The truth is, even a cheap DAC and amp set-up that’s dedicated and external can make a huge difference in terms of audio quality.
Whether you’re listening to music or watching movies or playing video games, the detail in the audio increases greatly. It becomes more nuanced, making it easier to pick out one sound from another. This can be a particular instrument or it can also be the footsteps of your enemies just right around the corner.
With that said, if you’ve decided to invest in a gaming headphone amp and DAC, you might as well get one.
But, how do you do that? How do you separate the good ones from the bad ones? More importantly, how do even gaming DACs work?
Read on below to find answers to these questions and more.
What Is a Gaming DAC? How Does It Work?
Now, what exactly is a DAC? How does it work, and what does it do for gamers?
For starters, the term DAC is an acronym. It stands for Digital-to-Analog Converter and what it does is it converts signals from digital to analog. Because of this, headphones are then able to produce sound.
Contrary to popular belief, DACs are everywhere. They’re on mobile phones, tablets, laptops, consoles, and more. However, most of the DACs that you see are built into their devices. They’re good enough for a vast majority of gamers, but they’re not exactly something to write home about, which is where standalone DACs came in.
A stand-alone DAC is a more capable version of the built-in DACs found in most devices. Because its sole purpose is to “improve” the signal, the resulting audio quality is cleaner and more nuanced. Not to mention, with a DAC, you’ll have the option to play high-resolution audio files.
Will a DAC Improve My Sound?
The best way to improve sound quality is to improve your source.
This can be done by sourcing high-resolution audio files AND getting a better DAC/amp or a better headphone amplifier and DAC stack.
However, getting a dedicated amplifier and another dedicated DAC is not easy. It’s additional research, work, and cost. Not to mention, they’re bulkier and the audio quality difference isn’t always that significant. This means that you’re going through multiple hoops, or so to speak, and spending more, for marginally better performance.
So long as you stick to the good ones, a gaming DAC/Amp is capable of driving plenty of power.
That’s what we’re here to talk about today.
Good audio might not be a value buy, but it is a worthy investment, and a gaming DAC and amp set-up will let you enjoy better audio quality in games and on your TV when you’re watching your favorite shows and movies.
7 Best Gaming DAC and Amps
1. Fiio E10K
Almost everyone you’ll ask for a DAC and amp recommendation will tell you to get the Fiio E10K.
Why? Because it is that good. It’s simple to set-up, portable, user-friendly, and affordable. Although it’s not cheap by any means, at its price point, you won’t really be hurting for cash if you find the improvement in audio quality minimal if not negligible.
Then again, that won’t happen.
The Fiio E10K is capable of handling a 24-bit/96 kHz PCM and power up to 250-ohm headphones.
Those aren’t exactly high-end specs. In fact, 96 kHz is considered low by many enthusiasts. But, the specs are more in line with its price range, which, again, is quite affordable. This makes it an excellent step-up from most onboard motherboard audios.
Paired with its low asking price, the Fiio E10K is the best budget DAC and is perfect for those who aren’t as set on splurging on better audio quality just yet.
Power (supply): Standard Micro USB port / Output Power: 200 mW @ 32 Ω / Sample rate (USB decoding): Maximum of 24-bit/96 kHz / Signal to Noise Ratio: ≥108 dB / Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 20 kHz / Recommended Headphone Impedance: 16 to 150 Ω / Product Dimensions: 79mm x 49.1mm x 21mm / Product Weight: 78g
- Aluminum housing
- Powerful and clean sound
- Not exactly audiophile-grade
2. DragonFly Red 2.1
Most gaming DAC/Amps are rather portable. It’s just that, some aren’t exactly portable enough for you to use conveniently while on the go. You can take them with you, but most of the time, you’d have to find somewhere to sit down if you plan on listening to high-quality audio. Either that, or you’ll have to be more flexible on your preferred audio quality.
The DragonFly Red 2.1 is one of those rare instances where the only compromise you’ll make is paying more.
For the price you’re paying, you do get quite a lot. At least, in terms of performance. Because, in size, the DragonFly is no bigger than most flash drives. However, despite its minuscule size, it packs a lot of features. This includes the ability to decode resolutions up to 24-bit/96Khz, play high-resolution audio files, and drive even power-hungry headphones directly.
