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At Last…The Ultimate DAC Buyers Guide (2019 Edition)

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I have often felt intimidated by rankings of DACs in popular Hifi magazines. I’ll be upfront with you – sonic differences between various DACs nowadays are miniscule. Older chipsets which includes digital gear made in the 80s or 90s were susceptible to power supply noise and signal jitter. However, with the latest generation of DAC chips from Analog Devices, Texas Instruments (Burr Brown) or Cirrus, manufacturers can build decent digital audio products for a lot less money.

What’s the secret of “better than average” DACs?

Having experimented with digital-to-analog converter circuit development, I know that in order to get good performance it’s not about a single “magic chip” as the killer ingredient. Instead, the real secret lies in designing a circuit that can approximate the chips advertised Signal-to-Noise specifications as closely as possible. Unfortunately, many designs fall short at that critical step. A competent engineer knows how to build a fantastic DAC even with a basic chip. It’s just the sum of experience, clever design decisions, PCB layout and grounding, power supply conception, EMI shielding and components selection. That’s why two DACs based on the same converter chip potentially sound and/or measure different.

See also my article on what the differences between cheap vs expensive DACs are.

If digital technology has reached maturity, what should you be looking for?

Look for features and reliability in the first place. Choose a DAC from a major well-known manufacturer, not a boutique retailer. Make no mistake, a well designed DAC is going to perform better than the latest “flavor of the month”.

I’d personally not put all my money into a digital-to-analog converter. Technology is evolving at a dramatic pace, in just 4-5 years, a well-made Chinese DAC will blow your 3k megabuck converter out of the water (have witnessed this personally).

I personally prefer to buy all my gear from Amazon.com whenever possible because I know I won’t have any headaches with warranty. Plus I can return my purchase within 30 days if I’m not happy.

Computer audio. You need asynchronous USB ports or Firewire connectivity. Many DACs also allow connecting your Android smartphone or iOS device directly. Thats’s great if you want to keep it simple and stream high quality audio from Spotify or even better – directly from Qobuz (lossless FLAC) or Tidal. I just love it when I can keep my Mac turned off while listening to music.

DAC as a preamp. A remote control and multiple digital inputs for all your devices including TV certainly come in handy. We own more devices with Toslink or coax outputs than we believe.

Headphone enthusiast. If you’re planning to use a DAC primarily for headphone listening like me, a decent built-in headphone amplifier should be on your wishlist. For example, the Benchmark DAC2 HGC includes a superb headphone amp.

Here comes the list…

Where are the 2020 updates? So much has changed in the last two years that I haven’t been able to keep up with all the changes. Many great DACs are now being offered by Gustard, Topping, Matrix Audio and other contenders. My readers keep telling me about them but since my budget is limited, I cannot buy them all just to listen to them. So until I get the chance to actually try them out, I will keep this page and update only as I gain new experiences. Please note that prices may have changed and certain models mentioned on this page may have been updates. This has been the case with my own Gustard X20 which has already received three successors. As you can see, digital technology is moving ahead at a rapid pace. You can still expect to see improvements in USB inputs with regards to noise reduction etc. It’s an exciting journey, enjoy!

Updates as of August 2019 Which DACs do you want me to review next? Please DM me on Instagram or send me an email. Keep in mind that I don’t get free review samples and I have to buy the products myself so I’d be glad if you limit your wishlist to the more affordable products :)

2019 Updates Not so much has changed but there are some super-interesting DACs that I’d like to talk about this year including the Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital. Stay tuned!

Happy New 2018! As time moves on, some DACs are no longer available so I had to clean up the list a bit. However, most contenders are still going strong. Let’s see what 2018 brings for us.

Updates as of May 26, 2017 Some changes to the top performers reflect my recent experiences with some DACs I auditioned at the Munich 2017 High-End show.

Updates as of September 23, 2016 I have added some changes to the DAC ranking. Surprisingly all of the candidates are still going strong and in my opinion deserve their spot in the listing. With the breathtaking performance of the Gustard X20u I had the introduce a Reference category as well

I have divided all my recommended tried and true DACs into separate categories “Reference Class”, “Top Class”, “Value Class” and “Small and Portable” which seems more prudent than bloomy descriptions of sound quality. Excluded are those DACs that I haven’t had a chance to try yet or simply because they don’t measure up to my standards. I’ll keep constantly adding to the list as I review more gear so please be patient.

