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Buyers Guide & Information

Best Digital-to-Analog Converters Reviewed

This comparison guide highlights a variety of Digital-to-Analog Converters differing in price and features.

by

Buyers Guide & Information

Best Digital-to-Analog Converters Reviewed

This comparison guide highlights a variety of Digital-to-Analog Converters differing in price and features.

by PITeam

by PITeam

The majority of people living in the modern age use some form of a digital-to-analog converter - DAC for short - in their everyday lives. A DAC is responsible for converting digital data into an audible analog signal. Just consider the music stored on your iPhone. Without an internal DAC within the mobile device, every single top 40 hit and classic rock jam would be completely inaudible. 

All music is encoded in 0s and 1s on the stored device. Whether that device is a CD, PC, smartphone, or external storage drive, there needs to be a way to convert those 0s and 1s into audible noise. And that’s exactly what a DAC does. But decoding catchy tunes isn’t the only helpful function of a DAC.

This review provides insight into the best DACs and how they work to improve sound quality in a variety of ways.

How External DACs Work

A DAC is a small device that is found in any piece of equipment that plays audio. This includes laptops, cell phones, MP3 devices, CD players, etc. This describes an internal DAC that is found within another device. An external DAC, on the other hand, is not contained within another piece of equipment. Instead, it is a standalone device that is meant to improve sound quality.

Many people wonder why an external DAC is necessary if most devices already have an internal DAC. The answer is simple: external DACs can generate sound that is much higher in quality. Many problems can arise with an internal DAC device, including common sound-quality issues like background noise and jitter.

This means that the sound that is converted from digital 0s and 1s to audible noise is higher in quality. An external DAC works by converting the stored digital codes into audible noise and sending it to an amplifier, like speakers or headphones. It’s as simple as that.


Types of Digital to Analog Converters

Standalone DACs

The standalone DAC was created in response to poor audio quality within consumer devices. So instead of relying on a device's internal DAC, the alternative is to invest in a standalone converting method. This device stands alone; your audio equipment of choice will be plugged into a standalone DAC, and the original low-quality DAC will be bypassed altogether.

DAC/Headphone Amplifiers

A DAC that serves as a headphone amplifier is a small device that connects a set of headphones to the music-playing device. Although all modern headphones come with a built-in DAC, using a headphone amplifier is the best way to improve the quality of sound.

Portable/USB DACs

A portable USB DAC is capable of connecting into a USB port and is 100% battery-powered. It is essentially a headphone amp that is disguised as a USB stick. The main perk of using a portable DAC device is that it’s small enough to carry around in your pocket.

Desktop USB DACs

A desktop USB DAC is typically about the size of an old-school Walkman, if not a bit smaller. This type of DAC is capable of connecting a PC to an amplifying system for optimal sound quality.

Phone/Smart Device DACs – iPhone, iPad, Android

Phone DACs are becoming more popular, mainly because music listeners are turning to their smart mobile devices to jam out. This type of DAC is small and flat so that it can easily be paired with iOS and Android devices. If using a DAC while on the go is a priority for you, a phone DAC device is a great choice. 

Component Hi-Fi DACs

Hi-fi DACs aren’t for the faint of heart. These are full-fledged devices that typically comes with multiple connection options and a built-in amplifier. They have the power to support headphones, speakers, and even home audio systems.

Wireless DACs

A wireless DAC allows you to stream audio through a wireless connection. Sound can be converted from any digital audio source to any audio system with this wireless device. This system works well with Bluetooth speakers or headphones. Most wireless DACs also come with an ethernet input. Even if your home's internet isn't functioning correctly, you'll still be able to use your wireless DAC. 

Benefits of DACs

The main advantage of using an external digital-to-analog converter is that you'll have access to higher sound quality. We won't get into all the details, but there are many factors in determining sound quality, like frequency, digital filters, and electronic processes. Many things can get in the way of producing high-quality sound; modern external DAC can help.

