Best USB DAC Reviews 2018

Audio is now almost entirely produced in the digital domain. However, when the production process is done, it cannot be appreciated by the human ear until it's converted to analog wave form, which is what the ear and human brain can interpret. Doing this requires a digital-to-analog converter (DAC). Every computer-based device now has some form of converter that lets you hear the sound. However, the converters that come with them may not be of the best quality. We have done some research and now bring you five top brands that offer good quality USB DACs that will enhance your device’s audio quality. To make it easy for you to make a choice, we have selected one from each brand for this review so that you can look at them more closely. You may also want to look at other models from these best USB DAC brands, since they offer a wide selection of choices.
Overview
PROS
CONS
SPECS
Type
Sample Rate
Size
OS Support
Output Type
Our Top Choice
Syba USB DSD 192 KHz/24bit DAC
Syba understands that it's not enough to own a PC. There are accessories that improve your PC's performance, and Syba's on hand to supply them, making your PC shine.
Compact design. Easy to connect. Compatible with most OS. Supports multiple audio formats. High conversion rate. Volume control.
Can only be used to take audio from the computer, not into it.
DAC/headphone amp
192KHz/24-bit
5.5 x 2.8 x 2.8 inches/14.4 oz.
Windows, Mac, Linux, Android
5 Volts/24 bits/1/8,¼ jack
Best Value
AudioQuest DragonFly USB DAC
AudioQuest understands the importance of quality audio transfer and offers products that deliver effective solutions. These products are now sold in over 60 countries worldwide.
Easy to connect. Upgradable software. Clean sound. Good amplification. Improves sound quality. Works with many devices. USB powered. Portable.
May be too loud for those using it with a PC.
DAC/headphone amp
96KHz/24-bit
2.4 x 0.8 x 1.2 inches/3.5 oz.
Mac, IOS, Windows, Android
1/8 jack output
Creative Sound Blaster X7 USB DAC
Creative is a leading audio solution provider. For over 35 years, it's been making audio devices that improve the multimedia operations of our PCs.
Unique design. Lightweight. 5.1 surround sound. Microphone input. Multiple outputs. Compatible with most OS. Bluetooth connectivity. HD sound. Powerful output.
Does not support voice communication for gaming consoles.
DAC/amplifier
192KHz/24-bit
7.8 x 10.6 x 9.5 inches/4.8 lbs
Windows, Mac, IOS, Android
1.5 A/1/4, 1/8 jack outputs
FiiO Olympus E10K USB DAC
FiiO is a designer and manufacturer of portable music devices. It's committed to making products that meet the highest of quality standards while also being affordable.
Compact design. Solidly built. Easy to install and use. Multiple output options. Good sound quality. Volume control. Bass boost switch. Gain boost. Compatible with most OS.
Might be underpowered with some devices.
DAC/headphone amp
96KHz/24-bit
3.1 x 0.8 x 1.9 inches/2.7 oz.
Info not available
1/8 headphone out/1/8 line out
Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS USB DAC
Cambridge Audio prides itself on the quality of its products, which deliver a transparent and uncolored reproduction of the original sound as recorded.
Compact design. Offers color options. Sturdily built. Lightweight. Easy to use. Compatible with many devices. Great sound. Good volume. High signal-to-noise ratio.
It might get a little warm while in use.
DAC/headphone amp
96KHz/24-bit
2 x 1.2 x 0.4 inches/2.1 oz.
Windows, Mac
1/8 headphone out

(Updated )
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How Do I Choose the Best USB DAC?

When Dr Dre launched the Beats by Dre headphones, he was asked what motivated him to take on the project. His answer was that he got tired of spending time in the studio producing awesome music, only to have some of it lost in transit due to the quality of headphones most people were using. What he was basically saying was that you were only hearing part of the music.

Well, Dr Dre was marketing his own headphones, so he wouldn’t have mentioned another important factor that affects the quality of the sound we listen to on devices. Even with the best headphones (including Beats by Dre), without a good digital-to-analog converter, we will still be listening to only some of the music.

Audio production is now done almost entirely in the digital domain, requiring that the finished product be converted to analog sound waves that the human ear and brain can understand. It's now more affordable to do a whole project entirely within a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) than it is to record analog sounds such as live drums, live bass, guitars and the like. Doing that would require a good quality analog-to-digital converter to convert the analog waves into digital binary signals.