Most audiophiles would be best served with any Top Class DAC candidate. You need to spend significantly more for real audible improvments. This is where you get maximum bang for your buck.

Note: I’m not selling anything on this blog – these are solely recommendations based ony my personal opinion. You need to visit the appropriate retailers to purchase any of these DACs

Reference Class is for those who already own an end-game setup with speakers and headphones perfectly tweaked.

Small and Portable is generally a portable device category, not necessarily sounding worse. Here it’s more about versatility. Anything from this category makes a perfect external sound card which is worlds better than your computers built-in soundchip. Start here with a limited budget.

For DIY electronics enthusiasts, Chinese eBay sellers are occasionally offering hidden gems. Some of these DACs easily equal or beat comparable commercial DACs. I have done some careful research to filter out the crappy products not worthy of your time and money.

Tip! You can potentially save huge amounts of money by purchasing used high-end audio gear.It’s not uncommon to see savings of 45% or more if you know where to look. Check out eBay or Audiogon classifieds. Great DACs that were over 1000 Euros just a couple of months ago, often trade for 500-600 Euros on places like Head-Fi.org.

Reference Class – Cost no object

Candidate 1:

The Mytek Booklyn DAC (Amazon DE Link) (Amazon UK Link) (advertisement links) is the most recent masterpiece of Mytek Digital. Although it only comes with the slightly lower speced ESS9018K2M DAC chip, it is 100% my new reference next to the Gustard X-20. Not sure why it sounds so fantastic – probably because of the excellent design and the low-noise Crystek Femto oscillator on the PCB close to the DAC chip. You can supposedly even tweak the sound quality by adding an external 12V power supply such as the SBooster which I haven’t tested yet. If you want to experience the hyped MQA format, the Brooklyn has you covered as well. It’s a tweakers dream machine and has gorgeous build-quality. It definitely represents a lot of value for under 2000 Euros. I’d say if you don’t need a headphone amp or phono stage, buy the Gustard. However, if you need the complete package and a world-class headphone amp, look no further than the Mytek Brooklyn.

  • Chipset: Dual ESS Sabre32 9018K2M
  • MQA Decoder
  • Headphone Amplifier Built-In
  • Remote Controllable
  • Works as a preamplifier
  • Built-in phono stage
  • Inputs: 1x USB, 1x coaxial, 1x BNC, 1x optical, 1x AES/EBU
  • USB XMOS chipset – no drivers required under Mac OS, Linux (Windows Creators Update – haven’t tested)

Candidate 2:

I’m just recovering from my shockingly good experience with the Gustard X20u. This kills all of the products I’ve listened to so far. Gustard has just released the X20Pro – apparently a successor to the X20u, haven’t heard this one yet but looks just as great.

  • Chipset: Dual ESS Sabre32 9018
  • Remote Controllable
  • Works as a preamplifier
  • Inputs: 1x USB, 1x coaxial, 1x BNC, 1x optical, 1x I2S
  • USB XMOS discrete daughter board supporting virtally any operating system

Top Class – Top of the line DACs, clearly above average

RME ADI 2 PRO with headphone amplifier- about 2000 Euros on Amazon(Amazon DE Link)(Amazon UK Link)
(advertisement links)

Fully balanced professional unit featuring the beloved AKM DAC chips with premium components, full DSD support and headphone amplifier. While slightly less feature-rich than the Mytek Brooklyn, I’d rate the sound quality about on par with the Mytek Brooklyn but I need some exhaustive comparisons before I can elevate the ADI Pro 2 to my personal reference class. But my initial listening show it to perform better than the SMSL M8. This may be a better buy for European audiophiles as the RME tends to be a bit less expensive than the Mytek Brooklyn.

  • Chipset: Dual AKM4490 with DSD256 support
  • Balanced Headphone amplifier
  • Remote controllable
  • Works as a preamplifier
  • Inputs: 1x USB, 1x optical, 1x coaxial
  • Outputs: 1x RCA L/R, 1x XLR L/R
  • USB driver support: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux (no drivers)

SMSL M8 DAC – about 239 Euros from Amazon.com(Amazon DE Link)
(Amazon UK Link)(advertisement links)
World-class DAC on a shoestring budget. Top Class rating is only with a separate 9V DC power supply.Read my review here.


