11 Best Desktop DAC/Amps – Great for PC and MAC [2021]

The Burson Audio Conductor 3X DAC/Amp. (From bursonaudio.com)
The Burson Audio Conductor 3X DAC/Amp. (From bursonaudio.com)

We compiled a list of the best desktop DAC/Amp combos that are great for your PC and Mac.

A great desktop DAC/Amp is possibly the only thing you need (beyond headphones and a source) for high-quality personal listening at home or the office. It’s a jack-of-all-trades that accepts a digital input and outputs directly to your favorite cans. In a perfect world, it has every possible input you desire, and can deftly balance driving super-efficient IEMs and power-hungry full-sized headphones.

Sure, you can buy separate components, but a good integrated DAC/Amp desktop unit simplifies things and eliminates the need for unsightly interconnect cables. If desktop space is at a premium, a smaller sized DAC/Amp combo can help solve lots of issues.

Specifications are important when considering what desktop DAC/Amp will be right for you. They are inherently complicated devices, and all the technical terms come into full effect when reading specs. Reading about frequencies, wattage, and impedance can quickly become overwhelming.

Key desktop DAC/Amp features to keep in mind are connectivity, format support, and amplifier power.

Important Features of a Desktop DAC/Amp

To choose the right desktop DAC/Amp, you have to decide what features are most important to you:

  • Format support: DSD, MQA, and/or high bit-rate and sample rate?
  • Variety of digital and analog inputs?
  • Power to drive a wide range of headphones?
  • Sound quality?
  • Bluetooth?
  • Price and value?
  • All of the above?

We’re here to help with our recommendations of some of the best desktop DAC/Amp options and a quick reference guide to compare the most important features. Comparing the specifications is a key part of making the right choice.

Best Desktop DAC/Amp Comparison Chart

Scroll to the right to see the full table

ModelBuyChipsetPCM Max Bit RatePCM Max Sample RateDSDMQAOutput Power (W @ 32 Ohms)Balanced OutputUSB Input TypeTOSLINK InputCoaxial InputAES InputBluetooth Input
Burson Audio Conductor 3x BUY
ESS9038 x232-Bit768 kHzDSD 512N5YCYYNY
Chord DAVEBUYFPGA32-Bit768 kHzDSD 512N1.4YB24YN
iFi Pro iDSD BUY

PCM1793 x432-Bit768 kHzDSD 1024Y[email protected]Y3 BNYYY
JDS Labs Element II Best Budget 💰BUYAKM449332-Bit384 kHzDSD 512N1.3NBNNNN
Questyle CMA TwelveBUYES901832-Bit384 kHzDSD 256N2YBYYYN
RME Audio ADI-2 DAC Strong Runner-up 💪 BUYAK4490EQ32-Bit768 kHzDSD 256N1.2YBYYNN
Sabaj D5 BUYES9038PRO32-Bit768 kHzDSD 512N1.9YBYYNN
Schiit JotunheimBUY
AK449024-Bit192 kHzNN5YBNNNN
SPL Phonitor XE Editor's Pick 🏆BUYAK449032-Bit768 kHzDSD 256N1YBYYYN
Topping DX7 Pro BUYES9038PRO32-Bit768 kHzDSD 1024N1.7YBYYYY
xDuoo TA-30 BUYES9038Q2M32-Bit384 kHzDSD 512N3NBYYNY

11 Best Desktop DAC/Amp Combos in 2021

Here are our picks for the best desktop DAC/Amp combos in 2021:

Burson Audio Conductor 3x

The Burson Audio Conductor 3X DAC/Amp. (From bursonaudio.com)
The Burson Audio Conductor 3X DAC/Amp. (From bursonaudio.com)

Key features

  • Max Bit Rate/Sample Rate (Bit/kHz): 32/768
  • DSD: 512
  • MQA: N
  • Bluetooth Input: Y
  • Output Power ([email protected]): 5000

The Burson Audio Conductor 3x is part of Burson’s flagship line, which means it is designed to perform at the highest quality standards. Burson is a household name in DIY circles, as their discrete op-amps are heralded as high current and high voltage upgrade options featuring natural-sounding harmonics. The Conductor 3x sports their newest V6 opamps.

The Conductor 3x is extremely feature-rich and is packaged in an attractive and modest aluminum case. If desktop space is at a premium, it can even be stood on end and the display rotates to match the new orientation. Neat!

The heatsink-finned aluminum case is touted as being far more efficient at heat dissipation, however, the Conductor 3x does tend to run on the warm side. Vertical orientation helps.

