Nowadays, most modern technology comes with a built-in DAC. However, most of these do not use the high-quality components that external DACs do, which can lower the audio quality coming from your devices. Therefore, if you’re an audiophile or music lover, you’ll want a top quality DAC. To help you find just that, we have received & compared all the best high end & budget digital to analog converters on the market.
In a hurry? The most superior desktop DAC in [year] is the Cambridge Audio DacMagic. Meanwhile, the best portable USB DAC is the AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt.
Best Audiophile DAC: Quick Comparison
Chord Mojo DAC & Headphone Amplifier||Check Price|
Cambridge Audio DacMagic 192kHz DAC||Check Price|
AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt Portable USB DAC||Check Price|
EarStudio ES100 Wireless Bluetooth Receiver/USB DAC||Check Price|
Fosi Audio Q4 Stereo DAC & Headphone Amplifier||Check Price|
Top High End & Budget Digital To Analogue Convertors [year]: Reviews
1. Chord Mojo Portable High End DAC
Best DAC For Audiophiles
The Chord Mojo DAC & Headphone Amplifier is about as high-end as you can get, and the price tag reflects it.
This portable DAC and amplifier combo is ideal for smartphones but also works with PCs.
The Chord Mojo DAC is tiny, fitting in the palm of your hand and weighing 0.4 Pounds.
However, don’t let its size fool you, as it is incredibly powerful, converting almost any audio file up to 768kHz 32bit into crystal clear analog sound.
In addition, the audio output boasts subtle detailing and a fine rhythmic drive.
This USB audiophile DAC has an 8-hour battery life with a 4 hour charging time. The only complaint we had is that it is quite pricey.
Even so, it’s undoubtedly a top-quality portable DAC to take wherever you go.
- Converts all file types from 32kHz to 768kHz, including DSD 256
- Two 3.5mm outputs for dual listening
- Convenient USB charging
- Compact and lightweight
- High End
2. Cambridge Audio DacMagic 192kHz DAC
First place goes to the DacMagic from Cambridge Audio for its durability, reliability, and extremely high quality digital to analog conversion.
This standalone desktop Wolfson DAC dramatically improves sound quality and reduces distortion with 24-bit/192k support.
The DacMagic is an ideal component for an audiophile’s computer sound setup. It takes sound from a PC to an amp without losing a drop of detail, depth, or clarity.
It has two coaxial inputs, one optical input, and one USB audio port. Plus, you can easily switch between your sources via the front panel controls.
For anyone that wants to bypass low-quality internal processors and decode their digital audio to the highest quality, the Cambridge Audio DacMagic will not disappoint.
What’s more, this DAC is in the mid-price range, but we believe it is far superior to some of the more expensive DACs on the market.
- Best DAC for rich, deep audio quality
- Wide frequency response
- Sturdy and durable construction
- Easy to use
- Not portable
3. AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt Portable USB DAC
Best Portable Audipohile USB DAC
If a portable USB DAC is what you need, you won’t find a better one than the AudioQuest Dragonfly.
This small yet powerful DAC features native resolution up to 24-bit / 96kHz and an ESS ES9038Q2M DAC chip with a minimum-phase slow roll-off filter to give the most natural sound possible.
As well as serving as a DAC, the AudioQuest Dragonfly is also a preamplifier and headphone amplifier.
It plays all music files from MP3 to MQA, and you can connect it to your laptop, PC, or smartphone.
However, if using it with your phone, you’ll need a USB Type-A adaptor or an Apple Lightning-to-USB adapter for iPhones.
This USB DAC doesn’t work only with a wide range of low to high-efficiency headphones. You can connect it to powered speakers or a complete audio system and experience exceptionally clean, transparent music and sound.
- Produces natural and clear audio
- Built-in preamp and headphone amp
- Wide compatibility
- Compact and lightweight
- Requires a USB adaptor for smartphone use
4. EarStudio ES100 Bluetooth USB Wireless DAC Audiophile
Best Value High Quality DAC
You don’t have to spend over $100 to get a good quality DAC, and EarStudio ES100 24bit high-res DAC is proof.
