What is the average life expectancy of a DAC?

Hello folks, 

With the recent profusion of relatively inexpensive DACs that are now available, I'm wondering what the average life expectancy of a good DAC is? Or, to put it another way, is it cost-effective to invest in a high(ish) end DAC like a Denafrips Terminator or a Halo May with the expectation that it will last at least 5 or more years?

Dacs can last a very long time. There are no moving parts and it doesn't generate very much heat and not much to wear out. I am currently listening to a Dac that was built in 1995, it works flawlessly and sounds great. Even tubed Dacs like mine don't generate very much heat. You're much more likely to get bored with your Dac than have it crap out on you.

Your question is more than valid and very insightful.
The answer will depend upon whether you have money
to burn on gear or want to be more prudent with your money.

DACs are the fastest evolving, most influential gear digital people
buy today. 

I think the life a DAC -not how long it will operate but how long you
will be satisfied with- is two years. 

Everyone has there own threshold of how much money they are willing
to burn on a churn for a yearn. 

If you feel it is likely you will want the next greatest DAC in a couple years, then know what you are willing to burn and buy at no more
than double that amount. 

In my case $1500-$1750 is the number I will spend. 

Any help?
It's a great question that I've been wondering about.  I love my DAC, the Bryston DAC3, and it has a feature set that isn't common-4 HDMI inputs.  I think I've had it now going on 5 years.  I get curious about newer DACs but between the HDMI feature and the AKM chip, which may be hard to replace now given the fate of the AKM manufacturer, and the fact that I might retire in a few years and some concerns that we might be heading into an inflationary cycle given the levels of Government spending, I might want to hang on to this forever, perhaps.
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An expensive DAC is a fetish object for many here! The more costly the greater the claims for aural "thrills"! 
DACS that live  in the wild have a much shorter life than domesticated DACS. My DAC was a rescue DAC and while we’re not sure of its real age, it’s probably about six months old, 
30 years is not too short a life span for a DAC.  There are a couple of thigns to consider though:
1 - DAC's after 2010 got much better, especially with RedBook playback so buy older models with caution.

2 - Streaming services and connectivity changes more rapidly than resolution and bit rates. 

Nobody can tell a $100 DAC from a $1000 DAC if they listen blindfolded
That’s an interesting claim. Please tell us about your listening tests that have led you to this conclusion.
Yes DACs should last many many years but technology moves ahead quickly especially like others have stated connectivity. Look for companies that constantly update products. My dac originally didn't have an Ethernet connection (wasn't even a thing many yrs ago) then streaming came out and had my dac updated to accept Ethernet.
Working, for ever, sounding good, for ever, feature wise much shorter. But i suspect they would  devaluate quicker than anything else. Of course there are exceptions for some keeping a good value and having only the very basic features.

@jjss49 I just read the stereophile review of the magic brick and they argue it works. I’m sure the tongue implanted in the cheek of the marketer who named this product is still lodged there! I’m not being snarky -- I do believe vibration control is a real thing -- but I have to laugh at your question. Now, combining your question with the one about Dacs, how long will a DAC last if you drop a magic brick on it? 

Oh, and the people named after movie superheroes (JB, e.g.) need to get their hands on a good DAC. I have zero trouble hearing my $1100 R2R Dac’s betterness (a word, right?) over both a $500 Peachtree and the NODE 2i Dac. I mean, come on JB, go snuff some bad guys, ok?
I have two new DACs on order, one is a new 2021 model and the other is over 25 years old (and being upgraded by the original manufacturer).....go figure.

Things continue to change moderately to rapidly in the digital arena so the question of life expectancy goes to how necessary it is for you to have the "latest and greatest" technology. At this point, I suspect many of the changes/improvements fall under "different but not overwhelmingly better" - at least with respect to SQ. Below are a few areas where I have seen continued DAC changes/improvements:
  • File format - DSD, MQA, high bit rate, etc. The ability of a DAC to interpret and process different file formats is more important to some listeners than to others. My understanding is that something less than 5 percent of recorded music is available in a high resolution format
  • Connectivity - USB, AES/EBU, and S/PDIF are most popular but I2S is being used by some while direct Ethernet may become the next thing
  • All-in-One Units - On-board volume controls are improving and DACs offering on-board streaming are becoming more popular
  • Analog Processing - Tubes are still popular with some manufacturers and others are improving SQ by paying more attention to higher quality power supplies and regulation, with some even using more advanced SMPS

What is the average life expectancy of a DAC?