Auralic Aries Mini – about 499 Euros from authorized distributors
Full featured music server with a FREE fantastic sounding DAC inside :) It comes with the ESS SABRE 19018K2M chip which is still quite capable. Deserves another Editor’s Choice award and just barely qualifies for Top Class but only with the Auralic PSU which costs extra money. You could also look for an SBooster supply(advertisement link)

  • Chipset: ESS Sabre32 9018K2M
  • Remote controllable trough Lightning DS app (iOS only)
  • Inputs: 1x USB, 1x Ethernet
  • Outputs: 1x RCA L/R
  • USB driver support: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux (no drivers)


Chord Mojo – about 500 Euros from Amazon
(Amazon DE Link)
(Amazon UK Link)
(advertisement links)
Holy moly! This DAC gives you the Mojo in terms of “more joy” :) I tried the little Chord Mojo at a local headphone meet and it totally blew my mind. It plays almost as good as my Reference Gustard X20u and the Gustard smokes many 5000 Euro units! The Mojo is just a teeny-tiny hair below reference class. Not only is it superbly built (although it looks cheap on photographs) but it drove a Sennheiser HD800S with ease. The Mojo is tiny – about the size of a pack of cigarettes (I don’t smoke but that’s the best size comparison I could come up with, sorry). I had some time for serious comparisons and make no mistake, the Mojo plays very nicely with the big boys in the 1000+ Euro range. It’s fantastic for home use, too. And with the addition of a Roon endpoint dongle, the Mojo even looks more attractive. I’d call it the audiophile Bonsai tree. It’s an all-in-one solution. Just connect it to a STAX electrostatic headphone system for total bliss. Stay tuned for my full review! Chord has announced the amazing Poly add-on music server for the Mojo at the CES 2017.

  • Chipset: Proprietary design
  • DAC, Preamp and Headphone Amplifier
  • Plugs into your iPhone or Android, comes with headphone amplifier
  • Inputs: 1x USB, 1x Coaxial, 1x Optical
  • Outputs: 2x Headphone jack (works with adapter to connect to your Stereo)
  • USB driver support: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux (no drivers)
  • Made in the UK>


Value Class – Performance and value for money. The “sweet spot” for most people

Raspberry PI DACs – from 25 Euros
Told you already I’m an audio-anarchist :) When properly configured and fed from a decent power supply, a Raspberry PI holds its own very well in the Value Class. Unfortunately, you get no digital inputs to choose from but if you just want a streaming solution that sounds great, I’d start here before spending more money.

Schiit Modi 2 Uber – about 170 Euros on Amazon(advertisement link)
Unbelievable value for money from the audio anarchists around Mike Moffat and Jason Stoddard. Made with love in the USA and with the latest chipsets!

  • Chipset: AKM4490
  • Inputs: 1x USB, 1x optical, 1x, coaxial
  • Outputs: 1x RCA L/R
  • USB driver support: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux
  • DC Wallwart supply

Small and Portable Class – Entry-level / portable DACs

Audioquest Dragonfly DACs
Small USB stick sized DAC with brilliant performance, 2 master clocks for low jitter and TAS1020 controller with custom firmware. NOTE: Audioquest is now offering three models Black, Red and Cobalt with updated specs and the latest ESS Technology chipsets. Please check out my link above to learn more.

  • Chipset: ESS Sabre 9023
  • Inputs: USB (asynchronous) only 24bit / 96kHz sample rate support
  • Outputs: 1x stereo jack L/R (requires RCA adaptor)
  • USB driver support: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux
  • Self-powered by USB bus

JDS Labs ODAC – about 150 Euros on Amazon(advertisement link)
Famous open source design by NWAVGUY. Great measured performance and sonics.

  • Chipset: ESS Sabre 9023
  • Inputs: USB (asynchronous) only 24bit / 192kHz sample rate support
  • Outputs: 1x stereo jack L/R (requires RCA adaptor)
  • USB driver support: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux
  • Self-powered by USB bus

HifiMeDIY Sabre DACs – about 50> directly from the manufacturer(advertisement link)
Hong-Kong based manufacturer. Mostly based on ESS Technology chipsets, great value for money.

