Best UK Portable Dac
Latest Update: December 2020
These are our top ranked picks in the category of best portable DAC to buy right now in the UK.
#1 Selection: Overall Review Score = 93%
#2: Top Rated Alternative
#3: Another Great Buy
Portable DACs: A Buyer’s Guide
Millions of us love listening to music on the go. Plenty of us, however, really value the sound quality we get from our portable devices. While smartphones and MP3 players are amazingly practical for playing music and other audio on the go, the jury is out in terms of sound quality. Those listeners with refined taste might want better quality out of their devices, especially if they have an expensive pair of headphones they want to make the most of! That, ultimately, is why DAC technology exists.
DAC stands for Digital Analogue Conversion (or Converter). Without going too much into the science of it all, a DAC will convert signals from your phone or other audio devices into crisper, clearer sound. For example, tinny noises and acoustics through a standard pair of earphones can be enhanced. The technology works to amplify and clear up the noise that passes from your phone into your ears. Therefore, many people buy portable DACs when they want access to the best quality audio on the go.
To many people, a portable DAC might be a fairly niche purchase. However, if you do struggle with the quality or audio level of music coming through your headphones, then this type of system may be a worthy investment! But what should you be looking for in a portable DAC? How do you know if you really need one?
Don’t worry. Even if you are completely new to the technology, we are here to help break it all down for you. We’ll look at the essentials, and what’s likely to drive up the cost. We’ll also consider what makes great portable DACs such good value. Stick around, as we’ll also run through a few frequently asked questions at the end of the guide, too.
Why Buy a Portable DAC?
As mentioned, it may not occur to many people to invest in a DAC at all. You can buy this technology for home, commercial and studio use. However, many of us feel that the audio quality we get from our phones and tablets just isn’t good enough. Therefore, one of the best ways to enhance this quality is, of course, to put in a midpoint between your headphones and your player.
A DAC will work hard to amplify and enhance your sound. Think of it as an extra filter. Most devices, such as phones and laptops, will already have some form of DAC technology actively working in their inner tech. However, a portable DAC, or a midpoint that you can set up at home, could help to make all the difference.
People buy portable DACs when they want to listen to the very best in audio quality on the go. They might need to listen carefully to spoken word pieces. Or, they may just be a connoisseur of the music they enjoy. For work or for leisure, a portable DAC can make plenty of difference when it comes to sound quality. Why should you settle for poor quality sound when you can add a middleman in to help boost performance?
Much like other portable pieces of tech, a portable DAC will be easy to charge up and take with you. You should be able to connect your DAC to your device and headphones without much need for cumbersome hardware. However, this may vary, as we are going to find out.
Unsure whether or not you actually need a DAC? If you value top-quality sound, it may be worth looking closely at what’s out there, or even trying a system out in-store. Otherwise, video reviews might help to fill in some blanks for you.
What to Look for in a Portable DAC
Now we’ve thought carefully about what portable DACs actually do, we need to think about what some of the comparable elements are. What sets a great DAC apart from one that’s poor quality? Why should you pay more for some tech, and less for others? Here’s our take on everything you should be looking for when shopping around.
Naturally, this is a big factor to consider. What are you looking for from sound quality? More amplification? Lower trebles? A boost to bass? It’s time to look carefully at how a portable DAC is going to enhance your sound. It’s all well and good saying that any old DAC will enhance the quality, but to what extent?
This should be easy to shop for. Most product descriptions will go into plenty of detail. You should also watch video reviews, read expert opinions, and consider what verified buyers have to say. How much of a difference is a portable DAC making to their lives? Is it really going to be worth the money?
Battery and Power
Naturally, as a portable device, your DAC is going to need some serious battery life. Some won’t operate on battery at all, but the more reasonably-priced systems out there are likely to give you batteries that you can charge up.
With that in mind, look for a system which offers enough battery for your needs. How long are your listening sessions likely to last? How long will you need to charge your DAC up for? Battery power can really vary from unit to unit, so don’t be afraid to look deeply into this!
This is a given – a portable DAC should be portable! However, some are easier to take with you than others. Some models are big and cumbersome, while others are slimline and lightweight. As a midway point between your headphones and your devices, you’re going to need to look for a system that’s light enough for you to manage along with your smartphone or MP3 player. Otherwise, you’re going to be fumbling around with a lot of technology.
While there are plenty of portable DACs out there which work through cables, there are some which offer Bluetooth connectivity. This, to many people, will likely be very flexible. You can, therefore, connect your DAC end-to-end with your headphones and your chosen device, without needing to worry about tangling wires or cables.
This technology isn’t always expensive to invest in, either. Bluetooth is a connection standard which you will find across most modern devices, meaning it’s not unheard of for you to find DACs following suit. If you really want to cut down on nuisance cabling and the like, make sure to invest in a DAC which works wirelessly all the way around.
If you really know what you’re looking for from a portable DAC, it’s worth shopping for the finer points of technology. For example, you might want to invest in a midpoint that allows you to control your volume with greater ease, or which lets you tweak your EQ to a more listenable standard. You may be able to manage much of this on your device or through your headphones, but it makes sense if you have all of your devices singing from the same hymn sheet.
Do bear in mind, however, that a DAC with more features than your average is not always going to be the best at doing everything. In some cases, simpler DACs will be better at perfecting the one or two specialist services or features it offers. Read what other people have to say.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you’ve not come across DAC at all before, then you will naturally have a few questions to ask. Here are some of the most common queries people ask online before buying portable DACs.
Is It Really Worth Buying a Portable DAC?
It is if you value your sound quality. If you’re unlikely to worry about quality of sound, then you may not need to invest. However, a portable DAC is a great asset if, for example, you have a pair of headphones which are on the more advanced or even the more expensive side of things. Surely it makes sense to harness the best quality of audio possible?
Do Portable DACs Really Improve Sound Quality?
Yes – although some people may tell you that some brands and models are better than others. That’s why it’s crucial to shop around. You don’t always have to look for the best tech or the most expensive brands. If you know that your portable audio could use more amplification, start small.
How Much Do Portable DACs Cost?
A good portable DAC is likely to be a serious investment. The cheaper end of the tech will likely cost you around £70-£80. However, it may be worth investing in double this for the best engineering. Your needs and tastes, of course, will vary!
A portable DAC isn’t something you’re likely to buy every day. However, there are plenty of music fans and sound aficionados out there who need to make the most of their audio and their headphones. Therefore, a DAC in any shape or form can be a real asset. Why not shop around and see what you can find? Use our guide as a starting point.