Here's our selection of the best DACs you can find for your computer, laptop, smartphone or games console
A digital-to-analogue converter (DAC) is a clever box that receives a digital audio signal – perhaps from a computer, laptop, smartphone or games console – and turns it into an analogue signal that you can enjoy through wired headphones or speakers.
You can listen to music without investing in a standalone DAC as your various audio sources will all have their own built-in converters. However, the sound quality from these integrated chips is often quite disappointing. A dedicated DAC can make all the difference, with a cleaner sound and better effects processing.
There are a few things to consider before spending your hard-earned money, though. Below you’ll find our guide to the key features on a DAC, as well as our selection of the best DACs you can buy today. We’ve got a wide variety of devices that’ll suit everyone’s needs – from expensive audiophile equipment to affordable portable models.
How to choose the best DAC for you
Does the physical size of the DAC matter?
High-end audio gear doesn’t have to be big. Most DACs are compact little things, while still delivering top-notch quality. Larger units do, however, have space for more inputs and outputs – the main benefit of choosing a bigger DAC.
Which input should I pick?
It depends on your setup, but you can’t go far wrong with a USB input from your PC, laptop or console. For the ultimate convenience, look for a wireless connection. This isn’t a standard feature, but some DACs support Bluetooth aptX, while others support both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
Will a DAC make my headphones louder?
All the DACs we’ve recommended below include a built-in amplifier, so you can plug your headphones straight into them and pump up the volume. But note that some DACs are more capable than others at driving high-impedance headphones.
For example, Sennheiser’s HD800 headphones are rated at 300Ω and, if the DAC isn’t designed to cope with this, the sound may be very quiet. Your everyday gaming headset, in comparison, is rated at a much easier-to-drive 32Ω.
Should I care about sampling rate and bit depth?
If you’re serious about audio, these two figures are important. They determine the quantity and quality of audio information your DAC is able to process and, as a rule of thumb, the higher the numbers, the better your audio should sound. However, in almost all cases, the limiting factor will be not your DAC, but the quality of the audio stream you’re listening to.
There are a few services out there that take advantage of high sampling rates and bit depths (Tidal Masters is a good example), but unless you’re a die-hard audiophile, you needn’t worry too much about these figures.
The best DACs to buy in 2023
1. Lindy DAC: The best DAC under £100
Price when reviewed: £70 | Check price at Boxed2Me
The Lindy DAC isn’t the prettiest thing in the world, nor the easiest device to plug your headphones into – but it sounds sublime. It has a fun sound signature, an expansive soundstage and incredible instrument separation that’s hard to believe at this price.
The sound isn’t quite as bold as on more expensive DACs, nor are the mid and sub-bass frequencies quite so well controlled. Even so, in terms of bang-per-buck, the Lindy DAC can’t be beaten.
Key specs – Dimensions: 180 x 260 x 40mm; Max bit depth/sampling rate: 24-bit/96kHz; Inputs: S/PDIF coaxial, TOSLINK optical, USB-B; Outputs: L/R phono, 3.5mm jack
2. Chord Hugo 2: The best DAC
Price when reviewed: £2,099 | Check price at AV.com
The Hugo 2 is a larger, improved version of Chord’s Mojo DAC. Not only does it offer more features, such as a switch filter, a dedicated crossfeed button (X-PHD), and more inputs and outputs, but it also delivers spectacular sound; for its price, it’s the best-sounding DAC we’ve come across.
The most immediate difference between the Hugo 2 and other DACs in this roundup is its sublime soundstage. It has a wider sound profile that delivers better instrument separation. It’s a difference that can’t go unnoticed, no matter what headphones (or speakers) you feed through it: the bass is tight, controlled and refined, the highs aren’t sibilant and the mids are pin-point perfect. On the whole, it’s an incredible DAC and one you should consider if you’ve got the budget.
Key specs – Dimensions: 130 x 100 x 21mm; Max bit depth/sampling rate: 32-bit/768kHz; Inputs: 1 x micro-USB (power only), 1 x micro-USB (input), 3.5mm optical, TOSLINK optical, Bluetooth (aptX); Outputs: 3.5mm jack, 6,3mm jack, L/R phono
3. Audioengine D1: The best DAC under £150
Price when reviewed: £149 | Check price at Amazon
For under £150, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better-value DAC. The Audioengine D1 delivers stupendous amounts of power and sound quality that belies its price. Its smooth, balanced sound signature will appeal to everyone, while its soundstage reproduction has good depth and excellent instrument separation. It doesn’t sound quite as open or offer the same level of dynamism as the Chord Mojo, but it’s impressively close – and a lot cheaper.
