Best DAC Amp Review for Top Power and Sound 2017

Our Top Pick
We’ve read a lot of reviews, talked to a load of tech aficionados, and spent ages picking out the tiny differences between DAC amps. It was fun, but was also so we can tell you that the Audioengine D1 is the DAC amp to get. If you are looking for an amp that provides crystal clear sound, an intuitive interface, and will last for years, get this one. The value represented by this small device is really second to none.

Editor’s Pick – Top Pick

Product DescriptionUsers ScoreOverall Score
Editor choice
Editor’s Pick: Audioengine D1

Editor’s Pick: Audioengine D1

Wow, this is simply a great amp!.It sounds amazing, and is remarkably light and small.  What really made this DAC ...

User Rating: 4 (1 votes)
2 FiiO E10K

FiiO E10K

This is a really solid DAC. FiiO have been building devices like this for some years now, and their experience really ...

User Rating: 4 (1 votes)
3 SMSL SD793-II

SMSL SD793-II

This is a solid performer. Though slightly larger than the other DACs we tested, this item makes up for this by ...

User Rating: 2.33 (3 votes)
4 Nobsound NS-08E

Nobsound NS-08E

This is a good DAC, though perhaps lacks some of the sound quality, and the extra features, which set the other DACs we ...

User Rating: 4 (1 votes)

Best DAC Amp for the Money

ModelSizeWeightPower
Audioengine D1 2.8 x 3.5 x 1.2 inches 8.8 ounces Windows / Mac OS
FiiO E10K 3.1 x 0.8 x 1.9 inches 2.7 ounces Windows / Mac OS
SMSL SD793.II 8.9 x 6.7 x 2.5 inches 14.4 ounces Windows / Mac OS
Nobsound NS-08E 6.1 x 4.9 x 3.7 inches 12.8 ounces Windows / Mac OS

What is a DAC Amplifier?

For serious audiophiles, a DAC is a must. The acronym stands for “Digital to Audio Converter”, and whilst that may sound technical, once you hear the increased sound quality that these products offer you will be an instant convert.

If you’ve already got a great pair of headphones, you may not be utilizing them to their full potential. When you play music from your computer, the digital signal coming from the processor is converted into an analogue audio signal by the computer’s built-in DAC.

The problem is that most computers don’t have a very good DAC amp as standard. The DACs included in even high-end laptops are a bit underpowered, and electronic noise from your computer can effect them, adversely effecting sound quality.

DAC amps are a solution to this. They connect to your computer (or other device) via
USB cable, and convert the digital signal to an audio one on their own. This means they offer great sound quality.

how DAC systems work

Of course, to fully make use of a good DAC amp, you need a good pair of headphones. If you are listening to music using the standard iPod headphones, a DAC amp is not going to help – the sound reproduction of a good DAC will be swamped by your low-quality headphones.

For those who want the best sound quality, though, a DAC is a must.

How we review

We review by listening to real people. Nothing can beat their real-life experience of using these products, and when asked they are more than happy to divulge all the features and failings of their purchases.

For this review, we collected and read hundreds of product reviews, and talked to the people who had written them. Sometimes, what a company sells as a feature can in reality become a major annoyance, something which we all have enough of. And they tell us about these annoyances, at length.

In addition, nothing can beat the expertise of the people we talk to for our reviews. No-one knows everything about amps, but there is a huge community of people who have spent many years collecting and testing them. By tapping into this community, we can bring you their hundreds of years of combined experience, all in a short review.

And so all the reviews below, though written by us, are based on real experiences.

Our Reviews

Everybody has different preferences when it comes to the audio equipment they choose, and DAC amps are no different.

Some of the people we talked to praised particular aspects of their favorite DACs. You get the idea – some said that their DAC simply sounded “warmer” than any other they had heard, and that they just preferred that sound. Others claimed that their favorite DAC was the easiest to use, though we are always skeptical about this kind of thing, since an amp being easy to use is often a consequence of years of experience with it, and nothing to do with the amp itself.