This small piece of advanced technology gives you wireless headphone wear and significantly improved sound.
The Qualcomm CSR8675 chipset uses advanced Bluetooth Codecs for seamless wireless connection to any Bluetooth-supported device.
It also has a DualDrive, providing superior, high-fidelity sound quality and two outputs; 2.5mm balanced and 3.5mm unbalanced.
The Earstudio ES100 has four different DAC filters to choose from and three oversampling options. You can set these and control the volume and the 10-band equalizer via the iOS/Android app.
The ES100 boasts a 14-hour battery life, and you can charge it while using it without any audio distortion or interference. In addition, it’s incredibly compact, lightweight, and has a shirt clip, making it the best value portable DAC in [year].
- Bluetooth 5.0 wireless connection
- High-resolution 24-bit playback
- Dual drives
- Balanced and unbalanced output ports
- 14-hour battery life
- The connection does sometimes drop
5. Fosi Audio Q4 Mini Stereo DAC & Headphone Amplifier
Best Budget DAC For Audiophiles
The Fosi Audio Q4 mini stereo DAC and headphone amplifier combo features USB, optical and coaxial inputs and has some impressive features despite its low price.
The Fosi Audio Q4 allows you to adjust the bass, treble, and volume. It also has an anti-interference function to ensure all audio output is crisp, clear, and natural. Furthermore, it gives the highest resolution of 24Bit/96kHz and has a built-in Hi-Fi headphone amp chip that can drive most 16-ohm to 200-ohm headphones.
Overall this DAC is easy to use, lightweight and has a wide range of compatibility. It’s frequency response is 20Hz-20kHz, has a 0.01% distortion rate, and 105dB SNR. It may be low in price, but it’s high in quality, both inside and out.
- Bass, treble, and volume adjustment
- Widely compatible – works with any playback source
- Has multiple input ports
- Durable and heat-resistant aluminum shell
- It does not give studio-grade audio
Digital To Analog Converter FAQ
What Does An Audio DAC do?
DAC stands for digital to analog converter. A DAC converts digital information stored in electronic devices such as laptops and game consoles into an analog audio signal.
The DAC then sends that analog signal to an amplifier to produce sound. Therefore, whenever you play a digital recording, you hear an analog signal produced and translated from digital data by a DAC.
Does A DAC Improve Sound Quality?
A DAC’s primary job is to convert the audio information. However, high-quality DACs can improve the quality of your audio too. A DAC can enhance the clarity and depth in music and even allow you to hear finer details in vocals and instruments.
In fact, most audiophiles will notice an improvement in their sound quality instantly when they use a DAC for the first time.
Types Of DAC
There are three types of DACs that you will come across when searching for an audiophile DAC. They are standalone DACs, DAC/headphone amplifier combos, and portable DACS.
- A standalone DAC is a reasonably large device with high-quality outputs. They are most commonly used with PCs and laptops and require an external amplifier to work.
- A DAC/headphone amplifier combo is a convenient alternative to a standalone version as you do not need an external amp. Many of these will have a volume control, so you can manually adjust the volume feeding into your headphones.
- A portable DAC is best for small devices such as smartphones and tablets. Unlike a standalone DAC, a portable one is very compact and easy to carry around with you. Many portable DACs will have a built-in headphone amplifier too.
Final Words About The Best Audiophile DAC
Whatever your budget, you’ll find a top quality digital to analog converter from our list of reviewed & compared DACs.
To sum it up the best high end audiophile DACs in [year] are the Chord Mojo Black high end DAC and the Cambridge Audio DacMagic Digital to Analog Converter DAC
Alternatively, the EarStudio ES100 MK2-24bit Portable High-Resolution Bluetooth Receiver/USB DAC is the best most affordable option if you want to keep costs low.
Dave Pearson is a Canadian musician, sound editor, and audiophile. He is also the founder and owner of the website SoundProofGeek. On SoundProofGeek, Pearson offers advice and resources on audio equipment, including how to assess and improve audio quality, how to troubleshoot and repair audio equipment, and how to improve the music listening experience.