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Top 10 USB DACs 2017

If you're looking to get the best possible sound first-class from your laptop, computer, tablet or smartphone, then a high-end digital to analog converter is what you want. Something from our selection of very capable USB DACs is surely perfect for you.

Apogee GROOVE Portable USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier for Mac and PCHiFiMeDIY Sabre USB DAC Digital to Analog Audio Converter 96khz/24bit ES9023+SA9023 + USB to Optical ConverterMeridian - Explorer USB DACAudioquest DragonFly USB DAC Preamp Headphone Amp Version 1.2TOPPING MK2 Digital Hi-Fi Power Stereo Subwoofer Amplifier 16bit/48kHz USB DAC Headphone AmpFiiO E10K USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier (Black)Micca OriGen+ High Resolution USB DAC and Preamplifier - 24-Bit/192kHz PCM and 64x DSDTurtle Beach Audio Advantage Micro II USB Analog & Digital Audio AdapterSyba Sonic SD-DAC63057 24bit 96KHz USB 2.0 plus Stereo Headphone AmplifierNuForce uDAC3 Mobile USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier (Black)

Peek-a-Boo Audio

Babies love to play peek-a-boo. One moment you're there, and the next, you're not. Then, you return, maybe making a silly face. It's a game that hooks into the binary nature of our world, of our perception, which, believe it or not, is the very root of computational algorithms. In the case of something like audio rendering, the more expansive and specific the logic, the better the sound quality.

Think of it this way, when you record an acoustic guitar through a microphone and onto an analog tape deck, that microphone translates the sound of the guitar into an array of electrical signals. Those signals, when magnetized, imprint on the tape with an equally expansive array of magnetic forces, creating a nearly perfect simulacrum of the sound originally produced.

To distribute that magnetic signal, those audio masters have to be digitized, a process by which each element of magnetic force meets with a corresponding binary representative. Sound cards in your electronic devices read those binary representatives and recreate their original sounds by way of a digital-audio converter, or DAC. The only problem is that along each step in the pathway, you sacrifice sound quality.

If you wanted to own an organized representative binary file for each sound produced in a recording studio, your music files would be enormous. The best you can do is to get your hands on what's called lossless audio, the file sizes of which average about ten to fifteen times those of the audio you can download from, say, iTunes.

That's because of hard drives, CDs and servers alike operate on finite amounts of space, so the more songs Apple or anybody can fit on their servers, the more money they stand to save. To get to this point, they independently determine which chunks of that representative binary map you don't really need to hear. It'd be like having an engineer from one of these music distributors come to your house at dinner time and remove the parts of your meal they figure you don't really need to enjoy. It's manipulative, and it's downright insulting.

Now, your computer already has its own DAC, but these are designed with the assumption that you're not interested in lossless audio, so their quality is severely limited. What a USB DAC can do, by comparison, is take your finest digital audio signals and convert them back into an analogue voltage with more nuance and processing power than the majority of sound cards on the market. The result is a truer audio experience than is otherwise possible.

Take A Bite Out Of Your Files

We touched briefly above on the music industry's compression of audio files for easier storage and distribution. The evidence of this compression is most visible when comparing the bit rates of different files. For example, if your music library consists of files downloaded from iTunes, the majority of them is probably going to come in at about 128 kbps, or kilobytes per second.

By comparison, CD quality is at least 320 kbps and lossless audio files often linger around 1,500 kbps, more than ten times the amount of data stored per file. Studio masters reach even higher, often breaking 2,000 kbps. Now, to be fair, a bit of this compression eliminates things you either can't hear or that you don't want to hear, like frequencies below and above human hearing that studio tape can pick up or like strange room noises left over from the studio space itself.

If you use iTunes, you can see the bit rate of all your files just by right clicking on any one of them and choose 'get info,' then the 'file' tab. The great likelihood is that, if you're reading this, you probably have a decent amount of high-quality audio files on your computer already. If, however, you see that most of your files are around 128 or 192 kbps, an outboard DAC isn't going to make very much difference in your life unless the DAC on your sound card happens to be fried.

Still, I'd recommend picking one up and also going out and investing in higher quality files for your favorite bands. The added dynamism and depth will render some songs almost unrecognizable from your current understanding of them.

Conversion For Encryption


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You couldn't have digital to analogue conversion without first having analogue to digital conversion. This is not a chicken/egg scenario. Like a tremendous amount of technology in the music industry, digital recording began in the once-exciting world of telephony.

For this development we can thank a British engineer named Alec Reeves, who first came up with a system of pulse-code manipulation (PCM) in 1937. The technology could render a human voice into a kind of binary and transmit it via telegraph. The system, like so many great telephonic inventions, saw its first use during wartime, as Allied soldiers used it to convey complex, encrypted messages.

To decrypt these messages, soldiers used the first DAC units known to man, which were simple reversals of the technology used to encrypt the messages in the first place.

PCM recordings found their way onto a litany of media over the ensuing 40 years, becoming an integral part of the music industry by the late 1970s, just before the release of the first compact disc prototype, a joint effort between the companies Sony and Philips.


#10.NuForce uDAC3 Mobile USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier (Black)


The uDAC3 Digital to Analog Converter (DAC) and combined headphone amplifier significantly upgrades any computer's sound output. It simply connects to the computers USB port and extracts every last nuance and detail from your digital music collection.


