Good quality audio has seen a sharp resurgence lately due to the technology available today. This has increased the lust for the best DAC amp combo that can bring out all of the details in the audio that was intended when the audio was recorded or processed.
This has also caused the market to become saturated with more of the same products due to the rise in demand for these DAC amp combos. For a non-techie person, it is very a confusing and dubious task to filter out all of the DAC amp combos and choose the best one among them.
This is where we want to come to the rescue with this article as it will have all of the best DAC/amp combo for the different categories and budgets. But before we dive into the list let us look and answer some of the basic queries regarding the DAC amp combo.
- Topping DX7 Pro – Overall The Best DAC Amp Combo
- Chord Mojo – The Best Portable DAC Amp Combo
- Topping DX3 Pro – The Best Bluetooth DAC Amp Combo
- FiiO K5 Pro – Best Value For Money
- Mayflower ARC MK2 – The Best DAC Amp Combo for Gaming
- Creative Sound Blaster X3 – The Best Budget Gaming DAC Amp Combo
- AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt – The Best DAC Amp Combo for Smartphones
- iFi Zen DAC – The Best DAC Amp Combo for Headphones
- SMSL SA300 – The Best DAC Amp Combo for Speakers
- Astro MixAmp Pro TR – The Best DAC Amp for Console Gaming
- Monoprice Monolith 124459 – The Best DAC Amp Combo Under 500
- AUNE X1s – The Best DAC Amp Combo Under 300
- iFi Nano iDSD Black Label – The Best DAC Amp Combo Under 200
- FiiO E10K – The Best DAC Amp Combo Under 100
- Fosi Audio Q4 – The Best Budget DAC Amp Combo
What is a DAC Amp Combo?
To explain and understand the meaning of the terms DAC amp combo we first have to address each term differently beginning with the DAC. A DAC abbreviation for Digital-to-Analog convertor is exactly how it sounds. Its purpose is to convert a digital signal to an analog. There is a DAC in all peripherals because without DAC a signal cannot be picked up at the analog end by the headphones so a Dac is an absolute necessity.
Where it differs is the quality of the DAC. Let’s take mobile phones as an example. The mobile phones also have a built-in Dac but it is generally not of good quality so to process higher quality audio you need an external portable Dac with a phone. Similarly, it is the case with the computer. The motherboard has a built-in Dac but due to the interfere and also the quality is not suitable for high-end audio encryption.
Now moving onto the Amp. An Amp or an amplifier is a component in the audio which is used to amplify the audio signals. This is done because some headphones require a high level and having low non amplified signals causes the headphones to not work at this maximum potential. Therefore, in some instances, it is crucial to use an amp to get the best possible audio out of a setup.
Now, to cover what is a DAC amp combo. Well like it sounds it is a merger of both a Dac and an Amp into a body. There is done to increase convenience because running a DAC amp stack can sometimes be not the best user-friendly experience and it also takes less space especially in portable devices that have to be as small as possible to fulfill their purpose.
Best DAC Amp Combo Buyer’s Guide
Another crucial topic that will cover all the basic aspects of a DAC amp and one topic that should be understood by novice buyers before purchasing their choice of a DAC amp. Unfortunately, many folks skip out on this and buy something not suited for them.
How to Choose the Best DAC Amp Combo?
DAC amp can come in various sizes because there is no restriction of any sort of shape or dimension. Usually, manufacturers try to strike a balance between the size and the performance of the product but that is not always the case. Lately, we have seen DAC amps coming in either of the two sizes i.e desktop or portable.
What is important on your part is to get the right size DAC amp for you. If you plan on using your DAC amp on the go with a mobile device then you should look into portable DAC amps because they have a small footprint and most can fit into the pocket. If you want a more powerful and do it all amp then you should look for the desktop DAC amp.
Sound quality is one of the most important aspects of a DAC amp because at the end of the day you are buying a DAC amp to drive the sound of your audio. It is true that any external DAC amp that you purchase will have better sound quality than the stock audio solution of your device but still when it comes to sound quality some DAC amps are better than others.
Just bear one thing in mind that as you move up the ladder there will a point after which most DAC amps will feel similar to you if you do not much experience in this field. This for most people is after they buy a high-end DAC amp.
Connectivity is down to personal preference because people use their equipment for different purposes and there is no right or wrong. A port that may not be useful for a certain person while the same port may be the reason the other person refrains from buying the said product so connectivity comes down to personal preference and hence needs. Here we will like to advise you to reflect upon your use and buy a product that has every connection you need.
For most people, a DAC amp is a long term investment because a person who is not a super enthusiast and does not see audio as a hobby will have no reason to change his gear often. Therefore longevity is an important concern and manufacturers should not cheap out on build quality. When it comes to build quality, look for something that is made out of metal preferably aluminum, and has a good design. A good design shows that the manufacturer put some thought into their product.
Power and Performance
The power and performance of a DAC amp is another crucial aspect because we see many people buying a DAC amp that is overkill for their current setup or getting a cheap DAC amp to go along with a decent pair of audiophile headphones. In the first instance, you will get away because more power is not necessarily bad it’s just that all of that unutilized power is getting wasted.
The second situation is much worse because a cheap DAC amp is not powerful enough to drive high-end audiophile headphones so, in the end, you will regret buying both because you will not be satisfied with either of the product and find it lackluster which leads us nicely into our next point.
Choose the right product to go along with your equipment
This is the most basic of things but it is very important when it comes to audio gear. You see audio equipment is not just mixing and matching different products and seeing if it works or not you have to dial in your research and get the products which go well with each other. Also, strike a balance between what you buy. Do not buy a high-end expensive headphone only to buy a low-end DAC amp or via versa.
The 15 Best DAC Amp Combo
Top Picks & Recommendations
1. Topping DX7 Pro
Overall The Best DAC Amp Combo
The crown for the best DAC/amp combo goes to none other than Topping DX7 Pro. Among the numerous high-end products in the topping arsenal, this desktop DAC amp has to be the most intriguing one based on the specifications and the quality of components used.
Being the top of the line product topping has given the DX7 Pro the premium treatment in terms of build quality. The chassis is made from carefully machined milled aluminum which is strong and rigid. All the ports and connectors are well put together and are reinforced for added rigidity. There is also great attention to the subtle details in the chassis. Overall, in terms of build quality, this product exhibits a premium feel through and through.
The design and the case finish is also well-executed. This DAC amp is marketed as a desktop device but it is rather small having a compact footprint. It is not portable by any means but for a full-blown desktop DAC amp, we were expecting it to be bigger. When it comes to the design the little touches topping has given along the way like the beveled volume wheel add to the premiumness of this product. In terms of finish, this device has a smooth matte black finish which is fitting for a product in 2021 and also looks good compared to the brushed finish that some other DAC amps have.
Topping DX7 Pro has a lot of functionality and is a multipurpose DAC amp so you expect it to have a lot of features. Rightfully so this product does have a lot of features and different settings you can alter to change the behavior of this product. All these settings are embedded in the LCD screen that is found on the front of the device. This screen displays multiple information regarding the device and there are different menus for various settings found in the DAC amp.
Any adjustment you fancy within the settings can be done on the fly. Since most of the functions are controlled within the screen topping has used a good quality LCD display. The screen is bright and the text is sharp enough making the display is easy to read even when the light is dim.