To top it all off, the DragonFly is a plug-and-play device that works seamlessly on Android and iOs devices, as well as Windows and Mac computers. Although, if you want to pair it with a smartphone or tablet, you’ll need to get yourself additional adapters.
You can also use the DragonFly with speakers, albeit it’s best used with headphones.
Again, you’ll want to keep your sound quality expectations tempered. It’s still not exactly what you’d refer to as audiophile-grade yet. But, for the price, it’s amazing, and the fact that you can use it just as easily on your gaming PC or console as you could on your smartphone means that you no longer have to go moments without access to a capable and powerful DAC.
Power (supply): Standard Micro USB port / Output Power: 2.1 volts / Sample rate (USB decoding): Maximum of 24-bit/96 kHz / Product Dimensions: 12mm (H) x 19mm (W) x 62mm (L) / Product Weight: 100g
Status/Sample rates supported:
- Red for standby
- Green for 44.1kHz
- Blue for 48kHz
- Amber 88.2kHz
- Magenta 96kHz
- Purple for MQA
- Sophisticated and solid build quality
- Compatible with smartphones
- Upgradeable firmware
3. NextDrive Spectra X Portable Amp & DAC
Another solution for those who need a portable gaming DAC/Amp is the NextDrive Spectra XPortable Amp & DAC.
The 1B to the Dragonfly Red’s 1A (or vice versa), the Spectra is an excellent alternative that, in the eyes of some, is even better, and there’s a good reason for this. In fact, there are two of them: a better bitrate (32bit 384kHz vs 32bit 320kHz), a lighter weight (17g vs 100g), and a slightly cheaper price.
Now, just like the Dragonfly Red, the Spectra X won’t blow you out of your mind. However, if you’ve gotten used to high-quality audio and want to take it with you wherever you go, whether you’re gaming or listening to music, then it’s hard to find a better solution.
The Spectra will help you turn your smartphone or tablet into something resembling that of for audiophiles. This is also great since most people game on their phones today.
The Spectra is X perfect as an all-around solution for those wanting to experience Hi-Fi everywhere.
Power (supply): Standard Micro USB port / Output Power: 2Vrms @ 600Ω / 49mW @ 32 Ω / Sample rate (USB decoding): 32 bits / 384 kHz / Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 40 kHz / Product Dimensions: 11.2mm (H) x 95mm (W) x 11.2mm (L) / Product Weight: 17g
- Excellent build quality
- Audiophile-grade sound quality
- Built for smartphones
4. AudioEngine D1 DAC
The AudioEngine D1 DAC is a good pick for those who want the best DAC for gaming headset for PC use.
This isn’t to say that the AudioEngine D1 DAC won’t work with consoles. It works just fine on gaming consoles, tablets, phones, TVs, and other devices. However, it’s build and feature set, since it’s basically a plug-and-play headphone amplifier, which means that it’ll work right out of the box as soon as you’ve plugged it into your computer with your preferred gaming headset.
The D1 is also capable of accepting signals both through its USB and optical connections.
The former has a limitation of 24-bit/92kHz while the latter can go all the way up to 24-bit/192kHz.
Backed by a 3-year warranty, the D1 will get you an above-average performer that has a balanced and nuanced sound that should last you a very long time.
Power (supply): Standard Micro USB port / Sample rate (USB decoding): 24-bit/96kHz (USB) / 24-bit/192kHz (Optical) / Frequency Response: 10Hz – 25KHz / Recommended Headphone Impedance: 10 to 600 Ω / Product Dimensions: 89mm x 95mm x 25mm / Product Weight: 500g
- Nuanced and balanced sound quality
- Easy to use
- 3-year warranty
- Starting to show its age
5. Micca OriGen G2
Some gaming DAC and amps are cheap. Some are expensive. Others are priced in between.
The Micca OriGen G2 is a good example of a DAC/Amp that’s not expensive, but not cheap either. However, despite being neither, it has excellent value and brings a lot to the table, making it a good buy for those looking for a bang-for-the-buck kind of product.
