Best DAC Amp Combo of 2022

by Alex.   Last Updated On August 15th, 2022.
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The only way you can stream lossless audio through your computer or mobile phone, and enjoy it properly is via an external DAC and headphone amplifier; no doubt about it.

Whether that’s listening to music, watching a movie, or gaming, you need the best DAC amp combo to decode HiFi sound and amplify them for your high-end headphones or loudspeakers. The built-in headphone amplifier and the stock soundcard on your headphones or laptop will never be able to achieve the same level of quality.

So for this article, I’ve gone through an extensive category of DAC amp combos in the market and selected some of the best options. All the devices on this list have various price tags, features, and use-cases, so you’ll definitely find one that fits your requirements.

So let’s talk about them.

Table of Contents
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Reviews of the Best DAC Amp Combo

The Qudelix-5K is another compact external DAC/Headphone amplifier. It’s got a neat box-like design, with the input and output ports on either side.

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Tech Specs

  • Input Interface: USB-C
  • Output Interface: Balanced 2.5mm, Unbalanced 3.5mm
  • Chip: Dual ES9219
  • Connectivity: Wired/Bluetooth
  • Resolution: Unspecified
  • Supported Formats: Unspecified

The device is battery-powered and includes an impressively powerful Bluetooth receiver that can stream music directly from your smartphone or laptop.

To charge the battery, you need to plug it into a phone charger via USB. The battery capacity is 500mAh and can last up to 10 hours on a single charge. The input is USB-C, while the outputs are single-ended 3.5mm and balanced 2.5mm.

What’s unique about this handheld DAC amp device is the clip. You can clip the device onto your shirt or belt and listen to music while on the go. (As long as your cables are long enough.)

For the controls, it has a two buttons on either side: a volume increase/decrease button and another button to skip tracks. Unfortunately, the balanced output spits out 4V, so I recommend you not use it. To add to the fire, you cannot use both outputs at the same time since they are located so close to each other. (The cables will bump into each other.)

There are customizable equalizers, but you need to access them via the app. On this app, you can control and customize the sound profile using parametric and graphical equalizers.

Overall, the sound quality is quite decent and definitely a worthy investment for many headphones and IEMS. (Although you won’t be able to drive extremely high-impedance speakers very efficiently.)

What We Like

Inexpensive

Compact

Bluetooth streaming

Know Before Buying

Only offers USB Connection inputs

The balanced output is not reliable

Can’t plug in two sources at once

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Are you looking for a DAC amp you can use on your “phone stack”? Luckily, with the FiiO Q3 Mark II, you’ve got a portable combo that fits right in with your phone, desk, or anywhere you hope to take it with you.

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Tech Specs

  • Input Interface: USB-C
  • Output Interface: Balanced line out (4.4mm), balanced 2.5mm TRS, unbalanced 3.5mm TRS
  • Chip: AK4462 DAC chip and XMOS XUF208 USB
  • Connectivity: Wired
  • Resolution: 32-bit/768kHz
  • Supported Formats: DSD512, PCM, MQA

Also featured in our list of the best headphone amps under $100, this low-priced DAC and headphone amplifier setup has two variants: the MQA and the non-MQA. The MQA option is slightly more expensive and a bit wider, but in my opinion: definitely worth buying.

The input connectivity options are pretty simple: USB Type-C; hence, with the included Type-C to Type-A, lightning, and Type-C adapter cables, you won’t have to bother purchasing separate adapters.

The outputs, on the other hand, have a little more variety: there’s a 3.5mm unbalanced, a 2.5mm balanced, and 4.4mm balanced. The unbalanced TRS is not that powerful, so I highly recommend using loudspeakers and headphones with balanced outputs.

The volume control knob feels solid and clicky; the back panel includes a couple of switches for high/low gain, bass boost, and charging. Whenever you plug it into a laptop, it will recharge the DAC (although you can switch it off via the “charging” switch to create a low-noise floor).

The sound quality is quite good, especially considering the price tag. When paired with high/low impedance headphones on a balanced output, it creates a true neutral sound signature with enough volume to feel the thumping bass and the constant mids.