For this review, we have tried to be objective. We know that everyone has their own preferences as to which amp and brand they prefer, but it is also true that some amps simply sound better than others. Today, we will bring you the ones we think are the best.

So without further ado, let’s take you through our favorites!

Before we start here are a few articles we think you’d like:


1. Editor’s Pick: Audioengine D1

Wow, this is simply a great amp!.It sounds amazing, and is remarkably light and small. 

What really made this DAC stand out amongst the people we talked to for this review was that Audioengine have managed to pack so much into such a small package. The audio quality is truly outstanding, and the DAC will easily fit on your desk amongst all of your other equipment.

In fact, it is difficult to see how this DAC could be any smaller – if it was, there would not be enough space for the inputs and outputs. This size has great advantages, of course, in that this DAC is also extremely easy to carry around. You can just slip it into a bag, or even into a pocket, when you need to go to the studio.

Another great feature of this DAC is that it is not just for headphones. There are two analog RCAs on the rear of the amp, meaning that you can have it continually rigged up to your desktop speakers. When you plug your headphones in, the amp automatically disconnects the RCAs, saving you time in switching outputs, and ensuring an interference-free listening experience.

Overall, this is a great DAC that will ensure many years of great quality sound, whether you are listening through headphones or speakers.

Audioengine D1

The audio quality is truly outstanding, and the DAC will easily fit on your desk amongst all of your other equipment.

In addition, this DAC comes with a great list of extra features:

PROS:
  • The range of devices supported by this DAC is great. It will quickly and easily connect to any modern operating system, and the people we talked to for this review reported that getting it up and running was super easy. Some even reported that they had hooked this DAC up to their Ps4, and that it ha worked great!
  • The sound quality, perhaps most importantly, is great. There is virtually no distortion, even when the output is pushed, and the sound reproduction is really true.
  • This DAC has a really intuitive interface. With this kind of device, some manufacturers can over-complicate the product with dozens of switches and options. This device is elegantly simple, allowing to focus on what you do best, not distracted by fiddling around with your amp.
  • The output switching on this device got great praise among those we spoke to for this review. The musicians among them found it especially useful that just by plugging in their headphones they output to their speakers would be automatically cut off, because it allowed them to get on with what they are good at without worrying about switching outputs all the time.

CONS:
  • In truth, none. If you are looking for a great DAC, which has super high quality sound built into an elegantly simple package, this is the one to go for! No other DAC we tested could match it’s all-round performance.


2. FiiO E10K

This is a really solid DAC. FiiO have been building devices like this for some years now, picture of FiiO E10Kand their experience really shines through with this device.

The focus here is on sound quality, with the circuity of this DAC having been carefully thought out to provide the best possible listening experience. What has been achieved is remarkable – a DAC that really boosts the performance of high-end headphones, and does so without any fuss.

Like the best DACs, this one is also light and compact. If you are using a laptop and headphones, and working from cafes, the advantage of this compact design is obvious – you can quickly and easily slip your DAC amp into a bag, and carry it wherever you go.

The people we spoke to for this review also complimented this device’s power. Whilst this may not sound important, given that most of the time it will only be powering headphones, it can make a real difference. If your headphones have a high impedance, less powerful amps can struggle to drive them correctly, and accordingly those audiophiles who like to collect vintage, horribly inefficient headphones love this DAC.

FiiO E10K

This is a really solid DAC. FiiO have been building devices like this for some years now, picture of FiiO E10Kand their experience really shines through with this device.

In addition, is has these great features:

PROS:
  • The circuity in this device is a marvel. The volume control, unlike some other DACs we tested, is a straight potentiometer, and offers a barrier-free throughput to your headphones. The simplicity of this design greatly improves audio quality, but also …
  • Improves the longevity of this DAC. Some of the people we talked to for this review said that they had had problems with accidentally breaking their DACs before. This is especially true if you are constantly stuffing your DAC into a bag and cycling across town to the studio. The simple design of this DAC, combined with the sturdy aluminum case, means that it is really rugged.
  • The bass circuit on this device is about the only complication offered, but is a great one. Activated by a switch on the front of the DAC, it instantly produces a 3dB bass boost which is far superior to any software EQ. If you are looking for a DAC which can easily deal with bass, this is the one to get!
  • Last but not least, the sound on this device is great. The people who we talked to for this review said that distortion was almost non-existent, even when pushing this DAC to its limits.

