A quality desktop DAC (digital-to-analog converter) can work wonders to improve the relatively poor audio quality of consumer-grade digital audio playback devices (computers, cell phones, etc.).
If you happen to want and need a desktop DAC, there are plenty of options on the market. Though the brand is far from the most critical factor, it's relevant to know the top manufacturers of desktop digital-analog converters. In this article, I've assembled what I believe to be the top 11.
Though obviously subjective and prone to biases, I've done my best to list out these brands based on the following metrics (in no particular order):
- Company reputation
- Performance of the desktop DACs
- Longevity of the desktop DACs
- Availability of the desktop DACs
- The company must currently be in operation
With all that being said, let's list out the brands.
The top 11 best desktop DAC brands on the market are:
Let's get into each of these brands in greater detail and explain why they belong in the top 11 best desktop DAC brands. I'll share their country of origin, a bit of history, an example of a standout DAC, and a link to their official website.
Related article: Top 9 Best Portable DAC (Digital-Analog Converter) Brands
The aviation industry is, perhaps, the most demanding in the world. It involves the highest precision and an utterly focused approach to ensure everything is top-notch. After learning his craft in this highly demanding environment, John Franks decided to follow his passion for audio design and founded Chord Electronics.
He put together a team with the best professionals and used his baggage of knowledge to create an outstanding line of products. Thus, you can trust every DAC coming out of Chord Electronics is reliable, durable, great-sounding, and ready to make history.
Notable desktop DAC: Chord Dave (link to check the price at Audio46)
In Chord Electronic's words, the DAVE is the most advanced DAC in the world. It utilizes a mixture of the most advanced technology available with some proprietary techniques to achieve the highest level of sonic purity possible. Furthermore, the name is an acronym standing for Digital to Analog Veritas in Extremis. In other words, the uncompromised sound coming out of the plethora of outputs in this unit is uncanny in the market.
The secret to this unit's power is its Spartan 6 FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) with up to 1,000 times more processing power than, for example, the DAC in your phone. Finally, it can also act as a headphone amplifier and digital preamp. It doesn't get much better than this in DAC land.
Chord Electronics Ltd. was founded in 1989 by John Franks in Kent, England, United Kingdom, where the company is still headquartered today.
Official website: chordelectronics.co.uk
Chord Electronics is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
This is another company that started working for one of the highest-demanding industries in the world: the medical industry. It is also another company that ended up building some of the most sought-after, robust, great-sounding audio equipment in the world.
It was the mid-seventies when Bryston made it into the Hi-Fi realm, and to this day, products like the 4B are found in the best studios and audiophile lairs in the world. Moreover, every piece of Bryston gear is put to a 100-hour test before leaving the factory and offers a 20-year warranty. If you're looking for ultimate dependability and top-notch quality, you have to check Bryston out.
Notable desktop DAC: Bryston BDA-3.14 Streaming DAC (link to check the price at Moon Audio)
This handsome piece of equipment by Bryston holds enough power and versatility to overhaul your entire Hi-Fi system and enhance your listening experience. To begin with, it can play files in 192kHz/24bits and is compatible with Tidal, Roon, Qobuz, and internet radio, among many others.
Moreover, you can hook up your own library of Hi-Res files through USB and NAS. Speaking of which, the unit presents 10 inputs: 4xHDMI, 2xUSB, AES/EBU, S/PDIF, RCA, BNC, and Toslink.
Also, the unit supports PCM (384kHz/32bits) and DSD-256 files and offers full control through a web-enabled device. Finally, inside the aluminum chassis, the power supplies for the digital and the analog circuitry are separated, offering a fully discrete, Class A pair of balanced analog outputs.
Bryston was founded in 1962 by Chris Russell and is headquartered in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.
Official website: bryston.com
After 15 years of working for other companies, Richard Schram decided to build his own and founded Parasound. Because of the network and experience he had previously established, the company was able to work with giants such as Lucas Films, Pixar, and Sony from a very early stage.
Parasound represents cutting-edge technology and top-notch craftsmanship throughout the catalogue at prices most audiophiles can afford.
