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Best PC audio DACs to cover all your sound needs

Enjoying flawless sound is a dream come true with the PC audio DAC. The difference in sound quality that you are going to witness will be abysmal so much so that any user will be able to enjoy it.

So here is a first myth shattered: the PC audio DAC is not reserved exclusively for music lovers whose ears are assiduously trained to become demanding.

Then, this equipment will extract the best from your favorite songs: dynamism, scale, nuances and sound reliefs, clarity of voice, balanced sound of instruments and more.

Reduced to a simple explanation, this material is an intermediary between 2 digital sources, equipped with an amplifier and which converts the signal analogically.

Moreover, we often find this equipment under the name of digital vs analog audio USB DAC converter.

Best PC audio DACs
Best PC audio DACs

Why use a DAC?

For those who are a bit interested in electronics, it is easy to foresee at this point that the PC audio DAC tends to replace the internal sound card. But why ?

The sole objective of replacing this said card would not be enough to justify the existence as well as the galloping popularity of the PC audio DAC, especially since it is a component already integrated into your device.

This is the heart of the problem, if you will! Although manufacturers equip their electronics with internal sound cards, generally it is the most basic product, which cannot compete with a DAC.

Thus, the PC audio DAC will take care not only of converting digital music into an analog signal, but of restoring the richness of the original thanks to impeccable sound.

A DAC will be able to exploit the nuanced subtlety of a high resolution format, ensuring the transcription of audio files at a higher quality.

Here is a simple way to take full advantage of your music files! By substituting the internal sound card of your device for a PC audio DAC, you will not only ensure the conversion of the digital signal.

You will also facilitate the sound reproduction faithful to the initial recording, with all the related details and depth.

In theory, at least. Since the speakers can only render sound from an analog signal, the quality of the song will depend heavily on the quality of the signal sent to the amplifier by the DAC.

How to choose a good DAC?

Therefore, the quality of the DAC will be essential for the sound reproduction on your speakers. Predictably, a digital to analog signal converter can take many forms and serve different applications.

Our testers are here once again to show you the most popular and best performing PC audio DAC options.

The classification was not easy because of the multitude of models available on the market, each for its own use.

However, our QA experts have created a test plan with the most draconian scenarios and very rigorous criteria.

We've included A/B testing by plugging in multiple brands of speakers and headphones and using multiple digital sources.

But before diving into the detailed description of each criterion that we consider essential when choosing a PC audio DAC, here is a very brief summary.

Ready to hunt for the best PC audio DAC? Here are some important criteria to guide you:

  1. ➡ Decoded audio formats (MP3, MP4, FLAC, WAV, WMA, DSD, etc.)
  2. ➡ Audio inputs (Micro-USB, USB, HDMI, coaxial, optical, RCA, XLR, etc.)
  3. ➡ Audio outputs (Jack and balanced or unbalanced mini-Jack, coaxial, optical, RCA, etc.)
  4. ➡ Resolution (16 bits / 48 kHz, 24 bits / 96 kHz or 192 kHz or 384 kHz, 32 bits / 96 kHz or 384 kHz or 768 kHz, DSD 128 -1024)
  5. ➡ Connectivity interfacing (WiFi, BT, DLNA, Ethernet, etc.)

Usefulness

The palette is diverse, which means that every audiophile can easily find a converter adapted to their needs. Thus, there are several DAC models, each unique in its kind.

Here are the main DAC types:

  • ➡ Desktop USB DAC or PC audio DAC (It acts as a high sound quality converter and can replace the internal sound card.) ➡
  • Mobile DAC for laptops (The main difference compared to desktop models consists in the addition of battery that makes them autonomous and convenient to carry. They are more compact and compatible with smartphone, tablet, etc.)
  • ➡ Audio DAC for headphones (Designed to adapt to different headphone impedances.)
  • ➡ Wireless USB audio DAC (Equipped with a receiver and a transmitter to transport the digital signal to an analog source, without loss of data. The transfer is carried out by Wifi/Ethernet network or via Bluetooth.)
  • ➡ USB audio DAC for Hi-Fi (This acts as an intermediary between the digital source and the amplifier which allows you to listen to music at CD quality via a Hi-Fi system, without the need for additional cables.