The Conductor 3x is a detailed and transparent DAC, with excellent frequency response, soundstage, imaging, and depth. 5 watts is plenty of power and additional headroom for almost any headphone. This all produces a natural, life-like, and engaging sound signature with both headphones and IEMs. Note that highly sensitive IEMs may have slight audible hiss when paired with the Conductor 3x.

Where to buy

Chord Dave

The Chord Electronics Dave DAC/Amp. (From chordelectronics.com)
The Chord Electronics Dave DAC/Amp. (From chordelectronics.com)

Key features

  • Max Bit Rate/Sample Rate (Bit/kHz): 32/768
  • DSD: 512
  • MQA: n
  • Bluetooth Input: N
  • Output Power ([email protected]): 1400

The Chord Electronics Dave (Digital to Analogue Veritas in Extremis) is unmistakably a Chord product. Appreciate it or not, the Dave looks like nothing else in audio, resembling a porthole from Captain Nemo’s submarine (the Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) as much as anything else. Clearly, it’s something special.

The unique case is also quite heavy, which Chord touts as crucial for minimizing vibrations and shielding the switching power supply, both of which yield significant improvements in sound quality.

As this is a Chord product, not only is the external design distinct, but the internals of the Dave are based upon Chord’s own Spartan 6 Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) chipset, rather than a standard, off-the-shelf, low power DAC chip.

The Dave is Chord’s no-hold-barred, TOTL device, and sports tons of digital inputs, however, it is quite simple to use with only a few options in settings.

With all that processing power and Chord magic under the hood, the pay off is with outstanding sonic performance. The Dave is an uncolored virtuoso that puts the music first. Imaging is precise, tonalities are natural sounding, and the music shines with outstanding depth and clarity.

Where to buy

iFi Pro iDSD

The iFi Pro iDSD DAC/Amp. (From ifi-audio.com)
The iFi Pro iDSD DAC/Amp. (From ifi-audio.com)

Key features

  • Max Bit Rate/Sample Rate (Bit/kHz): 32/768
  • DSD: 1024
  • MQA: Y
  • Bluetooth Input: Y
  • Output Power ([email protected]): 1500

The iFi Pro iDSD is perhaps the most feature-rich device on our list. In addition to DAC duties, it adds (wired and wireless) network streaming and both solid-state and tube amplification (using a pair of General Electronics 5670 tubes) discrete circuits. The tube circuit features negative feedback, adding smoothness to the sound (slightly decreasing detail) which makes it quite distinct sounding from the solid-state mode.

iFi traditionally uses Burr-Brown DAC chips, and the Pro iDSD pairs them with a Crysopeia FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) chipset for audio up-scaling and filters.

Overall the Pro iDSD is even and balanced sounding. The tonality is clean and refined, with impressive detail and cohesion. While not quite at the level of transparency and dynamics of some other TOTL DAC/Amps, the sheer flexibility and plethora of features of the Pro iDSD mean it must be considered when looking for the best-integrated desktop DAC/Amp.

Where to buy

JDS Labs Element II

The JDS Labs Element II DAC/Amp. (From jdslabs.com)
The JDS Labs Element II DAC/Amp. (From jdslabs.com)

Key features

  • Max Bit Rate/Sample Rate (Bit/kHz): 32/384
  • DSD: 512
  • MQA: N
  • Bluetooth Input: N
  • Output Power ([email protected]): 1300

The JDS Labs Element II is one of the leaner (and more affordable) options on our ‘Best Of’ list. Its design (in both aesthetics and sound) is to embrace the beauty of simplicity. Physically it’s a small black box with an unusually large knob on top (illuminated by your choice of color).

The Element II is a bit light weight for easily plugging and unplugging cables and headphones and can travel unless restrained.

JDS Labs got started by producing the Objective (O2) amplifier, and this dedication to uncolored sound has lived on in the Element II. It has a black background, with no unwanted noise. While not quite so neutral as the O2 amp, the Element II has a slightly more dynamic and full sound signature. This is a good compromise for a more enjoyable listening experience.

The Element II is a bargain when compared to much of the rest of our list, and it will find many fans with it’s no-nonsense and easy-to-use nature. The standout (err…) ‘element’ here is the amplifier circuit, while the DAC is a competent performer, if not quite on the same level as other high-end options.

Where to buy

Questyle CMA Twelve

The Questyle CMA-12 DAC/Amp. (From Questyle.com)
The Questyle CMA-12 DAC/Amp. (From Questyle.com)

Key features

  • Max Bit Rate/Sample Rate (Bit/kHz): 32/384
  • DSD: 512
  • MQA: N
  • Bluetooth Input: N
  • Output Power ([email protected]): 2000

The Questyle CMA Twelve’s no-nonsense looks are definitely influenced by the Chinese manufacturer’s history of manufacturing professional gear. It’s been twelve years (thus the name) since their original CMA (Current Mode Amplification) product. In this case, there are 4 groups of current-mode amplifiers working in pure Class-A amplification mode.

