Balanced DAC under $300.00 (US$)

Hi folks. I have two amps, one balanced and one not. I am thinking that I should get a balanced DAC and I could wire everything up and not have to keep changing stuff. I came across a link to the Audio Science Review of the SMSL SU-8 and that looks VERY impressive. Any other recommendations?

Thanks in advance!

Shane D

PS: The reason I listed such a low price is “living in Canada”. That SML mentioned above would cost me a Minimum of $400.00, landed.

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There is a reason there are almost zero balanced DACs at that price point. It is expensive to make a DAC fully differential (or dual mono, dual DAC, or whatever other terms OEMs want to misuse). The “balanced” DACs that are cheap, probably cheat and aren’t fully balanced at all despite having the XLR plugs.

It’s hard to do, but try not to dwell so much on “omgz balanced” unless you can ensure the topology of the DAC and amp are both fully differential.


The Cambridge Dac Magic + and Topping DX7/DX7s are occasionally on sale at around $300. Or find them used. I’ve also occasionally seen the SMSL M10

The only other DACs I’ve seen below that price point are portables like the Fiio Q1 Mk2 and the Radsone ES100.



Shane D

Thanks. I will likely end up buying used.

Shane D

Also the Massdrop Grace SDAC has a balanced version, but it’s not a dual-dac setup from what I can tell. It’s $149 whenever it’s available. (note, my current “balanced” dac isnt a dual-dac setup either – RME ADI-2 DAC)


I’m pretty sure RME knows how to do proper balanced XLR though.

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Cambridge Audio DAC Magic + is an excellent low cost DAC. Used to be $600, can be had for about half of that now.


Most modern DAC ICs have differential audio-outputs right on the chip, and can do proper stereo output, in balanced form, from a single IC - as long as the implementer chooses to do so.

Using an additional DAC chip in these cases isn’t necessary for proper balanced operation, but is often done in audiophile designs to lower crosstalk or to increase dynamic range/resolution (by allowing both DAC segments in the IC to be combined for a single channel).

In real terms, balanced connections between DAC and amp don’t really matter much unless you have ground-loop issues (which going balanced will not always solve) or are using long runs of cable and/or are in an EMI/RFI prone environment.


I was just thinking that it would handy to have a DAC that I could plug into my Loxjie P20 (XLR) and my Burson Fun (via RCA) and then no more screwing around. Grab your chosen headphone, flick on your chosen amp and pick an output on your DAC. Seems pretty straight forward.
I do not have golden ears or a state of the art system.

Thanks for the input!

Shane D

I will add that to the list.


Shane D

I am not fixated on balanced, but do love the balanced output on my DAP (Sony ZX-300). It is louder, but also fuller. Sony does put extra work and features on their balanced outputs.

Also, every review I have read about the Loxjie P20 states that you Must use it in balanced mode to get full value. I heard the same thing about the Sony and it was correct, so…

That is my entire history and knowledge on balanced architectures.:grin:

Shane D


“Balanced” drive from amp to headphones has different effects/benefits than from DAC to amps.

My personal experience - the P20 should be used with Balanced XLR headphone output. I haven’t really seen any appreciable differences between using RCA or XLR input. I currently use it with RCAs since moving it to a different room.

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For some reason, my experience with the P20 seems to be different. I find a bigger difference between using the RCA or XLR inputs and less difference between the two outputs. It just seems a little “dirtier” to me. This is using the SMSL SU-8 to feed it and the cables are about 20cm long.

I use the RCA outs of the SU-8 into a BSS Blu160 feeding some JBL ceiling speakers and don’t experience any of the “dirt” factor, but then again, the ceiling speakers are not quite on a par with having HD6xx or Beyer CS on your head.

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I am currently using it rca in and XLR out.

Shane D

I forgot to mention – there’s the Geshelli Enog2 Pro which is cheap


That looks pretty cool. I will have to go into research mode. Do you have any experience with this model or this company?

Did you used to be on Turbo/supercharger maybe?

Shane D

I do not. Reddit folks are obsessed with them because ASR gave them a big thumbs up on measurements. I automatically rule them out due to aesthetics though. :slight_smile: It could be a fun DIY box project though.

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ASR gave the SMSL SU-8 a STRONG buy review.

Do you assemble them yourself? That would explain the cheap price.

Shane D