FiiO D3 (D03K) – less than 30 Euros on Amazon(advertisement link)
Chinese speciality manufacturer. For the price just unbelievable. CS8416 SP/DIF receiver.

  • Chipset: Unknown DAC chip, CS8416 SP/DIF receiver
  • Inputs: 1x optical, 1x coaxial (selectable)
  • Outputs: 1x RCA L/R
  • 5V DC wallwart PSU

DIY DAC offerings – For electronic enthusiasts

Check out my favorite eBay sellers “minishow0328” and “Weiliang” and look for “Full-Assembled-WM8740-DIR9001-DAC-Board-Decoder-Board” by the seller “along1986090”. I specifically recommend Weiliang’s ESS901 DAC boards. Both sellers are a pleasure to deal with.

Also check out my WM8740 ebay DAC review. This small DAC rightfully belongs to the Value Class.

Discontinued but still great value buys

Emotiva Audio XDA-2 – less than 300 Euros on Amazon(advertisement link)
Can’t believe this is less than 300 bucks! Professional DAC, very well built with excellent components including OPA2134 dual operational amplifiers replacing the veneral NE5532 found in competing products. No cheap wallwart but a real built-in power supply.

  • Chipset: Analog Devices AD1955, AD1896 Sample Rate Converter
  • Headphone amplifier
  • Remote controllable
  • Works as a preamplifier
  • Inputs: 1x USB, 2x optical, 2x coaxial, 1x AES/EBU
  • Outputs: 1x RCA L/R
  • USB driver support: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux
  • Internal PSU – no external wallwart

Musical Fidelity V90 DAC – less than 300 Euros on Amazon(advertisement link)
Decent cheap no-frills DAC for those who don’t need a plethora of features or gimmicks. Update 2018: Unfortunately, the V90 appears to be no longer on sale. Anyway, I think many Chinese units or my recommendations above are currently better value

  • Chipset: Texas Instruments PCM1795
  • Remote controllable
  • Works as a preamplifier
  • Inputs: 1x USB (asynchronous), 2x optical, 1x coaxial
  • Outputs: 1x RCA L/R
  • USB driver support: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux
  • 12 V DC wallwart PSU

Retired from the list

These were previously Category A or B components but they aren’t great deals anymore if you buy them new at full prices. I’d look for pre-owned units.

Benchmark DAC 2 HGC with headphone amplifier- about 2000 Euros on Amazon(advertisement link)
Benchmark DAC 2 L without headphone amplifier- about 1800 Euros on Amazon(advertisement link)
Fully balanced, sophisticated hybrid analog/digital volume control. Headphone amp featuring 0 Ohm output impedance (excellent match for Sennheiser HD650).Premium quality electronic components. NOTE: There’s a new version out with the latest ESS DAC chips – waiting to get my hands on one unit.

  • Chipset: ESS Sabre32 9018 (Quad DA)
  • Headphone amplifier
  • Remote controllable
  • Works as a preamplifier
  • Inputs: 1x USB, 2x optical, 2x coaxial, 2x analog
  • Outputs: 1x RCA L/R, 1x XLR L/R
  • USB driver support: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux (no drivers)

Weiss DAC 202 – about 8000 Euros from US distributor

Fully balanced, ultra-low noise voltage regulators and torodial transformer.
4-layer PCB boards minimizing noise and distortions, EMI shielding,
careful component layout for extreme performance.

  • Chipset: ESS Sabre32 9018
  • Headphone amplifier
  • Remote controllable
  • Works as a preamplifier
  • Inputs: 1x USB, 1x Firewire/Thunderbolt, 1x AES/EBU, 1x optical, 1x coaxial, 1x wordclock
  • Outputs: 1x RCA L/R, 1x XLR L/R
  • USB driver support: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux (no drivers)

Audiolab M-DAC – 600 GBP on Amazon UK(advertisement link)

Unbelievable value for money. Egineered by John Westlake. High quality components, excellent PCB layout. Balanced design with discrete J-Fet output stage. Beautiful 2.7″ OLED display and packed with geeky features. Almost Category A quality!


