Best DAC AMP Combo in 2020 – 12 Finest Models Reviewed
More than 70% of personal computers (even the high-end models) have a CRAPPY built-in DAC. That translates to imperfect sound. If you listen to it for more than 5 hours via the headphones, you’ll surely get bored or even have auditory fatigue.
That is where external DACs come into play. They clean the sound to give you a good hearing experience and make it desirable to listen to even for extended periods without the issue of auditory fatigue.
I would say I discovered DACs by accident. You see, I normally take long flights traveling abroad on business trips and vacations. As you might already know, sitting on a plane for over ten hours can be immensely exhausting. To avoid boredom, I usually carry a pair of headphones so I can listen to music on my phone.
Initially, I’d connect my headphones to my phone directly. Then after a few hours, I’d remove the headphones, feeling exhausted and hurting in the ears.
Then, one day, I was sitting next to this lady who had her headphones on throughout and didn’t seem to have a problem. I noticed that her phone was connected to this little device that I’d never seen before. So, I got curious and asked what it was. She explained that it cleaned the sound and made it pleasant to listen to for long durations.
Now, it’s been almost ten years since then, and I have experienced the joy of DAC/amps in numerous ways.
In this post, I am going to help you discover that joy by helping you find the best DAC amp combo.
Let’s get started.
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Things to Consider Before Buying DAC AMP Combo
Before purchasing a DAC, there are a few factors you should take into consideration to ensure you’re getting the right unit. These include:
Without further ado, let’s jump into the review.
Our Top 10 Best DAC AMP Combo in 2020
1. FiiO E10K DAC and Headphone Amp
Are you looking for a cheap, under 100 DAC unit to power your headphones properly? FiiO E10K DAC and Headphone Amp is a choice that you won’t regret, especially if you’re using the Sennheiser HD600 or HD650.
From the look and ease of use to the sound quality, this is one of the finest cheap units for Hi-Fi use. And here’s why.
If you’ve used budget DACs unit before, you might have encountered one of those Chinese products with sharp edges that could cut you. This unit has no sharp edges. Its build is excellent, with high-quality materials. The knob feels good to rotate, and the switch moves smoothly with ease.
You will like the blue LED light at the front when the device is on. It looks really cool.
But the coolest thing about this unit is the surprisingly good sound quality. Everything, from the treble to the bass, comes out clean and smooth, definitely audiophile quality. It’s tough to find an under 100 DAC that delivers such high-fidelity, clean, and crisp sound.
If you like listening to music at ear-bleeding levels, or you want something that can deliver high volumes, then this unit is for you. It comes with a built-in amp, which, when set to ‘high gain’, kicks out the volume of your headphones.
It’s often been said that low-price DACs introduce noise (hiss or buzz) when the volume is set to high. But this little unit doesn’t create any of that. I found that the sound becomes even clearer with the bass boost on.
If you’re also looking for something you can take with you wherever, you’ll be glad to find that this is a small and compact portable unit. It weighs just a few ounces, and the biggest dimension is 3.1 inches.
What about the outputs? There are 3 of them. A 3.5mm line out that you can use for RCA, a 3.5mm headphone out, and a digital coaxial audio output.
2. AudioQuest DragonFly DAC
For a headphone amp or DAC you can use with your phone on the go, try the AudioQuest DragonFly DAC. This is a regular USB stick, but with a DAC/amp system installed inside.
Because of its size, it’s also an ideal choice for someone who wants something very portable or something low profile to use in an open office.
The DragonFly is designed to a plug and play DAC that you can hook to a PC, tablet, or smartphone. It is compatible with virtually all operating systems – windows and apple for PCs and Android and iOS for smartphones.
For phones, you only need a simple adapter to connect to the stick.
The unit doesn’t need a direct connection to power. It uses the power of the device it is connected to. Don’t worry about your battery getting drained; the stick uses minimal amounts of energy.
At the back, the stick has a 3.5mm port that you can use to connect to headphones or powered speaker setup.
Natively, the DragonFly is set to deliver a resolution of up to 24-bit/96kHz. Nevertheless, it plays any files from Hi-Res and MQA to MP3.
