You probably already know that a good set of headphones or earbuds can really make a difference. The default ones that come when you purchase your cell phone will be infinitely better than the types that you might get for free or for two dollars on a flight, while the ones that you invest money into will be infinitely better than your default cell phone ones. What these all have in common, however, is that these are a means of listening to a type of sound. And this type of sound can play a major role in the quality of what’s delivered to your ears too. Audiophiles will be quick to tell you that analog is much better than digital because it’s a more true reproduction of what you might hear if you were to listen to your favorite band playing onstage, albeit with no loud cheering and other background noise that comes along with a live show.
When music files are digitized and put onto the internet or in your computer, it becomes an approximation, or interpretation, of the analog recording. But listen to the analog recording, and it’ll be much closer to that live sound quality that you crave. This is why vinyls are so in demand among audiophiles, because vinyls–unlike your phone or streaming service–delivers analog sound right into your ears. Of course it’s impossible to always have a record player and your favorite records with you at all times. But with a DAC, you can actually convert the digital files into analog format, plug in your headphones or speakers, and get that same sound without any of the bulk! For all the audiophiles out there, we put together below our 2020 picks for the best DAC under $1000.
Our Favorite DACs Under $1000 in 2020
This Sony headphone amp with built-in DAC is a great pocket-sized option for you if you’re looking for something to boost the sound quality of the files on your phone. You can also maximize your audio experience on PCs, digital music players, and more. On the technical specs, the PHA-3 can comprehensively decode PCM audio sources up to 384 kHz/32-bit in addition to DSD audio sources at 2.8 MHz / 5.6 MHz formats. The rechargeable battery provides up to 5 hours of playback when connected digitally via the USB, or up to 28 hours of playback when you’re using the analog stereo input. One reviewer noted that this delivers “superior sound excellence, flexibility, and feature usability… There are many fine headphone amplifiers with an integrated DAC, but the PHA-3 is surely one of the best and likely unmatched in flexibility and user features.”
For those of you who want something straightforward and streamlined, you can consider this Bluetooth DAC and pre-amp application. The D90 has a built-in volume control function to achieve the volume adjustment that you’re looking for, depending on the audio file or CD that you want to listen to and what vibe you might be looking for. You can directly connect it to an amp, pure power amp, and active speakers, depending on the set-up you already have at home. It features various input interfaces (AES/USB/OPT/COAX/IIS/BT) so there’s a lot of options for you to choose from, and it can support hi-res music. The Bluetooth 5.0 input supports up to PCM24bit / 96 kHz LDAC sample rates and will deliver on that analog sound that you crave. As one reviewer commented, “I have now stopped looking further as cd’s sound vinyl like. Plus no more cleaning, needle drop and exact pitch anxiety, [since] records require so much work and are delicate.”
Near the top of our list is the Hafler HA75-DAC, which is an audiophile tube-based headphone amplifier and USB digital-to-analog converter. It boasts a wide range of innovative features, such as the 12AX7 tube drive featuring 100% discrete class-A audio circuitry and variable focus control to simulate listening in a room and give you more of an immersive audio experience, no matter where you are in relation to the DAC itself. The design itself is sleek and modern and will be sure to add to the aesthetics of your existing set-up. Analog inputs are provided via RCA and balanced XLR connectors, and a selector switch on the front of the HA75-DAC allows you to easily switch between analog and digital sources, depending on what your music collection looks like and how you want to boost the quality of your files. One reviewer simply commented that this DAC has “Excellent build/sound quality… The DAC is excellent as far as I can tell.”
- Linsoul EP3Pro ES9038PRO Full Balanced XMOS DSD256 DSD 512 HiFi XLR RCA Bluetooth DAC Decoder Headphone Amplifier (Black)
At the top of our list is the Linsoul EP3Pro. This features an ES9038PRO chip and uses a U208 core third-generation chip to generate a more stable, full balanced, and overall powerful performance. The ES9038 core voltage adopts three-stage filtering, which ensures that the sound is pure and noise-free from the source. You can get transparent and elegant audio quality at higher frequency, while still getting deep broad sound at the lower frequencies. As one reviewer noted, “This is a wonderful product. Connects effortlessly to my pc over usb and produces amazing sound through my Yamaha HS8’s and subwoofer. I have the speakers running through XLR and the sub running off of RCA. Very minimalist interface which is nice. Easily connects to phones and laptops through bluetooth which i s amazing. This is a great product.”
- ES9038PRO chip, Full Balanced -full interface supports DSD hard solutions DSD512; USB uses HU308 XMOS chip U208 core third-generation chip, transmission is more stable, more powerful performance
- EP3Pro is a cost-effective decoder based on the ES9038Pro chip. First of all, it uses FPGA advanced audio algorithms and a distinctive human-computer interaction interface. The decoding state setting information of this machine is directly presented to us, and the functions are rich in playability. Reference to the official design circuit, long time debugging, the perfect release of ES9038Pro's potential;
- The ES9038 core voltage adopts three-stage filtering, which ensures that the sound is pure and noise-free from the source. The analog part adopts a fully symmetric A type voltage regulator structure. The 8-channel ultra-low noise LDO makes the IF frequency thick and accurate, and the high frequency is transparent, elegant, and has a deep Broad sound field and excellent resolution, both low-frequency volume and texture.
- New user interface, intuitive simplicity, advanced settings to bring more gameplay, 11 filter settings, 5 volume steps, debounced switches, de-emphasis switches, and more
- Firmware upgrade interface, regularly update the firmware according to community feedback, together to make this decoding better. Low jitter thermostat crystal