A good digital to analog converter – commonly known as DAC – can drastically improve the quality of the sound from the audio playback. When there are many models and brands available in the market, many are just average systems that fails to produce the sound you are looking for or simply lack in features. But if you are using the best DACs listed in this article, you can get the best quality sound from your digital device.
Why Do You Need DAC?
DAC is a digital-to-audio converter that is part of all modern tech devices like smartphones, tablets, PCs, HD-TVs, and laptops. In fact, it is the basic part of every digital device that allows you to listen to the music or sound. You can hear the sound only after the DAC convert the digital signal into analog, which is tangible to our ears.
So why do you need an external DAC when every device already has one? Well – because high-quality DACs do a better job compared to built-in DACs. External DACs offer you a completely different listening experience – a better and improved version of the sound.
This is why – if you are a music enthusiast and you want only the best possible sound experience, external DACs are the must-have for you. The modern DACs also have more than one input, which means you can attach multiple digital sources, something which is not possible with built-in DAC.
Best DACs (Digital Analog Converters)
Here are the brief reviews, reasoning, and evidence why the following 5 products are currently the best available on the market.
AudioQuest – DragonFly Red USB DAC [Under $200]
AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt USB Digital-to-Analog Converter
AudioQuest is one of the most recognized manufacturers of audio/video accessories based in California, USA. They are known for their high-end digital-to-audio converters designed for optimum performance. In fact, AudioQuest is the company that introduced compact USB DACs back in 2012.
One of their most popular models is DargonFly RED USB DAC, which is an upgrade to their previous model, the DragonFly Black. To be honest, it is not among the affordable USB DACs in the market, but when it comes to value for your money, it might be difficult to find a similar device.
These are made to give a boost to your headphones. With 2.1v output, it can work with any headphone you own. You can also use an adapter to use it with smartphones, both Apple, and Android. In addition, it can play anything for a low-resolution MP3 to the high-resolution music up to 24-bit/96kHz.
The performance is also better than most of the USB DACs. The sound quality is better than the previous model, as it offers more sophisticated listening experience. With a bass extension, you can experience texture and solidity that makes each sound three-dimensional. Overall, it might be a good option for those who like a super quality sound with transparency, detail, and perfect tone.
- Produces solid, subtle, and sophisticated sound
- Compatible with multiple devices including computer and smartphones
- Improves the sound quality of your headphone drastically
- The maximum sampling rate is 24-bit/96kHz which is pretty high for USB DACs
- Price is higher
FiiO D3 (D03K) DAC [Under $100]
FiiO D3 (D03K) Digital to Analog Audio Converte
Second on our list is the D3 (D03K) DAC by FiiO, a well-known Chinese manufacturer of high-end audio equipment. The FiiO D3 (D03K) is a powerful amplifier available for an extremely affordable price.
It works with 1.6v output and acts as an amplifier as well as a DAC. It works with almost all common sample rates from 24-bit/32kHz to 24-bit/ 192kHz. It is a better option for those who want to use a DAC with speakers instead of headphones.
You can use both coaxial and optical digital output as it works with wide range of music sources that include digital TV, HD-DVD players, game consoles, AV receivers, and other digital media players.
The performance is also great for the price value as it features WM8805 ultra-low jitter digital receiver. It comes with a USB AC Power Adapter as it needs an external power source. It is also a very simple and straightforward device that can be installed and used with ease.
- Works with a wide range of devices
- Very easy to setup and use
- Converts high-resolution music into analog up to 24-bit/192Khz
- You have to buy cables and accessories separately as it comes with only adapter and converter
RME ADI2DACFS Ultra-fidelity PCM/DSD
RME ADI2DACFS Ultra-fidelity PCM/DSD 768 kHz 2-Channel DA Converter
Looking to take your digital audio playback to the next level? Look no further than RME’s ADI2DACFS! This powerhouse converter allows for sample rate conversion up to 768kHz. Plus, it features both SPDIF optical and coaxial connectors, as well as a USB connection for Macs, PCs, and tablets. With this converter in your arsenal, you’ll be able to get the most out of your digital audio files!
The ADI2DACFS is a versatile DAC that features balanced/unbalanced analog I/O, a high-power headphone output, SteadyClock FS, low noise in-ear-monitor output, and class-compliant USB compatibility.