The interest of our research is based on the PC audio DAC, therefore reserved for a rather fixed use. We still advise you to opt for a USB interfaced model that allows you to connect a wide range of devices.

With a PC audio DAC, you will be able to circumvent the limitations of your internal graphics card and render the optimized timbres to cutting-edge Hi-Res audio files.

So, if you are using a PC (Windows or Mac) as an audio system, the best solution to boost sound quality is to opt for a PC audio DAC.

Source of music files

Since the purpose of a DAC is to optimize sound, there are a few technical specifications that you need to pay more attention to in order to satisfy this premise.

We are talking about resolution, sample rate and type of processing, synchronous/asynchronous. As we stated above, inputs, outputs as well as decoded formats are essential.

The native rate of recording studios – the absolute benchmark for superior acoustic quality – is 24 bits at 192kHz. Naturally, it is preferable to opt for a PC audio DAC whose specifications approach these values.

Normally, a 24bit/96kHz converter will be able to read any HD audio format. However, in order for you to explore the full subtlety and breadth of Hi-Res audio files, higher resolution and sample rate are better suited.

Finally, there are also synchronous and asynchronous DAC models. We advise you to favor the latter for the simple fact that they are able to define the duration of a second in an exact way.

Audio processing capabilities

To ensure the ultimate sonic experience, you may need to tweak, fine-tune, or manipulate different tracks.

To do this, we recommend that you choose a PC audio DAC model equipped or at least compatible with audio processing software. The same goes for gamers and streamers looking to mix an audio file .

Easy installation and configuration

Prefer PC audio DAC models that do not require ultra-complicated settings or the downloading of very specific drivers, either on Mac or Windows.

Plug and Play compatibility is widely appreciated. However, you will need a USB cable to connect the DAC to the computer's USB port. At the same time, the wiring should not become cumbersome.

If you feel that your operating system offers audio performance that is too restrictive, consider bypassing it completely.

Once you've replaced the internal sound card with a PC audio DAC, raise the bar higher and replace the system audio with a specialized playback program .

Which DAC for PC?

Which DAC for PC
Which DAC for PC

1- Sound Blaster X3

  • Son surround 7.1
  • State-of-the-art audio processing
  • Built-in multi-channel headphone amplifier
  • Wide compatibility (Windows, Mac, game consoles, headphones, etc.)
  • High resolution playback in DNR/SNR
  • Setup takes a bit of time, but the sound quality will be there.

Creative has used all its creative expertise to give us the Sound Blaster X3, a DAC with a small frame and enormous possibilities.

The converter is equipped with an external multi-channel USB amplifier and 7.1 surround sound on the speakers and headphones, which will ensure unparalleled audio clarity.

Take hi-res playback even further with award-winning Super X-Fi and Dolby Digital Live technologies.

The spatialized effect discreetly combines with state-of-the-art audio processing technologies to deliver an ultra-precise degree of realism that emulates studio quality.

Needless to say that only the audio editing suite offered by the Sound Blaster Command software will not be able to monopolize the gateway (virtual, of course).

To achieve this, it relies on high quality audio components. But let's go back a bit to the famous Super X-Fi technology mentioned above.

Much like curvature in curved screens , this one is meant to replicate the experience of the cinema or a professional studio in the comfort of your own home.

It's the democratization of premium sound, if you will with all the features we love: immersion, realism, depth, detail.

Plus, all that power is fully tunable, letting you configure a profile to suit your ears to experience personalized audio holography.

Although this PC audio DAC weighs only 327 grams, its slimline chassis features all the USB interface connectors you'll need to hook up your PC (whether Windows or Mac), headphones, speakers, and more.