The reason why we’re saying this is because it checks a lot of the right boxes. It sounds impressive with both USB and optical inputs, as well as an output select switch, and even high and low gain settings. That last part is important. This is because some headphones are naturally harder to drive compared to others.
In terms of build quality, the OriGen G2 is right around the size of a stick of butter but comes with a little heft to it. This is good since it means that it’ll stay in place most of the time.
Power (supply): Standard Micro USB port / Sample rate (USB decoding): PCM (44.1/48/88.2/96/176.4/192kHz, 16/24bit) / Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20kHz / Recommended Headphone Impedance: 16 ~ 600 Ω / Product Dimensions: 116mm x 51mm x 47mm / Product Weight: 170g
- Solid audio performance
- Competitive pricing
- Distortion at lower volumes
6. Mayflower Electronics Objective 2 Amplifier + ODAC
The thing with gaming DAC and amps is that there’s a certain price point where the benefits just don’t warrant the premium price.
Sure, it’s almost always worth paying for audio quality AND portability. However, if you’re just gaming, you don’t need anything more than a reasonably-priced gaming DAC and amp. But, still, there’s something to be said for having a clean and detailed sound that’s as pure as what the Mayflower Electronics Objective 2 Amplifier + ODAC has to offer.
This DAC/Amp will present to you the sound exactly just how it is straight from its source, and it’s capable of driving both low- and high-impedance headphones just the same.
It doesn’t matter if you turn the volume down or all the way up on this DAC/Amp. You’ll hear very minimal hissing or distortion if any at all. It also has an additional gain switch just in case you want to power high-impedance headphones. Plus, with its black housing, it’s not exactly the sort of DAC/Amp that you wouldn’t want to show off.
The only issue is that it takes quite a bit of desk space and it’s kind of expensive.
Power (supply): Standard Micro USB port / Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20kHz / Product Dimensions: 107.95mm x 82.55mm x 31.75mm / Product Weight: 240 grams
- 613mW @ 32Ω
- 355mW @ 150Ω
- 88mW @ 600Ω
- Clean and pure sound
- Pairs well with high-impedance headphones
- Minimal cable clutter
- Premium price
- Takes up a lot of desk space
7. Chord Mojo
The Chord Mojo is, by far, the best gaming DAC and amp out there.
Unfortunately, it’s also one of the more expensive ones.
Manufactured by industry experts, Chord Electronics, the Mojo warrants its price tag with multi-platform versatility, seamless plug-and-play functionality, and a whopping sample rate of 768 kHz.
Sure, if you’re not willing to shell out money on high-quality gaming speakers or headphones, the Mojo is a waste of money. But, for those who can afford to go all out on their gaming set-ups, the Mojo rewards you with, not just audiophile-grade quality audio, but studio-quality music for up to 10 hours with its integrated battery.
The Mojo will remain a dream for many, but for those who can afford it, it plays like a dream.
Power (supply): Standard Micro USB port / Sample rate (USB decoding): 32-bit/768kHz (Micro-USB) | 32-bit/768kHz (3.5mm jack) | 24-bit/96kHz (Optical) / Output Power @ 1kHz – 600Ω 35mW / Output Power @ 1kHz – 8Ω 720mW / Product Dimensions: 82mm (L) x 60mm (W) x 22mm (H) / Product Weight: 180gH95 W11.2 D11.2 (mm)
- Works on just about any platform
- Multiple connectivity options
- 768Hz sample rate
- 10-hour internal battery
- Ridiculous asking price
- Useless unless paired with expensive headphones or speakers
The thing with gaming DAC and amps is that it’s not easy to recommend something to someone when we don’t really know what they’re going to use it for.
If it’s for gaming, a basic external DAC/amp will do. They’re already better than the built-in DAC that your device has to offer, regardless of whether it’s a computer, laptop, console, and more. But, since we’re on the topic of the best gaming DAC, we do recommend not to cheap out but not spending too much either unless you know what you’re doing.
Lucky for you, we’ve made sure that we catered to gamers of different budgets and preferences.
From the expensive down to the cheap and everything fairly priced in the middle, you should be able to find the best gaming DAC and amps in our list of recommendations.