Key specs – Dimensions: 89 x 95 x 25mm; Max bit depth/sampling rate: 24-bit/192kHz; Inputs: USB-B (input and power), TOSLINK optical; Outputs: L/R phono, 3.5mm jack
4. Creative Super X-Fi Amp: A unique experience
Price when reviewed: £140 | Check price at Creative
This ultraportable amp uses Creative’s very own Super X-Fi technology to deliver a rather unique experience. Thanks to some clever wizardry that scans your facial details via the SXFI app, this little amplifier recreates a speaker-like sound to headphones; it adds a wide, spacious soundstage without negatively impacting the sound signature – it will feel as if you’re facing a set of surround sound speakers.
Aside from its unique sound, the Super X-Fi Amp works on PC, Mac, consoles and Android devices. The unit has an X-Fi toggle, a three-button remote, a USB-C input and a 3.5mm headphone jack, too.
Key specs – Dimensions: 67 x 17.5 x 9.7mm; Max bit depth/sampling rate: 24-bit/96kHz; Inputs: USB-C; Outputs: 3.5mm
5. iFi Nano iDSD Black Label: The best DAC under £200
Price when reviewed: £199 | Check price at Scan
This small-sized iFi DAC is seriously impressive. The iDSD BL has a volume knob, and two 3.5mm outputs at the front (one for headphones, the other for sensitive IEMs), a 3.5mm output at the back for speakers/amplifiers and a full-sized USB jack for both power and input. The DAC can be used for up to ten hours on the go, too – you’ll need an OTG cable for your smartphone.
The iDSD BL has a warm, fun, punchy sound signature that delivers plenty of weight in the lows. Expect plenty of mid-bass quantity and a good sub-bass rumble. It also has an incredible soundstage, which manages to separate instruments flawlessly.
Key specs – Dimensions: 96 x 64 x 25.5mm; Max bit depth/sampling rate: 32-bit/384kHz; Inputs: USB (input and power); Outputs: 3x 3.5mm jack (Direct, iEMatch and line out)
6. Astell & Kern HC3: A well-priced and very capable USB-C DAC
Price when reviewed: £199 | Check price at Selfridges
The AK HC3 is Astell & Kern’s latest portable headphone amp/DAC dongle device – and thanks to a combination of wide-ranging compatibility and deft audio quality, it’s well worth a spot in our list of best DACs.
The main body of the DAC is 59 x 18 x 11mm (WDH) and connects to the USB-C plug housing via 50mm of braided, flexible cable. This is a clever configuration because it means the HC3 has a male USB-C connection and doesn’t need an additional cable to connect to the output of your source player. And the digital signal travels through a length of noise-shielded cable before it’s processed.
It will work with Windows, Android, MacOS and iOS operating systems, and will put a rocket up the digital audio output of any compatible device to the tune of 32bit/384kHz and DSD256 resolution, as well as perform the final unfold of MQA content. And though it can lose a little of its sonic composure at very high volumes, keep the levels realistic and its sound is detailed and eloquent, balanced and convincing.
Key specs – Dimensions: 59 x 18 x 11mm; Max bit depth/sampling rate: 32bit/384kHz; Inputs: USB-C (input and power); Outputs: 1 x 3.5mm line out
7. Sennheiser HDV 820: The perfect pairing for Sennheiser headphones
Price when reviewed: £2,099 | Check price at Sennheiser
If you own a pair of Sennheiser HD 800, HD 800S or HD 820 and were looking for their perfect match, the HDV 820 is what you need. Granted, it’s expensive, but it’ll provide a wide soundstage reproduction, excellent tonality and incredible driving capabilities.
If you’re going to use an unbalanced cable to plug into the DAC, we’d suggest opting for the slightly more neutral-sounding Hugo 2. However, when hooked up through a balanced XLR four-pin cable, such as one found on Sennheiser’s headphones, the HDV 820 will sound remarkably cleaner and more refined than its rivals. No matter what you use, the ESS SABRE32 DAC is still sonically impressive – it delivers a tight mid-bass, excellent mids and extended non-fatiguing highs.
Key specs – Dimensions: 306 x 224 x 44mm; Max bit depth/sampling rate: 32-bit/384kHz; Inputs: USB, balanced XLR, unbalanced RCA, coaxial, TOSLINK optical; Outputs: XLR3, XLR4, 6.3mm, 4.4mm
8. Chord Mojo 2: Best DAC under £500
Price when reviewd: £495 | Check priced at Amazon
As the long-anticipated replacement to the incredibly popular Chord Mojo, the Chord Mojo 2 is another leap forward for compact DACs. The chief change from the original release is what Chord claims is the world’s first lossless digital signal processor and we were suitably impressed with the second-generation Mojo’s mastery of detailed sound.
