You may not know how a DAC works and why it is used, but almost everyone uses a DAC in their daily life. Surprised? Let’s see how
What is a DAC, and why do you need one?
DAC stands for the digital-to-analog converter.
If you are using any audio or video device, you are using DAC.
Every digital device like music players, televisions, CD players, game consoles store audio in digits (0 and 1) formats. Human ears cannot understand this language because the digits are only intended for machines, so the digital signal needs to be converted to analog so that we humans can enjoy the sound.
Thus, a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) is responsible for converting digital signals into audio.
Today’s computers, tablets, smartphones, LED televisions, and Blu-ray players have built-in DACs.
Why should you buy an external DAC?
The main reason is that the internal DAC does not produce a high-precision audio signal and does not eliminate possible noise interference in the signal.
If you are a music lover or want to enjoy every part of the audio frequency, the built-in DAC might let you down.
An external DAC ensures that every digital bit is converted into the appropriate audio signal. Nowadays, DACs are also available with audio frequency control to change the sound beats to suit your musical tastes. DACs also have amplifiers to boost the output signal for excellent, smooth quality.
Let’s take a look at the best DACs on the market.
FiiO E10K USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier
FiiO E10K uses the XUF208 microcontroller, which is multi-core with an advanced multi-core RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer) architecture for better USB decoding.
The E10K is available with high/low gain control and bass boost. High gain is for higher impedance headphones that may require extra volume, while the bass boost is for different listener preferences when listening to different types of music.
|FiiO Headphone Amps Portable DAC USB Type-C coaxial 384kHz/32bit (E10K-TC black)||$75.99||Buy on Amazon|
The PCM5102 DAC chip improves sound quality and ensures good output power with an excellent transient response.
It offers three connection modes, including a 1/8″ headphone jack, 1/8″ rear line output, and coaxial digital output, making it compatible with connecting other devices.
- Equipped with low pass filter to reduce noise levels
- Internal silence on changing tracks
- Its slim and portable design allows portable use
- PCM supports up to 32bit/384kHz to capture every tiny detail of audio
The FiiO E10K is a USB DAC and headphone amplifier with two gain levels and features a Type-C connector and a variety of headphone/coaxial/line outputs.
iFi Hip-DAC Portable Balanced DAC Headphone Amplifier
iFi Hip DAC is a portable headphone amplifier with improved music and comes with a compact size that can be carried easily while traveling. Its miniature design can easily replace inferior DAC and amplifier for your smart device, PC, or Mac.
|iFi Hip-dac Portable Balanced DAC Headphone Amplifier for Android, iPhone with USB Input…||$120.00||Buy on Amazon|
It has dedicated knobs for adjusting the load to the type of headphones connected and a bass knob to enhance the low frequencies to listen to music with extra effect.
It comes with a Burr-Brown chip from Texas instrument that activates outstanding sound quality. To support convenience and versatility, it comes with balanced 4.4mm or S-Bal 3.5mm headphone plugs used to connect any USB device.
- Compatible with Tidal to stream MQA (Master quality authenticated)
- High definition audio format to enjoy music from online media to MP3
- This amplifier offers a maximum output power of 400 MW
- Supports PCM up to 384kHz and DSD256
iFi Hip DAC is a pocket-sized headphone amplifier equipped with the latest components to prevent unwanted noise and deliver flawless sound. Its sleek and compact design gives it a charm of its appearance.
Donner DAC Headphone Amplifier
In general, Donner is a company that makes musical instruments and accessories. It has launched its high-quality, mid-range, 96K/24Bit multipurpose headphone amplifier.
One of the added benefits of this headphone amplifier is that it is equipped with a dynamic OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) display for displaying audio frequency, adjusting volume, and customizing other operations.
|Donner Headphone Amplifier DAC -Coaxial/RCA/ 6.35mm,1/4” Headphone Output for Phone/PC/Compuer,with…||Buy on Amazon|
To support a variety of devices, it is equipped with three audio output ports: RCA port, coaxial port, and USB-C for connecting IOS / Android mobile phones and computers.
One of its uniqueness is that it provides power to the phone/tablet when connected without the need to carry a charging adapter or power bank. This unit is equipped with preset bands such as rock, pop, classical, jazz, and EDM to enjoy music beats.
- Build with the CS4344 DAC chip for high-quality signal production
- 5-band equalizer to adjust the music bass and treble of the audio signal
- OLED display to display five-segment equalizer
Donner DAC Headphone Amplifier is used to amplify the audio signal from headphones. If you are a music lover looking for better music beats, this is the device for you as there are five built-in frequency bands to enjoy different beats of musical instruments.
HIDIZS Ultra-Portable Amplifier
HIDIZS is an ultra-portable dongle used to amplify audio signals from mobile devices. Its versatile design makes it compatible with almost all mobile devices such as Mac OS, iPad OS, iOS, Android, and Windows.
|HIDIZS S3 PRO Ultra-Portable Hi-Res DAC Dongle, 8X MQA Support, PCM up to 32Bit/384kHz, DSD128…||$69.99||Buy on Amazon|
This device is recognized by JAS (Japanese Audio Association) and CEA (Consumer Electronics Association) for processing digital resolutions above 24 bit / 96 kHz for original sound reproduction and excellent music quality.
Supporting MQA (Master Quality Authenticated), this device has low power consumption and generates very low noise, which is equal to nil.