2- Zen DAC - Digital to Analog HiFi Converter

  • Robust aluminum design
  • LED light that indicates sample rate
  • Smart Powermatch adjustment
  • Balanced/unbalanced jack socket
  • Capable of converting all Hi Res formats
  • No downside to this product, the quality meets the specs.

The reputation of the brand precedes and reinforces this PC audio DAC which pushes the sound limits, without blowing up the price.

Known for delivering high-end, even luxury audio products, iFi welcomed a new member to its family. This is the prodigious ZEN DAC that envelops AMR high-resolution technology.

This model will transform your listening experience with crystal-clear, rich and ultra-nuanced sound. Its performance is matched only by its versatility, as the DAC can comfortably be paired with a multitude of peripherals.

Thus, you will be able to taste a superbly balanced, expansive and ultra-fidelity sound in combination with your headphones and headphones, on a tablet or on a PC thanks to the USB interface.

This PC audio DAC can become as modular as you want, allowing you to choose between balanced (via the 4.4mm Pentaconn outputs, placed front and rear) or unbalanced RCA connection and use it with or without volume control.

Redefine your notion of versatility with the switchable PowerMatch amp stage. This will take care of adapting the signal strength to the devices you plug in to get the best performance, perfectly tuned every time.

Another interesting feature of this high-end PC audio DAC comes from the integration of the XMOS chip, tailor-made to optimize its audio processing capabilities.

It's just one more feature that invites customization! Thus, you can set your playback priorities, update the firmware and juggle different filters, while enjoying audiophile quality sound.

The XMOS chip teams up with the Burr-Brown chip, allowing your PC audio DAC to deliver smooth sound quality, regardless of the input or audio format chosen.

Thanks to the True Native Burr-Brown chip design, PCM audio data and DSD sample rate follow separate paths, facilitating bit-accurate playback without distortion.

Finally, the XBassII circuit refines low frequencies to shape a complex, nuanced and balanced sound.

3- Q4 - Mini DAC and stereo amplifier

  • Heat-resistant metal frame
  • Built-in output protection circuit
  • Adjustment of bass, treble and volume
  • Triple hardware interface (USB, coaxial and optical)
  • Compatible Plug and Play
  • The jack plug looks a bit flimsy.

This small PC audio DAC has all the features to convince you.

Concerned about the durability of this equipment, Fosi Audio offers us a DAC with a heat-resistant metal casing whose compact shape will suit a wide range of applications.

Another feature reinforces this concern. We are talking about the output protection circuit built into this mini converter, which ensures that your audio system will hardly be affected.

Sized to fit any player equipped with a USB, coaxial or optical interface, this DAC is compatible with PCs, smart TVs, disc players and game consoles.

So the optical and coaxial inputs will seamlessly integrate with USB home audio systems, while the RCA output can be hooked up to an amplifier or speakers.

Its versatility is even more attractive for audiophiles who often tackle various configurations in search of the perfect sound.

So you can test and retest a variety of sources, safe in the knowledge that no drivers or software are required to configure this device.

The built-in professional Hi-Fi headphone amplifier chip is equipped with a cross-platform volume controller that also allows bass and treble adjustment on headphones from 16 to 200 ohms.

To ensure clear sound, the anti-interference feature combines with the low-jitter HD 24Bit/192kHz stream.

4- Dragonfly Dac Black

  • Equipped with a Mini-jack output
  • Can be matched with an amp/preamp
  • Wide compatibility (Windows, Mac, iOS, etc.)
  • ESS Saber ES9010 chip with asynchronous transfer
  • Supports high resolution music files
  • The result is slightly lower if you listen to compressed files.

Faced with the colossal difference in sound quality, any good audio equipment previously employed will now seem tasteless to you.

At least, that's what happened to us when we discovered this true masterpiece that won prestigious accolades for good reason.