CONS:
  • Very few. If you are looking for a hardy DAC that will give you great quality sound for years, go for this one.


3. SMSL SD793-II 

This is a solid performer. Though slightly larger than the other DACs we tested, this itempicture of SMSL SD793-II
makes up for this by offering great quality sound and innovative features. If you are looking for a DAC that will just sit on your desk whilst you listen, this is the one to go for.

The design of this DAC is really intuitive. You can see everything you need from the front panel, and so don’t have to go climbing around behind your computer to check that everything is correctly set up.

This DAC also has some of the best technical parameters of those we tested. Whilst we will not bore you with a complete round up of all its technical specs, suffice it to say that in terms of sound reproduction this is among the best DACs on the market today. Whether you like the sound it produces is, of course, a matter of opinion, but at least you can be sure that it is accurate!

In addition, this DAC comes with all the features you would expect from a modern device:

SMSL SD793-II

The design of this DAC is really intuitive. You can see everything you need from the front panel, and so don’t have to go climbing around behind your computer to check that everything is correctly set up.

PROS:
  • There are two outputs, an RCA line-out and a ¼” headphone out. The former is unamplified, giving this DAC a great deal of adaptability – just plug it into your stereo system, and you are ready to go!
  • When headphones are connected, the op-amp is automatically turned on, providing an amplified signal which is powerful enough to drive even the oldest, most inefficient headphones. When not in use, the amp automatically turns off, and the device switches output to the RCAs. This means you don’t have to mess around with switching outputs – the DAC knows what you want to do!
  • Last but not least, the sound quality is amazing. Pairing this device with a good quality set of headphones provides a really superior listening experience, especially considering the price!

CONS:
  • A few. Some people found that this DAC could be sensitive to noise from electronics, especially on older computers. This, however, might just give you the excuse you need to upgrade your computer at the same time!


4. Nobsound NS-08E

This is a good DAC, though perhaps lacks some of the sound quality, and the extra picture of Nobsound NS-08Efeatures, which set the other DACs we have tested apart.

On the other hand, this DAC looks great. The twin valves sticking out of the top give the whole DAC a vintage look, and when they are glowing you are sure to get positive comments about them. It looks like a badass tube amp with the power you’d expect from a 5-channel

In addition, this use of vacuum tubes provides a nicely vintage sound. Whilst this DAC might not offer the most accurate sound reproduction, and therefore be unsuitable for the musicians among you, listening to old records through a tube amp certainly gives them character!

In addition, this DAC comes with a number of extra features:

Nobsound NS-08E

It looks like a badass tube amp with the power you’d expect from a 5-channel.

PROS:
  • Tit is nice and powerful. Whilst this may not sound like an important consideration, given that most of the time you will only be using it to drive headphones, if you pair this vintage DAC with a pair of vintage headphones, it needs all that power to overcome the impedance of your headphones.
  • The DAC has a really easy-to-use interface, meaning that you will be using it within minutes of it arriving!
  • Whilst this may not be the most rugged DAC, due to the glass vacuum tubes sticking out the top, it looks great. And if you do break the tubes, replacements are easily available online, or at your nearest musical instrument store.

CONS:
  • A few. Some people we talked to for this review were disappointed that the tubes in this amp do not provide all of it’s amplification, but merely color the sound. If you want a fully-tubed amp, they are available for several times the price of this device, but for the money this is a solid performer.


Our Final Thoughts

So which to choose?

Well, different audiophiles have different priorities when it comes to DACs. Some say that sound quality is the most important thing, others that having a small, portable device is preferable.

In our opinion, the Audioengine D1 is the DAC amp to get. If you are looking for an amp that provides crystal clear sound, an intuitive interface, and will last for years, get this one. The value represented by this small device is really second to none.

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