If solid state and good design and treated well, I say it’s the most reliable component in the audio chain.
I've seen over 30 year old Wadia's than need no servicing, and still sound like they did.
Cheers George
I had a Levinson No 39 purchased in the late 90s. Six or so years ago, I bought a Wyred4Sound DAC-2 based on the positive reviews and thinking that technology had progressed so much that even a less expensive DAC (the W4S was about $1500) would surely be better. Not even close (although I was only using with Redbook CDs). 

I eventually sold the No39 when I bought an Yggy A2 which did sound a bit better. But the main reason I replaced it was that it didn't have USB and at the time I was just using a PC to drive it.

I still own the Yggy, but this is now relegated to a secondary system. I bought a Terminator and then replaced it with a Terminator Plus. 

I think a well-built higher end SS DAC will last for decades and will hold it's own for many years. Will you be able to better the sound in five years for the same money. Probably, but I think the improvements will be subtle. 

The more likely issue will be some new interface that becomes popular that isn't supported on existing DACs. This was the problem I had with the Levinson. 
With a dac there is not life expectancy issues but there are planned obsolescence issues like new technologies and formats that always appear.
What a great question as it addresses both reliability and obsolescence. Imo DAC design and the chips have made significant advances over the last decade. The main concerns will likely result from connections (usb, wireless, ethernet etc) and possible sampling changes i.e. MQA. Buy the best you can afford and if those factors change significantly sell for ~50% of what you paid. You will have had 3-5 years of enjoyment at least. While above my intended budget, I just dumped $6k on a streamer/dac and couldn’t be happier. 100,000 + tracks to explore and enjoy at my fingertips and sound quality close to +/- with my vinyl depending on source quality. If I sell in 4 years at 50% my out of pocket for those thousands of hours of enjoyment is ~ $60/month. Not nothin but life is short and we are all here for the love of music.
I think there are two questions embedded in yours - one obvious, one hiding.

The hiding question is "how long until it is obsolete and [possibly to you] worthless".
The surface question is "how long will it operate reliably".

If you buy a quality DAC at the top of the food chain ( in its range) the answer is "quite a long time". While i have new/newer DACs and prototypes I’m working on (excellent, but have, uh, issues at this early stage, kinda like 2 year olds), i also have two very old DACs and both are useful.

One’s a circa 1999 (?) MSB Gold Nelson, with a bunch of modifications I made that improved it significantly. It works great, sounds "good" but not state of the art, and has a big flaw (to be corrected) - S/PDIF input only - no USB or network.

I also have an even older one; a Theta DS-PRO II from what, 1989? 2nd Gen of the DAC that started DACs. It was also S/PDIF only (duh, i came out when that interface arrived) and continued to sound pretty good. Again the bog caveat was that i needed a USB or network --> S/PDIF converter and most suck. There are a very few pretty good ones, like Mike’s Piece of Schiit, but it doesn’t play well with the Theta - they get in synch fights. Ironic since Mike designed both, albeit 40 years apart.

So i built and inserted a USB --> isolation --> re-clock --> clean power stage before the S/PDIG and stuffed it inside. Now it soudns much BETTER than it did, presumably with less jitter and ground noise.

I realize this is not a path most people can take, and normally i would not waste the time, but the DS Pro is such a piece of audio engineering history (look it up, very innovative and cool) that i just had to save it.

So the moral of the story is that within reason, they can both last and continue to be useful and good sounding - but tech may move on.

Hey if mahler is right on the inflationary cycle ( there is a global chip shortage) might be able to sell for more than paid....ha..
course don’t listen to me I have a Smithsonian basement full of obsolete tech DAT, HDdvd, VHS, SVHS, Nakamichi cassette anyone? 
Th electronic components will last a long time. The only real question is whether advancing performance will leave the high(ish) end DACs in the dust.    