What We Like

Affordable Price Tag

Compact Device

Very clean sound

Know Before Buying

No battery indicator

Need to carry OTG cables/adapters around

Limited inputs and outputs

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The AudioQuest DragonFly is one of the most widely-used portable Headphone Amps. It’s the same size as a thumb drive; hence, it doesn’t take up a lot of space, and you can always carry it around in your pockets.

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Tech Specs

  • Input Interface: USB Type-A
  • Output Interface: 3.5mm
  • Chip: ES9038Q2M
  • Connectivity: Wired
  • Resolution: 24-bit/96kHz

I can wholeheartedly recommend this DAC because it’s got a fair price point and decent audio quality.

There are three color variants of the AudioQuest DragonFly DACs, and they have different technical specifications. Regardless, the DragonFly Cobalt is the more recent and high-end device, making it the preferred option for most audiophiles.

The black version is the cheapest (almost a third of the price of the Cobalt option), but it lacks important features and accessories such as 2.1V output, digital volume control, a better chip, and a USB Type-C adapter.

Regardless of the color option, you’re getting the same I/Os, so don’t forget to purchase a Micro USB adapter or a lightning adapter, especially if you are going to use this to listen to music on your smartphone or Macbook

The AudioQuest DragonFly DAC works amazingly well with laptops since it’s portable, and you can plug it in directly via USB. Unfortunately, due to the smaller form factor, there are no controls on the DAC, so adjusting the volume can only be carried out via the headphone controls or the smartphone/laptops.

What We Like

Compact size

Instant connection

Decent audio quality

Know Before Buying

USB Adapters are needed for plugging into smartphones and Macbooks

Only a single headphone output is available

Lacks a volume knob

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The iFi Micro iDSD is the best DAC amp combo for Hi-Fi enthusiasts who are constantly on the go.

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Tech Specs

  • Input Interface: Coaxial, USB
  • Output Interface: Unbalanced RCA, 6.3mm (1/4″), balanced 4.4mm
  • Chip: Dual Core Burr-Brown True Native
  • Connectivity: Wired only
  • Resolution: 32-bit/768kHz
  • Supported Formats: DSD512, MQA

It’s not the smallest DAC and headphone combo out there, but it’s definitely more compact than its competitors when comparing the sound quality. So if you are looking for a versatile headphone amp that’s shy of $1000, this is a great find.

This Amp DAC combo has an impressive form factor, small enough to fit inside most pockets but not too small to compromise in quality. It can deliver enough power to drive high impedance headphones and loudspeakers and won’t fail to deliver natural sound regardless of the device type.

The device runs on a lithium battery, and its power supply unit avoids direct contact with AC power as a means of minimizing noise. So every time the DAC amp combo draws power, it draws clean energy from the battery.

The only available digital inputs are optical and USB. Meanwhile, the outputs are 1/4″ TRS, 4.4mm balanced TRS and unbalanced RCA. So despite being on the level of bulky high-end DACs, this DAC amp audio setup does not offer balanced XLR outputs.

Although the I/O’s are somewhat limited, this DAC amp combo has an impressive array of controls. There’s a power control setting (turbo, normal, and eco), digital filter, and IE Match for matching sensitive headphones and in-ear monitors. (Read more about these controls via the manual.)

Also, on the front panel, there’s the volume knob (which doubles as the power switch), analog bass boost switch, and 3D+, an analog configuration for improving the soundstage of headphones.

What We Like

Compact with a battery-powered setup

Works with almost every compatible I/O device (mobile phones, computers, loudspeakers, IEMs, etc.)

Exceptional sound quality

Know Before Buying

Significantly expensive

Limited inputs, with no input selector switch

Lacks balanced XLR ports

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The LOXJIE A30 is an inexpensive and easy-to-use USB DAC. This device is compact enough to snuggle up inside your desk but not small enough to carry around, so you’ll always be limited to your workstation or home theater system.

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Tech Specs

  • Input Interface: Micro-USB, Coax, Optical
  • Output Interface: Speaker output terminals (4mm banana output), 6.35mm headphone jack (1/4″), subwoofer out
  • Chip: MA12070 amp chip, ES9023 DAC Chip
  • Connectivity: Wired/Wireless
  • Resolution: 32-bit/384kHz
  • Supported Formats: DSD512, PCM, Apt-X (Bluetooth)

Nonetheless, the DAC has some impressive features. For starters, it has a remote control that allows you to switch between different EQs, inputs, volume, and filters. It has Bluetooth for wireless streaming with Optical, Coaxial inputs, and Micro USB.