It is ideal for musicians, engineers, or music lovers seeking the best digital to analog conversions with an easy-to-use feature set. USB has been used to record the SPDIF input signal from the actual two-channel Full Duplex audio interface.
TOPPING E30 DAC Hi-Res AK4493
TOPPING E30 DAC Hi-Res AK4493 32Bit/768kHz
TOPPING’s E30 DAC Hi-Res is perfect for music lovers who want to get the most out of their audio experience. This device supports DSD512 and PCM32bit/768kHz audio formats, making it capable of reproducing even the most nuanced details of your favorite tracks. Plus, its 5V power supply ensures compatibility with a wide range of devices and listening scenarios. Finally, the E30 DAC Hi-Res also doubles as a pre-amp, making it ideal for use with an amplifier or powered speakers.
This hi-res dynamo supports USB, OPTICAL and COAXIAL inputs, making it perfect for any audio application. With a 119dB signal-to-noise ratio @ 1kHz, the E30 is sure to deliver pristine sound quality every time. Whether you’re a musician, audio engineer or just an everyday audiophile, you won’t want to miss out on this amazing product!
TOPPING brand is also featured in the following post:
iFi Zen DAC V2
iFi Zen DAC V2 | Desktop Digital Analog Converter with USB 3.0 B Input
Experience the clarity and difference of the iFi Zen DAC V2. It’s the perfect way to upgrade your home audio, office audio, or desktop audio system. This compact DAC gives you great sound through your headphones, active speakers, or amplifier, with connections for USB3.0 (USB2.0 compatible), headphones, balanced mode, and RCA.
The iFi Zen DAC V2 is a high-resolution audio converter that allows you to hear familiar songs in a whole new light. Rich detail and warm natural tones are created by the Burr-Brown True Native digital to analog converter, which can process any hi-res audio format up to PCM 384kHz/24 bit, DSD256, DXD 384kHz, and decodes MQA all without additional conversion.
It is a technological powerhouse, designed with variable analog volume control, PowerMatch adjustment for in-ear monitors and over-ear headphones, and TrueBass to add bass to in-ear monitors. It also boasts a new and improved low jitter clock for superior performance.
iFi Hip-dac Portable Balanced DAC Headphone Amplifier
iFi Hip-dac Portable Balanced DAC Headphone Amplifier
The iFi Hip-dac Portable Balanced DAC Headphone Amplifier is the perfect way to take your music with you wherever you go. With up to 6 hours of battery life and a slim, lightweight design, it’s perfect for carrying in your pocket. And with high-resolution audio support for all your favorite formats, you can listen to any song the way it was meant to be heard. Plus, the powerful onboard amplifier lets you get the most out of your headphones, whether they’re in-ear monitors or over-the-ear headphones.
Experience audiophile quality sound without sacrificing portability with the iFi Hip-dac Portable Balanced DAC Headphone Amplifier. This device offers Power Match and XBass analog enhancements to customize your listening experience, while its digital conversion ensures you can listen to any high-resolution audio format with native playback. With a direct connection to your smartphone via USB input and balanced 4.4mm or S-Bal 3.5mm headphone plugs, the Hip-dac is incredibly versatile and easy to use.
HELM Audio Bolt DAC/AMP
HELM Audio Bolt DAC/AMP, USB-C Portable High-End DAC/Headphone Amplifier
The HELM Audio BOLT DAC/AMP is a high-end, portable DAC/headphone amplifier that supports MQA streaming for unparalleled fidelity in portable audio. Compatible with Android, iOS, Mac, and PC’s, the BOLT delivers studio sound on the go. With amplified audio output and headphone output level matching, the BOLT provides an average increase of +6 dB in devices with combined USB-audio output.
The USB-C input conveniently connects to your PC or laptop, while the 3.5mm audio jack effortlessly connects to your wired headphones or speaker system. The headphone output automatically detects your headphones’ impedance and sets the level accordingly, so you can enjoy the crisp, clear sound without any guesswork.
Audiolab M-DAC+ High-Performance Multi-Purpose Audio DAC
Audiolab M-DAC+ High-Performance Multi-Purpose Audio DAC
The HELM Audio Bolt DAC/AMP is the perfect way to upgrade your audio experience. Featuring the ES9018 Sabre Reference 32–bit DAC chipset, this device provides enhanced sonic performance and supports future advances in ultra–high–definition digital sound.