Lifewire says that “DACs are improved year over year and older DACs, such as those found in older CD and DVD players, do not perform as well as newer models.”

Even if your iPhone is only a few years old, the DAC within the device might not be doing your music-listening sessions any favors. Investing in an external DAC device can improve the sound in many ways, thanks to these modern DAC features:

  • Higher quality chips within external DAC lead to better sound conversion
  • Built-in DAC amplifiers improve sound reduction
  • Variety of sound output options for a better listening experience
  • Maintained fidelity of the original signal with external DAC

Understanding DAC Jargon

  • Sample Rate vs. Bit Depth
    The sample rate of a DAC refers to the rate at which the DAC can capture and playback the original digital code. Each sample is made up of a certain amount of bits. The number of bits that is contained within a sample is the bit depth.The best DACs will feature a high bit rate, which is the number of bits that are transmitted per second. The sample rate and bit depth are shown as two sets of numbers on a DAC. While you’re shopping around, you’ll see something like 32-bit/192kHz or 24-bit/96kHz on each separate DAC device.
  • MQA (Master Quality Authenticated)
    MQA is an audio technology that involves digitally storing recorded music within a file that is small enough to download or stream successfully. This method doesn't sacrifice anything in terms of sound quality, like the more traditional audio storage methods do. It is the best method for streaming high-resolution files, all while using very little bandwidth.
  • DSD (Direct Stream Digital)
    It’s possible to listen to digital files in several different formats; one of these formats is direct stream digital (DSD). DSD delivers a high-resolution signal just like the other common transmission formats, but it does so by using only one single bit that is sampled nearly 3 million times per second.
  • Digital Signal Integrity vs. Over Conversion
    Signal integrity is a measurement of electronic signal quality. High signal integrity means high signal quality. The conversion methods of a DAC can greatly affect the digital signal, which in turn will affect the sound quality. Keep in mind that the more conversions there are, the lower the signal integrity. Over-converting methods used by DACs help to prevent signal deterioration from happening.
  • Digital Jitter
    Digital jitter happens when a device’s internal DAC is unable to convert a high-frequency note, so it converts it into a lower frequency. This often comes off as a warbling or oscillating sound that wasn't created in the original recording. A high-quality external DAC can handle high frequencies. Therefore digital jitter is not a problem when you slip on a pair of headphones for classic rock listening.
  • Impedance
    Output impedance is when audio sounds dull, muddy, or lifeless. This can happen with the transfer of sound through electricity. When electricity is transferred via a wire or other material, some of the electricity is lost. This is what causes audio impedance.

Choosing a High-Quality DAC

DAC Type

Choosing your DAC type is the very first step. A larger desktop DAC is ideal if you plan on using the device from home. A portable or phone DAC is the perfect solution if you're listening to the audio on the go. The type of DAC you choose depends on whether you’re using a full-fledged home audio system, or simply listening to music through headphones.

Sound Quality, Audio Capability, Playback Accessory

Of course, sound quality should be the primary concern; the entire point of purchasing a DAC in the first place is to improve the overall quality of sound. The best DACs on the market will be successful in not only improving audio quality but also offering several audio capability options. This has to do with whether or not a DAC is compatible with midrange headphones or high-end amplifying speakers.

The other thing to consider with your DAC is what type of playback accessory is included with the device. Playback refers to the act of reproducing a sound, ideally in a higher quality. DACs reproduce audio in several ways, including through wireless connection, USB ports, and coaxial cables.

Power Sources

Some DAC users prefer a device that runs entirely on battery so that no messy power cords get in the way. Others prefer connecting to more reliable alternate current (AC) power sources. With modern DACs, you have plenty of options for either.

DAC Chipset

Remember that thing we mentioned above about sampling rate and bit depth? This set of numbers should always be a consideration when browsing around DAC reviews. The two numbers combined are called the DAC chipset. The numbers together indicate how much information a DAC can transmit. You want this set of numbers to be as high as possible. To put things into perspective, a DAC with one of the highest chipsets to date is the Chord Hugo 2, which a chipset of 32-bit/768kHz.

