Struggling with enhancing the audio quality of your digital music?

In this blog, we spotlight the best DACs (digital-to-analog converters) available for under $500, a key component for audiophiles and music enthusiasts looking to upgrade their listening experience. These DACs are selected for their superior sound quality, compatibility with various audio sources, and user-friendly features. Whether you are a casual listener or a serious audiophile, we guide you through a range of DACs that cater to different needs, from portable models for on-the-go listening to more robust units for home audio systems.

With extensive experience in high-fidelity audio and sound engineering, we’ve helped numerous music lovers and audiophiles find the perfect DAC for their setups. Our detailed testing of these DACs under $500 confirms their capability to deliver enhanced sound clarity, depth, and an overall improved listening experience. These DACs are more than just audio converters; they’re the gateway to experiencing music with greater detail and authenticity.

We’ve scrutinized their build quality, connectivity options, compatibility with high-resolution audio formats, and their impact on different genres of music. Our comprehensive review positions them as outstanding choices for anyone seeking to transform their digital audio into a rich and immersive sonic journey.

Best DAC Under $500

S.M.S.L M500 DAC Headphone Amp Supports MQA decoding ES9038PRO D/A chip USB Uses XMOS XU-216 with Remote Control (Black)

This DAC under $500 offers seven selectable filters so you can adjust the sound to suit your preferences. Furthermore, DSD512 data at 32 bits (768 kHz) is played back without conversion.

  • A PCM file (between 32 and 768 kHz) and a DSD file (up to DSD512) can be played back on this device. It has gold-plated input and output jacks, which are of high quality.
  • In the SMSL M500, there are three input signal channels: USB, optical, and coaxial.
  • It has both balanced (XLR) and RCA outputs. Playback of DSD64 is supported on optical and coaxial inputs.

As the MQA format is a lossless format, the appliance can playback MQA files and provide tracks that match the original recordings. Among other features, the M500 supports headphones up to 300 ohms, features one-click amplification, and can switch preamps automatically.

A total of seven different digital filters are available in the device’s settings for PCM recording. A chip called ES9311 is used in the model’s power supply. With the XMOS XU216 chip for the USB input and the OPA1612 operating amplifiers for the output, the output stage is equipped with shallow noise indicators.

What We Like

  • A 2.19-inch TFT LCD display is located on the front panel of the device.
  • A high-performance converter chip from ESS Technology, the ES9038PRO.
  • Designed to prevent interference between headphones and preamp volume.
  • Remote control with full functionality.

What We Don’t Like

  • An intermittent hiss can be heard on sensitive IEMs.

AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt USB Digital-to-Analog Converter

The Cobalt also features a high-quality signal-to-noise ratio digital volume control, Bluetooth compatibility, and a built-in MQA record decoder.

As opposed to its predecessor, this DAC is firmly in the top tier of DACs under $500. Several improvements led to the accomplishment of the results:

  • A minimum-phase filter is built into the ECC ES90 ESQ38Q2M DAC chip from Cobalt to enhance sound quality. Red and Black models use much cheaper batteries;
  • As a result, the flagship model uses 33 percent less current and can process commands 33 percent faster than previous models.

With improved power filtering, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth interference, as well as cellular network noise, are better protected.

The package comes with a DragonTail USB-A to USB-C cable of excellent quality.

  • To communicate with Cobalt, Gordon Rankin developed the StreamLength code. MonoClock technology, proposed by him, provides ESS ES9038Q2M DAC functionality as well as microcontroller functionality.
  • A multi-oscillator DAC cannot provide as much detail and clarity as a DragonFly Cobalt.

In comparison to the Red models, the DragonFly Cobalt can be used with low-sensitivity headphones because its 2.1 V output voltage allows it to operate with maximum tuning clarity, a wide dynamic range, and excellent signal-to-noise ratios.

What We Like

  • To confirm the validity of a DragonFly serial number and software version, use Desktop Device Manager.
  • There is a 10% reduction in size in the latest DragonFly.

What We Don’t Like

  • Simply shaking the phone a little made the 3.5mm jack move inside.

FiiO Q5S High Resolution DAC and Headphone Amplifier

The most technologically advanced satellite radio device on the market today is this high-end digital music player, according to a number of experts.

  • The Q5S is a stylish, compact tabletop receiver with a metal chassis. Within the amplifier section, you’ll find five digitally functioning equalizer channels, a variable-frequency drive system, and a phase-shift linear control.
  • The audio system is claimed to have premium sound quality thanks to its Excite Digital Technology.
  • Even complex features can be programmed into the FiiO Q5S remote control. Both handsets can be used when the FiiO Q5S is connected to your laptop.

What We Like

  • Bluetooth codecs with wide compatibility.
  • An impactful, punchy sound.
  • The ability to power headphones with an amp section.

What We Don’t Like

  • An aluminum edge that is not polished.

