The job of a DAC, or digital-to-analogue converter, should never be underestimated. The very best are able to breath new life into any digital music, whether it happens to be stored on a CD, PC or smartphone.
And in 2019 our What Hi-Fi? Award DAC winners offer something for everyone, with portable DACs suited to a life on the move in addition to more traditional models that will slip effortlessly into a hi-fi system.
The Cyrus soundKey won an Award last year and it's back in 2019 as our favourite DAC under £100. If you listen to a lot of your music through a smartphone or your laptop's headphone output, plug in one of these little critters and you'll hear an instant upgrade in quality.
If you want impressive flexibility married to excellent sound quality, then the Audiolab M-DAC nano (pictured below) ticks both of those boxes. It connects to your device wirelessly via aptX Bluetooth and allows you to plug a pair of wired headphones straight into its 3.5mm input. All you need to do is sit back and enjoy the excellent sound quality on offer.
AudioQuest's DragonFly range of small, pocketable USB DACs has consistently delivered the goods, and its latest model, the Cobalt (pictured top), doesn't disappoint, picking up an Award for best DAC £200-£300.
It might appear pricey on paper, but the Dragonfly Cobalt produces a stunningly clear and detailed sound for the money – one that's only bettered if you make the jump to a more expensive DAC such as our next Award-winner, the Chord Mojo.
A multiple Award-winner, the Mojo makes its fifth appearance at our Awards table in a row. There aren't many DACs with such a spread of talents available at this sort of money – especially the sort of money it's available for right now. Until early next year, it's being sold at a discounted price of £299 (opens in new tab) – that's £100 off.
Chord Electronics makes another appearance on our list of DAC Award-winners with the Qutest (pictured above). It's designed to act purely as a bridge between your digital source and stereo amplifier, so it goes without extra features such as wireless connectivity and concentrates on giving you the purest sound possible. And it sounds absolutely stunning.
Chord's hat-trick of DAC Awards is completed by the brilliant Hugo 2. It's a quirky and unbelievably talented box of tricks. Not only is there a vast array of connectivity options and features, the Hugo 2 delivers a wonderfully precise, detailed and dynamic sound that can't be beat at this price.
All that remains is the tough task of deciding which of these eminent DACs deserves to be named Product of the Year. All will be revealed on Tuesday 5th November.
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