  • Chipset: ESS Sabre32 9018
  • Headphone amplifier
  • Remote controllable
  • Works as a preamplifier
  • Inputs: 1x USB (asynchronous 96kHz max.), 2x optical, 2x coaxial
  • Outputs: 1x RCA L/R, 1x XLR L/R
  • USB driver support: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux (no drivers)
  • Powered by AC wallwart

Arcam irDAC – about 700 Euros on Amazon(advertisement link)

Excellent engineering and design, premium electronic parts. Connects directly to your iPhone. Clean power supply. 112db Signal to Noise ration.

  • Chipset: Texas Instruments BB PCM1796
  • Remote controllable
  • Inputs: 1x USB (asynchronous), 2x optical, 2x coaxial
  • Outputs: 1x RCA L/R
  • USB driver support: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux (no drivers)
  • Powered by 12V DC wallwart

Cambridge Audio DACMagic Plus – about 500 Euros on Amazon(advertisement link)

Excellent budget DAC with tons of features and a nice headphone amplifier. Optional bluetooth streaming module available.

  • Chipset: Dual Wolfson (Cirrus) WM8740
  • Headphone amplifier
  • Works as a preamplifier
  • Inputs: 1x USB (asynchronous), 2x optical, 2x coaxial
  • Outputs: 1x RCA L/R, 1x XLR L/R
  • USB driver support: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux
  • 12V DC wallwart PSU

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  • Ritwik October 3, 2015, 06:32

    OMG! You are god sent. None of the audiophile grade equipment companies are present in India at this time except Fiio. And my last amp E11 was not upto my taste. Just bought a Meier Audio Stepdance from another guy and was looking for a decent DAC. First choice being dragonfly and second ans cheaper Fiio E07k. But, now thinking of ordereding the HiFiMeDIY. I am short on money and only care about SQ. Besides importing from US attracts huge customs.

    Saw both your cheap alternatives a.k.a
    1. WM8740 based Chinese chipset and
    2. HiFiMeDIY

    While both are based on very good chips. Which sounds better? HiFiMeDIY costs twice as much but I can pay for that.

    • Michael October 3, 2015, 18:50

      The WM8740 is damned good, with better opamps than stock, a brutal killer machine IMHO. But you need a case for it. The Hifimediy stuff on the other hand is plug and play. Keep in mind the WM8740 board cannot do high-res USB, only 16/48. If that’s a deal-breaker for you, you cannot go wrong with Hifimediy – nice products, good chips and great customer service.

    • Dragos October 25, 2016, 20:40

      I own oppo Ha-2 with ESS Sabre ES9018K2M. I am thinking to buy a desktop configuration composed of SMSL M8 + VA2 + P1 + W6. Still, would it be a difference between these DACs ?

    • Mark March 16, 2017, 23:37

      Which is better sound quality and features:
      X20Pro or Benchmark DAC2?

  • Ashik December 17, 2015, 08:51

    Wow, amazing articles and the right dose of info for an aspiring audiophile.
    I would like to get your advice on pairing a Swans D1080-IV speakers with a class C DAC
    1.HiFime DIY
    2.Fiio D3
    Which of these combo wud be the best. The primary source of music is a a laptop.
    HifimeDIY wud be tough to source in India though.
    Hopefully Fiio is available here.

  • Ritwik February 17, 2016, 17:51

    On your recommendation I bought The HIfiDIY DAC. After about 30 days it reached me. Unfortunately it lasted for only 2 days. Though kudos for their Consumer service, I got my refund. I am more eager now to try out SMSL M8, though the cost is little on higher side for me and again sending back to China for service is a down-side but I really liked that Sabre sound.

    • Lesly July 27, 2017, 06:50

      Get the WM8740 . it’s a killer machine for the money. Now you can find it already mounted inside a box on Ebay. Also you need to replace the op amp that comes with it. Also, another is the Toping D30. This is also a very good dac for about $90.00 -$120.00 on Ebay or AliExpress. It compares favorably with the SMSL M8 for less money. It’s a no brainer.

