Best DACs 2022: USB, portable and desktop digital-to-analogue converters

Best DACs Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best DACs you'll be able to buy in 2021.

You might no longer realise it, but most of us make use of a minimum of one digital-to-analogue converter (DAC) each unmarried day. Any instrument that delivers electronic sound – be it a laptop, Blu-ray participant, digital TV field, games console, portable tune participant or smartphone – requires a DAC to transform its audio to an analogue signal earlier than it is output to audio system, headphones or any other analogue instrument.

Without a DAC, your digital track collection is nothing but a sizeable collection of “0s and 1s” that is sensible most effective inside the digital domain. In quick, DACs play a huge section in making digital tune profitable.

The very best DACs will make your hi-fi, desktop or audio machine sing, but one thing sub-optimal – or sticking to the ones utilized in regular do-it-all components like the ones discussed above – will prevent you from getting probably the most from your set-up.

So, whether or not you are after a cheap USB DAC in your laptop, a portable style to toughen your on-the-go telephone sound, a high-end software to slip into a home hi-fi gadget, or a multi-purpose hybrid, you might be positive to discover a contender on this listing of the best DACs...

1. Chord Qutest

Pound for pound the best DAC in the marketplace at this time.

Specifications

Inputs: Coaxial electronic, optical electronic, USB Type-B

Outputs: RCA phono

Bluetooth: No

Max sample fee toughen: 32bit/768kHz PCM, DSD512

Dimensions (hwd): 4.1 x 16 x 7.2cm

Weight: 770g

Reasons to shop for

+Clear, exact and delicate performer+Excellent timing+Well geared up

Reasons to keep away from

-No Bluetooth

Chord continues to remove darkness from the top rate market for DACs and the Qutest is the evidence. It's the product that lesser rivals glance up to at this price level. The DAC delivers a crisp, blank and concise sound, with Chord's now acquainted neutral tonal balance.

As with all first rate hi-fi gear, it's going to take a little of working in time sooner than the Qutest truly starts to sing. But when it does you're in for a treat: songs are imbued with an ideal sense of scope, and there may be warmth and texture in abundance.

The Qutest boasts Chord's trademark colour-denoting buttons which tell you which supply it is drawing on: they glow white for USB-Type-B (in a position to accepting 32-bit/768kHz PCM/DSD512); yellow for the first BNC coaxial and purple for the second (24-bit/384kHz); and green for the optical (24-bit/192kHz/DSD64).

Given there is not any Bluetooth connectivity or headphone amp on-board, the Qutest’s sole goal is to be the digital-to-analogue bridge between your electronic supply and amplifier. And it does the process brilliantly.

Read the whole evaluate: Chord Qutest

2. Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M

Cambridge’s generously featured DAC is the best you can buy at this stage

Specifications

Inputs: Coaxial digital x2, optical electronic x2, USB Type-B

Outputs: RCA phono, XLR

Bluetooth: aptX

Max pattern rate strengthen: 332-bit/768kHz PCM, DSD512, MQA

Dimensions (hwd): 5.2 x 21.Five x 19.1cm

Weight: 1.2kg

Reasons to shop for

+Smooth, clean, insightful sound+Generous connectivity+Native MQA enhance

Reasons to keep away from

-No far off regulate-Tough festival

If you're looking for a DAC that mixes all approach of helpful options into an attractive and sonically astute package, the DacMagic 200M is a bot of a no-brainer, especially at this value.

It's well-equipped enough to slot easily into any hi-fi or desktop gadget. A big selection of digital inputs caters to a range of assets and there is aptX Bluetooth on board too. Add balanced and unbalanced outputs into the combination, plus a headphone output and hi-res audio improve and that is just about any and all bases coated.

Sonically, it's got that recognisable 'Cambridge' sound this means that a full, smooth tone partnered with an open, expressive, and authoritative delivery. Ignore this proficient all-rounder at your peril.

Read the full evaluate: Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M

3. iFi Zen DAC V2

One of the very best ways to upgrade your desktop headphone system on a budget

Specifications

Inputs: USB3.0 (USB2.0 compatible)

Outputs: RCA, balanced 4.4mm x 2, 6.3mm

Native pattern rate give a boost to: 32bit/384kHz PCM, DSD256, MQA

Dimensions (HWD): 3 x 10 x 11.7cm

Weight: 0.8kg

Reasons to shop for

+Clearer and more insightful than predecessor+Expressive dynamics+Good output selection

Reasons to keep away from

-No mains adapter incorporated

The ‘if it ain’t broke…’ saying isn’t misplaced on us. But on the similar time we realise that in a aggressive business comparable to hi-fi, making the best even your individual again isn’t essentially a nasty concept. It’s what iFi has accomplished with its price range house DAC and headphone amp providing, with the unique Zen DAC now making way for a ‘V2’ fashion that offers enhancements relating to processing, MQA interpreting and circuitry.