But consider that the performance of a DAC will NOT diminish. It will stay the same (as long as the electronic components do not wear out) or maybe even increase as caps are used. So a given DAC will be as good in 10 years as it is today. It is only the improving performance of the competition that will change.  
just as a sidebar note...

among my little collection of dacs i have a 1997 vintage van alstine fet topp dac, employing the lovely philips tda1541a r2r nos dac chips and with tele 12ax7s... the old crystal semi input chip won’t read anything but a redbook input, but this thing sounds every bit as good as several well regarded current dacs i have tried in the $750-2000 price range, and a good bit better than numerous others i have tried...
Any electronic device will last as long as its worst quality or hottest running electrolytic capacitor.

If the design is proper, ie no other overloaded resistors exist, the first components which go are the electrolytic capacitors.

So, your DAC will also last as long as its worst electrolytic capacitor.

Good quality electrolytics will work up to about 15 - 20,000 hours at 85 or 105 degrees C.  Cheaper ones will give in earlier.  Your mileage may vary.

@afisher  - you made me laugh

In the USA, DAC life expectancy has dropped from 6.2 years to 5.5 years because of Covid. Japan hasn't seen any decrease. Brazil and Mexico, though are down almost 25%.  The vaccine should normalize the trends again. 
DACs are of course the bane of digital audio.
The residual distortion and dither they cause may be reduced to close to nil, but never to nil.

For sensible people, their expected life must be inversely proportional to the cost price.
Perhaps a table can be derived:

$100          6 months
$500          1 year
$2,000        3 years
$5,000        10 years
$20,000      30 years
$50,000      100 years

The diminishing returns can be seen.  In any case, no sensible person will spend $20,000 on a DAC as it will be superseded in a few years.

This causes me to wonder.  Are DACS the fastest depreciating hi-fi component?  Will they depreciate more slowly as their technology becomes more mature?
Are DACS the fastest depreciating hi-fi component?
No, IMO they lost that title to digital tweaks, followed closely by Class D amplifiers.
Will they depreciate more slowly as their technology becomes more mature?
I sure hope so, starting next week when I get my new DAC!
LOL some of us bottom-feeders love depreciation.  Buy a $5k DAC for $700 when its no longer the shiny object ......:-)
1st, I commend you for asking a good question! Some of the questions in this forum are, well, let’s say interesting. And sometimes the comments are unhelpful. I appreciated several of the responses to your question.
2nd, I’m not an expert nor an audio engineer.
3rd, I have done a lot of research and have spent substantial $$ on both a headphone system (amps & DACs and MQA) and a stereo system (McIntosh, high end speakers...). I read countless reviews, watched innumerable youtube reviews, and focused on so-called top-rated DACs. I have purchased and A-B tested several. I ended up settling on the NAD C658 (around $1600) and the Topping D90 MQA (around $800) for my headphone set up (Sennheisers, Focals, and Shure 846s). In my experience the past year +, I’ve concluded at the rate of DAC entries, they will be an evolving tech (clock rates, chipsets, MQA or not, other enhancements yet to come). At some level, $500 - $1500 may not be that big of a price tag for a component that you may enjoy for 3-5 years. More specifically, are you a person who enjoys the audiophile hobby and looks to upgrade items over time?
4th, one factor that I settled on (and this, too, is debated. Heck, everything in the audiophile world is debated!) was balanced connections. I wanted XLR balanced connections and that narrows the field some.
Last, I was seriously tempted to buy the Holo-May DAC until I watch Zeos’ review. It was at once good and also hysterical. Some of the comments to Zeos’ review were spot on. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOqgEJVvld0&t=1966s As always, the proof is in your listening experience / enjoyment. Hope you find what you want!
Commended for asking a good question?
How do you know when it reaches its expiration? 
Does it get moldy like bread?
Nobody can tell a $100 DAC from a $1000 DAC if they listen blindfolded
That’s an interesting claim. Please tell us about your listening tests that have led you to this conclusion.

Here’s a 140 page read on the topic. Many more on the same site and around the web. The only folks who can ever tell the difference are doing sighted or otherwise biased “tests”.

The only folks who can ever tell the difference are doing sighted or otherwise biased “tests” ...
And you claim this based on the work of ASR and its obvious agenda? You might want to see if you can participate in some actual blind testing yourself. You might be surprised what you learn!
Just curious how everyone thinks about FPGA systems like the PS Audio Direct Stream versus chip based D/A systems.  Does the ability to modify the system via a software update give FPGA systems a longer significant lifetime and therefore do they warrant a higher used price?
I disagree with the premise that one cannot hear the difference between dacs. Everything has a sound and sounds different through a top system. Obviously YMMV.

