Why are DACs So Expensive? (10 Things You Should Know!)

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If you’ve thought of improving the sound quality of your audio system, then you’ve probably considered purchasing a Digital-to-Analog Converter (or DAC). But to your surprise, most DACs available today are quite expensive for the function they perform. 

So the question on the minds of many audio enthusiasts is, “why are DACs so expensive, and are they even worth it?”. So after some hours of research, here is everything I found. 

DACs are expensive mainly because there is not a huge market for them. So most high-end DAC manufacturers have to price it high in order to make money from the few units they sell. Also, factors such as build quality, DAC functions, enhancements, etc., play a role in the expensive cost of standalone DACs.

Why DACs Are So Expensive

As I mentioned earlier, most devices that play back digital audio have built-in DAC chips in them. These devices include personal computers, smartphones, laptops, audio players, etc. 

These built-in DAC chips convert digital signals into audible analog signals. 

Though these built-in DACs are not as efficient as standalone DACs, they still do a great job at converting digital signals to analog signals that can be heard. Due to this, most people do not need standalone DACs.

This means that the consumer base of standalone DACs is not as large as other audio gear and equipment. 

Therefore, since relatively few standalone DACs are available on the market, they command a hefty price tag. This is the main reason why standalone DACs are so expensive.

Aside from this, other factors account for the expensive price tag on standalone DACs. Let’s take a look at these factors.

Multiple Inputs, Functions, and Enhancements

A standalone DAC is basically an improvement on the built-in DACs found in playback devices. These standalone DACs improve the quality of sound from your smart devices. 

This is because many of these DACs are engineered with new technology and enhancements.

Standalone DACs are usually designed to have multiple inputs. Some come with analog inputs in addition to digital inputs. These inputs include USB, Coaxial, and Optical inputs. 

These standalone DACs usually come with test-out sample rates and filter settings that can be tuned to suit your musical taste. 

Also, most of these DACs come with remote control as well. Having a remote control enables you to switch between sources in your comfort. 

These multiple inputs and special features are also responsible for the expensive price tag of standalone DACs.

Build Quality

Standalone DACs have high build quality. The DAC chipset and circuitry in these expensive standalone DACs are of high quality. 

They are not as inferior as those used in making built-in DACs found in smart devices and other digital audio sources. They are manufactured with durable materials. 

Thus, the high build quality of standalone DACs makes them better than the built-in DACs found in smart devices and digital audio sources. This is also responsible for the expensive price tag some standalone DACs come with.


Production of some particular DAC models has ceased. Some DAC models are not manufactured in large quantities as well. At other times, high demand for a particular DAC can result in relatively few pieces on the market. 

All these scenarios lead to a reduction in the supply required to meet consumers’ demand for a particular DAC. The rarity of a DAC on the market usually drives its price upwards. This is also one of the reasons why DACs are so expensive.

Do Expensive DACs Make a Difference?

The primary purpose of a DAC is to convert digital information from digital sources into analog signals that can be heard. Regardless of the price, all DACs on the market are engineered to perform this function. 

This includes the built-in DACs found in smart devices and other digital audio sources. Therefore, you are right to wonder if expensive DACs actually make a difference to your sound. I will keep this answer as brief as possible.

Expensive DACs certainly make a difference in your audio setup. The sounds they convert seem to be more real and have a higher resolution than the sound converted by built-in DACs. 

However, this difference is not significant, and you will need to possess trained ears or be an audiophile to notice these differences.

Since smart devices come with built-in DAC chips, there is often no need to add an extra DAC to them. 

The audible difference you experience when you listen to audio through headphones with/without an expensive standalone DAC is barely noticeable to the untrained ear. 

This means the difference an expensive DAC makes in an audio setup is subjective. If you own a standalone DAC, you can try this. You will realize how close your everyday smartphone comes to an expensive DAC in terms of sound quality.

Therefore, expensive DACs make a difference in the sound from digital sources. However, this difference is not much. Thus, you can still enjoy your best tracks without needing an expensive DAC.

When Do I Need an Expensive DAC?

You do not need a DAC when your current audio source works perfectly fine. However, if you start having issues with your sound source, you may need to add an expensive standalone DAC to your system. 

As I mentioned earlier, the built-in DACs on digital audio sources do a great job. That is why most users have never had the need to acquire an expensive standalone DAC.

However, these built-in DACs, particularly mobile DAC chips, cannot drive high impedance headphones adequately. This is because these built-in mobile DAC chipsets have been designed to work optimally with lower voltages and power. 

Thus, they do not accommodate complex output stages well. Some of the built-in DAC circuits found in some devices are not able to produce an efficient sound output of recordings and tracks. 

Therefore, upgrading your system by acquiring an expensive standalone DAC can help.

Also, these built-in DACs are not ideal for driving headphones with cable runs that are quite long. These inadequacies of built-in DACs are the reasons why you may need an expensive standalone DAC. 

Expensive standalone DACs are meant for stationary use. Due to this, they have a relatively complex circuit that can accommodate higher voltages and power. They can drive high impedance headphones adequately as well.

Another sign that you need an expensive standalone DAC is when you crave more input options and features for your setup. This is because expensive standalone DACs are built to have multiple input ports. They also come with lots of features that enable you to expand your listening experience.

In summary, when you fall under any of these categories, you need to acquire an expensive standalone DAC.

Are Expensive DACs Worth It?

Acquiring an expensive DAC is definitely worth it. Generally, an expensive standalone DAC directly translates to better sound quality and a wider listening experience. 

These expensive standalone DACs help you extract better sound output from your smartphone, laptop, or digital audio source. They also open up your listening possibilities with the numerous features and multiple inputs they come with.

