The Top Digital-to-Analog Converters (DACs) for Amazing Digital Music 2023
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Adding an external DAC to your listening setup will improve sound quality and eradicate noise and distortion so that you get the most out of your listening experience. But let's back up a second. If you’re wondering what the heck a DAC is, you’re not alone. The word DAC stands for digital-to-analog converter and why you might need one or which one to get can be a total head-scratcher for the uninitiated. If you want to know how a DAC can take a digital audio signal and turn it into an analog audio signal, and how optimizing that digital-to-analog conversion can improve your music listening and home theater experience, then read on. If you just want to know which one to get, scroll down to our top DAC picks for every budget and use case. We've chosen what we think are the best DACs based on our extensive in-house testing, sound and build quality, design, our own customers' reviews and feedback, and the warranty and support of the brand itself. And, no matter the tweaky acronym, it's still all about audio quality!
What is a DAC?
A DAC, or digital-to-analog converter, translates digitally stored information from your device into the analog sound that you can hear. You might be surprised to learn you already have at least one DAC in your audio system. If you're listening to music from your phone through a pair of headphones, for example, your cell phone (the device) is processing digital audio files, which is just computer data in ones and zeros, and converting them into an analog signal that your headphones receive and convert to sound waves. The thing in your phone that is converting that data is a DAC. Your computer has one and so does the receiver in your stereo.
While many devices already have built-in DACs, they may not be accurately converting the signal - which means the music isn't going to sound as good as it could. The DAC circuitry used in many devices may not be efficient or powerful enough to do justice to the original recording and the DACs in consumer electronics are subject to clocking errors as those digital data streams are converted into audio signals. . The tech term for this is "jitter", and your ears might experience it as music that sounds two-dimensional, not very clear, opaque, or just not full. Again: not as good as it could.
A high-quality DAC can be the simplest way to improve your digital music and really get the most from your system. A DAC upgrade will help you achieve a cleaner sonic background, improving the overall soundstage of your listening setup and creating a wider, deeper listening scape. This will get you closer to hearing the music the way it was meant to be heard and also maximize your setup's worth. You wouldn't put a set of crappy tires on a Ferrari, right?
If you want to dive deeper into DACs or have any other questions, check out our DAC FAQ section or talk directly with our product experts by calling 1.866.961.7781 or chatting with us. We love to talk about this stuff!
Here Are Our Picks for the Best DACs of 2023:
The Best Overall DAC:
Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M DAC and Preamplifier with Bluetooth aptX
The Best All-in-One DAC:
Naim Mu-so All-in-One Wireless Music System Gen 2
The Best Portable DAC:
iFi Audio Go blu Portable DAC/Headphone Amp with Bluetooth
The Best Headphone Amp DAC:
Astell & Kern SE180 Premium Model Interchangeable All-in-One DAC/AMP Module
The Best USB DAC:
AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt USB DAC
The Best Bluetooth DAC:
iFi Audio ZEN Blue V2 HiFi Bluetooth DAC & Receiver
The Best DAC Under $300:
Cambridge Audio DacMagic 100 DAC
The Best Audiophile DAC:
NAD Electronics C 658 DAC BluOS Streaming DAC
The Best Budget DAC:
AudioQuest DragonFly Black v1.5 USB DAC
The Best DAC Under $200:
iFi Audio Zen DAC V2
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Astell & Kern
1. The Best Overall DAC:
There are a LOT of DACs out there, so “Best DAC Overall” is not a label we take lightly. High-quality audio is a fickle thing. There are so many factors that play a role in how we hear our music, but like clockwork, the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M gets it right every single time. There were a lot of factors to consider, but at the end of the day, we crowned the DacMagic 200M as the best DAC overall because it provides the highest possible streaming quality for every streaming service, it’s easy to set up and easier to use, the whole suite of connections/Bluetooth capabilities ensures that any device can sound its best, and of course, it just looks so dang cool. It's no surprise that it's also our best-selling DAC, so don't just take our word for it... though, that is why you're here.
A big first for Cambridge Audio, this DAC (digital audio converter), supports MQA. If you don’t know, MQA is an award-winning British technology that delivers studio-quality audio with a file size small enough to stream using platforms like Tidal, for example. In fact, the DacMagic 200M will acknowledge when it’s streaming MQA and the indicator on the front will turn blue when streaming an MQA Studio file, (a file approved in the studio by the artist or producer or has been verified by the copyright owner), or green when playing/decoding an MQA music file.