The main important feature that is accessible by the screen is the choice of different filters for the DAC. There are a total of 7 filters each having a distinct use. Since this product also supports Bluetooth protocol for seamless wireless connectivity another nice feature of this product is the inclusion of remote control which comes bundled with this DAC amp. The remote control works flawlessly and has a good layout making it easy to use.
Power and Connectivity
This DAC amp combo triumphs both of these segments. The power contained within topping DX7 Pro is excellent and it will drive pretty much anything you throw at it. This DAC amp combo is so powerful that you will not need to change this for a while. Just buy a new pair of audiophile headphones and pair it up with this thing it’s that good. Also, the power delivery here is very clean and free from any interruptions. Unfortunately, the strength of this DAC amp is also its weakness. What I mean by this is topping dx7 pro has so much power that driving low impedance IEMs and headphones is a bit of an issue.
When it comes to connectivity topping dx7 Pro has got you covered for most things. On the front of the device, you have a choice of 3 headphones outputs. There is a 6.3mm port, a 4.4mm balanced port, and an XLR balanced output. Switching to the back of the device and here you will find the rest of the ports which there are many.
Starting from the left the first set of ports you will find are the dual XLR outputs followed by the RCA outputs. These ports will be used to feed the signal to any external source like speakers. Next, you will find the input ports stacked together. This DAC amp has a lot of input ports you are totally covered regardless of your source the ports are IIS input, optical and coaxial input, and AES input.
The last port you will find is the power plug and this thing uses the big 3 pin plug found on other consumer electronic items. There is also a power switch that grants you easy access to power management. Not a physical port but there is also Bluetooth connectivity in this DAC amp and topping does Bluetooth well. The connection is stable and there are no drops and the sound quality via Bluetooth is also decent there is not much degradation compared to the wired connection.
The sound quality of topping dx7 pro can be summarized into a single phrase that is top-notch. Topping has worked their magic here and produced a DAC amp with sensational sound in every aspect. The main emphasis is on neutrality but still, this DAC amp manages to string all the frequencies together in an enjoyable manner. The sound here is not boring yet still is precise and pin-point accurate.
The detail retrieval is great and there is a sense of depth to the audio. The soundstage like expected is wide and creates a wonderful space for the audio to shine. Topping Dx7 Pro is also clean and free from any background noise. Even at zero attenuation and cranking the volume to the max there is no background hiss which is fantastic.
Topping has produced another gem of a product and one to cherish. DX7 Pro does everything you would ask it to do and then some as well. It is great in all aspects yea it might not be the best of the best in a single given aspect but for it to do so well in all aspects is quite remarkable. The price is also right and for the current asking price it is so difficult for any other DAC amp combo to beat this one, so if you are in the market for a DAC amp combo and have some cash to spare but need something which has excellent performance, sound and build and will also be relevant for a long while then check out this Topping DX7 Pro.
2. Chord Mojo
The Best Portable DAC Amp Combo
Chord is a UK-based company known for making excellent high-end audio equipment for audio enthusiasts. Chord Mojo is their take on a more mainstream portable DAC amp and this product inherits many high-end specs and features you will not find in this price range.
Chord Electronics do know how to make products that physically last. This is demonstrated in the build quality of Chord Mojo. The device has a rigid and solid feel in the hand and for a device that can fit in the pocket, it packs a good amount of heft. The heft is attributed to the dense shell. All the ports and the buttons are locked in securely and have no play.
The overall finish and attention to detail of the product is also something worth praising. The metal casing has a very pleasant satin finish which is both good looking and feeling. Chord products usually have quirky designs and this device is no exception. The main design element of this DAC amp is the marble shaped buttons it uses. They have a marble shape and also have embedded lighting. The case of Chord is also unique with smooth rounded corners and sharp cutouts.
The branding is also tastefully done. The chord name is spelled out on a cutout in the chassis and has a border around it resembling the plaque old school trophies used to have. Chord Mojo is highly unique from casing to the buttons and branding it looks different and distinct and you cannot mistake it for any other DAC amp which is a rare thing to say nowadays due to manufacturers copying each other’s design.
Chord Mojo does not have many features. The emphasis is on functionality and portable so due to the small size of the device, there is not much room to play with for Chord. They have gone for the best possible hardware in this size and easy to use for the consumer. Still, there a couple of neat features that are worth mentioning. The buttons we talked about in the design segment are not there just for show. These have multi-function and also the led lighting is there for a specific reason.
Firstly, they act like normal volume and the power buttons. The two stacked together are used for controlling volume and the one placed at a distance is the power button. The led lighting has 10 different colors each associated with a specific sampling frequency which makes it easy to distinguish the type of audio. The led lighting also has adjustable brightness and can be toned down or up by pressing both volume buttons simultaneously.
There is also a similar case with the battery indicator. Under the USB port, you will find an led light indicator for the battery percentage. It has four changes ranging from blue to green to yellow and then to red. Each color signifies a battery of 75-100%, 50-75%, 25-50%, 10-25% respectively. When the battery falls below 10% the red led starts flashing calling for an immediate charge. The led battery indicator is great but the only issue with the indicator is its size. It is small and can be obscured easily by objects.
Power and Connectivity
Mojo features Chord’s in-house hardware and we all know how capable they are. Also, some elements of the Hugo 2 have trickled down into this Mojo DAC amp which is great because the former costs over a couple thousand dollars. As for the power of the Mojo is more than adequate for most audiophile headphones. The company claims that this tiny portable device can support headphones up to 800ohms and we found the claim to hold some water.
When it comes to connectivity this device is battery-powered and is charged via the micro USB port on the back. The USB port has a clear charging symbol and you cannot mistake it for the other micro USB port which is the main input source. Having a micro USB port would have fine when this product was released but today with USB-C being the more widely used connection type in smartphones and other electronics the micro USB port feels outdated.
The other ports you will find are the coaxial and the optical input. The other concern we have with this device is its overheating problem. If you use the device while it is charging it tends to get hot and repeatedly doing this affects the battery life of Mojo. Replacing the battery is also a gruesome task. Firstly, in the USA the warranty has to be claimed via 3rd party sources not directly from Chord, and secondly, the cost of battery replacement is high.
The sound quality is the main reason this DAC amp is still the best high-end portable DAC amp you can buy. Chord has done something magical here with Mojo and the outcome is the terrific sound quality that this guy produces. The overall sound signature of Mojo is warm and detailed. It smoothes out all of the rough patches in the audio and delivers a very alluring and enjoyable sound. This is transparent with headphones with a harsh treble. What Mojo does is it smoothes out the treble part eliminating some harshness.
The detail retrieval is also fantastic and each element in the audio is identifiable without being separated from the rest. Despite this, the sound is also very natural which is great. When it comes to pairing like previously said, Mojo can drive headphones up to 800ohms so you are covered here regardless you whatever you decide to pair up with. It is also good with IEMs but some extremely sensitive IEMs can be a bit of a nuisance.
Chord has done a wonderful job with this and Mojo is the definition of a high-quality portable DAC amp. Even after being a year old now it is still going strong and has a massive following. If you want the best performing and sounding DAC amp that can fit inside a pocket then you cannot go wrong with Chord Mojo.
3. Topping DX3 Pro
The Best Bluetooth DAC Amp Combo
Topping is no stranger when it comes to DACs and amps. They have some impressive stuff and always seem to come up with a product that is superior compared to its direct competition. This DX3 Pro DAC amp combo is one such product. It is impressive, has plenty of features, and is also priced competitively. To get the whole picture and see what this product has to offer let’s evaluate this based on its merit.