It offers strident upper frequencies and more control at the lower end compared to the original Mojo and there are also fresh features, too. You can now make adjustments across the frequency range through 18 steps on its lower bass, mid-bass, low-treble and high-treble bands. There’s also a four-setting crossfeed that sets up the Mojo 2 for an even-wider soundstage.
The improvements don’t stop there either, as charging is fast and the battery is 9% bigger so should deliver more than eight hours of playback. There’s no change on its lack of wireless support though, but you can still use a Poly accessory to add Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support if needed.
Read our full Chord Mojo 2 review for more details
Key specs – Dimensions: 22.9 x 83 x 62mm; Max bit depth/sampling rate: 32-bit/768kHz; Inputs: 1 x micro-USB (power), 1 x micro-USB (input), 1 x Optical TOSLINK (input), 1 x 3.5mm jack coaxial; Outputs: 2 x 3.5mm jack
9. iFi xDSD: The best portable DAC
Price when reviewed: £399 | Buy now from Amazon
This stylish DAC runs off its own battery and can either connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth or plug into a computer over USB. It supports aptX on Android and AAC on iOS for the best sound quality, with a simple control button on the front that lets you add spaciousness and apply bass correction to your music.
It’s not just technically clever, it also sounds fantastic. Sound separation might not be as spectacular as the Mojo, but the xDSD has a fantastic bass tone, great high-end extension and a wide-open soundstage. Combined with its simplicity and portability, that makes this undeniably a best-in-class DAC.
Read our in-depth iFi xDSD review for details
Key specs – Dimensions: 95 x 66.5 x 19mm; Max bit depth/sampling rate: 32-bit/768kHz; Inputs: micro-USB (power only), 3.5mm optical, USB (male); Outputs: 3.5mm jack, Bluetooth (aptX and AAC)
10. Creative Sound BlasterX G6: The best DAC for gamers
Price when reviewed: £130 | Check price at Amazon
The sleek and stylish Sound BlasterX G6 focuses on features: Scout mode boosts the treble, which is great for listening to footsteps, while SBX boosts the G6’s sound profile and Dolby Audio integration adds 7.1 virtual surround sound in your ears.
It also has something no other DAC in this roundup has: a 3.5mm microphone input, allowing you to directly connect your gaming headset. And it’ll work on both PC and consoles, making it a great choice for any gamer looking to upgrade their audio experience.
Key specs – Dimensions: 110 x 70 x 24mm; Max bit depth/sampling rate: 32-bit/384kHz; Inputs: micro-USB (input and power), 3.5mm optical; Outputs: 3.5mm jack, 3.5mm microphone jack
11. Cyrus soundKey: Perfect for laptops
Price when reviewed: £110 | Check price at Amazon
Cyrus’ soundKey is an ultraportable DAC that can be plugged into your PC, Mac or mobile device (via an OTG cable). Its small design leads it to be the easiest DAC to carry around. Despite its minuscule size, the soundKey provides substantial audio fidelity. It offers plenty of power for more demanding headphones and its somewhat warm sound signature makes it a pleasure to use.
It might not sound as meaty as the Creative SoundBlasterX G6, nor as spacious as the Lindy DAC, but for its size, it’s hard to think of another DAC that delivers such impressive audio capabilities. If portability is of importance, the Cyrus soundKey should be on your wish list.
Key specs – Dimensions: 54 x 23 x 8mm; Max bit depth/sampling rate: 24-bit/96kHz; Inputs: micro-USB (input and power); Outputs: 1 x 3.5mm line out
12. FiiO E10K: A budget small-sized DAC
Price when reviewed: £85 | Check price at Amazon
The tiny E10K is the perfect size to tuck away or pop in a laptop bag. It has limited connectivity options, but it’ll suffice for most and, despite its diminutive design, it’s powerful enough to drive high-end headphones.
Sound quality is predictably a little compromised – the Lindy DAC definitely sounds better – but if you’ve been living without a dedicated DAC, the E10K is a definite step up. With the bass switch toggled on, there’s a good solid mid-bass slam and good sub-bass extension. The highs extend well, too. If you’re looking for a sleeker, smaller-sized alternative to the Lindy, this could be the one.
Key specs – Dimensions: 79 x 49.1 x 21mm; Max bit depth/sampling rate: 24-bit/96kHz; Inputs: micro-USB (input and power), S/PDIF coaxial; Outputs: 1 x 3.5mm jack, 1 x 3.5mm line out