Size & Portability, Ease of Use

It doesn’t matter if you’re a tech expert or not, your DAC should be easy to use. Some of the terminologies will be difficult to learn at first, but learning how to set up and properly use the device should be simple. One aspect that comes along with ease of use is portability. A highly portable DAC is much more convenient than a bulky audio conversion machine.

Connectivity Options

If you opt for a wireless DAC device, there won’t be many options in terms of connectivity. If you opt for a more traditional DAC, you’ll need connectivity wires to pair the DAC with the device containing the audio file you wish to convert. Most DACs work with a USB cable that connects the device to a PC, desktop, laptop, or speaker system. Just make sure to purchase a DAC featuring balanced outputs as well as audio equalization (EQ) functionality.

Build Quality & Design

Cheaply made DACs are much more likely to break over time. Not only that, but they are less likely to produce the audio sound you're hoping for. High-quality design is a must if you’re expecting a high-quality sound. In terms of design features, modern DACs come in all shapes and sizes. Some are large, some are small, some come with lots of buttons, and some come with none at all. Make your decision based on a design that is convenient (e.g., portable) and easy to use.

Internal Components

Just as DACs come in different shapes and sizes, they also come with various internal components. The internal components of a DAC device determine the file formats that are supported. Audio files come in many different formats, such as Audio Interchange File Format (AIFF) and Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC). These days, the best DACs support many different audio file types.

Audio Source, Music Source Connections

The DAC that you choose should have several different inputs for connecting to audio sources. Even if you think that you’ll only be using your DAC on one device, a variety of input options is a must. This includes inputs like optical, coaxial, USB, stereo RCA cable, and mini-to-RCA cable.

Price & Warranty

Finding a DAC device that offers excellent value for money should be high on your priority list. Prices for modern DAC are all over the board. No matter if you are in search of the best DAC under $100, best DAC under $200, or best DAC under $500, you'll be able to find a few options that cater to your budget. However, it is crucial to keep in mind that a low-cost often means low-quality.

Not every DAC will come with a warranty included. The best ones will, though. A lifetime warranty is highly unlikely, but try to find a DAC that comes equipped with a 1 year warranty period or more.  Many DACs cost between $500 and $1000. It's always a good idea to protect a big purchase like this with some sort of warranty.


10 Best DACs Reviewed

1. PS Audio Sprout100

Our Top Pick

Max Sample Rate

24-bit/384kHz

Inputs

Phono RCA (x2), Analog RCA (x2), USB, Digital Optical, Bluetooth

Outputs

Stereo Pair, Analog RCA, Mono RCA sub out, Jack for Headphones

Sound Pressure Level (SPL)

105 dB

Amp Type

Standalone

Warranty

3 Years

The absolute best DAC 2019 device is the PS Audio Sprout100. This HiFi DAC amp features high resolution, high fidelity, and is compatible with digital, analog, vinyl, and Bluetooth. Some reviewers are even calling the Sprout100 the "gateway device to a life of audio nirvana." The design of this DAC is elegant and easy to use, and it even comes with a handy remote control.

The main reason this device has been dubbed the best DAC is its endless connectivity options. On the backside of the device, you’ll see inputs for every connection option you could ever imagine. You can even bring your favorite old-school vinyl back to life with the help of the Sprout100. The sample rate/bit depth reaches 24-bit/384kHz, which is an extremely high rating when it comes to audio transmission.

Tons of Sprout100 reviewers love the fact that this device can stream music from a smartphone. The Bluetooth capabilities mean you can easily access Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, and other popular music apps of today. This device was built for listening to music at loud volumes; it features a 100-watt-per-channel power amplifier and a high-performance headphone amp.

