The best DACs of the year

A year on, and the Chord Mojo retains its Product of the Year title. We'd like to say it had a tough battle, but the truth is, despite a whole raft of new competition (including the Arcam irDAC-II), this Chord never came close to getting beaten. It remains the star performer among sub-£500 DACs.

It offers a huge proportion of the performance of Chord's more expensive offerings at a fraction of the cost. Even at £400 we consider it a bargain.

Back in 2012, the original DragonFly elicited a dual response of pure delight and 'whatever next?' Four years and numerous upgrades later, the DragonFly Black v1.5 is better-sounding, cheaper - and even more practical.

Sonically, it's a step up from its distinguished predecessors and obviously more talented than any of its immediate competition. For just £90 it sets a sonic standard that others can't touch.

Almost double the price of the DragonFly Black and, on the face of it, only a coat of red paint to show for it - at first, the case for the DragonFly Red doesn't look so strong.

But Audioquest has introduced a number of upgrades including a more advanced DAC and headphone amp and a high-quality digital volume control. The net result is that the DragonFly Red sounds better than the Black. Loads better. Even the comparatively lo-res streams of Spotify get a hefty improvement in the detail, definition and dynamism departments.

In the end, the case for the Red turns out to be strong - so strong that it fully deserves an Award of its own.

While the Mojo broke new ground for Chord in both portability and price, the 2Qute is much more the kind of product the brand was built on. It's a more conventional DAC, intended to be part of a traditional home-based hi-fi set-up.

The 2Qute's unerring insight and rhythmic drive are the stand-out qualities here, and those who don't need portability or Bluetooth connectivity would do well to consider this product. At this price, we haven't come across anything better.

This is the third year the Hugo has won this category. Despite the arrival of a number of talented rivals, this extraordinary and distinctive DAC continues to set the standard at the premium price level and the case for it remains as strong as ever.

There's plenty of resolution and rhythmic ability and the Hugo is a wonderfully flexible product. So wonderful in fact, it's clear this portable unit, three years down the line, remains a brilliant proposition.

MORE: Awards 2016: DACs

See all our What Hi-Fi? Awards 2016 winners

Andy Madden

Andy is Deputy Editor of What Hi-Fi? and a consumer electronics journalist with nearly 20 years of experience writing news, reviews and features. Over the years he's also contributed to a number of other outlets, including The Sunday Times, the BBC, Stuff, and BA High Life Magazine. Premium wireless earbuds are his passion but he's also keen on car tech and in-car audio systems and can often be found cruising the countryside testing the latest set-ups. In his spare time Andy is a keen golfer and gamer.