Best Budget USB Dacs 2020 : Buying Guide & Reviews
Are you a home-recording artist looking for your next secret weapon?
Perfect, you’re in the right place. On this page, you’ll find our top 11 best cheap USB DACs (or Digital-to-Analog Converters) available in 2020.
Unfortunately, with more than 3000 DACs all over the web, from those with a decent headphone amp to those with bass boost qualities, the best budget DACs for you can be hard to find. How do you know that you’re getting the best audio quality for the cheapest price?
Thankfully, we’ll make this really easy for you by showing you the best portable DACs on the web. Whether you need a high resolution portable DAC or a digital to analog converter with a headphone amplifier, all of our models are easier to use and even easier to buy. We know there’s lots of versions out there, so it can be hard to filter out the high quality brands and their capabilities from those that pop up in advertising, but we assure you that we’ve taken attention to give you the best result possible. Therefore, the DACs on offer here offer elements of:
- Richness of Sound
- Low Prices for High Quality Brand Name
- Impressive Specs Suited to Preferences of Musicians
Why are DACs worth it?
Well, first of all, a digital to analog converter is important because the job of a DAC is to improve sound quality in your headphones. DACs generally come in either 24 bit or 32 bit capability. If you want to see whether 32 bit takes the advantage over 24 bit, scroll down to our final thoughts.
The better the DAC, the better the sound quality 0 so therefore the best DAC will give you crystal clear digital audio. When chosen correctly, the best DACs don’t cost a lot either… whether you’re in the market for portable DACs or desktop based DACs to go with your headphone amp, any digital audio device like these is a worthy addition – and the first step to making your sound quality much better.
To help you find the right USB DAC for you, we’ve found you the best DACs on the market in one place – to help you avoid the portable DAC models that aren’t even worth a look.
To aid your search for the best budget DAC with the greatest audio resolution, we’ve rounded up the best cheap dacs on the market all in one place, to help you avoid the duds. Now, let’s dive right in with our #1-rated best budget DACs.
Top 10 Best Budget DACs 2020
1. Focusrite Scarlett Solo (3rd Generation) USB Audio Interface DAC with Pro Tools
Connectivity: 1/4-inch balanced jack outputs | Frequency Response: 20 Hz – 20 kHz ± 0.1dB | Sample Rate: 192kHz
The Focusrite Scarlett is a dream for heavy-music enthusiasts, especially guitarists, as it is designed to handle high powered guitar pickups. It also has a stereo line that outputs on RCA phono to connect to home speakers and a headphone output equipped with gain control – meaning the sound quality is truly in your hands.
This product comes with a range of Pro Tools such as First Focusrite Creative Pack, Ableton Live Lite, and Softube Time and Tone Bundle. As far as compatibility goes, it works on Windows 7 and higher, Mac OS X 10.10 and higher. It also has a healthy frequency response of 20 Hz – 20kHz 0.25db and provides sample rates up to 192kHz/24 with super low latency, so you can comfortably use your plug-ins in real time without the need for a Digital Signal Processor(DSP).
Why we chose this:
The Focusrite Scarlett with Pro Tools is simply the best you can buy at this price range. It’s highly-reviewed for a reason. Easy to use and much better than many market competitors, these best DACs are seriously worth the price.
2. Audioengine D1 24-bit Digital to Analog Converter (DAC)
Option number two is an entry-level product with simple plug-n-play features either on your Mac or on your PC. This Audioengine D1 represents one of the best budget DACs that are available in the market today. The D1 shows marked versatility in accepting inputs as it does so from both USB and optical sources.
Premium sound and music-playing has never come at such an agreeable price – it’s therefore perfect for your headphones or device.
Whether you’re using a PC or a TV or even DVD/BluRay player, the D1 is always ready to give you the best. Another enticing feature of the D-1 is that it also acts as a high-quality portable computer headphone amplifier. It is capable of processing digital audio at any bit depth up to 24 bits and any sample rate up to 192khz. Many competitors offer a 24 bit 96khz capacity, so this really takes the cake. You need a DAC- and you need this DAC.
