Music technology has subsequently perfected musical sound and audio outputs as a result of the global switch from an analog to a digital platform. But the majority of more traditional storage systems continue to be incompatible with more modern audio outputs, and vice versa. Thankfully, the digital-to-analog converter was developed to help.
Using this piece of equipment, users may easily move content and music from digital storage devices to analog output devices by converting digital signals to analog format. Nevertheless, there are thousands of DACs on the market, just as in any other sector. Despite this, the majority of these products command exorbitant prices, preventing those who cannot afford hefty investments from purchasing them.
Even while it’s important to get high output characteristics from DACs, it’s also important to find the best models available that combine the universal need for entertainment with a fair price. In order to find the finest DAC for under $500, we chose and evaluated over 50 copies. We reduced the list to the top 5 for your consideration as a consequence.
Table of Contents
AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt USB Digital-to-Analog Converter
- Native Resolution up to 24-bit / 96kHz
- DAC Chip ESS ES9038Q2M DAC chip with minimum-phase slow roll-off filter for more natural sound
- Plays All Music Files: MP3 to MQA and Hi-Res
In general, two categories can be used to classify all DACs. Home use models only require that you connect the essential wires; you won’t be moving the device around very much. The remainder are small, compact DACs that you can always keep in your pocket or bag. Dragonfly Cobalt may be of interest to you if you enjoy listening to music continuously when you are outside your home. For you, this model might end up being the best DAC under $500. It functions as both a preamplifier and a standard headphone amplifier. The LED indicator’s colors are also changed along with the sample rate changes, which looks great.
This device’s DAC chipset, the ESS ES9038Q2M, provides resolutions up to 24-bit/96kHz. You won’t need to worry about file formats because this DAC is compatible with the majority of music file types, including Hi-Res, MP3, and MQA. With the aid of a slow roll-off filter with the least phase, its chipset may give you a more natural sound. You can use a USB cable to immediately power Dragonfly Cobalt from your laptop, smartphone, or other device. It may be used with Windows and Android devices as well as the most recent iOS computers and smartphones, but it must be linked with an Apple Lightning to USB adaptor. It has a typical 3.5mm jet for output.
Cobalt employs StreamLength code created by Gordon Rankin for asynchronous USB data transfer, just like all prior DragonFly models. Furthermore, in accordance with the monoClock technology he suggested, the ESS ES9038Q2M DAC is the only ultra-low jitter clock that supports the operation of both the ESS chip and the microcontroller. By doing this, you can give the DragonFly Cobalt sound more clarity and detail than you could with a multi-oscillator DAC.
The ESS Saber 9601 headphone amplifier and bit-wise accurate digital volume control in the Cobalt DAC ensure optimum tuning clarity, a wide dynamic range, and an excellent signal to noise ratio. Similar to the Red variants, DragonFly Cobalt may be used with a variety of headphones, including those with poor sensitivity, thanks to its 2.1 V output voltage. This is the Best DAC under $500 in 2023.
S.M.S.L SU-9 MQA Full Decoder ES9038PRO DAC
- Complete support of LDAC,APTX/HD,XBC,AAC, and the exquisite 24bit/192kHz UAT format
- Apart from ES9038 flagship DAC we coupled this DAC with ES9311 power chip designed for ESS DACS to optimize ES9038 performance to its max potential.
- All digital inputs support DSD decoding. DoP64 is supported through coaxial and optic.
Anyone trying to get the most from their audio equipment would benefit greatly from the S.M.S.L SU-9 MQA Full Decoder. This DAC is certain to give you a listening experience unlike any other because it supports LDAC, APTX/HD, XBC, AAC, and the superb 24bit/192kHz UAT format. The performance of the ES9038PRO is maximized by the inclusion of a DAC with an ES9311 power chip made exclusively for ESS DACS. And because DSD decoding is supported by all digital inputs, this product is ideal for audiophiles everywhere.
This model’s second generation XMOS enables it to support MQA and all other significant lossless audio formats (full rendering and decoding). The system supports native DSD up to DSD512 and is compatible with PCM up to 32 bit/768 kHz. HiBy’s UAT codec, which carries audio signals up to 1.2 Mbps, is compatible with the SU-9 (LDAC has 990 kbps). Sampling frequencies can reach 192 kHz (and usually below 96 kHz). Remember that while this codec can achieve an excellent lossless level, it does require a source that can reliably transmit UAT, which could provide a challenge.
The inputs on the model under consideration are extremely flexible because SMSL enables the use of USB, coaxial, and optical as common wired inputs. The balanced and unbalanced XLR or RCA versions of the SU-9 analog stereo output can be used, and they can function as a constant or variable (with 99 volume levels) line out. In the second scenario, the SU-9 DAC may, for instance, be used as a preamplifier for active acoustics or power amplifiers. One handwheel on the front panel serves as the control; using it, you may change the screen’s operation modes, convert the DAC into pre-mode with a 99-step digital output level control, and switch inputs. The flawless bass management of this model is something I really like; the low end is forceful but completely devoid of bloat.