That said although I've done blind testing, I've not been able to level match, so my data is flawed. We didn't prefer the loudest unit, though, as usually hypothesized.

Having tried popular new dacs, I eventually ended up with an Audio Mirror R2R dac based on an obsolete Analog devices AD1865N-K. The nice thing about going with an old chip is that you don't have to chase the shiney new thing. And I preferred it to every shiney new dac I tried. I'm sure it'll still compare favourably to whatever is new in 10 years.
I was waiting for the FPGA people to weigh in, thankyou!  I have two dogs in this hunt...I have a wonderful Wadia 16 CD player/DAC I bought new in the 90s for what was then crazy money, and it gave me a great life span. It's still a useful component now running as a transport feeding my dCS Bartok. My first streamer two years ago was the entry level Naim, I then felt good enough about streaming and the FPGA approach that I upgraded to the dCS Bartok. When the first firmware update was made available with the Niam I was giddy with joy! For the first time in my audio life I got an update in my home for no hassle and no additional charge. I have also had one no hassle update from dCS so far. This software approach to the product life cycle issue was a definite part of my willingness to part with a dear $14,500 on the part of my system known for the most rapid changes. I'm counting on the FPGA technology to deliver for at least another 8 years. I might get itchy and feel the need to buy something new, but the updates should help protect my investment when I sell the dCS used. This is just a different approach, and I took it, hook, line and sinker, and maybe even the bobber!
All DAC's sound the same? Sorry, but my RME ADI-2 DAC does not sound like an iPhone. 

Ok, no reason to buy an external DAC at all if they all sound the same. Just use the DAC built into your computer or phone. End of discussion.
Why would they last any less than any other component? I'd say the guy that said 30 or 40 years is most likely correct. 
The answer is that DACs will last as long as you are satisfied with what you have (and it is still working). That could be 1 month or 30 years. YMMV.
My previous one lasted 15 years for me, and was used when I bought it.  It was a Chord DAC 64
I have a similar DAC path, only with a Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2 DSD v2.2 in between my Yggy and Terminator.  I recognized the benefits of moving up the DAC chain, my experience has been better DAC's cost more.

I found the Yggy better than my CD player's DAC but mildly unsettling at times.  The W4S was smoother and more detailed with better low end but still occasionally strident.  The Terminator was a big step up but still at moments left me wanting.  The Terminator Plus with Denafrips Iris DDC using the clock out from the TP is amazing.

I could always spend more and get better now.  Unless I get another upgrade bug (can't see these coming) I think my DAC will be good for at least 4 years and probably more before DAC's change enough for me to feel the need to change.
Just curious how everyone thinks about FPGA systems like the PS Audio Direct Stream versus chip based D/A systems. Does the ability to modify the system via a software update give FPGA systems a longer significant lifetime and therefore do they warrant a higher used price?

I like the fact that my Aqua La Voce S3 is designed to be upgradeable, but I bought it for how it sounds today, not in the future.  I bought mine 2nd hand for about 60% of retail, so I wouldn't say it commands a higher than average used price. 

I'm a little disappointed that it sounds exactly like a $100 Chinese DAC, but it's big and exotic and somewhat expensive, so it has boosted my fragile self-esteem.

As others have said, no moving parts just electronic components. I have had  a Meridian Direct (Director) for years. Its moved from my main system to my shop system. I’ve dropped it numerous times and it gets full of sawdust, still has wonderful sound. 
My JVC QL-Y55F turntable is 40 years old and still performs as new. And you’re all questioning if you can get 5 years out of a dac? 
Thank goodness for turntables. 
I bought my Ayre QB9 in 2007 based on hearing it at the dealer. Ayre has offered two upgrades since and the sound of each were worth it. So I have a current Ayre DAC but originally bought in 2007. I would research and try to find a company that will either accept trade in’s or upgrades.
Jaytor, the Levinson DAC has always been considered a leader in sound. Many who heard the Levinson in the early 2000’s would still swear today that it’s the best sounding DAC they’ve ever heard. DAC chips are a great thing but implementing them and designing something overall is what matters. I’d also add that I don’t really think that price point is a good determiner. 
My JVC QL-Y55F turntable is 40 years old and still performs as new.

Is your cartridge 40 years old?