5 Best DAC Under $500 for Audiophiles (2021 Reviews)

Hi all Music lovers! So, are you one of those dedicated music lovers who love to organize their musical playlist from their computer to the apps like Windows Media player and iTunes to the music or stereo system, and looking for a USB DAC under $500? 

But first of all, if you’re completely new to this and you literally have no idea about what USB DAC is, no worries, we’re here for you to provide you every little information about it.

Let’s just move on to the quick intro first. We’ll start with, What’s actually a DAC is? 

DAC refers to Digital to Analog Converter. So, basically, the device converts the digital audio signals to analog signals. We all are aware of technology is doing wonders in each and every field, no matter what and how!

So, yes thanks to the technology in the music industry too. Also, there’s a thing that older music devices are still not compatible with today’s latest devices. But for those situations, we have these DACs, the digital to analog converter.

Not only converting the digital signals to the analog ones but also these devices are quite helpful for transferring the music or other content from digital to analog devices. No doubt, there are thousands of DACs in the market and when there are so many options, it surely creates confusion.

So, there’s a myth too that DACs are quite expensive. I agree, yes, DACs are expensive but not to the extent that people can’t afford them. Well! You can even get a good DAC around $100. And, I think $100 is the least amount that you can spend on the DACs. As I always use to say, for anything in this world, all you need is good googling skills and good research.

Indeed, the most important point to consider while buying the DAC is to get the best output but at the same time, it’s even more important to choose the best one that too in the budget that can produce that expected output and can stand by your expected performance rate.

Let’s have a quick look over how does the DAC works? 

You may have gotten an idea of its working by the name Digital to Analog converter. So, let’s make it clear, the DAC converts the signal of Digital audio from the computer and sends them to stereo and speakers, as an analog signal.

The soundcard present in computers can also convert them into analog signals and give output, but for a superior result, you can use a DAC and can give better quality. 

The DACs are available in the market in different price ranges, from hundreds to thousands of dollars. In the 2010 CES Las Vegas High-End audio exhibition, presented with a USB DAC of $37000, it was hand-crafted.

5 Best DACs Under $500

When it comes to purchasing a good DAC, $500 is the best amount that you can invest and yes, surely in this budget you can have the best from the lot. If you think that $500 is the high amount you cannot afford, no issues at all. We even have a quick guide of the best DACs under $100 and $200, you can even refer to that too.

But yes, I can assure you one thing either you want to have a good in the budget you can go for the ones under $100 and $200, or if you can afford the expensive ones, then here’s the quick guide under $500.

Our team has invested their precious time in making this list and then we come up with these 5 best picks. Here, we’ll get you the DACs for computers as well as headphones so that as per your preference, you can opt to go with any.

Using the DACs can really turn your listening experience to the next level. All these products are not here on a ranking basis as we have brought up the best possible in this price range. Also, the products are with 3-star and 4-star ratings. All the important factors are taken into proper consideration while preparing the list.

We’ve tested many DACs and finally come up with the best 5 DACs under $500 herein. So, let’s just dive into the list!

  1. SMSL SU-9
  2. Dragonfly Cobalt
  3. SMSL M500
  4. Monolith 124459
  5. Apogee GROOVE

1.SMSL SU-9

SMSL SU-9 is considered the best overall on the list. This DAC is available on Amazon at a price value of $459. There is no compatibility issue and SMSL SU-9 is compatible with LDAC, APTX, XBC, AAC, and even with the 24bit/192kHz UAT format.

The reason behind its compatibility with any of these two formats is its second generation XMOS that enhances its harmony and overall performance. The DAC has HiBy’s UAT codec functionality that can produce signals up to 1.2Mbps.

SMSL SU-9’s sampling rate is too good, i.e. 192kHz. There’s no doubt this codec performs quite efficiently and effectively so yes, there’s no loss, nothing. But at the same time, the DAC mandates that the source should be strong enough to transmit UAT with the same efficiency that it does and yes, it can be problematic somewhere.

There are multiple input options like you can even use the USB, the coaxial, or the optical cable too. Also, the analog output too can be used in two ways- either balanced or unbalance with XLR or RCA versions. One more thing, it can be operated in two forms again either constant or variable line outs.

Coming on to the second case where SMSL SU-9 DAC can be used as a preamplifier too. 

Moving on to its Menu options- The SMSL SU-9 DAC has input selection, PCM filter, DSD filter, sound color, reset button, the version, DPLL brightness, and pre-mode.

Pros-

  • Low dropout regulator for specific applications that have their own particular requirements like some requires two stable 3.3V outputs
  • ES9311 dual, ultra-noise voltage
  • There’s a 1.9-inches colored display that distinguishes this SMSL SU-9 DAC from others as it’s something unusual when it comes to DACs
  • Supports Bluetooth connectivity
  • Supports DSD decoding
  • Uses UAT (Ultra Audio Transmission) for sampling frequency
  • Coming on the 3 other settings- High 1.2Mbps, Medium 900Kbps, and Low 600Kbps

Cons-

  • It has 3 rubber feet while it’s good to have 4

2.Dragonfly Cobalt

AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt

is a USB DAC that costs you $299 and is available in 3 colors- Cobalt, Red, and Black. All these colors are actually good in themselves.

