It’s Black Friday and, at least in my neighborhood, it should be White Friday. It started snowing late yesterday afternoon and, by this morning, we had a nice white covering. Today, it’s your duty as a conspicuous consumer to go out there and do your part for the economy so, I’ve got a little survey of some mid–priced DACs to use with your computer and hi–fi system.
By now, you probably know that a DAC, or Digital Audio Converter, is a hardware device that converts digital audio, in any of several forms, into analog audio that our analog ears can listen to. You probably already own one…Your cell phone has a DAC in it to turn digital voice data into a conversation with your better half or the pizza delivery man. Your computer already has one, either in-built or as an add–on “sound card,” to get audio out of the box. This collection of DACs are for those handful of us who want something better than motherboard audio for their music and are willing to fork over more than chump change to get it.
Schiit’s Gungnir, a fine example of a reasonably priced DAC
These DACs are what I consider mid–priced; more than entry level offerings under US$500, and less than a pair of very decent loudspeakers at $2000. My somewhat arbitrary price bracket is based on what’s available now in very good quality converters, and is a wide enough range for a variety of tastes and budgets.
Let’s dig into the list…First off, the legend. MSRP stands for Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price. Analog; yes or no indicates whether the product has an analog input in addition to one or more digital inputs. The first of the two SR numbers indicate what is the highest sample rate the optical, RCA or XLR digital input can accept, while the second number does the same for the USB input. The H.A. column indicates whether the product has a headphone amp or not. Finally, the comments column mentions features of interest, like balanced internal circuitry, “bal-int,” non–oversampling architecture, “non-o.s.,” and other tidbits I’ll get to in a moment…