Notable desktop DAC: Parasound Zdac v.2 (link to check to the price at Analogue Seduction)
This unit represents excellence in craftsmanship and sound, from the 1/4 and 1/8″ 24K gold-plated headphone jacks to the separate analog volume control for the RCA and XLR outputs.
Furthermore, the company included everything you need to control all your sonic adventures with one source. It can also feed audiophile-grade headphones (up to 600 ohms) with a separate volume knob.
Also, all inputs feature jitter reduction and lead to a Premium Analog Devices AD1853 24bits/192kHz DAC capable of some serious audio quality. Speaking of which, the oversized toroidal transformer in the heart of the unit keeps power silent and clean.
The unit also features Optical and Coaxial inputs to enhance the number of digital source connections.
Parasound was founded in 1981 by Richard Schram in San Francisco, California, USA, where the company is still headquartered today.
Official website: parasound.com
Parasound is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
The story behind the company is unlike most in this list. Both founders, Ralf and Matthias, had been working in the audio industry for 10+ years and were looking for a new endeavour to call their own. They met by chance through an audio magazine where Ralf posted a project that included designing an interface, level meter, and error analyzer.
Because the project looked interesting, the two engineers got together and founded their own company. With excellence as a flag and carrying with them everything they had learned so far, RME was soon the go-to option for audiophiles around the world. They are the perfect mix of German precision and passionate music lovers that create one-of-a-kind remarkable audio equipment.
Notable desktop DAC: RME ADI-2 DAC FS (link to check the price at Sweetwater)
One of the secrets to this unit quickly becoming one of the go-to reference AD/DA converters in studios around the world is the SteadyClock technology.
On the analog side, a finely-tuned all-analog circuit ensures perfection and a great sound when utilizing the unit's RCA and XLR inputs.
On the digital side, you can plug in a 2.0 USB cable and use the COAX and optical inputs. Speaking of digital, the full DSP bass, treble, loudness, and 5-band parametric EQ make the resulting sound as close to your taste as possible.
Finally, it includes an IEM output and a built-in headphone amplifier to feed audiophile-grade, high impedance headphones.
RME Audio was founded in 1996 by Ralf Männel and Matthias Carstens in Haimhausen, Germany, where the company is still headquartered today.
Official website: rme-audio.de
RME Audio is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
Jason Stoddard and Mike Moffat are confessed audiophiles who have been working together on projects since 2010, achieving remarkable results before creating their own company.
As Schiit, they decided to push the boundaries of what was known-ground. For example, they designed, built, and sold the first DTS surround processor for home theatres in the market. Also, they achieved what most companies can't, which is a proprietary multibit topology that matches medical and military-grade DACs. If you are serious about the sound of your system, you have to check Schiit out.
Notable desktop DAC: Schiit Yggdrasil (link to check the price at Schiit)
This unit is a great example of the medical-grade multibit technology by Schiit applied to audiophile-grade gear. Moreover, this DAC features a unique time-and-frequency domain with optimized digital filters that ensure the preservation of the original samples.
Moreover, the same technology medical staff trust for MRIs translates every bit of information with surgical precision to analog waves that can power audiophile-grade 600-ohm headphones. Finally, this DAC represents the absolute pinnacle of technology for Schiit and is entirely designed and made in California.
Schiit was founded in 2010 by Jason Stoddard (formerly of Sumo) and Mike Moffat (formerly of Theta) in Valencia, California, USA, where the company is still headquartered today.
Official website: schiit.com
Schiit is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
One of the most demanding sides of showbiz is live television. Nothing can go wrong, and stakes are sky-high when on the air. Such was the industry for which Allen Burdick started designing and manufacturing top-notch audio equipment. Moreover, he had to go the extra mile every time to meet the industry's specialized needs.
His commitment to excellence soon cascaded into a reputation for being the best in the market. The company grew, and Allen was forced to hire a team of notables that ended up shaping one of the most sought-after product lines in the market. Benchmark truly lives up to its name. If you haven't tested their bulletproof, great-sounding equipment, it is about time you give them a chance.
