5 Best DACs for Hi-Fi Audio (All Budgets)

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  • Learn why and how an external DAC can increase the playback quality in hi-fi and home audio applications
  • Discover some of the top picks and learn the differences between them
  • Find the best DAC product for your hi-fi audio needs

Devices rule our lives. Smartphones, tablets, and laptops all serve a specific purpose, and to play back sound, they include DACs to convert digital information to analog.

Using cheap, low-quality DACs is one of the ways manufacturers keep production costs down. This, combined with extremely small speakers, leads to audio that’s…less than Hi-Fi.  

This is where an external DAC comes in. Integrating one into your setup gives you a much higher playback quality and lets you feed the signal to headphones or an external playback source.

What are the Best DACs for Hi-Fi Audio?

DACs come in different flavors and qualities. We chose the Chord Qutest for the best DAC for hi-fi audio. 

But it was a tough call between that and the AudioQuest Dragonfly. Both offer great conversion and I/O. The biggest difference is how you use it. On the go? 

The Dragonfly is a perfect choice. If you need something for your home audio setup, the Qutest is the top choice.

Audiophiles are serious about their sound. And with some investment, you can turn whatever your playback device is into something that sounds heavenly. These are some of the best DACs for home audio.

  1. Chord Qutest (Best Streamlined DAC) (Our Pick)
  2. iFi Zen DAC V2 (Best Desktop DAC)
  3. Cambridge Audio DAC 200M (Best High-Quality DAC))
  4. Audio Quest Dragonfly Cobalt (Best Portable DAC)
  5. iFi Go Blue (Best Small Profile DAC)

1. Chord Qutest

Chord Qutest

Qutest is Chord's ‘pure’ DAC and is designed to improve sound quality in the home.

Why We Love It:
  • The latest evolution of the 2Qute
  • Great technical and sonic performance
  • No on-board amplifier
View Price On Chord

If you’re a serious audiophile, playback quality is one of the most important parts of your hi-fi setup. 

Qutest looks as streamlined as it sounds. Its sound is clean, clear, and cuts.

The EQ is balanced, and it has great imaging. There are multiple ways to integrate it into your setup, such as USB, coaxial, and optical.

The biggest complaint most have with the Qutest is that it doesn’t have its own amplifier, so you’ll have to have that component in your system to be able to integrate it.

But as far as conversion goes, you won’t find a better-dedicated converter for home audio.

2. iFi Zen DAC V2

iFi Zen DAC V2

The ZEN DAC V2 is the same award-winning hi-res USB DAC/headphone amp as before but with added oomph!

Why We Love It:
  • Three output standards
  • USB bus power
  • Power adapter not included
View Price On Amazon
05/29/2023 09:57 am GMT

iFi upped the ante with their second iteration of the Zen DAC. It’s got a more precise response, better dynamics, decoding, and upgraded circuitry.

It provides various output options in USB, RCA line, and Pentaconn standards.

The output is switchable, so it can even be used as a preamp. And at under $200 (USD), it’s an affordable way to upgrade your listening system.

The biggest gripe is that it doesn’t come with a power adapter. But it can be powered through USB, so this isn’t an immediate dealbreaker.

3. Cambridge Audio DAC 200M

Cambridge Audio DAC 200M

DacMagic 200M performs the digital-to-analog conversion perfectly every time, letting all kinds of audio systems sound better than ever before. 

Why We Love It:
  • High-quality DAC for home audio
  • Multiple sample rates
  • Works with any current hi-fi audio format
View Price On Amazon
05/29/2023 10:02 am GMT

If you’re a serious audiophile, you’ve probably already justified spending a little more to get an audiophile-level DAC. That’s exactly what you get with this model.

It runs at whatever sample rate you need while providing a clean and clear sound.

As for I/O, that might be its strongest feature. Hi-fi, computer, mobile, Bluetooth, whatever you need to connect it to, it can accommodate.

The Cambridge Audio 200M has a distinct sound that justifies the cost. You’d be making a mistake not to at least look into this DAC.

4. AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt

AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt

DragonFly Cobalt, the latest and most sophisticated member of the award-winning DragonFly franchise, is a USB DAC, preamplifier, and headphone amplifier. 

Why We Love It:
  • Convenient USB DAC
  • 3.5mm auxiliary output
  • Works with headphones and external speakers
View Price On Amazon
05/29/2023 10:07 am GMT

Portable DACs are a newer medium, and AudioQuest makes one of the best.

It’s a USB dongle with an auxiliary output that you can connect to anything with a USB 2.0 port. It’s an exciting concept, and it gets better.

You can use the output to send the signal to headphones or even an external speaker system.

At 24-bit/96kHz, it has great conversion. And don’t let its size fool you. 2.1V output can integrate with pretty much any headphone.

Digital control makes sure the volume provides the optimum signal-to-noise ratio

The most impressive next-level feature is the MQA renderer.

If you don’t know what this file format is, it’s finally an answer to the quality loss that comes with MP3. A renderer means you can play MQA files at lossless quality.

AudioQuest even managed to fit in LED metering to indicate the sample rate. It’s compatible with Android and Apple mobile devices and Windows and Mac computers.

It’s an innovative little DAC that presents some of the audio ideas of the future right now.

5. iFi Go Blue (Best Small Profile DAC)

iFi GO blu

The new GO blu, pocket-rocket portable HD DAC/amp, is diminutive enough to take with you wherever you go!

Why We Love It:
  • 3.5mm and 4.4mm outputs
  • Bluetooth 5.1 compatible
  • Wireless and wired compatibility
View Price On Amazon
05/29/2023 10:13 am GMT

If you’re an audiophile that hasn’t found out about iFi products yet – now you know.

They make some of the best DACs for home and hi-fi audio. Their Go Blu might be the best small-profile DAC and headphone amp on the market.

It works fine with computers, but most users connect it to their phones to improve sound quality.

Regarding I/O, it has a single USB-C input and dual outputs – 3.5mm (a standard auxiliary size) and 4.4mm.

It connects through wireless or wired. The sample rate is pretty great for a unit so small.

It supports up to 24-bit, 96kHz audio! So basically, anything media from music to TV that you want to play from your device can run at the intended maximum quality.

Maybe the biggest downside is that it doesn’t offer a wireless connection for headphones.

It’s not exactly inexpensive, but at $199, you won’t have to break the bank to add it to your setup. And sure, Bluetooth audio quality hasn’t reached the point where it’s as good as wiring it in.

But the Go Blu is pretty much a must-have when considering the sound quality, I/O, wireless option, and extremely portable profile.


Do I even need a DAC?

Do you need one? No. Modern devices all come with built-in converters.

An external one is advantageous because it increases playback quality over the factory converters built into devices.

They can also give you different listening options, like selecting different sample rates, connecting external monitors, and listening to audio at lossless quality.

Is an audio DAC worth it?

Yes. You don’t have to break the bank to find a good one.

If you have a few hundred dollars of budget, you can easily upgrade your playback quality with an external DAC that can integrate with whatever device(s) you’re using.

How much does a good DAC cost?

A good DAC for a hi-fi or home audio setup will generally run you a few hundred dollars.

But it’s a worthwhile investment if you’re an audiophile or just want something more out of your playback.