Topping products generally have good build quality and this DX3 pro follows the tradition in that regard. This DAC amp combo is made from thick aluminum and has a solid feel to it. The device has some heft and feels dense in the hand owing to the good quality craftsmanship. All the switches and connectors are also well put together and have a secure connection. The finishing on the case is also nicely done giving the product a smooth satin feel. Overall, the product oozes premiumness when it comes to the build quality.
When it comes to the design this is the area where this product fails to deliver. Looks are subjective but topping DX3 Pro when placed on the desk looks like a slab on metal. There is nothing interesting happening which may attract you or demand attention except for the multi-display screen which is the main saving grace for this DAC amp without the screen this would look like something straight from the 80s or 90s.
Topping DX3 Pro is loaded with features. Topping has thrown in a healthy dose of features in this product to make it stand out among the competition. The main feature of this product has to be the multi-display screen found on the front facia on the device. This screen displays information regarding the DAC amp and can be interacted with to change the settings of the DAC amp. It is also used to configure the different modes on the device and change the filter level of the DAC.
Another impressive feature is the Bluetooth connectivity of this product. It is rare to see a Bluetooth connection in a DAC amp of such a low price. For the Bluetooth signal strength there an antenna on the backside of the product. Another neat addition is the inclusion of a remote control with this DAC amp combo. The button layout of the remote is well thought out and it is easy and convenient to use. The other typical feature found on most DAC amp combos includes the volume knob on the front of the device.
Power and Connectivity
Topping DX3 Pro is very highly specced so naturally when it comes to power this DAC amp combo has plenty of punch. It can drive most entry-level to mid-level audiophile headphones without breaking a sweat. High-end demanding headphones can also be driven on this but the experience will not be optimal. For the people who like stats and figures, this DAC amp combo has a power output of 700mW at 32ohms and 125mW at 300ohms.
In terms of connectivity, it will not be wrong to label this product as a jack of all trades. It has a solid set of connections enough to make it versatile and fulfill most people’s requirements. On the front, the only connection you will find is the 3.5mm out jack which is used to plug headphones and IEMs.
Now coming to the back of the device and this is where you will find the rest of the ports this device has to offer. Starting from the left you are greeted with RCA line-out ports. The right and the left are clearly labeled and also have different color headers. Next to the RCA ports, you will find two coaxial ports. Moving on further there is an optical port and a USB port. The last port you will find is the DC 15v port nestled underneath the Bluetooth antenna.
While we are on the connectivity topic, we have to mention the amazing quality of the Bluetooth connection. This device has all the latest Bluetooth protocols making the connection very stable. The sound quality is also good and there is little to no perceived degradation when we compare the Bluetooth connection with the wired one.
When it comes to the sound of topping DX3 Pro it can simply be explained in two words i.e clean and detailed. The emphasis here is on the clarity of the sound so you will not find much dynamics here. The frequencies are portrayed as they were intended when the audio was recorded. Despite the sound being clean and natural this DAC amp surprises you with the amount of detail present in the audio.
In terms of pairing Topping DX3 Pro is pretty versatile. It has a low and a high gain mode. The low gain mode has ample punch and can drive most headphones optimally. Where this low gain mode comes clutch is when sensitive IEMs are plugged into the device. Still, if you need more power for some harder to drive headphones use the high gain mode. The high gain mode also adds some low-end punch to the audio along with the power improvement.
Topping DX3 Pro is one of the most versatile DAC amp combo in the industry. It has pretty much most of the things consumers look for in a portable desktop DAC amp combo and topping has used high-end components for their mid-range product. While there are some competitor products that can be better in specific scenarios but none can beat the versatility of this Bluetooth DAC amp combo. Therefore, if you want something that can get most of the work done check this product out.
4. FiiO K5 Pro
Best Value For Money
FiiO is a well-renowned company operating within the audio peripheral space. They as a company have plenty of fantastic releases under their belt and this K5 Pro is no exception. It is a well-crafted device with good specifications and features.
Overview and Features
Starting with the packaging FiiO K5 Pro comes in rather a simple packaging. The box is your usual cardboard paper type and there is a picture of the product on the front. In the box, there is the typical USB cable and a power brick but alongside this, there is also a 6.3mm adapter. Props to FiiO for including this when more and more manufacturers are pushing it to an aftermarket accessory.
For the features, you will not find much here. It is on the basic side of things but considering the amount of raw performance you are getting it is to be expected. Still, the required features are covered like the big volume knob on the front which has a light trim around it. The volume knob also serves as the power switch. Then there are the input and gain switches. These switches allow the user to configure the device according to their requirement and preference.
This thing is built to last and impress at the same time. It is a heavy slab of aluminum that contributes to the rigidity and solidness of the device. There is also a smooth chamfer around the edges which upscales the whole feel of the device. The finishing of the metal is also smooth and along with the chamfered edges, this DAC amp has a premium feel in the hand and also good looks when placed on the table. All things considered, this might be the best build and most aesthetically pleasing device in its category.
Power and Connectivity
FiiO K5 Pro has beefy specifications. It has a 32bit 384khz and is capable of producing 1.65W at 16 ohms and 1.50W at 32ohms. This is quite more than comparable amps in its category to the point where it is rivaling products twice its price. For those interested, it has an AK443 chipset a the heart. This is truly remarkable from FiiO and it earns them a spot above the entry levels DAC amps based on the sheer performance lead this product has over the other DAC amps in a similar category.
When it comes to connectivity and ports this device is pretty solid except for a few caveats. It has a single headphone out port on the front. On the back, it has an optical and a coax input followed by RCA line input and output ports. The ports come to a finish with a USB in and barrel type power connector. Now you would have noticed that this guy lacks a balanced out which is disappointing but since it is targeted at the entry-level market it is acceptable.
Another quirk of this device is that the RCA line output is variable. This for lack of a simple term means that the volume knob is directly linked to the RCA out ports. Now, this can either be good or bad depending on your preference and use scenario but one thing for certain that this not ideal if you want to use this device together with another DAC in a stack.
FiiO K5 Pro provide and clean and crisp sound. The tone stays neutral and there is no coloration whatsoever. The background noise is minute to the point where it is basically inaudible with headphones. It does a good job of increasing the pitch and the gain without adding any tonality into the mix.
This DAC amp can be easily paired with most headphones. Considering that most likely the person who buys is in that entry-level crowd so most similar category dynamic headphones will be fine on this. For planer headphones, we do not recommend this amp due to the nature of the planer sound. It is already too crisp and neutral so a DAC amp with some coloration will be better suited for that sort of headphones.
FiiO K5 Pro is an excellent DAC amp combo that delivers a solid performance. Unlike other entry-level DAC amps, this has more horsepower and can drive more demanding headphones. The device also has amazing build quality. Had this thing not lacked a couple of features it would have been a fully-fledged mid to high-end DAC amp. Still, for anyone looking for an entry-level DAC amp combo that is a step above the rest and your main purpose is driving dynamic headphones, get this.
5. Mayflower ARC MK2
The Best DAC Amp Combo for Gaming
Mayflower ARC MK2 is a next-gen iteration of the popular ARC MK1. Mayflower has added some extra functionality which increases the portability and versatility of the device. Like with all mayflower products, this is also made in the USA and has a 10-year warranty.
