Digital to Analog converters, or DACs, are seemingly overlooked pieces of equipment responsible for converting the digital signals that come via your favorite streaming service into something that can be played by an old-school amplifier, speaker set, or one-plug headset.
They were supposed to be a thing of the past. At least, if you had asked around in the prehistorical times of the early 2010s, most people would have pointed out that your laptop, PC, or smartphone has an internal DAC that would be more than enough to do the job. But with progress comes higher standards, and now most audiophiles would agree that “doing the job” is simply not enough if you are chasing high-fidelity, accurate sound reproduction.
Whether you are in the business of playing music for large amounts of people or simply like to ensure the best possible quality when chilling on your own, a DAC can be the magical piece of equipment that will bring harmony back to your life. Naturally, there is a wide variety of models and prices with wildly differing output qualities. Skip the trial-and-error and check out this list with the best 15 DACs available right now.
This is achieved thanks to its built-in equalizer tool, which will help you regulate bass and make the most of all the different notes hiding beneath your soundtrack. Thanks to its own volume knob and integrated mic and headphone ports, it can quickly double as a great companion for a home recording session or into an immersion superpower while gaming.
This reputation makes their D1 DAC into a pleasant budget-friendly surprise. Its dual optical and USB input offers up to 24-bit/192 kHz conversions, which is more than enough for the home user. In addition, the device itself is small, light, and smooth. Its well-polished aluminum edges would never look odd in any living room. A good set of input and output jacks, as well as a 2-meter-long USB cable, are also included.
The DAC MAGIC 100 supports a wide variety of audio files, from standard download mp3s to lossless studio quality files. Its panel includes a power and source button (it does not switch to sleep mode on its own) and the ability to display the incoming sample rate.
Just in case you were running the risk of discarding them because of the sound quality offered by their smartphones, the UDA1 DAC is here to remind us of what they can truly do. With the ability to decode up to 32-bit/192kHz sampling, this DAC can be installed easily on any Mac computer as a “plug and play,” instantly turning any home session into a studio-worthy experience. On Windows computers, a quick driver installation will be required, but it shouldn’t hold you back for more than a few minutes.
It is just as big as any portable power bank, but its silver aluminum casing won’t let you mistake it for a cheap gadget. The LED display will let you quickly check out the sampling rate being offered now while the smartly placed output and input jacks will allow you to connect your headset without hassle or bulkiness. Finally, its ability to self-regulate its sampling rate and its accurate internal clock will prevent jitters or bumps on your track.
Despite its wide array of options and possible settings, the D3 is nonetheless very easy to carry and to set up. It is even easier to adjust, thanks to its coaxial/optical switch, which will let you flip from one to the next seamlessly. The external power cable is included.
The round buttons and clear lights will make it very easy to know exactly what are you converting and at what rate, and works exceptionally well with speakers and other open-audio systems. However, this DAC is clearly meant to be adaptable as it includes both 3.5 mm and 6.3 mm audio jack outputs along with a stereo RCA connection.
Standing at barely 5.3 inches long and 5.8 inches wide, the SHA900 will instantly improve your output on the go, wherever you go, alongside completely new expectation for what a Phone DAC is meant to accomplish. It works with good, long-lasting included lithium-ion batteries.
Input selection and volume knobs offer superior adaptability for this high-end device. Combine them with its USB and 6.3mm headphone outputs, and its dual optical/coaxial input, and the result is one DAC to play all your files, with the option to adjust the bass and tones quickly. As a final bonus, its double clock offers great protection against jitters.
Sound quality and complexity have been privileged in every aspect, but especially over memory size. The elegant design evokes some of the brand’s classic pieces and is clearly meant to bring us back to the days before digital audio and bitrate compression were the norm. A dual USB port, USB-type B and a USB-to-coaxial cable can be mixed and matched seamlessly to offer supreme versatility without sacrificing power. A CD input and a Tuner input ensure that no audio form is left behind, while its separate volume, treble, and bass knobs are a micromanager’s dream.
Thanks to its proprietary chip and AB amplifier, this DAC offers PCM sampling frequencies ranging from 44 kHz to 384 kHz at 16, 24, and 32-bit qualities. In addition, the internal battery can be charged with a standard micro-USB cable and will yield 7 hours of uninterrupted music after a full charge.
The LED lights-based display can convey an astonishing amount of information despite its minimalism. Just make sure to notice the color-coding to know exactly what you’re looking at. This also allows the MOJO to save up energy, offering up to 10 hours of battery life per charge. That’s not bad at all for a Micro-USB powered battery.
We’re pretty sure that you have owned larger memory sticks than this DAC, despite the rather impressive sound output it offers. With the ability to handle files of up to 24 bits or 96 kHz. It features digital volume control and an ESS amp, all optimized to consume only the amount of energy it can get from the average smartphone.
The Magic X2 offers enough muscle to handle high-impedance headphones and normal headsets alike, offering good tonal balance either way. Although not strictly plug-and-play, first time setup is quick and intuitive.
Full LAN and Wi-Fi connectivity mean that the maximum performance will be affected by the speed of your internet. However, when plugged directly into the PC, it can offer up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM playback. Highly accurate volume knobs and input selectors ensure that anything going through this device will be immediately infused with an airy, pleasant quality alongside a rich sound. The lack of analog inputs is almost impossible to notice unless you are truly on a mission.
Digital to Analog Converters 101
If you are new to the audio gear world, navigating the many features of all DAC models may be confusing at first. Here’s a quick rundown on available models and technologies to help you choose the right type of DAC.
Digital to Analog Converters come in four different sizes, all offering different portability options. The smallest available DACs are usually USB-type systems, which act as a “plug and play” replacement for your laptop’s sound card, and are usually no larger than a flash drive. Smartphone and tablet users can find equivalent improvements with a flat, small phone DAC instead.
If you are looking to power up your system a little bit more, you can opt for a Desktop USB DAC. These are slightly bigger but provide better and more accurate conversion for a desktop computer’s more powerful soundcard. While still portable, most of these need batteries or an external power source.
If you’d rather privilege power over portability, a Hi-Fi DAC may be the way to go. You won’t be able to sneak one of these in your purse or messenger bag, but they will offer support for complex speaker systems, amplifiers, and home theater systems. If what you are looking for is an opportunity to turn a home movie screening into a full Dolby surround experience, then Hi-Fi DACs are what you should aim for.