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12 Best Portable DAC/Amp Combo – Great for iPhone and Android [2021]

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 has to 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?

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.

DAC/AmpPriceChipsetPCM Max Bit RatePCM Max Sample RateDSDMQAOutput Power (mW @ 32 Ohms)Balanced OutputUSB Input TypeTOSLINK InputCoaxial InputBluetooth Input
Audioquest Dragonfly CobaltBUYES9038Q2M24-Bit96 kHzNY±135NANNN
Chord Audio Mojo Strong Runner-up 💪BUYFPGA32-Bit768 kHzDSD 256N±410NmicroYYN
Fiio BTR5BUYES9218P32-Bit384 kHzDSD 256Y240YCNNY
Fiio Q5S Editor's Pick 🏆BUYAK4493EQ32-Bit768 kHzDSD 256N560YCYYY
iFi Hip-DACBUYDSD179332-Bit384 kHzDSD 256Y400YANNN
iFi Micro iDSD Signature Most Powerful ⚡️BUYDSD179232-Bit768 kHzDSD 512Y950YAYYN
Lotoo PAW S1BUYAKM437732-Bit384 kHzDSD 128Y120YCNNN
Shanling UP4BUYES9218P24-Bit96 kHzNN160YCNNY
xDuoo Link Best Budget 💰BUYESS9118EC32-Bit384 kHzDSD 256N32NCNNN
xDuoo XP-2ProBUYAK445232-Bit384 kHzDSD 256N300NCNNY
xDuoo XD05 PlusBUYAK4493EQ32-Bit384 kHzDSD 256N1000NCYYN
Earman SparrowBUYES9281PRO32-Bit384 kHzDSD 128Y125YCNNN

12 Best Portable DAC/Amp Combos in 2021

Here’s our pick for the best portable DAC/Amp combos in 2021:

Audioquest Dragonfly Cobalt

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

Key features

  • Max Bit Rate/Sample Rate (Bit/kHz): 24/96
  • DSD: N
  • MQA: Y
  • Bluetooth Input: N
  • Output Power ([email protected]): ±135

The diminutive Dragonfly Cobalt is the newest TOTL revision of the much-loved Red and Black models (originally released in 2015). It shares the same digital volume control, MQA renderer, and 2.1v headphone output as its predecessors. The new DAC chip improves power consumption, reduces interference, and improves the overall sound over the Red and Black dragonflies.

The dongle style makes it super easy to just plug into a computer USB port, but does require a separate adaptor cable for portable use.

No internal battery means the Cobalt will use (and decrease) the battery life of the device it’s plugged into.

Power is sufficient for most headphones, but particularly inefficient or high-impedance headphones may cause the Cobalt to struggle to provide adequate volume. However, for headphones under 250 Ohms, the Cobalt provides a clear, crisp, and resolving sound, all housed in an attractive and tiny package.

Where to buy

Chord Mojo

The Chord Audio Mojo.
The Chord Audio Mojo.

Key features

  • Max Bit Rate/Sample Rate (Bit/kHz): 32/768
  • DSD: 256
  • MQA: N
  • Bluetooth Input: N
  • Output Power ([email protected]): ±410
Read the full review: Chord Mojo Portable DAC / Amp

With reportedly more than 70,000 units sold since its October 2015 release, Chord’s Mo(bile) Jo(y) has become a personal Hi-Fi style and design icon. Immediately recognizable and passionately loved by many, the Mojo remains a staple for audiophiles on the go.

Undoubtedly, the most distinctive design elements of the Mojo are the 3 round glowing buttons. These act as multipurpose indicators of volume level and bit rate, while also functioning as volume and power controls.

It’s the chip and implementation that sets the Mojo apart from other DACs on the market. Rob Watts, Chord’s lead engineer, designed a custom DAC based on an FPGA chipset.

However, all that processing power in the FPGA chipset does have an unwanted side effect: heat. And we all know that heat is the enemy of electronics and batteries.

The Mojo embodies all the standard audiophile descriptions for worthy sound. It’s oh-so pleasing and engaging. It’s warm and musical, balanced but energetic, clean, clear, and transparent. Detailed and natural. Powerful but controlled.

It works great with IEMs, but the diminutive size belays the power and ease that it can drive difficult-to-power, full-sized headphones.

Where to buy

Fiio BTR5

The Fiio BTR5.
The Fiio BTR5.

Key features

  • Max Bit Rate/Sample Rate (Bit/kHz): 32/384
  • DSD: 256
  • MQA: Y
  • Bluetooth Input: Y
  • Output Power ([email protected]): 240

The FiiO BTR5 is a capable Bluetooth DAC/AMP that would give most headphones a wonderful upgrade without compromising on quality.

It’s fairly easy-to-use, however, it may be too feature-rich for novice users.