The heart of the DacMagic 200M is a pair of ESS Sabre digital-to-analogue converters. They handle digital audio files up to 32bit/768kHz or DSD512, meaning they can deal with digital music stored on CDs, smartphones, computers - or anywhere else. Once a digital file is uploaded to the DacMagic 200M, its twin DACs convert it to analog information while keeping all of the original dynamics and detail intact. Because the analog signal it sends to your audio set-up is so clean, you’ll end up with a sound bigger than the box it came from.
Digital optical, digital coaxial and USB inputs mean easy connection for CD players, gaming consoles, laptops, or any other digital equipment. Thanks to its Bluetooth aptX capabilities, it’s just as easy to wirelessly deliver files from your smartphone or tablet, too!
All-in-all, this DAC delivers and it's at a mid-range price point for someone looking to upgrade the audio quality of their system. Plus, we trust Cambridge Audio and their reputation for engineering in the pursuit of pure, hi-fi music reproduction. Just take a look at our our full review of their next-level EVO 150 all-in-one player here and you'll get it.
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 8.6" x 2" x 7.6”
- Weight: 2.6lbs
- Color: Lunar grey
- Output level (unbalanced): 2.1v rms (fixed or variable – user selectable)
- Output level (balanced): 4.2v rms (fixed or variable – user selectable)
- Digital input sampling frequencies supported: 44.1khz to 96khz pcm, dop64 (optical), 44.1khz to 192khz pcm, dop64 (coaxial), 44.1khz to 768khz pcm, native dsd 64x to 512x, dop 64x to 256x (USB)
- MQA Compatibility: Full decoding
- Bluetooth: Yes
- Headphone Output: Yes
- Max power consumption: 12w
2. The Best All-in-One DAC:
$1,799.00 – $1,999.00
For the people that want a one-and-done quick and easy setup, look no further. Faster processing, a refined control dial, more connectivity options, and a 13% increase in internal volume are all improvements you’ll see on the second generation of the Naim Mu-so.
All the controls and menus are conveniently in the dial on top of the device. Input options, multiroom functions, and shortcuts to your five favorite applications as well as indicators for AirPlay, Chromecast, Spotify, and of course, play/pause and volume control are all on the dial as well for quick access to all your streaming essentials.
Speaking of streaming, the Naim Mu-so comes with a wide range of connectivity options like HDMI arc, optical, and a 3.5 connector but can also handle wireless setups using Apple AirPlay 2, Chromecast, Spotify, Tidal, and Roon Ready. This all-in-one is ready to handle just about any sort of connection you’re going to throw at it.
Oh, it can also be a sound bar. A sound bar that gives some of the best a run for their money, too! 450 watts between six speakers (courtesy of the legendary Focal Audio), all work together to let the Mu-so pump out volume and some seriously crisp and clean sound without an overbearing low-end. Put it all together and you’ll see very quickly why the Naim Mu-so is the best all-in-one DAC system.
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 10.39 x 24.72 x 4.8
- Weight: 23 lbs.
- Amplifier output: 450W (6 x 75W)
- Mains supply: 100V, 115V or 230V, 50/60Hz
- Power consumption
Typical use: 17W
Standby mode: <2W
- Speaker system: Stereo 3-way; DSP-optimized vented box acoustic system
- Streaming: Apple AirPlay 2, Chromecast built-in, Spotify Connect, TIDAL, Roon Ready, Bluetooth, Internet Radio
3. The Best Portable DAC:
The iFi Audio Go blu is a tiny and powerful DAC that’s fully capable of 24bit/96Khz using a wired connection through its USB-C port or with Sony’s LDAC Bluetooth communication protocol. It's a versatile amplifier that handles standard and balanced headphones, while being about the size of a Zippo lighter and weighing less than a battery.
It’s small, light, and thoughtfully designed. The slightly textured back means it doesn’t slip in your hand, and the tiny crown wheel on the side allows you to adjust volume with a tactile feel. The convenient button within the crown allows you to play, pause, and skip tracks with the press of a button.
Aging myself, the Go blu is like the old trusty tape deck adapter every car in the 90s had so your new portable CD player could play in your 1984 Dodge Omni by bringing new technology to old connections. The Go blu will breathe new life into your old trusty headphones that aren’t Bluetooth capable but still rip.
There’s even a microphone in the Go blu to add one more level of convenience. Connect it to your phone, tablet, computer, or even your TV to enjoy music or movies with astounding audio with your wired headphones.
And if you're someone who loves to use a DAC on-the-go, there is also a case specifically designed for the Go blu. Simply clip it onto your belt loop, pocket, bag strap, and GO.