Ease of use is essential when buying a DAC. And that’s one area where this AudioQuest device comes across as the Best DAC AMP Combo. You only need to push the device into the USB port of the audio source; it’s plug and play. Besides, when you get the unit, you’re provided with a booklet that tells you all you need to know.
When it comes to the sound quality, the unit works wonderfully. As long as you have good headphones or speakers, the unit will boost the clarity and volume.
3. Audioengine D1 24-Bit DAC
Before I dive into this review, there’s one issue we’d like to make clear. With regard to quality, the Audioengine D1 24-Bit DAC is not any different from the AudioQuest DragonFly DAC (reviewed above). The only difference is that the Audioengine D1 is more expensive (by over 50 bucks).
So why should you go for it instead of the cheaper DragonFly? Because of two reasons. First, the D1 has a line and RCA output, which are not present on the DragonFly. And secondly, it also has a volume control, which the latter lacks.
One of the joys of the D1 is that it has excellent quality. The unit is made from high-quality materials, and the construction is very smooth and pleasant to the touch.
No sharp corners. The knob also moves smoothly without a struggle.
The controls are located at the front, where they’re super easy to access. It’s a no-fuss control panel. There is a knob for regulating the gain and a power button. Alongside the knob and the power button are ports for the headphone and RCA.
If the Audioengine DAC has one thing going for, it is the sound quality. Like that of the Audioquest DragonFly, it is a vibrant and warm full stereo sound with virtually no noise.
Another awesome thing about this unit is that it is a simple plug and play setup. You just connect it to your audio device and listen to the music on the headphones or speakers. There are no drivers to install.
Want to be able to use your DAC with a range of devices? The versatility of this device will be most useful. It works with all OS, including MAC, Linux, Windows, Android, and iOS.
Though I wish they added a marker on the volume knob to indicate position, the Audioengine D1 is a pretty good and useful device that will help you enjoy better sound.
4. Creative Sound BlasterX
Looking to kick your gaming audio experience a notch higher with a low-profile device? Check out the Creative Sound BlasterX.
This is a pocket-sized external sound card with a headphone amp that works excellently with PCs and gaming consoles, including PS4 and Xbox.
Apart from that, the unit can be connected to a TV via the optical output.
For someone who needs the best gaming audio, this might be the ideal selection. Using the BlasterX Acoustic Engine Pro, the unit delivers gaming sound effects with an accuracy that is near perfect.
Your stereo motherboard doesn’t need to be perfect. As long as it’s decent quality, the unit takes up the sound and transforms it into 3D virtual surround sound, giving you a superb output whether you’re using headphones or speakers.
As the device is able to deliver a resolution of up to 24-bit/192kHz, the clarity is impressive. If you want volume, then you’ll find this unit suitable. It comes with a built-in amp, and with the knob at the front, you can kick up the volume to levels beyond those of your audio device.
The unit comes with a 32 bit/384khz option, but I found that if you turn this on, there are many clicky sounds and some hiss as well. The music is not very clear at that sample rate. On the brighter side, the 24-bit/192kHz works flawlessly without noise.
One thing that is most incredible about the BlasterX is the design. As mentioned before, it is a lightweight, pocket-sized unit that you can have with you on the go. The design is excellent, and the lights on it look really cool.
There’s one issue, though – the light on top can be disabled, but the one in the front around the dial cannot. For some people, that might not be a problem at all.
5. Bravo Audio V2
If you love tube amps, the Bravo Audio V2 is one unit you shouldn’t ignore. This is nicely built little amp that connects to a wide range of audio devices via a 3.5mm headphone jack and an RCA port.
The unit’s design is the first thing I liked. It’s a little box with transparent glass walls so that you can see the tech inside. If you’re an audiophile, you will love the design. The LED light in the box looks great too.
Some tube amps out there get so hot that touching them after a few hours of operation could burn your hands. I loved that the glass on the Bravo V2 offers some insulation, so you can comfortably hold the amp.
But as a safety precaution, don’t dare touch the unit’s heat sink. It gets so hot that it could roast your hands.
In some ways, the V2 is portable, but in other ways, it is not. It is portable in that it’s a small and lightweight device that you could carry it in your bag without a problem. It weighs about one pound.