The Twelve is milled out of a solid 1 cm thick block of aluminum to reduce resonance and to help dissipate all the heat produced by Class-A amplification.

The Twelve is impressively solid with an array of tiny indicator LEDs (rather than a display screen). The tactile switches and weighted volume knob are a pleasure to use and another throwback to pro-level gear.

The venerable 4490 DAC chip, while not the newest flagship, is known for its neutral and realistic tonality. Paired with the excellent class A amplification, the sound signature of the Twelve is cohesive and controlled, yet powerful and engaging. It may be a bit much for highly sensitive IEMs, but certainly has all you could want for full-sized headphones.

Where to buy

RME Audio ADI-2 DAC

The RME Audio ADI-2 DAC/Amp. (From rme-audio.de)
The RME Audio ADI-2 DAC/Amp. (From rme-audio.de)

Key features

  • Max Bit Rate/Sample Rate (Bit/kHz): 32/768
  • DSD: 256
  • MQA: N
  • Bluetooth Input: N
  • Output Power ([email protected]): 1200

The RME Audio ADI-2 DAC certainly stands out from the crowd with its distinctive full-color display featuring a real-time spectrum analyzer. Who doesn’t love bouncy meters?

RME is a German manufacturer that believes in quietly producing very high-quality devices. In fact, they have steadily updated the ADI-2 over the years with little fanfare. No new model name and no new price. They’ve changed the DAC chip (from AK4490 to AK4493), lowered the noise floor, and upgraded the remote control.

The ADI-2 is extremely feature-rich. It sports a 5 band EQ, loudness circuit, and can even be used to record DSD audio. All of this is accessed via the display. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite sport as many digital inputs, or Bluetooth, as some of the competition brings to the table.

The menu system and the sheer variety of options can be a bit tough to navigate for newbies.

The ADI-2 even automatically selects the appropriate output when it detects when headphones are connected. It slowly raises the volume when starting playback, allowing you to set an appropriate volume when switching between different headphones.

The good news is that all those features don’t outstrip the sound quality. The ADI-2 is incredibly precise and clear. Music is portrayed naturally and realistically. RME claims the ADI-2 can drive any headphone or IEM, and it features separate outputs for ultra-sensitive IEMs and an ‘Extreme Power’ mode for difficult to drive full-size headphones.

Where to buy

Sabaj D5

The Sabaj D5 DAC/Amp. (From amazon.com)
The Sabaj D5 DAC/Amp. (From amazon.com)

Key features

  • Max Bit Rate/Sample Rate (Bit/kHz): 32/768
  • DSD: 512
  • MQA: Y
  • Bluetooth Input: N
  • Output Power ([email protected]): 1900

The Sabaj D5 is one of the most affordable DAC options sporting the flagship ESS ES9038Pro DAC chip. The implementation is done well with the Sabaj D5, and this yields impressively low distortion levels. It features a clear and sharp OLED display paired with only a single knob on the clean front face.

The font on the menus may be a bit small for some users.

The solid aluminum case is heavy and well crafted. The unit sports a decent set of inputs and outputs but does not offer a Bluetooth connection. The typical 6.35mm single-ended and 4-pin XLR headphone outputs are on the front face.

The Sabaj D5 is very clean sounding, with high resolution and detail. Overall it sounds very neutral and non-fatiguing. Nothing is boosted or recessed in the music. The D5 just provides clean and clear power to your headphones.

Where to buy

Schiit Jotunheim

The Schiit Jotunheim DAC/Amp. (From schiit.com)
The Schiit Jotunheim DAC/Amp. (From schiit.com)

Key features

  • Max Bit Rate/Sample Rate (Bit/kHz): 24/192
  • DSD: N
  • MQA: N
  • Bluetooth Input: N
  • Output Power ([email protected]): 5000

The Schiit Jotunheim is an absolute beast of a headphone amplifier ([email protected])! It’s also modular, with the buyer able to select between an AK4490 based DAC, Schiit’s proprietary multibit DAC, or even forgoing digital completely and adding a passive MM phono input for vinyl playback. The optional modules are separated from the amplifier and power circuits to further reduce noise.

Both of the available DAC options are limited to 24-bit/192kHz and do not support DSD or MQA.

The Jotunheim amplifier features Schiit’s ‘Pivot Point’ circuitry, which provides both balanced and single-ended outputs. Additionally, the internal power supply is a very beefy 48VA transformer with 6-stages of discrete regulation and 70,000 uF of filter capacitance.

All that power is remarkably finessed. Sound quality is superb with excellent tonality and detail. Bass response is as strong as expected with so much amplifier muscle powering the low end.

