What is the best cheap DAC

Inexpensive DA converter in the test

USB-capable DA converters have quickly become the decisive digital interface. They establish the connection to a music source that would have been inconceivable in hi-fi systems a few years ago, the PC or Mac. For many music listeners, the computer has become an affordable and versatile player.

This enables excellent results to be achieved if the not very precise clock of the PC / Mac is replaced by a precise clock with minimal fluctuations in the clock width thanks to the asynchronous USB. Keyword: jitter minimization. This important task is performed today by high quality DA converters, which are also able to process digital formats with 24 or even 32 bit word width and high sampling rates. The same applies to the commercial S / PDIF interface (Sony Philips Digital Interface), which is available for CD players and streaming clients.

With high-quality DA converters you can not only ensure the playback of high data rates (Hi-Res), you can also redefine the sound quality of music data that comes from a CD, if the CD ripping has been carried out carefully. Many music listeners have caught fire and use this new opportunity with relish and with newly awakened fascination.

The present test shows not "only" the sound quality, but the entire functional range of high-quality DA converters in the lower price segment. The eight devices range in functionality from minimalist to extremely versatile. The simplest concept only includes a USB input and a 3.5 mm jack socket at the output. The most complex devices even allow the playback of DSD formats with a selectable low-pass filter or work as a preamplifier with an additional analog input and two headphone outputs. Two years ago the latter was only available for a relatively large amount of money.

In the end, the sound is decisive in connection with our hearing taste and the specific sound of the hi-fi system. The DA converter plays the most important role here, at least when we talk about the devices. We can only influence the quality of the recording indirectly, namely by buying good recordings and foregoing the bad ones. - But this is another story.

Source: Mac Mini with NAS. Audio player: Audirvana Plus. Amplification: WLM Sonata EL34 tube amplifier. Loudspeakers: WLM DIVA MKII and LYRA Reference MKIII. Music material: Different recordings based on CD, downloads or even vinyl recordings, mainly FLAC and AIFF files, 16 or 24 bit with relevant sampling rates from 44.1 kHz to 192 kHz, depending on the support of the devices. The only participant who can play DSD was also tested with DSD64 and DSD 128 material.