Computer audio can be downright terrible. Laptop audio specifically seems lag behind where it should be, depending on the model you have. Luckily you can give your headphone audio a boost by adding a USB DAC/AMP.

I set out to find what were the most popular and well reviewed DAC’s available under $100. After a lot of research I was able to narrow my choices down to the AudioQuest Dragonfly Black, Fiio K1, and Cambridge Dacmagic XS. All three are compact and portable units promising to enhance your systems audio performance.

AudioQuest Dragonfly Black$99.99

Cambridge Dacmagic XS$74.99

Fiio K1$39.99

While the pricing isn’t the same, the feature set of these DAC’s are very similar. Each unit connects to your computer via USB. The Dacmagic and K1 come with micro USB to USB cables, while the Dragonfly Black has a USB type A head connected directly to its body. The more expensive Dragonfly and Dacmagic come with travel puches, while the affordable K1 does not.

DAC/AMP Specification

best dacs packaging

DragonFly BlackDacMagic XSFiio K1
DACESS 9010 32-bitESS 9023 24-bitPCM 5102 24-bit
PLAYBACKUp to 24-bit 96KHzUp to 24-bit 192KHzUp to 24-bit 96KHz
DIMENSIONS12 x 19 x 62mm30 x 10 x 53.5mm50 x 20.5 x 8mm

None of these DAC’s require drivers, each of them will play 24-bit 96KHz audio out of the box. However the Dacmagic has a trick up its sleeve, there is an optional driver you can download from their website that allows you to play up play files up to 192KHz. This is a welcome addition even if it doesn’t result in noticeable audio quality improvements.

Audio Quality Testing

dac audio testing
I tested each DAC out with my Surface Book 2, and Tidal Premium streaming service. For headphones I used my excellent Master & Dynamic MW50+. I decided to score sections of performance to more clearly illustrate where I thought each device was good and bad at.

DragonFly BlackDacMagic XSFiio K1

Overall the Dragonfly Black was hands down the best option. It offered the best dynamics, along with excellent clarity. Shockingly the Dacmagic game in last place I felt that it produced somewhat muddy sounding audio compared to the other two. The K1 was shockingly good for the money, it offered about 75% of what the Black gives you at $40.

So your choice will ultimately come down to price. If you can afford it the Dragonfly Black is the best performer, however if you are just looking for a budget option and don’t need crystal clear clarity and precision the Fiio K1 is a great option. I would only buy the Dacmagic if you absolutely must have volume controls, there are simply better options for less money.


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