Nowadays, any digital sound player has a DAC. This term has become increasingly popular and is an element that every sound lover must take into account to get the most out of his team. But what exactly is a DAC? DAC is the acronym for Digital Analogic Converter or Digital Analog Converter. A DAC or Digital Analog Converter (Analog Digital Converter ) is a device which transforms digital signals into analog signals so that they can be heard through speakers or headphones. As you know, the music we hear today usually comes in a digital format.
The DAC is responsible for providing the necessary information to the headphones or speakers by transforming/coding that same digital information of “ones” and “zeros” to waves. It is a chip that is located next to the sound card of computers, mobiles or any digital sound player and that converts all zeros and ones that contain digital information, to real sound. But if you connect them to an external DAC you will experience a great leap in terms of sound quality. If you make the effort to buy speakers or high-end headphones and you do not get the most out of it since the DAC that has built your computer is of a quality that can be improved.
When is an external DAC necessary?
If every device that plays audio has an internal analog digital converter, then why do I want an external one? What happens is that we are talking about sound quality, not whether it sounds or not. An external analog-digital converter can exponentially improve the clarity of the sound.
Every laptop or desktop has a built-in DAC to play the sound stored inside digitally. The problem is that these parts are not of great interest to computer manufacturers, so they use cheap parts and end up being of dubious quality.
Generally, a more expensive DAC will have better audio quality. It generates less noise or distortion when compared to others of lower quality.
For this reason, we have prepared a comparison of the best portable DAC and desktop DAC in the market.
Affordable price, good sound quality, very small size.
It is not compatible with DSD files.
- USB port.
- Built-in amplifier
- 3.5 mm mini-jack output and micro-USB port.
- 16 ~ 100 Ω.
- 96kHz / 24.
- The frequency response of 20hz-20kHz.
- Chip DAC SA9023A.
The Fiio K1 is a Class C DAC and headphone amplifier. It is the first small device of this company and seeks to close the gap between high priced and cheaper units. It has a very affordable price and has good benefits. For us, it is one of the best DAC in the market in terms of price-quality ratio. It is small, with dimensions of 50mm x 20.5mm x 8mm and weighs 11.3g. It has a 3.5mm headphone jack and a micro-USB port. The DAC K1 does not need batteries since it obtains energy from the computer through the USB connection. A small blue LED light comes on when the DAC is connected.
The DIO Fiio K1 can decode high-resolution audio of higher quality than most of the integrated DACs of our equipment. It offers a great sound reproduction and occupies a size similar to the finger of a hand. This device uses a Savitech SA9023A USB receiver to decode audio with high fidelity, the PCM5102 DAC chip then releases the audio to a TPA6132A headset driver. It also has a solid and elegant metal body.
The Fiio K1 Analog Digital Converter supports high resolution files up to 96 kHz / 24 and the headphone amplifier can handle from 16 to 100 ohm. It is designed for the main use of computers, but we have tested it with smartphones and a stereo system obtaining excellent results. If you are looking to improve the sound quality of your computer for an affordable price, this DAC is a great option. It is the best DAC below $50.
Durable aluminum body.
Somewhat weak in medium tones.
- USB port.
- Chip DAC PCM-5102.
- Signal to noise radius: 105 dB.
- Frequency response: 20Hz-20kHz.
- Output power: 200mW @ 32Ω.
- Built-in amplifier
- An output impedance of 1.04 ohms.
- Analog volume control.
The Fiio E10K is a class C amplifier and DAC with a reasonable price and very decent performance. It has an aluminum body with dimensions of 79mmx 49.1mm x 21mm and weighs 79 grams. It has a solid construction with metal connectors and a Japanese potentiometer ALPS as volume control. A blue LED light indicates when it is working. The box comes with the DC E10K, a USB cable, and a rubber foot.
The installation of this quality DAC is quite simple: you only need to connect it to a USB port and it works automatically with files up to 96kHz / 24 bits. No installation drivers are needed on any computer. The DIO Fiio E10K also comes with a bass boost and a gain switch, plus mini-jack and coaxial outputs, in case you want to convert the computer’s USB to a digital coaxial output. The heart of the device is a PCM-5102 DAC chip that produces very little noise. It has an LMH6643 amplifier that produces natural responses. It can handle headphones with an impedance of 150 Ohms without problems.
The sound that the Fiio E10K DAC emits is in good quality. We tried it with instrumental music and we heard a good separation between all the tonalities. It has a good dynamic range and high tones are perceived in detail, although the media suffer a bit in comparison. In general, it is an excellent economic option if we want to acquire a DAC / Amp. For a price of around $ 75, it is among the best options on the market.
Good connectivity, volume controls, small size.
Limited reproduction speed.
- Analog volume control (Black).
- 64-bit digital volume control (Network).
- USB inputs.
