Best DACs

Review & Comparison, Last Update May 29, 2019
When laptop or PC speakers are just not your cup of tea, you might just start looking for ways to improve the output sound. DAC converters are, perhaps, the best of them. Light, portable, and extremely useful, DAC converters are capable of boosting your puny MP3 tracks to a studio level sound in no time. ...Read more ...Read less
BEST 2019
PROS
CONS
OUR VERDICT
Interfaces
Housing
Audio Fidelity
Extras
Dimensions
Warranty
 
PROS

The USB cable of this model features triple shielding that prevents any kinds of noise occurring during use. Even if you are using several electric appliances at the same time, the chance of humming occurring is minimal.

CONS

The power light indicator is a bit too bright.

OUR VERDICT

An essential device for both modern and old-school sound devices. The D1 is equipped with all interfaces you might need, from RCA to USB and an AUX, while the attractive price tag makes it a go-to pick for all Hi-Fi enthusiasts.

detailed parameters
Interfaces

USB Audio input, Optical Input

2xRCA audio outputs, 3.5 mm AUX port

Housing

Aluminum / Plastic

Audio Fidelity

24-bit / 192 kHz

Extras

Volume dial, Gold-plated connectors, USB-cable included

Dimensions

3.5" x 3.75" x 1″

Warranty

3 years

PROS

Thanks to its modest dimensions, DragonFly is one of the best portable solutions for sound improvement on the go. Compatible with virtually any mobile device it can be connected via both AUX and USB cable.

CONS

The plastic stick tends to get hot during use.

OUR VERDICT

Light, compact, and extremely versatile, the DragonFly can be used with any device that has a soundcard and AUX or USB output. On top of that, the gold-plated connectors make the sound exceptionally crisp and clear.

detailed parameters
Interfaces

USB Audio input

3.5 mm AUX port

Housing

Plastic

Audio Fidelity

24-bit / 96 kHz

Extras

Gold-plated USB-connector

Dimensions

2.4" x 0.79" x 1.18"

Warranty

1 year

PROS

A Bass Boost function makes this model a must for any audiophile that doesn't have a subwoofer yet. With gain high and low switchers the lower frequencies will sound better than ever before.

CONS

The USB cable that comes with the converter is unreasonably short.

OUR VERDICT

The decoder from FiiO can easily become your best friend when it comes down to improving the sound quality. By being smaller, it will be a great alternative to a dedicated soundcard, which will come in handy for laptop owners.

detailed parameters
Interfaces

USB Audio input

Coaxial out, 3.5-mm line out, 3.5 mm AUX port

Housing

Aluminum

Audio Fidelity

24-bit / 96 kHz

Extras

Volume dial, Bass boost feature, gain low/high switch, Gold-plated connectors

Dimensions

3.11" x 1.93" x 0.83"

Warranty

1 year

PROS

The gold-plated connectors of this model minimize the chances of noise occurring during use and prolong the service life of your cables by quite a bit.

CONS

If used with high-impedance gear a light humming may occur.

OUR VERDICT

This transmitter is quite easy to use and control which makes it extremely accessible. To add more, the aluminum housing of the device makes it extremely durable and creates good passive cooling for the electric circuits during use.

detailed parameters
Interfaces

Coaxial input, Optical input

2xRCA audio outputs, 3.5 mm AUX port

Housing

Aluminum

Audio Fidelity

24-bit / 96 kHz

Extras

Gold-plated connectors, USB-power cable, Optical cable

Dimensions

2.9" x 2.2" x 0.87"

Warranty

18 months

PROS

There are a number of interfaces that feature both optical and coaxial switches. On top of the regular AUX port, you can use the two remaining ones at the same time with ease.

CONS

Connector placement is not the best solution out there.

OUR VERDICT

If you are looking for a budget-friendly DAC, this is, perhaps, the best deal around. The sampling rates of 24-bit / kHz make it hard to compete with. Additionally, the great quality of the build makes it extremely reliable even if used intensively.

detailed parameters
Interfaces

Coaxial input, Optical input

2xRCA audio outputs, 3.5 mm AUX port

Housing

Plastic

Audio Fidelity

24-bit / 192 kHz

Extras

Volume dial, Optical/coaxial switch, USB-power cable, Optical cable

Dimensions

3.46" x 2.36" x 0.9"

Warranty

2 years

Audioengine D1

Versatility and Performance to Match

The 24-bit D1 DAC from Audioengine has all the features you may need to achieve that perfect sound for your stereo system or in-ear monitors.