  • Charles Ellertson April 24, 2016, 21:09

    As to using Amazon: since returns are so easy, I wonder if products returned as “defective” are not sent out a second time, to another customer, with no further checking on the original (purported) problem. This would be hard to prove, but does fit a pattern we’ve seen for electronics purchased from Amazon. Such a practice takes consumers one step further down a road that has become quite common, namely, let the customer do the Quality Control work.

  • Ian April 25, 2016, 23:19

    If you can stretch to the SMSL M8 bundle, you will NOT regret it! I’ve been using mine almost daily for the past six months, and it is still rewarding and surprising me. I’m finding that some albums I have in my collection, that have sat unloved and unplayed now sound incredible and very engaging and appealing, and I now love those albums! I mainly play vinyl rips and Super Audio CD / DVD-Audio, and some HDtracks releases (they vary from good to awful). It does make standard audio CDs sound much better, but it also reveals their flaws if present; in my opinion the vinyl rips make returning to CD very unpleasant, which is why I will now be buying back the Technics turntable I gave away in 2013! I will then make my own high quality rips to play back on the M8 system. I also find the SMSL VA2 headphone amp in the bundle powers my AKG K712 PRO headphones very well, and it was a much needed purchase.

  • Kent May 2, 2016, 00:04

    Bought that WM8740 board and modified with WM8741 and better opamp.
    Driven by Baby Breeze DDC it sounds great for the money.

    Waiting for a case from China and this will be a nice unit!

  • Wayne May 7, 2016, 19:02

    I see that you included the Emotiva XDA-2. I’m more interested in a portable DAC. Do you have any experience with the Emotiva Audio Big Ego? It’s $219 and seems to have excellent specifications. I do have some other Emotiva equipment and they seem to be very solid.



    • Michael May 13, 2016, 19:44

      I haven’t tested other Emotiva units but I hope to get my hands on more soon

  • Tim May 18, 2016, 20:01

    I’m not quite sure how you left the Oppo HA-1 off this list, unless you simply hadn’t reviwed it or listened to it?

  • Leon May 25, 2016, 18:12

    I just ordered two DACs to compare and buy one: the Denon DA-300USB and the Audioengine D1.
    The Denon DAC gives a nice sound. There was a BIG difference with the Audioengine D1, which I sent back. With the Audioengine D1, the sound was not much better than without a DAC.

  • Nick June 11, 2016, 00:56

    I would sugest that the words ‘Chord’ and ‘Mojo’ need to be on this page somewhere. Whether we’re talking bang-for-buck, overall sound quality or range of uses, the Mojo is remarkable. Oh and it’s portable and has pretty lights on it. What’s not to love?

  • Jurgen September 29, 2016, 21:37

    Thanks for the update. However I do not understand this list.
    Because when I look at the price value only three DAC’s should be on this list:
    Best product and best value in Reference class: Gustard X20u (Also better value than best product in class A)
    Best value in class A: SMSL M8 (Also better value than best product in class B)
    Best value in class B: Schiit Modi 2 Uber (Also better product and better value than best product in class C)
    Or am I wrong?

    • Michael September 30, 2016, 20:53

      Well, this isn’t a HiFi magazine;) Rankings are roughly based on my personal experience with the DACs. Sure, I could trim down the list but I’d like to readers choose. Keep in mind differences between DACs are usually frighteningly small…but they are noticeable.

      • PETER JASZ October 29, 2017, 12:33

        A refreshing look/take on (sensible) hi-fi ! (nice work).
        Your statement is painfully inaccurate, quote:

        ” Keep in mind differences between DACs are usually frighteningly small…but they are noticeable.”

        That is more-or-less) a ‘rookie’ comment; for if true, there would be no reason to have any categorical listing at all -simply purchase the dirt-cheapest (DAC) you can find and (according to you) be 99% “there”.

        peter jasz

  • Jurgen September 29, 2016, 22:32

    JemmyAudio DAD1pro ES9018 DAC

  • De November 10, 2016, 10:45

    Hi, where are chord mojo and ifi micro idsd, i think this two are better then all the other dacs over here!

    • AkShHa_Y December 5, 2016, 12:47

      I heard ifi idsd is very good; Just know about it ;

      Price wise very high.

    • Michael December 6, 2016, 22:21

      Chord DACs are great, working on a Mojo review…stay tuned

  • Loïc November 19, 2016, 12:29

    Hello, thank you for this article !
    Have you tested this model ?

