For anyone looking for a small and compact DAC with a powerful conversion range, look no further than the D1 from Audioengine.See On Amazon
As digital music becomes more easily accessible and high resolution audio formats expand to cover a wide range, having the right digital-to-analog converter is becoming more vital for casual listeners as well as audiophiles. Most DACs these days are advancing with technology, meaning it is becoming easier to find one with the high quality features you are searching for.
Just ten years ago you were limited to a few hundred DAC options available on the market. But today, you can easily find nearly 2,000 different digital-to-analog converters available. Each one offers a wide range of features; some standard and some unique to the manufacturer that made it.
We took a closer look at several popular DACs in this price point to see what features they can offer and how they can work for different purposes. Whether you are looking for a simple and inexpensive digital-to-analog converter, or want all the bells and whistles, you are sure to find a DAC that meets your needs.
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If you’re looking for a smaller size DAC with the same great features as its larger counterparts, look no further than the Audioengine D1. This small DAC is compact and discreet, but can offer a sampling rate up to 192 kHz. It also includes a wide range of input options including optical, coaxial, and USB to interface with a variety of devices from laptops to DVD players.
You’ll find a dual chip setup in this DAC including an AKM chip for generalized digital-to-analog conversion, and a TI chip for USB interfacing. You’ll get excellent sound from this DAC with several receiver controls available, regardless of the audio device you connect it to.
For anyone searching for a DAC that can handle a range of native formats, the DX3 Pro is a great option to consider. The dual AK chip setup can work with a variety of modern formats including DoP and Native formats up to 256. It can also handle PCM and DXD operations at a maximum range of 768 kHz.
You’ll find dual USB input, two options for coaxial connections, and optical connections. Additionally, this DAC can operate in multiple modes and includes a headphone amplifier and preamplifier option as well. The DX3 Pro has a very low impedance requirement making it a suitable choice for smaller headphone use, including lower-end IEMs or even for a bit costly IEMs.
When you need a digital-to-analog converter that can handle every modern input connection around, the DacMagic 100 can be the answer for you. It can be connected to a range of devices including PC, TV, set-top boxes, DVD players, and laptops. Input connection options including dual coaxial, optical, and USB. You’ll also find multiple audio outputs which work with an AV receiver or speaker system.
While this DAC does work well with PC use, it will require a separate download of a driver direct from Cambridge Audio. This will not be needed when interfacing with Mac computers or other USB devices, however.
The K5 Pro is an outstanding choice for someone looking for a higher end DAC. It’s a suitable converter for a wide range of applications, and offers a range of input choices to suit your needs including USB, optical, coaxial, and line. You’ll love the smooth and clear sound from this converter regardless of your input option.
In addition to offering a number of input options, it is also one of the few higher end DAC that offers a 6.3mm jack for headphone connections. The playback offers high resolution signals up to 192 kHz or PCM up to 768 kHz with the Velvet Sound technology.
For other DAC recommendations with the same price as the K5 Pro, we have here a list of headphone amps under $200.
For gamers or anyone looking for a high quality sound return, this digital-to-analog converter is a great choice. It’s mid sized and offers a range of input and output options to link with your PC for gaming purposes. You’ll find the usual linear, optical and USB inputs as well as both stereo outputs in 3.5mm and linear outputs.
The device offers a large and easy to use volume wheel along with connectors for both a headphone and microphone. The CS stereo DAC chip offers support up to 384 kHz at 32-bit sampling. This gives you a dynamic and balanced sound perfect for speaker or headphone enjoyment.
When searching for the right digital-to-analog converter for your needs, there are a large number of considerations to keep in mind. Do you want something that can handle Bluetooth input? Is a standalone DAC good enough for headphone use? Should you look for a portable converter or go with a stand-alone?
All of those questions and more may come up in your search for the right DAC for your needs. What is important to you may not be important to someone else, so in this way, each DAC is not created equal. It’s important to take some time and decide on what is really important to you and your audio/visual room or home recording studio before you jump in and make a purchase.
Audio sampling rates can be found in a huge range that can reach 32-bit and 192 kHz. Most people will search for a digital-to-analog converter that can handle the largest range possible. However, it’s rarely necessary to look for a DAC that can process anything higher than 96 kHz, and that’s even for professional audio recording.
The average music CD will only reach 44 kHz, and most studio recordings will be 96 kHz or less. Once the audio is recorded and compressed, the sample rate will drop even lower. For this reason, most average DAC users will not need to focus on extreme highs for their sampling rate.
MQA is becoming more and more popular with audiophiles and other more discerning listeners to music. Some online streaming platforms are offering MQA to their higher end subscribers. While Master Quality Authenticated audio does offer a much higher compression and delivers a high definition streamed audio, most DACs do not offer MQA support by default.
Using a DAC that does not support MQA to play this file codec will result in distorted and improper partial sound. The audio will partially play but won’t sound as good. So if you plan on listening to MQA audio files, such as from certain streaming sources, ensure your DAC supports this codec.
In today’s market you can find both portable DACs as well as stationary models. In most cases, there will not be any sound quality difference between them. The quality comes down to the DAC chip itself which is in charge of the actual conversion process.
The chip itself is responsible for the variations in sound quality, but a portable DAC that shares the same chip as a stationary model will not have any difference in sound. Some of the best sounding digital-to-analog converters are extremely small and very portable.
The biggest benefit to a stationary model is that you will most likely have more options for external connections. It also allows more room for headphone amps and other components which cannot fit into the small chassis of a portable DAC.
Many users wonder about using headphones with their digital-to-analog converter, and whether or not a standalone DAC is suitable or if they need to purchase a separate headphone amp. If you are using headphones, a headphone amp will be needed.
However, purchasing a separate headphone amp may not be necessary as a large number of digital-to-analog converters already integrate one. If purchasing a headphone amp separately, keep an eye on your impedance rating as some lower end models may not offer a high enough power output to give you a proper sound return.
When it comes to digital-to-analog converters, the wireless connotation is slightly different than what you may be thinking. For example, you may be wanting to purchase a DAC for use with wireless headphones or wireless speakers. However, a digital-to-analog converter will not be of use in this case as it lacks the aptX codec Wireless devices normally need.
When mentioning wireless with a DAC, it usually refers to an input source such as Bluetooth or WiFi instead of the standard optical connection, USB or SPDIF. If you are looking for a wireless option for input, there are digital-to-analog converters that have wireless receivers for Bluetooth connections. You can also opt to use an external wireless receiver.
Finding the right DAC may take a bit of searching on your part, but depending on your needs it can be a somewhat straightforward process. Digital-to-analog converters are common and easy to find, and most will share the same basic features you need to start enjoying high quality audio today.