The only downside of this DAC is that it lacks portability. Unlike some of the DAC units we'll review later, this one is by no means small enough to fit in your pocket. However, it's the best possible choice for listening to music at home. A mission of the PS Audio company is to bring high-end music into the lives of its customers. And this is precisely what they've done. 

Pros

  • Design combines modern and retro
  • Compatible with Vinyl and Bluetooth
  • Built for all loudspeakers
  • Great for audio, video, and gaming applications

Cons

  • Lacks portability

2. CHORD Electronics Mojo

Best DAC Amp Combo

Max Sample Rate

32-bit/768kHz

Inputs

USB, Coaxial Digital, Optical Digital

Outputs

2 Headphone Jacks

Sound Pressure Level (SPL)

125 dB

Amp Type

Portable

Warranty

1 Year

The best DAC amp combo is the Chord Electronics Mojo. Chord Electronics is a UK-based company that has been producing high-quality DACs for years. Their focus is on developing DACs that are portable enough to fit in a pocket. This is exactly what they have done with the Mojo DAC amp combo. Not only is it small enough to fit in your pocket, but you can also hold this lightweight device in the palm of your hand.

This is the ultimate amplifier for listening to music from your iPhone or Android smartphone. It can also be used for a PC or Mac; simply connect your device of choice to the Mojo DAC and start listening. The crystal clear audio can be attributed to the massively powerful headphone amplifier that is contained within this DAC. It features an extremely high sample rate - 32-bit/768kHz - and a DSD of 256.

The battery-operated Mojo utilizes the latest technology allowing the battery to charge within 4 hours fully. When fully charged, the Mojo offers 8 to 10 hours of continuous use. When you use this DAC between your smartphone and headphones, you'll hear music in a whole new way. If you're looking for something portable enough to carry around while jamming out, the Mojo DAC is the perfect solution.

Pros

  • Highly portable DAC
  • Easy to use
  • Crystal clear audio with high sample rate/DSD
  • 10 hours of continuous use

Cons

  • Not as durable as standalone DAC

3. Marantz HD-DAC1

Best DAC Under $1000

Max Sample Rate

24-bit/192kHz

Inputs

USB-A, USB-B, Optical, Coaxial

Outputs

RCA

Sound Pressure Level (SPL)

105 dB

Amp Type

Standalone

Warranty

5 Years

The standalone Marantz HD-DAC1 is the best DAC under 1000 dollars. $1000 might sound like a lot of cash to spend on a DAC, but you’ll see (and hear) that it’s completely worth it. This multidimensional amplifying device comes equipped with a quality headphone amp and a stereo preamp. This allows you to connect a variety of audio sources and speakers for a complete home theater system.

The versatile connections plug-in allows nearly any audio source to be used with this DAC, including CD players, gaming consoles, and digital music players. You can even stream music via your laptop, desktop, or smartphone with the 2 USB ports. In addition to the way this DAC sounds, reviewers love the way that this DAC looks as well.

The design of this DAC blows all other sound conversion devices out of the water. This device features a timeless and retro look that looks stunning on any bookshelf, desktop, or coffee table. If you’re still wondering “Why Marantz?”, learning that the company has been in business since 1953 gives you the answer.

Since the company started back in the 50s, it has been on the pursuit of pure musical production. This is the entire concept behind the HD-DAC1; this device improves sound quality by removing jitter and increasing acoustic accuracy. The only downside is that it lacks portability - some reviewers describe it as “bulky” - but that is the only flaw of the Marantz DAC.

Pros

  • Stylish retro design
  • Noise isolation for all inputs
  • High-quality headphone amplifier
  • Music streaming from a laptop, desktop, or phone

Cons

  • Bulky DAC device
  • Sample rate could be better

4. Schiit Modi 3

Best DAC for PC

Max Sample Rate

24-bit/192kHz

Inputs

Coaxial, Optical, USB

Outputs

RCA

Sound Pressure Level (SPL)

100 dB

Amp Type

Standalone

Warranty

2 Years

If you plan on using your DAC for a desktop or laptop, the Schiit Modi 3 is currently the best DAC for PC. It delivers great sound for a great price, so we also feel that it is one of the best DACs under 200 dollars. With its included USB to micro cable, the Modi 3 can be plugged into virtually any computer. If you’re connecting to a coaxial digital source or a mobile device, the included wall power supply will come in handy.

