The 5 Best DACs Under $500 in 2022

Alex | Last Updated On May 10th, 2022 | This post may contain affiliate links.

As technology advances, so does the variety of digital-to-analog converters. It wasn’t long ago that you could only find a few hundred different DACs on the market, but today there are around two thousand models to choose from (that are as affordable as under 100 dollars and as expensive as 1000 dollars).

This increased collection of converters available on the market gives you a wide range of features to suit your needs and budget. Whether you are searching for simple basic features such as optical and USB input, or want a more advanced but expensive converter that specializes in native formats and offers a wide range of input and output options, you are sure to find exactly what you need.

This list goes over some of the most common DACs on the market in this price point, and highlights the pros and cons each one can offer. Additionally, you’ll find a range of converters that are compact in size, as well as some larger ones that can meet the needs of audiophiles, gamers, and casual listeners.

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Comparison of the Best DAC Under $500

photo of the SMSL<br> SU-9SMSL
SU-9
Best Versatile Input DAC Under $500See On Amazon
photo of the Cambridge Audio<br> Azur DacMagic PlusCambridge Audio
Azur DacMagic Plus
Best Redesigned USB DAC Under $500See On Amazon
photo of the AudioQuest<br> Dragonfly CobaltAudioQuest
Dragonfly Cobalt
Best USB Dongle DAC Under $500See On Amazon
photo of the SMSL<br> M500SMSL
M500
Best Overall DAC Under $500See On Amazon
photo of the Monolith<br> 124459Monolith
124459
Best THX Triple-A DAC Under $500See On Amazon

Reviews of the Best DAC Under $500

Versatile DAC that is suitable for a wide range of applications including gaming, casual listening, audiophile music, and more.

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  • Chip
    • ES9311 chip for 192 kHz
  • Size
    • 18.7 cm x 15.4 cm
  • Features
    • Includes 2nd generation XMOS
    • Supports native DSD up to 512
    • Versatile input and output options

This DAC is great for casual listening and offers a sampling rate up to 192 kHz with variable lossless codecs. It offers a range of input options including USB, optical, coaxial, and standard wire. Output options include analog stereo, balanced RCA and balanced or unbalanced XLR.

This DAC serves as a versatile preamplifier or can serve as your main filtering option when working via USB. In addition, the converter supports seven PCM filters including apodizing, hybrid, brickwall, slow linear, and more.

What We Like

Includes a color display on the front

Has full range of support for 7 PCM filters

Sampling rates can reach 192 kHz

Know Before Buying

Input module supports all major codecs

Three rubber-tipped feet can feel wobbly

Coil has a prominent droning sound at times

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Powerful DAC with excellent USB input that includes audio stream playback and can reach 24-bit up to 192 kHz.

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  • Chip
    • Dual WM8740 chips for 192 kHz
  • Size
    • 7.52 inches x 8.46 inches
  • Features
    • Redesigned USB input connection
    • Multiple connectors on the rear panel
    • Works with Bluetooth transfer and streaming

This powerful DAC offers a range of options for both input and output with sampling reaching 24-bit and 192 kHz. It serves as both a headphone amplifier as well as a pre-amplifier to give you the audio results you want.

The ATF2 technology is responsible for the upsampling signal, which gives you a full range of digital input options that reach up to 384 kHz at 24-bit processing. The dual DAC chips by Wolfson provide high quality conversions that are excellent for this price point.

What We Like

Can be connected with a BT100 adapter

Offers 3 experimental filtering options

Two powerful DAC chips for signal conversion

Know Before Buying

Volume control can be entirely disabled

Remote control would make access easier

Offers true high fidelity sound

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Small and compact USB dongle that offers a frequency range conversion of up to 96 kHz for Apple and Android devices.

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  • Chip
    • ES9038Q2M chip for 96 kHz
  • Size
    • 57mm x 19mm x 12mm dongle
  • Features
    • Works with any standard headphone
    • Includes a USB-A to USB-C adapter cable
    • Provides better sound that multi-oscillator DAC

Extremely compact dongle-style DAC offers a solid 2.1 volt output that is suitable for any IEM or external headset. You’ll also find this DAC is fully compatible with Android and Apple devices turning this into a high quality and budget-friendly MQA decoder.