Whether you’re using it with your computer, phone, or tablet, the Adjustable Sonic Performance feature ensures that you get the best possible sound for your device and listening preferences. So if you’re looking for a portable high-end DAC/headphone amplifier, don’t miss out on the HELM Audio Bolt DAC/AMP!
iFi Nano iDSD Black Label
iFi Nano iDSD Black Label Portable USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier
The iFi Nano iDSD Black Label Portable USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier is perfect for those who want the truest sound possible from all their music formats. With its Burr-Brown True Native chipset, the files remain unchanged, giving you a clear and true sound. Plus, it has up to ten hours of battery life, so you can take it with you wherever you go and enjoy your music for longer.
The iFi Nano iDSD Black Label delivers MQA playback straight out of the box, thanks to its built-in firmware. The analog volume control provides smooth action and sound with precision, while the professional tone of voice ensures that your music sounds its best.
This top-of-the-line product offers S-Balanced technology for maximum performance, plus a USB Type-A connector for a stable wired connection. Whether you’re using single-ended or balanced headphones, the Nano iDSD Black Label is sure to deliver amazing sound quality.
How to Choose The Best DACs?
You can always improve the sound quality of the digital signal by using more powerful DAC, one that comes with more features and uses better technology. Fortunately, we have a lot of good options available in the market today. You can find super expensive custom made DACs used by top musicians and rock stars, as well as cost-effective and smart compact DACs for personal use.
No matter how advanced or how basic the DAC is – there are few must check features before buying one.
- Budget: DACs are available in different price ranges based on the quality and features, so you must first decide about the money you want to spend on this device.
- Use: Second, how do you intend to use your DAC? Do you want it to use with your smartphones? Or a computer? Or with headphones? Or want to use a DAC with multiple devices? Based on your use, you can find different models for different uses.
- Wireless: You can find both wireless and cable DACs.
- Built-Quality and Size: Based on your use and budget, you can find DACs in different sizes and built quality.
- External Connectivity: You can find DACs that allows you to connect with one digital device as well as other models that allow multiple connections.
What are the Different Types of DACs?
You can find a wide range of DACs when it comes to sizes, shapes, and types. Each model has a different level of functionality, features, and input options.
- One of the most common types used as external DAC is Compact Portable USB DAC. These are actually compact headphone amplifiers that are used with headphones, but you can also connect them to a stereo system. These are very small in size, affordable, portable, and require no external power supply as they use computer’s USB port power. Some also use built-in batteries if you want them to use with phones instead of a computer.
- Another popular type of external DAC is Wireless DAC. These DACs connect to the source of the digital signal and broadcast it to the wireless receiver where the digital signal is converted to analog signal. If you intend to work away from the computer or any other source of the digital sound, or don’t like a lot of wires around your workspace, wireless DACs are better but they are not as affordable as USB DACs.
Note: Make sure to compare the broadcast range with the distance you want to cover. Some wireless DACs can send signals to 100 feet.
- Desktop USB DAC is another common type which is similar to portable USB DACs with one major difference. Unlike portable DACs, these models need external AC power. They are also bigger in size and come with more features, while some models also allow you to connect more than one devices.
- In addition, there are some other types with limited applications which include DACs designed for iPhone and other Apple products, Headphone DACs, and Component Hi-Fi DACs. The latter are the largest and often the most expensive DACs that can connect to your home audio system.
How to Get the Most out of the Best DACs?
Buying the best DAC does not guarantee best results unless you know how to make the most out of them. Keep in mind – DACs are just one part of the music playback chain that consists of several components, like a computer, phone, stereo system, headphones, etc. This is why the quality of the sound depends on a lot of other factors as well. Here are some tips to get the best result out of the DAC:
- Make sure to use the music files in the highest resolution available. There are several online tools available like Spotify that can allow you to save the music files in higher resolution.
- Make sure the quality of the audio components is compatible with the quality of the DAC you are buying. Entry level DAC will not work with high-end and expensive amps, while an expensive component DAC will fail to deliver if used with low-quality audio components.
All of the products listed in our article are the best DACs available in the market and you can choose the one according to your liking. If you are looking for a USB DAC, the first and the last option by iFi Nano iDSD Black Label are the good options. But if you are looking for multi-purpose and more powerful DACs, the other three options are great.
If we have to choose one for you, we will choose the RME ADI2DACFS Ultra-fidelity PCM/DSD. It is not only affordable but works with all types of digital audio sources and easily convert different resolutions into a super quality sound.