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I want to set up a 4.1 surround sound "square" (5m x 5m) at the end of a long room (5m x 18m) for an art installation which will run for a few months, where participants will stand in the middle of the 4 speakers (sub is in a niche on the side). I am considering several inexpensive active/powered (PA) speakers e.g. Behringer Eurolive B108D, Behringer Eurolive B112D or Samson Auro D208 together with subwoofer DAP Audio DRX-12BA which seem to fit the requirements for the space. I am considering using a 5.1 DAC connected to a PC with an external USB soundcard to connect the speakers via 5 RCA outputs (using a 1/4" adapter). I have found several 5.1 DACs for 25-50 Euro on Amazon, but I am not sure if any of these are sufficient.

Which specs do I need to consider when shopping for an external USB DAC?

Is it required to add an amp/receiver/mixer somewhere in the mix?

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Depends on the converter. When I enter '5.1 DAC' in Amazon's search box, the first couple of results are converters with only 2 RCA outputs. There are also DACs with 6 outputs (which is what you want), like this random example.

These are designed to take audio encoded as DTS, AC3 or other 5.1 codecs. If you can supply that as a source, you're ok. You just need a PC that can provide a digital output signal via a connection compatible with the 5.1 decoder (S/PDIF or coax).

You don't need a mixer: the PC provides volume control. And pretty much any active loudspeaker has a volume control on its inputs.

Note: I haven't tried this, but I see no reason this setup wouldn't work.

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This will depend entirely on the output level from the DAC. If it is sufficient to drive the input of the PA, then you should be good, otherwise you'll want some kind of preamp before the PA input stage.

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    DACs are line-level instruments, which is pretty standard (except for car audio). 775 mV or 1 V, close enough.
    – Hobbes
    Aug 18 '19 at 17:42
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gonna say no on this one. 5.1 DAC's are generally for home theatre use and won't support the discrete channel output that you are probably looking for for an application such as this. These 5.1 DACS are more about decoding from AC3 for DVD and Blu-Ray viewing applications than actually providing discrete channel output for art-installation work.

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