    I use Bose Companion 50 at home, I would use this DAC for my TV Sharp, what do you think ?

  • Daniel November 28, 2016, 14:19


    I’m thinking about a setup for my room. Mostly it will be for listening to music from Spotify at high resolution. I’ll have a pair of KRK Rokit RP5 G3, which are very decent active studio monitors for less than £200. I’ll get the music from a Chromecast Audio. The first option would be to get the unbalanced analog signal from the Chromecast, but I guess we all agree that is absolutely discarded.
    Second option is connecting an intermediate DAC with unbalanced RCAs. There are many decent DACs for less than £200 (even £100) for this option.
    The third option is go for a DAC with balanced XLR. The problem is that the market niche is too narrow, most DACs with XLR balanced outputs comes with headphone amps, many other inputs/outputs, etc., or they just got to premium or too PRO approaches. The Teac UD-H01 is the best option I’ve found, at £300.

    My question: taking into account I have some decent active studio monitors, is it worth spending double the price (£300 instead of £150) in a DAC with balanced outputs instead of just unbalanced? I know it’s worth £150 for a proper conversion, but it’s worth £300 for a proper conversion plus balanced outs?

    Thanks for your help. In any case, this article was super useful.

    • Michael December 6, 2016, 22:11

      Going balanced does not necessarily improve the sound quality. In fact it depends on the implementation and whether the DAC really comes with a fully balanced output stage. If that’s not the case, I wouldn’t sweat over XLR outputs and just use RCA unbalanced.

  • George Melendez December 4, 2016, 16:57

    What ever happened to the Audioengine D1 DAC/Headphone Amp “poor man’s audiophile marvel”… ??? I’m surprised that it’s not even mention… So many well respected reviewers have it on their list and why isn’t it here???

    • Michael December 6, 2016, 22:19

      Well, I’m just a hobbyist and I can only speak for the products I own or have tried. I recommend those DACs to my friends or family members because I have experience with them. I agree there are many more marvels…but my time is too limited to test them all :)

  • alex January 4, 2017, 20:03

    have you ever tried a teac dac ? could you have access to one ?
    what do you think of the akm vs sabre chip ?

    thank you


    • Michael January 4, 2017, 22:28

      Have briefly tried Teac UD-503 (or NT-503, don’t remember the exact model name). Looks like a great one but I haven’t got the cash to buy all DACs for testing ;) AKM chips are fantastic, Accuphase also uses them in their top DACs. Cannot go wrong with AK-4497 based DACs if manufacturers did their homework.

  • Diego January 5, 2017, 18:35

    Hi! I bought the SMSL M8 after reading your post, and I have to say that I´m very happy with it. It sounds great! I even use the optical input with my CD player, cause it sounds better. Thanks a lot!

  • Jeff February 5, 2017, 01:28

    I was considering your recommended SMSL M8 then I read the reviews on the Topping D30. This DAC is $100 cheaper. Do you have any thoughts on the D30?

  • Alain February 16, 2017, 19:59

    Thank you very much ! I struggled to choose a nice DAC for 500-600€ and I was about to purchase an Arcam IRDACII ! Then I came across this guide and ordered myself a SMSL M8 + Linear power supply : it blew me away ! I muste admit it is not a very plug and play device, but once properly configured it is worth every penny !

  • sebastiao J T bastos February 17, 2017, 01:50

    Please let me know if you have any experience about that.
    Best regards

    • Michael February 17, 2017, 01:57

      Haven’t tried this one yet but surely looks awesome from internal pictures

  • Rob March 15, 2017, 19:29

    I enjoyed reading the blog but unfortunately a lot of tech talk went way over head.
    Ive just started to look at DACs and no very little when it comes to sound.
    I do have a question and would like your opinion.
    I have a iPod classic maybe 5th gen. I want to have the best portable sound i can get. I have b&w p5 headphones/ momentum 2 seins earphones.
    What should i do, get a dac like mojo or opportunity and connect to iPod.
    Or should i just buy a new portable player like aztell and Kern. Willing to spend €500. What would give me the best sound?

