it. If you’re looking to improve sound quality, it’s best to look at the headphones, amplifier, and bit-rate first.
We’ll go over the steps to get the ideal listening experience.
Will A DAC Improve Spotify Sound Quality?
If you’re new to learning about audio and stream music through Spotify, chances are you don’t even need a DAC.
Out of all of the audiophile hardware, a DAC will make the smallest impact on your listening experience.
But there is a time and a place to get a standalone DAC.
With the right setup, a DAC will improve your Spotify listening experience.
If your listening device (phone, computer, etc.) has a poor internal DAC that introduces a lot static or noise, an external DAC could be a much-needed upgrade.
Poor internal DACs were more common back in the day before the technology improved.
But the truth is, most internal DACs nowadays are pretty dang good.
If your looking to boost your Spotify listening experience, here are the best steps to take:
- New headphones or speakers.
- Higher bit-rate music.
- An external DAC
Another area that DACs help you experience in a closer, more vivid way, is the mastering process of songs.
A DAC can help you better understand how an artist or producer mastered a song. You will be able to not only further enjoy your music but analyze the different sounds.
Mastering is the final step in post-production.
It is a very important part of the music-making process. It is when elements like compression, editing the frequency range, changing audio levels for different instruments, and more are done.
With a DAC, you will be able to distinguish the different sounds and instruments, resulting in a smoother, clearer quality of music.
This will allow you to notice smaller details.
Like seeing a screen with better colors or more pixels, the bass of the low-end, vocals and treble of the high end, and the rest of the sounds in the mids will all be improved. There will be more depth to the information of each sound.
Usually, you will notice different instruments more and appreciate different sounds that may have sounded distorted before.
But not all songs have good mastering. In those situations, the song could sound worse because of distortion in the mastering itself.
You’ll mostly experience these benefits when you listen to higher bit-rate or lossless audio.
When the music you listen to has clear sound with less distortion in different parts of the music, you’ll experience the most benefit from a DAC.
Overall getting a DAC is not needed, but it’s a great way to improve your listening experience in certain situations.
What Does A DAC Do?
A DAC or Digital-to-Analog Converter will take a digital signal from something like a computer, phone, or other electronic device and then will turn that signal into a very low power analog signal.
This low-power signal must then later be converted by an amp of some sort into a high-power signal for headphone drivers to turn into sound waves.
While all modern devices have built-in DACs, you can invest in external options that effectively result in greater sound quality.
A DAC will take bits of information, 0s, and 1s, and turn that information into an analog signal of frequencies that are higher or lower.
A DAC will process thousands or even millions of bits every second, so at times mistakes are made and signals aren’t represented properly.
Higher quality DACs will be able to process more information in a shorter amount of time while making fewer errors, leading to a more accurate listening experience.
Other Equipment to Get Before A DAC
If you are looking to improve your audio setup, getting a DAC right away may not be the best use of your money. There are other products you can try and actions you can take to improve sound quality that don’t come at such a hefty price.
Let’s be honest, even with the best DAC in the world, you won’t notice a difference in the sound with a cheap set of headphones.
For this reason, it is recommended that the first investment you should make to your audio setup is a new pair of headphones or speakers.
Most headphones under the $100 price range will see a minimal improvement from a DAC, so upgrading to a more premium option is the best way to benefit your sound.
The same goes for speakers. While there are many great affordable speaker sets, as with anything else the price often reflects the quality. If you truly want to appreciate your music, updating your audio setup may be the trick to transforming the sound quality.
Getting new speakers or headphones can provide the benefits of more separation between instruments, greater clarity, and more accurate response for the bass, treble, and mids.
There are a variety of options at all price ranges, but it is important to note that purchasing the most expensive option will not always result in the highest quality. There is a point of diminishing returns, especially when using something like Spotify or Apple Music.
For headphones, a good price point for most people is in the $150 to $300 price range. If you are looking for a premium pair to use, I wouldn’t seek options over $500 if you plan to primarily listen to music on a streaming platform like Spotify.
Some headphones cost upwards of even $1000 but spending that much when you use platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, and others is not worth it.
Given the limitations of the audio quality provided by these companies, you wouldn’t be able to experience the full capacity of the headphones anyway.
Investing In An Amp
Some headphones or speakers will need an amp to properly drive them.
With an amp, recessed or missing sounds will become more prominent than before
Sounds that were recessed or not present will be more prominent than before.
Compared to onboard solutions, a dedicated amp will provide cleaner power, resulting in fewer sound distortions. With onboard solutions, electrical interference from surrounding components can occur and cause sound issues.
Additionally, amps provide more power, an improvement that will help drive your headphones and speaker.
Many people may find that they are at 80% volume or higher with their onboard solution. At higher volumes, you likely experience more distortion in the sound. Amps will allow you to listen to things at a lower volume for a cleaner sound.
If you have an old speaker or pair of headphones, an amp may not improve the sound quality as much as purchasing updated products. However, it can dramatically improve your listening experience, and many premium speakers and headphones need an amp to give the sound a boost.
Try A Different Platform
If you have upgraded the different parts of your audio setup and you still aren’t satisfied with the clarity, you may want to seek alternative platforms.
Platforms like Tidal, Qobuz, or Deezer are some of the most popular for those who want higher bitrate audio.
Spotify’s highest quality setting supports an audio bitrate of 320kbps but these other platforms support 1411kbps for all their songs. For some tracks, they may even support higher bitrates.
Tidal, for example, supports some songs with bitrates from 2304kbps to 9216kbps. Depending on the level of audio equipment you have, you may be able to hear a difference.
I ran through several different services and tested them out. The difference was definitely noticeable, but it depended on the track.
But you should consider factors other than just bit-rate when deciding which streaming platform to use.
