Headphones, delivering a flat sound, could make your favorite music feel like some sort of ear battering. And this feeling grows awful when the very same headphones have done enough damage to your pockets. However, before blaming your headphones squarely for bad sound and drilling a hole into them, bother much to check inside the built-in audio infrastructure of your device. Your headphones alone don’t owe you a great quality sound, but a USB DAC too. In the next few minutes, you’ll be learning about what a DAC (digital to analog converter) does and which are the top-rated DACs in the market worth your dime. We’ll explaining everything in a plain, straightforward tone so that you don’t end up tearing your hair out. Keep reading.
What a DAC Does?
A DAC, short for digital-to-analog converter, changes a digital audio signal to that of an analog one before it reaches to the headphones via an amplifier. Simply put, it transforms digital sound to a form that’s graspable to the ears. And that’s how a perfect audio experience is put together. A top-notch DAC ensures that the audio pouring out is intelligible, clear and real. But even the top-rated headphones don’t guarantee a right DAC, botching the audio experience and making you blast with frustration. That’s when an external DAC makes up for the change you look for.
We’ve picked out some of the best DACs you should consider buying in 2018. These are been chosen after hours of testing and experimenting so that we can come up with the most thorough and comprehensive review.
Let’s head straight to the list.
|FiiO E17 Alpen Portable Headphone Amplifier||WM8740||Up to 24bit/192k & SPDIF||Yes||6-8 Hours||Buy Now|
|AudioQuest DragonFly Red||ESS9016||MP3s to 24-bit/96kHz||No||-||Buy Now|
|Chord Mojo||-||USB, Coaxial, & Optical||Yes||10 Hours||Buy Now|
|Oppo HA-2 SE||ES9028-Q2M||32-bit/384kHz, & USB||Yes||7 Hours||Buy Now|
|ODAC + O2 By JDS Labs||-||Mini-USB||No||-||Buy Now|
FiiO earns plaudits for being a DAC that offers on-par sounding and matches up to the expectations. At $179 on Amazon, it’s definitely worth every dime for how it serves in terms of audio input and portability. It’s very manageable in size, something you can easily carry in your pockets, but can’t feel a thing. The battery span is impressive too, standing at 1500mAh battery and giving you much elbow space to handle your audio maneuvers. Several users have come forward to describe how they charged this DAC for once in a week only and faced no battery woes. The LCD display provides you with all the necessary controls to manage the unit, so the need for doing a lot of dials and knobs is all banished. That’s quite handy. With interchangeable adaptors, you can plug in various audio inputs and enjoy a versatile experience through and through.
The only shortcoming is that the controls and menus go really fussy at times, making it not such friendly for novices. Overall, it’s an inch below than perfect, but still a proposition if you’re big on music.
DragonFly Red is a pricey proposition, but worth every dime for the sweet sound, it delivers. It’s definitely better than some of the DACs known to the world today, along with AudioQuest’s very own ‘Black’ edition. It pulls a class; offering an undeniable audio experience that ballparks at 24 bit/96kHz. However, that’s a restriction too, because the DragonFly range is not moving beyond its favorite frequency spot. The sound has finer details, depth, and quite a clear texture. There’s a three-dimensionality that may leave you wanting for more. We’re quite tempted with the upgrades the ‘Red’ edition has under its hood. It packs a much advanced DAC and amp combo, and has a digital volume control, which is a huge improvement.
Talking about size, we see how DragonFly Red has been kept convenient and compact. It’s a tiny stuff, doesn’t sit over a lot of space and can be carried anywhere for hands-on audio boost. To recapitulate, AudioQuest DragonFly Red is the music upgrade you’ve been looking for and worth a buy.
3. Chord Mojo
Chord Electronics has a long lineage of making some of the best audio equipments and Mojo DAC is no exception. It’s perhaps the most well-supported and pocketable DAC for the sound boost you need. This is a simple invention and can be used with various devices, including Android and iOS, and also with Windows PCs and MAC devices. You need a Micro USB or USB Type-C cable to plug it in the smartphones, all depending on the smartphone you’re using. Chord Mojo has an aluminium build, a rubber feet and is carved into a shape of a slab, which makes it ideal for desk use. Performance wise, we can’t really find faults with Chord Mojo. The amplifier inside makes up for everything you’re missing out on your top-notch earphones. Even if the sound is mid-range, this DAC makes it sound more solid, real and coherent. The sound quality is above par, resonating and is devoid of all nip and rigor that mar your experience.
