Best HiFi DAC for Audiophiles

Best HiFi DAC for Audiophiles

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Best HiFi DAC for Audiophiles
2022

There are plenty of choices out there for audiophiles looking for the best HiFi DAC for their needs. I’m a huge believer that finding the best audiophile DAC is a very personal journey, but that doesn’t mean I can’t help you along the way (think of me like Gandalf The Audiophile, or something).

I’ve included the best of the best from a range of HiFi DAC options. So, if you’re looking for pure audio conversion without an amp, you’ll find that. There are also portable options for those looking for the best HiFi DAC to use with your smartphone.

Editor’s Pick
Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M front view
The Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M was new for early 2021 and added to an already impressive range of HiFi gear. It is a big brother to the already very successful DacMagic 100 model which has been rattling around since about 2012. This unit is a massive punch in the face of goodness and deserves the Editor’s Pick badge from this list.

These are some of the best HiFi DACs audiophiles, any of which can easily become your go-to audio converter.

1: Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M

Editor’s Choice

Type: Desktop

Outputs: Headphones, RCA, XLR

Inputs: Bluetooth, Optical, Coaxial, USB

Headphones Amp: Yes

DAC Chip: Dual ESS ES9028Q2M DACs

File Support: PCM, DSD, DoP, MQA

Bluetooth: Yes

Max Sampling Rate: 32-bit/768kHz

MQA: Yes

DSD: Yes

Cambridge Audio DacMagic-200M right angled front view
The Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M front view | Cambridge Audio

The Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M is one of the most impressive mid-range DAC models on the market. Seriously. I find that the way it handles tone quality — especially at the higher ends — is super rare unless you go above the 1k mark. The fact that it supports PCM, DSD, and MQA processing at this level is also really nice.

What’s in the Box?

  • Digital-to-analog converter
  • Power adapter with output cord
  • 3 AC power plug adapters (US/Euro/UK)
  • 1-7/8″ Bluetooth antenna

What we like (Pros)

  • Really nice, balanced tonal quality across the board
  • Impressive file support for a mid-range DAC
  • Versatile and packed with features

What we like less (Cons)

PURE AUDIOPHILE SHOP

Keep Calm and Bi-Wire Tshirt in Red - Pure Audiophile
  • Interface fonts may require squinting to read until you’re familiar
  • Volume control could be more precise

2: RME ADI-2 DAC FS

Top Contender

Type: Desktop

Outputs: Headphones, Balanced XLR, Line

Inputs: USB, Coaxial, Optical

Headphones Amp: Yes

DAC Chip: AMK AK44900EQ

File Support: PCM, DXD, SAD

Bluetooth: No

Max Sampling Rate: 32-bit/768kHz

MQA: No

DSD: Yes

RME ADI 2 DAC FS side view
The RME ADI-2 DAC FS | RME

There’s a lot of impressive stuff about the ADI-2, from the sound to an impressive array of features. If you love big, three-dimensional soundstages that deliver bright sound, strap them into your headphones. I was impressed by how deep and detailed this RME model is, especially relative to other DACs that base their technology on the AKM chip.

The ADI-2 manages to deliver quite detailed sound quality considering how warm and soft the textural quality can be. Its bass is tight and delivers the punch you want out of it. The midrange sound is very clear.

Additionally, if the out-of-the-box sound doesn’t fit your exact taste, the RME has exceptionally good equalization and crossfeed control to create the ideal listening experience.

What’s in the Box?

  • Multi-Remote-Control
  • Power supply
  • 78-inch USB 2 cable

What we like (Pros)

  • Fantastic sound quality, even straight out of the box
  • Well designed screen and interface
  • Lots of options for adjusting and tweaking the sound
  • Incredible value for the level of clarity

What we like less (Cons)

  • No Bluetooth
  • Menu takes getting used to

3: Matrix Audio Element X Music Streamer

Type: Desktop

Outputs: XLR, RCA, Headphones

Inputs: Optical, Coaxial, IIS LVDS, USB

Headphones Amp: Yes

DAC Chip: ES9038 PRO

File Support: PCM, DSD, MQA, MA Player, Roon, DLNA

Bluetooth: No

Max Sampling Rate: 32-bit/768kHz

MQA: Yes

DSD: Yes

Matrix Audio Element X angled front and top view
The Matrix Audio Element X | Matrix Audio

I have to confess that I hadn’t heard of Matrix Audio before I started hearing some noise (the good kind) on the internet about the Element X. It’s actually a Chinese company, which people are quick to associate with low-quality craftsmanship. Boy, would they be wrong here.

Clearly, the engineers of the Element X were very detail-oriented, because the details and high resolution you can hear in the audio are superb. It has also performed amazingly well in an in-depth audio analysis. It’s honestly one of the best HiFi DACs I’ve had the pleasure of using.

What’s in the Box?

  • Remote control
  • Power cord
  • USB cable with ferrite magnets on the ends
  • Two wifi antennas

What we like (Pros)

  • Top-notch sound engineering
  • High dynamic range (up to 140dB)
  • One of the best headphone amps among similar DACs

What we like less (Cons)

  • Higher price point

4: Chord Qutest

Type: Desktop (though very compact)

Outputs: RCA

Inputs: USB-B, Dual BNC, Optical

Headphones Amp: No

DAC Chip: Xilinx Artix 7 (XC7A15T) FPGA

File Support: PCM, DSD

Bluetooth: No

Max Sampling Rate: 32-bit/768kHz

MQA: No

DSD: Yes

Chord Qutest top angled view
The Chord Qutest | Chord

The Chord Qutest is a true DAC without any frills and no headphone amplifier. If anything, though, it reminds feature-chasing audiophiles that at the end of the day, wound quality is all that matters. The Qutest delivers a detailed, warm sound that allows you to distinguish the rich texture of different instruments while also bringing them together with fantastic timing. 