Overview and Features
The packaging of ARC MK2 is nothing to remember. The main thing is the product itself. This product being a portable DAC amp combo is loaded with many features you would expect is such a small footprint. Apart from the newly added features it also has many loved features of the ARC MK1. Another major thing that enhances the portability of this device is its driverless approach. ARC MK2 is plug and play and requires no driver or tinkering of any sort.
Coming to features the volume wheel takes the center stage on the front facia is smooth and easy to operate. Alongside the volume wheel, there is a switch that toggles between RCA or headphone output. This switch is a good addition because it eliminates the hassle of unplugging and re-plugging the cable.
At the far right, there is the bass DSP switch which can be used to increase the bass response. This is beneficial for open-back headphones featuring a flat bass. There is also a power and mode led light. At the back of the device along with the different connections, there is also a gain switch featuring a high and a low option.
The build quality of this device is pretty good. It is not the best in its league but it gets the job done just fine. There is no concern with the longevity of this product and even there is you are provided with a 10-year warranty by the company. Besides the build the finishing of this product is fantastic. The has a brushed metal finished which is aesthetically pleasing and the use of the mayflower logo on the top of the casing is a nice touch to bring everything together.
Power and Connectivity
In the power department, Mk2 is similar to its predecessor. This DAC amp combo is plenty capable and can drive most headphones sufficiently. Of course, there are exceptions, and the most demanding of headsets show the amps limit but then again for the audience, it is targeted the power should be plentiful.
For those people interested in the specs this is a 24bit 96Khz DAC amp. It is capable of producing 1W of power at 32omhms, and 365mW and 92mW at 150ohms and 600ohms respectively. For a portable device, these figures are good.
When it comes to connectivity this DAC amp combo is a jack of all trades. It is compatible with windows, mac, mobile, and Ps. Xbox compatibility is also present but it is limited to audio-only which is a bummer. What makes this the best DAC/amp combo for gaming is the inclusion of a mic output port. For connections, it has an optical in along with a USB port. What is different in this DAC compared to the others that it also has an aux input. This makes it so easy to use the DAC amp with any 3.5mm source. There is also RCA output which can be used to transfer the signal to any external speakers.
It also contains a 5V DC power port but the power brick is not included with the product because it is mostly meant to be used as a portable DAC amp. But if you want a power brick you can get it via the mayflower website.
Mayflower Ark Mk2 delivers good sound. The overall tonality is pretty clear and neutral. It does not play with the sound and just increases the overall sound. The is also minimal background noise at zero attenuation and barely any when you use the headphone. It brings out the details fantastically especially for PS4 because the built-in DAC for the PS4 is horrible. This all in games translates to a more detailed sound experience which increases immersion.
The most standout thing about this amp has to be the mic boost it provides. The mic when using with this DAC amp sounds much clearer. The voice pickup is good and there is good bass in the mic audio making the person sound natural. This makes it fantastic for comms or even casual streaming. When it comes to pairing this is very versatile. It can be used with a variety of different audio peripherals ranging from a sensitive IEM to a high-end headphone.
Mayflower ARC MK2 has to be one of the most portable yet most versatile DAC amps on the market. The inputs make it compatible with a wide array of devices and on top of the portability, it has a good sound which many portable DAC amps may lack. Well if you want the best DAC amp combo for gaming, has a mic input, and is portable enough then you cannot go wrong with this thing.
6. Creative Sound Blaster X3
Best Budget Gaming DAC Amp Combo
The best budget gaming DAC amp combo spot is occupied by the Creative Sound Blaster X3. This DAC amp combo from the ground up is made for gaming and has plenty of features along with robust software to enhance the overall experience of the gamer. Likewise, this will follow a different review pattern due to its different take on the DAC amp combo you will find out soon why.
Starting with the build quality and at a first glance, you can realize that build for was not the main focus of Creative when designing this product. The case is made from shallow plastic which sounds hollow. All the buttons and even the volume knob has some play and is not well put together. The finishing on the casing is also cheap and uninspiring.
To give credit to creative it does not look as bad as the build quality portrays when seen from a distance. This is due to the led ring which encompasses the volume knob. This led ring has various colors that change depending on the situation more on that later. Keeping with the look the edges are well rounded which also provides a relatively premium feel in comparison to the flat slabby edges.
Creative Sound Blaster X3 like the previously mentioned Mayflower ARC MK2 is a portable gaming DAC amp. This means that it uses USB power primarily to operate and there is no power brick with this device. While the latter had a power connector this Sound blaster X3 does not include one which limits its power and versatility somewhat.
As discussed in the intro of the product this thing is packed with plenty of features. On the front facia of the product, you can see a big volume knob. This volume knob is not only easy and satisfying to operate but also doubles as a mic mute switch when pushed. Below the knob, there are three buttons named audio balance, direct mode, and SXFI respectively more on these later as well in the software segment.
Power and Connectivity
Power is where this DAC amp combo falls flat. While it is to be expected from such a product because it is market at the budget segment and it also focuses more on providing a better experience through software and features rather than raw horsepower. Still, the power figures are minuscule when compared to other non-gaming DAC amps but it fares well in the budget gaming DAC amp segment.
To put it into perspective this produces only 45mW of power on 32ohms compared to Arc Mk2 1W at the same electrical resistance. This makes this amp usable for entry-level audiophile headphones like the HD 58X or the AKG 7XX. It can drive these headphones but not optimally. What this can be good with good gaming headsets like the HyperX Clouds.
Still to judge this product based on just the sheer amount of power it produces is not justifiable because it has plenty of neat tricks up its sleeve in the software segment which leads us nicely into the software and sound of this product.
Sound and Software
To grade the sound quality of this DAC amp combo with the software is impossible because of the number of different modes and customization the software provides which completely alter the sound. This DAC amp can also be used separately without the software and trust me some of you might be inclined towards the former due to the complexity of the setup.
To set up the software first a mobile app is to be downloaded which required a photo of your face and ear to optimize the SXFI sound exclusively for your use. Then on the PC, separate software is to be downloaded and you have to register yourself on the PC software and then plug and sync the SXFI details as well. We would like to see a much simpler approach rather than going through all this hassle.
The magic happens though when you are finally loaded up in the software. At first, the amount of customization will feel a bit overwhelming but everything has its place. For starters, it has 3 built-in modes a movie, music, and an fps mode respectively. These all can be customized and tweaked depending on your preference and can also be set as a hot command.
Another mode is the SXFI mode which also has its separate button as well. This toggled this turns the soundstage wider and unlike other surround sounds modes this is good for certain scenarios. This mode is especially beneficial for any source not encoded in Dolby Atmos. This mode can be customized according to the preference of the user.
The most highlighting software feature of the product has to be built in zero latency mic monitoring. It is accurate and good and does the job done and the volume can also be adjusted in realtime with the knob. There are also some other less influential features scattered into the mix but these were the most prominent ones.
Creative Sound Blaster X3 is a one-stop-shop for all your audio needs granted you using semi-powerful headphones. This DAC amp combo can be the only device you need for all your audio peripherals and it also packs a solid amount of features. Given that it does not have massive reserves of power to drive the most demanding of headphones but as long as you are running entry-level headphones with this DAC amp combo you should be fine. If you are looking for the best gaming DAC amp combo and have a limited budget then this should be right up your alley.
7. AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt
Best DAC Amp Combo for Smartphones
It is not often you see something refreshing put out in the market because most manufacturers tend to follow a similar formula. This leads to the market getting stagnant due to lack of innovation but lo and behold, this AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt is something really special.
Before we continue with our usual review let us discuss the elephant in the room. You might have been curious as to what makes this product unique. To simply put, Dragonfly Cobalt from Audioquest is a proper DAC amp disguised in the size of a USB pen drive. Audioquest managed to cram all the hardware inside such a small unit making it the best portable DAC amp combo on the market.
The size makes this DAC amp combo easy to carry around and the USB appearance disguises it perfectly if you want to use it without attracting audiophiles to your desk. It is such a versatile device such that it can be used in any given situation or at any given time mostly. Now moving forward like our usual review and assessment.
Build Quality and Features
In terms of build quality, this device is nothing special. It does not have premium materials and it neither build like a tank but it gets the job done. Most importantly due to the cheaper materials used this device is extremely lightweight adding to its portable aspect. Needless to say despite being a relatively subpar build this thing will last a good chunk of time so there is nothing to worry about there.
We have to give credit though to AudioQuest on the paint of this thing because they have used automotive grade paint and it is vibrant and rich. The color pops under the right lighting conditions and enhances the aesthetic of the device. The dragonfly logo also looks very appealing due to the unique logo design.
This tiny guy is bland when it comes to features. Being the size of a USB pen drive you will not find much going on here. The most notable thing it has in terms of being a feature is the led light that glows and changes color depending on the audio sampling rate. It has six colors each donating a specific frequency i.e red for standby, green for 44.1KHz, blue for 48KHz, yellow for 88.2KHz, light blue for 96KHz, and purple for MQA decoding respectively.
Power and Connectivity
Do not let the small size fool you because this little DAC amp scores high marks when it comes to power. It has sufficient power to drive all the popular portable and on the go headphones. It can even manage some high-end audiophile stuff. So the power here is plenty and most people will be satisfied.
For connectivity, dragonfly cobalt connects via the USB connector to the laptop or the Pc. For mobile, the included dragonfly adapter can be used. This adapter has a USB female connector on one end and a 3.5mm jack on the other. But before you buy this check compatibility with your smartphone to avoid any future inconvenience. For output, it has a single 3.5mm jack which is used to plug in the headphones or IEMs.
The sound quality is yet another amazing aspect of this DAC amp combo. It is a significant improvement over the stock laptop or mobile audio processing. The audio is much cleaner and louder. The faint or micro details are also present and the soundstage is also wider. Overall, the sound has great clarity and expansive detail. Dragonfly Cobalt also has no background noise owing to the good quality DAC used in this product.
AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt is a gem of a product. The small size is the main attraction of this product but despite this small size small this DAC amp combo still packs solid performance and sound quality. While we acknowledge that this product has limited use due to the poor connectivity but still it is made for portable use and serves its purpose well. Overall, the best portable DAC amp combo for smartphones and one worth considering.
8. iFi Zen DAC
The Best DAC Amp Combo for Headphones
iFi as a company has been making solid audio products and the product that has stood out the most among the others in companies lineup is the iFi Zen DAC. This DAC amp is attractive for the consumer because of its alluring specification and interesting features.
Explaining the build quality of the Zen DAC amp is simple because it is comparable to a block of concrete, that it does not budge. The switches and the buttons also have a great feel when pressed and the volume knob is smooth and tactile in its action. The premium build also extends to the finishing of the product. The metal of this device has a brushed finish which oozes quality.
The design of the product is also not like your typical slab style. This DAC amp has sloping edges that taper smoothly. The shell is also extended from the body which provides the amp with a very modern sophisticated design.
In its league, the Zen DAC amp is a class apart when it comes to features. Right of the bat, you can notice the inclusion of a 4.4mm balanced headphone port along with the 6.3mm output jack. This balanced input comes as a surprise for us because it is mostly seen on higher-end DACs and having this here on something priced less than $150 is quite remarkable.
Another intriguing feature is the true bass button. What this does is it brings up the frequencies in the sub-bass region. Most headphones lack sub-bass so this is an excellent feature when you want to enrich the bass with some oomph.
Then there are the usual set of features which you would expect in a product of this caliber. Starting with the volume knob it is smooth, well defined, and there are zero dead zones. There is an led behind the knob which acts as a power indicator and also can switch colors depending on the media. Another button you will find on this DAC amp is the power match button which is placed beside the true bass button.
Power and Connectivity
iFi Zen is a portable device so before dwelling on the information we have to keep this in mind. Still being a portable DAC amp it has plenty of power to feed the headphones you throw at it. When using the balanced headphone output iFi Zen produces 330mW at 32ohms and 73mW at 600ohms. This is enough power to drive most of the popular mainstream audiophile headphones. Things might get a little dicy when it comes to some high-end stuff but this DAC amp should even suffice then granted it would not be the most optimum experience possible.
In terms of connectivity, the options are pretty narrow due to the Zen being a portable device. What you get for input in just a USB connection. There is no optical or coaxial here which is a letdown but then again you can’t manage to fit everything in a small portable package. Luckily there are RCA out ports so at least you can use this to feed the signal into external speakers. There is also another balanced 4.4mm jack.
Other than this you will find a variable and a fixed toggle switch. What this does is basically when in fixed mode the outgoing signal is independent of the volume knob and when in variable mode volume knob is directly associated with the output signal so you can use it to control the volume of externally connected speakers.
The sound quality of the Zen Dac is pretty good. You generally expect a USB signal to have more noise but it is not actually the case here. The background noise is very tamed and is not even perceivable in most scenarios. When it comes to the sound quality this DAC amp has a very clean sound with a wide soundstage. There is a little warmth in the sound signature but it is very minimal. Overall, the sound is neutral, clean, and crisp.
When it comes to pairing this iFi Zen DAC can be used with a wide array of audio peripherals. It can support most audiophile headphones with a major worry and it is even adequate for some planer headphones given you do not go overboard and pair this up with something extremely high-end.
iFi Zen Dac is an amazing product and deserves the title of the best DAC amp combo for headphones. As you can see in the aforementioned review we have sung its praises but there is a major problem with the DAC amp regarding its input. It is only limited to a USB and well we cannot complain much because the DAC amp does fulfill its purpose bit a little more flexibility would have been appreciated. If you are fine with just a USB input then go ahead and buy this because in every other aspect it is quite fantastic.
9. SMSL SA300
The Best DAC Amp Combo for Speakers
Next up as the title suggests is the best DAC amp combo for speakers. For this category, we have selected the recently launched SMSL SA300 which is the new iteration of the popular AD18 which was among the best DAC amp for speakers.
The build quality for this DAC amp is very decent. The choice of materials is good and the product feels solid and sturdy. Due to the boxy shape of the product, it also feels denser compared to the square-shaped DAC amps. All the connectors also have a solid and secure feel but to achieve this feel they are quite recessed in the chassis. This can sometimes lead to them feeling hollow.
SMSL also has tried to give this product the premium treatment for a relatively low budget and we have to acknowledge them because they have succeeded in their effort. SA300 has a premium feel and look to it with the piano black finish of the front facia of the device. SMSL has been doing this piano black color scheme lately with all their new products and we have to say it looks good and makes their product distinct.