As a portable DAC, it’s easy to carry around and use wherever you need to. Giving you high quality sound and music straight to your earphones, and making this as easy as possible, are the two priorities of this DAC.
Why we chose this:
If you want high-end warm rich full stereo sound, the Audioengine D1 is a great choice. It’s a tad more expensive, but worth every penny.
3. SMSL SD793-II DAC
The SMSL SD793-II is one of the best DACs in the market today. It may be larger than others, so not ideal as a portable DAC, but it offers great features and high-quality sound for you to listen to all of your favorite music on your headphones.
One of the best things about SMSL SD793-II is that the design is very intuitive. The reason behind this is because you can see everything that you need at the front panel. There’s no need for you to check your computer’s back because everything is at the front. This is easily, therefore, one of the best USB DAC models for ease of use.
Another good thing about SMSL SD793-II its that it has great technical parameter: so whatever you could want from your DAC, in order to send great sound straight to your headphones, is right here. No need for a sound card or anything else.
Why we chose this:
This budget DAC is a fantastic value for the money. If you’re looking for a cheap way to get every ounce of juice out from your sound system, the SMSL SD793-II is a great choice. With a great sound from audio resolution, and easy use, these USB DACs are seriously worth the price.
4. FX Audio DAC-X6 24 bit/192 Optical/Coaxial/
The X6 USB DACs from FX Audio has a very impressive build and a sturdy frame that inspires confidence in users. It also comes with a 12V power adapter 1A and 3 separate DAC chipsets as well as headphone amplifier chipsets. Standard input interface includes computer USB/ coaxial as well as an optical fiber with a toggle switch.
The X6 boasts of an impressive frequency response: 20hz-20khz and distortion of equal to OR less than 0.001%. As far as budget DACs go, this model is right up there with the best, owing to its sturdy frame and value-for-money features. Better than the average 24 bit/ 96khz model, this offers 24 bit/ 192khz – for premium sound quality/ audio resolution.
Why we chose this:
This FX Audio DAC-X6 is perfect as a desktop DAC, with bookshelf speakers, or as a powerful amp for your headphones. With quality sound for all of your audio files, it’s a clear winner as a budget pick suited to all of your music and audio needs.
5. Topping D30 DAC
The Topping D30 DAC is known to have a lot of connections, while also having support for high resolution formats, such as DSD. This DAC comes with a good package, which will make sure that the item inside is well protected. It’s therefore one of the best USB DAC models we’ve got here. It’s ideal for laptop or PC use, with an easy to insert DAC chip that connects up to your USB port.
When using Topping D30 DAC, it is recommended to use together with the Topping D30 headphones, though you can also use different devices for both output and input. The Topping D30 DAC supports high resolution contents for up to DSD128.
Why we chose this:
If you’re experiencing an annoying “popping” noise while switching from DSD to PCM, go with this Topping D30 budget DAC for quiet effortless switching. This therefore gives a quality audio like no other, so you can experience the full range of benefits in your headphones – such as bass boost.
6. AudioQuest-Beetle Optical DAC
The AudioQuest-Beetle Optical DAC is known for having a great level of audio quality. The sound quality of this best USB DAC therefore makes it one of the overall best DACs around.
One of the best things about this DAC is that it can use 3.5mm earphones, giving you a degree of flexibility in its use as a headphone amp – yet another reason this is one of the best DAC models.
Another good thing about AudioQuest-Beetle Optical DAC is that you have the option to adjust the volume of the audio, meaning that you can manipulate volume and aspects – such as bass boost – without having to compromise on overall sound quality. This is a great feature of the best DACs, so as the best USB DAC goes, this is a serious contender.
Lastly, worry not because AudioQuest-Beetle Optical DAC comes with different accessories so you don’t have to purchase other things.