There is a lot of technology squeezed into the BTR5: one-touch NFC pairing, quality dual DAC setup, comprehensive Bluetooth audio format support, USB DAC support, OLED display, native DSD support, digital filters, and a balanced headphone output. The filters make no difference to the music and do not add value to the entire experience. But if you are someone who likes to tinker with settings, you will not feel out-of-place.

The look and feel of the FiiO BTR5 are minimal and modern looking with its curved edges and rounded corners. The oleophobic coating on the glass gives it a silky and smooth texture. The amount of engineering work that went into this portable DAC/AMP is evident. The long and slim form factor of the BTR5 makes it easy to slip it into pockets.

Where to buy

Fiio Q5S

The Fiio Q5S. (From amazon.com)
The Fiio Q5S. (From amazon.com)

Key features

  • Max Bit Rate/Sample Rate (Bit/kHz): 32/768
  • DSD: 256
  • MQA: N
  • Bluetooth Input: Y
  • Output Power ([email protected]): 560

The Fiio Q5S is a premium and extremely feature-rich portable DAC/Amp. It 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 Q5S can be used both as a portable or desktop DAC/Amplifier. It also supports Bluetooth and has a fantastic included bundle of accessories. The sheer number of options, features, and upgrades means that it should meet the needs of most people and most situations.

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.

Where to buy

iFi Hip-DAC

The iFi Hip-DAC. (From amazon.com)
The iFi Hip-DAC. (From amazon.com)

Key features

  • Max Bit Rate/Sample Rate (Bit/kHz): 32/384
  • DSD: 256
  • MQA: Y
  • Bluetooth Input: N
  • Output Power ([email protected]): 400

The iFi Hip-DAC offers most of the benefits of a portable DAC/Amp paired with a very reasonable price tag. It’s a very solid performer, with not quite TOTL specs, but does include both DSD and MQA support.

The distinctive blue hip-flask shape (thus the name) certainly stands out in the land of black aluminum cases, but may not appeal to all users.

The internals of the Hip-DAC are based on iFi’s desktop-based Zen DAC but have been modified to work from a battery. iFi claims up to 12 hours of usage on a single charge, but tests show that battery life is far shorter when used with difficult to drive full-sized headphones.

The Hip-DAC sports both a 3.5mm headphone jack and a balanced Pentaconn 4.4mm for additional power and separation. It is about the size of a smartphone, so it is neither the slimmest nor largest pocket option out there.

The sound of the Hip-DAC is consistent with other iFi products, in that it is non fatiguing and balanced. Overall it maintains excellent detail and dynamics. The inclusion of an X-Bass button will be appreciated by anyone who wants a bit more low-end performance from their headphones.

Where to buy

iFi Micro iDSD Signature

The iFi iDSD Signature. (From ifi-audio.com)
The iFi iDSD Signature. (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]): 950

The ifi Micro iDSD Signature is the second upgrade to the popular Micro iDSD after the Black Label (BL) version came out in 2017. This time iFi decided to go with a classy and distinct Space Blue color for the solid aluminum chassis.

The Micro iDSD Signature is a very feature-rich device, including multiple digital filters, IEM match mode, multiple output power settings, XBass, 3D sound, high-power output, a balanced 4.4mm Pentaconn socket, and dual DAC chips. With top-notch bit-rate and sample rate support, as well as DSD and MQA, the only obvious feature the Signature is missing is Bluetooth.

The inclusion of XBass and 3D sound adds more tangible end-user controllable audio settings than the typical filter options included with the competition. They aren’t going to be useful with every headphone or IEM, but they do allow you to significantly tailor the sound to your liking. Output power is more than sufficient for almost every headphone.

The Signature contains a large battery with an excellent lifespan but pays the price of being a bit large and heavy for portable use. A tradeoff for an excellent jack-of-all-trades.

Where to buy

Lotoo PAW S1

The Lotoo PAW S1.
The Lotoo PAW S1.

Key features

  • Max Bit Rate/Sample Rate (Bit/kHz): 32/384
  • DSD: 128
  • MQA: Y
  • Bluetooth Input: N
  • Output Power ([email protected]): 120
Read the full review: Lotoo PAW S1: King of USB Dongle

For those who are looking for a reference-grade USB dongle, the Paw S1 is definitely a great choice. It comes with dual audio outputs, which are rare in USB dongles.

Despite having both 3.5mm and 4.4mm balanced Pentaconn outputs, the form factor of Paw S1 remains small.

PAW S1 has a black aluminum body, which gives it a classic and sturdy feel. On the front side of the dongle, there’s a screen – which is rare in USB design. From the screen, users can obtain information like volume, gain mode, and equalizer mode.

The sound signature of PAW S1 is neutral, having a slight touch on the warmer side. The presentations from PAW S1 have a meaty and full body. The soundstage of PAW S1 is above average. Despite the notes presented with a fuller body, it doesn’t extend too much or cause the stage to be congested or saturated. They are in the sweet spot, between lean and fat.

Where to buy

Shanling UP4

The Shanling UP4.
The Shanling UP4.

