There's a fair deal of familiarity in this year's What Hi-Fi? Awards DAC category as the Cyrus soundKey, Chord Mojo, Chord Qutest and Chord Hugo 2 all stand their ground to win back-to-back titles – the Mojo picks up its sixth Award on the trot, no less. But there is room for a newcomer for 2020 – the iFi Zen Dac.
iFi's fully featured, decent-sounding digital-to-analogue converters have impressed enough to pick up a handful of positive reviews in the past few years. Only this year with its Zen series, however, has the British company found its way into What Hi-Fi? Award-winning territory.
As we said in our five-star review, the Zen Dac (£129, $129, AU$199) boasts a "combination of features and sound quality that’s hard to better at the price". It handles 384kHz PCM, DSD256 and MQA files and has both balanced and unbalanced outputs, and backs that up with an impressively balanced and transparent sound. For the money, the Zen DAC is superb – and we hope the first of many What Hi-Fi? Award winners from iFi.
There isn't much to say about the aforementioned veteran winners in the DAC category that hasn't already been said, but the fact they have won 17 What Hi-Fi? Awards between them speaks volumes of their consistent dominance at their respective price points.
The Cyrus soundKey continues to be the go-to budget USB-stick DAC for most simply and most easily improving a computer's or smartphone's sound, while the more physically substantial Chord Mojo still offers more ‘Mobile Joy’ than anything else for the money.
Nothing has come into the high-end market in the last twelve months to ruffle the feathers of Chord's sublime Hugo 2 or Qutest either. Which of these loftier DACs you opt for depends on what set-up you have: the Qutest uses the same DAC architecture, software coding and frequency-shaping filters as the Hugo 2 but ditches its sibling's headphone amplifier and portability.
Statistics say that each of these five What Hi-Fi? Award winners has a 20 per cent chance of being named our Product – i.e DAC – of the Year when those prestigious titles are announced on whathifi.com on Thursday 5th November. The Chord Qutest was our Product of the Year winner in 2019 and 2018, so can it take the triple with a repeat win this year? We've only a fortnight to find out...