Why we chose this:
The AudioQuest-Beetle Optical DAC is durable, cheap, and gets the job done. The Bluetooth functionality gives you brilliant sound quality with the added benefit of carry around portability.
7. FX-Audio DAC-X6 Mini DAC
The FX-Audio DAC-X6 Mini is known to have amazing features, including coax S/PDIF inputs, optical, and it also has a USB. The consumption of power from the USB is at 50 milliamps. It’s amazing to get features like that for the price range that this DAC has.
One of the best thing about FX-Audio DAC-X6 Mini is that you don’t need to install anything. That is how easy it is to operate and use, which make it reliable enough to be used in different formats available today. The easily used volume knob and brilliant sample rate gives this DAC an edge – it’s definitely one of the best on this list, and you need it to give your headphones the amazing sound and audio quality they deserve!
Why we chose this:
The X6 Mini makes our countdown for its superior ability to maximize the performance of high-end headphones.
8. Topping D30 DSD DAC
One of the best things about Topping D30 DSD Audio Decoder is that it has an output protection, which means that it will automatically turned the output off once you loose input signal. This will surely help protect your ears when things like that happens.
Another good thing about Topping D30 is that it will never sound too analytical or too bright. You surely won’t hear any POP or the like so there’s nothing to worry about.
Why we chose this:
This model makes our list because its simple to use, but highly effective.
9. SMSL M100 DAC
The SMSL M100 is generation number two of these USB port-operated DAC models. It supports native DSD and PCM signal for up to 32bit or 768kHz. One of the best things about this DAC chip is that it has a built in high power module and LDOs that are low noise, which are both sufficient for the analog circuit.
The back panel of this DAC shows the decoder, which is powered purely by USB. This handy USB DAC supports OTG, Coaxial, and optical USB input. Lastly, it has a two ultra-low noise so you don’t have to worry about anything. From laptop to PC, this USB DAC is one of the best DACs we have for you.
Why we chose this:
The SMSL M100 makes our list because of its superior ability to reduce distortion. The sample rate is also of optimal quality, and the easily used volume knob makes for easy operation.
10. iFi Audio Nano USB iDSD Black Label
This iFi Audio Nano iDSD is designed to be efficient and performance-oriented with a small and lightweight body. The model comes with rechargeable Lithium polymer battery that allows its users non stop music and premium sound for up to 10 hours. For this price, you’d be treating your headphones to this brilliant audio device. Any laptop would have serious enhanced sound if this USB DAC chip was used.
It is capable of playing all high-resolution audio formats including DSD256, DXD384, PCM 3384khz. In addition to this, the device can be connected directly to your smartphone or PC. It’s powerful dual mono 285 milliwatt headphone amp is 6 times more powerful than an iPhone empowering users to drive the headphones to maximum performance. Any sound or piece of music you want to listen to through your headphones needs this DAC.
A combination of extensive features coupled with a desirable price makes this product one of the best budget USB DACs you can get your hands on.
Why we chose this:
For the price, it provides better than average performance.
Buyers Guide When Choosing a DAC
What is a DAC and how does it work?
Every day in our daily lives, we hear a wide variety of sounds and noises, whether it be a conversation with a friend or the chirping of a bird. These sounds are essentially analog sounds which the human ear can process. Such sounds can be recorded for any number of purposes, and the recordings of these sounds are called their digitization. By digitization of sound, we mean the capturing of various characteristics of sound such as bass, treble, or any other such parameter. But these digital sounds require conversion back to its analog format if we are to experience the joy of hearing them. This is where a DAC comes into the picture. In order to get the best sound quality from your digital input, and to listen to all of your digital music, all you need is a DAC and a USB cable.
In simple terms, a DAC is a device that is used to convert digital audio signals into analog formats so that it is executable by various devices and audible to the human ear. In all playback devices, whether it be a smartphone or a computer or even a PlayStation, a chip is fixed in the motherboard ha is responsible for converting the digital signals into analog so that it can be processed by the human ear. Generally, the chip is placed internally next to the audio output of the device. Although the inbuilt DAC chips are more than useful in heir ask, external DAC’s are in a league of their own when it comes to factors like sound quality and depth.