SMSL SA300 boasts a lot of good features which for a DAC amp at this price is rather surprising but hats to SMSL for pulling them off. The first thing you are greeted with when you power on the device is the LCD screen on the front. This screen displays various information and also has other settings that can be accessed. These include the various built-in EQ modes. In most DAC amps they are really not much of a bother but in this unit, the EQ modes are calibrated fantastically making them very usable.
Moving to the technical feature this product proudly wears the Bluetooth 5.0 badge with Aptx as well. The latest Bluetooth protocol is a welcome addition over the previous model which used Bluetooth 4.2. You also get a remote with this DAC amp which is easy to use and is convenient when you are away from the desk, chilling on the couch, and blasting some music while you are at it. What is not good is the exclusion of NFC which is indeed available on the other model.
Power and Connectivity
The hardware used in this DAC amp is superior to its AD18 counterpart so you expect it to perform better as well. It has a rated power of 80W per channel at 4ohms and 40W at 8ohms. This is the same as AD18 but the power here is much more cleaner and refined. Also, 80W per channel is plenty and good enough for most living speakers.
The connectivity with this DAC amp is also solid and has a desktop speaker DAC amp it has just the right amount of ports without it feeling too toned down in terms of connectivity. When it comes to the port themselves there is nothing on the front of the device and the back of the device is where the party is. Starting from the top there is an RCA line out followed by the subwoofer out. A dedicated sub-woofer port is a good addition to the complete tally.
Moving on you will find the Dc power input which is right below the Bluetooth antenna. This device used 24V of power. Below the power port, there is the USB port which is used to plug this device into a computer. Moving further you will find a stack of 4 ports. These are the speakers out ports. This wraps up all the ports found on the device and we feel that the port selection is adequate for most people.
The sound quality is very good and this device really brings out the true potential of good speakers. Due to the better hardware used this device has a much cleaner sound compared to AD18 and AD18 was not that bad either. There is also no perceivable background noise which is a big plug. Overall, the sound is clean, natural, and has good detail so not much more to add here.
SMSL SA300 is a well-crafted DAC amp with good performance and clean sound. It has dedicated ports for speakers and sub-woofers as well that highlight its emphasis on speaker audio. It is not all good though and has a few shortcomings that are mainly in form of some ripped features and toned down connectivity. Still, if you feel like the connectivity is good enough for your purpose then this is an upgrade in every other way over the AD18 especially in terms of sound cleanliness.
10. Astro MixAmp Pro TR
The Best DAC Amp for Console Gaming
Astro is among the most famous mainstream company when it comes to making audio equipment for consoles. This MixAmp Pro TR from Astro is their take on a mainstream mass-marketed DAC amp.
The build quality is alright nothing to specular but it gets the job done. Despite the product not being as solid as the other DAC amps on the list it still holds well over time and frankly, it will hold up just fine over prolonged use. The point is most people have their DAC amp sitting on a desk for most of its lifetime so build quality should be the least of your concern. We have to give to Astro though on the finish of this product.
The device has a smooth matte black finish. The color is also rich and vibrant enhancing the overall look of the device. While Astro has gone for a modern color scheme the design remains very retro. The cutout of the chassis resembles a square metal slab. The corners also have a straight sharp cutout which feels cheap. A little bit of attention to detail would have gone a long way but it is expected for a mainstream budget device.
There are not many DAC amps compatible with consoles and with even the ones that are compatible lack features. Astro has fixed all this and this MixAmp Pro has a ton of good features that increase its appeal to the consumer. On the top facia of the DAC amp, you will find two knobs. The bigger knob controls the volume while the small one is a game and voice chat mix. This knob adjusts the amount of chat and game audio that is pumped into the speakers. It can prioritize one over the other and is beneficial in some clutch situations.
Also, on the top, there are two buttons. The lower one is used to cycle between the different audio presents while the upper one is used to toggle Dolby surround sound. Another intriguing port that hides a neat feature is found on the backside of the device along with the other ports and is labeled as a stream. When utilized this stream port gives the user complete control of the audio that is being processed by the device and the user can choose what the viewers on the other end hear.
Power and Connectivity
Before we touch on the power and capability of MixAmp Pro Tr we have to realize that this product is made for gaming headsets and most gaming headsets are not power-hungry. Keeping this in mind it is safe to assume that this device despite not having good power numbers is still perfectly viable for most gaming headsets. It can even run some entry-level audiophile headsets up to 250ohms anything more than that would not be feasible and at that point, it is just better to switch to a more proper DAC amp combo.
In terms of connectivity, this little unit has got you covered for most applications. Your main headphone output is on the front of the device and it is a simple 3.5mm port. All of the other ports are found on the back of the device and they are plenty. The two identical ports placed on either side of the device are the daisy ports. These ports allow you to plug in another Astro A40 headset. So you can use multiple headsets from a single DAC amp which is neat.
The ports used mainly for the source input in this device are the micro USB and the optical. Up next you are greeted with the aux port and the stream port. Aux port is used to feed the signal to any external source while the stream port when used allows for full control over the output audio of the device. There is also a switch to toggle between PS4/Xbox or PC. This is handy if you use this DAC amp on both console and PC because sometimes it can glitch and not work as intended on the given platform.
Before we proceed to the sound quality we want to again emphasize that this is not an enthusiast-level product but rather a mainstream product that is trying to appeal to the masses so do not expect a radical change of sound here. This product is mainly focused on enhances the experience of the user than providing the best possible sound quality.
Still, this is no slouch either and in fact, provides a good boost of audio over the stock console DAC which honestly is not good at all. The sound signature of this DAC amp is clean but with a slight emphasis on the low-end and the treble frequencies. This is done to provide a more engaging experience when gaming and thankfully the company has pulled it off greatly. Therefore we do not have much to complain about here because the overall sound is clean and pleasing.
Astro MixAmp Pro TR is fantastic if you are looking for a simple and straightforward DAC amp for your console that has a plethora of features. This DAC amp won’t break any records but surely is not a slouch either unlike most other console-targeted DAC amps. If your purpose is to solely use this with console then it is excellent for that. Also, coupled with the fact that this product has the Astro name on it makes it all the more compelling because of the loyal fan base of Astro in the console space.
11. Monoprice Monolith 124459
The Best DAC Amp Combo Under $500
Monoprice as a manufacturer of great audio equipment is often overlooked despite them producing some excellent products. The monolith series is one such series that has amazing products across the line. The one featured here is the Monolith 124459 by Monoprice which comes as our best DAC amp combo under 500 dollars.
Monolith 124459 has a good build quality. The chassis is made from aluminum but what is different here from most products is the weight of the product. This device feels lighter in the hand than some other small products. This we think is due to the thickness of the aluminum used to make the shell but it should not be of concern because this device is as rigid and robust as other aluminum DAC amps. Overall, the product is very well put together and feels like how a $500 product should feel.
The design and finishing are also decent but nothing too distinct and unique. It follows the industry trend with a brushed black finish. The ports of the front also have a matte black finish which adds to the overall aesthetic of the product. The front of the device is dominated by the LCD screen that displays multiple information and can also be interacted with by the buttons on the front of the device.
When it comes to features the LCD screen that dominates the front facia of the device is the most prominent one. The resolution of the screen is good and the text is clear and easy to read. Screen navigation is done by the volume knob and the two buttons adjacent to the knob also help with the screen inputs. All crucial information and setting is available on the screen and can be adjusted on the fly.