Selecting different inputs for using a variety of devices is easy. All you have to do is use the toggle switch that is located on the front side of the DAC. The backside is where you’ll find the different input options, including Coaxial SPDIF, Optical SPDIF, and USB inputs, and single-ended RCA output. Along with every Modi 3 purchase comes a USB to Micro USB cable plus a universal 5V USB wall power adaptor.

Many reviewers assume that the low price of this device means that it was manufactured in China. This is not the case; the Schiit Modi 3 was designed and assembled in the USA. Reviewers rave about the company’s customer service. It’s even possible to find DAC shopping guides created by Schiit. The company believes that simplicity is essential when choosing a DAC, which is why their Modi 3 device features a simple design with clean lines.

The only potential drawback to purchasing this DAC is if you’re working with an outdated PC. The Windows 10 operating system is highly recommended and works flawlessly with this device. However, if you have something as old as a Windows 7, you might need to purchase extra accessories to get the full effect of the Schiit Modi 3. But as long as you have a relatively updated version of the iOS, Windows, Mac OSX, Android, or Linux device, you’re good to go.

Pros

  • Delivers great sound for great value
  • Variety of inputs to choose from
  • Simple, sleek design
  • Necessary accessories included

Cons

  • Additional drivers needed for Windows 7 and 8

5. AudioQuest - DragonFly

Best USB DAC

Max Sample Rate

24-bit/96kHz

Inputs

USB

Outputs

Headphone Jack

Sound Pressure Level (SPL)

100 dB

Amp Type

Portable USB

Warranty

1 Year

Any music lovers looking for a DAC that is lightweight, small, and convenient to use, check out the AudioQuest DragonFly. This is the best USB DAC on the market today, and not just because it’s small enough to take anywhere. The DragonFly works with nearly any set of headphones and plays anything from MP3s to high-res audio files. It works best with Apple and Android devices when paired with a simple adaptor.

If improving sound quality is your main priority, you'll love how the DragonFly transforms dull noise into high-quality audio. It does this by enhancing the detail, immediacy, tone, richness, and transparency of an audio file. This plug-and-play USB DAC acts as a preamp and headphone amp that connects to laptops, tablets, and smartphones to deliver fantastic sound to a pair of headphones. It can play any file type - MP3, MQA, Hi-Res - regardless of resolution.

After you fill out the AudioQuest warranty registration, your device will be covered for one year from the purchase date. Some reviewers feel that this isn’t a sufficient warranty period, but keep in mind that the DragonFly is quite a bit cheaper than the other DAC devices on this list. But the affordable price tag is no reflection on its ability to enhance sound quality. Since this is a USB device, you won’t need any additional accessories for connectivity, just a pair of headphones and your music device.

Pros

  • Highly portable
  • No connectivity cords required
  • Compatible with nearly all audio files
  • Bit-perfect digital volume control

Cons

  • Short warranty period
  • Incompatible with desktops prior to Windows 7

6. EarStudio ES100-24bit

Best Budget DAC

Max Sample Rate

24-bit

Inputs

Bluetooth

Outputs

Headphone Jack

Sound Pressure Level (SPL)

110 dB

Amp Type

Portable Bluetooth

Warranty

1 Year

EarStudio ES100-24-bit is the only audio-enhancing device on this list under $100, which makes this the best budget DAC on our list. This 24-bit Bluetooth receiver was designed to deliver only the highest quality sound imaginable. All this is done through a wireless connection, allowing you to use your existing headphones, earbuds, and speakers.

