These days, you’ll find digital media and music files everywhere. They are on our mobile phones and computers, and we even stream them from Google Play, Apple Music, Spotify, and other cloud or media services. Even though the quality of these digital audio files varies, they have something in common – they cannot be listened to in their digital form, and that’s where a piece of equipment known as DAC comes in.
Even though most people are not familiar with a DAC, it is something we have all come in contact with at a point or the other in our lives. This is because they are an important internal component of audio devices like a CD player, smartphones, amplifiers, computers, etc. that help to convert the digital music file to perceptible analog signals.
So, if you aren’t enjoying the sound transmitted by your devices, then you may need to upgrade your devices’ DAC for you to enjoy a better sound quality that pleases the ear. But with so many brands and models of DACs available on the market today, selecting the best DAC to transform your audio listening experience can be a challenge. In this post, we are going to review our top 8 recommendations and provide you with some tips on how to select the best DAC for your needs.
Let’s get started!
What is a DAC and why should you invest in it?
A DAC (also known as a Digital-to-Analog Converter) is a chip or electronic device that transforms digital bits into analog signals that you can listen to. Music and audio files are stored in a CD, computer, mobile phones, and other storage devices in digital form (i.e., the encoded form of 1s and 0s). A DAC will convert it into analog waves that your amplifier can work on to produce audible sounds. So, most audio and smart devices come with a small DAC on their board to process the sound files.
However, the internal DAC that comes with these devices cannot efficiently decode the digital bits in your audio files with great precision and deliver all the audio details as a dedicated external DAC would do. Moreover, an external DAC can bypass the in-built audio output circuitry of your device and create a stronger and better audio foundation for other audio equipment that you have. That is why you should invest in an external DAC for improved and more hi-fidelity sound.
How to Choose the Best DACs in 2021
Whenever you’re shopping for the right DAC for your device, there are some important factors and features you have to consider to avoid stories that touch. You don’t want to end up with a substandard DAC or experience the disappointment and frustration of selecting a wrong product. Here are some of the things you should put into consideration:
1. Type of DAC
DACs are available in different types such as portable USB DAC, phone DAC, desktop USB DAC, and Hi-Fi DAC.
- Portable USB DACs are about the size of a USB stick. Some come with an in-built battery that allows them to work with a power cord, while others can be plugged into your computer’s USB port for power. Portable DACs are often used with headphone amplifier or headphone.
- Phone DACs are small and flat and can be easily bundled with your Android or Apple devices. They usually powered with the battery and are a bit more capable than their portable USB brothers.
- Desktop USB DACs are bigger than the portable USB DACs (with their maximum size at about the size of a Walkman). They are often plugged into the USB port of a PC for power and might even come with an inbuilt battery. They may have line-level outputs and some controls. With these DACs, you can connect your digital audio source to a speaker system, headphone, or an amplifier.
- Hi-Fi DACs are advanced DACs and may come with an inbuilt amplifier that features multiple connection options. They can support headphones, home audio systems, speaker systems, and Hi-Fi home theater systems.
As you can see, DAC comes in different styles and are meant to serve specific purposes so; you should check to avoid buying a DAC that’s isn’t for you. While some of these DACs are best for driving headphones, others are created to drive your home speakers. However, most DACs serves versatile purposes.
2. How Does It Connect
Ideally, every manner of connection to your DAC is digital, and it should include outputs such as optical output, USB connector and AES input. But the connection is much easier with external output like the RCA stereo output and its headphone Jack.
3. What is it Bitrate and Sample Rate?
The quality of the sound emitting from a DAC is known as the sample rate. You need to know the number of samples it emits per second and the number of the resolutions of this samples per second. The more the numbers of these rates the better the sound decoding ability of the DAC. If the DAC you intend to purchase supports the CD, FLAC, APE, and WAV format, then you are good to go since these sound formats are the best format you can get.
Moreover, it is essential you check out the spec of a DAC before buying it. Actually, it is more important you get one that can handle your preferences in music.
4. How Does It Sound?
When it comes to sound, every individual has a unique choice or taste. Therefore, we would advise you get a DAC that’s its sound quality tally with your preference. Every DAC has a distinct and individual sound pattern. Choose a pattern you find suitable.
5. What’s your Pocket Saying?
Before getting a DAC either for your system, headphones, stereos or gadget, you would at least have an idea of how much you are willing to spend for a very good DAC. We advise you to follow your heart, don’t go overboard to spend extra when you can always get good ones at affordable or reasonable prices.