The volume itself is smooth to use and has multiple steps each well defined by a click. The buttons adjacent to the knob have multiple functions and they have a click to them when pressed which adds to the overall quality of the product. Besides this, there are no features worth mentioning because everything is embedded in the screen and there are a ton of options to play around with.
Power and Connectivity
Monolith 124459 has all the latest hardware with high-end encoding protocols. The power here is plenty and there is nothing to be concerned about. This DAC amp can drive pretty much everything ranging from high-end dynamics to magnetic planer headphones and even IEMs so you are covered in that regard.
When it comes to connectivity this DAC amp has a lot of things on. On the front, you will find an XLR headphone port and a normal being 3.5mm one. Turning the focus to the back of the device you can see a lot of different ports. The two main stacks of ports are separated by a border and one is labeled as digital inputs and the other as analog.
In the digital section, you will find the typical USB, optical, and a coaxial port. One other port you will find is the XLR port labeled A3S3. Switching to the analog section and here you will find two XLR balanced labeled R and L for right and left and RCA out ports. Besides these ports, on the extreme left of the device, you will find a DC input port used to power the device.
The sound quality of Monolith 124459 is nothing short of incredible. The sound signature of this DAC amp is very neutral and pure. All the frequencies follow the clean and neutral mantra and for the audio purist out there this seems to do a wonderful job. There is an EQ adjuster that allows you to alter the sound if so desire but if we are talking about the pure sound of this DAC amp it does not get more clean, pure, and detailed than this.
Another excellent aspect in the background noise or rather lack of any background noise to put into perspective. Even with the volume cranked up there is no background noise whatsoever in this. When it comes to pairing you are pretty covered and this thing can drive anything you throw at this but beware of the neutral sound. This will not go well with extremely precise and clean headphones.
Monolith 124459 is one of the best DAC amp combo under 500 dollars you will find. The amp especially is fantastic and can even give dedicated amps for the same price a run for their money. The higher you go with the price it is just a matter of diminishing returns because most people who do not have much audio experience will not find much of a difference to satisfy the price. Therefore, this product despite not being the best outright is excellent for anyone looking for a high-end DAC amp combo that pretty much does everything, has good performance and sound quality, and does not cost a lot of money.
12. Aune X1s
The Best DAC Amp Combo Under $300
Aune X1S comes in as our best DAC amp combo under 300 bucks because of its amazing sound quality and performance. This DAC amp combo was released in 2015 and there have been countless new releases since but still, this DAC amp has something special and has managed to stay relevant till today.
It is surprising how good the build quality is of this product. Aune X1S has a metal casing all around and all the ports have gold plated connectors. This increases the longevity and guarantees that nothing will become loss after using it for a while. The device is also very heavy and dense portraying a solid and rigid build. Nothing from this product is going to come apart by the way it is made.
The design is also distinct. We know that for most people design does not matter but still, we feel that a product should a distinct design which is unique to that product. These days most DAC amps look alike with the same brushed finish. This, on the contrary, has a smooth matte black finish which is a welcome change, and also the design of the chassis is unique with the cutout in the sides and the slightly swollen top.
When it comes to features this product does not have much but there is one worth mentioning. On the front of the device, you will find an input button. Now for most people, this is confusing because we are not used to seeing input buttons placed on the front. Below this button is a set of led lights each labeled. What this input button does is it allows you to switch from the input source on the fly.
This is great because in other products you either need to unplug the cable of the other source or the DAC amp decides the priority. This feature is great and most DAC amps should implement it as it is highly convenient for the user. Besides this, not much of a feature but the volume wheel has a cutout on the top which adds some character to this device and makes it distinct.
Power and Connectivity
Back in the day when this DAC amp was launched, it has the updated hardware of its time but as things have moved along so has the chip industry. The newer chips are better but still, this device can hang among its many competitors. The power is good enough and adequate to drive headphones and IEMs without any issue. Just keep in mind to not expect this to run 600ohms or upwards headphones. It might be able to run some but not their maximum potential.
This is best used with 250-300ohms headphones and it is fantastic with them. In terms of connectivity, it is rather simple. There are your usual optical and USB ports which most people will use with a DAC amp of this category. One major difference in this device when compared with its rivals in the old school brick power needed to drive this. You will find the barrel connector on the left of the device. There is also an on and an off switch. What you will find here which is not found on most DAC amps is the coax out along with the S/PDIF coax.
In terms of sound quality, this is in a similar ballpark as Chord Mojo features on this list. They both are outdated now in some aspects but their sound quality is what keeps them relevant. Starting with the background noise and this has none. Even with max volume there is not perceived background noise. Now coming to the actual sound and to put it simply the sound here throughout is clean and natural.
The different frequencies are executed nicely with the bass being clean but having a touch of punch in the sub-bass region. The mids are natural throughout and the treble is revealing but still very neutral. The soundstage is also wide and there is a good amount of detail in the audio. Overall, very natural and detailed audio experience with this one.
Aune X1s great high marks for a simplistic approach with great execution. This DAC amp does nothing out of the norm yet it does things beautifully which makes it all the more praiseworthy. It is a great example that more does not always equal quality. So if you are in the market for the best DAC amp combo under 300 bucks and do not need all of the gimmicky features then this is a strong recommendation.
13. iFi Nano iDSD Black Label
The Best DAC Amp Combo Under $200
For the best DAC amp combo under 200 category, we have selected another iFi product. This iFi Nano iDSD Black label as it is known boasts some impressive specs and features for a portable DAC amp and due to that is a standout in the segment.
Build quality of this product is generally great with no loose ends. The case is made from aluminum and a solid and robust feel. All the connectors are metal and have a strong planted feel to them. The case is well put together and there is good attention to detail which signifies the care iFi took when rolling this product off the assembly line.
The design of the product is also distinct. It has aggressively rounded edges that provide a modern look to the device. The use of gold color for the font gives a nice spice to the overall aesthetics. The led light is also a nice addition that rounds the overall aesthetic of the product and brings everything together. One note to add here that despite being marketed as a portable DAC amp it is quite thick and not as easy to carry as its rivals.
iFi Nano iDSD BL is a portable DAC amp so don’t expect to find a plethora of features here. Due to the size limitations, the feature part of this device is held back with performance getting the main attention. Still, there are a couple of good features the first one being the filter switch on the back of the device.
You have a choice between measure and listen and although it may sound confusing it’s not. The “listen” is a minimum-phase filter that sounds better while the “measure” is a linear phase filter that performs better. The other feature is the led light discussed previously. That light changes depending on the status of the DAC amp. Another technical feature of this product is the Burr-Brown true native chipset it uses making this device capable of rendering MQA files.
Power and Connectivity
iFi products rarely disappoint when it comes to performance and this is no exception. This portable DAC amp has sufficient power and is capable of driving most headphones and IEMs you throw at it. It is rated for supporting headphones up to 600ohms so basically, all the high-end stuff is supported granted it will not have the best of quality but still being able to drive 600ohms headphones even at a mediocre level is good enough. In terms of technical specification, this DAC amp has 285mW of output power at 32ohms.
iFi Nano iDSD is powered by USB input which is also used to recharge the battery pack. The battery of this device is very good and lasts about 6-10 hours depending on the usage. Other connectivity options include a 3.5mm line out which is used to send signals to any external source like speakers.