This device is small, lightweight, and highly portable. When fully charged, you'll get 14 hours of continuous playback. To pick and choose music and audio files with ease, you can use the app for even more convenience. EarStudio has partnered with the Radsone Music Player App, which can be downloaded at the iOS App Store or Android Google Play store.

For optimal audio performance, you can use the analog volume control; even when listening at a low volume, you won't lose out on sound quality. The Programmable Gain Amplifier PGAs is to thank for this. PGAs are known to be the best method for controlling volume. Another cool feature is the built-in microphone that allows users to answer calls while listening to audio with headphones or earbuds.

All in all, this is an innovative music-listening device that is perfect for jamming out with a mobile device. When you download the app, you can easily control what you listen to while the DAC is connected to your phone’s Bluetooth. Not only is it one of the most innovative portable DACs on the market, but it is also the best DAC for the money.

Pros

  • Delivers studio-quality sound
  • 14 hours of continuous use
  • PGA for volume control
  • Built-in microphone
  • Best budget choice

Cons

  • None

7. NextDrive Spectra

Best Portable DAC

Max Sample Rate

32-bit/384kHz

Inputs

USB, USB-C (USB-A Sold Separately)

Outputs

Headphone Jack

Sound Pressure Level (SPL)

105 dB

Amp Type

Portable

Warranty

1 Year

We’ve already covered a few top-rated portable devices on this list of DAC reviews, but if portability is your main priority, check out the NextDrive Spectra. This device does not resemble any other DACs on the market. Rather than a boxy design, the Sectra features a slim design that requires no batteries whatsoever. The device weighs less than 5 ounces, making it the ideal choice for the best portable DAC.

NextDrive refers to this product as the "portable concert hall." As soon as you start listening with the help of the Spectra, you'll see exactly how it got that nickname. For being such a small device, it packs a powerful punch with its 32-bit/384kHz chipset and amazing sound across bass, mids, and treble. All aspects of listening are controlled from your original device (not the DAC), so you’ll never have to fumble around for volume control or audio file selection.

NextDrive has provided a long list of DAC FAQs to help out newbie DAC users. Reviewers say that the company offers amazing customer support. If you have any questions at all about a NextDrive device, they are just one call or email away. 

There is, however, one flaw to be aware of. Although the Spectra is compatible with a variety of devices, iOS 12.1 introduces an update that may not be compatible with this DAC. Some iPhone users have claimed to experience difficulty while using the Spectra. Luckily, all is not lost for iPhone users; just be sure to purchase the USB-A version and Apple USB 3 adaptor (sold separately).

Pros

  • Unmatched portable sound quality
  • Variety of inputs for Mac, Windows, Linux, and Android
  • No batteries, slim design
  • Sturdy aluminum construction

Cons

  • USB-A adaptor for iPhone sold separately

8. Sound BlasterX G6

Best DAC for Gaming

Max Sample Rate

32-bit/384kHz

Inputs

Optical, USB

Outputs

2 Headphone Jacks

Sound Pressure Level (SPL)

130 dB

Amp Type

Portable Desktop

Warranty

1 Year

It turns out that DACs aren’t just handy for music-listening sessions, but also for gaming. The Sound BlasterX G6 has been dubbed the best DAC for gaming. It allows users to upgrade their games on PS4, XBOX 1, Nintendo Switch, and PCs. While you shop around for the best gaming headsets, add the Sound BlasterX G6 to your list of must-buy gaming devices.

This DAC boasts tons of gaming-centric features, such as sidetone volume control and easy-to-reach profile buttons. It comes with industry-leading audio processing technology that gamers around the world are raving about. One of these innovative features is called Scout Mode, which enhances in-game cues. This means you’ll be able to hear your in-game enemies before they hear you. As any gamer knows, this is a major advantage.

Instead of using a single-amplification model like the ones in other DACs for gaming, this device amplifies each audio channel individually. The discrete Xamp headphone amplifier is responsible for this feature. This means you’ll get to enjoy more detail than ever on highs, mids, and bass audio during each gaming session.