    • Rob March 15, 2017, 19:33

      *opportunity = Oppo ha2

    • Rikk April 4, 2017, 20:34

      Get Mojo. Don’t buy A&K.

  • Dean March 16, 2017, 01:57

    I know most people use DACs for music, but I’m looking for a DAC (entry or mid level, not expensive) that won’t have a lip-sync delay when used with Blu-ray or other video source. This is the first I’ve needed one, so I haven’t tried any yet. I saw the really low-cost FIIO D3 on Amazon, but 1 reviewer said it caused lip-sync video issues.


  • Mark March 16, 2017, 23:39

    Which is better?

    X20Pro or the Benchmark DAC2?

  • Conner March 17, 2017, 05:53

    I’m new to all this stuff, and I have a question. Would the AudioQuest Dragonfly work with a pair of Sennheiser Game Zero’s? I am trying to find a cheap DAC that would work but I don’t anything about this stuff. Thanks in advance!

  • Giuseppe Zampini May 10, 2017, 11:58

    I’m waiting for you to update your opinion on M8A and M9.
    Thank you!

  • Christian May 13, 2017, 02:02

    I was considering your recommended SMSL M8 then I read the reviews on the Topping D30. This DAC is $ 100 cheaper. Do you have any thoughts SQ on the D30?

  • Rorie June 1, 2017, 00:47

    What’s with all the junky full of midrange glare DACs on your list. When was the last time you had a proper hearing test? Probably have a 7-8 dB drop at 2500-3000 kHz and maybe another one at 8k in your hearing.

    • Michael June 1, 2017, 09:39

      My hearing tests perfectly fine, thank you. Calm down buddy, this is only audio :)

  • Diego June 7, 2017, 17:49

    Hello there, again. I bought an SMSL M8 DAC following your advice, and I´m very happy with it. I have now the chance to buy a Gustard X20pro because a friend of mine is travelling and offered to bring it to me. Is there a big audio quality difference worth the money?I mean, will I notice it that much or is it just “a small difference on the high end” (i.e.)? (I have an excellent audio system).. Thank you, I´d really appreciate your thoughts about it.

  • nathaniel britton June 26, 2017, 23:44

    fantastic write up wondering if you heard of douk audio/nobsound ? I’ve been looking at a dac which sounds like it’s the dogs bollocks with specs but have no previous with the company the one I’m looking at comes with Ti’s dsd1796 asynchronous xmos u8 audio decoding but being I think a Chinese company going under 2 names (I think) I’m a bit worried of build quality and other cheap components hiding in there.
    So any information would be appreciated.
    Kind regards 😁

  • J. Freeland July 8, 2017, 01:03

    Any experience with the questyle 400i I know it is not out yet but it has been showcased at several shows this year.

  • Jake G July 12, 2017, 04:18

    Hi there! Awesome article! I currently have the Aries Mini and would love to try another DAC that has Airplay capabilities. Do you have any recommendations?

  • Diego November 29, 2017, 17:56

    I´ve recently bought the Gustard X20pro following your advices… and it´s incredible. I can´t imagine a better sounding DAC. I had the SMSL M8 before, but this is way superior. Thanks a lot!

  • Frank February 4, 2018, 00:36

    Just some food for thought. Some mobile phone manufacturers are taking an audiophile approach. The LG V30 has a very capable ES9218 (32/384kHz PCM) DAC and compares nicely with my DF Red 1.0 in your C category. Coupled with the USB Pro Android app, which takes full advantage of the chipset capabilities, I can even stream my local hi-res network audio. In essence, you get a smartphone + DAC in one good sounding mobile package.

    (The rest of my equipment: GustardX20u (ES9018), Chord Mojo, Grado RS2e, HD600)

  • paul February 4, 2018, 16:03

    what about DAC’s built into newer receivers or amps ?
    my older Denon avr 3801 is missing several modern features and i need a DAC so maybe better for me to find a replacement with a built in DAC?

  • Justin February 9, 2018, 11:03

    I was wondering did you ever tried the diy kit or assembled chinese es9028 or 9038 chip dacs from Breeze audio?
    The pcb looks very professional and looks a bit like Gustard.. Maybe it’s a clone?
    They are reasonable priced. But wonder about the quality.
    On eBay it’s the seller minishow.

    Would be great if you test one like that.