If you wish to optimize your audio experience to the audiophile grade, Chord Mojo is an ultimate DAC to buy. It’s not really affordable, at least not for everyone, but still a smart gear with fine amplification capabilities.
4. Oppo HA-2 SE
Oppo came up to a notch in the portable audio segment with its HA-2 DAC. Its upgraded ‘SE’ version comes with mild improvements and promises the same level of clear, detailed sound. The size parameters ensure complete ease on your end. It’s a pocket-friendly equipment with an aluminium build that makes it hugely portable. Carry it wherever you like and give your audio experience the thrust it needs. Oppo HA-2 SE has a good battery life, taking 90 minutes to charge completely and spanning over 7 hours of audio play and 13 hours with analogue. Connectivity options are good. You’ll find adaptors for Micro USB (Android, PCs, and laptops), USB type-A for Apple devices, and a 3.5mm jack for everything with no USB connection. Simply put, compatibility is huge.
Oppo HA-2 SE might sound like a repetition of HA-2 with nothing special of its own. Still, it delivers a dynamic, propelling sound that wouldn’t go unnoticed.
ODAC or Objective DAC can be cased as a DIY DAC and you can choose the inputs and outputs you’re looking for. It doesn’t come with an amplifier, but if you’re looking for one, you can dole out some extra money and purchase the combo, ODAC + O2 (Objective 2). The price, if you buy the combo, tops up at $285, which could be expensive than your decided budget. But the real beauty is how the combo looks and works. Together, they are slim, manageable package that looks great if plugged into your system. They deliver an impressive sound quality and achieve the best possible audible perfection. There’s a USB cable too.
You can try this combo if you’re looking for a stylish and advanced audio gear support for your system. Once here, we’re sure you aren’t returning to your regular audio business for sure.
A Guide to Buying a DAC
Now that you know what a DAC is and which DACs are rated as industry’s best, check out these important tips for buying a right DAC. There’s, of course, a lot of variety available. There are different DACs and amps to choose from, but this variety is vast enough to confuse you terribly. And, if you’re someone who doesn’t have a modicum of knowledge as to what DACs are and which DACs are best to bet on, you’re likely to flush out your money on some junk.
Even our list has five options and it’s very difficult to zero in on the best. This is why we’ve created a list to help you make a right purchasing decision. You can keep this handy if you’re buying one for yourself and looking at improving your sounding preferences.
Choose your DAC from the different styles available.
A Portable DAC: This DAC comes off as a compact addition to your computer if you’re looking at amping up your sound experience. While some models rely on the power from a computer’s USB port, others have in-built batteries to keep them powered if you decide on to carry it along with you.
A Desktop DAC: Desktops DACs, as the name itself suggests, are desk-bound, as some of them need AC power to operate. Line-level audio outputs allow you to connect external speakers or amplifiers too, which make them pretty useful. If you’re more into the moods for private music listening, some models even have a headphone jack.
A Wireless DAC: Wireless DACs are a step ahead and have a broadcasting way of doing things. They have a transmitter, which gets connected to a computer via USB. Now, the digital content is released to a wireless receiver. The audio is received and then, the signal is converted to its watchable form. That’s the basic phenomenon as to how a Wireless DAC works. Some models even use Bluetooth for transmission from a smartphone or tablet.
DACs for iPhone / iPad: These are meant to take your smartphone’s audio to its maximum. They are pocket-friendly and battery-powered. Note that these DACs aren’t just iDevices, but a few of them are compatible with Android devices as well.
Important Things to Remember When Using a DAC
1. Digital content comes in a variety of details and resolution types. Before buying a DAC to pump it further, make sure you’re playing the content at the highest resolution available. This is the most basic to-do when using a DAC to amplify the audio quality.
2. Before seeking improvements out of a DAC, check whether your device’s audio equipments are up to the mark or not. See if you’re using good speakers and the right pair of headphones. If you’re using a sub-par range of audio equipments, a nice DAC addition will never be suffice. Remember that.
3. Cables can help a ton to get the most out of a DAC. Make sure that you’re using the most capable of them to reach the optimum sound quality.
That’s all folks. This is all we have for best DACs to choose in 2018 and what all to look for while selecting one. If you’re willing to make some additions, your suggestions are welcome. Don’t forget to tell us which DAC you’ve chosen and why.