A digital to analog converter is the ultimate accessory for gamers who also double as audiophiles. While your computer likely has an internal DAC, they usually pale in comparison to the external DACs currently on the market. Even if you're not an audiophile, high quality audio can make or break your gaming experience. In this roundup the VG crew researched and analyzed the 5 best DACs for gaming.
Best DAC for First Timers: FiiO E10K USB DAC
- LOW NOISE FLOOR — The unit has an optimized low-pass filter and selectable...
- DAC Chip—The Internal DAC chip is a PCM102 and can handle PCM files up to...
- USB CONNECTION — Connects to your laptop via its micro USB connection, which...
- PORTABLE DESIGN — A sleek, brushed aluminum shell and chassis allow for...
The FiiO E10K is simplistic, portable and the perfect choice if you've never purchased a DAC before. At around $75, it's a small enough investment to still get a quality product while also not worrying you may not need or enjoy a DAC. It is no bigger than a deck of cards but carries a nice weight to it. The E10K can power headphones up to 250 Ohms which means it will work with just about most gaming headphones except the very high end ones.
Where detractors may speak up is the DAC is only capable of handling a 24-bit/96 kHz PCM. For about $75 this is an incredible value. However, for certain audiophiles that may be too low. If 96 kHz is too low a sampling rate for you, you will likely need to spend more on a higher end DAC.
- Incredible value
- Highly portable
- Though PCM is great for value, can be higher
Best High End Option: Chord Electronics Mojo
- Authentic Chord Mojo that is entirely designed and manufactured in Great...
- Mojo, the ultimate DAC/Headphone Amplifier for your smartphone, iPhone or...
- Inside Mojo is a massively powerful headphone amplifier that will deliver...
- Mojo plays all files from 32kHz to 768kHz and even DSD 256. With two 3.5mm...
If you need something that gets over 24-bit/96 kHz PCM, then shelling out for the Mojo is your best bet. The Mojo plays audio up to 32-bit/768 kHz which should satisfy even the finest audio connoisseur. Put simply, the Mojo will satisfy everyone of your audio needs while gaming. The Mojo also is able to bypass headphones and be hooked up to speakers which is perfect for desktop gamers. The main downside for this model is that it costs over $500 - not really a purchase one should make if you're trying a DAC for the 1st time. If you are ready to upgrade however, make it the Mojo.
The Mojo, unlike the FiiO, runs on a lithium ion rechargeable battery, so if you are forgetful when it comes to charging your devices this should be something you keep in mind. Luckily it can charge to full capacity in 4 hours and then give you about 10 hours of functionality.
- Can handle PCM up to 32-bit/768 kHz
- Can connect to speakers
- Small and portable
- Fast charging
- Expensive, > $500
Best for Laptop Gaming: AudioQuest - DragonFly Red USB
- 32-Bit SABRE DAC
- 2.1v Output Drives Almost Any Headphones
- Works With Apple and Android devices when paired with a simple adapter
- Plays everything from MP3s to 24-bit/96kHz high-resolution files
The DragonFly Red is the size of a flash drive but packs a punch for your audio. We consider this the perfect DAC for laptop gamers considering it can just stick to your laptop's USB port. While the FiiO is also highly portable, it does comes with wires meaning it requires setting down somewhere. With the DragonFly you can just plug and go on your laptop.
Nevertheless, even if you don't laptop game, the DragonFly Red is still one of the best DACs around. Like the FiiO it can handle a 24-bit/96 kHz PCM ensuring a rich and 3D sound. With its 2.1V output, basically any headphone will be compatible with the DragonFly. You'll be able to really hear the full audio with even a medium range headphone. As a final note, there is also the DragonFly Black which is $100 cheaper than the Red. If budget is your main concern we would recommend you buy the FiiO over the Black.Pros
- Super portable
- Affordable price (~$200)
- Built in amp
- Same PCM as Fiio but 2x as expensive
Best DAC for Phones: Oppo HA-2
- High-resolution USB DAC for Apple/Android/PC/Mac
- ESS Sabre32 Reference ES9018-K2M DAC chip
- Two gain settings for optimal headphone matching
- Mobile power bank for charging your phone
If you are a mobile or tablet gamer then the Oppo HA-2 should definitely be in your arsenal. The entire design of the HA-2 is meant to compliment smartphones. Being the size of a smartphone itself, it easily stacks with your phone. 3/4ths of the DAC is covered in leather making it so it won't scratch your phone. To top it off, the DAC can actually charge your phone as well as it doubles as a charging bank.