Nowadays, some smartphones and devices are built to have modern audio architectures. Their built-in DACs are obtained from renowned DAC manufacturing companies such as ESS Technology, TI, among others. 

Due to this, the DAC chips found in these devices perform amazingly great. However, these built-in DACs do not provide you with the features and multiple inputs found in standalone DACs.

Most expensive standalone DACs are vastly superior to the built-in DACs found in digital playback devices. Therefore, parting away with more money to acquire an expensive standalone DAC typically equates to better equipment and sound upgrades.

Also, these expensive standalone DACs are basically one unit. The DAC chips used in building them have a better signal-to-noise ratio. Due to this, they can shield the DAC chipset circuitry better against electrical noise. This leads to overall better sound output.

How Much Should I Spend On A DAC?

How much you should spend on acquiring a standalone DAC ultimately depends on your musical needs and budget. Adding a standalone DAC to your audio setup expands your digital audio system’s capabilities and overall listening experience. 

However, to produce something that sounds decent, you do not have to spend lots of money to achieve that. If used right, a moderate costing DAC can outperform more expensive ones.

You don’t need to spend over 1000 dollars on a DAC for a basic setup. You can get excellent entry-level DACs within the price range of 60-800 dollars. Any DAC whose price falls within this price range can fit perfectly in any audio system and setup. 

However, if you’re an audiophile that requires in-depth sound definition, details, and extra features, you can turn your attention to DACs within the price range of 800-1500 dollars. 

This is because these DACs are marginally more accurate have impeccable frequency response and transparent reproduction.

However, in general, you don’t need to add an extremely expensive standalone DAC to your setup in order to achieve better sound quality.

What Is the Most Expensive DAC?

The most expensive DAC is the MSB Select DAC. This DAC is widely accepted as the finest DAC in the world. It doubles as a headphone amplifier as well. This DAC opens you up to a digital experience that exceeds all expectations. 

The MSB Select DAC and headphone amplifier have a combined cost of about 130,000 dollars. The MSB Select DAC goes for 90,000, with the additional Select headphone amp going for 37,950.

Its performance is unlike any other DAC. The sound it produces has high resolution and detailed refinement. Also, the level of detail present in the sound this DAC produces is unmatched. 

This makes it feel so real. It has eight hybrid DACs with a total of sixteen DAC converters inside it. These converters eliminate imperfections and distortions from the sound.

The hardware used in building this device is of high quality as well. This DAC has a robust in-house design and low impedance circuit. This low impedance circuit is able to directly amplify sound without adding any form of coloration or noise to it. 

Also, the robust in-house design allows you to playback native DSD and PCM of the highest quality.

Just like all Select DAC products, this device comes with an advanced Femto 33 Clock and a large LED display.  

Another great thing about this device is all the features and modules it comes with are user-replaceable. This means you can change and update these features as technology advances.

Which Should I Buy: Expensive DAC or Cheap DAC?

How much you spend on a DAC will depend on your musical taste and needs. That notwithstanding, should you buy an expensive or cheap DAC? Here is my take on the subject.

First of all, depending on your budget, a DAC which falls in your category of “expensive DACs” at one point may be classified as cheap when your budget increases.

As I mentioned earlier, the difference a DAC makes to your music setup is subjective. It varies from one individual to the other. Therefore, you need to be certain that a DAC makes a difference for you before deciding to purchase it. 

Thus, no matter the price a DAC comes at; you should try it out first. If the particular product or brand allows you to enjoy your music more and is within your budget, you should go ahead and buy it.

Therefore, when buying a DAC, you should consider your musical needs and your budget. Afterward, get a DAC whose performance, qualities, and features meet those needs.

Affordable but High-Quality DACs

Owning to the fact that relatively less expensive DACs can meet your musical needs, let’s take a look at some affordable but high-quality DACs you can rely on. These best budget DACs are able to drive all headphones sufficiently. 

They can elevate the quality of sound from your system. Read along to get more details on these DACs.

Schiit Modi 3+

The Schiit Modi 3+ (Amazon) is a third version of the Modi series. This is a classic DAC that comes at a budget price. Notwithstanding, the performance it delivers is exceptional. 

It has USB inputs as well as RCA, optical and coaxial inputs. This DAC is compatible with your smart device and all other digital sources.

The Schiit Modi 3+ has a toggle switch in front. This enables you to select different inputs to work with. For the price it comes at, the operation of this DAC is super clean and straightforward. The audio it delivers is clean and crisp as well.

Though this device is not as exciting as high-end DACs, it’s a bargain for the price it comes at. 

You can use it as a standalone DAC or couple it with a head amp. No matter how it is used, this DAC provides value for money. Therefore, you won’t be disappointed when you buy this device.


The KGUSS DAC-K3 (Amazon) is an entry-level DAC decoder and headphone amplifier unit. It has a great build and is easy to set up and use as well. Overall, the sound it produces has good clarity and sounds nice as well. 

It works wonders with headphones. Its dynamic range is incredible and produces sound with virtually no distortion.

This device has a push switch on the front panel that enables you to switch between inputs. It has coaxial, optical fiber, and USB inputs. Thus you can connect this DAC to your TV and other devices.

Unfortunately, this device’s Bluetooth range is quite short. That notwithstanding, it is an excellent performer for its price range and can be used for both gaming and music. Therefore, if you are working with a tight budget, then you should definitely go in for this DAC.


In summary, tablets, computers, and smart devices have DAC chips built into their circuitry. Due to this, most people don’t need a standalone DAC. The small consumer base of DACs serves to drive up its price. 

Also, unlike built-in DACs, standalone DACs come with multiple inputs and features. The extra additions also drive up the price of standalone DACs. These are the reasons why DACs are so expensive.