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Hooking up your home theater system can be a literal tangled web of wires and cords, only to find out your cables aren’t compatible with your audio sources, or you can’t connect up two units because of a lack of proper ports. It’s a frustratingly flustering moment, but the missing piece may be as simple as a small black box known as an audio signal converter.
An audio signal converter, or ASC, can also be a great way to prolong the life of an old but beloved piece of equipment like a stereo receiver, and keep it connected to a modern TV or gaming console with a newer format, despite the two devices lacking matching inputs and outputs.
What Signals Does an ASC Convert?
Typically, there are two types of audio converters: digital to analog, and analog to digital. These can be shorthanded in a bunch of various ways (such as A/D, ADC, D/A, and DAC) but they all perform the same function, going in both directions depending on what you need. In order for your devices to communicate with each other and send the signals that become video and audio, sometimes they just require a “translator,” and that’s where an ASC saves the day.
What’s the Difference Between Analog and Digital?
As a general rule, analog applies to the physical world, such as the effect you get from strumming a guitar or singing into a microphone, thus creating vibrating sound waves that move actual air. Analog to digital is how studio recordings are done, since they come from real-world vocals and sounds that then become digitized into computerized sound files a technician can work with in a studio application.
Traditionally, like for LPs back before computers, a band’s sound could be recorded right onto a record’s grooves, and re-produce the original sound when the needle read it. But nowadays, music and movies are streaming digitally – what was once physical now exists only as a computerized representation in a music or media file on your laptop, tablet, TV, or online.
What Do You Need an Audio Signal Converter For?
If you wanted to, for example, connect your brand new HDTV that only has optical or coaxial outputs (digital), to your old stereo receiver that only has RCA inputs (analog), you’d need to convert that digital sound back to analog first. An ASC does this, as well as provides the proper plugs to get everything going.
As an alternative to a coaxial cable, many of these converters are equipped to handle TosLink, a digital method developed by Toshiba, that sends audio signals in the form of light pulses (and would need to be converted to analog). Numerous newer video game systems of the last few generations lack a left and right RCA output too, as well as a 3.5mm jack. So a converter is a great (and sometimes only) way to connect it up to bigger external speakers or to play with headphones on.
Different TV brands might mean different settings and configurations to get your converter up and running, so be sure to check that it’s compatible before buying, or if there’s a specific setting that’s needed to get it working.
1. PROZOR 192KHz Digital to Analog Audio Converter
Prozor’s compact DAC easily takes digital signals and speedily converts them over to analog, outputting to dual channels and letting you hook up external speakers and headphones, while supporting a wide range of sampling rates up to 192Khz.
It’s crafted with Short Circuit Prevention inside, and is ideal for gaming systems, DVD/Blu-ray players, and all sorts of home theater setup combos.
There’s a USB power and Optical cable included here, but no AC power, so have a 5.1v adapter handy if you’re looking to plug in.
2. Techole Digital to Analog Audio Converter
This little aluminum black box is all you’ll need to convert digital coaxial and TOSLINK signals to analog, giving you the options of RCA and 3.5mm outputs on devices that don’t have them.
Sound quality here is crisp, supporting sample rates up to 192Khz, while keeping lagging and latency to a minimum. There’s little to no interference noise in the end result, though users reported a hissing when their source unit was turned off and the converter was still powered on.
Also make sure your TV supports PCM or LPCM before going all-in and getting this one.
3. RooFull Digital Audio Converter Adapter
This double-decker unit is one of the rare converters that can work its magic in both directions: digital to analog and vice-versa. Normally you’d need two for that, but this bi-directional box can convert optical to, as well as from, digital coaxial, and a simple switch lets you toggle between the two.
It supports multi-channel surround sound, including both uncompressed PCM/LPCM audio as well as compressed 5.1 audio, and up to a 192Khz sampling rate.
This also works well with long distance cables, leaving little lag and latency between the source and the speaker. Setup is simple, no drivers are required, and it also comes with a wall power supply too.
4. RooFull Digital-to-Analog Audio Converter
Another great option from RooFull. While this one only moves audio in one direction, digital to analog, it’s a solid choice for anyone who plans to be running the unit for long stretches. Thanks to its heavy-duty aluminum alloy structure, heat is quickly absorbed and dissipated, keeping the insides cool and protected.
The optical connection cuts down significantly on static-y clicks and pops (just remove the plastic covers first), and a helpful LED light is built in to indicate when it’s powered on.
If you’re confused at all while setting up, users report that RooFull customer service is extremely helpful in getting your system up and running.