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 2.1" x 1.3" x 0.5"
- Weight: 0.95oz
- Digital to analog converter: Cirrus Logic CS43131
Wireless: Bluetooth 5.1 (AAC, SBC, aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, aptX LL, LDAC, LHDC/HWA Codec)
Wired: USB-C (24.96)
Balanced: 245mW @ 32Ω; 5.6v @ 600Ω
SE: 165mW @ 32Ω; 2.8V @ 600Ω
- Dynamic Range: Balanced/SE: >120dB(A)
- Output Impedance:
4. The Best Headphone Amp DAC:
The third product in the A&futura line by Astell&Kern, the SE180 Premium Model Interchangeable All-in-One DAC/AMP Module is one of the more unique choices on this list. The reason is that this DAC/AMP has interchangeable all-in-one modules that you can change out. This allows you to enjoy the same user-friendly interface, but you can tailor the soundscape to fit you and how you like to listen to music. Plus, having the module separated from the main body blocks RF and power noise allowing for a totally uninterrupted listening experience.
Astell&Kern implemented their patented TERATON ALPHA Sound Solution, which produces audio playback as close to the original sound as possible through the audio output interface by use of effective power noise removal, more effective power management, and amplification with minimal distortion.
Upgrades like a new navigation bar, a full HD screen, and wireless file transfer for cable-less file management make the user interface that much more enjoyable and Bluetooth 5.0 support 24-bit aptX-HD and LDAC means that you’re getting some of the best wireless solutions an audiophile could ask for.
- Dimensions (W x H x D):
30.3" x 5.09" x 0.78" (Only body)
3.03" x 5.4" x 0.78" (Combined with a module)
- Weight: 9.88 OZ
- Display: 5.0inch 1920x1080 FHD
- Support Audio Formats: WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, OGG, APE, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, DFF, DSF, MQA
- Input: USB Type-C input (for PC & MAC)
- Charging: 9V 1.67A / 5V 2A
- Wi-Fi: Yes
- Bluetooth: V5.0 (A2DP, AVRCP, Qualcomm® aptX™ HD, LDAC)
5. The Best USB DAC:
The DragonFly Cobalt is a powerful and pocket-sized take-anywhere USB DAC that completely bypasses the internal DAC of whatever device you’re using and delivers a clearer and cleaner signal resulting in a more natural sound out of your headphones, powered speakers, or full audio system. A new ESS ES9038Q2M DAC chip creates deeper and richer sound while a more refined Microchip PIC32MX274 microprocessor reduces overall current draw and increases the processing speed by 33% over its award-winning predecessors, the DragonFly Red and DragonFly Black v1.5.
The DragonFly Cobalt is 10% smaller than the Red and Black but the difference it can make in your listening experience is just as big. The flagship ESS ES9038Q2M DAC chip provides a beautiful and natural sound while newly designed power-supply filtering technology reduces excess Wi-Fi, cellular, and Bluetooth noise.
AudioQuest took one of the best and most unique products on the market and made it better. Thanks to its improved processing abilities, smaller form factor, and new DAC chip to provide a more natural and cleaner sound, the DragonFly Cobalt easily earned the award for the best USB DAC.
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 2.26” x 0.73” x 0.47
- Digital to analog converter: ESS ES9038Q2M
Apple macOS 10.6.8 and later
iOS 5 and later (requires Apple USB adaptor)
Android 4.1 and later (requires micro-USB DragonTail, USB-C DragonTail, or other Android USB adaptor)
Linux (no technical support provided)
- Includes DragonTail USB-C to USB-A adaptor
6. The Best DAC Under $300:
DACs can range from $60 USB filters to machines costing $3,000 or more. So, which one is best for the people that want to improve their listening experience, want more than a slight noise filter, but don’t want to break the bank? We’d suggest you take a look at the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 100 Digital-to-Analogue Converter.
You can find DACs in everything these days: your computers, phones, tablets. but what matters more is what DAC you have in your devices. They aren’t all bad, but most don’t offer the same capabilities as the DacMagic 100. It was built around the Wolfson WM8742 24-bit DAC, with the capability to support digital input frequencies ranging from 32kHz to 192kHz. This may seem intimidating at first, but all you need to know is this: the DacMagic 100 was designed to provide a new level of depth and clarity in everything you listen to from Mötley Crüe to Beyoncé.
It comes with a USB Audio 1.0 input as well as S/PDIF and TOSLINK digital inputs, meaning that you can connect a wide range of audio devices to the DacMagic 100 and convert your digital audio to transform your auditory experience.