Notable desktop DAC: Benchmark DAC3-HGC (link to check the price at B&H Photo/Video)
After the utterly famous DAC 1 and DAC 2, the company overhauled the design to develop a DAC to rule them all: the DAC 3. This 2-channel device features an ESS Technologies ES9028PRO chip capable of lowering the already virtually non-existent THD and THD+N noise in the DAC 2.
This asynchronous USB audio interface features a digital filter design capable of producing a precise stereo image, remarkable audio detail, and larger-than-life headroom. Moreover, all the unit's inputs are fully isolated with Benchmark's own UltraLock3 jitter attenuation technology.
To use in a professional studio environment or on your own Hi-Fi stereo system, this DAC will surely enhance your sound.
Benchmark began in 1983 as the “Benchmark Sound Company”, founded by Allen H. Burdick in Garland, Texas, USA. In 1985, the company was incorporated as Benchmark Media Systems. Today the manufacturer is headquarters in Syracuse, New York, USA.
Official website: benchmarkmedia.com
Benchmark is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
NAD is an acronym that stands for New Acoustic Dimension. Its founder is a Ph.D. in physics and electrical engineer who decided to put his talent and knowledge to serve his passion for music. Thus, what you can expect from this company is nothing but the highest quality and groundbreaking technology applied to sound purity and power.
Since 1999, NAD has been a part of the Lenbrook Group.
Notable desktop DAC: NAD M33 (link to check the price at Crutchfield)
This is what the company accurately called an “ultra-high performance streaming amplifier”. This is no random definition since the M33 is much more than a simple DAC.
To begin with, it is part of the company's BluOS family which means you can easily integrate it as a part of an ecosystem and wirelessly listen to your favourite music in its purest form anywhere in the house. Speaking of which, NAD's own Purifi Eigentakt Hybrid Digital amplifier technology makes this a reliable, powerful, and pristine-clean sound source for your music.
Finally, 200W per channel with ultra-low distortion makes it the perfect choice to play your life's soundtrack through.
New Acoustic Dimension was founded in 1972 by Dr. Martin L. Borish in London, England. In 1991, NAD was acquired by the Danish firm AudioNord and was subsequently sold to the Lenbrook Group of Pickering, Ontario, Canada, in 1999. Today the company is headquartered in Pickering.
Official website: nadelectronics.com
Parent company: Lenbrook Group
NAD Electronics is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
Stefan Kudelski was a Polish inventor who helped shape the audio world as we know it today. He came up with one of the first audio recorders in the world. His brand was the go-to option for TV and film studios in the world from 1960 to 1990. In 1997, with that acquired leverage, know-how, and reputation, the company branched out to Hi-Fi products to huge acclaim.
Nowadays, Nagra products can enhance any sound system with state-of-the-art technology and top-notch craftsmanship. Buying from Nagra is buying decades' worth of hard work and uncanny talent dedicated to audio.
Notable desktop DAC: Nagra HD DAC X (link to check the price at Alma Audio – put in affiliate link)
Let's begin by saying that inside this stunning-looking device, you can find 37 regulated, ultra-low noise power supplies to feed silent power to this DAC and HD preamp. The result is nothing but pristine audio quality in every format.
Moreover, the AES-EBU, S/PDIF, RCA, BNC, and 2x ST-1 optical inputs, along with the 8-core X-Mos chip USB input, make this unit as flexible as it is powerful. Also, every input translates audio into DSD 256 to play nothing but the highest-quality sound through your speakers.
Finally, the digital power supply can generate all the power you need with 30 times less noise than the unit itself, guaranteeing a stealth approach to your favourite music.
Nagra was founded in 1951 by Stefan Kudelski in Switzerland as part of the Kudelski Group. The company headquarters is located in Cheseaux-Sur-Lausanne, Switzerland.
