5 Best DACs (Pro Quality Audio, All Budgets)

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  • Discover how and what a DAC (digital-to-audio converter) does
  • Learn about the best DAC choices for professional applications and how they increase sound quality
  • Understand why a dedicated DAC is beneficial to your setup

DACs, or digital-to-audio converters, are everywhere these days. They’re in your phone, computer, your tablet, and are a critical element of your pro audio recording setup.

The most basic explanation of how DACs work is that it’s a chip that converts a digital signal of 0s and 1s to an audible analog signal.

Whether working in your bedroom or a top-quality studio, a dedicated DAC will give you better sound quality

What are the Best DACs?

Like any audio gear, DACs come in different flavors and qualities. But they all serve the purpose of giving you ideal playback sonics. 

We chose the Lynx Aurora as the premier DAC for professional audio for a few reasons. 

Lynx is an industry leader in converter technology, and their gear is used in some of the finest audio applications in the world.

It’s multi-channel, expandable, and upgradable to add a preamp and analog summing.

Best DACs for Professional Audio

Converters are a part of every recording interface. There are generally two, an ADC (analog-digital converter) on the input and a DAC on the output.

Smaller, less expensive interfaces might combine into one chip, but there are usually two.

But as we all know, when it comes to pro audio, the really good ones are standalone.

These are dedicated units, usually in a rack or 500 series format, whose sole purpose is to convert the audio signal(s) one way or the other. 

Below are our picks for the best DACs for professional audio:

  1. Lynx Aurora (Our Pick)
  2. Bricasti Design MC1 (Best Two-Channel DAC)
  3. RME ADI-2/4 PRO se 2X4 AD/DA Converter (Best Small Profile DAC)
  4. Ferrofish Pulse 16 DX (Best Multformat DAC)
  5. Burl Audio B16-BMB4 (Best High-End DAC)

1. Lynx Aurora

Lynx Studio Technology Aurora

The Aurora(n) represents the culmination of years of research and development dedicated to significantly improving upon the well-regarded Lynx Aurora 8 and 16 models used by professionals around the world

Why We Love It:
  • Industry-standard converters
  • Multiple channel models
  • Only connects through Thunderbolt
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05/29/2023 10:22 am GMT

Lynx makes some of the best standalone converters in pro audio.

They’ll put a solid dent in your budget, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find better quality.

The Aurora series comes in a few variations, with 8, 16, 24, and 32-channel models being the most popular.

One of the benefits of investing in this 1U rack unit is that it includes dual conversion – ADC and DAC. So unlike some other market options, you’ll upgrade your converter game across the board.

Powered by Lynx’s Hilo tech and FPGA processing, you’ll get the best sound quality possible. Other than the price tag, the biggest hangup is that they connect through Thunderbolt.

So if your recording system doesn’t feature that, you might have to invest in an additional card – or it could make the Aurora a nonstarter.

But the quality, low noise, channel count, and longevity make the Aurora series a contender for one of the best standalone converters available.

2. Bricasti Design MC1 Dual Mono Master

Bricasti Design MC1 Dual Mono Master

Bricasti Design’s MC1 is a fully differential, 2-channel reference D/A converter. Tailor-made for critical applications, it yields lifelike audio reproduction. 

Why We Love It:
  • Dual mono operation
  • Signature analog circuitry
  • Yields world-class sound quality
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Bricasti is known for making one of the most stellar reverb units on the planet in the M7. But their peerless craftsmanship doesn’t stop there. 

The MC1 is a fully differential, dedicated two-channel DAC in the truest definition.

It’s got analog circuitry, and through Bricasti’s signature filtering technology, your masters will be as transparent as possible

It runs in dual mono operation, with each isolated channel running on its own power supply. Each channel is optimized using an ADI 1955 converter set to mono configuration. 

Bricasti makes some seriously next-level gear, and if you want to add a dedicated DAC to your recording setup. 

3. RME ADI-2/4 PRO SE 2X4 AD/DA Converter

RME ADI-2/4 Pro SE 2x4 AD/DA Converter

The RME ADI-2/4 Pro SE is, at its core, a top-of-the-line AD/DA converter. That said, it offers much more than that. 

Why We Love It:
  • 2-in/4-out
  • Proprietary SteadyClock FS engine
  • USB2.0 connection makes integration easy
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RME has been in the interface game for years, making some solid models renowned for their conversion quality. They’ve stepped into the standalone converter arena in a big way. 

