First and foremost, let’s define Digital-to-Analog Converter or DAC. A DAC is a device processing the conversion of digital audio information into analog audio signals sent to a headphone amp. A headphone amp serves as the intermediary between headphones and a DAC because a headphone cannot be directly connected into a DAC. It improves the audio performance of your entertainment system to a higher level. We have gathered the most exciting Digital-to-Analog Converters available on the market to help you choose the best DAC equipment to upgrade your audio sources and get the best value for your money. And here is a list of 10 best DACs of 2018.
|#1. Audioengine D1|| - Great Sound|
- Nice design
- Solid built
|#2. Optoma NuForce uDAC5|| - Good balance between vocals and music|
- Dynamic rhythm
- Authoritative bass
- Great built
|#3. Yamaha A-S801SL|| - Variable loudness control|
- Great sound performance
- Crystal clear sound
- Smart design
|#4. TEAC NT-503|| - Great sound quality|
- Stable network
- Musical tube sounding
|#5. FiiO E10K|| - Good sound quality|
- Audiophile quality
- Small and compact
- Easy to set up
|#6. Marantz HD-DAC1|| - Clean power|
- Excellent connectivity
- Plenty of connections options
|#7. iFi Micro iDAC2|| - Excellent DSD|
- Very clean sound
- Supports wide digital formats
|#8. CHORD Electronics Mojo|| - Great sound|
- Easy to use
- Clean amplification
- Good battery life
|#9. Meridian|| - Great sound|
- Full-range sound
- Smooth highs
- Great details
|#10. Cambridge|| - High level digital audio sound|
- Great gaming DAC
- Small and compact
- Easy to use
#1. Audioengine D1 24-bit Digital-to-Analog Converter
The Audioengine D1 features PC plug-and-play, optical S/PDIF and USB inputs, and 24/96 HD stream bit with low jitter. Audioengine designs and develops high-quality products. The Audioengine D1 DAC is highly acclaimed that sets a new standard for excellent DAC performance. It has a low distortion and high signal-to-noise ratio. The Audioengine D1 delivers high-quality that can be heard only in DACs that are more expensive. The high-performing headphone output was specifically designed for different types of headphones, satisfying demanding headphone users.
The Audioengine D1 DAC allows bypassing the low-quality headphone output or soundcard of your computer, sending audio through optical or USB. Audioengine D1 can convert the audio signal from digital to analog. The audio quality is retained, allowing HD audio feeding into a headphone or speaker system, thus improving the sound of music.
Conclusion: The Audioengine D1 accepts both optical and USB inputs with outputs for headphones or any audio system. It is a great way to get crystal clear sounding music from your computer, Apple TV, Smart TV, CD player, or DVD/BluRay player. It is a portable and high-quality computer headphone amplifier powered by USB.
#2. Optoma NuForce uDAC5 High-Resolution Mobile DAC
The Optoma NuForce DAC is specifically designed for music lovers, movie fans, and gamers at home, workplace or anywhere on-the-go. It is an essential companion that is crafted from aircraft-grade aluminum. It is one of the lightest and smallest Hi-resolution DSD DAC. It features 140mWat32 Ohm headphone amplifier, supporting varying file formats such as DSD256 and up to 24bit/384kHz PCM. It does not require an external power supply and supports Mac and Windows.
Now, you can experience high-resolution studio quality audio of any music file format via headphones or traditional audio settings while commuting or at home. It can surely elevate the quality of your computer-sourced audio files with the uDAC5 adding speed and weight to the bass, substance, and clarity to mid-range tones, and extension and openness to the highs.
Conclusion: The Optoma NuForce uDAC5 is specifically designed to play the most demanding and complex DSD256 format, elevating the quality of computer-sourced audio files. It has an unmatched flexibility that can be used as a high-resolution USB DSD DAC, desktop audio controller, or a headphone amp.
#3. Yamaha A-S801SL Natural Sound Integrated Stereo Amplifier – With USB DAC Function
The Yamaha A-S801SL Stereo Amplifier has an exceptionally high performance which is a 32-bit D/A converter. The most notable is the high-precision processing power (32-bit audio) handling large audio data capacity with native DSD 5.6 MHz and full PCM 384 kHz. It has a Digital Audio Input for Blu-ray Disc Player and/or TV. The optical receive audio from a television and the coaxial output for receiving Blu-ray Disc player audio signals. The audio remains in the digital domain providing a pristine, pure, and dynamic sound for any entertainment system.
The Yamaha A-S801SL Stereo Amplifier has a straight and direct connection to the CD input through the CD Direct Amplification, maximizing the signal to noise ratio CD source. In addition, the engagement of the Pure Direct mode enables the music signals to travel a shorter circuit route, which bypasses the buffer amp, loudness, tone, and balance controls, thus virtually eliminating any signal degradation. A subwoofer connection terminal is also provided for increased bass output for a more powerful sound.
Conclusion: The Yamaha A-S801 features a front panel new analog loudness control using electronic volume for the best sound quality, allowing you to adjust the loudness according to your desired effect. The controls are separate from the volume, thus balancing the low and high frequencies for a full tonal range.
#4. TEAC NT-503 Dual-Monaural USB DAC/Network Player
This is a portable and discreet digital audio headphone amplifier with Coaxial/Optical Digital Input with 500mW + 500mW Output Power, supporting parallel unbalanced drive large volume display with excellent visibility through the multi-function OLED low power consumption. It features an auto power saving capability and robust full-metal body, eliminating exogenous noise. It is also compliant with RoHS with elegant appearance.
The high-quality audio circuits provide a fine musical texture. It is high-precision at 44.1kHz and 48kHz with onboard internal clocks, as well as a 10MHz external clock input. The PCM and DSD filters offer a multifaceted personality from one unit.
Conclusion: The all-new and reliable dual-monaural circuit design provide outstanding audio performance with high-resolution audio playback via USB cable from PC. The TEAC NT-503 is one of the best DACs that has great sound quality.
#5. FiiO E10K USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier
The Fiio E10K USB DAC Headphone Amplifier is designed to improve the audio output quality of laptop via the PCM5102 DAC chip, with the capability of handling PCM files up to 24-bit with a 96 kHz resolution. This DAC features a low-pass filter and bass boost, both with circuitry that optimizes for an engaged low noise floor. It allows you to customize the sound according to your taste.
You can connect the unit to your laptop via a Micro USB connection, providing it also with power. The variety of connections offered include a front-panel 1/8\” headphone jack, a rear-panel coaxial digital output, and a rear-panel 1/8\” line output, allowing you to send digital audio files to other destinations. The internal DAC chip (PCM5102) can handle PCM files reaching up to 24-bit or 96 kHz, thus improving audio quality via a linear internal filter.
Conclusion: The E10K USB DAC has a portable design with a brushed and sleek aluminum chassis and shell for a portable and durable use.
#6. Marantz HD-DAC1 HD USB DAC / Headphone Amp
This is a newly developed headphones amplifier with unique engineering. It is a reliable USB DAC for PC or any computer audio. It supports high-resolution audio with versatile inputs. The Marantz HD-DAC1 has a high-quality that is dedicated to creating an amazing sound using current feedback amplification technologies. The Marantz HD-DAC1 has a nice intensity reaching new climactic heights.
The powerful HD-DAC1 drives audiophile high-impedance headphones reaching up to 600 ohms. Because of the 3-level gain control, the Marantz HDAM-SA2 modules utilizes a high current audiophile DAC, variable RCA, and premium quality outputs. It’s so powerful that you can directly connect to any Hi-Fi integrated amplifier, power amps or to a pair of active speakers.
Conclusion: The coaxial and optical digital inputs and the USB-B port allow you to stream music from your PC or MAC directly. It supports 192kHz / 24 bits high-resolution audio, DSD 2.8MHz and 5.6MHz for optimum performance so you can enjoy excellent audio quality.
#7. iFi Micro iDAC2 DSD DAC – Digital Analogue Converter with USB Input
The iFi Micro iDAC2 DSD DAC is a state-of-the-art compact DAC or headphone amplifier for home audio, desktop, or office use. It is USB2.0 compatible. The iFi audio was commissioned to produce ‘ultra-fidelity’ audio products, pushing the sonic performance which is priced within the mainstream.
The iFi Micro iDAC2 DSD headphone amp and DAC is excellent for all audiophiles allowing music lovers to upgrade a basic home audio to a professional audio setup. You can use it with your laptop, desktop computer, digital audio player, or high fidelity audio. As a pure Class A design, it offers a True Native playback up to PCM 384kHz and Quad DSD 256 as well as the MQA rendering.
Conclusion: The iFi DAC is anchored by a compact Burr-Brown chipset with a built-in 350mW headphone amplifier, effortlessly driving virtually any medium-sensitivity smartphones.
#8. CHORD Electronics Mojo – Ultimate DAC or Headphone Amplifier
The CHORD Electronics Mojo DAC has been designed and created in England. It is portable with high-quality sound. Inside the Mojo is a very powerful headphone amplifier, delivering crystal clear audio used in large studio cans and earbuds. It can play almost all formats of an audio file up to 768kHz 32bit. With the Li-Po technology, it is able to charge only for four hours that can give 8 to 10 hours of continuous use.
The computer port or USB charger should be capable of supplying 1A current. When charging the Mojo, you need to switch it off by pressing and holding down the power button for 2 seconds. It is the ultimate headphone amplifier and DAC for your smartphone. Just simply connect your Mojo to your phone or PC. You can plug it in your headphones and experience a crystal clear audio like what is heard only in a recording studio.
Conclusion: By using the Mojo DAC between your headphones and smartphone allow you to experience crystal clear audio that is only heard in a recording studio.
#9. Meridian – Explorer2 USB DAC
The Meridian Explorer 2 DAC offers a 24-Bit/192kHz resolution, with an advanced volume control and detailed sound. The Explorer2 is your ultimate ticket to burgeoning high-resolution audio formats. With the upgraded 0-100dB volume control extended-range, it allows you to perform finer adjustments. It is a combination USB DAC, headphone amplifier, and preamplifier with an exceptional 24-bit/192kHz resolution.
The Explorer2 offers asynchronous USB, with a six-layer circuit board having audiophile-grade components, 192kHz analog outputs, and an automatic sensing headphone input. It is extremely powerful making it a great match for your pair of headphones. It has a rugged metal casing with 3.5mm jacks (2) for dual-sensing and headphone listening outputs.
Conclusion: The Explorer2 produces a clearer, clearer, and richer sound, removing digital artifacts from your music. It means that you will hear more information, enjoying a much more realistic presentation.
#10. Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS v2 USB DAC and Headphone Amp
The Cambridge DacMagic XS USB DAC is an instant upgrade to any sound output of a computer. It connects easily and quickly to any USB port, allowing you to hear your favorite movies and music with every drop of fine detail, exactly what every artist intended. While your computer can be great for emails and spreadsheets, it is not good for processing sound. That is why the award-winning DacMagic XS is an instant upgrade to the laptop sound output.
You just need to plug it into your computer’s USB connection for an incredible and detailed high-resolution audio. It is capable of delivering up to 10 times more powerful as compared to laptop sound cards. It can output a massive 105mW for the right volume and proper depth with amazing bass and detailed sound.
Conclusion: The volume available can be easily adjusted using fingertip controls with the LED showing the sample rate, for you to get the clarity and every detail from your music tracks.
Buying Guide to DAC or Headphone Amplifier:
A popular method of DAC connection is via USB connection to a computer. Digital feeds are also available from SPDiF connections (Optical and Coaxial outputs) which are found on CD and DVD players as well as other gadgets that can be connected into a DAC. Modern smartphones can be connected into DACs or outboard amp with the use of an adapter and interconnecting cables. Here are the important considerations when shopping a DAC:
1. Sound Quality
2. Input and Output Connections
3. File Format Supported
To fully understand the functions of DAC, we need to understand the nature of an analog signal. An analog audio signal refers to a continuously varying voltage representing a continuously varying sound wave heard. For instance, a microphone converts incoming sounds into analog electrical signals that represent those sounds. The room speakers can convert analog electrical signals back into the original or closest sound possible. In the past, analog signal stored on LP records, with the needle moving back and forth during playback, creating an electrical analog signal that represents stored sound. Today, we can repeatedly measure and sample the analog signal height over time which is stored in a series of numbers of an audio device memory or hard-drive. The 0s and 1s series of numbers refer to the digital audio signal.
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