How do you pick a digital audio conversion system and a software driver? The choice of DAC will greatly affect the sound your audio interface produces, through the conversion of signals from input to output, and analog to digital (and back). The software driver then manipulates the signals as digital data, and manages transmission of these signals to and from your audio interfaces computer.
You can test the sound of any DAC system or device by simply listening to the output itself this may not prove to be a good qualifier, however, as subjectivity will always come into play. Your sound system and audio interface must also have sophisticated, high-end speakers for you to hear the sound in its purest form, as well as have signal paths that are free from any interference. For treble, scrutinize the sound of drum cymbals in a song or recording. Do this with the outboard device and without it.
Change the outboard device if you wish to compare output quality. Ideally, with all things being equal, the DAC that sustains the cymbals definition and shimmer best should be your choice. A low-quality DAC will make the difference in quality apparent. Other factors, such as bass, sound fluidity, warmth, and other technical and non-technical characteristics will also dictate your decision.
The card with the best DAC will not always result in the highest sound quality. You may have a difficult time choosing the card that is suited to your requirements and purposes. You may even buy a card you would not otherwise want to get, due to the DAC capacity. Choose a card that has the I/O and drivers you need.
You can upgrade with additional DACs later on, and these extra devices will be better than most built-in DACs on many interfaces and soundcards in the market. After bulking up your system with equipment such as high-end pre-amps and monitors, you can consider buying converters. Prior to the installation of these added items, the difference in sound quality would be near-imperceptible. Get professional DACs for your interface or soundcard for superlative results.
The software driver provides the vital programs that allow information traffic between your computer and the DAC. This data is formatted for access by the CPU if and when the audio application requires it. The computers operating system sets the regulations that the driver uses.
If the driver decodes and understands the data and rules properly, your audio interface will work as expected. Any errors on the part of the audio application or driver will make the operation falter. Any problems with how your driver works will be transmitted to the CPU, and vice-versa. The application itself may also be the root of the issue.
Choosing a software driver can be confusing. Some software may work great with some machines, and bog down others. Even changing your OS or any integral program can alter the way your audio interface runs.
The universal rule here is: research and ask around. A software driver might as well be tailor-made, as the system setups, operating systems, DACs, and many other aspects of the entire recording system need to be taken into account before even getting or upgrading a software driver.