Take its compatibility options, connectivity options, and the price point, and we’re sure you can see why the DacMagic 100 Digital-to-Analogue Converter is the best DAC under $300.
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 4.1" x 1.8" x 5.1"
- Weight: 1.1 lbs.
- Digital to analog converter: Wolfson WM8742 24-bit DAC
- Output impedance: <50 ohms
- Maximum output level (unbalanced): 2.3Vrms
- Digital input word widths supported: 16 - 24bit
- Digital input sampling frequencies supported: 32kHz, 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz, 192kHz
- Maximum power consumption: 5W
7. The Best Bluetooth DAC:
Whether you need an analog or Bluetooth connection, the ZEN Blue V2 by iFi Audio can handle it all. Boasting a new and improved Bluetooth antenna for up to 80% more range, the ZEN Blue is compatible with all your favorite streaming sources like Qobuz, Tidal, Amazon, Apple Music, and Spotify. The ZEN Blue V2 supports all current and future Bluetooth audio formats like Qualcomm's aptX and aptX HD, aptX Low Latency, aptX adaptive, and LDAC just to name a few.
Looking at it’s analog connections, you can connect using RCA to amps or active speakers or via the 4.4mm output to amps/speakers with a balanced input for a cleaner, less noisy connection. If you’re using a device with a built-in DAC like a TV, you can use the built in optical and coaxial connections.
No matter what the source, the ZEN Blue V2 is ready to take your listening experience to another level.
- Dimensions: 6.2" x 3.4" x 1.4"
- Weight: 1.05 lbs
- Chipsets: Qualcomm QCC 5100 Series (Bluetooth), ESS Sabre (DAC)
- Input: Bluetooth 5.1™ with AAC, SBC, aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, aptX LL, LDAC, HWA Codec
- Output: 4.4mm Balanced and 3.5mm S-Balanced (SE)
- Output Voltage @ 0dBFS: 2.05V (+/-0.05V)
- Dynamic Range: 109dB (A)
- Output Impedance: <50Ω
- Power Consumption: <2.5W
8. The Best Audiophile DAC:
The C 685 is a preamp, a DAC, and a BluOS network player all put together in one convenient package. Think of this DAC like it’s the home base of your whole system. It’s where you’ll plug in all your inputs and establish all your connections, wireless or wired.
Just a few of its supported services include Spotify, Tidal, and Qobuz, but thanks to the built-in aptX HD wireless, you can be sure that no matter what you stream, it’s going to come through clean and crystal clear.
The C 658 also features Dirac Live Room Correction, the most effective room correction available. Dirac corrects the impulse response of your speakers based on the room your device is in. When the room resonances are tamed and the transient response is corrected, it’s like the speakers disappear right in front of you and are suddenly all around you.
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 17 1/8" x 3 15/16" x 16"
- Weight: 22.3 lbs.
- Stereo subwoofer output: Yes
- Headphone out: Yes
- BluOS network streaming
- Dirac Live Room Correction
- Gigabit ethernet
- Dual band Wi-Fi a/c/n
- 2-way Bluetooth aptX HD
- 2 x line inputs, 2 x optical inputs, 2 x coax inputs
- Preamp/Balanced preamp output
9. The Best Budget DAC:
It’s not every day that you see a product that gets an upgrade and becomes more affordable. In 2012, AudioQuest released the original DragonFly. A pocket-sized DAC and headphone amplifier that took audio enthusiasts by storm. Well, now we have the DragonFly Black v1.5.
The DragonFly Black v1.5 is about as plug-and-play as you can get! Literally. For computers, it’s as simple as plugging it in. Portable devices, like Android and iOS devices, need an additional cable to connect with the DragonFly v1.5. Since it draws power from the device, there’s no need for any external power, and thanks to an updated Microchip microcontroller, the v1.5 consumes about 77% less power than its predecessor while supplying an even better boost in audio quality. The dragonfly on the device changes color depending on the sample rate you’re streaming which looks great on an otherwise all-matte black device.
This device won’t turn your phone or laptop into a reference-grade audio streaming machine. What it will do is accentuate all of the little details and intricacies of your favorite movies, TV shows, and songs. Your low end will feel deeper and more powerful, vocals will sound bolder, and cymbals won’t sound so distant, but they won’t sound piercing either. Layers and harmonies that weren’t present before will present themselves to you making for an all-around richer and fuller listening experience.
The AudioQuest DragonFly Black v1.5 USB Digital-to-Analog Converter is the best portable DAC because of its compatibility, incredibly small footprint, and its ability to instantly transform the quality of portable music.