They pay off. This finances DAC, which may also be USB or mains powered, is very good in each the options and efficiency division for the money.

Offering a significant improve over computer sound high quality in an generation the place folks want it most, the Zen DAC V2 is some other feather in the cap for iFi’s finances Zen collection.

Read the full review: iFi Zen DAC V2

4. Audiolab M-DAC nano

The best portable DAC we've heard recently.

Specifications

Inputs: n/a

Outputs: 3.5mm

Bluetooth: Yes

Dimensions (hwd): Forty four x Forty four x 14mm

Weight: 28g

Reasons to buy

+Sonic punch and refinement+Compact and light-weight+Wireless operation

Reasons to steer clear of

-Battery lifestyles might be higher

A good way to support the sound of your phone or pc, we will’t think of a better selection for portable use. The M-DAC nano is a tiny unit, barely bigger than a custard cream biscuit. It’s mild, weighing in at just 28g, and there's a integrated rechargeable battery, too.

Being small and light are major plus points for portability, however the nano’s largest advantage over opponents such as the Cyrus Soundkey or the AudioQuest Dragonfly (under) is that the relationship along with your instrument is done wirelessly, on this case via aptX Bluetooth (v4.2).

Sonically, it's simply as candy because the custard cream we discussed previous: that is an impressively forged performance, giving a marked development in bass punch and power. Not simplest that, it also adds volume whilst nonetheless managing to refine the sound.

Overall, it is an exciting and entertaining efficiency that may toughen your tune at the transfer with minimum fuss. What may well be better?

Read the entire evaluate: Audiolab M-DAC nano

5. AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt

Another sensible portable DAC from AudioQuest with a clever design.

Specifications

Inputs: USB Type A

Outputs: 3.5mm

Bluetooth: No

Native sample rate improve: 24bit/96kHz PCM

Dimensions (hwd): 1.2 x 1.Nine x 5.7cm

Weight: n/a

Reasons to buy

+Clear, insightful sound+Excellent timing and dynamics+Extensive file make stronger

Reasons to steer clear of

-Not probably the most comfy sound-Adaptor can also be difficult to suit

Want the entire benefits of the DragonFly Red (2.1v headphone output, bit-perfect electronic quantity keep an eye on and MQA renderer) with more detail, higher dynamics and an even better sense of timing? Then you will have to try the latest instalment in AudioQuest's line of portable DACs - the DragonFly Cobalt.

The new model boasts a extra complex DAC chip, and a brand new microprocessor attracts much less current and bumps up the DAC's processing pace. Yes it costs around somewhat extra, however it does take efficiency to some other level. We'd willingly pay the additional.

Once attached for your laptop or smartphone, and selected as method of audio output, the DAC’s LED will shine certainly one of six colours to signify sampling rate: red for standby, green for 44.1kHz, blue for 48kHz, yellow for 88.2 kHz, gentle blue for 96kHz or purple when deciphering MQA. It's a super feature for at-a-glance checking, and is helping justify the additional outlay.

Read the overall review: AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt

6. Astell & Kern AK USB-C Dual DAC Cable

Another brilliant portable DAC from AudioQuest with a clever design.

Specifications

Inputs: USB-C

Outputs: 3.5mm

Bluetooth: No

Native sample charge toughen: PCM 32-bit/384kHz, DSD256

Weight: 27g

Reasons to shop for

+Notable development to audio+Clean, actual personality+Nicely made

Reasons to steer clear of

-No iOS instrument compatibility

Before Astell & Kern announced its AK USB-C Dual DAC Cable, it wouldn’t had been a stretch to consider the corporate making any such product. After all, it's been within the portable electronic audio sport with portable music players for years and loved a lot good fortune.

That expertise has been put to good use in offering USB-C software owners an affordable, sensible option to soup up their smartphone or desktop sound via wired headphones. Adding the AK USB-C Dual DAC Cable between these headphones and our supply units (which provide power to the DAC) makes the world of distinction. It’s such an appealing possibility that we can virtually forgive the unwieldy title.

