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.
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- Marcel Pelgrom
- Publisher: Springer
- Analog Devices Inc. Engineeri
- Publisher: Newnes
- Michael Parker
- Publisher: Newnes
- Shanthi Pavan, Richard Schreier, Gabor C. Temes
- Publisher: Wiley-IEEE Press
Last update on 2019-09-16 | Details
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.
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.
Note: Make sure to compare the broadcast range with the distance you want to cover. Some wireless DACs can send signals to 100 feet.
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.
The 5 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.
1. AudioQuest – DragonFly Red USB DAC [Under $200]
- 32-Bit SABRE DAC
- 2.1v Output Drives Almost Any Headphones
Last update on 2019-02-05 | Details
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.
2. FiiO D3 (D03K) DAC [Under $100]
- Converts coaxial or optical digital audio input to analog stereo output over RCA and 3.5mm mini jack
- Supports all popular sample rates including 32kHz, 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 96kHz and 192kHz, at up to 24-bit...
Last update on 2019-01-31 | Details
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.
3. Marantaz HD-DAC1 [Under $1000]
- Jitter remover 192kHz/24bit D/A Converter (CS4398)
- Dual clock.Headphone Power-800mW / 32 ohm
Last update on 2019-01-31 | Details
The third on our list is a feature-filled model from Marantaz, a Japan-based company that manufactures high-end audio devices. The HD-DAC1 is one of their most popular DAC models that can also be used as an amplifier.
It makes to our list for various reasons. First, it is a very well-built product that has a smart and pleasant looking design. It uses an oversized internal transformer for better audio performance that makes it slightly heavier for its size.
You can use multiple and all common types of digital inputs with this device. You can also use the two pairs of RCAs that make it good for both headphone and external stereo systems.
The sound quality is also exceptional as you can feel more depth, air, and detail in each sound note. Some other notable features include DSD playback, hi-resolution audio support, dual clock headphone power (800mW/32 ohm) and double bottom plate that make it sturdy and durable.
4. Cambridge Audio DacMagic 100 Black [Under $200]
- Works with Any Mac or PC or virtually any device with a digital audio output
- 1 x USB, 2 x Coaxial Digital, and 1 x Optical Input
Last update on 2019-01-31 | Details
Next on our list is another top model from a London based manufacturer of audio equipment – Cambridge Audio. The Audio DacMagic 100 is one of their latest DAC models that can also be used as an amplifier.
This is also among the most affordable models from Cambridge, but this doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice on quality or features. It offers you multiple digital connectivity and outputs. It comes with high-quality hardware, produces amazing sound, and uses Dual Wolfson WM8740’s DAC chipset.
It works with a wide range of resolutions that include even the regular CD audio of 16-bit/44.1kHz and the maximum sampling rate of 24-bit/192kHz. In addition, it also has an up-sampling feature that enables it to work with 385 kHz resolution. This means you can use it with compressed files like AACs and MP3s.
5. Meridian Director USB DAC [Under $500]
- Director is handmade in the UK with the same precision and craftsmanship as every Meridian product.
- Meridian Resolution Enhancement technologies including Upsampling and Apodising
Last update on 2019-05-05 | Details
Last on our list is the high-end handmade USB DAC from Meridian, a UK based international manufacturer known for their well-designed and high-performance audio components. The black Meridian Director USB DAC comes with very eye-catching and discreet design with a high-level of detail.
Unlike other similar USB DACs, it has a cylindrical design which makes it look unique. It is portable and lightweight that does not need any external power supply as the USB socket powers the device. Even though it is small portable USB designed to work with laptops and computers, it can work with high-resolution music with an upper limit of 24-bit/192kHz.
It also has a 3.5mm socket on the rear which works as coaxial and optical input. This means you have a wide range of input options even for a USB DAC which is a rare feature in USB DACs. The package also contains relevant adapters.
The sound quality is also good if not exceptional. It offers you natural, sharp, and clear sound and does a great job in converting a wide range of digital music files into pleasingly solid sound.
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 AudioQuest and Meridian 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 Cambridge Audio DacMagic 100. It is not only affordable but works with all types of digital audio sources and easily convert different resolutions into a super quality sound.