The story of the DAC is a story of peaks and troughs. After a few years in the relative wilderness, the digital-to-analogue converter is back at the forefront of many people's music systems.
As digital music has surged in popularity, the role of the DAC has once again become important, helping you to get the best from your digital source, whether that be a laptop, computer or hi-fi separate.
From the compact USB DAC, such as the AudioQuest DragonFly, to more substantial offerings from Oppo and Chord we've been through all our DAC reviews to uncover the best DACs to buy, whatever your budget.
MORE: Awards 2015: DACs
Tested at £100
If you absolutely insist on not breaking three figures for a DAC, then you should be looking in the direction of the DacMagic XS (and dusting off your bartering skills, as you'll need to get a 1p discount or better to creep under £100...).
The best USB DAC if you're on a super tight budget, the DacMagic XS is also truly portable, requiring no external battery, and connections are simple with just a USB input and 3.5mm output. The sound is anything but, delivering a refined and detailed performance.
Tested at £130
The USB DAC market was pretty much kick-started by the original Audioquest DragonFly and the new DragonFly v1.2 has simply upped the ante once more.
Transparency and detail are what sets this apart from the slightly cheaper DacMagic XS, which itself offers a slightly smoother vocal presentation. Up to us? We'd take this genius USB stick at £130. That's still remarkable value.
Tested at £250
This £250 USB headphone amp/DAC is a lovely looking thing. Primarily designed for use with portable devices such as smartphones and tablets, it has a classy leather cover wrapped around the nicely machined metal casework. Being only 12mm thick and 175g in weight, it is ideal for using on the go.
It's a combination of dynamics, timing and detail regardless of the genre to which you’re listening that makes the Oppo so adept. Partner that with the portability, compatibility and creativity of the design, and we’d struggle to recommend anything else.
MORE: Oppo HA-2 review
Tested at £400
Its superb build quality, compact design, high-res support and outstanding performance (for the money) meant it had winner written all over it. Put simply, the £400 Mojo delivers much of the performance of the £1400 Chord Hugo (another Award winner) at a fraction of the price.
MORE: Chord Mojo review
Tested at £995
What happens when you combine two Award-winning products into one? You get the brand new Chord 2Qute – a standalone DAC that’s the latest in Chord Electronics’ hugely successful Chordette range.
MORE: Chord 2Qute review
Tested at £1400
This is a bona fide digital preamp with DAC, internal volume control, optical and coaxial inputs, two USB sockets, an analogue output, three (yes, three) headphone outputs and, last but not least, aptX Bluetooth connectivity.
And it’s portable! That’s right, Chord has even found enough room inside that petite aluminium casework for built-in rechargeable batteries. A two-hour charge should be good enough for 12 hours’ use. It’s really going above and beyond the call of duty for a product of its type, and should be applauded.
MORE: Chord Hugo review