Using the factory DAC on your gaming device after investing good money in headphones is throwing money away. A DAC is the most affordable way to enhance audio for any application and especially for gaming. Once you try one for a gaming session, there is absolutely no turning back. My favorite in the list is the Sound Blaster X G6 because it reunites everything you need in a simple, 32-bit package that sounds stellar. Take a step into the world of DAC and change forever the way you play.
Gaming DACs We Recommend
Sound BlasterX G6 Hi-Res 130dB 32bit/384kHz Gaming DAC
Outputs: 1x ⅛″ Line In, 1x ⅛″ Line Out/mini, 1x ⅛″ Headphone or headset jack, 1x ⅛″ External microphone in, 1x micro USB port
Max Sampling Rate: 32-bit – 384kHz
What we like: 32-bit with an oversampled multi-bit modulator for pure, distortion-free sound. Good, loud power amp. 7.1 surround sound with Dolby Digital sound immersion technology.
Not so much: Works far better with headphones, the difference with speakers is subtle. Scout Mode is not useful in every game.
The motto of this Sound BlasterX is “Old games, new life” and I couldn´t agree more. All the games you´ve played in your life turn into a whole new realm and become more alive than ever with this DAC and power amp. I plugged in my ZMF Aeolus (very fancy 300Ω headphones) and was immediately taken in by Fortnite.
I was expecting more from the Scout mode which is very useful in some games but ends up being just a random expensive add-on for others. Volume is great and the 32-bit plus the Dolby sound immersion are definitely epic. I really loved this DAC and the sound quality it delivers.
Finally, all the options that the Sound Blaster Connect provides help you tailor the sound to specific situations and games.
Sennheiser GSX 1000 Gaming Audio Amplifier
Outputs: 3x 3.5mm, mini-USB
Max Sampling Rate: 24 bits – 192KHz
What we like: One-touch presets change. Four EQ settings for different scenarios. Large aluminum wheel on top .
Not so much: No mute button. Loud noise when you change presets. The quality of the microphone isn´t up to the standards of the rest.
The German audio giants are worldwide-known for manufacturing some of the best headphones you can buy. They broke into the DAC market with two great models, the GSX 1000 and the GSX 1200 PRO.
The first thing I have to say is that the GSX 1000 looks absolutely fabulous. When you turn it on, it lights up in red and populates the top menu with a LED-light menu featuring all the different modes. I found it very handy to be able to change modes with one touch, but it makes a sudden loud noise when it does that is pretty disturbing.
The overall audio quality for gaming improved drastically from my PC to my PC and this DAC + Power Amp. It doesn´t sound as good as others featuring 32 bits but it does sound much better than the built-in DAC. The only complaint I have in terms of sound is that the microphone sounds thin and far away regardless of the mode you´re at.
Overall it is a great gaming DAC, just beware you can only use it with headphones between 15 and 150 ohms.
Creative Sound BlasterX G1 7.1 Gaming USB DAC
Outputs: 1x 3.5mm
Max Sampling Rate: 24 bits – 96KHz
What we like: Super simple and easy to carry anywhere. Compatible with X-Plus configurator. Blaster X Acoustic Engine Pro allows fine-tuning of the sound.
Not so much: Blaster X Acoustic Engine Pro is only available for PC. 24 bits of maximum audio fidelity. Background hissing sound.
I absolutely love this kind of DAC that you can fit in the upper pocket of your shirt (if it has one). I recently got this one and found myself playing in a Starbucks while my beautiful frappuccino was sweating. I have completely immersed in the game thanks to the DAC. It has become easier than ever to put your laptop, mouse, headphones, and DAC in a backpack and play wherever you want. I happened to have two hours of dead time to kill far away from home and this DAC worked wonders.
The fact that it is not as extraordinary sounding as the G6 (32bits vs. 24bits) is logical since they belong to different lines. Besides that, I do have a complaint and it is the hissing sound on the background. Investing in a DAC is to be able to use hi-end headphones that will pick up the hissing noise. Creative should have added a hi-cut filter to remove it.