When you play music from your mp3 player or smartphone, what you hear is only as good as the converter that comes with the device, which may not be of the best quality. This means it won't give you the clearest presentation of the sound. When you get a top-quality USB DAC and listen to the same songs, you'll be listening to the music in its full sonic glory, where every hitherto hidden tone, nuance, and swell, not to forget flat notes, room and equipment noise, and other errors will be brought to your attention. You may then end up loving the song more, or less.

We want you to enjoy any sound you listen to totally and in full, so we have written this guide to help you find the best USB DAC for your devices. We will explain a few things that you need to look for, and how to determine which model or brand is best for you based on the features they offer. If you are ready to enjoy sound at a whole new level, continue with us on this exploration.
Price
Sound and audio products can have a lot of features differentiating them from each other. The same is true of a USB DAC. The features offered by a USB DAC will determine its cost. Some features that will affect the cost of a US DAC include its size, its sample rate, its connectivity, and its power output. You certainly will not expect a USB DAC that delivers 100 watts of audio power to cost the same as one that delivers just 105mW. One thing to note is that it will cost you more to get one with more features. The more the features you want, the more you should expect to pay.

We found that you can get a good USB DAC for between $75 and $400. If your budget falls in this range, you can get something you will be happy with. If you can go higher than this, then by all means go ahead and get one that is higher quality and that offers more features.

Beware of cheap USB DACs. Yes, you are sure to find cheap models, but will they serve you well? It's better to stick with the converter that comes with your device than to get something that won't be an improvement on what you already have. Spend a little more to get something that will offer you good value.
Features
To get a USB DAC that will really offer you the value and audio enhancement you have dreamt of, you will need to look at some important factors. It's important to consider these factors, as that is the only way to be able to determine exactly what features are critical for you. Some of these important qualities include:
  • Type
  • Sample rate
  • Power requirements
  • Audio power output
  • Device compatibility
  • Connectivity
  • Use
  • Controls
  • Source material
Let’s now look closely at these.
Construction and Design
When we talk about USB DACs, we are referring to a type of digital-to-analog converter that is connected via USB. However, within this group you will still find different types. Which one to get will depend on your preference and requirements.

The thumb drive type of USB DAC is usually as small as a thumb drive and has a 1/8 headphone jack output. It can be plugged straight into your computer’s USB port, or into your handheld device’s mini USB port with the help of the appropriate cable. It offers simple connectivity to your device and is usually very simple to use.

Another type of USB DAC doesn't plug directly into your computer like the thumb drive type. Instead, it's plugged in through a connecting USB cable. This type can be of any size and can offer any number of features. This group is where you'll find the higher-end models. If you are looking for portability and very basic features, stick with the thumb drive type. If you want more features and more quality, focus on this second group.

One of the most important factors to look at is the converter’s sample rate. This describes the level of audio resolution it supports. Professional audio resolution goes from 44.1KHz/16-bit to 192HKz/24-bit. HD quality audio usually has the highest resolution. If your converter can only support up to 96KHz/24-bit and you play a sound with a 192KHz/24-bit resolution, the sound will be slightly degraded. Go for one that supports up to 96KHz/24-bit audio resolution.

Another thing to consider is the power requirement. Some of these devices have external power sources or batteries that power them, allowing the USB connection to just be for the data transfer. Most thumb drive types are solely USB-powered. They will drain your device's battery, and may be underpowered when used with devices that cannot meet its power requirement. Note this power requirement so you know what to expect.

Look at the device’s output power as well. This has to do with the volume the device is able to deliver. A lot of USB DACs are listed as DAC/headphone, and these are perfect for people who just want to listen to music on headphones and earphones. These USB DACs will have power outputs measured in milliwatts (mW). If you want something you can connect to a passive speaker or use as amplification for your sound system, get something with a suitable power rating measured in watts.
Performance and Ease of Use
Be sure to get a USB DAC that's compatible with your device. Most are compatible with Windows and Mac. You'll need to confirm for Android and IOS devices. You should also look at the connectivity options. This is closely related to the use you want to put it to.

Connectivity issues can make your use of a USB DAC easier or more difficult. Connectivity here refers to all connections, including wireless and Input/Output options. Knowing what you can connect and how you can connect to a device before your purchase is very important. If you just want to listen to music or movies on your headphones, a device with a 1/8 output jack will do just fine. To connect your USB DAC to an external amplifying device or to a gaming console, you'll need more connection options.

Taking the time to look at your options is critical. Aside from physical connections, some offer Bluetooth connectivity so you can connect wirelessly to Bluetooth speakers or other devices. Once again, your choice should be determined by your need.