What’s in the Box?

  • 1.5m 5v/2a Switching Micro USB Power Supply
  • 2m Type A to Type B USB Cable
  • Raw Silk Drawstring Bag

What we like (Pros)

  • Very detailed sound that’s also warm and rich
  • Achieves boldness and depth to vocals
  • No noticeable residual noise

What we like less (Cons)

  • No bluetooth

5: Ultrasone Panther DAC

Type: Portable

Outputs: Headphone

Inputs: Line-In, Micro USB Charging Port, Micro USB OTG

Headphones Amp: No

DAC Chip: AKM AK4490

File Support: DSD, MFi

Bluetooth: No

Max Sampling Rate: 32-bit/384kHz

MQA: No

DSD: Yes

Ultrasone Panther DAC angled view
The Ultrasone Panther DAC | Ultrasone

The power of the amplifier in this ‘lil portable guy is quite impressive. At the end of the day, Ultrasone has made a highly portable DAC designed for enjoying relaxed sound with a very musical quality. Perfect for smartphone use. With a simple interface and up to 20 hours of battery life, it knows what it’s made for and delivers with force.

What’s in the Box?

  • Standard 3.5mm to 3.5mm
  • USB C to USB Micro
  • USB Micro to Lightning iOS
  • USB Micro to USB Micro
  • USB standard to USB Micro

What we like (Pros)

  • Up to 20 hours of battery life
  • MFi certified for use with Apple devices
  • High quality and pure delivery of sound
  • All of the cable options included in the box

What we like less (Cons)

  • Bass lovers might need to boost the low end (though it doesn’t muddy when you do)
  • No carrying case included

6: Chord Mojo 2

Type: Portable

Outputs: Headphone

Inputs: Coaxial, Dual-data coax, Optical, Micro-USB, USB-C

Headphones Amp: Yes

DAC Chip: Xilinx Artix 7 (XC7A15T) FPGA

File Support: DSD via DoP

Bluetooth: No

Max Sampling Rate: 32-bit/768kHz

MQA: No

DSD: Yes

Chord Mojo 2 angled view
The Chord Mojo 2 | Chord

From what I can tell, there’s no better portable DAC option than this bad boy right here. It’s not necessarily going to win beauty competitions, but you’re not listening to its looks. And, oh boy, does its sound deliver.

Chord continues to deliver with its proprietary DAC tech and audio algorithms to deliver big, deep, textural sound. Added battery life and inputs from the previous model are improvements as well.

What’s in the Box?

  • Micro-USB to Type-A cable

What we like (Pros)

  • A lot of tonal adjustment options for a portable DAC
  • Impressively big soundstage with great resolution and clarity
  • Smart and functional features along with versatile input options

What we like less (Cons)

  • Physical interface looks a bit crowded

7: Musician Audio Pegasus R2R

Type: Desktop

Outputs: RCA, XLR

Inputs: Coaxial via RCA, Optical fiber, USB, AES/EBU, I2S via HDMI LVDS

Headphones Amp: No

DAC Chip: R2R

File Support: DSD, PCM, DSD via DoP

Bluetooth: No

Max Sampling Rate: 32-bit/1536 kHz

MQA: No

DSD: Yes

Musician Audio Pegasus R2R front view
The Musician Audio Pegasus R2R | Musician

Musician Pegasus went through the challenging process of constructing its own R2R ladder, and it pays off here with the Pegasus R2R. There’s a natural, balanced quality to its sound, yet it’s not flat. You can really notice the depth, texture, and precision of the audio.

What’s in the Box?

  • DC power supply

What we like (Pros)

  • Really high end, thoughtful build quality, and design
  • Wide soundstage for impressive deep, full sound
  • Full-bodied, balanced sound

What we like less (Cons)

  • No volume control (though in fairness no R2R DACs I know of have one)

8: JDS Labs Atom DAC+

Type: Desktop

Outputs: RCA

Inputs: USB, TOSLINK

Headphones Amp: No

DAC Chip: ES9018K2M

File Support: PCM, DSD

Bluetooth: No

Max Sampling Rate: 32-bit/384kHz

MQA: No

DSD: Yes

JDS Labs Atom DAC front angled view
The JDS Labs Atom DAC+ | JDS Labs

It’s easy to get carried away when you dive into the world of hifi audio. I know when I’m deciding on the best audiophile DAC to buy it’s tempting to push the budget just a little bit higher…and higher. The JDS Labs Atom DAC+ is proof that you don’t need to spend tons to achieve amazing sound quality. For me, it’s safe to say that it’s the best budget HiFi DAC out there.

What’s in the Box?

  • 15VAC Power Adapter
  • 3ft USB Type A to Type B Cable w/Ferrite
  • Rocker Power Switch

What we like (Pros)

  • Fantastic clarity and detailed sound for the price
  • No frills design and setup, which makes it great for those just getting into HiFi audio
  • Impressive dynamic range for its class

What we like less (Cons)

  • Limited outputs
  • No built-in headphone amp, which is probably a downside for beginner audiophiles (but again, for the price I’d rather have the refined sound quality)

This post was last updated on 2022-06-10 / Some images from Amazon Product API & some links may be affiliate links which may earn us a commission from purchases.


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