Spotify has resources to find new artists, and it constantly creates custom playlists designed for you. Other platforms make finding new music more difficult.
The devices you use will have more of an impact than the platform, so you should only worry about moving to a new platform after you have upgraded your setup.
Finally The DAC
After you have considered or tried the other options we presented, a DAC is the next purchase you will want to make for your setup.
Acquiring a DAC will leave you with a pretty solid audio setup and will deliver the best possible experience if listening on Spotify or an equivalent platform.
A complete setup with a solid set of headphones/speakers, an amp, and a DAC will give you everything you need if you want to expand your music listening horizons beyond Spotify though.
Note: Another option is a combined DAC/amp as a possible cost-saver (not to mention other cool features). If you want to know more you can read about how amp/DAC combos compare to separate solutions.
The Best Spotify Settings
Buying new equipment can improve your audio experience, but you should first optimize your Spotify settings for the best experience possible.
Maximize The Quality Preset
The recommended quality preset that you should choose is the “Very High” option. This will play audio at 320kbps.
Anything less than this will drop the bitrate.
This option only works with Spotify Premium, so if you use the free version, the quality will be slightly lower.
Using the highest-quality version is your best bet, so it’s always a good idea to check it first.
The higher bitrate streaming will use more data when listening, so be aware when listening on the road. To save data, you can also download music, but this could use a few gigabytes of storage (only available with the premium plan).
Turn Off “Normalize Volume”
The “Normalize Volume” option will tweak the sound level of all your songs to be consistent with each other.
To achieve this, Spotify will usually increase the gain on songs. As a result, this can distort sound and some instruments may not be as prominent as before.
It is highly recommended that you turn this option off so you can hear the music how the artist intended.
Volume levels may be more inconsistent between songs but the quality of the music will improve.
Tweak The Equalizer Settings
As you probably know, Spotify can be used on a computer or a mobile device. On the mobile app version, you have access to a built-in equalizer, but you won’t find this feature on the computer application.
An equalizer is a great way to change the sound of a song. For example, you can add in more bass if you feel that your headphones are lacking in bass response.
Often using an equalizer is not recommended because it can ruin the intended balance of the song, which may result in sound distortions. However, it also allows you to personalize the music to your taste which is kind of cool.
The Spotify equalizer has multiple presets for many situations.
You have options for boosting vocals or bass, which you can do for different genres. For those who are more experienced with equalizers, Spotify also gives you a graphical interface that you can edit to your liking.
Since there isn’t a built-in equalizer on the desktop Spotify application, you will have to download one if you want to be able to adjust the music to your liking. A popular option is the Peace Equalizer Software, which actually has more functionality than Spotify.
There are no perfect settings for you to use, but experimenting with different equalizers and settings will help you figure out what you like best.
Unless you know specifically what you want to tweak with the music, the preset settings are typically fine.
Here are a few of our recommended DACs if you’re looking to make the upgrade. We included a few different price ranges to accomodate different budgets.
Best Value Pick
If you are on a budget or just getting into the audiophile hobby, there are plenty of affordable DAC options to consider.
Topping delivers a great sounding DAC, the Topping D10s, which can be found around $100 on Amazon.
You can find cheaper DACs, but you might no get noticeably improved audio quality versus onboard solutions until this price range.
The D10s is a big step up from onboard audio by adding more clarity and creating a more lively sound.
Arguably the most unique feature it has is a front screen that displays the quality of audio that is being processed. The D10s helpfully provides support for tracks in DSD format, which basically means that songs with lots of information will still be played with utmost quality.
If you listen to Spotify, this will be all you need and more. If you ever choose to change platforms or listen to tracks with high bitrates and a lot of information, the D10s will be even more useful.
Best Mid Range Pick
If you are looking for a DAC cable for around $200, the Schiit Modius DAC outperforms its price competitors to deliver even more clarity, accuracy, and separation.
While DACs at lower price points will give you a great sound experience, the Schiit Modius DAC takes it a step further.
For those who use IEMs, the Modius will have a very minimal noise floor, which can greatly improve your experience over other DACs. If you plan to listen to music with IEMs frequently, then this is an option you should definitely consider.
The Modius will provide better sound quality over the Topping D10s, but it may be overkill for a Spotify setup. As mentioned before, Spotify has limitations in the quality it can deliver, so it wouldn’t be practical to get the Modius solely for Spotify listening.
Best High End Pick
DACs can cost upwards of $2000, but for most people the mid-range and budget options are perfectly fine.
For those who want the pinnacle listening experience, the Topping D90 on Amazon will deliver features and excellent performance.
The sound performance of the D90 is fantastic and would be great for almost all headphones, IEMs, and speakers. The sound is balanced and there is support for DSD audio and Hi-res music in high bitrates.
The D90 has a wide selection of inputs and outputs, but one of the most sought-after features of this DAC is its support for Bluetooth. Helpfully, there is a remote and OLED screen that displays key information so you can keep track of what you have going on.
You can use this remote and screen to change things like the input or the bitrate, which makes this DAC really useful for those creating a speaker setup.
DACs are one of the many ways to improve the sound of your speakers, headphones, and ultimately your entire audio setup. If you acquire a DAC and follow some of the other recommendations in this article, you can transform your listening experience.
Generally, a DAC is not needed for Spotify but can improve the experience for some. Since Spotify does not have music with high bitrates, you don’t need a DAC that will process high amounts of information.
You can find DACs at a variety of price points, but if you plan to listen to Spotify or Apple music I don’t suggest spending a ton. Higher-end DACs can deliver insane levels of quality, but would definitely be overkill for just Spotify listening.
I hope this article gave you some useful information to begin the process of improving your listening experience.
To a future of better audio!