The Cobalt shares many similarities to the previous flagship model, but takes it up a notch with the more advanced ES90 ESQ chips. This modern chip offers a minimum phase filter and excellent sound conversion rating for audio of all types.

What We Like

Extremely compact and small size

Perfect for use with laptops and Apple devices

Makes use of high end microprocessors for speed

Know Before Buying

The 3.5mm connection can be somewhat loose

The Cobalt model is considerably smaller than previous models

Makes use of advanced DAC chips

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Powerful and compact DAC perfect for desktop use that offers a variety of input channels as well as multiple outputs reaching up to 768 kHz.

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  • Chip
    • ES9038PRO chip for 768 kHz
  • Size
    • 85 mm x 88mm x 197 mm
  • Features
    • Supports up to 32-bit audio playback
    • Has codec for MQA audio formats
    • Impedance rating up to 300 ohms

The M500 is a great digital-to-analog converter for desktop use. Its small and compact size makes it discreet and unobtrusive even in minimalistic setups. You’ll find seven switchable filters, giving you a full range of control over your precise sound preferences.

The playback conversion can reach up to 768 kHz and has support for native audio in DSD as well as PCM codecs. While small, this DAC offers multiple optical, one coaxial, and one USB input with the jacks being gold-plated and of extremely high quality.

It’s a highly suitable choice for streaming audio from all sources as well as it offers MQA support with lossless streaming and a fast download rate. You’ll also be able to use headphones with this DAC as it can support 300 ohms with ease.

What We Like

Compact size with LCD signals

Multiple connections on the rear panel

Input and output jacks are all gold-plated

Know Before Buying

Sensitive IEMs can hear faint feedback

Front panel LCD display measures 2.19 inch

Full function remote control makes control easier

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Stylish desktop DAC that makes use of THX triple-A technology to present a high quality sound replication with extremely low distortion.

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  • Chip
    • Dual AKM4493 chips for 768 kHz
  • Size
    • 7.8 inches x 8.7 inches
  • Features
    • Multiple standard, XLR and RCA inputs
    • THX AAA technology for high end audio
    • Multitude of tuning options and adjustments

If you’ve been searching for a digital-to-analog converter that focuses on THX technology, look no further than the Monolith. While the exterior may not be to everyone’s liking, it offers Achromatic Audio Amplifier THX technology to give you an extremely high end result on audio sampling without noticing distortion.

The Monolith offers a range of inputs including digital USB, TosLink optical, RCA and XLR coaxial. This gives you the freedom you want when it comes to connecting to a variety of devices including DVD players, laptops, smartphones, and more.

You’ll find a wide range of frequency adjustment options including a high/low amplifier, a bass adjustment, and five independent equalizers. This gives you a huge range of options to work with when you are fine tuning your favorite audio. Many other DACs lack this level of tuning, which makes the Monolith a great choice for audiophiles.

What We Like

Exterior of the DAC is simple and discreet

Includes give parametric equalizer bands

Passband filtering can adjust from 0.5 to 5

Know Before Buying

All-black exterior may lack aesthetics

Volume knob is extremely oversized

Sound is very neutral and very clear

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Buyers Guide

Things to Consider When Buying a DAC

HiFi central repository music data. Close-up view.

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 before you jump in and make a purchase.

Sampling Rates

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.

Portable or Stationary

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.

Master Quality Authenticated Codec

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.

Wireless Connections

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.

Separate Headphone Amp for DAC Use

Headphone amp, professional.

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.

Conclusion

Best Versatile Input DAC Under $500
Best USB Dongle DAC Under $500

While the best digital-to-analog converter for your needs may take a bit of searching, you are sure to find a DAC that is perfect for you and your budget. From small and discreet dongles that work with mobile devices, to larger and more complex professional converters that have input options for half-a-dozen devices, finding the right DAC may take some time. Don’t be afraid to test out a few flagship offerings from certain companies and see if they are what you need before making the final dive into a full purchase.