In electronics, a **digital-to-analog converter** (DAC or D-to-A) is a device for converting a digital (usually binary) code to an analog signal (current, voltage or electric charge).

An analog-to-digital converter (ADC) performs the reverse operation.

## Basic ideal operation[]

Ideally sampled signal. Signal of a typical interpolating DAC output.

A DAC converts an abstract finite-precision number (usually a fixed-point binary number) into a concrete physical quantity (e.g., a voltage or a pressure). In particular, DACs are often used to convert finite-precision time series data to a continually-varying physical signal.

A typical DAC converts the abstract numbers into a concrete sequence of impulses that are then processed by a reconstruction filter using some form of interpolation to fill in data between the impulses. Other DAC methods (e.g., methods based on Delta-sigma modulation) produce a pulse-density modulated signal that can then be filtered in a similar way to produce a smoothly-varying signal.

By the Nyquist–Shannon sampling theorem, sampled data can be reconstructed perfectly provided that its bandwidth meets certain requirements (e.g., a baseband signal with bandwidth less than the Nyquist frequency). However, even with an ideal reconstruction filter, digital sampling introduces quantization error that makes perfect reconstruction practically impossible. Increasing the digital resolution (i.e., increasing the number of bits used in each sample) or introducing sampling dither can reduce this error.

## Practical operation[]

Instead of impulses, usually the sequence of numbers update the analogue voltage at uniform sampling intervals.

These numbers are written to the DAC, typically with a clock signal that causes each number to be latched in sequence, at which time the DAC output voltage changes rapidly from the previous value to the value represented by the currently latched number. The effect of this is that the output voltage is held in time at the current value until the next input number is latched resulting in a piecewise constant or 'staircase' shaped output. This is equivalent to a zero-order hold operation and has an effect on the frequency response of the reconstructed signal. Piecewise constant signal typical of a zero-order (non-interpolating) DAC output.

The fact that practical DACs output a sequence of piecewise constant values or rectangular pulses would cause multiple harmonics above the nyquist frequency. These are typically removed with a low pass filter acting as a reconstruction filter.

However, this filter means that there is an inherent effect of the zero-order hold on the effective frequency response of the DAC resulting in a mild roll-off of gain at the higher frequencies (often a 3.9224 dB loss at the Nyquist frequency) and depending on the filter, phase distortion. Not all DACs have a zero order response however. This high-frequency roll-off is the output characteristic of the DAC, and is not an inherent property of the sampled data.

## Applications[]

#### Audio[]

Top-loading CD player and external digital-to-analog converter.

Most modern audio signals are stored in digital form (for example MP3s and CDs) and in order to be heard through speakers they must be converted into an analog signal. DACs are therefore found in CD players, digital music players, and PC sound cards.

Specialist stand-alone DACs can also be found in high-end hi-fi systems. These normally take the digital output of a CD player (or dedicated transport) and convert the signal into a line-level output that can then be fed into a pre-amplifier stage.

Similar digital-to-analog converters can be found in digital speakers such as USB speakers, and in sound cards.

#### Video[]

Video signals from a digital source, such as a computer, must be converted to analog form if they are to be displayed on an analog monitor. As of 2007, analog inputs are more commonly used than digital, but this may change as flat panel displays with DVI and/or HDMI connections become more widespread. A video DAC is, however, incorporated in any Digital Video Player with analog outputs. The DAC is usually integrated with some memory (RAM), which contains conversion tables for gamma correction, contrast and brightness, to make a device called a RAMDAC.

A device that is distantly related to the DAC is the digitally controlled potentiometer, used to control an analog signal digitally.