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 2.26” x 0.73” x 0.47
- Digital to analog converter: 32-bit ESS 9010 DAC with minimum-phase filter
Apple and Windows PCs
iOS and Android mobile devices (requires Apple Camera Adapter or Made for Android/OTG adapter)
- Analog volume control
- USB Stick-Sized Digital-to-Analog Converter
10. Best DAC Under $200:
The world of DACs can get really confusing and really expensive very quickly. For the people who just want to upgrade their sound without investing in a whole new system or are just new to the world of high-end audio, the iFi Audio Zen DAC V2 might just be the best option for you.
It’s simple to use, you can find any of the controls you need right on the front and inside a 16-bit XMOS controller helps this unit reproduce incredible audio and even decode MQA (master quality audio) files so you can stream hi-res audio from platforms like Tidal or Qobuz. The true bass knob allows for easy access to a nice bass boost which is great for any headphones that may tend to lack low-end strength.
The volume is controlled by a big and smooth aluminum knob that has a nice backlight that is used to confirm the type of audio input you’re using and that you’re using MQA decoding.
The iFi Zen DAC is the best DAC and Headphone Amplifier under $200 because it brings a ton of value at a modest cost. A nice boost in sound quality, versatility for different types of headphones, and hi-res capabilities? Sounds like a no-brainer to us!
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 6.3” x 4.6” x 1.4”
- Weight: 1.8 lbs
- Digital to analog converter: Bit-Perfect DSD & DXD DAC by Burr-Brown
- Input: USB 3.0 B Socket (USB 2.0 compatible)
- Supported Formats: PCM, DSD, DXD, MQA (Decoder)
Does a DAC make a difference?
Yes! These days, people are excited about high-resolution audio, in which music is encoded and recorded at a sample rate of 96kHz or even 192kHz, and resolutions of 24 bits or 32 bits. The increased resolution captures much more detail of the music, including the space between the instruments or voices, the sound of the room in which it was recorded, the spatial relationship between the different parts, and the full tonal and harmonic range of voices and instruments. More like being in the room where it happens.
But that amount of information results in a much larger digital audio stream — a lot more ones and zeros. So to experience high-resolution audio, you need a source that can provide it, whether it comes in from a streaming service via the Internet, in files on your device, or on media such as DVDs or high-resolution CDs. Then, it requires a DAC that can put all those ones and zeros back together into their original sample rate and bit depth!
What kinds of DACs do what?
The great news is that no matter the setup, you can get a DAC that's perfect for you. From a tiny, affordable, and portable DAC that you can hook up to your cell phone or computer via USB or a USB adapter to a high-resolution DAC that will give you a much richer listening experience in your home, there's something for everybody.
Some models have two chips, one for the left channel and one for the right channel. Some DACs have even more chips, which can process audio signals even faster and more reliably. Some are designed to be used only as headphone amps, while others can even handle multichannel audio for surround sound. Some DACs include a headphone amplifier, improving the sound quality on your wired or wireless headphones!
Are expensive DACs worth it?
As the price of DACs go up, so does the power of their chipsets and the quality of their components. More powerful processing and high-end components can ensure that the full range of audio gets put out into your speakers.
If you now have a good idea of how a DAC upgrade can fit in with your system, just re-read this gear guide and find something that matches your needs. If you want a little more help, call 1.866.961.7781 or click to chat with our experts, and take advantage of our Happiness Guarantee and 60-day return policy to make sure the DAC you get delivers the experience you want!
Still not sure? We got this.
If you’re still not sure which DAC is best for you, give us a call or send us an email. Tell us a little about how you will use it, what kind of music you like, what’s your budget, and/or anything else you think we should know. Just think of us as your own personal audio gear shopping concierge, on-call to help you pick the perfect DAC for you.
One more thing:
A last word of advice: buy your new DAC from a trusted dealer. And the more experience and longer the track record, the better. A good dealer will take care of you in the event anything happens.
Speaking of trusted dealers...
World Wide Stereo is home to some 90+ industry-leading audio/video professionals who love what they do and talking about it, too. We opened our doors in 1979, gained a small yet die-hard following, won a slew of national awards for everything from killer car audio installations to customer service, grew the business online… and today we enjoy a faithful following of like-minded TV-watching, music-listening, gear-loving defenders of fun for the whole family. Our only rule: no one leaves unhappy.
Plus, shopping with us means you get our guarantee, which includes perks like free shipping, 60-day returns, award-winning support, and service long after the sale — always. Hence our rule: "no one leaves unhappy."