The device is equipped with a premium quality silver cable to transmit clearer sound to the headphones or speakers. The device has three ready-made melodies for all types of music lovers.
- Panasonic capacitor integration for a better listening experience
- The LED display shows different colors depending on the audio frequency
- Support S3 Pro phone to enjoy TIDAL Masters, HiBy Music, and Apple Music
- Ability to receive calls without turning off the device
It is one of the latest and smallest high-resolution DAC devices (20 mm diameter and 90 mm), equipped with the ESS9281C PRO chipset, which supports ultra-low distortion and PCM (pulse code modulation) up to 32 bit/384 kHz.
Topping E30 High-Resolution Decoder
Topping E30 is a high-resolution decoder that claims excellent specs for its price point.
|TOPPING E30 DAC Hi-Res AK4493 32Bit/768kHz DSD512 HiFi XMOS XU208 Decoder (Black)||Buy on Amazon|
From a technical point of view, the E30 features the XMOS XU208 chip, which has twice the processing power of the previous chipset, resulting in increased performance, memory footprint, and flexibility for the most demanding applications.
Its pulse code modulation supports 32-bit, covering all audio devices, including high-end DVD-Audio and Blu-ray Discs. This device is compatible with computers, cell phones, media players, televisions, setup boxes, etc.
Any device with USB, optical and coaxial inputs can be easily connected to the E30, and the operation can be seen on its display.
Its key features include easy remote control access, use of the Asahi Kasei AK4493 digital converter chip for dramatic productivity increases, 6 pre-built frequency bands for flexible audio performance. It supports Direct Stream Digital (DSD) for high-resolution formats like WAV, FLAC, ALAC, or AIFF.
FiiO K3 Headphone Amplifier
FiiO K3 is a pocket-sized headphone amplifier. It is one of the most advanced DACs as it has the latest chips and features that ensure it delivers an enhanced audio signal with little or no output noise.
Its XMOS chip can decode PCM bits up to 384 kHz and native DSD256. The dual crystal oscillator ensures that digital audio is converted precisely to enhance sound quality without loss.
The interior design consists of two main parts, one for the digital processing, which is carried out through the AKM AK4452 chip, and the other processes the analog signal via the amplifier circuit. The digital and analog parts receive different power supplies, which reduces crosstalk between these circuits. Top Features
A combination of OPA 926 operation amplifiers results in high output, low noise, and low distortion.
- High performance with 32-bit VELVET sound technology
- Integrated with surge protection and dual filters for current stability
- USB Type-C input for connecting all the latest electronic devices
- ADC volume control for smooth and even audio output, regardless of headphone sensitivity
The K3 headphone amplifier works with a wide variety of headphones. Its new hardware bass amplifier enhances the dynamic frequency range to provide additional themes for songs, games, and movies.
EarStudio ES100 blue-tooth receiver
EarStudio ES100 is a high-resolution blue-tooth receiver. It contains its own DCT algorithm that helps eliminate noise and upgrades 16-bit resolution to 24-bit high resolution.
|EarStudio ES100 MK2-24bit Portable High-Resolution Bluetooth Receiver/USB DAC/Headphone Amp with…||$89.99||Buy on Amazon|
It is equipped with the latest Bluetooth 5.0 software to maintain a stable connection with any Bluetooth source. Its DualDrive technology delivers excellent audio quality powered by two AK4375a chips.
The device is pre-installed with 10 sets of high and low frequencies to enjoy every beat of sound quality.
Features include scratch-resistant coating, car aux support, 14-hour battery backup, and two sockets (3.5mm unbalanced and 2.5mm balanced)
The ES100 is a fully adaptive DAC with which you can control Bluetooth codecs, calibrate channel volume, monitor battery usage, etc. If you are looking for a DAC without hissing sound as well as for working with highly sensitive headphones, this DAC will meet your requirement.
How do you choose the best DAC (digital to analog converter) for your audio system, headphones, or desktop?
Choosing the best DAC from the many DACs available in the market is a bit of a challenge, but if you shortlist based on the following 5 points, you will end up buying a good DAC:
Noise Reduction: Look for filter technology that filters out hiss or noise
Portable or Desktop: You don’t need to buy a big DAC to enjoy high-quality audio. You can buy a pocket or portable DAC. Portable DACs are more economical than desktop DACs.
Sample rate and bit depth: These two parameters determine the quality of the audio signal. High-resolution music requires a higher sample rate. Typically, high-resolution music files have a sampling rate of 768 kHz. A high bit means a higher quality audio signal; for example, a 16-bit data set contains more information than an 8-bit data set.
What kind of music would you like to listen to? It is possible that certain DACs do not support all file types. There are various music sources such as FLAC (free lossless audio codec), Ogg Vorbis, ALAC (Apple lossless audio codec), MQA, CD, DSD, and others.
Compatibility: where you connect your smartphone, home theater system, desktop computer, MAC or Windows laptop, etc. Ensure the DAC has the necessary ports and connectors to connect to your device.
Most DACs have a built-in headphone amplifier, which would be the best option as buying a separate DAC and amplifier can be expensive and inconvenient.
Since your smartphone or Personal Computer has a built-in DAC, it may not offer high-precision audio. A DAC with a built-in headphone amplifier is a significant improvement in such cases.
Whether you’re looking for a portable DAC for your phone or the best system for your home, you need to invest in a quality DAC.
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