Soundavo HP-DAC1 Digital to Analog Converter / Headphone Preamp DAC with S/PDIF, Line, USB Input for PC/Laptop

Soundavo’s HP-DAC1 is one of the most innovative products in its category, and it is one of the first digital to analog converters for high-quality sound. Utilizing the easy-to-use interface of the Soundavo HP-DAC1, you will be able to convert analog signals into digital.

  • Utilizing patented Waveform Control Technology, Soundavo’s High-Performance Analog to Digital (HP-DAC) technology converts tapes into digital audio.
  • Powerful subwoofers are mated to an array of high-performance 12-inch drivers with a precision-tuned dual amplifier configuration on the front of the HP-DAC1.
  • You can connect a laptop or another digital source to an optical audio input to listen to your favorite music. Integrated speakers make it easy to monitor and control your home theater system.

Your stereo system can be connected to an appropriate device through a high-quality digital output.

What We Like

  • The price is right and the performance is excellent.
  • Provides convenience and ease of use.
  • There are several options for input and output.

What We Don’t Like

  • Available in silver only.

S.M.S.L M300 MKII HiFi Audio DAC, AKM4497EQ Apt-X USB DAC Decoder, Hi-Res Bluetooth 5.0 32bit/768kHz DSD512, Full Balanced Output, 6 Digital Filter Modes/3 Sound Color, New Edition (Black)

A unique advantage of the M300 MKII is its RCA connection. It is highly compatible and reliable, but due to it being older than mobile radio providers such as Vodafone, the RCA connection may seem dated today.

  • With the RCA connection, you won’t have to worry that your equipment won’t work reliably no matter where it goes: at the office, at home, or even at the club.
  • It can transmit data and voice at speeds of over 300 MB/s with the SMSL M300 MKII.

In addition, RCA cables, electrical adapters, an external rechargeable battery, a microSD card, and a compact digital video recorder are included. Cables like these allow transferring files from one computer to another and connecting different electronic devices.

What We Like

  • It’s best to leave the default settings alone.
  • This is a top-notch product.
  • Feature-rich components.

What We Don’t Like

  • It is lacking in the body in the midrange

What should you look for?

Portability and size

Prepare your device by considering its location and usage. The size of a DAC is of utmost importance if you want to listen to music on the go for under $500. Select a portable model when choosing a model. Consider other functions and capabilities when buying a device for your home.

Optimal audio resolution

Our list includes models with high-quality audio starting at 192 kHz/24-bit. Despite not being compressed, the files retain their original quality. Audio fidelity can be improved for users of various audiophile streaming services (like Tidal). The compressed audio can also be further improved using upsampling technology.


DACs that have USB ports are compatible with computers and mobile devices. The RCA inputs can be used to connect phones, tablets, TV sets, or CD players as well. In some DACs, headphone amplifiers are integrated components. You should purchase this component if your DAC lacks it.


The best DAC under 500 USD might not have an amplifier, so you have to boost sound with earphones or speakers. As a result, some headphones and speakers use batteries instead of power sources. A modern DAC design includes an amplifier to address this drawback. It only needs to be connected to the headphone jack in order to deliver the desired sound quality.

FAQs: Best DAC Under $500 Reviews

File types supported by DAC?

There are multiple formats of files supported by DAC. Digital Signage Dye Subtraction supports the industry-standard codecs ALAC and FLAC, while MQA supports high-resolution recording.

Wireless or wired DACs are better?

DCA devices can be selected based on ease of use. For home use, a wired DAC can get the job done, and the devices you have also play a role. DACs must have cable connectivity in order to connect to a wired headset. Alternatively, you can get a DAC with wireless connectivity if you use Bluetooth devices.

How does the DSD format work?

The DAC offers several features. One of them is able to support the format. All programs don’t support every format. There are several types of DSDs. It can only be used with the best DACs. There are huge sample rates and bit depths in the DSD format. The most common type of DSD is DSD256, which comes in different varieties.

DAC is useful in what way?

By using a DAC, sound quality can be improved. A DAC is essential for audiophiles and music enthusiasts who need perfect sound, and especially for professionals who need to make the perfect sound for their music. All music lags are gone and it becomes crystal clear.

How does the DAC work?

An analog-to-digital converter is a DAC. Analog signals are converted from digital signals. Maintaining the timing allows the signal to be successfully transformed, preserving the sound quality. It is possible to receive sub-par sound quality if your DAC conversion timings are poor. The device should have a high-quality standard, and it should be able to convert signals accurately.


After learning about the best DACs under $500 and starting to plan for 2023, you may be ready to start investing. There is something unique and wonderful about each product we have selected, and most likely you will get the satisfaction you expect from them. These DACs must be carefully studied and analyzed before they are implemented.

You should look for factors such as electrical output power, portable nature, connectivity features, weight, warranty, etc. By understanding these factors, you can find the ideal DAC.