Read the total Astell & Kern AK USB-C Dual DAC Cable review

7. Cyrus soundKey

This compact little critter is a superb funds DAC.

Specifications

Inputs: Micro USB

Outputs: 3.5mm

Bluetooth: No

Native pattern fee strengthen: 24bit/96kHz PCM

Dimensions (hwd): 2.Three x 0.Eight x 5.4cm

Weight: 16g

Reasons to buy

+Clean, open sound+Loaded with element+Compact and unobtrusive

Reasons to steer clear of

-Attaching to an iOS software is a faff-Some competitors sound more dynamic

A less expensive selection to the AudioQuest above is the Cyrus soundKey. There’s a 3.5mm socket for plugging in headphones (or connecting to a device). At the other end there’s a micro USB socket. There’s no need (nor any room) for anything else.

In the box Cyrus supplies a cable terminated with a micro USB at each ends (for use with appropriate Android gadgets) and a micro USB/full-size USB cable (to be used with laptop or desktop computer systems). Apple consumer? You'll need to buy a dedicated cable.

Sonically, it is the musical equivalent of the Tardis - it might be small, nevertheless it affords your tunes an immense quantity of house so not anything sounds too cluttered. This is particularly pronounced when taking note of quieter, sparser subject matter. There's additionally a perfect stage of element, with voices and tools rendered in a completely herbal way. Dynamics and transparency also are key strengths that make this mini surprise punch well above its weight.

Read the overall overview: Cyrus soundKey

8. AudioQuest DragonFly Red

The DragonFly Red is some other very good portable DAC.

Specifications

Inputs: USB Type-B

Outputs: 3.5mm

Bluetooth: No

Native pattern price enhance: 24bit/96kHz PCM

Dimensions (hwd): 1.2 x 1.Nine x 7.2cm

Weight: 22g

Reasons to shop for

+Sophisticated, forged and subtle sound+As convenient as ever+Smartphone compatible

Reasons to avoid

-Red finish seems easily chipped

The majority of DACs and headphone amplifiers suited to smartphones or laptops are affordable and no longer excellent. Adding a dedicated DAC, no matter how small, could make all of the distinction. So, a DAC and headphone amp disguised as a USB stick seems like a perfect thought - and the DragonFly Red, like the DragonFly Cobalt above, pulls it off beautifully.

Though on first glance, it would appear somewhat under-powered. After all, its hi-res toughen tops out at 24-bit/96kHz, which is equal to the a lot less expensive AudioQuest DragonFly Black. But it does have a better voltage output (2.1v), which makes it higher suited to compelling extra hard headphones.

And it makes an actual difference. Use it as a substitute of the headphone output on your laptop and you can realize progressed weight and texture for your tunes, blended with a herbal and subtle sound. All instructed, it is a supremely compact and handy device that can be taken anyplace for a direct musical spice up.

Read the entire evaluation: AudioQuest DragonFly Red

9. Chord Mojo

A slice of top of the range audio in a small DAC bundle.

Specifications

Inputs: Coaxial, optical electronic inputs, Micro USB

Outputs: 3.5mm x 2

Bluetooth: No

Native sample price beef up: 32bit/768kHz PCM, DSD512

Dimensions (hwd): 2.2 x 6 x 8.2cm

Weight: 180g

Reasons to buy

+Subtle and dynamic sound+Fine rhythmic force+Solid build and excellent end

Reasons to steer clear of

-Runs warm and gets sizzling charging

Mojo is short for ‘Mobile Joy’. And this DAC more than lives as much as its identify. 

Sonically, It can put across power and scale when the song requires however has the finesse to take advantage of the subtler passages, too. That sense of organisation is clear here, as is the Mojo’s composure when song turns into not easy. There's various element to get your tooth into, and while it is a full-bodied sound, it avoids any hint of extra richness at mid- and low-frequencies.

We’re also proud of the unit’s sense of refinement. Its transparency implies that poor recordings (and assets) will probably be clean to spot, but this DAC won’t move out of its solution to be nasty.

Battery life is around 8 hours which makes it a tight spouse for a commute or trade go back and forth whilst inputs include micro USB, optical and coaxial. The handiest characteristic lacking from Mojo's arsenal is Bluetooth, but we are ready to give it some leeway because it sounds so excellent. Go on, get some Mobile Joy for your existence.

Read the whole review: Chord Mojo

10. Audiolab M-DAC+

This impressive DAC delivers an organised, coherent and expansive pay attention.