More suitable as a price and slightly lower than its high-end brother, the Dragonfly Red, the Black model will win you over with a fine, balanced sound, well anchored in space.

We mentioned that its specs are slightly lower than the Red model due to support for headphones with impedance of up to 60 Ohms.

But for us, the result remains spectacular! Seasoned music lovers love it, as do users just getting started with the world of enticing sonic possibilities that a DAC opens up before your eyes.. or ears, in this case.

With each new version launched, AudioQuest raises the bar to offer you ever more pronounced gains in clarity and spatialization.

More than a PC audio DAC, the Black model is now compatible with Mac, iOS and Android devices, remaining perfectly functional in combination with a wide range of headphones, active speakers and headphones.

Even better, the ESS Saber ES9010 chip facilitates asynchronous data transfer. Thanks to this separation, you will enjoy an ultra-fidelity reproduction of your favorite songs, even if they are high-resolution music files.

5- GV-023 Digital to Analog Audio Converter

  • Triple output: analog, coaxial and optical
  • USB interfacing
  • No driver required
  • Compatible with all major OS
  • Correct operation, but limited compared to the improvement of the sound.

Although it does not excel in terms of performance, this PC audio DAC will quickly become useful in your daily life.

It is provided with a very versatile audio interface that will allow you to extend its benefits to any desktop PC or laptop .

Moreover, its flexible nature is also noticeable at the level of the coaxial, analog and optical outputs to which is added the output for headphones.

Enjoying all the benefits of an integrated sound card is now possible thanks to Plug and Play technology, making configuration and installation of this PC audio DAC a breeze.

No more downloading drivers and specialized software whose tedious configuration involves considerable consumption of time and energy!

You only need to plug the audio adapter into the USB interface. Then connect the converter to the headphones and go!

As you may have noticed, simplicity is by far the most attractive feature of this PC audio DAC. With this in mind, the device requires no external power source and adapts effortlessly to all major operating systems.

More options to consider

We found other PC audio DACs that failed to make it to our rankings, but are still worth mentioning. Here are the honorable mentions:

➡ StarTech.com USB DAC Converter

This PC audio DAC easily conforms to the ideal standard of studio throughput. Thus, it offers values ​​at 96 kHz and 24 bits.

Windows users will be particularly spoiled. 5.1 surround sound support and DTS and ACR pass-through (Doly Digital compliant) will take care of this.

To shape a fully balanced sound, you can adjust the bass, treble and volume. All controls are conveniently placed on a convenient EQ switch.

➡ DAC Audio converter from Rybozen

This PC audio DAC costs next to nothing. Nevertheless, the added value will undoubtedly be noticed.

It is equipped with an anti-interference filter, which makes the sound clearer. Less noise, more sound! 

Its sampling frequency can reach 192 KHz. If we combine the 24-bit SPDIF incoming stream on the 2 channels, we obtain a balanced sound reproduction instrument that is particularly suitable for those who wish to learn about the world of DACs.

As the world of DACs expands, solutions for enjoying pro-style sound quality become more accessible to the public.

We have proposed to closely follow the principle of democratization. To this end, our selection includes cutting-edge PC audio DAC models as well as equipment suitable for a tight budget.

You don't have to be a seasoned audiophile to enjoy a detailed and deep listening experience that brings tears to your eyes.

So what will be the PC audio DAC that will put you in front of the orchestra? Feel free to share your pick with us via the comments section below!

MITA SGTINF
By : MITA SGTINF
My name is Duc "JOSEF" Le and I work in Digital Marketing at Mageplaza and BlogAvada. Mageplaza offers a comprehensive collection of over 230 extensions that are designed to work seamlessly with the latest versions of Magento 2 (Adobe Commerce). Meanwhile, BlogAvada is a blog that serves as a platform for sharing information related to websites, mobile apps, e-commerce, digital marketing, and other related topics. I encourage you to visit our websites to learn more about what we have to offer.
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