When it comes to the actual audio, the HA-2 is one of the best. Like the Mojo, the Oppo is capable of handling PCM all the way up to 384 kHz. That being said, the Oppo HA-2 does carry a fairly big price tag - usually around $450 to $500. Nevertheless, when you plug in the Oppo you will most certainly notice a fuller and more intense sound than you would with cheaper models. Again, we would mainly recommend the HA-2 to those who have already experienced DACs and are ready to splurge.
- Incredible sound w/ PCM handling over 300 kHz
- Highly portable - size of a smart phone
- For the price - might as well go with Mojo if portability not an issue
Best for Console Gaming: PROZOR
- PROZOR 192KHz Digital to Analog Audio Converter: Converts coaxial or toslink...
- Input Audio Connector: 1 x Toslink, 1 x RCA (Coaxial); Output Audio Connector: 2...
- Supports Sampling Rate at 32KHz, 44.1KHz, 48KHz, 96KHz, 192KHz; 24bit S/ PDIF...
- Supports Uncompressed 2 channel LPCM or PCM Digital Audio Signal Output;...
As the only DAC on our list that comes with a RCA L/R connection, it is perfect for console gamers. Connecting your Prozor to your console via the red and white RCA cables and then connecting the Prozor to a speaker system will give you a fuller audio experience than the sound coming from your monitor or TV. The Prozor is incredibly easy to set up and is also by far the cheapest DAC on our list at less than $15.
The Prozor can handle a PCM up to 96 kHz with a bit depth of 24 - putting it on par with the FiiO. Now, at only about $12, the Prozor is certainly not for the purest of audiophiles. You should be expecting to hear sound that is better than your TV but you shouldn't expect to hear sound that blows your mind like the models we list above. The Prozor is best for Xbox, PS4 and Switch gamers who want something more than their TV audio and don't want to break the bank.
- Can connect to consoles
- Super cheap
- Highly portable and lightweight
- Audio only better than TV but not great
Do You Need a DAC?
In gaming, it's completely normal to spend thousands of dollars on improving the visual quality of your display. Expensive graphics cards and monitors allow you to see the minutest of details. 'Seeing' is just one of our senses however and audio is another part of the equation. If you are going to invest in the visual aspect you should also invest in the audio to get a truly immersive gaming experience.
DAC vs Sound Card
A DAC and a sound card are essentially the same thing. Where they differ is in where they operate and who they are marketed to. Historically, sound cards have been for 'gamers' whereas DACs have been for audiophiles. How this dichotomy arose probably stems from how sound cards are built into a PC (on the motherboard through a PCLe connection) as opposed to DACs which are external. Essentially though, a sound card is a DAC.
In our opinion however, external DACs (as we speak about in this article) are better than sound cards - or at least, are more reliable. The reason being sound cards are built within your system which is prone to electronic signals and noise. That noise is what causes your computer's built in internal DAC to be inferior. The electricity distorts the sound being converted within the DAC.
Admittedly, a good sound card will work to mitigate the amount of errant sound distorting the audio. With an external DAC however there is virtually no room for distortion.
How to Buy a Digital Analog Converter
When selecting a DAC the key metrics to watch for include it's sampling and bit rate, the build of DAC, its portability and finally its price. You want to select a DAC that will be compatible with your headphones but also compatible with your gaming setup. If you game predominately on a laptop for example you'll likely want to choose a DAC that can compliment the portable nature of laptop gaming. DACs also come in a wide range of prices - you can find some models for as cheap as $50 up to $500. Knowing what exactly you want out of your DAC can help you decide how much you want to spend.
Sampling Rate and Bit Depth
The two numbers we frequently cite above 24-bit/96 kHz or 32-bit/768 kHz refer to the bit depth and the sampling rate of the device. Both these metrics relate to the quality of the audio and the tl;dr is - the bigger these numbers, the better the audio.
Getting into the technical details - sample rate is the number of times your DAC will "sample" the incoming audio from its source. Essentially any type of audio - a song or the 'pew' of your gun in Overwatch - is not fully recorded. Rather the device samples parts of the audio and constructs what you hear from that. The more it samples, the more accurate and crisp sounding the audio - thus the higher the sample rate the better. Bit depth relates to the amount of information your DAC will sample. As with any subject, the more information you're given about it, the more comfortable you are about presenting about it. You wouldn't present without knowing the topic. A big depth rate means more information is being sample, thus leads to higher quality audio.
DAC's Build and Portability
DACs come in many shapes and sizes which is great because there are many types of gamers. Some DACs like the Chord Mojo allow users to connect directly to a speaker while most DACs like the FiiO only have a headphone connection. Some DACs like the Dragon Fly are just a USB stick which is perfect for gamers who are constantly on the go. Here are some examples of different DACs:
|Type of DAC||Example|
|For Phone||Oppa HA-2|
|For Laptop||Dragon Fly Red|
|For Desktop||FiiO & Mojo|