You should also look at the controls a USB DAC offers you. Ability to have control over as much aspects of a device’s operation as possible is surely a plus. Volume control, tonal control, input gain control, frequency cuts and boosts are just a few possible controls to check. Your device, your choice.

A USB DAC will improve the quality of your audio, but it won't increase it to more than what's in the original. The quality of your source audio is the first determinant of the quality of what your USB DAC will deliver. If the original audio is of poor quality, the best digital-to-analog converter will replicate the poor quality in its finest detail, revealing every horrible sound you had previously missed.

What is the Best USB DAC?

As with all things audio, there are a few things that will affect each individual’s use of a USB DAC. From all you have read so far, you already know a number of these factors and should now be able to identify exactly what you need in a converter, based on your own personal requirements. Note the features that are must-haves for you, and as we begin to review our selected products, look for any product that offers those features.
Our Top Choice
The Syba USB DSD 192 KHz/24bit DAC offers HD quality audio. It interfaces with your computer via the USB input, bypassing your computer's soundcard to convert your PC's digital audio signal to high-quality analog sound. If you don’t need the 192KHz sample rate and want something more affordable, try the Syba SD-DAC63094 USB 2.0 24 bit 96KHz DAC and Headphone Amplifier.
Syba USB DSD 192 KHz/24bit DAC / Headphone Amplifier

Syba USB DAC SD-DAC63107


Features
Every PC needs to connect easily to a number of external accessories to increase its performance and efficiency. Syba understands this, and has been consistent in its delivery of products that solve these challenges. The success of its endeavors can be attributed to its guiding principles of offering superior quality products that are priced competitively but affordably, and providing exceptional customer support.

The Syba USB DSD 192 KHz/24bit DAC is a simple yet highly effective way of delivering HD quality audio from your PC to your headphones. With its simple USB input, this converter will bypass your PC's soundcard, transferring its digital audio signal through the USB connection. It then converts the sound to pristine analog audio, which is routed through the headphone output. Its other features are listed below:
  • USB DAC and headphone amp – Doubles as a digital to analog converter and a headphone amplifier
  • 192HKz/24 bit conversion rate – Offers the highest professionally used conversion rate
  • Capable of playing back DSD 5.6M and 192KHz/24 bit PCM audio – Offers more playback options
  • Compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux – Can be used on the popular operating systems
  • Volume control – Control how much volume goes into your output
  • 1/4 and 1/8 output jacks – No need for jack adapters
Best Value
The AudioQuest DragonFly USB DAC/Headphone Amplifier is a simple digital-to-analog conversion solution. With its low power consumption design and compatibility with common operating systems, you can use it with most devices. Would you like to have one that comes bundled with a cable for Android devices? Get the AudioQuest Dragonfly RED USB Stick DAC and DragonTail Bundle.
AudioQuest DragonFly Black USB DAC / Headphone Amplifier

AudioQuest USB DAC - Dragonfly Nero


Features
AudioQuest was born out of a search for the best audio transfer solution. It's constantly fine-tuning its cables to achieve a greater level of sonic quality. The founder, Bill Low, insisted that the company's success must be based on the performance of its products. The fact that it's now one of the largest suppliers of cables to professional audio outfits, both in the US and in over 60 countries around the world, is a clear indication that AudioQuest's products have been found to be impressive.

The AudioQuest DragonFly USB DAC/Headphone Amplifier provides a simple but effective way to convert your digital audio signals to professional quality analog sound. It's designed to have a low power consumption, and it can conveniently be used with most devices. Its low noise power supply ensures a high signal-to-noise ratio, so you can enjoy more of the sound and less of the instrument noise. The 1/8 output jack lets you connect your headphones easily. Some of its other features have been listed below for your benefit:
  • Supports up to 96HKz/24-bit sample rate – Can easily convert most professional audio formats
  • Hybrid-PLL clock system – Keeps your audio data transfer in sync
  • Upgradable software – Ensures your devices stays up to date
  • LED light – Lights up to show status or sample rate of sound being received
  • Travel pouch – For easy movement and storage
  • 100% money back guarantee if not satisfied – An assurance of quality
The Creative Sound Blaster X7 is a high-performing, pro-level digital-to-analog converter and amplifier with a 192/24-bit sample rate. The 100-watt audio output and 5.1 surround output offer immersive sound. Need something that is portable and much more affordable? See the Creative Sound BlasterX G1 7.1 Portable HD Gaming USB DAC and Sound Card.
Creative Sound Blaster X7 High-Resolution USB DAC / Headphone Amplifier with Bluetooth

Creative USB DAC X7


Features
From its opening, Creative foresaw that multimedia would become a major part of PC operations. It began producing audio interfaces that improved PC audio quality. Today, it delivers even higher quality audio products that now include top wireless speakers, portable media accessories, and high-fidelity headphones. Creative is a brand that many have come to trust.

