Best portable amplifiers and DACs for headphones right now

Choosing a fresh portable amplifier and DAC for headphones

The popularity of external devices for improving the sound of smartphones is not decreasing – new models of portable digital-to-analog converters and headphone amplifiers appear every month. Almost all of them provide a connection via a USB – C port , while some of them are capable of working with very “heavy” headphones.

We have selected seven of the most noteworthy new products of recent months, ranking according to increasing price.

7. Moondrop Dawn Pro

7. Moondrop Dawn Pro

  • Pros – nice design, balanced connector, good DAC
  • Cons – low power
  • Verdict – an excellent budget model with the right DAC

The model provides two jacks 3.5 mm and 4.4 mm for unbalanced and balanced connections. Output power reaches 120 mW into 32 ohms, and the DAC section features dual CS43131 chips from Cirrus Logic, providing a signal-to-noise ratio of up to -131 dB and working with 32-bit / 384 kHz PCM signals and native DSD256 stream. The original aluminum alloy body has ventilation holes on the front panel. The physical volume control has 100 steps, the model has two independent clock generators and three separate power supplies for different circuits.

6. TempoTec Sonata BHD PRO

6. TempoTec Sonata BHD PRO

  • Pros – high-quality chip, balanced connection, transparent window
  • Cons – practically none
  • Verdict – inexpensive option with good power

The budget model from TempoTec is built on a dual CS43131 chip from Cirrus Logic, it is equipped with two headphone outputs – unbalanced 3.5 mm and balanced 4.4 mm. The DAC can handle 32-bit/384kHz PCM signals, native DSD256 stream, and is also capable of decoding MQA signals. The type and sampling rate of the incoming signal is displayed using a color LED. The device body is made of aluminum; the front panel has a transparent window through which you can see the main elements of the printed circuit board. The maximum output power of the amplifier is 280 mW into 32 ohms with a balanced connection.

5. Muse HiFi M3 II

5. Muse HiFi M3 II

  • Pros – original design, amplifier based on SIP modules, low power consumption
  • Cons – it’s hard to find fault with anything
  • Verdict – a model with good power and long operating time

Unlike the previous generation, built on the basis of converters from ESS Saber, the new product uses top-end CS43131 chips from Cirrus Logic. To connect headphones, the model has an asymmetrical 3.5 mm jack and a balanced 4.4 mm jack; the device body is made of aluminum alloy. The amplifier is built on a dual SIP module and copes with a load with a nominal resistance from 16 to 600 Ohms, two gain levels are available. The built-in processor supports the proprietary Muse Space algorithm to add additional volume to stereo recordings and Virtual Surround Sound for games and movies.

4. xDuoo XD05 PLUS2

4. xDuoo XD05 PLUS2

  • Pros – high power, built-in battery, Asahi Kasei chip, Bluetooth with LDAC support and aptX HD
  • Cons – one 6.35mm jack
  • Verdict – quite an affordable amplifier that can drive any headphones

The main advantage of the model is a powerful built-in amplifier capable of delivering up to 1,200 mW to a 32-ohm load, which allows you to connect even quite difficult-to-drive headphones to it. The digital-to-analog converter is based on the AK4493SEQ chip from Asahi Kasei and is capable of working with PCM signals up to 32 bit / 384 kHz, as well as native DSD256 stream and MQA files. The model has a built-in equalizer with preset curves for different genres, and support for two USB protocols (UAC1.0 and UAC2.0) allows you to use the new product with Nintendo Switch, PlayStation and Xbox game consoles. The 5,000 mAh battery provides up to 9 hours of continuous music playback.

3. Shanling H5

3. Shanling H5

  • Pros – sufficient power, DSD 512 support, memory card slot
  • Cons – the price is already felt…
  • Verdict – a beautiful DAC with a powerful amplifier

In this model, the DAC unit is built on a dual AK4493SEQ chip and can work with a 32-bit / 768 kHz PCM signal and a DSD 512 stream; 6 user-switchable filters are provided. A USB-C port or a 3.5 mm jack is used to supply a digital signal; for wireless connection there is a Bluetooth adapter with support for the LDAC codec. The amplifier produces up to 227 mW into 32 ohms when connected to a 3.5 mm jack and up to 840 mW into 32 ohms when connected to a balanced 4.4 mm jack. On the top panel there is a volume control knob and a wheel for navigating the menu, below them there is an OLED display measuring 0.87 inches.

2. Quloos MUB1

2. Quloos MUB1

  • Pros – powerful amplifier on BUF634, digital signal output, four chips in the DAC
  • Cons – a little expensive
  • Verdict – an interesting model with a good digital part

The DAC unit here uses four CS43131 chips from Cirrus Logic, which provides a signal-to-noise ratio of -132 dB and a THD of only 0.0001%. The amplifier section is made of four BUF634 op-amps, the output power is up to 1,100 MW at 32 Ohms. There are two jacks for connecting headphones – 3.5 mm and 4.4 mm; another 3.5 mm jack can be used to output a digital signal in optical or electrical format, as well as a linear analog signal. The Bluetooth adapter supports LDAC and aptX HD codecs, and there is an OLED display on the front panel of the aluminum case. The device can work with PCM signals up to 32 bit / 384 kHz and native DSD256, the USB-C port supports two operating modes – UAC2.0 and UAC1.0.

1. iFi Audio iDSD Diablo-X

1. iFi Audio iDSD Diablo-X

  • Pros – incredible power, high-quality components, linear output
  • Cons – price, USB-A connection, no 3.5 mm jack
  • Verdict – a uniquely powerful portable model

The most powerful and expensive device in our rating is housed in a case measuring 166 x 72 x 25 mm and weighs 330 grams. The DAC block in the model is built on a Burr-Brown chip, the analog part includes OV2627 operational amplifiers, OS-CON and Panasonic ECPU capacitors. To supply a digital signal, which is quite unusual for a portable DAC, a USB-A port is used, as well as a 3.5 mm jack capable of receiving an SPDIF signal in electrical and optical format. The analog linear output is organized on a balanced 4.4 mm jack; 4.4 mm and 6.35 mm jacks are provided for connecting headphones. One of the main features is the presence of a special X mode, intended for use of the device with xMEMS headphones operating on the piezoelectric principle. The model’s output power is 611 mW into 300 ohms and an impressive 4,980 mW into 32 ohms.

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