This is a dual-in and quad-out analog-digital and digital-analog 32-bit/768kHz converter.

Powered by the SteadyClock FS engine, digital jitter is a concern of the past.

As for I/O, both inputs are servo-balanced combination TRS/XLR with balanced and unbalanced outputs. There are two individually-balanced headphone outputs.

And it supports whatever standard of connection you need, including ADAT, S/PDIF, AES, and DSD.

USB 2.0 connection ensures it works with Windows, Mac, Linux, and iOS. And it’s not just great for music production. It’s great for film, even digitizing vinyl records.

The front panel metering is easy to read, and the unit’s small footprint will leave plenty of room in your space for other toys.

If you’re looking for pristine conversion in a low channel count, it doesn’t get much better than this.

4. Ferrofish Pulse 16 DX

Ferrofish Pulse 16 DX

The PULSE16 DX is the high-quality solution to connect and route a wide range of Analog, MADI, ADAT, and Dante equipment – with up to 192 kHz.

Why We Love It:
  • Industry-best Cirrus Logic converters
  • Integrates with multiple audio network types
  • Stepped gain on input and output channels
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05/29/2023 10:42 am GMT

Built on the infamous Cirrus Logic 24-bit/192kHz converters, this 1U rackmount unit offers a lot of horsepower under the hood.

16 channels of analog I/O makes integration into your recording system easy.

The conversion is versatile, offering not just AD/DA but ADAT, Dante, and MADI.

The input gain and output level are stepped on all channels in 1dB increments, running from -8dBu up to +20dBu.

A fine level of detail is what everyone looks for in a converter, and that’s exactly what you get with the Pulse.

It’s not just the audio quality that shines. Bright, detailed front-face metering on the input and output lets you gain stage quickly and accurately.

Ferrofish makes some of the best multi-format networked audio converters around. Recording applications, broadcasts, venues, and churches.

The single rack space is convenient, and considering the extent of what it can do makes it a cost-effective option – even at the price point.

5. Burl Audio B16-BMB4 (Best High-End DAC)

Burl Audio B16-BMB4

Burl Audio’s B16 Mothership converter chassis with SoundGrid is an innovative way of approaching digital conversion.

Why We Love It:
  • Modular, expandable channels
  • Provides exceptional sonic transparency
  • Expensive but worth every penny
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A lot of companies make top-of-the-line converters. Burl Audio pretty much wrote the manual on it.

Their rackmount and 500 series models have been industry standards in facilities worldwide for years.

It runs on two cards that sit in the proprietary motherboard. But this modular system is expandable to offer more channel count as your conversion needs increase.

Burl took a lot of the sonic signatures everybody loves about analog tape into consideration when crafting this next-gen digital conversion system. It’s designed to be flexible without the harder limitations of digital.

The metering leaves a little to be desired, but there are ways around that. The expandability, flexibility, and sound quality make this an ideal – if not expensive – standalone converter option.


Which is the most popular DAC?

Lync, Burl, and RME are among some top choices regarding professional audio. Cambridge Audio makes some great products for home audio that offer a lot of versatility.

Does DAC improve sound quality?

Investing in a standalone DAC can improve playback quality. Especially over the cheaper converters, many manufacturers include stock in their products.

A high-quality DAC can provide a more accurate and detailed representation of the original audio signal, resulting in clearer and more natural sound. However, the extent of the improvement in sound quality depends on the quality of the DAC and the rest of the audio system.

Do I need a DAC or just an amp?

They are two different types of equipment. A DAC converts the digital audio signal to analog. An amp does just that – amplifies the sound.

Whether you need a DAC or just an amp depends on your specific audio setup and the quality of the components you already have.

If you have a digital audio source (such as a computer or smartphone) and are using headphones or speakers that are capable of reproducing high-quality sound, then a DAC can help improve the sound quality by converting the digital signal to analog. In this case, a DAC is recommended.

On the other hand, if you already have a high-quality analog audio source (such as a turntable) and are using headphones or speakers that require more power to drive, then an amp may be more beneficial. An amp can amplify the signal from the source, providing more power to the headphones or speakers and potentially improving the overall sound quality.

In some cases, you may need both a DAC and an amp to achieve the best sound quality. It’s important to evaluate your specific setup and determine which components are necessary for your needs.