Audiophiles are always on the hunt for good DACs to optimize their music or video listening experience, but you don’t have to be an expert to appreciate how a DAC can improve your audio needs. DAC stands for digital-to-analog converter, and is a small device that you can plug or insert into your existing set-up to increase the overall audio quality of whatever you’re listening to. What most people may not know is that a DAC is actually present in any piece of hardware that produces sound, whether it’s your TV, bluetooth speakers, gaming console, or smartphone. When we listen to music live, we’re hearing the true analog information that’s being made by the band’s instruments. But when we listen to music through a device, say our laptops or a portable music player, we’re listening to the digitized version of the sounds. This is a long string of 0s and 1s that approximately reproduces the analog sound wave of the song. A DAC then converts this strong into an analog signal and makes the digital music worthwhile for us to listen to.
It goes without saying, then, that a great DAC will really enhance your listening experience because the output will be closer to what you would anticipate hearing from a band live. But between all the different components of a DAC, such as its sound quality, connectivity, durability, and practicality, it might be difficult to begin looking for what might fit your specific needs. So we’ve gone ahead and put together our 2020 picks for the best DAC under $100.
The Top 4 DACs under $100 In 2020
The Cambridge Audio DacMagic is a simple and easy to use DAC that instantly upgrades your computer’s audio output. It’s portable, compact, and beginner-friendly at an affordable price that still manages to noticeably enhance your audio quality–normal laptop outputs are around 15-20 mW, but with the DacMagic it boosts the output up to 105, which will yield a more powerful sound across all ranges.
- FX Audio DAC-X6 24BIT / 192 Optical / Coaxial / USB Digital Audio Amplifier DAC Decoder – Read Reviews
This professional-level DAC is specifically designed for higher performance and studio work, but is a great budget-friendly DAC that delivers with great audio performance. The inbuilt amplifier is made with a 12v 1A power adapter and the DAC comes with three chipsets and a three range optical, USB, and coaxial interface. The hardware itself feels very retro but is balanced well with the more modern inputs that you might be used to. When you use the DAC, you’ll find that there’s zero noise distortion and greater frequency response, which is great for just listening to music or mixing tracks. At 1.1 pounds, this is a relatively lightweight DAC. The only consideration is that it makes a bit of background noise. Nonetheless, it’s a great budget option that gives you a greater range than some of the portable DACs out there. One reviewer notes that “this DAC is built very well with all metal construction, has great sound quality, and is well worth the price… couldn’t be happier!”
- EarStudio ES100 MK2-24 bit Portable High-Resolution Bluetooth Receiver / USB DAC / Headphone Amp with LDAC, aptX HD, apX, AAC (3.5mm Unbalanced & 2.5mm Balanced Output) – Read Reviews
The EarStudio ES100 is a unique bluetooth DAC that still manages to provide stable connectivity throughout your listening session. The 24bit receiver delivers studio-quality sound from the music device of your choice through your headphones, earphones, or speakers. It comes with an equalizer app that works with both iOS and Android so that you can tune the audio to your liking by selecting from a number of presents or simply adjusting the treble and bass until you’re satisfied. Within the app, you have the option to adjust the volume manually, so that you can maintain optimal audio performance even at low volume levels. There are also 4 types of DAC filters to choose from and 1x, 2x, and 4x oversampling options for further customization. The DAC comes with a battery that provides up to 14 hours of playback time, so just remember to charge it every so often so that you can enjoy continuous music. As a testament to the sound quality, one reviewer commented by saying that the “music sounds punchy and visceral, just like it’s hard-wired, but through bluetooth.”
The DragonFly consistently ranks as one of the best budget DACs out there because of its usability and size. It is designed to look like a flash drive and operates with a USB port to be user-friendly even for first-time DAC users. Nonetheless, you can definitely hear a marked improvement with the DragonFly. It utilizes a 32-bit Ess 9010 DAC chipset to boost audio performance across all levels, including audio clarity, richness, and tone. It can play anything from MP3 to 24bit high-resolution files and yields fantastic audio quality. It works with both Android and Apple phones, as long as you have an adapter, and can easily be plugged into your laptop or desktop without obstructing your existing set-up. This is a great option for someone who’s looking for a portable DAC or someone who’s looking to invest into a budget DAC for the first time. One reviewer raves that “the sound that comes through the headphones is so much better than anything I’ve heard before. I heard the best Bohemian Rhapsody ever and then went through some more tracks, old and new, that I always listen to when testing new equipment and was amazed by every single one.”
- 32-bit ESS 9010 Sabre DAC
- Offering tremendously enhanced sound, higher value, and significantly lower power consumption than the original award-winning DragonFly
- Works with Apple and Android phones and tablets when paired with a simple adapter
- This versatile DAC improves everything detail, transparency, immediacy, richness, tone associated with your music
- Plays everything from MP3s to 24-bit/96kHz high-resolution files