Best DAC under $500 in 2021

by Editor

A DAC or Digital-to-Analog converter is a device that converts digital signals into stereo analog format that’s playable on your speakers or headphones. Typically all computers, smartphones and music players have a built-in DAC, if not then you would not be able to hear music the way it was intended.

While all these devices house a DAC of some kind, not all of them will perform at the same level. This is where an external DAC comes into play as it can piggyback on your primary device and enhance the audio signals.

If you truly feel that you need an external DAC then this list is meant for you. We’ve tried and tested over 30 DAC’s and have shortlisted 6 based on various factors like performance, build quality, power output and more. 

In our opinion, the best DAC under $500 which is compatible with almost every input device possible and which delivers clear, amplified sound is the Cambridge Audio Azur DACMagic Plus. Not only is it a great choice if you’re looking for high-end audio conversion, but it also offers top-notch wireless connectivity that promises low-lag.

Here are the top 6 best DAC under $500 that you can buy online.

Top 6 Best DAC under $500FeaturesBest For
AudioQuest Dragonfly USB DACChipset – 32-bit Sabre DAC
Power Output – 2.1V
Best Portable DAC under $500
Creative Sound BlasterX AE-5Chipset – 32-bit Sabre DAC chip
DNR – 122dB
Best Gaming DAC under $500
Meridian Director USB DACChipset – XMOS L2 Processor with a Crystal Semiconductor CS4353 DAC chip
Connectivity – S/PDIF / USB
Best Designed DAC under $500
SMSL Sanskrit 6th Analog Audio DecoderChipset – CM6631A, WM8740, JRC2114MD
Power Output – 3.1W
Best DAC under $500 for High Audio Conversion
Cambridge Audio Azur DACMagic PlusChipset – 24-bit Twin Wolfson
Audio Output Upsampling – 24-bit/384kHz
Best Bluetooth DAC under $500
Sony PHA1A Portable High-Res DACChipset – WM8740 Wolfson
Frequency Support – PCM 192kHz/24-bit
Best Functional DAC under $500

Top 6 Best DAC under $500

AudioQuest Dragonfly USB DAC

The AudioQuest Dragonfly has been one of the most convenient portable DACs in the market for a while and it’s highly effective in the process of converting digital audio into analog stereo. It has been designed specifically for those who are looking to have an amped up experience on the go.

It’s one of the best DACs under $500 and is powered by a 32-bit Sabre chip with a 2.1V power output capability. The Dragonfly can easily be connected to your headphones or other high-end speaker systems and receive hi-fi audio quality.

Though it may seem small, the Dragonfly USB DAC is equipped with a PRC32MX microchip that will minimize the sound-degrading effect of high-frequency interference. This ultimately means that you are paying a budget-friendly price for something that has some serious audio handling capabilities.

Info

Chipset – 32-bit Sabre DAC chip

Power Output – 2.1V

Creative Sound BlasterX AE-5

Creative is one such brand that develops some pretty impressive computer audio systems and one of their best DACs is the Sound BlasterX AE-5. This DAC has been designed for true gamers who want to immerse themselves in their gameplay.

The Sound BlasterX uses Xamp technology which is a newer sound bi-amplification technology that delivers some of the best sound over your headphones. It supports DTS and Dolby Digital audio formats and can deliver theater-grade audio.

This DAC is equipped with a 32-bit Sabre ultra-class PCI-e sound card that is known to deliver zero lag audio making it perfect for those online multiplayer games.

It’s a reliable unit that comes with ingenious RGB LED lights which give it a futuristic feel and looks really good when it’s powered on. It’s truly one of the best DAC under $500 and while it may not be compatible with all devices, it’s surely one of our favorites.

Info

Chipset – 32-bit Sabre DAC chip

DNR – 122dB

Meridian Director USB DAC

Best DAC under $500

The Meridian Director is a USB DAC that’s handmade in the UK to be an extremely high-performance, sleek device that is ideal for daily use. It’s lightweight and offers highly effective upsampling of audio source inputs.