Lovers of great audio now have easy access to the quality of audio they desire with the Creative Sound Blaster X7. It supports up to 192KHz/24-bit, which is the highest professional level conversion rate. This USB DAC delivers HD quality audio, and a 100-watt audio output so you can enjoy thumping sounds through appropriate passive speakers. The 5.1 surround output offers total audio immersion for the best of entertainment bliss. Some other qualities of this USB DAC include:
  • Bluetooth connectivity – An easy way to connect to your Bluetooth-enabled devices
  • Compatibility with most operating systems – Works with Windows, Mac, Android
  • Built-in battery – Offers about 20 hours of playtime
  • Charging port – Easily connect your phone or other mobile devices for charging
  • Microphone input – Lets you connect your microphone for video calls or webcasts
  • Headphone stand – A convenient place to hang your headphones
Enhance your computer audio with the FiiO Olympus 2-E10K. This digital-to-analog converter and headphone amp supports up to 92KHz/24-bit audio resolution, has a bass boost switch, and offers multiple output options. Do you need a more portable model? Consider the FiiO Q1 Portable USB DAC Amplifier.
FiiO E10K USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier

FiiO USB DAC E10K


Features
FiiO has a lot of experience in the research and development of portable music devices. With a commitment to improve how the world sees products made in China, it's constantly looking for ways to improve its designs and deliver items that meet the highest quality standards. With a number of products that have hit record sales, it's safe to say that FiiO is achieving its goal.

The FiiO Olympus 2-E10K is an efficient digital-to-analog converter and headphone amplifier that improves the quality of sound from your computer and handheld devices. With support for sample rates of up to 96KHz/24-bit, it will easily convert most professional audio recordings available. It features a bass boost switch to increase the low frequencies of your sound, while its multiple output options give you flexibility to choose how you listen to sound from it. This USB DAC also has:
  • Portable aluminum build – For easy movement and durability
  • 1/8 headphone out – For connecting your headphones
  • 1/8 lineout – Suitable for connecting to an external powered speaker or amplifier
  • Coaxial output – For digital outputs
  • USB powered – Will only work with devices that can supply the needed power
The Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS Portable USB DAC delivers pristine, transparent audio quality. It's compactly designed with a 105mW audio output, easy controls and a 1/8 output, providing quality and convenience in one simple package. Do you need a model that offers more advanced functions? Order the Cambridge Audio DacMagic 100 Black.
Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS v2 USB DAC and Headphone Amp – Available in 5 Colors

Cambridge Audio USB DAC DACMAGICXS – Black


Features
From its very first audio product - the P40 amplifier - to its more recent ones, Cambridge Audio has held on to its ideal of creating products that deliver "The British Sound." This is how it refers to the transparent and uncolored reproduction of sound. Its products do not add or subtract from the original sound, so you can enjoy it the way the producers recorded, mixed and mastered it.

The Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS Portable USB DAC offers you entry into the world of "The British Sound." This digital-to-analog converter is designed to deliver a transparent, uncolored audio, perfectly representing the original mix of the sound. It comes in a lightweight but durable aluminum casing, and will pump out clear audio at 105mW, about 10 times the power of your regular laptop audio output. Did we mention that it's really portable? It is small, but mighty. Some of its other features can be found below:
  • USB port – For easy connection to any USB-enabled device
  • USB powered – Gets its power supply from the device it is connected to
  • 1/8 jack – Connects to your headphones for your listening pleasure
  • Soft touch volume control – For easy volume adjustment
  • LED indicator – Displays the sample rate of the source audio
  • Compatible with most operating systems – Including Windows, Mac and Android
This USB DAC offers five color options: black, blue, gold, red, and titanium.

Get the Best USB DAC of 2018!

We have come to the end of this review and we are glad you are still with us. Having come this far, we believe you have gained some insight that will make it easier for you to identify the USB DAC that is perfect for you. Your next step now is to go ahead and place an order for it, so you can begin to enjoy enhanced audio.

Our Top Choice
Syba USB DSD 192 KHz/24bit DAC
Best Value
AudioQuest DragonFly USB DAC
Creative Sound Blaster X7 USB DAC
FiiO Olympus E10K USB DAC
Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS USB DAC