AVS Forum banner
1 - 15 of 15 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
6 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
The sub-$40 (mostly sub-$20) portable USB DAC/headphone amp is a marketing niche on Amazon - not shilling for them, it's just convenient place to check out this niche. (Go to the "Products related to this item" section at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07XYQ2ZKH/ref=sspa_dk_detail_1 )

I'm intrigued - but there are way too many to buy and try out. I assume some are junky but maybe some are okay - and superior to inbuilt DAC on a late model MacBook or Android.

Has anyone found a possible decent one among the many low-cost USB DAC/headphone amps out there?

Not looking for any specific comparisons, just have you tried one of these and thought it wasn't junk.
.
(I read quite a few posts in Perfect DAC test! and got interested in a portable, low-cost USB DAC headphone amplifier. Although there did not seem to be anything special designwise about the DAC/adapter chosen for the A/B test, maybe there was. It's not compatible with my phone/laptop in any case.)
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,088 Posts
As long as you don't need gobs of power for your headphones a lot of these cheaper ones should be fine. That said I think one of the reasons the Apple one is so popular is they're a reliable vendor unlike the thousands of rando Aliexpress/Amazon brands where you might get something that works perfectly or junk and there's no real way to tell in advance. I had a similar exercise recently with my new Elegias and went with the Qudelix 5k which is way over your budget but I wanted the Bluetooth and EQ functionality. Works plug and play via USB C with my Mac and iPad.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
6 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Thanks, qirex. I'll consider the Apple current model for my MacBook - quality control is hard to find and Apple is a standout in the industry (in most cases, I'm sure not all).

Confirming I don't need Bluetooth. Though the Qudelix looks interesting.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,088 Posts
I don't think the Qudelix is the best choice if you don't want to dive into all the tweako options it offers. Plus it's small (about the size of a 9 volt battery) but not like these inline cable ones. Zeos Pantera recently did a "dongle DACtacular" and while I don't think watching a 1 hour youtube is necessarily a good use of your time he does different price brackets and has links to all the stuff he tested.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,062 Posts
Go to Audio Science Review

He tests such things and gives results for DACs, headphone amps, amplifiers, speakers and so on. Plenty of results there and for many of them videos explaining the issues and what it works well or how to improve things (speaker EQ and positioning etc.)

Plenty of garbage out there and good stuff as well. Sure, some people get butt hurt when their golden child measures poorly but that is why things get measured in the first place.

Good luck and enjoy the read. Always good to more about the technical aspects of your chosen hobby. Enjoy!
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
6 Posts
Discussion Starter · #6 ·
...Zeos Pantera recently did a "dongle DACtacular" and while I don't think watching a 1 hour youtube is necessarily a good use of your time....
:) Yeah, probably better ways to use my time. But if I'm going to look into these low-end DAC/Amps, that review might help (after looking first few minutes, it seems he's not completely out to lunch).
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
6 Posts
Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Go to Audio Science Review. He tests such things and gives results for DACs, headphone amps, amplifiers, speakers and so on.
Thx. I just discovered it. I like the tone of discussions there, and his reviews strike me - though I'm a total newbie - as well done.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
6 Posts
Discussion Starter · #8 ·
As long as you don't need gobs of power for your headphones a lot of these cheaper ones should be fine.
By the way, "don't need gobs of power" is one of those things that a newbie like me might not know to look for (I didn't). Going to try to dig out my older wired phones to learn model and specs. My newer headphones (Bluetooth but also have 3.5mm jack) are Jabra Elite 85h which I think have 150 Ohm impedance.

(None of the questions below is aimed at you, I'm simply thinking out loud about to talk about and determine portable audio device power requirements and outputs so I could rate a random DAC versus my headphones/earphones.)

I wonder if 150 Ohm headphones will present a problem for these low-end DACs?

Which raises the question: if I know the Ohm-rating of a pair of headphones or earphones, is there a way to convert backwards and figure out how many watts or volts or amps (unsure how DAC/Amp power is usually measured/advertised) I would need from a DAC/Amp?

Or must I know more about the head/earphones, like how much current they need at the specified Ohm level?
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,088 Posts
A few observations from my mild dive into that world:
  • A lot of those folks listen much louder than I ever do.
  • Most mass market brands do not make "hard to drive" headphones but 150 seems high for yours but that might be because they were designed for primarily wireless use so it wasn't super important.
  • The answer is always "it depends," my Focals are rated at 32 ohms but at full volume from my Mac they were I'd say medium volume where that would have been uncomfortably loud on any other pair I own.
  • A lot of headphone enthusiasts overbuy super powerful amps in case they own other even harder to drive headphones in the future
I pretty much stopped paying attention once I got an amp I liked since these are pretty much my endgame headphones and I didn't want to go full head-fi weirdo.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
6 Posts
Discussion Starter · #10 ·
The answer is always "it depends," my Focals are rated at 32 ohms but at full volume from my Mac they were I'd say medium volume where that would have been uncomfortably loud on any other pair I own.
Guess I'll learn something when I plug 'em into the Android phone - and can compare now I've found the old headphones, a Grado SR-80 bought years ago. More to the point, guess I'd better not automatically assume a cheap DAC/Amp will provide enough power.
Thanks for taking time to share your experience, it's helped.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,088 Posts
I just double checked and on my Macbook Pro they had plenty of power, the low volume limit was on my thunderbolt dock's headphone port. Glad I checked.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
200 Posts
i like this one a lot, comparing with RME ADI-2-FS DAC/preamp Pro and Lyngdorph tdai-3400 which I own. I purchased the toneboosters, so I could play with PEQ, and USB Player Pro (like $5 total). It sounds as close as the RME and Lyngdorph (80-85%), not the same though but for $20 from AliXpress!!! I bet if I will spend more time fine tuning the PEQ it will get even closer. The stock without tonebooster is a tad bass lacking, not much, just a tad. After listening for awhile I actually lower the bass a bit, the low shelf values.

Here's the numbers if you like ASR style lol


Wood Audio equipment Cable Computer data storage Camera accessory


Font Screenshot Software Electronic device Multimedia
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,993 Posts
I'm going to get one of these. I listen to Quboz some on my iPhone or ipad with the standard iphone adapter. This will be much better.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
200 Posts
i just re-read or the first time reading through the ASR article and realize that mine is not even the Pro version. I would imagine the Pro will be better noise floor/distortion. To be honest, I do not hear any noise floor at all, even in 12x12x8 room. As much as I hate to admit when it comes to Chifi, amazing quality for the price!!!
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,181 Posts
Decent and cheap. Tough call. I run a Schiit Asgard, but the JDS Labs stuff is inexpensive and is in the good category. Note that $40 though. Many have suggested the Apple dongle is a very good DAC.
One of the better headphone amps was the DIY mint-box design.
 
1 - 15 of 15 Posts
Top