Specifications

Inputs: 2 coaxial, 2 optical digital, XLR, stereo RCA, AES/EBU, USB Type-A, USB Type-B

Outputs: 6.3mm

Bluetooth: Yes

Native pattern price enhance: 32bit/384kHz PCM, DSD256

Dimensions (hwd): 11.4 x 24.7 x 29.2cm

Weight: 3.7kg

Reasons to buy

+Extensive spec+Fine construct and end+Organised, tidy and expansive concentrate

Reasons to steer clear of

-Could sound more attacking

The original M-DAC was once amongst our favourite pound-for-pound DACs for part a decade - and in 2016 Audiolab after all gave it the lengthy late update treatment. Thankfully, the M-DAC+ was well well worth the wait and remains to be up there with the best DACs on the cash.

You do not simply get a bigger box, you get significantly better specifications too. Such as? There's enhance for 32-bit/384kHz and DSD256 hi-res music, plus a host of recent connections to stay you entertained. It additionally has added tweakability: there's a ridiculous Eleven filters to play with, each making a delicate but noticeable difference to the sound. That will have to stay you busy.

And at the audio aspect, you will not be dissatisfied. There's a large, believable soundstage, impressive detail levels, and excellent timing. It's not the final word in attack and force but when you can take care of that, there may be now not much else to quibble with here.

Read the whole assessment: Audiolab M-DAC+

11. iFi hip-dac

This proficient portable DAC delivers top quality sound at the go.

Specifications

Inputs: USB Type-A, USB 3.0, 3.5mm audio

Outputs: 3.5mm, 4.4mm

Bluetooth: No

Native sample price fortify: PCM (up to 384kHz), DXD (up to 384kHz), DSD (as much as 256kHz), MQA

Dimensions (hwd): 1.4 x 7 x 10.2cm (length)

Weight: 125g

Reasons to shop for

+Easy-going by engaging sound+Battery power+Fine build and end

Reasons to steer clear of

-Up against difficult festival-Larger than some competitors-Sub-par sampling rate signs

This portable DAC resembles a hip flask and delivers a shot of top quality sound on the transfer. The maximum compact choice in iFi's range, it's essentially the heart of the British logo's superb desktop-based Zen DAC (under) squeezed right into a smaller, battery-powered package. 

The aluminium case feels rock cast and is accented via a nicely-damped metal quantity keep watch over. As for audio high quality, the hip-dac serves up the standard easy-going, refined iFi sound – we are large lovers of its "undemanding nature, expressive dynamics and pleasing rhythmic precision."

In brief, the iFi hip-dac is a superb purchase – but it is up towards a strong box. The likes of Zorloo’s Ztella set high standards for below the £one hundred mark, while the Cyrus soundKey remains hard to beat. Still, if you're in search of a fine quality portable DAC, this proficient field of tips warrants an audition.

Read the entire overview: iFi hip-dac

12. Chord Hugo 2

Chord's Hugo was once already a stellar DAC, and this handiest improves on it.

Specifications

Inputs: Coaxial, optical electronic inputs, Micro USB

Outputs: 3.5mm, 6.3mm, RCA phono

Bluetooth: Yes

Native sample fee reinforce: 32bit/768kHz PCM, DSD512

Dimensions (hwd): 2.1 x 10 x 13cm

Weight: 450g

Reasons to shop for

+Detailed, dynamic and open sound+Well-made and specified+Exotic multi-coloured keep an eye on machine

Reasons to avoid

-All the ones colours can get complicated-Not strictly talking portable

The excellent Hugo 2 features the entire inputs and outputs you could realistically require from a made from this sort, including electronic optical, coaxial and mini-USB. Music can also be fed to a pair of wi-fi headphones by way of aptX Bluetooth. 3.5mm and 6.3mm headphone outputs also feature, plus a couple of stereo RCAs to attach an amplifier.

So to say it is a versatile piece of kit could be a sarcasm.

The Chord is a smooth, impartial listen – it doesn’t overstate, but it doesn’t underplay. For some DACs, that may be playing it protected, however the Hugo 2 still manages to keep issues attention-grabbing, creating a holistic sound: it arranges the items into a powerful complete the place bass is balanced towards treble in essentially the most unforced and crystal-clear approach. There isn’t any other DAC round at anyplace close to this type of price able to keep up a correspondence so effectively and so without difficulty. We adore it a lot.

Read the full review: Chord Hugo 2

13. Chord Hugo TT2

Chord has produced another class-leading DAC.

