Top Picks Amp/DACs

AudioQuest DragonFly Black and DragonFly Red Amp/DACs: $99 (Black), $199 (Red)
The newest entries in AudioQuest’s proven DragonFly series are designed to enhance the sound from any PC and are the first models that work with smartphones and tablets. Which one is right for you? “If your headphones are tough to drive and you need more output, the Red is the logical choice,” explained audio maven Mark Fleischmann. “If they’re fairly efficient, you’re buying your first DAC, and you don’t want to spend much, the Black is the better value.” Either way, you can’t go wrong.” (December 2016, Read Full Review)
AudioQuest DragonFly v1.2 USB DAC: $149
Audio editor Mark Fleischmann revisited this new lower-priced version of the original DragonFly—which made its debut in Top Picks in 2012—and found its sound even more open than its predecessor. (July/August 2015, Read Full Review)
iFi nano iDSD Black Label Amp/DAC, $199
iFi’s pocked-sized nano iDSD Black Label is a full-featured amp/DAC that will coax the best possible performance out of almost any set of headphones. It handles PCM files up to 384-kHz/32-bit in various formats and decodes exotic file types such as DSD (up to 11.2 megahertz) and MQA (Master Quality Authenticated). (April 2018, Read Full Review)
Oppo HA-2 Headphone Amp/DAC: $299
Reviewed as one of five several portable amp/DACs, the Oppo stood out with its elegant leather case, slim form factor, versatile inputs/outputs, and excellent Class A/B sound quality. (July/August 2015, Read Full Review)
Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital Headphone Amp/DAC: $399
Pro-Ject is best known for its impressive turntables and related phono gear but the 27-year-old Austrian company is quite accomplished at building a variety of other audio components. The versatile Pre Box S2 Digital delivers a step up in performance with low- to medium-priced headphones, especially those with a treble emphasis, but it’s more than a headphone amp/digital-to-analog converter (DAC) — it doubles as a stereo preamp that differentiates itself with dual DACs, separate left/right signal paths, and support for MQA and DSD playback. (Posted 9/9/18, Read Full Review)
NAD D 3020 Hybrid Digital Integrated Amplifier: $499
An update of a classic amplifier known for its conservative power rating and impressive performance, NAD’s D 3020 is ready to handle anything you can throw at it—analog or digital. Most notably, it has digital inputs that feed a high performance digital-to-analog converter and a USB connector, and it supports high-quality aptX streaming from Bluetooth-enabled devices. How’s it sound? “Great! In a desktop configuration…the NAD delivered all the output anyone might wish, with never a hint of strain,” wrote reviewer Mark Fleischmann. (October 2013, Read Full Review)
TEAC AI-301DA Integrated Amplifier/DAC: $549
This smartly conceived amp/asynchronous DAC combo is loaded with versatile inputs and outputs and, when mated with good speakers or headphones, is a perfect low-cost way to get into High-Res Audio. (May 2015, Read Full Review)
PS Audio Sprout100 Integrated Amplifier/DAC: $599
In recent years PS Audio has established itself as an innovator in the burgeoning ultra-compact amp/DAC category. Its latest specimen, the Sprout100, is a multi-faceted marvel that rises above the competition thanks to its inclusion of a phono stage, aptX Bluetooth wireless streaming, and a generous selection of connections. All this plus an impressive 2 x 50-watt ICEpower amplifier housed in a machined aluminum case about the size of a cigar box. (October/November 2018, Read Full Review)
Elac Element EA101EQ-G Integrated Amplifier/DAC: $699
Elac, the German brand whose latest Andrew Jones-designed speaker systems have won accolades from Sound & Vision and others, has come up with an integrated amplifier that is both compact and multi-talented: The mini power block doubles as a USB DAC, a sophisticated room/subwoofer equalizer, a headphone amp, and an app-enabled Bluetooth receiver. All that in a chassis that’s only 8.4 x 2.1 x 11.6 inches. (April 2017, Read Full Review)
Arcam irDAC USB DAC: $699
About the size of a thick paperback, the irDAC is a PC-friendly digital-to-analog converter designed to ensure that music files, whether lossless or compressed, sound as good as they can. The box is equipped with coaxial, optical, and Type A and Type B USB inputs plus stereo analog and coaxial outputs, meaning you can connect it to a computer or any digital-output source component in need of a sonic upgrade. Reviewer Mark Fleischmann concluded that the irDAC “made nearly everything sound great.” (April 2015, Read Full Review)
Meridian Director USB DAC: $699
Can a digital-to-analog converter deliver a music experience that is transformative? Reviewer Mark Fleischmann thinks so: “I hooked the Director up to my desktop system, started playing The Next Day, David Bowie’s comeback album, and then had to hunt around the room for the top of my head because it had just been blown off. It was the voice that did it. The Director made the elusive Bowie stand out like a flesh-and-blood human against the skeletal backdrop of guitar, bass, and drums.” (December 2013, Read Full Review)
AudioControl Rialto 400 Amp/DAC: $799
AudioControl saw the need for a compact yet high-performance amplifier/digital-to-analog converter that could boost the performance delivered by many of today’s wireless music systems. The solution? Combine a robust power amp and topnotch DAC in one stylish box. AC engineers even threw in an AccuBass control that adds depth and richness to compressed audio files. As reviewer John Sciacca put it, “The Rialto 400 definitely succeeds at what it was designed to do; it provides a terrific amplifier and DAC solution in a small package.” (SoundandVision.com, Read Full Review)
TEAC AI-503 Integrated Amplifier/DAC, $1,000
The AI-503 sounds as good as it looks. Whether you’re powering a full-size system or playing hi-res music on a desktop rig, you can expect a clean, refined presentation, courtesy of the 503’s high-performance Verita DACs and high-efficiency Class D amp. The amp/DAC also boasts an asynchronous USB input, dedicated headphone amp, and supports Sony’s LDAC technology for streaming 96-kHz/24-bit files via Bluetooth. (April 2018, Read Full Review)
Wadia 121 Decoding Computer: $1,299
(replaced by Wadia 321 Decoding Computer) Tired of hearing music that’s been mangled by MP3? Want to squeeze every last drop of resolution from lossless files? The Wadia 121 is a DAC to be reckoned with—not to mention an awesome headphone amplifier. Signaling a new chapter in audio history, it will reveal new layers of detail with compressed music files and wow you with high-resolution files. Reviewer Mark Fleischmann reveled in the “unexpected detail, variety, and pinpoint imaging” he heard while listening to the Deep Purple classic Machine Head. In a word: Fabulous. (SoundandVision.com, Read Full Review)
Moon by Simaudio Neo 230HAD Amp/DAC: $1,500
The Neo 230HAD is, simply put, a state-of-the-art headphone amplifier/DAC that makes good headphones sound great and great headphones sound extraordinary. Veteran audio reviewer Mark Fleischmann heaped rare praise on the little box: “The Neo 230HAD is the best-sounding headphone amp/DAC I’ve ever heard…It was, to my ears, tonally neutral, with tight, unexaggerated bass, a fully realized midrange, and plenty of top-end nuance and air…There was nothing about the sound that I would change.” (May 2016, Read Full Review)

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