Ten Best DACs (Digital Analog Converter) – 2018

These days, almost all music and audio files are stored in digital formats like MP3 and FLAC. When you play these files on your PC or iPod, they have to be first converted from digital to analog format to enable the hardware (your speakers or earphones) to play them as music. This job is handled by a device called the digital analog converter or DAC. All modern digital devices that deal with any audio playback, be it a laptop, cell phone, TV, or music player, have a built-in DAC inside them to convert digital audio files to their analog format. But these DACs have wildly variable output quality. As a result, buying a high-quality external DAC is advisable to improve audio fidelity and output quality.

 

DAC Mini Buyers Guide

There are several situations in which you may feel the need for a DAC. An improved sound output is one of them. For this, premium quality DACs, with better switchboards and a built-in amp may be ideal. Another popular instance these days is when you buy a new device, like a new TV, which doesn’t have the proper RCA cable output to connect to your existing stereo device. There are dozens of affordable DACs with the Coaxial/Toslink cables for input and good old RCA cables for output to solve this conundrum. High-quality external DACs can be divided into several types:

Desktop USB DACs: you can use these to improve the audio quality on your PC. They usually offer sockets for speakers, headphones or amps. These DACs use either a USB power supply or require AC outlet.

Portable DACs: commonly found models are USB powered, with a built in battery for extra portability. These can be used to boost the headphone output with your laptops/PCs, cell phones, and music players.

Wireless DACs: If you want to send the audio to a sound system with wifi or Bluetooth capabilities, you can use this type of DAC. Usually, they have a transmitter that is connected to the PC via USB. The wireless receiver is connected to your sound system or amplifier using regular RCA cables.

Headphone DACs: As their name suggests, you may want to use these to get the most out of your headphones, especially when connected to your home stereo system.

Hi-Fi DACs: If you have some serious double channel audio hardware at your home, you can use these large DAC systems with advanced boards and circuits to get the best audio output possible.
When you decide to buy a new DAC for your audio system, keep these important things in mind:

Match the DAC to the quality of your audio hardware. There is no point spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a DAC if your home theater has middling audio capabilities.
Get high-quality music files or sources to get the best output.

Though many DACs are standard plug-and-play devices, for a few devices you might require some PC knowledge to setup and operate properly.

Also remember to get good quality cables, be it USB, coaxial, optical or RCA, to get the best output.

 

Best DAC Comparison Table

ProductImageFeaturesPriceStar Rating
Musou Digital Optical Coax to Analog RCA ConverterTwo standard RCA jacks

Option for Toslink cable input
$4.2 out of 5

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FiiO D3 DAC With Micca 6ft Optical Toslink CableAdditional 3.5mm output jacks along with the usual RCA jacks

Mini USB power supply with included AC adapter
$4.6 out of 5

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Orei DA34 DAC With 5.1 Channel SupportConvert digital audio to 2.0 Channel output with RCA and 3.5 mm jacks

Supports either Optical or Coaxial S/PDIF inputs
$4.4 out of 5

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SMSL Sanskrit 6th USB/Optical/Coaxial DACAll in one DAC works with your TV, PC, and smartphone

Rated at 24bit/192kHz sampling rate for coaxial or optical, and 32bit for PC USB
$$$4.6 out of 5

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AudioEngine D1 24 Bit DACWorks flawlessly with Windows and Mac systems

USB, or an S/PDIF Coaxial cable input

Integrated headphone amp/preamp
$$$$4.4 out of 5

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Cambridge Audio DacMagic 100USB, Coaxial and Optical inputs

Supports 24-bit/192kHz sampling rates
$$$$4.4 out of 5

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FiiO E10K USB DAC and Headphone AmplifierImproved bass booster

3 Outputs

Works with any modern PC operating system
$$4.3 out of 5

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Micca OriGen+ High-Res USB DAC and PreamplifierStudio grade DAC

Supports high res PCM audio up to the standard 192kHz as well as DSD64 audio
$$3.9 out of 5

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Monoprice 111567 Desktop Headphone AmplifierOnly accepts a USB input

RCA output option
$$$4.1 out of 5

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AudioQuest DragonFly USB DAC Headphone AmplifierWorks with smartphone or tablet via small USB adapter or OTG cable

Simple functionality, plug into your PC USB port
$$4.4 out of 5

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DAC Reviews

Musou Digital Optical Coax to Analog RCA Converter

This a simple, no-frills DAC for those instances when you have a TV with coax cables which need to be connected to an audio system with RCA sockets. The two standard RCA jacks can be used to connect to an amp as well. The DAC is very compact and does not take up a lot of space. There is also the option for Toslink cable input, which will be given priority if you connect both Coaxial and Toslink to the input jacks of the DAC at the same time. It uses a 5V DC power supply and comes with an adapter as well as optical cable. It is, however, a basic DAC and doesn’t support Dolby Stereo.

