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 to 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 the best DACs for this year.
List of the Best DACs (Digital to Analog Converters)
#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 low distortion and a 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. So we set it to the top one on the best DACs list.
#2. FiiO Q1 Mark II Native DSD DAC & Amplifier
Nothing beats a portable set of sound system that you can carry around wherever you go. It is very much convenient especially if you are in your room and just want to watch through your iPhone, iPad, or laptop but needs quality and a powerful sound source. As we all know, listening to music or watching movies through our gadgets don’t provide that high volume which other systems can give.
This sound amplifier closely comes to the size of a playing card which makes it convenient to bring around. Compared to its predecessor, the Q1 Mark I, the lid was transferred to a more accessible location which is on the right side of this device. This allows more space for the typical headphones and line in and out port.
There are switches present that controls the gain to better fit any sized headphones and another button for adjusting the bass. It is good to hold on to the hands but the large knob for controlling the volume makes it hard to place it flat on a surface.
FiiO Q1 Mark II – The BEST DACs for iPhone, iPod, iPad & Computers
As for its sound quality, this compact amplifier provides a balanced range of frequencies that removes the worries of having super loud booms or ear-piercing highs due to the sharpness of sound that might be encountered through its usage.
With the use of the FiiO DAC, the quality of sound makes it feel like you’re listening to an artist rehearse his or her music. The soundKey, on the other hand, exposes a well-defined performance.
Conclusion: The FiiO Q1 Mark II is rather too thin and rather lacks the dynamics that other DACs provide. There are better-sounding amplifiers that can fit on your devices compared to FiiO’s. If it can only provide a better quality sound then it can be a great partner for your sound trips or solo movie nights.
#3. iFi Audio xDSD Bluetooth DAC and Headphone Amp
iFi Audio xDSD has a one-of-a-kind design while its case is made from durable aluminum and magnesium alloy and the back portion of this DAC is composed of black plastic that can endure high-impacts. Its metal finish may be alluring in the eyes but be ready to frequently clean it up since fingerprints easily stick to it.
The grooves on its body are designed for easy handling wherein your fingers will fit perfectly on it which increases the strength of your grip on the device. It is designed this way to prevent accidental falling off or release of this DAC.
On its front surface, you can find a headphone jack on the farthest left side which can fit a 3.5mm headphone while there are micro-LEDs situated on the right side of this jack which helps in determining if there’s an incoming signal or it changes its color based on the rate or frequency that it receives.
The controls on this one are very much accessible, easy to use, and understandable. It can easily connect to your iPhone or other compatible devices that stay connected without experiencing and dropouts.
As for the sound quality, it is rated as very good for such a small amplifier but doesn’t much come near to other portable DAC or Amps since it can only produce sounds that are neutral.
Conclusion: For casual users, this can be a fair product to have since it can provide that normal quality sound that needed. As for hardcore listeners, there might be other better DACs or Amps in the market that can fit your preferences.
#4. 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. This DAC is one of the lightest and smallest Hi-resolution DSD DAC. It features a 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 unmatched flexibility that can be used as a high-resolution USB DSD DAC, desktop audio controller, or headphone amp.
#5. 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 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.
#6. 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 a robust full-metal body, eliminating exogenous noise. It is also compliant with RoHS with an 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.
#7. FiiO E10K USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier
The Fiio E10K USB DAC Headphone Amplifier is designed to improve the audio output quality of the 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 portable and durable use. FiiO E10K USB DACs offer many perks to be part of the best DACs list.
#8. 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 utilize 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. So we picked them up to be on our best DACs list.
#9. 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 are excellent for all audiophiles allowing music lovers to upgrade 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. So we pick them up on our best DACs list.
#10. CHORD Electronics Mojo – Ultimate DACs or Headphone Amplifiers
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 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. And it is also convinced us to put on the best DACs list.
#11. Meridian – Explorer2 USB DAC
The Meridian Explorer 2 DAC offers a 24-Bit/192kHz resolution, with 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.
