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The 7 Best Portable DACs and Headphone Amplifiers for audiophiles

The 7 Best Portable DACs and Headphone Amplifiers for audiophiles
The 7 Best Portable DACs and Headphone Amplifiers for audiophiles

In addition to purchasing a separate portable Hi – Res player to listen to music in high quality, a popular way to raise the sound of your smartphone to the proper level is to purchase a specialized external DAC and headphone amplifier.

Such devices receive the audio signal from the smartphone via USB , process, convert and amplify it so that in combination with the phone you get a very high-quality portable audio system.

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7. FiiO Jade Audio Q11

Price – $99.99

Budget DAC from FiiO, which produces entry-level devices under the Jade Audio brand. Despite its compact size and low price, the model has a high output power – up to 650 mW at 32 Ohms, while two gain levels are available to the user, switched by a toggle switch on the front panel. There are two headphone jacks – balanced 4.4 mm and unbalanced 3.5 mm. The digital-to-analog converter is based on the CS43198 chip from Cirrus Logic and can handle PCM streams up to 32bit/384kHz and DSD256. The low-noise power supply is equipped with a 2600 mAh rechargeable battery, a full charge of which is enough for 13 hours of operation. The body of the device is made entirely of aluminum, with the exception of a transparent window through which you can see the main elements of the circuit.

Pros – high power, low price, balanced output

Cons – weight 150 grams

Verdict: A great choice for audiophiles who prefer over-ear headphones

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6. Yaqin DAC-X8

Price – $129

This portable digital-to-analog converter and headphone amplifier is equipped with an unbalanced 3.5mm jack and a balanced 2.5mm jack. The DAC block is based on the AK4493EQ chip from Asahi Kasei, which supports decoding and conversion of PCM signals with a sampling rate of up to 768 kHz, as well as the native DSD512 stream. The case is machined from aluminum alloy, on the front panel there is an LED that shows the type and parameters of the incoming digital signal in color. The voltage on the unbalanced connector is 2 V, on the balanced connector – 4 V at a load of 600 ohms, the maximum output power is 280 mW at 32 ohms. The model measures 60.2 x 18 x 10.2 mm and weighs only 10 grams.

Pros – compact size, balanced output, low price

Cons – simple design

Verdict: Affordable option for beginner audiophiles

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5.xDuoo LinK2 Bal Max

Price – $149

The cost-effective, fully symmetrical model is based on Cirrus Logic’s dual-chip CS43131, supporting both 32bit/384kHz PCM and DSD256 streams. The amplifier has two headphone outputs – 3.5 mm and 4.4 mm, the output power is 200 mW at 32 ohms and 270 mW at 32 ohms, respectively. The model has two modes of USB input, it can be switched to UAC1.0, compatible with Nintendo Switch and PlayStation game consoles. The amplifier can also operate in two different modes, with the most power being achieved in Turbo mode, switching is done by a toggle switch on the side panel. Dimensions of the device – 63 x 23.5 x 13 mm, weight – 28 grams.

Pros – balanced output, support for Switch and PS game consoles, good power

Cons – nothing

Verdict: Good DAC for gamers who value the right sound

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4. AUDIRECT BEAM4

Price – $239

The original look and color of the device is the fourth generation of the model. The digital-to-analog converter is made on the ESS9281 chip, which supports PCM streams up to 32 bit / 768 kHz and native DSD 512. There are two headphone outputs on 3.5 mm and 4.4 mm jacks for connecting headphones, the output power is 122 mW and 230 mW on 32 ohms, respectively. The body of the device is made of anodized aluminum, built-in LEDs on the top panel show the status and battery level, as well as the type and sampling rate of the digital signal. Vertical red physical keys on the ends of the case are designed to control power, volume and playback. This cute DAC weighs only 62 grams.

Pros – interesting design, convenient operation

Cons – not the highest power

Verdict: Unusual-looking DAC with balanced output

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3. Cayin RU7

Price – $289

The main advantage of the model is that the digital-to-analog converter unit in it is made on a resistive matrix (R-2R) of our own design, which provides high dynamics and natural sound when working with DSD. The device can work with PCM digital signals with a sampling rate of up to 384 kHz and a native DSD 256 stream. The USB-C port is used to supply the signal, headphone and line outputs are organized on 3.5 mm and 4.4 mm jacks. The physical keys for switching operating modes and the volume keys are located on the side panel, the small display shows the signal level and parameters, as well as the active output. The body is made from a single piece of aluminum billet, the model measures 66 x 24 x 12 mm and weighs 25 grams. The output power on the 4.4mm jack is 400mW.

Pros – 1-bit resistive-matrix DAC, compact size, line-out

Cons – practically nothing

Verdict: An advanced DAC at a reasonable price

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2. HiBy FC6

Price – $299

In this model, the DAC is made according to the proprietary Darwin scheme, which implies the use of a discrete converter on a resistive matrix, as well as a set of switchable filters and switchable oversampling. The device uses precision clock generators, and the output stage of the headphone amplifier is built on discrete elements. On the front panel is a bright LCD display with large characters, which displays the parameters of the digital signal, the filters in use and the volume level. The volume control in the device is a discrete 32-step, its physical key is located on the side panel. The body is made of aluminum, there is only one 3.5 mm minijack socket for connecting headphones. The maximum output power is 100 mW into 32 ohms. The model works with PCM stream 32 bit / 768 kHz, as well as with native DSD512 stream. With dimensions of 22.5 x 50 x 10 mm, the device weighs only 19 grams.

Pros – Darwin proprietary DAC with switchable filters, DSD512 support, light weight

Cons – headphone output only 3.5 mm, low power

Verdict: Sophisticated DAC for audio gourmets

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1. Luxury & Precision W4

Price – $449

A nice model built on a chip of the company’s own design. The proprietary LP5108 chip combines support for PCM signals up to 32bit/384kHz with low power native DSD256 streaming. Those who like to customize their sound to suit their tastes will love the two sound profiles, five digital filters and plenty of EQ settings. Headphones can be connected to the 4.4 mm and 3.5 mm outputs, the latter is also used to output the SPDIF digital stream. Output power is 110 mW unbalanced and 420 mW balanced. The device is enclosed in an aluminum case, on the front panel of which there is a small monochrome OLED display.

Pros – proprietary DAC, switchable digital filters

Cons – pricey

Verdict: Serious model for mobile audio fans

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