Where to buy

SPL Phonitor XE

The SPL Phonitor XE DAC/Amp. (From spl.audio)
The SPL Phonitor XE DAC/Amp. (From spl.audio)

Key features

  • Max Bit Rate/Sample Rate (Bit/kHz): 32/768
  • DSD: 256
  • MQA: N
  • Bluetooth Input: N
  • Output Power ([email protected]): 1000

The SPL Phonitor XE is available in traditional black and silver colors, but the red model is the real visual knockout. Those two large glowing VU meters and gorgeous knob and switch layout are really attractive. The XE is the TOTL model in the decade-old, 4-model, Phonitor lineup.

The Phonitor is another no-hold-barred DAC/Amp option. Only lacking Bluetooth, the sheer number of features (like user-adjustable crossfeed), and inputs/outputs is impressive. There are balanced and single-ended headphone outputs on both the front and the back, selectable via a switch.

There are two switches inconveniently located on the bottom of the Phonitor to change the level of the headphone outputs and to change the input sensitivity of the analog RCA inputs.

The Phonitor’s sound is slightly warm, with excellent headroom and dynamics. Music reproduction is full and powerful. This is a large machine, both in size and sound.

Where to buy

Topping DX7 Pro

The Topping DX7 Pro DAC/Amp. (From Amazon.com)
The Topping DX7 Pro DAC/Amp. (From Amazon.com)

Key features

  • Max Bit Rate/Sample Rate (Bit/kHz): 32/768
  • DSD: 1024
  • MQA: N
  • Bluetooth Input: Y
  • Output Power ([email protected]): 1700

The Topping DX7 Pro is part of the Chinese manufacturer’s affordable lineup of products that are generating a lot of buzz as of late. Excelling in features and measured performance, they offer incredible bang-for-the-buck for cost-conscious audiophiles.

The DX7 Pro features Bluetooth, dual opamp output, adjustable gain and filters, and three headphone outputs (6.35mm, 4-pin XLR, and 4.4mm), yet takes up very little desktop real estate.

The DX7 Pro is fairly light weight, so it may move around when plugging and unplugging headphones and cables.

The DX7 is very clean and precise sounding. The balanced mode offers improved dynamics and spaciousness over the single-ended output. Compared to some of the heavy hitters on this list, the DX7 sound is tighter and faster but lacks a bit of the competition’s body, punch, and power.

Where to buy

xDuoo TA-30

The xDuoo TA-30 DAC/Amp. (From xduoo.net)
The xDuoo TA-30 DAC/Amp. (From xduoo.net)

Key features

  • Max Bit Rate/Sample Rate (Bit/kHz): 32/384
  • DSD: 512
  • MQA: N
  • Bluetooth Input: Y
  • Output Power ([email protected]): 3000

The xDuoo TA-30 offers something different than the rest of the competitors on our ‘Best Of’ list. The TA-30 is the big brother of the TA-10 and TA-20, and its most obvious features are the large amplifier tubes and transformer cover on the top. This is unapologetically a tube amp first and foremost.

The TA-30 and JDS Labs Element II are the only two DAC/Amp combos on our list that do not feature balanced headphone connections.

The TA-30 uses a high-voltage 5Z3P tube for rectification and a pair of ECC82 tubes for amplification. The DAC is a high-end affair featuring an ES9038Q2M chipset and features all the bells and whistles you’d expect from xDuoo including Bluetooth and user-selectable digital filters.

With 3 watts of power on hand and no low-gain option, this is not the amp for sensitive IEMs and is much more suited for full-sized headphones. Dynamics and sound stage are outstanding, with the expected warmth and character of tube amplification.

Where to buy

Why Buy a DAC/Amp Combo for Desktop Usage?

An integrated DAC/Amp combo is meant to be the heart of a desktop headphone audio system. It offers several benefits over purchasing and combining separate components:

  • A combo DAC/Amp can be less expensive than purchasing each component separately.
  • Often a combo takes up less desktop space than multiple components.
  • You don’t need to buy special interconnects.
  • One remote can control all the features.
  • The overall look is cleaner and more organized.
  • The ‘synergy’ between the DAC and amplifier is designed and intended by the manufacturer.
  • It can typically work as a preamp for powered desktop speakers as well as headphones.

Why not use a portable DAC/Amp to replace a desktop DAC/Amp?

The main reasons for choosing a dedicated desktop DAC/Amp over a portable one are to do with power, features, and looks. While a portable DAC/Amp is most often smaller in size, the feature set is often limited in order to prioritize portability. If you want the flexibility and power to drive any headphone, while ensuring the best digital to analog conversion and amplification, a good desktop DAC/Amp can’t be beaten.

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