Top 8 Best DACs in 2021 Reviews
In this section, we will analyze and review eight DACs that we could bet our money, time and resources on. We researched the market to figure out the best DAC with the best ratings, performance, and customer feedback. We are sure you wouldn’t have a choice than to agree with our recommendations and get one or two of them for yourself and a friend or two.
|1. FiiO E10K USB DAC
|Best desktop USB DAC for PCs
|2. AudioQuest DragonFly Red
|Best portable USB DAC for Apple and Android devices
|3. FiiO Q1 Mark Il DAC
|Best DAC for iPhone and Apple users
|4. Cyrus SoundKey DAC
|Best phone DAC for smartphones
|5. iFi xDSD DAC
|Best Bluetooth desktop
|6. Creative Sound Blaster E5 DAC
|Best Hi-Fi DACs
|7. AUDIOLAB M-DAC+
|Best Hi-Fi DAC for home stereo systems
|8. Chord Mojo
|Best DAC for PC and smartphones
This USB DAC from FiiO is specifically designed to improve the listening experience of PCs and Laptop users and other devices that supports USB output. The FiiO E10K is a DAC we can always recommend to friends because of its great physical control and its unique amp. The DAC features a sleek and durable brushed aluminum chassis and a small design for portable use. Its quality internal component reduces internal interferences and delay when changing tracks and can handle up to 24-bit/96 kHz of PCM files.
It comes with a selectable bass boost circuitry and an optimized low-pass filter for improved sound quality with low noise. The unit supports a variety of connections including USB, line output, RCA, and a headphone jack that allow you to transfer the audio to other destinations. It has no inbuilt battery, but your PC can power it via its micro USB connection.
- Has amplifier
- Great build quality
- Impressive sound quality
- Requires no battery
- No Bluetooth
- Some users complained about its driver and compatibility with Windows 10
The DragonFly Red DAC is one of a kind. It is very portable. The DAC is designed to look like a USB stick sound. Fly Red can be used in place of your headphone output on your smartphone or computer, and this will improve the weight and texture of your sound tunes.
This DAC simply delivers a smooth crisps sound, and it is one of the best ways to go if you are looking for a portable DAC solution for mobile or portable use. Apart from its small size, it has a very lightweight, so you can carry it with you to anywhere you go.
- Portable and sophisticated design
- It is solid, and it gives lovely sound
- It is easy to use
- You can use it with your smartphone and PC
- It has no battery to charge
- Its finishes can easily be chipped
- It has no Bluetooth
- No volume controls
FiiO Q1 Mark II is one of the simplest DACs we reviewed. It looks good, and it’s highly functional. In fact, it is one of the best DACs you can get as an Apple or iPhone user plus it isn’t an expensive DAC. It sharpens your music sound subtlety and delivers its expected function perfectly.
This DAC delivers a lot of outputs and functionality. Also, its beautiful numbers of accessories can’t be overlooked. A DAC that manages an iPhone with such brilliance is nothing but a great and portable powerhouse you can bank on.
- Good for Apple products including iPhones
- Dedicated volume control
- Portable and sleek design
- Hi-Res audio
- Not so good for Androids
- No Bluetooth
Cyrus DAC is one of the most affordable options out there. The DAC has a 3.5mm socket that you can plug your headphones and system into. It also has a micro USB socket and the other end of the DAC. Cyprus DAC has a cable terminated with micro USBs at its ends which you can use with Android devices and a micro USB cable for connecting your laptop or desktop systems. But for an Apple user, you will need to get a cable to connect your device with your DAC. The interesting part of this device is that your music transparency, space, details, and dynamics is assured with this DAC. A DAC that is this good is well worth its price and more.
- Not expensive
- Clean and cool sound
- Highly detailed
- It needs an external iOS attachment
- It has no wireless connection
Most people argue about how good iFi DAC is especially when compared with Mojo DAC. If you are one of them, we are glad to clarify your thoughts. The DAC has this beautiful aura. It might be because of its metal casing and glossy finish. You can always get a cute pouch to put it in. Unlike the other DAC, we have reviewed, this DAC has an optional Bluetooth you can always stream your songs wirelessly. It has a type A USB that functions better than micro USB used for connecting Androids and Apple devices.
iFi xDSD DAC supports hi-res MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) and can play both the DSB and the PCM audio in their natural format without having to convert them. You have undisputed control of its volume with great options of fine-tuning the bass and controlling its 3D + Matrix.