Input selection, PCM filter, DSD filter, sound color, pre-mode, DPLL brightness, reset, and version are among the menu options for the device. When working via USB, the DPLL option, added in the SU-9, enables you to alter the jitter filtering level. Apodizing, Fast Hybrid, Brickwall, Fast Minimum, Fast Linear, and Slow Linear are additional PCM filters that the SU-9 supports. 47, 50, 60, and 60 kHz are the new cutoff frequencies for DSD filters. The SU-9 offers three sound setting options in addition to the filters mentioned above: No filter, Rich, Tube, and Crystal.
Cambridge Audio Azur DacMagic Plus Stereo DAC
- ✓ PURE MAGIC – Cambridge Audio’s DacMagic Plus was built to transform your digital music sources into an immersive sound experience. The...
- ✓ ADVANCED UNSAMPLING FOR CLEANER AUDIO – Cambridge Audio’s advanced Adapted Time Filter 2 (ATF2) technology upsamples all incoming digital...
- ✓ EXPERIENCE HIFI USB AUDIO – The DacMagic Plus feeds digital audio into its onboard DAC to decode high-resolution data streams with up to...
You anticipate that the top DAC under $500 you find will serve as the ultimate converter for a variety of needs. You should evaluate Cambridge Audio Azur DacMagic Plus in this situation. All internal components are protected by a black metal-aluminum enclosure, which also plain looks good. There may be buttons for power, source, and filter with a pause on the front. Additionally, there is a sizable knob that lets you change the volume to suit your demands. You also have a 1/4-inch jack for attaching your headphones. The fact that you can see the devices connected to this DAC and the selected sample rate on the front panel is very significant.
The development of the popular DacMagic line is continued with Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus. It now supports USB audio stream playback with parameters up to 192 kHz / 24 bit with proprietary drivers and 96 kHz / 24 bit without drivers, which sets it apart from the original DacMagic model. Additionally, the Dacmagic Plus has a pre-amp mode and a headphone output.
The Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus DAC uses ATF2 technology, which was created in collaboration with the Swiss business Anagram Technologies, to upsample the signal. Using the 32-bit Digital Signal Processor Analog Devices, it enables intelligent interpolation of the digital input signal to a signal with 24-bit and 384 kHz characteristics. The signal conversion is handled by two Wolfson WM8740 Audiophile DAC units.
The device’s connectors take up the entire rear panel. You may connect any device, including professional equipment, to the DAC thanks to its USB input, two digital inputs, one output, and RCA and XLR line outputs. The gadget can also be connected to a BT100 adaptor (optional), which enables you to wirelessly stream high-quality music from your iPhone, Android smartphone, iPad, tablet, laptop, or any other Bluetooth-enabled device to DacMagic Plus.
Three filtering options are available on the Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus DAC: Steep, Minimum Phase, and Linear Phase (Linear Phase Filter) (High Slope Filter). The filter should provide the best playback quality for each signal source or piece of audio, according to the manufacturer, who advises trying with several filters before making a decision. You can designate a filter with a high cutoff slope for the USB input, a linear phase filter for digital input 1, etc., because the DacMagic Plus DAC remembers and utilizes a different filter type for each input. The best DAC available for under $500 is the genuinely universal Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus. The sound quality of music files will be raised to that of real Hi-Fi. This is the Best DACs under $500 in 2023.
Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital Preamplifier
We are really impressed with this most recent addition to the Pro-Ject Audio line-up. In the Pre Box S2, Pro-Ject uses extremely expensive ESS Sabre DACs in a dual mono setup. Up to 32bit/768kHz PCM and DSD512 high resolution audio is supported by it! Even MQA files can be unrolled by it. In order to provide the sound of this DAC a genuine sense of “you are there” to the music, Pro-Ject also uses their unique clock design to drastically eliminate jitter. You’ll receive digital connections through coax and optical fiber, as well as USB inputs for serving PC audio. The Pre Box S2 is made for home use and may be used as a preamp to drive powered speakers or as a stand-alone DAC you add to your audio system.
Schiit Modi Multibit DAC
- Featuring Schiit’s unique digital filter, and using the AD5547 multibit DAC, Modi Multibit smashes the high-price barrier in multibit DACs.
- Modi Multibit is the most affordable multibit DAC with a modern architecture—from any manufacturer, from any country in the world.
- Select different inputs using the pushbutton with LED indication conveniently located on the front.
We were unable to include this device in our ranking of the top DACs for under $500. The dual-channel AD5547 chip from Analog Devices, Inc. (USA) is the brains of the DAC. It plays high-precision files of 176 and 192 kHz in NOS mode – without oversampling – and accepts signals for processing from 16-bit 44.1 kHz to 24-bit with a frequency of 192 kHz. The input interfaces are coaxial, USB, and optical (Toslink) (RCA connectors). Microcircuits like AD5547, who are experts at building audio equipment, were “soldered” from very precise medical equipment, which has the job of correctly portraying the state of the human body rather than making it attractive.
A customized digital filter is another potent idea from Schiit Audio engineers that is utilized in MM. They called their offspring a donkey (“Burrito”) in the manner of the “Shiites,” but this is only sarcasm; the filter behaves with commendable obstinacy but is incredibly rational, cutting just noise and preserving valuable sound particles. By the way, the Analog Devices SHARC DSP chip in Schiit Bifrost, the older brother, contains the same same filter. the time when comparing price tags is enjoyable (at Modi 2 Multibit, the price should be divided into two).