It comes with some impressive sound modification abilities and if you have a source that offers low standard performance, the Director DAC will boost the audio quality so you don’t miss out on any details.

The Director comes equipped with 800 series components and has remarkable sound modification capabilities thanks to the apodizing methods and the devices upsampling rates. 

It offers higher performance than any of the other DACs on this list and while it might be the most expensive DAC here, it’s definitely one of the best DAC under $500.

Info

Chipset – XMOS L2 Processor with a Crystal Semiconductor CS4353 DAC chip

Connectivity – S/PDIF / USB

SMSL Sanskrit 6th Analog Audio Decoder

The SMSL Sanskrit is another portable DAC that has been designed to tackle high audio conversion and feature a reasonable number of functions that make it pretty interesting. 

It offers an impressive 192 kHz sampling rate and allows multiple device inputs such as PC-USB or optical. Basically, it will convert audio signals from smartphones, computers, TV’s and more via one of the various audio input modes.

This DAC has the ability to cut down on traditional power consumption 0.8W when the DAC is on but in rest mode. Also, it delivers an average of 3.1W  power use output when it’s running at peak performance.

While the SMSL Sanskrit is a great DAC to buy under $500, it’s not built to be portable and would have to be left in a fixed position near your speaker set up and audio system.

Info

Chipset – CM6631A, WM8740, JRC2114MD

Power Output – 3.1W

Cambridge Audio Azur DACMagic Plus

One of the best looking DAC on this list is the Cambridge Audio Azur DACMagic Plus. This bad boy is a top-quality high-end DAC that is suitable for high-end audio conversion with absolutely no lag in the audio.

The Azur DACMagic plus lets you connect your devices wirelessly and uses a 24-bit twin Wolfson chip to ensure that you receive high-quality audio playback at all times.

It’s also one of the best DACs under $500 simply because of its ability to connect with any input device and convert the audio signals real-time.

You can connect more than one device to the Azur DACMagic at a single time and with Bluetooth, you can position the DAC at one location and connect your speakers or receiver to it wirelessly.

Info

Chipset – 24-bit Twin Wolfson 

Audio Output Upsampling – 24-bit/384kHz

Sony PHA1A Portable High-Res DAC

Sony is well known for their entertainment systems and audio equipment around the world and one of their most promising portable audio DACs is the PHA1A High-Res DAC. This is one of the most ergonomically designed DACs on this list and is built to be quite durable.

The PHA1A can decode almost any format at a frequency of 192 kHz/24-bits which is actually pretty impressive. It’s equipped with the WM8740 Wolfson structure for sound amplification and features a large battery that can last for upwards of 6 hours on a single charge.

This lightweight DAC can easily be pocketed and runs well with a pair of headphones or earphones. Though this DAC performs well with headphones, it’s actually not great when it comes to high audio conversion purposes. It’s still a good buy for those looking for something that’s easily portable and comes with a decent battery life.

Info

Chipset – WM8740 Wolfson

Frequency Support – PCM 192kHz/24-bit

Best DAC under $500 – Buying Guide

Before buying a DAC, you need to consider certain factors. The following points are what we took into consideration while carefully choosing the best DAC’s under $500.

  • Power Usage – When running a DAC, the most important thing to consider is how much power the device consumes when functioning. You will definitely not want something that’s going to send your electricity bill shooting through the roof. Make sure you check the power consumption levels before buying a DAC as some devices have been designed to run on minimal current
  • Sound Output Capabilities – DACs are designed with specific thresholds in mind. Some DACs may be able to replicate and amplify audio signals up to 14 times the normal levels such as the Sony PHA1A whereas others will not be able to go beyond five. Check the output tendencies of the DAC before buying one.
  • Design & Size – Size and portability of the DAC are important as well. DACs come in different sizes with a range of designs to choose from. This is more of a personal choice and you would have to choose a DAC based on your requirements.
  • Connectivity – You must pick the DAC after considering what you’re going to connect it to. You can choose either a DAC that’s compatible with your PC via USB or you can choose a DAC that’s compatible with your smartphone via a 3.5mm audio jack.

Also Read:

You may also like

Leave a Comment