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 12 best DACs for 2020.
Our Top Picks
List of the Best Digital to Analog Converters
Table of Contents
- List of the Best 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 DAC or Headphone Amplifier
- #11. Meridian – Explorer2 USB DAC
- #12. Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS v2 USB DAC and Headphone Amp
- Buying Guide to DAC or Headphone Amplifier:
#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. 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 wants to watch through your iPhone, iPad, or laptop but needs quality and 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 the hands but the large knob for controlling the volume makes it hard to place it flat on a surface.
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 on 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 the 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 which stays 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. 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.
#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 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.
#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 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.
#7. 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.
#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 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.
#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 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.
#10. 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.
#11. 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.
#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 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.