#12. 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 incredible and detailed high-resolution audio. It is capable of delivering up to 10 times more power 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 DACs or Headphone Amplifiers:
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 to a DAC. Modern smartphones can be connected to DACs or outboard amp with the use of an adapter and interconnecting cables. Here are the important considerations when shopping for a DAC:
1. Sound Quality
2. Input and Output Connections
3. File Format Supported
To fully understand the functions of DACs, 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, the analog signals 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.
If you ever find yourself in need of a DAC, you will need to make sure you choose a high-quality one. It is what will provide you with the best possible sound from a digital signal and transfer it to an analog one. Our hope is that we can help you get the best one for your needs. We have put together a buying guide to help.
Consider Your Options
If you have a portable USB DAC, it is a compact headphone amplifier that works well for your computer. They do not require another power supply since most have built-in batteries. If you only want it to connect to your desktop, there are less portable options that need AC power to operate well. Another option you may have is wireless.
Using with Headphones: When you have headphones, you may want to consider a DAC that has a built-in amplifier. This will give new life to your phone or PC.
Keep Expectations Reasonable: DACs, especially external ones, are designed to clear up your sound quality. This means that you may not get a very drastic improvement if you already have a high-quality sound system. It simply makes the sounds clearer overall.
Do Your Research and Ask Questions: Not all DACs are created equally. You have to make sure that you have the best possible setup to gain the most benefit. If you are unsure you should research and ask for advice from anyone who knows what you are trying to do.
Choosing the Right DACs: Tips and Tricks
It is not easy to choose a DAQ if you are unsure of what you are wanting. We have all been there. We all know what it is like to just want a higher-quality sound and feel unsure about how to get it. To try and help you as much as possible, we put together a few tips and tricks to consider.
Choose External DACs
If you are curious about why you should choose an external DAC, you should know that it can bypass the inferior audio decoding that sometimes happens with your phone or PC. In short, it creates a stronger audio foundation for your system.
How Good Are Your Music Sources?
You can always expect an improvement in sound when you choose to have a DAC. However, you may need to tweak your settings a little sometimes for the best sound possible.
Do You Have Quality Cords?
When connecting through cords and wires, the cables will have a huge impact on the sound quality of the DAC. Makes sure you have the best if you want the best.
FAQs for DACs
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions. This should help you make your decision with at least a little more knowledge in your pocket.
Q. Can It Connect to PS4 or PC?
A. Every DAC is different. You will have to review and read up on the one that you are considering if you want the best successful installation for your devices.
Q. Is there a Great Audio Input for DACs?
A. It ultimately depends on what you have available. Some DAC manufacturers say that you should use a USB to connect to Nativ Wave. If you are unsure, we suggest that you ask for assistance.
Q. Are They Easy to Connect and Use?
A. After the initial setup, most are very easy to use. In other situations, there are usually easy to set up brands. It also depends on the audio apps and stuff that you are using. Spotify is generally not one that is good for audio pass-through according to many people.
Final Thought of the Best DACs:
You can improve the audio playback quality of your device by upgrading your DAC, taking the digital signal, and turning it into a sound that can be heard only in recording studios. Whether you want to upgrade your laptop or PC sound card, phone, or any entertainment device, DAC can give you superb audio at a higher level.[/su_note]
- List of the Best DACs (Digital to Analog Converters)
- #1. Audioengine D1 24-bit Digital-to-Analog Converter
- #2. FiiO Q1 Mark II Native DSD DAC & Amplifier
- #3. iFi Audio xDSD Bluetooth DAC and Headphone Amp
- #4. Optoma NuForce uDAC5 High-Resolution Mobile DAC
- #5. Yamaha A-S801SL Natural Sound Integrated Stereo Amplifier – With USB DAC Function
- #6. TEAC NT-503 Dual-Monaural USB DAC/Network Player
- #7. FiiO E10K USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier
- #8. Marantz HD-DAC1 HD USB DAC / Headphone Amp
- #9. iFi Micro iDAC2 DSD DAC – Digital Analogue Converter with USB Input
- #10. CHORD Electronics Mojo – Ultimate DACs or Headphone Amplifiers
- #11. Meridian – Explorer2 USB DAC
- #12. Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS v2 USB DAC and Headphone Amp
- Buying Guide to DACs or Headphone Amplifiers: