8 Best Portable DAC/Amp Combos – Great for iPhone and Android [2022]

The Audioquest Dragonfly Cobalt. (From audioquest.com)
The Audioquest Dragonfly Cobalt. (From audioquest.com)

We compiled a list of the best portable DAC/amp combos that are great to use with mobile devices (iPhone and Android).

A portable DAC/amp is a multi-purpose device. It accepts a digital input, converts it into analog audio, amplifies the signal, and finally outputs the music to headphones. Since we’re talking about portable devices, it also should be small enough to fit into a pocket.

Missing headphone jacks from the current batch of phones have also warranted the use of an intermediate device (or Bluetooth connection) for headphone listening.

If you have to connect something, why not choose a terrific sounding replacement? To help you with this, here’s a list of our top picks of the best portable DAC/amp combos you can choose from.

How to Pick the Best Portable DAC/Amp

To choose the right portable DAC/amp, you have to decide what features are most important to you:

  • Portability: Size and weight?
  • Format support: DSD, MQA, and/or high bit-rate and sample rate?
  • Variety of digital and analog inputs?
  • Power to drive a wide range of headphones?
  • Sound quality?
  • Bluetooth?
  • Internal battery?
  • Price and value?
  • All of the above?

We’re here to help with our recommendations of some of the best portable DAC/amp options and a quick reference guide to compare the most important features. Comparing the specifications is important to making the right choice.

Scroll to the right to see the full table

DAC/AmpBuyChipsetPCM Max Bit RatePCM Max Sample RateDSDMQAOutput Power (W @ 32 Ohms)Balanced OutputUSB Input TypeTOSLINK InputCoaxial InputAES InputBluetooth InputWeight (g)
Chord Hugo 2 Editor's ChoiceBUYXilinx Artix 7 (XC7A15T) FPGA32-Bit768 kHzDSD 512N0.74NminiYYNY390
CEntrance DACport HD Best BudgetBUYAK449032-Bit384 kHzDSD 128N0.337NminiNNNN72
iFi Diablo Most PowerfulBUYDual Burr-Brown32-Bit768 kHzDSD 512Y4.98YAYNNN330
Hidizs S9 Pro Most PortableBUYES9038Q2M32-Bit768 kHzDSD 512N0.2YCNNNN11
iFi Go Blu Best WirelessBUYCirrus Logic CS4313124-Bit96 kHzNN0.245YCNNNY130
Earman Sparrow Oldie But GoodieBUYAK445332-Bit384 kHzDSD 128Y0.125YCNNNN12
iFi XDSD Gryphon Most FlexibleBUYHybrid Burr-Brown32-Bit768 kHzDSD 512Y1YCYNNY215
Woo Audio WA8 Eclipse New ContenderBUYESS Sabre24-Bit384 kHzDSD 128N0.25NBNNNN1088

8 Best Portable DAC/Amp Combos for 2022

Here’s our pick for the best portable DAC/amp combos for 2022:

Chord Hugo 2

Editor’s Choice
The Chord Hugo 2. (From: chordelectronics.com)
The Chord Hugo 2. (From: chordelectronics.com)

Key features

  • Max Bit Rate/Sample Rate (Bit/kHz): 32/768
  • DSD: 512
  • MQA: N
  • Bluetooth Input: Y
  • Output Power ([email protected]): 740

The Chord Hugo 2 is designed for both mobile and home use, either with headphones or in a conventional audio system with a line-level output and full-function remote control. Chord leveraged advances in digital technology, including the latest field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) and Watts Transient Aligned (WTA) filters to introduce a next-generation version of their classic Hugo.

The Hugo 2 offers multiple digital inputs (optical, coaxial, and USB) plus extended-range Bluetooth, with high-resolution file playback up to 768kHz and up to DSD512 (Octa DSD), via its HD USB input. Analog outputs include dual RCA, plus 3.5mm and 6.35mm headphone outputs.

Additionally, the Hugo 2 offers a four-function filter (warm, soft, transparent, and incisive) and a digital crossfeed function with three operation modes. Always divisive, users will either love or hate Chord’s distinctive styling and four spherical control buttons which illuminate with color-coded information.

The Hugo 2 generally shows natural tonality but can verge on sharpness with some brighter headphone pairings. It’s a tradeoff for exceptional clarity but may leave some listeners wanting for a thicker low-end. Spacious and resolving, the Hugo 2 is a terrific example of what a portable audio device can do.

Where to buy

Also Good

Dethonray Honey H1

The Dethonray Honey H1. (From: dethonray.nl)
The Dethonray Honey H1. (From: dethonray.nl)

The Honey H1 uses the AKM AK4497 DAC chipset to maximize wide dynamic range and deliver ultra-low distortion reproduction for IEMs and headphones.

Dethonray is a small boutique company that is the brainchild of Anson Tse, a long-time expert in amplifier and audio processing design.

While the Hugo 2 supports 32/768 and DSD 512, the Honey is rated for 32/384 and DSD128. Where the Hugo 2 boldly features glowing circular orbs, the Honey is far more understated and industrial looking, clad in a blue aluminum brick with gold-colored jacks and volume knob.

The Honey’s sound is characterized as dynamic and lush. Mid-range frequency performance is the star of the show, with oodles of detail in the presentation. There’s plenty of power on tap for high-impedance headphones, but the Honey can delicately power IEMs as well.

Luxury & Precision W2

The Luxury & Precision W2. (From: amazon.ca)
The Luxury & Precision W2. (From: amazon.ca)

The Luxury & Precision W2 supports 32/384 and DSD256, with dual CS43198 chips onboard. With the balanced output rated at almost 10x the power of other more affordable dongle options, the battery draw is significant. Additionally, the W2 features a handy display rarely seen on this sort of device.

The greater power of the W2 means that the output has better dynamics and low-end oomph than lesser-powered mini-DAC/amps. This additional headroom is evident with moderately inefficient loads. However, if very long listening sessions with efficient IEMs are your preference, then a lower-powered device may be a better match. The W2 does allow for a far greater number of successful pairings between headphones and amp in an ultra-portable format.

CEntrance DACport HD

Best Budget
The Centrance DACport HD. (From: centrance.com)
The Centrance DACport HD. (From: centrance.com)

Key features

  • Max Bit Rate/Sample Rate (Bit/kHz): 32/384
  • DSD: 128
  • MQA: N
  • Bluetooth Input: N
  • Output Power ([email protected]): 337

The DACport HD is a revised, higher-powered version of the original (and now discontinued) Classic model. Pairing the AKM4490 chipset with a custom Class-A headphone amplifier, the DACport HD achieves an impressive 337 mW of output power (single-ended @32 Ohms) in a small battery-free dongle.

Class-A is known for meaty and powerful presentation, and the DACport HD is no exception. It’s big on dynamics and can seem quite forward with a lot of high-end energy and sparkle. The DACport HD is a real champ with moderate headphone loads taking advantage of its strengths: detail and power.

Unfortunately, the DACport HD does have drawbacks such as heat generation and high-battery draw, both a direct result of the power-hungry Class-A amplification.

Moreover, somewhat disappointingly, there is no USB-C port (micro-USB only), but there is an included volume control and high/low gain selector.

Using high-gain with super-sensitive IEMs can result in noticeable hiss and unwanted noise.

Where to buy

Also Good

Questyle M12

The Questyle M12. (From: questyle.com)
The Questyle M12. (From: questyle.com)

The Questyle M12 is a dongle style DAC/amp based on the company’s Current Mode Amplification tech and features the ES9281AC Sabre DAC chipset with 32/384 and DSD 256 support. It combines decent output power with MQA and is a more fully-featured option for streaming users than the DACport HD.

The M12 automatically detects the impedance of the connected headphones and adjusts its output to match. It’s a small aluminum block available in such wild colors as ‘classic black’ or ‘stylish silver’. There are also multi-color gain and file type indicator LEDs, but no buttons or controls.

Like other Questyle products, the surprisingly affordable M12 provides a detailed yet smooth sound, with a focus on energy and resolution.

However, the single-ended M12 is fairly power limited and better suits efficient headphones and IEMs.

iFi Diablo

Most Powerful
The iFi Diablo. (From: ifi-audio.com)
The iFi Diablo. (From: ifi-audio.com)

Key features

  • Max Bit Rate/Sample Rate (Bit/kHz): 32/768
  • DSD: 512
  • MQA: Y
  • Bluetooth Input: N
  • Output Power ([email protected]): 4980

The Diablo sports a price tag almost 50% more than their previous top-of-the-line portable model (the micro iDSD Signature). It also lacks X-Bass and 3-D+ features, sports a Ferrari red paint job, and boasts a shockingly high output power (~5W @32Ohms). Suffice to say, the Diablo is something very new for iFi.

The Diablo is a TOTL device and is fittingly bundled with an outstanding collection of accessories including a USB iPurifier3 (limited to the first 1000 Diablos sold), iPower supply, and iTraveller case, not to mention cables, adapters, etc.

The Diablo uses dual Burr-Brown DAC chips mated to a new 16-core XMOS chip to handle bit-perfect decoding up to PCM 768 and DSD 512. iFi has jumped with both feet into MQA support and created the optional GTO digital filter in conjunction with the MQA team.

With a maximum power (rated @32 Ohms) of 4.98W (balanced) and 2.5W (single-ended), the Diablo is in a class of its own as far as portable amplifiers. Heck, it puts most desktop devices to shame.

Yet, this is not a device intended for the most efficient of IEMs – and easily overpowers them without using the iFi iEMatch+ (surprisingly, not included).

Think of Diablo as a battery-powered, high-end, desktop DAC/amp that you can take with you on the go.

Where to buy

Hidizs S9 PRO

Most Portable
The S9 PRO. (From: hidizs.net)
The S9 PRO. (From: hidizs.net)

Key features

  • Max Bit Rate/Sample Rate (Bit/kHz): 32/768
  • DSD: 512
  • MQA: N
  • Bluetooth Input: N
  • Output Power ([email protected]): 200

The S9 PRO is an upgraded version of the well-regarded (and now discontinued) S9 model, including a new DAC chipset (ESS ES9038Q2M) and more output power, housed in the same physical format.

The S9 PRO is a small (black or silver) aluminum brick with one glassy surface that lists its name and decoding capabilities. The other side has the Hidizs logo which changes color to show the file format currently playing.

One of the short ends has both the balanced 2.5 and single-ended 3.5mm outputs (and a bump to accommodate them) and the other has the USB-C socket.

The sound signature is on the crisp and detailed side, leaner sounding than warm. With no discernable noise floor and about 200mW (@32 Ohms balanced) power, the S9 can drive most full-sized headphones too loud volume levels with good fidelity.

However, the battery draw on the source device is quite high, limiting your listening time.

Where to buy

Also Good

Apogee Groove

The Groove. (From: apogeedigital.com)
The Groove. (From: apogeedigital.com)

While the Hidizs S9 PRO is capable of 32/768 and DSD512 playback, the Apogee Groove is only capable of 24/192 and no DSD. However, it does slightly edge out the S9 PRO with 225mW (@32 Ohms) of power.

The Groove is intended to bring studio-quality sound anywhere with a tiny portable device. But, the high power output of the Groove also means it’s also power-hungry and will be a big drain on the source device.

This power consumption is far more noticeable on a phone than on a laptop.

Although the modest specs don’t necessarily indicate it, the Groove is capable of excellent sonic performance, combining linear frequency response with outstanding imaging and detail.

Apogee uses a current shaping design (rather than traditional voltage shaping) which has an unusual effect of creating a high (20 Ohm) output impedance. This makes the Groove suited for powering high-impedance headphones rather than very-efficient IEMs, especially those with multi-driver balanced armatures (Apogee warns against this sort of pairing).

iFi Go blu

Best Wireless
The GO blu. (From: ifi-audio.com)
The GO blu. (From: ifi-audio.com)

Key features

  • Max Bit Rate/Sample Rate (Bit/kHz): 24/96
  • DSD: N
  • MQA: N
  • Bluetooth Input: Y
  • Output Power ([email protected]): 245

The iFi Go blu lives up to iFi’s standards as a great sounding and astoundingly feature-packed device, but this time contained in a very tiny (27g), rubber and aluminum package. Eschewing typical volume buttons, the Go blu sports a prominent multi-function potentiometer knob on the side.

It also features both single-ended (3.5mm) and balanced (4.4mm) outputs, a USB-C charging and data port, Bluetooth pairing/XBass/XSpace button, microphone, and power switch.

The Go blu is a do-it-all device, from wired DAC to Bluetooth receiver, it can even turn your wired headphones into a wireless headset. The latest Bluetooth codecs are supported including SBC, AAC, aptX Adaptive, aptX HD, LDAC, and LHDC.

A big win is the lack of channel imbalance at low volumes, which is a common problem with inexpensive potentiometers. The small size may make you underestimate the driving abilities of the Go blu, but with 245mW (@32 Ohms) on hand via the balanced output, it can handle the most moderately efficient headphones and IEMs.

Overall, the sound may be a bit thin with more difficult-to-drive headphones, but properly paired, the Go blu provides a clean and smooth sonic signature.

Where to buy

Also Good

Quidelix 5K

The 5K. (From: qudelix.com)
The 5K. (From: qudelix.com)

While the Go blu supports 24/96 via a Cirrus-Logic CS43131 chipset, the Qudelix-5K Reference DAC/amp does the same with dual ES9218P Sabre DAC chips. Quidelix boasts its qualifications as a technical partner in developing the Sony LDAC Bluetooth codec, so it’s no surprise that the 5K has outstanding wireless connectivity and performance.

The 5K has 80mW single-ended and 240mW balanced (@32 Ohms) making it suitable for a fairly wide range of headphones and IEMs. It too is tiny, weighing 25g, just about the same as the Go blu, but it’s constructed of plastic rather than aluminum and rubber, opening a question on durability.

The 5K boasts a very robust app, allowing for changing volume, output, Bluetooth codec, and a 10-band graphic and parametric equalizer. There are two sound profiles: Standard (balance between sound quality and battery consumption) and Performance (maximum DAC clock and bias current).

Performance mode is the default for the USB connection.

Earman Sparrow

Oldie But Goodie
Earman Sparrrow. (From: amazon.com)
Earman Sparrrow. (From: amazon.com)

Key features

  • Max Bit Rate/Sample Rate (Bit/kHz): 32/384
  • DSD: Y
  • MQA: Y
  • Bluetooth Input: N
  • Output Power ([email protected]): 125

By popular request, we have included the Earman Sparrow on this year’s ‘Best Of’ list. The Sparrow has wowed many reviewers (and owners) with its high-quality construction (aluminum case with 2.5D glass), robust feature set (balanced output, DSD and MQA support), and outstanding sound quality.

Earman (a subsidiary of high-end manufacturer Auris Audio) has created a teeny-tiny, itty-bitty, truly-audiophile device. The Sparrow features a gold plated PCB, high-grade components, and is assembled in Europe.

While the Sparrow is designed to be minimal in size, some may lament the lack of any physical controls and only the single color-changing LED indicator.

The Sparrow is first and foremost an IEM amplifier. Although it does have a 2.5mm balanced headphone jack (which increases power output) it simply doesn’t have the ability to properly drive inefficient full-sized headphones. However, paired with resolving IEMs, the Sparrow’s slightly warm signature really brings extra depth and fullness to the music.

Fidelity is remarkably refined for a device of this type, and the Sparrow is defined by its smooth and thoroughly enjoyable sound.

Where to buy

iFi xDSD Gryphon

Most Flexible
The Gryphon. (From: ifi-audio.com)
The Gryphon. (From: ifi-audio.com)

Key features

  • Max Bit Rate/Sample Rate (Bit/kHz): 32/768
  • DSD: 512
  • MQA: Y
  • Bluetooth Input: Y
  • Output Power ([email protected]): 1000

The Gryphon is iFi’s new jack-of-all-trades portable device: high bit-rate support plus DSD and MQA playback, combined with Bluetooth, single-ended and balanced outputs, OLED display, XSpace, XBass II, bass + presence switch, and IE Match circuitry. Think of it as the big brother to the remarkable GO blu, the Gryphon is the evolution of the xDSD.

As is common practice for iFi, the Gryphon uses a Burr-Brown DAC chipset paired with the latest Bluetooth 5.1 technology supporting LDAC and aptX HD codecs.

The XSpace implementation in the Gryphon is especially good at creating an immersive spatial effect, but at the expense of some weight and depth to the music.

Output power isn’t quite up to the level of their Signature devices, let alone the Diablo, positioning the Gryphon somewhere between the GO Blu and the more powerful devices. This somewhat limits compatibility with more demanding headphones and IEMs.

Where to buy

Also Good

Fiio Q5S

Fiio Q5s. (From: amazon.com)
Fiio Q5s. (From: amazon.com)

The Fiio Q5S is modular in design with user-replaceable amplifier modules located at the bottom of the device. The different amplifier modules each have unique power and impedance ratings as well as sonic signatures. It features both 3.5mm single-ended and 2.5mm balanced outputs, allowing for support for a wide variety of headphones.

The integrated DAC supports 32/768 and DSD 256, as well as built-in Bluetooth. The Q5S is an upgrade from the older Q5, and while priced the same, does offer some sonic improvements and changes. The overall sound is smoother and more refined, with a little less treble presence yielding a warmer sound.

The original Q5 has a punchier and less neutral low-end, so bass-heads may prefer the sound of the older model.

Woo Audio WA8 Eclipse

New Contender
The WA8 Eclipse. (From: wooaudio.com)
The WA8 Eclipse. (From: wooaudio.com)

Key features

  • Max Bit Rate/Sample Rate (Bit/kHz): 24/384
  • DSD: 128
  • MQA: N
  • Bluetooth Input: N
  • Output Power ([email protected]): 250

The WA8 Eclipse is an unusual device, being a battery-powered DAC with a vacuum tube amplifier. It’s large and heavy (1.1 kg) for a transportable device but it sounds and feels more like a desktop device. Although pricey, the WA8 is premiumly constructed to a level that matches its price tag.

Woo Audio doesn’t suggest using the WA8 in closed bags or backpacks and is far more suited to hotel room listening than going out for a jog.

The WA8 Class-A amplifier uses a matched pair of 6S31B tubes and one 6021 subminiature tube, and is user-selectable to run on either 2 or 3 tubes. The tubes can be replaced, but only by purchasing a new module from Woo Audio.

Vacuum tubes take quite a bit of power to run and playtime is limited to 3-4 hours on battery.

Changing between 2-3 tubes affects the sonic character, with the 3 tubes having a somewhat bigger, deeper, and wider impact. Overall, the sound is clear and clean, rather than warm or overly smooth. The WA8 pairs easily with anything from efficient IEMs to full-sized headphones.

Where to buy

FAQ

Why add a DAC/amp to your portable setup?

There are several excellent reasons for adding a separate DAC/amp to your portable setup, including:

  • support for higher quality file playback
  • better sounding conversion from the digital to the analog domain
  • sufficient power on hand to properly drive difficult headphones

Of course, this means you are going to have both your phone and a portable DAC/amp in your pocket. Consequently, device size may be an issue for you. For some, tiny, ultra-portable dongle style DAC/amps will be a better alternative than larger (but typically more powerful) portable options. Your use, pocket-size, and choice of headphones all need to influence your decision.

All portable DAC/amps must be connected both to your phone and to the headphones. Typically, this is done with cables to guarantee the highest sound quality, but some offer Bluetooth connectivity as well.

Bluetooth certainly improves usability when using your phone for any other purpose while listening to music. It is far easier to use your phone if it isn’t tethered via elastic bands and cables to a bulky DAC/amp beneath it.

Why not use a DAP to replace a portable DAC/amp?

A separate Digital Audio Player (DAP) is an alternative to adding a portable DAC/amp to your on-the-go setup. However, since most of us are going to carry a phone anyway, why add a potentially expensive DAP as well?

While basic DAPs are fairly economical, models with high output power, or with support for streaming services (something that is baked into just about every smartphone these days) means that a more feature-rich and pricey DAP purchase is required.

And there’s only so much room in our pockets after all.

14 comments

  1. 11 Best Portable DAC/Amp Combo 2020:

    Perhaps the most astounding portable DAC/AMP is the EARMEN SPARROW. It’s $199 and sounds better than Dragonfly Cobalt at $300, plus it has a balanced output that is more powerful.

  2. Not a fan of the Qudelix 5K? I’ve got some quibbles with the app, but it’s compact, has good battery life, and nice quality-of-life features like the on-device parametric EQ.

  3. Where did you get the information that the BTR5 and PAW S1 is can decode MQA? I can’t find any source confirming your claim stated as MQA = ‘Y’ in your table at the top of the page. Not even the reviews state MQA compatibility, let alone the official product pages.

    1. Lotoo has stated on their Facebook page that MQA support was supposed to be added via a firmware update by Christmas 2020. Clearly, they’ve missed that deadline, but it should be enabled soon.

      MQA is such a complicated proposition, sorry for the lack of clarity. The BTR5 supports software-based decoding via an app such as UAPP in cable connected DAC mode.

  4. Cyrus Soundkey is VERY GOOD. It’s on the warmer side and but doesn’t quite have the seperation that the Dragonfly Red has. It is better than the Dragonfly Black. I know those aren’t on the list but I had a chance to try them all and really enjoyed them.

  5. I’d add the Luxury & Precision W2 DAC/AMP to this list. Tiny form factor with 3.5 and 4.4mm jacks and unbelievable sound for a reasonable price (for an L&P product). You should try it out.

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