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#9.Syba Sonic SD-DAC63057 24bit 96KHz USB 2.0 plus Stereo Headphone Amplifier


Achieve maximum sound on your computer in just minutes! This Digital to Analog Converter allows you to bypass your computer's soundcard or headphone output to send the digital audio signal through the USB interface. Your sound quality will be pushed to its highest level in your overall music environment.


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#8.Turtle Beach Audio Advantage Micro II USB Analog & Digital Audio Adapter


The AA Micro II adds a stereo analog output and an optical digital output to a Mac or PC. The stereo output drives powered speakers, headphones or an external recording device. Because it uses a USB digital connection, the Micro II isolates the audio signal from the noisy electronics inside a PC or laptop to provide higher-quality sound. A built-in amplifier delivers crisp, clear sound on headphones or ear buds.


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#7.Micca OriGen+ High Resolution USB DAC and Preamplifier - 24-Bit/192kHz PCM and 64x DSD


The Micca OriGen+ USB audio DAC and preamplifier is a studio master grade digital audio playback device that supports high-resolution PCM audio up to 24-bit/192kHz and DSD64 audio. Its powerful preamp and headphone amplifier makes the OriGen+ especially well suited in a compact desktop computer audio system together with powered monitors and headphones. Use the OriGen+ to bypass a computer's sound card and unlock the full sonic potential of your music library.


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#6.FiiO E10K USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier (Black)


The E10K is the long-awaited update to the original E10 USB DAC and headphone amplifier. The FiiO E10K is a transportable audio device that can be used at home or on the go with any desktop or notebook computer to enjoy high fidelity digital music playback. Its USB interface supports up to 96KHz/24Bit high-resolution audio streams and can output audio to headphones, line-out to an external amplifier, or digital coaxial output to an external DAC. The built-in high-quality headphone amplifier is clean and powerful, with enough punch to drive inefficient or high impedance headphones. The fluid and smooth analog volume dial are ergonomic and clearly marked.


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#5.TOPPING MK2 Digital Hi-Fi Power Stereo Subwoofer Amplifier 16bit/48kHz USB DAC Headphone Amp


I went ahead and bought this already familiar with some of the other TOPPING products for my bookshelf speakers for my desktop. It's been working great now for many months and I especially like the headphone 3.5mm jack that automatically transitions the sound from your speakers to your headphones with a little click sound instead of having to operate a switch to change the sound. Really great product and I tend to leave it always on a day in and day out without it even feeling a slight bit warm.

Word of advice: Go ahead and buy the speaker wire amazon offers along with the twist style banana inserts they work great with this and are so easy to configure, plus you save a lot of money.


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#4.Audioquest DragonFly USB DAC Preamp Headphone Amp Version 1.2


AudioQuest DragonFly v1.2 USB DAC Plug AudioQuest DragonFly v1.2 USB DAC Into Your Laptop and Listen Via Headphones, Run a Mini-to-RCA Cable from DragonFly to Your Stereo, or Connect to Powered Speakers for Incredible Sound AudioQuest DragonFly v1.2 USB DAC: Product of the Year Award-Winner from Almost Every High-End Audio Magazine in the World AudioQuest’s award-winning DragonFly DAC/headphone amp is upgraded for even better sound! Refined circuitry between the DAC chip and analog output stage provides greater transparency. The DAC’s power supply is also fortified, giving your music more “grip” and greater dynamic contrast. A more direct signal path yields huge dividends in transparency and immediacy. DragonFly v1.2 provides brilliant sound from computer audio files, plugs into any USB output, and easily connects to stereo systems and headphones.


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#3.Meridian - Explorer USB DAC


Explorer replaces your computer's sound card with a USB-powered DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter) featuring Meridian's high quality audio circuitry and design derived from Meridian's award-winning Reference Series components, along with a powerful headphone amplifier with on-board analog volume control. Whatever your choice of content - iTunes, Spotify?, YouTube? or a High-Resolution downloaded file, Explorer makes it sound its best. Simply by plugging it in and listening to it, you'll experience significantly higher sound quality.


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#2.HiFiMeDIY Sabre USB DAC Digital to Analog Audio Converter 96khz/24bit ES9023+SA9023 + USB to Optical Converter


Hifimediy Sabre DAC was developed by DIY (do it yourself} enthusiasts in the purpose of making a really good but cheap DAC that could compete against regular commercial DAC's costing many times as much. It utilizes a DAC chip from the ESS Technology which range of DAC chips is highly regarded amount audio enthusiast. You pay for the sound, not the enclosure. We use a small lightweight simple box, so you don't have to pay extra for a bigger and more expensive enclosure. The power supply is very important for the sound quality. We use a high-end ultra low noise regulator (LT1763).


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#1.Apogee GROOVE Portable USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier for Mac and PC


Apogee Groove is the best portable USB DAC and headphone amp for listening to music on your Mac or PC. Groove takes the same high-quality audio technology found in the world’s most prestigious recording studios and delivers it to your laptop. Connect Groove to your computer’s USB port and your headphones or powered speakers to Groove’s audio output. It’s that easy.

Groove’s output provides ample power at any impedance and Apogee’s Constant Current Drive technology makes your headphones sound their best. You’ll be amazed by the difference in sound quality - the precise stereo image, punchy bass and stunningly clear highs.


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