On the other hand, the unit needs its own direct connection to power. You cannot use your PC or TV to charge it. Of course, you can carry a little generator, but not everyone finds that convenient.
You might want to know about the input and output sizes before buying. The amp has a ¼-inch headphone out, and two inputs – a 3.5mm and RCA port. I didn’t like that it didn’t have a USB input, but that’s not a problem at all to some people.
The Bravo 2 is undoubtedly powerful, bumping up your volume efficiently. It’s also very well designed. But there’s a significant issue – it picks up a little noise from devices. Not too much and annoying, but if you don’t like noise, however slight, then this one is not for you.
6. Syba Sonic USB 24/96 kHz DAC
If you want the best headphone DAC amp combo that costs the least amount of money, you might want to check out the Syba Sonic USB 24/96 kHz DAC. This is a cheap unit that delivers good, clean sound.
For someone that does a lot of gaming, a mic input might be one of the requirements when looking for a DAC/amp combo. Perhaps your onboard mic has too much static, which you want to eliminate. The Syba will do that for you effectively.
As already mentioned, the DAC costs a relatively low amount of money. If you’re on a tight budget and you want something under 50 that works, this one could be your ideal selection.
Some DACs are complicated and give users a headache just to install and figure out how to get the best out of them. This unit is the opposite. It is designed as a plug and play device. Just hook it to your PC using a USB and wait for its software to install on the computer.
The entire process takes 2 minutes or less.
Using the device is instinctive. There are no confusing settings to deal with, and the only controls you’ll be working with are the volume dial and the treble/bass switch.
The dial is well designed and large enough to give you a comfortable grip. Turning, it feels amazing.
For the sake of versatility, the unit is equipped with a range of inputs and outputs. The inputs include RCA, coaxial, mic, and USB. The USB input also acts as a power supply, which minimizes power use and makes the unit portable.
The outputs include a ¼ inch and 1/8 inch headphone jack port. That gives you freedom with regards to the headphones you can connect.
I noticed one issue with the Syba Sonic DAC. Though it’s a benefit that the dial is super easy to turn, that means that your headphone lines can accidentally turn the volume up/down.
7. FX Audio DAC-X6 24BIT/192
While the FX Audio DAC’s construction is not audiophile quality, it’s a bargain-basement with regards to the price. For someone on a budget who needs decent quality, it’s a great under 200 unit to try.
Funny how an internal DAC can deliver terrible sound where you least expect. Maybe you’ve bought a laptop, but the sound it produces is annoying. Tell you what?
One thing you’re going to like about the FX Audio is that it cleans the sound beautifully. No more hiss or any of that static noise. If you’d like the output to be louder without getting distorted, you’ll be happy to see that the unit also comes with a quality amp, which kicks up the volume efficiently.
I loved the simple design of the unit. As mentioned earlier, it’s not audiophile quality, but for someone who needs a no-fuss DAC, the design is not bad.
From the look of things, the construction seems sturdy and like something that will last. That is with the exception of the power supply, which seems a bit crappy. As for the aesthetic value, I think the manufacturer didn’t pay much attention.
The controls are positioned at the front. These are only three – the power switch, the input selection switch, that allows you to choose coaxial, USB or optical, and the volume dial.
As you can see, there aren’t many complicated controls to struggle with.
The outputs are two – there’s a 6.35mm headset out, and there’s an RCA port for connecting to external speakers. I didn’t like the fact that there’s no 3.5mm headset out, but you can always buy an adapter for that.
8. Sennheiser GSX 1000 Gaming Amp
Are you a gamer looking for the best virtual surround sound? You will love the performance of the Sennheiser GSX 1000 Gaming Amp. The binaural technology used in this unit is clearly top-notch. It gives you an amazing 3D stereo sound sensation when playing games.
Though the unit is marketed as an amp, the truth is that it is a DAC with an amp. It not only increases the volume but also cleans the sound.
If you usually game for long hours, then you’re prone to getting hearing fatigue. The unit is built such that the sound is clean and outside your head rather than inside. That way, you get far less fatigue than you would without this device.
One unique feature I noted on this device is the room setting — no more settling for a fixed surround sound presentation. With the four equalizer settings on the unit, you get your preferred surround sound experience.