Specifications

Inputs: Coaxial, optical digital inputs, USB Type-B

Outputs: 3.5mm, 6.5mm, RCA phono, XLR

Bluetooth: Yes

Native sample charge enhance: 32bit/768kHz PCM, DSD512

Dimensions (hwd): 4.6 x 23.Five x 22.3cm

Weight: N/A

Reasons to shop for

+Articulate, informative sound+Great dynamic expression+Fine construct

Reasons to keep away from

-Ergonomics can be irritating

Chord's DAC dominance handiest continues as you move up the associated fee spectrum. In efficiency and feature phrases it’s conceivable to make a strong case for the Hugo TT2 to be thought to be the best worth DAC the company makes. You’ve got to have a mighty clear device (not to point out a mighty fats wallet) to justify using the rest more expensive than this.

There’s now also numerous clear air between the efficiency of the TT2 and the Hugo 2, enough to make the price difference easily justifiable in a suitably talented set-up. Bluetooth aptX is onboard for wireless playback from a telephone or tablet, and whilst it sounds just right, it isn't a patch on one of the most TT2's stressed connections. But these are a minimize above, portray a shiny image brimming with assault and a way of coherence few can fit, let alone better. It’s a wonderfully detailed and expressive presentation.

So, Chord’s seemly unstoppable electronic bandwagon rolls on with but every other category leader. We're no longer keen on the Hugo TT2's scrolling menu device, however in every different appreciate, it’s a stunner.

Read the overall evaluation: Chord Hugo TT2

14. Chord DAVE

We haven’t heard a DAC at this level that sounds so herbal or insightful.

Specifications

Inputs: Coaxial, optical electronic inputs, USB Type-B

Outputs: 3.5mm, 6.5mm, RCA phono, XLR

Bluetooth: Yes

Native pattern price strengthen: 32bit/768kHz PCM, DSD512

Dimensions (hwd): 7.1 x 33.Three x 15.4cm

Weight: 7kg

Reasons to buy

+Class-leading sound high quality+Impressive characteristic list+Distinctive look

Reasons to avoid

-If the cost isn’t a topic, nothing

Unlike the Mojo and Hugo 2, the Chord DAVE isn’t about portability. It’s about maximising performance, and it does this brilliantly. The DAVE’s sound is superbly refined, but it never uses that as an excuse to easy issues off and take away the sparkle from recordings.

It’s devoted to the source, and we can ask no more than that. You get quite a lot of supply options too: there’s the usual trio of electronic inputs (one USB kind B, four co-ax and two optical) to move alongside the much rarer AES/EBU balanced digital input. There's additionally a quartet of BNC connectors that Chord calls DX inputs, for as-yet unannounced Chord source merchandise.

It impresses on paper, too. The unmarried USB accepts PCM signals with sampling charges as much as 768kHz - that is very succesful indeed, even though we are not sure what number of people will in fact be able to take advantage of such numbers.

DAVE doesn't come cheap, but then this DAC is reasonably some product. We're smitten and we predict you are going to be too.

Read the total review: Chord DAVE

15. Nagra HD DAC/MPS

This Nagra (with its matching power provide) is likely one of the best DACs now we have ever heard.

Specifications

Inputs: Coaxial, optical digital inputs, USB Type-B

Outputs: 6.5mm, RCA phono, XLR

Bluetooth: No

Native sample price enhance: 24bit/384kHz PCM, DSD128

Dimensions (hwd): 7.6 x 35 x 27.7cm

Weight: N/A

Reasons to buy

+Natural, fluid and informative sound+Rhythmic and expressive delivery+Terrific construct

Reasons to steer clear of

-Display might be higher

We've no hesitation in announcing Nagra’s HD DAC is one of the best DACs on the earth. It's a massively fascinating piece of equipment which boasts immaculate construct quality and immense attention to detail. Of path, to get the best from the Nagra you want so as to add premium companions (another way it is like operating a Bentley on pram wheels), however as soon as connected you are handled to a superbly natural, herbal and detailed sound.

While there’s a lot of refinement and a complete loss of unwanted hardness, there stays a healthy dose of dynamic punch when required. Whether playing competitive or refined selections, the Nagra is capable of staggering levels of detail offered in an without difficulty musical style. And of course it is going with out pronouncing that the construct quality is second to none (as you can be expecting at this worth).

If you are available in the market for a significant high-end DAC, then you wish to have to hear this.

Read the whole review: Nagra HD DAC/MPS

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