Official website: nagra.com
Nagra is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
After working at Hit Factory Studios in New York City with artists like Billy Joel, Barbara Streisand, Paul Simon and Skyline Studios with legend Nile Rodgers, Michal was ready for his own company. In this highly demanding, top-of-the-crop environment, he came up with the first pieces of Mytek equipment to optimize the workflow in the studio with artists the size of Mariah Carey.
Today, after so many years of hard work, relentless innovation, and an unbreakable commitment to excellence, Mytek is among the best audio brands in the world and a must-check before buying any DAC.
Notable desktop DAC: Mytek Liberty DAC II (link to check the price at Moon Audio)
This is Mytek's most affordable and easy-to-carry DAC. It delivers all the wonders you would come to expect from this brand in a comfortable size of 1/3 of rack space and at a price most audiophiles can afford.
That being said, this is by no means a small unit in terms of processing power or flexibility. The Liberty DAC II can play Hi-Res audio in PCM, DSD, and MQA formats through balanced and unbalanced audio outputs. Moreover, it features a high-quality headphone amplifier to give enough gain to even the highest-impedance, audiophile-grade pair.
Finally, it is capable of 768kHz, 32bits conversion.
Mytek was founded in 1992 by Michal Jurewicz and is headquartered in Brooklyn, New York, USA.
Official website: mytek.audio
Antony Michaelson had been working in the audio industry for well over a decade when he decided to start his solo career. The first product he made was soldered and assembled on his kitchen table. It sold out so fast that dealers started asking for more production volume, and thus, Musical Fidelity was born.
Antony created the type of equipment that he would like to have as an audiophile, and for several decades, he kept his company as a cutting-edge technology source. After years of hard work and continuous innovation, the company was sold to Heinz Lichtenegger, owner of Pro-Ject, who kept on Antony's legacy, making some of the best DACs in the market that won't break the bank.
Notable desktop DAC: Musical Fidelity V90-DAC (link to check the price on Amazon)
Besides the stunning looks of this handsome unit, the V90 is a serious piece that can enhance the audio of any sound system without an astronomic price tag. Also, it is a very versatile unit featuring dual RCA inputs (and an all-analog circuit) as well as COAX, 2x optical, and asynchronous USB inputs for the digital circuit.
This unit can play Hi-Res audio in 32 bits and features 24 bits/192kHz up-sampling and re-clocking on all inputs. Finally, the outstanding channel separation makes all sources sound just pristine-clear.
Musical Fidelity was founded in 1992 by Antony Michaelson in London, United Kingdom, where the company is still headquartered today.
Official website: musicalfidelity.com
iFi is a subsidiary of one of the world's biggest and best-known Hi-Fi brands: AMR. The products in the AMR line can deliver sound that would melt an iceberg. That same approach was applied to each iFi product but to satisfy a growing market for audiophiles in small spaces or on the move.
Thus, they created iFi, a brand that carries on the legacy of one of the world's most important audio makers in small formats and affordable price tags. If you are serious about sound, you have to give iFi a chance.
Notable desktop DAC: iFi Pro iDSD (link to check the price at B&H Photo/Video)
Have you ever heard about a tube-driven DAC? Well, this small device is capable of adding tube warmth to any Hi-Res, audiophile-grade file you can feed to it. As anyone would expect from the flagship product of a brand like this, besides the hybrid valve/solid-state design, it features the Studio Grade DSD1024 chip, making its debut for wider audiences.
Plus, you can connect to it through Wi-Fi and a plethora of digital connections, or go with your XLR and RCA cables to the analog side and make your records sound amazing. This unit is way more than a DAC; it can be the brains of a system offering top-notch audio controlled through an app in the palm of your hand.
iFi was founded as a brand of Abbingdon Music Research in 2012 and is headquartered in Southport, United Kingdom.
Official website: ifi-audio.com
Parent company: Abbingdon Music Research
iFi is featured in other top brand articles at My New Microphone. Check out these articles here!
Choosing the perfect DAC for your listening pleasure can be somewhat complicated. For this reason, I've created My New Microphone's Comprehensive DAC Buyer's Guide. Check it out for help picking your next favourite digital-analog converter.