Fosi Audio Q4
Outputs: 3.5mm, USB, optical, coaxial and RCA
Max Sampling Rate: 24-bit 192KHz
What we like: Easy to use, plug and play hardware. Frontal equalizer knobs. RCA outputs for an external amplifier.
Not so much: Lacking any kind of fine-tuning. Big, heavy and bulky. Looks are old school.
This Fosi Audio Q4 DAC amp is very good for many applications, not only gaming. In my experience, it is more of a leave-at-home add-on to my computer´s sound than something I can take around with me. Also, it is not a good-looking apparatus and with the frontal EQ, it would be handy to have it near you in a visible place. Since it doesn´t look so good, I tend to leave it behind stuff.
A good thing I was able to do with this Fosi Audio Q4 was to give a new life to my old Sony CD-player from back in the day when you could buy a CD & cassette player with radio all in one piece with a pair of good speakers. I plugged that RCA to the DAC and now I have my old sound system working for me again in the AUX mode.
It works great with high-end headphones up until 200 ohms and the bass and treble controls are pretty good. I was expecting something closer to the app-driven Creative DACs but there´s only a two-band EQ to work with. Is a good addition that improves the sound of your computer´s standard DAC but it is not an apparatus that will revolutionize your world.
SteelSeries Game DAC for PS4 and PC
Outputs: 3.5mm, optical and USB
Max Sampling Rate: 96Khz – 24-bits
What we like: ESS Sabre DAC included with the amp. Great size and portability. Hi-Res audio certification.
Not so much: When HD Audio is enabled all other features are disabled. Mic voice has a loud echo with normal volume.
This DAC has an amazingly small size that is perfect for your laptop´s bag. It works great to enhance audio and take the standard DAC on my laptop to 24-bits. It is true that it is not as clear and powerful as the G6 but it is not as big either.
There are many options to choose from straight from the panel that is on top of the DAC and the (very) low-resolution screen there. I used the ESS Sabre before and know what it is capable of; this is no exception in its long legacy of good sound.
There are a couple of things, though, that I didn´t quite like. For example, if you want to enable the HD mode you suddenly have to disable all other add-ons that are specific for gaming. Although the experience with gaming was good, I was never able to make the microphone work correctly, everyone kept saying to me that I had a long and loud echo every time I spoke. I had to turn it down a lot and it was almost inaudible for me and the rest. Hopefully, this will be fixed for the next firmware update.
It is indeed a great-sounding DAC if you are a music lover or a movie lover. This SteelSeries creation is capable of enhancing the sound of anything you throw at it including lossless FLAC, DSD and WAV files.
Fosi Audio DAC-Q5
Outputs: 6.35mm, optical, coaxial, RCA and USB.
Max Sampling Rate: 24-bits – 192Khz
What we like: Compatible with hi-end 300ohms headphones. Nice-looking brushed aluminum casing. Plug and play, no software needed.
Not so much: External adapter needed; no USB power. The small range on the volume knob. Can´t play Dolby Digital 5.1 codec through it.
All the things I had to say about the Fosi Audio Q4 have changed with this model. The brushed aluminum casing makes this a very nice-looking apparatus that now sits at everyone´s sight. Gone are the bass and treble knobs and in the front part you get to choose the inputs and move the overall volume with a big knob. This knob has a big drawback that is the way it goes from nothing at all to a lot in a small turn.
The sound quality is a little better than the Q4 and the fact I could connect my ZMF Aeolus (with an adapter) was quite nice. These 300-ohms headphones can really bring anything alive to a point you no longer know if it´s real or not. The same outputs than the Q4 but I don´t like the fact that I have to plug it to 12v even if the adapter is included. Having to find a spot to plug it at every time I moved it was quite a hassle I didn´t have with the Q4.
NextDrive Spectra Portable USB DAC
Max Sampling Rate: 32-bits – 384KHz
What we like: The size and portability are amazing. 32 bits of the sampling rate. No batteries needed.