The newest model of this DAC comes equipped with 7.1 virtual surround sound with Dolby Digital decoding. The multi-bit modulator component eliminates distortion and ensures that all audio is streamed with only the best detail and fidelity. No matter your gaming preferences, the audio will be instantly improved with the Sound BlasterX G6.

Pros

  • Virtual surround sound and Dolby Digital
  • Audio upgrades for many gaming consoles
  • Sidetone volume control
  • Enhanced in-game audio cues

Cons

  • Voice communications  not supported on some consoles

9. FiiO Q1 Mark II Native DSD

Best DAC for iPhone

Max Sample Rate

32-bit/384kHz

Inputs

Micro USB

Outputs

2 Headphone Jacks

Sound Pressure Level (SPL)

100 dB

Amp Type

Portable Phone

Warranty

1 Year Maintenance

Most DACs are compatible with mobile devices in one way or another. If you’re specifically looking for a DAC that supports an iOS device, consider the best DAC for iPhone: the FiiO Q1 Mark II Native DSD. This DAC works well all Apple devices, including iPhone, iPad, iPod, and Mac computers. It comes with 2 balanced output headphone jacks and a micro USB input port.

No matter if you input a phone, tablet, or computer, this DAC can determine the device that is being used. This means you'll never have to manually switch the settings each time you switch devices, which leads to a seamless listening experience. Each purchase comes with a variety of audio accessories, including a lightning-to-micro USB short cable, micro USB long data cable, 3.5mm audio cable, 2x long silicone bands, 2x short silicone bands, silicone pad, and carrying pouch for the device.

This device is highly portable, so you can listen to music stored on your iOS device while on the go. It is smaller in size than the iPhone you’re using, so you can easily keep it in your purse or pocket while listening. It comes with the official Apple MFi certification, which basically means this is the one and only DAC to buy if you intend to use it with an Apple device.

In addition to the Apple certification, the FiiO device has been given the Hi-Res Audio Certification. This certification is handed out by the Japan Audio Society to devices that are highly capable of converting high-resolution audio files. Controlling volume is possible on the device with the stylish volume knob, which is one of the most-loved features of the Q1 Mark II

Pros

  • Apple MFi Certification
  • Hi-Res Audio Certification
  • Tons of included audio accessories
  • Volume control knob
  • Compatible with an iOS phone, tablet, and computer

Cons

  • Only compatible with iOS devices

10. Monolith 124459

Best Headphone DAC Amp

Max Sample Rate

32bit/768kHz

Inputs

USB, Optical, Coaxial, AES3/EBU

Outputs

Balanced & Single-Ended Headphone Jacks

Sound Pressure Level (SPL)

120 dB

Amp Type

Desktop

Warranty

1 Year

Looking for the best headphone DAC amp? Nothing quite compares to the desktop Monolith 124459 Headphone Amplifier. This device was developed by the Monoprice manufacturer, a company that has been in the electronics business for nearly two decades. Their Monolith DAC device features the world's most linear amplifying technology. It offers a no-compromise headphone audio experience with a 100% balanced operation. 

If you’re unfamiliar with advanced audio technology, this DAC might seem overwhelming at first. On the backside, you’ll see tons of input and options for both digital and analog. Things can quickly get confusing, but you’ll get the hang of everything in no time with the help of the Monolith User Manual. On the front of the device, you’ll have access to balanced and single-ended output headphone jacks. This output system is compatible with all headphone types.

Although you can use essentially any headphones or earbuds, you'd be doing this DAC a disservice by pairing it with low-quality headphones. It is highly recommended that you use a high-quality pair of headphones with the best headphone DAC amp. This is the ultimate way to take advantage of this DAC’S full potential. WIth top-of-the-line headphones, your listening experience will be exceptional with the Monolith.