- Excellent for tablets, iPhone, iPad or Android devices.
- Mini-jack 3.5mm output.
- 32-bit / 96kHz.
- Chip DAC ESS`s Saber 9010 (Black).
- Chip DAC 32-bit ESS Saber 9016 (Red).
- Integrated amplifiers
The DAC Audioquest DragonFLy Black and Red have circuits designed by the engineer responsible for the first DragonFly, Gordon Rankin, of Wavelenght Audio, and both have the peculiarity of needing less power to operate than their predecessors. The new DACs can be used with iPhones, iPads and other portable devices.
The Black can be considered as an update to version 1.2 of DragonFly. The new device integrates a 32-bit PIC32MX microcontroller, which requires 77% less power than the previous model. The new DAC chip is an ESS Saber 9010, also features a Texas Instruments amplifier. It has an analog volume control with 64 steps.
The DragonFly Red Analog Digital Converter offers more significant updates. Its microcontroller is also the 32-bit Microchip PIC32MX, but the converter chip is the improved 32-bit ESS Saber 9016. This model integrates an ESS amplifier: the first ESS that Audio Quest has used. This new amplifier is a gain device, without volume control. A 64-bit digital volume control is included in the Network’s DAC chip, which allows perfect control of listening levels.
The biggest difference between both DragonFly DACs is that the RED has a higher voltage output: 2.1V, which is better in handling any type of headphones. The Black, on the other hand, has a 1.2V output. Both handle a native resolution of 96kHZ / 24-bit. A logo with an LED light that changes color according to the resolution of the file when it is played. They are compatible with Apple iOS 5 and Android 4.1 systems, although they work well with the updates of both operating systems. They are also compatible with Apple OS and Windows. The company adds a desktop application to improve the software.
The connection with Windows is automatic. To install them on a Mac we must only access Preferences, Sound and then choose the DragonFly source, which is connected through a USB port. Some users may prefer to open the Audio Mini, within the Utility folder and select the Dragonfly, as well as the sampling rate format of 44.1 kHz, which possibly corresponds to the majority of the audio files that will be sent to the DACs. The playback software allows changing to higher sample rates, if necessary. Like the original models, the new DragonFly has a 3.5 mm mini-jack port.
The DragonFly DACs produce a clear sound with a wide and defined dynamic range. The DAC Dragon Fly Black, as expected, has an output with less power. They are DACs of class C (Black) and B (Network), quite good for computers/tablets. Comes with a single 3.5mm input and do not need any kind of power cables. They also work as a headphone amplifier. Among the disadvantages of this USB DAC, we find that the playback speed is limited to 96k Hz. Although you can play larger files, it is not recommended.
Excellent sound and dynamic range.
Excessive presence of bass in some occasions.
- Analog volume control.
- USB 3.0 input (compatible with 2.0).
- SPDIF RCA, Audio RCA, and 3.5mm mini-jack outputs.
- Compatible PCM formats: 44.1 / 48 / 88.2 / 96 / 176.4 / 192 / 384KHz.
- Supported DSD formats: 2.8 / 3.1 / 5.6 / 6.2 / 11.2 / 12.4MHz.
- Chip DAC Burr-Brown.
- Integrated amplifier
The iDAC2 is a Class A DAC / Amp that has a design similar to the super IFI Micro iDSD, which means it has an excellent build quality in a silver metallic body. It comes with a RCA cable and a USB A-USB B translucent blue color. This device has a DAC Burr-Brown chip, which you can find in the Micro iDSD model. For some unknown reason, IFI decided to use this BB chip and put aside the ESS Saber that was in the original iDAC.
Although the IFI IDAC2 Analog Digital Converter costs much less than the iDSD model , it maintains a wide variety of playback options such as DSD256, PCM 384 and DXD. The IFI iDAC2 has three filters (PCM, DSD, DXD), which users can adjust. Additionally, this Analog Digital Converter integrates the new Zero Jitter Lite technology, which keeps digital errors known as Jitters to a minimum. It has internal components of the highest quality, such as the Vishay MELF resistors and the Japan Elna Silmic II and TDK COG capacitors.
As for sound, the DAC IFI iDAC2 offers the same hue as the iDSD, although it does not provide a sound as rich or detailed as the more expensive model. We tried it with listening to great varieties of songs and we heard an excellent sound at all frequencies. It has a wide dynamic range with powerful bass and very clear highs. We perceive that the iDAC2 has a predetermined V-shaped profile. This makes it a great option for listening to modern and electronic music. As an aspect against, we note that the bass may overshadow the other tones in very high volumes. The mid tones are perceived as neutral compared to the rest of the sound spectrum and with remarkable details.
In general, the iDAC2 Analog Digital Converter is among the best DACs in the market. It has an excellent sound richness, a great dynamic range, and fine detail.