With most amps/dacs out there, changing between speaker and headset setting is quite inconvenient. You have to unplug cables. But with the GSX, you don’t have to tab or disconnect any cables. It’s a quick and convenient switch.
If you have a taste for elegantly designed tech products, this one will impress you. The aesthetics are fantastic! There’s a large, beautiful LED display panel at the top, which has a sensor integrated. By hovering your hand over the display, you can turn on the unit without pressing any buttons.
Before you purchase this unit, we’d like you to know one thing. I found it to be useful only for gaming. Also, the unit only comes with a headphone/headset output.
We’d recommend the GSX for hardcore gamers who want a perfect surround sound experience.
9. Chord Electronics Mojo DAC/Headphone Amp
Designed and manufactured in the UK, the Chord Electronics Mojo DAC/Headphone Amp is the best DAC AMP combo for someone looking for a truly portable unit. This device is optimized for use with mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets. It also works excellent with PCs.
You can use it with most of the popular OS, including iOS, Android, and Windows.
When it comes to sound quality, this unit offers the most satisfying and enjoyable listening experience. Obviously created with high-quality materials, and integrated with the tech-based on the award-winning Hugo platform, the unit transforms your devices’ sound into studio-quality audio.
If you’re used to listening on the headphones for extended durations, and usually have to deal with auditory fatigue, you can say goodbye to the problem. This DAC combo creates a blissful sound that you can listen to for hours on end without fatigue.
Inside, the unit is integrated with an amp. The amp allows you to bump up the volume of your devices without ruining the sound quality.
Able to transmit sound at a sample rate of 32/768 kHz, this DAC offers you clear sound even at higher volumes.
One thing that repels people from this unit is the price. Going for over 300 bucks, the Chord Electronics Mojo is for not a cheap investment. But as the price is high, so is the quality. If you’re used to units worth 200 and below, get ready to hear new details in your music, games, or music.
There are a number of inputs and outputs. You can connect it to your device using the USB port, which also supplies the power. There are two 3.5mm headset out ports.
10. Micca OriGen G2
Forget the unique design. What really sets the Micca OriGen G2 apart is the freedom it gives you with regards to connections. You can do the preamp or headphone out. You also have the choice of doing the optical or USB in.
You can have the audio from your TV running to the device through the optical cable to the G2.
Also, you can have the audio from your computer running to the device through the USB, which also delivers the needed power.
From there, connect the preamp to the external speakers and the headphone port to your headsets/headphone.
That way, you can listen to what is playing on your computer or TV via the headphones or the external speakers.
That’s lots of freedom, won’t you agree?
One thing you will likely love is the fact that the unit works right out of the box. There are no drivers to install. Just plug in the wires, and you’re good to go.
If you want to get a bit louder, you’ll find the device useful. It cranks up the volume very well.
The build quality feels excellent.
That big ass dial at the top for controlling the volume makes you feel like a boss.
The manufacturer’s description says this under 200 DAC is able to play music at a rate of up to 24 bit. But as I discovered, it actually goes beyond that and plays files at a rate of 32 bit with no issues.
One thing I loved is that even when you max out the volume, there’s no hiss or hum in the speakers/headphones. But note, your devices also have to be high-quality to enjoy this benefit.
Something you need to note – the device can be powered with a USB, but it does not include a DC power supply.
11. Oppo HA-2 Portable Headphone Amp plus DAC
Oppo is a Chinese electronics company known for its Blu-ray players and smartphones. But did you know they make DACs as well? And not just DACs. We’re talking the finest units in the market.
Their Oppo HA-2 brings fuller sound and better bass, even without having to engage the bass boost. The sound becomes more organic with this unit.
The unit is ideal for use with most USB compatible phones and devices. It works with Android and Apple and works with Mac and PC.
If you need something portable that you can take from place to place without a problem, then this one is for you. It’s small and lightweight, and super convenient to carry around.
Another factor that makes it portable is that it has a battery. So, you can just charge it as you would your phone and then use the device without a direct connection to power.
What I loved even more is that the unit is fast charging. The battery will be full in less than two hours.
How’s the battery life? That depends. If you’re using a digital connection via USB, the DAC will run for 7 hours on battery. But if you’re using analog audio in, it will serve you for almost double that time.