Pros

  • Variety of inputs and outputs
  • No-compromise headphone audio
  • Stylish desktop design
  • Tailor sound to personal preferences

Cons

  • Bass/treble control could be better

Portable vs Desktop DACs

Before purchasing any of the best DACs reviewed and rated above, the very first step is to determine whether you need a portable device or if a desktop DAC will suffice. Both types of DACs provide the same basic functions, but a desktop DAC often offers more in terms of audio-enhancing capabilities. However, if you’re hoping to enhance your listening while away from home, a portable DAC is the better choice.


Standalone DAC vs DAC Amp Combos

The main reason to invest in a standalone DAC is that it’s the more budget-friendly option when compared to the DAC-amp combo. However, you’ll often have to purchase a separate amplifier when using a standalone DAC, which can end up being the same cost (if not more) as a DAC amp combo.

Most combo units come with amplifying options for speakers as well as headphones, which is why many audio-enthusiasts opt for this type of DAC rather than a standalone.


Connecting the DAC to Audio Interfaces

Connecting your DAC to audio interfaces depends on the inputs/outputs that are available with the specific device. For instance, connecting a DAC with Bluetooth capabilities will be completely different from USB-connecting DACs. With the traditional DAC device, follow these steps for DAC connection to audio interfaces.


DAC Connections

From the best DAC reviews, it's fairly evident that every DAC offers a unique set of connectivity capabilities. The most common input connection types to look for include optical 3.5mm, coaxial, and a variety of USB ports (A, B, mini, and C). The most common output connections for modern DACs include RCA and headphone jacks. When in doubt about DAC connections, the more input/output options, the better.


DAC Care & Maintenance Tips

The main thing to remember about your DAC is that it is an advanced piece of technology that needs to be treated gently. As is the rule with most electronics, avoid storing your DAC in extreme heat or cold. Keeping your DAC free from dust is another way to keep the device in working order. Other than that, just be sure to refer to your DAC owner’s manual for additional care and maintenance recommendations.


Common DAC Issues & Fixes

Just as you might need some help with troubleshooting for television audio, your DAC may give you some problems on occasion. The most common DAC-related issue is the lack of audio altogether. This is almost always an easy fix since it typically has to do with matters relating to cable inputs and outputs. The easy solution is to switch up the current cable configuration and ensure that the inputs and outputs are all properly aligned.


Frequently Asked Questions

Do DACs really improve sound quality?

As long as you purchase a top-rated DAC like any of the devices mentioned in this review, then yes, DACs truly do improve sound quality. You can read about what DAC users have to say about improved sound quality with their devices here

Where is the best place to buy DACs?

The best place to buy almost any product these days is the Amazon shopping site. Not only is Amazon a trustworthy retail source, but it is also home to the best prices. Just be sure that you purchase from a reputable seller that offers the product’s original warranty.

Which is better, a 3.5mm jack or a 6.33mm jack for connection?

The standard jack size is 6.33mm, while 3.5mm is considered to be a mini-jack. It’s difficult to say which jack size is better since there is essentially no difference in sound quality between the two. However, some people claim that the 6.33mm size is better since it is larger, and therefore more rugged.

What is the difference between a DAC and an amp?

Many modern DACs come with amp included, but these two pieces of audio equipment are very different. A DAC is responsible for converting an audio file from digital to analog, while an amp is a piece of hardware meant to increase the power of an audio signal.

What are the best DAC brands?Question

This list of reviewed, rated, and compared DACs includes some of the most popular brands in the audio equipment industry. The most well-respected DAC providers are Marantz, Chord, FiiO, and PS Audio.


Conclusion

If you're still on the fence about which DAC to purchase, we'll decide for you: the PS Audio Sprout100. Just as the manufacturer claims, this DAC is the "gateway device to a life of audio nirvana." It doesn't matter what type of audio you're listening to; the Sprout100 has the power to optimize every listening experience. For a portable DAC option, consider the NextDrive Spectra.

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