Key features

  • Max Bit Rate/Sample Rate (Bit/kHz): 24/96
  • DSD: N
  • MQA: N
  • Bluetooth Input: Y
  • Output Power ([email protected]): 160
Read the full review: Shanling UP4 – Up 4 You

The Shanling UP4 is a great DAC/AMP for audiophiles who are looking to improve the sound quality and balanced output for their smartphone at a reasonable price. This is one of the most affordable options on the market that features a dual dedicated audio DAC chipset and supports almost all types of Bluetooth codecs.

The UP4’s glossy surface gives it a classy and modern look, with a thin and sleek design to fit in your pocket. And it comes with an additional clip-on case to attach your UP4 to a belt or bag.

The sound signature of the UP4 is relatively neutral and uncolored, with good emphasis on details and resolution.

The power of this small device cannot be underestimated.

The balanced 2.5mm output is able to deliver the full potential of the UP4 due to the engagement of both DAC chipsets embedded in this amplifier. Rated at 160mW at 32Ohms on the balanced output, the UP4 can deliver decent music quality to most of the in-ear monitors (IEMs) on the market without any difficulties.

Where to buy

The xDuoo Link.
The xDuoo Link.

Key features

  • Max Bit Rate/Sample Rate (Bit/kHz): 32/384
  • DSD: 256
  • MQA: N
  • Bluetooth Input: N
  • Output Power ([email protected]): 32
Read the full review: xDuoo Link – The Link to Hi-Res

For those who are looking for improved sound quality for your smartphone at a reasonable price, the xDuoo Link is the dongle for you. This is one of the most affordable options on the market that features a dedicated audio DAC chipset that can decode native DSD.

Don’t be fooled by the Link’s small size; its sonic performance is worth even more than its asking price!

The xDuoo Link has a slightly warm and smooth sound signature. It’s comfortable to listen to – no harshness, no sibilance. The Link will give you an enjoyable performance with its significant, yet well-controlled, kicking bass and huge headroom.

Where to buy

xDuoo XP-2Pro

The xDuoo XP-2Pro.
The xDuoo XP-2Pro.

Key features

  • Max Bit Rate/Sample Rate (Bit/kHz): 32/384
  • DSD: 256
  • MQA: N
  • Bluetooth Input: Y
  • Output Power ([email protected]): 300

Flexibility is the word that best describes this new iteration of portable DAC/Amps like the XP-2Pro. Finally, with the advent of high-quality codecs and proper Bluetooth functionality, wireless high-fidelity is becoming a reality.

The XP-2Pro functions as a wired amplifier, a wired DAC, or a Bluetooth DAC. The XP-2Pro has fit itself into a sweet spot of affordable, high-quality portable audio. It can function as a portable or desktop DAC/Amp, will properly drive most headphones and support a wide variety of connection methods.

The $140 Pro is (unsurprisingly) the revised version of the previous XP-2 model. While the internal DAC chip remains the same, the new Pro version adds more power output, advanced codec support, higher bitrate playback, and a more elegant design.

Once again, we run into an xDuoo device that does better with medium efficiency headphones and struggles to find the delicacy needed to pair with efficient IEMs.

The XP-2Pro features flexible connection options (AUX, USB, and Bluetooth), attractive fit and finish, high-quality codec support, an internal battery to preserve the source battery, enough power for the majority of headphones, and clean and clear sound.

Where to buy

xDuoo XD05 Plus

The xDuoo XD05 Plus.
The xDuoo XD05 Plus.

Key features

  • Max Bit Rate/Sample Rate (Bit/kHz): 32/384
  • DSD: 256
  • MQA: N
  • Bluetooth Input: N
  • Output Power ([email protected]): 1000
Read the full review: xDuoo XD05 Plus Headphone DAC/Amp

The xDuoo XD05 Plus is a well-implemented design with excellent format support, a plethora of connection options, outstanding power, and very good sound quality. Not to mention that it is an amazing bang-for-the-buck value proposition, especially since the Plus can do double duty as a desktop DAC or amplifier. The included accessory bundle is the complete package I’ve ever seen. There’s even an optional inexpensive Bluetooth module add-on available.

The XD05 Plus delivers power in abundance but is a bit too much for sensitive IEMs. The imbalanced volume potentiometer at the lowest volume levels further exacerbates this issue. Too much power, not enough subtlety.

A new ‘Basic’ version is less expensive and has half the power, but may be a better compromise for some folks.

However, paired with full-sized headphones, all that power delivers in spades. The Xduoo XD05 Plus is clear and dynamic and doesn’t overtly color or change the sound. Lots of digital filter options and the ability to swap OpAmps is further icing on the sonic cake.

Where to buy

Earman Sparrow

The Earman Sparrow portable DAC/Amp. (From earman-shop.com)
The Earman Sparrow portable DAC/Amp. (From earman-shop.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 added the Earman Sparrow to this year’s ‘Best Of’ list. The Sparrow has wowed many reviewers (and owners) this year 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

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.

12 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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