The HA-2 is not just a DAC. It’s a power bank as well. In case your phone goes dead while on a trip, the unit will come in handy.
If the unit has one thing going for, it is the build quality. Its surface feels very nice to the touch. The case is made of aluminum for durability. Around it, the DAC has a leather wrap for added protection and beauty.
For someone looking for elegance, this one won’t disappoint.
12. iFi Nano iDSD Black Label DAC & Headphone Amp
Looking to enjoy a clean, massive sound with excellent depth? You got to try the iFi Nano iDSD Black Label. This one offers better sound clarity and cranks up the volume to a whole new level. The bass also gets great and punchy without turning on the bass boost.
The under 300 DAC unit is an excellent combination of portability and listening experience. If you travel a lot and need something that won’t give you fatigue, then this one would be a nice pick.
Sound quality is something you definitely want to know about before buying.
One thing I noted is that the low end was pushed a bit, but not to the point of clouding the midrange. As a matter of fact, I found the midrange to be perfect.
The upper end is what you’d call smooth.
With regard to instrument separation, I found the Mojo to be the best unit. But then, for some people, the level of separation that the Mojo offers is too much and can lead to distraction. If you’d like to reduce the separation slightly so that there won’t be too much distraction, try the iFi Nano.
How’s the ease of use?
Well, we’d give it 4/5 stars. The unit comes with a program called TIDAL that has to be installed so you can play audio. It’s not really complicated, but it appears so at first and takes some time to get used to.
The black label has a battery that allows you to use it without a direct connection to power.
I loved that it charges rapidly and has a good battery life of more than 6 hours.
The unit looks like it will last, thanks to the good construction. I loved that big dial at the front. It’s so easy to turn.
Benefits of Using DAC AMP Combo
Ever picked a high-end pair of headphones only to be disappointed by the sound coming from your PC or phone? You might have blamed the headphones, even though they were crappy, but the problem probably wasn’t with the headphones. It was likely with your phone’s or PC’s built-in audio system.
Most PCs and mobile devices have a built-in DAC and amp, which the audio has to go through before going to the headphones or speakers. Unfortunately, the onboard DAC/amp is usually crappy and incapable of delivering optimal quality.
That’s why you might have the best headphones but still experience issues with sound quality. And that’s where an external DAC amp comes in.
The best DAC amp combo improves the sound in various ways:
frequently asked questions
What is a DAC?
DAC refers to digital-to-analog converter in full. This is an appliance that changes digital audio files comprising of 1s and 0s into analog signals that can be sent to your headphones for listening.
What can I connect to DAC?
You can connect a DAC to almost anything that plays audio. In most cases, people connect DACs to computers using a USB. But you can also hook it to a TV or DVD player using coaxial or optical cables. These days, you can also connect a DAC to your phone using a USB adapter or a sundry interconnect cable.
Do DACs really make a difference?
The short answer would be YES. Most PCs, even high-end ones, have less than perfect internal DACs and amps. You may therefore experience issues like interference and noise, and a sound that is generally less than perfect.
A DAC steps in to eliminate the issues not addressed by the computer’s or mobile device’s internal DAC. It cleans the sound and offers higher volumes. Some also boost the bass and treble.
Is a DAC worth purchasing?
That depends on your sensitivities. If you think the audio coming from your players (PCs, phones, blu-ray, etc.) is perfect, then you don’t really need to invest in a DAC. But if you think the sound could be better, or perhaps the volume could be higher, then a DAC is worth buying.
Will the quality of my speakers or headphones affect the output of the DAC?
The answer is a resounding yes. Picture it like relaying high-pressure water through pipes. If the pipes are strong and durable, then water moves just fine, but if they are crappy, then they burst. Your headphones or speakers have to be able to put up with the level of quality that the DAC puts out.
When all is said and done, not everyone needs a DAC/AMP combo. Devices come already packed with a built-in device for converting digital audio to analog audio. Still, what is built-in cannot match the level of quality that external tech offers.
The best DAC amp combo is for that person who thinks their audio could be better in terms of quality or gain, or someone who needs professional-grade sound. It’s a worthy investment.