The Best Digital to Analogue Converters (DACs) Under £200
All of our digital devices needs to convert digital audio signals to analogue sound. How well they do it depends upon the quality of the digital analogue converter (DAC) that they use.
For example, a lot of users find that if they spend a lot of money on a great set of headphones or speakers, and then use those great quality headphones or external speakers with a device that has a poor DAC in it (such as a standard PC with standard sound card or standard tablet or smartphone). This results in a flat and lifeless meaning you never get the most out of the top quality audio devices you have invested it.
This is because most devices that convert digital audio to analogue do it at a quality of 16-bit/48kHz. In order to get the best sound, these great external DACs support up to 24-bit/192kHz. So unless you are using something like the LG G2 and Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (which now have internal DACs that support hi-def audio sources up to 24-bit/192kHz) then read on.
In order to counter the poor quality DACs install in most of our devices there are many options. The aim being to bring your quality headphones and speakers to life and get you so much closer to hearing the music the way the original recording artist wanted you to.
A separate, external DAC will noticeably improve the quality of the sound produced, whether it from Spotify, iTunes, YouTube or any other audio source. A DAC really is a great way to improve your audio experience.
Here are a few great options that are all under £200:
Cambridge Audio have a great track record at providing great audio products and very keen prices. The DacMagic XS truly is fantastic value for money and this is definitely the best option for less than £100. The DacMagic XS is portable, doesn’t require an external battery and has a USB input and a 3.5mm output. The sound it delivers is refined and detailed and sound that doesn’t break the bank.
This great DAC (which is the size of a USB stick) in fantastic for use with portable devices. It is basically an ultra high performance external sound card and it certainly does deliver a great sound. It plugs into your laptop via a short USB to mini-USB cable (USB is used for audio and power) and it allows you to then connect your headphones or hifi system to it. It can handle quality up to 24bit/96kHz and does an absolutely brilliant job of turning the digital data on your computer into full, rich, clear and detailed music. It’s not just high-res audio that the microStreamer works its magic on. The 320kbps audio streams from Spotify sound amazing too. It truly delivers a state-of-the-art listening experience to even the most discerning listener. It looks great too, being machined from solid aluminum, and is both durable and attractive.
Well the original DragonFly DAC completely blew us away, but then the v1.2 arrived and it has taken performance to a whole new level (and at a very reasonable price too!). This simple USB DAC not only looks great (the colour-changing dragonfly design light is great) and the sound that it delivers is truly impressive. It is superbly clear and very detailed. The dynamics are awesome and we really just can’t believe how great the value is that the DragonFly v1.2 delivers.
The Aune T1 MK2 is simply awesome. It features an upgraded 6922 tube (24bit/96kHz) and has three choices of gain. The design is dramatic and people seem to either love it or hate it. However, there is no denying how great it sounds and how great the connectivity options are. This is widely loved and very well reviewed. The tube is replaceable and the inclusion of USB is great. One thing to watch out for (the only thing, really) is that even though USB is supported, USB 3.0 isn’t. Just one to watch out for.
The E10K headphone amplifier and DAC from FiiO is a great bargain and is the most modestly-priced DAC we are featuring here. It is a great entry-level headphone amp and DAC and really does a very nice job. If you don’t wan to invest a bit more money in going for one of the other options then you will still achieve a major improvement on the standard sound through using the great, little DAC so don’t wait and buy it today!
Meridian has an impressive heritage in delivering quality Digital to Analogue products and the original Meridian Explorer is still out there and is getting great reviews. The updated Meridian Explorer 2 model includes better performance and includes the USB DAC, Preamp and Headphone Amplifier, is Asynchronous USB Audio Class Compliant 2.0 HS 480Mb/s for best-in-class performance and is powered from the USB, simply plugging into any computer with a USB port. It certainly allows you to get the best playback performance from your devices and is limited only by the quality of the source. It truly makes any file sound its best.
We hope you found this guide useful and liked the recommended DACs that we featured. Please let us know if you are using one of the DACs above or if you have any other suggested DACs that you would recommend to others.
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