Not so much: Compatibility issues with iPhone. Drivers needed for use with Windows. Limited options.
This little device is so great that you can even use it with your Android phone and get full 32-bits of sample rate while you are playing with your thumbs. The best way I thought I could try it was commuting and so I did. I took my ZMF Aeolus out of home (something I don´t usually do), hid the Spectra in my shirt´s pocket and played all the way to work. I think it is enough to say that I forgot to get out at my stop and got out two stops later. Yes, the Spectra sounds that well.
Other than the sound and the portability I wouldn´t recommend this for a home DAC since it is very limited in its options. For the same price tag (under $200), you can buy other, more complete DACs for home use. That being said, it has to be the best sounding portable DAC I´ve ever tried and if you are looking for something you can take in your pocket, this might be it.
EarStudio ES100 MK2-24bit
Outputs: balanced 2.5mm and unbalanced 3.5mm
Max Sampling Rate: 24-bits – 96KHz
What we like: 14-hour battery life. EarStudio App compatibility with 10-band EQ. Bluetooth to link it to whatever you like without losing audio quality.
Not so much: 24 bit maximum sample rate. Entirely made of plastic. Volume buttons are hard to operate because they are too small.
Freedom should be the synonym of this little wonder. It is a great DAC if you plug it through the USB port to your computer and play some videogames but it is not what it was designed to do. This little device (the size of a pack of tic-tacs) is a great companion for a long trip in which you want to listen to some great music. If you happen to have nice headphones and like the freedom of plugging them to this wireless DAC hanging from your shirt, you can really get a lot more than what your phone can naturally give you.
There is a thing about size. I know that the smaller the better in many senses, but really, the controls on this apparatus are too small. Skipping songs and adjusting the volume is quite hard because the buttons are really too small. I´m not a small guy, I have big hands and for me, it is even harder to do it.
It is a great device to take with you on the road and improve drastically the audio quality of any Bluetooth-compatible source, but I think it is a tad limited for gaming. I really enjoyed the app and the 10-band EQ, though. It is just that there are no gaming specifics.
Which are the benefits of DAC for gaming?
These are just some of the benefits of DAC for gaming. Bear in mind these apply also to movies, series and anything involving sound coming from your computer or other digital sound sources.
- Improved audio quality – Analog audio forms are richer in nature than their digital recreation, as a result, overall audio quality improves drastically.
- Versatility – DACs usually give the user more options to control audio than computers do.
- Power – Most DACs feature a built-in power amp to feed hi-fi equipment like headphones and speakers with high impedance.
What is a DAC?
Let´s start from the very beginning: what is a DAC? Well, a DAC is a Digital to Analog Audio Converter. It is an external unit, usually USB-powered, that works with your computer´s audio output. They usually come with a built-in amplifier to also give more power to the original signal. These units improve the audio you get on Hi-Fi equipment such as headphones and high-end speakers. How does DAC work?
As the name implies, a DAC transforms your computer´s binary information (zeros and ones) into an analog audio waveform. To make it simpler, you can think of a DAC as a translator that converts computer language into sound. Your headphones, for example, don´t read digital information so you have to feed them audio curves. The better the quality of the DAC, the better the audio result you´ll get because always the better the translator, the better the communication.
Does my computer have a DAC?
This is one of the first things we need to clear out: your computer already has a DAC. Your cellphone has a DAC too but usually, these don´t have the quality that an external DAC does. The quality of the converter will define the resulting sound. If you plug into your computer a pair of regular headphones you can’t tell the difference because they have very low impedance.
Hi-Fi headphones have a higher impedance (the higher the impedance, the higher the sound quality). Regular cellphone headsets have 35ohms impedance while Hi-Fi ones can get up to 500 ohms. Having 500ohms headphones plugged into a cheap DAC is like buying a Ferrari and not going past the third gear; you´re not making the most out of your investment.
Last update on 2020-09-16 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API