The USB DAC has no compatibility issues at all and with almost all the headphones including Android as well as iOS, it works really well, there are no complaints been observed so far. The Dragonfly Cobalt comes with the volume control that is there for balancing the signal-to-noise ratio.

This is something we can say offering you the high quality and that too in budget. Dragonfly Cobalt is the most buying USB DAC on this list because of its affordability and MQA record decoder.

Dragonfly Cobalt uses the latest advanced technology ECC ES90 ESQ38Q2M DAC chips to enhance its overall performance. And, these chips are more expensive and offer you high performance as compared to the ones used in the  Red and Black models.

It uses the high-quality microprocessor PIC32MX274 that increases the command speed by 33%. Also, the USB DAC provides protection against Wi-Fi and Bluetooth interference. Not only this, Dragonfly Cobalt comes with improved power filtering.

Pros-

  • Uses StreamLength code that supports the asynchronous data transfer
  • The sound quality and clarity is remarkable
  • Uses ESS Saber 9601 amplifier
  • Accurate digital control
  • Tuning clarity
  • 2.1V output

Cons-

  • No Bluetooth Connectivity

3.SMSL M500

SMSL is a brand well known in the world of electronics and especially when it comes to choosing the best DACs. SMSL M500 is available on Amazon at a price value of $420 in amazing black color.

The DAC comes with 7 filters that you can switch as per your requirement and preference as per your mood, the moment when you listen to a particular music type and you can just customize using these filters.

SMSL M500 also has DSD512 that is herein for supporting the native playback and what’s most attractive about the DAC is that it doesn’t require conversion for that. Also, when there’s no downsample requirement, you will get the digital audio up to 32bit/768kHz.

SMSL M500 has gold plated jacks both input and output. With this DAC you will have multiple input methods- the most common is the USB, optical, and coaxial. Just like the above mentioned on the top list, SMSL M500 also has RCA and XLR versions.

With SMSL M500, you can use the MQA format for your playlist that is responsible for faster downloads and no music loss at all.

Pros-

  • Impedance- 300ohms
  • One-click amp
  • 7 digital filters
  • Uses ES9311 chip
  • Comes with noise filters
  • OPA1612 amplifiers
  • 2.19-inch TFT LCD display

Cons-

  • Sensitive IEMs

4.Monolith 124459

Monolith 124459 is a Desktop headphone that is available on Amazon at its best price. The DAC is pretty much in budget and comes in Black color. It’s quite sleek in looks and to be more precise, the DAC is quite appealing that once you go through the pictures and the specifications, you won’t be able to refuse to buy this one.

Monolith is actually considered as one of the sleekest DACs and uses word’s high-end linear amp technology, i.e. THX AAA that stands for THX Achromatic Audio Amplifier. The DAC is well known for its balanced operation and all these THXs are settled down in a bridge-like format and ultimately maximize the overall performance.

Also, there’s a thing called mono mode, and all these listed DACs use mono mode. It falls in the category of dual AKM 4493 DACs and is actually one of the premium DACs with 32-bits stereo functionality.

There are no compatibility issues and the DAC is entirely compatible with almost all the headphones and provides an amazing sound quality.

Pros-

  • It has some powerful tools in it that are actually responsible for this outstanding audio quality
  • Sound tailoring
  • Provides the best sound even at low and high frequencies
  • Frequency Range: 60-200Hz

Cons-

  • For those who don’t like black, it won’t be that attractive as it’s actually for a black lover

5.Apogee GROOVE

Apogee GROOVE is available on Amazon at a price value of $200. Groove has an eye-catching appearance, it is less than 10 cm long and weighs approx 9g –  it may look fragile, but it isn’t. It has a black matte look on the front with a groove printed on it. It has a volume up and down button in the front. It has an aux port at the bottom. 

With an experience of more than 30 years of producing music types of equipment, you can expect that it will provide a good quality of sound. The grove gets along with every genre of song you play, it doesn’t disappoint you at any turn.

There is not much downside of Apogee Grove, rather than if you start finding, you will not able to find more than we told about it previously. If it could have that some extra touches of dynamic and timing it could have been unbeatable, yet it gives tough competition to the products in these price segments. It has a 4-star rating on Amazon.

 Pros-

  • Easy to operate
  • Good dynamics
  • Mind-blowing sound quality

Cons-

  • Response time could be better

Summing Up

So this is the list of the 5 best DACs for Audiophiles as reviewed in 2021. I am sure this list will not only lessen up your research but also it has something that you’ll surely consider this for buying them.

Also, I just want you to know that there’s nothing perfect on this planet. If something has one specialty then the other would be having some difference. Everything and everybody has its own uniqueness and no two things are the same. So, yes, you need to remember that you won’t everything on every other device and here you need to take a step back in your preferences.

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