First things first, the audio fidelity of this converter can reach up to 192 kHz, which is impressive as for such a small device.

This converter system is compatible with both the Mac and PC platforms (that run on Windows and Linux operating systems). What is more, there is no additional software needed in order to connect the device to your computer since this model supports plug-n-play mode. Speaking of plug and play, the D1 feels quite comfortable when connected to mobile devices as well, this includes music devices such as iPods, iPads, smartphones, portable gaming consoles etc.

Thanks to the built-in USB and AUX ports, the Audioengine D1 can be used not only as a converter for computers and laptops but also for DVD players, TV sets, and other digital equipment. This way, the D1 acts as an ideal solution for virtually any digital device that is capable of producing sound.

Review of Audioengine D1 24-bit

An Essential DAC Model

On top of the standard wired interfaces, the converter also features a set of optical ones that will be extremely useful if you plan to pair the device with in-ear monitors or headphones. The powerful amplifier will let you improve the sound fidelity of the digital source file without losing any bit of the analog output quality.

The only real issue with that particular DAC model is the incompatibility with audio devices that have an internal impedance level of 70 Ohms or higher. The reason for that is the built-in amplifier will produce light noise that can potentially ruin the listening experience. Thus, in case you want to use this converter with some special tech pieces that have high impedance levels, we strongly recommend using a dedicated multi-track amplifier.

That being said, even though this model is not meant for professional use, if paired with a decent sound card or playback device, it still can produce a studio-like sound without too much of a hassle.

Audioengine has been on a market for less than 20 years but has already managed to build a name for their products that ooze quality of build and overall performance. To wrap things up, the D1 stands out in the crowd of similar products thanks to the exceptionally good hardware, high-quality connectors and an overall great output sound. Even though it is not the cheapest model around, it simply has little competition when compared to other similar products.

Audioengine D1 24-bit in the use

Additional Info

    Manufacturer


 

AudioQuest DragonFly

Boost the Sound on the Fly!

When you want to squeeze out something more than regular 24-bit that most of the sound cards are able to produce you will need a digital-to-analog converter. Nevertheless, what are your options when you need a more convenient and portable device? The DragonFly is the model you need in this case.

What we have here is not just a great piece of audio tech but a great piece of audio tech that has all it takes to be a great converter - the specifications, performance, design - you name it.

Being one of the most unusual Digital-to-Analog converters available on the market today, the DragonFly from AudioQuest features a surprising quality of sound output, despite its compact size.

Speaking of size, the converter is no bigger than a regular flash drive stick, however, this design is completely misleading, since that so-called “stick” has a real punch to it. By opening the case one will find that the USB-like housing features a 32-bit converter and, amazingly enough - an amplifier with a preamp on a single circuit board. The updated version of the DragonFly also has a lower power consumption while maintaining the same audio quality as its award-winning predecessor.

Review of AudioQuest DragonFly Plug-in USB DAC

Low-Voltage Beauty

With just 1.5-volt input voltage, the converter is capable of powering a pair of studio headphones or a set of speakers with an impedance of up to 70-80 Ohms. That is achieved, thanks to a powerful amplifier and preamp that deliver a truly stunning sound even from simple MP3 files right to your ears.

Regardless of the output device, if the DragonFly is connected to your audio system the end result will simply be amazing. The small stick is capable of enriching the bass, treble and tone of your favorite music tracks in a matter of seconds. The only real issue with this particular model, though, is the lack of a USB port. So, in case you want to use the DragonFly with mobile devices such as Android or iOS phones and tablets you might want to purchase an OTG USB cable in order to connect the amplifier properly.

Although this 6.4-ounce sound enhancer is advertised as a budget-friendly counterpart from the same company, the price might not be so budget-friendly for some users. That being said, the overall output quality of this small stick is hard to match even if compared with more pricey 64-bit models.

All in all, the DragonFly despite its plug-in nature is capable of competing with premium models, while its affordable price makes it a great pick for all audiophiles out there.

AudioQuest DragonFly Plug-in USB DAC in the use

Additional Info

    Manufacturer


 

Fiio E10K

Negate the Excessive Noise

The Fiio E10K is, without a doubt, one of the most affordable DAC models out there, but what about the actual quality of sound coming out of this tiny device? Let’s take a closer look at the specifications and find out, shall we?

On top of the regular features that all similar converter models have, the E10K features a dedicated Bass Boost mode that can be activated by simply pressing the respective button on the front panel of the device. Additionally, this model has an “Old-School” volume dial, just like a fully-fledged guitar amplifier. Although it is a neat addition to an already good looking device, it does create an impedance level that can interfere with achieving perfect sound fidelity. Other than that, the Bass Booster feature can increase the audio power by 3 dB while the driver software will help you in balancing the equalizer and tone of the sound output.

Review of Fiio E10K Portable Headphone Amplifier

Connectivity and Portability

As for the connectivity, the converter has a number of ports so let’s break down the essential interfaces. First of all, the unit has a standard Line-in and AUX ports as well as a micro USB slot that can also be used to connect your mobile gadgets if you have an OTG USB cable (for modern models that don’t have an AUX port). Additionally, there is a coaxial input that can be used for connecting a larger number of playback devices or in order to extend an already existing stereo system.

Moving on, this converter and amplifier combo features a low-pass filter that diminishes any additional digital noise that may occur when playing low-bitrate sound files. Since most of the DAC models feature the jitter reduction system the E10K is not an exception from this rule, and also has an additional protection circuit that reduces any excessive digital pulses that create that kind of noise.

Although it is not a dedicated portable device, the dimensions of the housing allow using it as such. The converter fits any medium-sized pocket with ease, which will come in handy for those who prefer listening to music on the go.

Despite some minor flaws, in the end, the E10K comes out a winner in the battle between dedicated and built-in DACs. The device is compact, easy to use, and most importantly it is a well-built product that will beat any built-in PC sound converter out there with relative ease. Definitely, the E10K from FiiO is a go-to product for any audiophile that seeks to improve the sound output of their computer or laptop.

Fiio E10K Portable Headphone Amplifier in the use

VIDEO
FiiO E10K REVIEW! Headphone Amplifier and USB DAC.
 

PROZOR DAC001

Silent Workhorse

Despite the modest price tag, this DAC audio converter from PROZOR is surprisingly good at delivering warm, crisp sound no matter the circumstances. Labeled as a “Workhorse”, the device will silently do its job once it’s been set up and tuned to your personal preferences.

Beneath the deceptively simple surface, the minimalistic design of the converter hides a couple of systems that make it a universal device. On top of that, the device comes with all cables that are needed to power it and to connect it to various sound output systems.

The coaxial cable allows connecting not only wired devices but also wireless sound output systems such as Bluetooth speakers or headphones. That feature alone makes the DAC0001 a worthy pick for any TV, monitor or PC that doesn’t have wireless capabilities. Additionally, this model can be used as a buffer in case the TV set doesn’t have an AUX port.

Review of PROZOR DAC001 Digital to Analog Converter

Not Just Your Regular DAC Unit

Unlike many other modern DAC models out there the DAC001 features a set of RCA ports, that will come in handy if you want to connect older model multimedia devices. With that in mind, the converter is also compatible with a large number of modern devices such as Apple TVs, PS 4, and Xbox One, among many others. The trick to setting up and connecting the converter to the various multimedia systems is turning on either the PCM or LPCM option in the settings of the device. Although there are no perfect products, we were surprised to know that this model is only incompatible with 5.1 CH systems. Despite this minor inconvenience, by purchasing the DAC0001 you are getting a set that consists of both the converter and the amplifier that is capable of increasing volume and the fidelity of your sound files.

The hardware of the converter allows upsampling audio files that have a low bitrate from 24 kHz up to 48 kHz and 96 kHz while maintaining the high volume without breaking a sweat. Although the output sound quality is dependant on the initial format of the file, you will definitely hear the difference between the source and the output sound in just a few seconds after you have turned the converter on.

All things considered, the DAC from PROZOR is definitely one of the most appealing solutions for sound quality improvement, and definitely one of the best DACs on the market when it comes to compatibility with sound systems. On top of that, the affordable price tag makes it even harder to resist - the device is reliable and well-built, and with that in mind - surely there is little room to go wrong by choosing this model.

PROZOR DAC001 Digital to Analog Converter in the use

Additional Info

User Manual


 

Avantree DAC02

Reliability Is the Key

One of the best DACs in the medium price range that are available today, the DAC02 is a good choice for those who need a reliable sound booster for their media systems. But what actually makes this model so good? Let’s break down the core features of this converter and find out.

First of all, the appliance is powered by a single USB cable so it is rather low-voltage. What is interesting, though, is that the port for the USB cable is labeled as DC for reasons that are better left unanswered. Thus, you will have to dedicate one USB port or a USB strip for powering the device. Other than that interesting design choice, there is not much to be confused about, as every other interface is labeled correctly and is, basically, self-explanatory.

With this DAC you will get your standard RCA, AUX, coaxial, and optic inputs. Thanks to the combination of these different inputs, the DAC02 can be used with a variety of different multimedia systems from TV sets to modern gaming consoles and stereos. The only hiccup you may encounter while connecting this device to your TV set is that you will have to manually change the audio output from the TV speakers to the external speakers. Other than that, the converter has little to no issues with pairing even with modern devices.

Review of Avantree DAC02 Digital to Analog Audio Converter

A Great Midrange Option

Despite its great compatibility, this converter will not work with passive speakers or wireless (Bluetooth) devices. The problem with the PA’s is that they require being powered from the RCA output, and the converter simply cannot produce the voltage that will be sufficient enough to power large passive drives of such speakers. On the other hand, however, professional headphones with high impedance will also filter a fair bit of low-to-mid frequencies, which will require something more powerful than the built-in preamp of this converter.

However, the good news is that this DAC model works flawlessly with headphones with an impedance lower than 48 Ohms. The converting process may take a few seconds at first, but when the system gets going you won’t even notice these slight delays in playback. As for the sampling rates, the converter is capable of boosting your regular MP3 tracks up to CD quality with relative ease, which is quite impressive for a device that is not advertised as a studio multi-track converter.

In case you want to save funds, space, and most importantly - time, then the Avantree DAC02 will be an ideal choice if you are looking for a great converter that is not overpriced.

Avantree DAC02 Digital to Analog Audio Converter in the use

Additional Info

    Manufacturer


 

What Is a DAC?

A digital to analog audio converter, or simply DAC, is a system that transforms a digital audio signal into analog, which can be useful if you are seeking to improve your listening experience. An essential device for virtually any sound system from a regular stereo to a modern PC that has a set of speakers or an AUX output port, the DACs are a must-have in case you don’t own a dedicated sound card.

Depending on your needs you may choose between portable and stationary converter models. Likewise, the power level is also important, so in case you are looking for a DAC for your mobile device, you won’t be looking for a device with RCA cables.

As for the options for audiophiles, you may look into devices that include all types of interfaces from USB to AUX that will be compatible with your top-of-the-line studio monitors.

If you are looking for ways to improve your existing home sound system, you may be interested in taking a look at floor speakers that will definitely spice up the experience of listening to music. Alternatively, if you want a real bass-booster added to your car, there’s our sneak peek at top car speaker models out there.

What Features to Compare

When the number of devices that are capable of playing digital music increases every day it may be a good idea to invest in a converter that makes that type of music sound better. Even though there are quite a few options available on the market today, there are a few universal types of DACs that we will cover in our review. Thus, let’s take a look at the core aspects of the digital to analog audio converters so you will have a good idea of what to look for.

Power Source

All digital to analog converters are generally powered by a USB cable, AA battery, or a low-voltage DC power source. In some cases they are powered directly by the device they are connected to (just like USB flash-sticks for example). If you are looking for a stationary device that can be used with a laptop or a PC we recommend opting for DC or USB-powered ones. Alternatively, if you are a fan of music streaming services your best bet would be a battery-powered device.

Interfaces and Compatibility

By choosing a dedicated DAC one might easily fall into an incompatibility trap. While some converter devices offer only AUX or USB connections, other models can be used as a so-called middleman between older digital devices such as DVD or Blu Ray players as well as TV sets and screens with RCA outputs. Likewise, you can use your old-school speakers that are also using RCA ports. However, the number of interfaces doesn’t always ensure great output quality which leads us to the next section.

Noise Reduction

Although purchasing a DAC might seem like the best possible solution in improving the overall quality of sound, in reality, you will have to assess a lot of aspects of your existing stereo system. A good converter, most certainly, will reduce a lot of ongoing system noise so opting for good static reduction hardware will negate a lot of possible issues in the long run. Such hardware includes various amplifiers and preamps that increase the signal of low and medium frequencies, usually neglected by standard converter models.

Sampling Rates and Operational Impedance

As a rule, all dedicated DACs are capable of improving the sound of the source material tracks. However, not all converters are compatible with sound studio gear and similar output devices. Why is that? The answer to this question is quite simple - operational impedance. Studio headphones and speakers are designed to handle a large number of devices connected to them simultaneously, hence, their impedance is way higher than one of the regular sound monitors. Before making a final decision, it will be important to check the maximum operational impedance of the DAC that you fancy.

In addition to the impedance, the sampling rates of each DAC will determine the types of source material the chosen converter is capable of boosting. While 8- to 12-Bit devices are only capable of amplifying only low-bitrate file types, the converter with a processing power of 24-Bit and above will handle virtually anything from MP3 to FLAC.

It is also worth mentioning that some premium models come with downloadable content such as digital converters and equalizers that you can use for altering the output sound.

Did you know?

How Do Digital to Analog Converters Work?

By opting for an external DAC the users ask themselves “How will this thing improve the sound quality after all?”. The thing is, you wouldn’t be able to experience any sound at all if it wasn’t for analog sound waves.

Any speaker, headphone or monitor utilizes analog sound in order to produce sound waves that our ears can hear. Hence, every motherboard or sound card features a set of circuits that act as audio signal decoders or, simply put - converters. The only trick with them is that more often than not their quality leaves something more to be desired.

A regular DAC takes the digital data and decodes the “0s” and “1s” into an analog audio signal, the one that you can actually hear through the speakers of your laptop, PC, TV set, iPod, CD player, etc. That being said, the DAC audio converter wouldn’t be able to produce that signal without an amplifier, or so-called “preamp”. That is why most modern DAC models feature a built-in amplifier, small or big, in order to deliver a Hi-Fi sound to your speakers or headphones.

How to Set up a Digital to Analog Converter?

Even though DACs are fairly simple devices to both use and maintain, sometimes you may encounter some issues with either setting up the appliance itself or with pairing the converter to your multimedia playback system of choice. Hence we will take a quick glance at some issues that DAC users encounter during the initial setup of their devices.

  • First and foremost, you will have to connect the device that acts as an audio source to the converter by using either AUX, USB, or coaxial cables.
  • Furthermore, you will need to connect the Audio/Video (A/V) receivers or amplifiers (if you need them) to the converter box using the correct L/R cables.
  • After the initial cable connection is done, it is time to connect the power cables. Depending on the model of the converter it can be powered by a DC plug (5V), or by a USB cable.
  • Finally, it is time to pair the device with your multimedia system of choice. When the device is powered, if you are using a TV set or other kind of multimedia center (such as modern gaming consoles or DVD/Blu Ray players for example) you will have to select and turn on the external speaker option in the settings or its equivalent depending on the operating system you are using.

Speaking of operating systems, you can connect your digital to audio converter to a laptop or PC using the AUX cables. Most of the DAC models are compatible with the latest versions of Windows and MacOS so pairing won’t be a problem. If you run into any issues, the drivers will smooth any corners you may encounter while pairing the converter with your computer.

Alternatively, if the converter supports the USB data transfer interface you can use your mobile devices with it in order to improve the quality of sound when using popular audio and video streaming services.

In the end, be sure to always check the cables before turning the power on, since damaged wires can damage not only the DAC itself but also the playback device.

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Publish Date: 2019-01-11 14:26:04