That rounds it up for ports on the back of the device and coming to the front you will find only two ports. They are the dual 3.5mm ports one for use with headphones and the other named IEMatch for use with sensitive a pair of IEM.
iFi Nano iDSD Black Label delivers fantastic sound quality for a portable DAC amp. The sound here is neutral and natural. The low end is slightly amped up but it is not that noticeable. All frequencies just have the right amount of presence but with the low end pushed a little further the sound is very pleasing and enjoyable. iFi has done an amazing job with the cleanliness and clarity of the sound while maintaining the fun and laid back aspect.
The detail retrieval and resolution are also well managed here. There is plenty of micro detail in the audio and the elements in the sound never cloudy. The wide soundstage also facilitates this and provides for a better overall audio experience. When it comes to pairing this DAC amp will be able to handle most audiophile headphones and IEMs. Even more sensitive IEMs will be good here due to the inclusion of IEMatch output which is made exclusively for these kinds of IEMs.
What are you getting with this iFi Nano iDSD Black Label is a terrific value. In a sub $200 DAC amp, you are getting MQA rendering which was unheard of until this thing came along. The performance and sound quality are very good, and this DAC amp has plenty of power to drive most of the headphones you buy when you progress into your audiophile journey. This all makes iFi Nano IDSD Black Label an easy recommendation if you want a great quality product with good performance and future-proofing as well.
14. FiiO E10K
The Best DAC Amp Combo Under $100
Another FiiO product on the list and rightfully so because the people there really know how to make impressive DAC amp. This product is nothing new it has been lingering around for quite a while now and yet there are not many products that can dethrone FiiO E10K as the best DAC amp combo under 100.
FiiO generally has good build quality across the board and each of their product gets the same high-quality treatment and this FiiO E10K is no different. Despite being in the budget price bracket the chassis of this DAC amp is made from aluminum. This provides E10K with a rigid and solid feel. The finishing is also a step above the other budget-oriented DAC amp.
The design of a product is subjective and personal but we can’t help but comment on the brushed matte black color. The design has also held up well over time due to the sleek rounded corners and attention to detail by FiiO.
FiiO E10K has a basic set of features like you will find on most budget-oriented DAC amp. There is nothing spectacular really to highlight here but it is to be expected. There is one neat addition though which you will not find in other competitors and that is the addition of a bass boost switch. The switch is located on the front side of the device besides the volume knob. The bass boost feature works well and helps in bringing the low end alive in certain headphones that lack bass and sub-bass.
Another welcomed addition has to be the gain switch located at the back of the device nestled between the different outputs. The switch allows the user to choose either low gain or high gain which depending on the scenario is beneficial. Other than that there is nothing worth mentioning other than the fact that this DAC amp covers the basics nicely as a good budget DAC amp should.
Power and Connectivity
FiiO E10K is a little old now so it does not have the latest hardware but still, it has respectable power and one that will be plenty for most people. This DAC amp is made to be used with entry-level audiophile headphones like the Sennheiser HD58X, AKG K7XX you get the gist. And for these headphones, FiiO E10K is completely fine and drive them and other similar headphones without any problem.
In terms of connectivity, all your basics are covered here. Being a portable DAC amp combo FiiO E10K is USB powered rather than Dc. For ports on the front, you will find a 1/8 inch headphone which is the main source for your headphone output. There is also another 1/8 inch port on the back of the device which can be used to feed signals to external devices. Besides this, the only other ports you will find on the back are the Coaxial Out and the USB port.
The excellent sound quality was what propelled this DAC amp above its competition and sound is still the reason this product is still in the top charts of budget DAC amp. FiiO E10K has a clean and pleasant sound. There is not much processing going on and the audio sounds natural yet there is a significant boost in clarity and detail. This DAC amp is also free from any background noise an issue that plagues many budget-end devices.
Overall, the sound is great and FiiO E10K is a good entry point into the serious DAC amp space. It has better sound quality than your cheap DAC amps while not being priced significantly higher. It is also good in terms of pairing and can be used with most entry-level headphones and IEMs.
FiiO E10K is the best DAC amp combo under 100 bucks you can get. if you are serious about the audio game and want something higher quality than the average cheap DAC amps. This is a step above all of the cheap DAC amp combo in all regards that being performance, sound, and build. You are also getting a product from a well reputable brand so it’s a win-win situation.
15. Fosi Audio Q4
The Best Budget DAC Amp Combo
Fosi is a relatively new company which has been getting a lot of positive attention recently. Their Q4 DAC amp is one that has received a lot of praise from the community has been one of the best if not the best budget DAC amp combo on the market.
The build quality is nothing fancy. It is what you would expect from a cheap budget DAC amp. It is definitely solid and will last the test of time but the finish and the material choice is too generic something that you will find in pretty much most DAC amp combos under $100. The generic quality is further enhanced by the feel of the product in the hand. Overall, we cannot fault this product because in actuality the build is fine for a budget DAC amp combo but it just feels generic maybe they could have added something to make it distinct.
This product is packed when it comes to features. At the front, there is your typical volume knob but what this DAC amp does differently from its competitors is the inclusion of a bass and treble knob as well. So adjusting the aforementioned frequencies is easy and hassle-free. Since this DAC amp combo has multiple source inputs there is a need for a toggle switch to reliable and efficiently switch between the source if multiple are connected. This is exactly the switch provided alongside the knobs which make toggling between the different sources a breeze.
Power and Connectivity
Fosi Q4 is a cheap budget-oriented DAC amp but still, it has respectable power. This amp can easily drive entry-level audiophile headphones like the Sennheiser HD 58X. For high-end headphones, you will need a better amp but you should not be using high-end headphones with budget DAC amps, to begin with. For those interested in the exact power figure this device is capable of producing 100mW of power at 32ohms.
When it comes to connectivity Fosi Q4 includes all the necessary ports. This may not be the most versatile DAC amp in terms of connectivity but it is adequate for using with a computer with occasional signal pass through to speakers via the RCA output ports. For the source input, it has optical, coaxial, and PC-USB in. Lastly, there is a DC 5V port that powers the device and makes it functional.
The sound quality of Fosi Q4 is nothing spectacular but it fares well for the price. Comparing it with other lower-end DAC amps, this is far superior in terms of audio quality. It has a much richer sound output compared to others. Another major aspect of this DAC amp is the back noise. Many lower-end DAC amps tend to have a lingering background hiss but we are happy to report that this is devoid of that issue. There is some background noise but it is not prominent at all when listening on medium to loud volume.
When it comes to pairing the options are frankly limited. The power this thing produces is only just about sufficient for entry-level headphones. That also for only some of the less demanding headphones only others will struggle with this DAC amp. IEMs on the other hand present a different story. This will be great with IEMs and also with gaming headsets like the HyperX cloud series or the Logitech G series.
Fosi Q4 can be a great beginner DAC amp combo if you want something to explore in the audiophile space without emptying your wallet. For the price, you would be hard-pressed to find a better option that is this well-rounded in terms of performance and connectivity.
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This article contains all the best DAC amps available for different sets of categories and for every budget. We have done so to help you choose the best possible product that fulfills your needs and we really hope that you find something that works for you.
To wrap up everything mentioned in the article we again want to emphasize the importance of choosing the right gear for your purpose and need. Since there are a plethora of options to choose from when it comes to DAC amp combo and with each offering something different it is important to get the one that fits your checklist the best.