- It has Analogue volume control and a powerful amplifier
- Beautiful and unique design
- It has optional Bluetooth for wireless connection
- High-resolution audio
- Good battery life
- Comes with bass correction system
- It’s a bit complicated
The Sound Blaster E5 DAC from Creative is an excellent wireless DAC that has only received nothing but praises from its users. Creative Sound offers a large line of wireless connectivity making it possible for you to listen to high-quality sounds without carrying cables around. Its amount of volume and sound quality is very impressive; it even comes with two 3.5 mm jack that allows two people to listen to music simultaneously.
Although its Bluetooth can’t transmit songs at the expected CD quality level without assistance from codecs like LDAC and aptX codec’s, if you are engrossed about having a wireless cable for your gadget, then this product is worth its price. It has a very good battery life, and you can control or fine tune the sound with its available software/app controls.
- Wireless connection
- Dual headphones output
- NFC that pairs with Android
- Versatile (work with mobile devices, PCs, and Hi-Fi systems)
- It easy to use
- Good battery life
- Great sound with impressive audio volume
- Less upgraded SBX function
- Needs additional codec to function effectively
AUDIOLAB M-DAC + is a complete package. In fact, we regard it as one of our favorites probably because of its great spec. A DAC that supports 32-bit/384kHz and DSD256 hi-res music and other numerous numbers of connections cannot be underestimated. Its sonic rate is superb. We would be neglectful not to mention it huge credible soundstage, its wowing detail level, and its great timing factor.
This DAC is an awesome and wholesome piece with onboard AC power supply. It comes with latest and high-quality internal components that reduces electrical interferences and banishes distortion and level of jitters to the lowest level attainable. Although this is the biggest and most expensive DAC on our list, it is really worth the hype and you might never get a better organized, coherent and large sound delivery that it offers with other DACs.
- Quite extensive
- Beautiful build and finishing
- Superb, ear-soothing sound quality
- Dedicate volume control
- Plenty of input and output
- Durable design
- Not mobile
- No Bluetooth
Let’s begin with one of the most popular DAC in the market today. Chord Mojo DAC isn’t popular for no just cause. It is significantly popular because it has a powerful amplifier, simple volume control, and its effectiveness.
Chord Mojo DAC is quite a large DAC, with an onboard battery that requires you charge it before you can use it. The DAC’s battery can last for 10 hours on a stretch. Mojo has a great power innards that delivers a crispier sound than most iPhone jack because without a Mojo DAC your phone’s treble, and bass frequency might intercept with the sound. With this DAC, the mix, highs, lows, and mids of your phone sound blissful.
Although the Mojo DAC is quite big, you could still carry it in your cloth pocket. If you can’t, you might have to drop it at home when you are out and about. At work, you can always drop it on your desk which is more comfortable. Nevertheless, with other great features like its second headphone output and its lighting features that allow the volume button to change colors as determined by the played song quality, you would agree that Mojo is a great DAC to invest on.
- It has a powerful amplifier
- Volume is easy to Control
- It has solid build with a good finish
- Good rhythmic drive
- Good battery life
- Dual headphone output
- No Bluetooth connection
- The battery goes hot when charged
What is a DAC?
DAC is an acronym for Digital-to-Analog Converter. This is a device that takes digital data and converts it to analog audio signals and sends the analog signal into an amplifier to produce sound waves that you can hear with your ears.
How does the DAC work?
DAC improves your computer sound much better than the system’s initial sound quality. DACs work by decoding the digital sound files on your PC, CD or DVD player, game consoles, smartphones, cloud storage services and other storage devices. These digital sound files are encoded in form of 1s and 0s (binary numbers), which you cannot decode or hear with your ears. The DAC will pick these digital sound files or bits up and convert them into analog signals that your headphone or amplifier can work on to produce sound.
What are the advantages of using an external DAC?
An external DAC performs the functions of a DAC better than the inbuilt DAC in your headphones, laptops, stereos or your Desktop Computer. It works as your headphone amp, delivers more details, and it provides extra power to drive your headphones with high-impedance.
With what Do I connect my DAC
DAC only allows the digital connection. Inputs like the optical input, USB connector, and AES input aids the connection. The connection is usually made with one stereo output and a headphone Jack.
Getting a DAC is not enough! Getting a good DAC that does the job perfectly is the real deal. In this post, we have reviewed some of the best DAC available in the market today as well as their strengths and weaknesses. So, what are you waiting for? Consider your budget, get to the market today and purchase a DAC that suits your needs from the ones we reviewed above, and you will be glad you did!