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FiiO D3 DAC With Micca 6ft Optical Toslink Cable

Another affordable DAC to deal with all your TV to stereo output shenanigans, the FiiO D3 comes with additional 3.5mm output jacks along with the usual RCA jacks. It covers a wide range of sampling rates, from 32-192kHz. It is quite compact and has a mini USB power supply with included AC adapter. Much like the other DAC above, this one doesn’t support Dolby or other surround sound technologies and require regular PCM/LPCM input from your TV, DVD/Blu Ray Player, and consoles. But it does come with a very long Optical cable.

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Orei DA34 DAC With 5.1 Channel Support

If you want a DAC for your TV or home entertainment system that supports Dolby and DTS surround sound, the Orei DA34 is one of the more popular options available. It can convert digital audio to 2.0 Channel output, either in RCA or 3.5mm jacks. It even has the option for simultaneous output using these two jacks. It supports either Optical or Coaxial S/PDIF inputs from your TV/Home entertainment system. It uses a USB port to draw power. This DAC comes in two variants, a standard box in white, and a premium output version in black.

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SMSL Sanskrit 6th USB/Optical/Coaxial DAC

For those looking for an all in one DAC that can work with both your TV as well as a PC, and smartphone, this DAC from SMSL offers a fair bit of promise. It can convert inputs from optical, coaxial as well as USB sources. This means that it can support both Android as well as iOS phone inputs as well. The input support is rated at 24bit/192kHz sampling rate for coaxial or optical, and 32bit for PC USB. The setup comes with one DAC, one USB cable, and a 9V DC adapter. You have the option to connect your output from this DAC to a headphone amplifier, or multimedia speakers. On PC the system works well with Windows 7 and above as well as Linux.

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AudioEngine D1 24 Bit DAC

A proper DAC for your computer or laptop, this set from AudioEngine works flawlessly with both Windows as well as Mac systems. There is no convoluted setup or installation involved, with the manufacturer promising a plug-and-play experience. It can accept two different types of input, either a bog standard USB, or an S/PDIF Coaxial cable input. If you are using a Mac, you may not need a separate DAC purely for improved audio quality. What this set offers instead, at least for Mac users, is an excellent integrated headphone amp/preamp, along with the option for output switching. PC users can of course expect palpable improvement in audio fidelity, since PC in-built DACs tend to be of poorer quality when compared to Macs.

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Cambridge Audio DacMagic 100

Another jack of all trades DAC that can work with pretty much any digital device around, the DacMagic has USB, Coaxial and Optical input options. Inside it uses a Wolfson DA converter, and supports 24-bit/192kHz sampling rates. It can work with your Blu-Ray players, PCs and Laptops, Macs, TVs as well as any set top boxes. You can get great output for all digital files on your PC, including lossless formats. With a special audio dock made by the same manufacturer, you can even use this DAC with your iPod, iPad and iPhones. The DacMagic has the superior ability to connect to four different devices at the same time.

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FiiO E10K USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier

The FiiO E10 series has two different variants, with the standard one using a mini USB cable and the E10K using a micro USB cable, much like an android smartphone. The E10K is the later variant and sports an improved bass booster and a different chip for more power output. The DAC uses a simple plug-and-play system using USB cable. It can work straight out of the box with any modern PC operating system. The outputs are three in number, a 3.5mm jack with volume control, and one without which can be used with an RCA converter cable, and a digital coaxial audio output. This is a capable little amp/DAC that can be used for improved headphone experience.

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Micca OriGen+ High-Res USB DAC and Preamplifier

One of the more advanced options in this list, the Micca DAC is a studio grade device which supports high res PCM audio up to the standard 192kHz as well as DSD64 audio. The device accepts either a USB input or an Optical S/PDIF digital input. This is a feature rich DAC/amp combination, which has the ability to a provide really loud high quality sound output with a db switch and an equalizer. But unlike many other DACs in this list, this one will need drivers to work on your PC.

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Monoprice 111567 Desktop Headphone Amplifier

If you have a good quality audiophile headphones and want to get the best possible sound with your PC, this setup with a DAC from Texas Instruments is a good choice at a fair price. It only accepts a USB input, so you will not be able to use this with your TV, or set top box, or any other device. Even though this is a PC only device, it excels at what it does, and can play on a wide range of headphones. The output has high current and can run headphones with impedances ranging from a minute 16 ohms to almost 600 ohms. There is also an RCA output option when you wan to hook up the output to your stereo system.

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AudioQuest DragonFly USB DAC Headphone Amplifier

This is a very interesting looking device, shaped like a USB pen-drive with a neat blue DragonFly logo on the top. It offers a simple functionality, plug the device into your PC USB port, attach your 3.5mm headphone jack and enjoy the difference. And with a small USB adapter or OTG cable, you can even make this compact device work with your iPhone or Android smartphone or tablet. For such a tiny device, the output and performance difference is quite amazing.

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