By purchasing the best budget DAC, the user is essentially bypassing a mediocre quality computer audio chip with a device that is specifically built for the purpose of audio playback. We hope this proves to you that a DAC is therefore a fab piece of audio equipment to boost the audio signal of your digital inputs, so you can listen to any audio file easily and with fab build quality.
DAC versus Sound Card:
In order to get the best level of sound to your headphones, you might wonder whether a DAC really improves the sound as well as a sound card, and whether an external DAC really is worth it.
Well, luckily we hope this guide has shown you that a DAC – which is essentially an external sound card for stereo output – is worth the money. With a premium sound offered straight to your headphones, there’s really minimal difference between a DAC and a sound card – except a DAC tends to be a bit cheaper than a sound card, despite offering the same level of sound quality if not better.
What is the best DAC for you?
Portable USB DACs
Primarily a portable USB DAC is used to connect to various other devices such as smartphones or tablets. It also functions as a compact headphone amplifier for your computer, doubling up as a computer DAC. Specific variants of this type of DAC are able to draw power from the USB port of your computer, requiring no additional power supply. The portability factor should be considered while choosing the best budget DAC for people who travel frequently or use laptops and other on-the-go devices.
Desktop USB DAC
This DAC-type features line-level outputs of audio in order to connect amplifiers or powered speakers. A desktop DAC can also be connected to an external CD player or network streaming device. The catch with a few desktop DACs is that they need AC power to operate, unlike portable DACs. A number of varieties offer a headphone output as well for individuals who don’t like to disturb others while listening to music!
Wireless DACs frequently use a transmitter that connects to your computer through USB. The digital information is sent to a separate wireless receiver i.e. it broadcasts the digital content to a different audio system. RCA cables are used to connect a stereo or amplifier to your wireless receiver. Some wireless DACs use Bluetooth technology for transmission across multiple devices. Buyers should always check the broadcast range to make sure it will reach their equipment.
Music enthusiasts or those who use headphones unsparingly for viewing content or playing games should consider this product-type while deliberating on the best budget DAC. This type has a built-in amplifier that is designed to get the optimum quality and sound out of your headphones. Individuals who wish to make their headphone experience a lot more special will appreciate the high-sound quality and powerful performance thanks to this variety of DAC. Headphone amps can also act as an efficient digital pre-amp for individuals who wish to connect their home stereo systems along with their headphones.
DACs for iPad/iPhone/Android
The quality of playbacks can be increased manifold using this type of DAC and is ideal for connecting any playback device to the home stereo. DACs are playback devices that are generally battery powered and generally completely portable. There are certain models which provide a wide range of diverse options for connectivity by featuring multiple USB inputs.
Component Hi-fi DACs
These mean machines offer the broadest range of connectivity options and are hardwired to connect to a full-fledged home audio system. These DACs are endowed with advanced circuitry and are optimally suitable for twin-channel stereo systems as well as high-end home theatre receivers. Specific Component DAC models are also equipped with a volume control feature allowing their use as a preamplifier in digital sound systems.
Getting the optimal output from your DAC
Quality of Music Files
Nowadays, music files are available in a number of different formats and sizes. From mp3 to high-end formats like FLAC, it is vital for anyone who seeks the best budget DAC to understand that the product is not an end in itself. The level of detail that a DAC can extract from a particular recording depends mostly upon the quality of the recording in itself. In order to get the most from DAC, users should ensure that their music files are of the highest resolution possible. If you’re streaming music on sites like Spotify, Apple Music, and iTunes, make sure you change the streaming settings to get the best results! And if you’ve never heard anything besides mp3 music, then just check out your favorite song in a .FLAC format and see if you can tell the difference for yourself.
24 Bit versus 32 Bit
There’s a bit of debate about whether a 24 bit DAC is better than a 32 bit DAC. Generally, a 24-bit signal gives you a greater range of hearing in dB compared to the human ear. A 32 bit signal, as you may have guessed, offers even more than a 24 bit signal.
Some would argue that the difference between 24-bit signal and 32-bit signal is noticeable in audio, so it’s definitely worth going for a 32-bit model for ultra high sound range. It will make a serious improvement that any seasoned audiophiles will be able to hear.
Quality of System Components
Another factor that influences the performance of your outboard DAC is the quality of your system’s constituent audio components. Things like cable speakers and well-crafted headphones go a long way in complementing your DAC. For instance, a $2500 DAC paired with a mid-fi home theatre receiver will not produce value-for-money results. Similarly, it would be foolish to add an entry-level DAC to an extensive system of high-end amplifiers.
Level of expertise in Computer operations
Although a DAC plugged into a computer can get you playing your music straight away, a greater knowledge of software operations will help you get the best out of your product. Any ideas about the physics of sound or even music theory will help individuals to extract optimum performance out of their DACs. It is prudent to make specific changes to your computer’s audio system in order to get optimum sound quality. Some DACs require users to download and install USB drivers to operate. The good news is that DAC manufacturers usually provide relevant instructions with their products. However, it is advisable to do some research on the topic and understand the fundamentals of computer operations.
Quality of Cables
The quality of cables you use on our to connect the DAC to your playback devices also has a strong impact in determining the ultimate quality of sound that you get in the final analysis. It is advisable to upgrade the cables provided with the DAC box, as it usually results in better sound quality. Make sure to use good quality USB cables for our computer and optical digital and coaxial digital cables for your CD or Network music player. It is also vital to ensure that the right analog cable is used to connect the DAC to your stereo.
Still not sure which budget dac is right for you? If so, go with our #1-recommended: Focusrite Scarlett Solo with Pro Tools.
- One of the best performing mic preamps the Scarlett range has ever seen, now with switchable air Mode to give your recordings a brighter and more open sound. One high-headroom instrument input to plug in your guitar or bass. Two hum-free balanced outputs provide clean audio playback.
- High-performance converters enable you to record and mix at up to 24-bit/ 192kHz.
- Quick start tool to get up and running easier than ever.
- Includes Pro Tools | First Focusrite Creative Pack, Ableton Live Lite, Softube Time and Tone Bundle, Focusrite’s Red Plug-in Suite, 3-month Splice subscription, and your choice of one free XLN Addictive Keys virtual instrument, all available via download upon purchase and registration
- LIMITED TIME OFFER: FREE Reason Lite upon registration and download.
The initial emergence of this device came about as a response to consumer complaints regarding poor audio quality and if you’re someone who is tired of the same redundant MP3 sound format with limited textures in your audio, you need to get a quality DAC.
In this article, our aim was to comprehensively cover all information regarding what a DAC is and how you should go about purchasing it and getting the most out of it. Essentially the DAC works as a plug and play device i.e. the operating system of the computer or any other device connected to it, immediately recognizes its presence as well as the functions it’s supposed to perform. Two important variables to consider while choosing a DAC are it’s sample rate and bit depth. For your purposes, without getting into technical details, you’d want both these variables as high as possible. In order to give you a better understanding of the concept of bit rate, consider the differences in audio quality when you’re streaming a music video on YouTube and compare the experience with a stream on iTunes or any high-quality streaming service.
We have also given you a list of the 10 best budget DACs out there so you can’t go wrong no matter which you choose. Although many more are available in the market, our vision and focus was to make you acquainted with the ones that give you the best value for money in relation to your own individual needs and requirements for wanting to purchase a DAC. Now that you are all strapped and ready to take your next audio project to new heights, we wish you Godspeed!
Go out there and hook up your Focusrite Scarrlet and get the most out of your equipment. You deserve nothing less!