Therefore, it’s a very versatile and well-built USB DAC. On the output side, we’ve got 4mm banana terminals for a pair of speakers, subwoofer output, and a 1/4″ TRS headphone jack. Unfortunately, the outputs aren’t balanced.

There’s a display that shows you the menu to switch between EQs and inputs. The enclosure feels sturdy, and if you roll the antenna down, you can easily stack another headphone amplifier (if you want a better one with balanced outputs.)

What We Like

Inexpensive

Decent controls and settings

Bluetooth support

Know Before Buying

Lacks balanced outputs

Lacks high-end sound

Difficult to setup for mobile phones

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If you’re looking for a quick and affordable desktop-based solution, the FiiO K5 Pro is the one to beat.

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Tech Specs

  • Input Interface: USB Type-B, Coax, Optical, RCA
  • Output Interface: Unbalanced RCA, 6.3mm (1/4″)
  • Chip: ES9038PRO and XUF208 (USB decoding)
  • Connectivity: Wired
  • Resolution: 32-bit/384kHz

The FiiO K5 Pro got an attractive price tag, a decent-looking enclosure, and all the basic I/Os you would need for an entry-level listening experience.

The device doesn’t draw a lot of power in particular. Nonetheless, it’s perfectly capable of driving demanding headphones. So don’t be afraid to consider this affordable DAC amp combo as a reasonable investment.

What’s great about this DAC amp combo is that it has surprisingly better audio quality, especially when compared with other DACs in the same price range. The analog outputs give out full-bodied sound, and there are fewer chances of interference thanks to its low noise floor.

There are three separate input sources for the DAC, and you can seamlessly switch between these three thanks to an input switch at the front panel. So whenever, you need to take a break from gaming on the computer and need to switch to a streaming device (via coax, optical, or RCA), you can easily do so by flipping the front switch.

Apart from that, there’s also a switch to move between three different gain levels, allowing you to adjust perfect sensitivities between high and low impedance headphones. (The first level works amazing for IEMs, while the second and third are better reserved for high-end over ears or in ears.)

That said, the FiiO K5 Pro is the only audio out DAC amp combo, and it always keeps the outputs running. Therefore, it’s not the most efficient in terms of power draw, but these little quirks will barely affect your experience.

What We Like

Affordable

Three different inputs with a dedicated input source change switch

Three different gain levels

Relatively impressive audio quality

Know Before Buying

No balanced output sources

Requires a dedicated power supply (DC adapter included in the box)

No support for aux input (3.5mm jack)

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The Sennheiser EPOS GSX 1000 is a well-designed DAC amp that caters to PC gamers. It has a sleek design with a minimalistic I/O and retractable stand that goes well on a computer table.

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Tech Specs

  • Input Interface: Micro-USB, Mic in via TRS
  • Output Interface: 3.5mm TRS
  • Connectivity: Wired

The controls include a large volume wheel with a capacitive touch display that allows you to toggle different settings such as the output source, microphone pass-through, four presets, reverb, and sound channel. There are two audio channel options: stereo and 7.1 surround sound.

The I/O is pretty slim, with the only input source being Micro-USB. Nonetheless, you can connect your gaming headset with separate microphone and headphone outputs, and there’s also a TRS port for a pair of loudspeakers.

In terms of performance, I wouldn’t call this having excellent sound quality, and these headphones won’t be able to fully power high-impedance headphones when listening to music. However, it does a great job with gaming headsets, especially when you want to experience 7.1 surround sound in the gaming environment.

The presets are not that impressive, and you’ll mostly find yourself using the default equalizer with no alterations.

Also, this DAC amp performs extra processing on the microphone to eliminate background noise, and unfortunately, this noise cancellation can cause your voice to sound unnatural.

What We Like

Capacitive touch screen with hover gestures

Quick toggle between stereo and surround sound

Noise canceling on the microphone input

Know Before Buying

Relatively more expensive

No XLR, RCA, Optical, or connectors

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The Topping EX5 may not be the most widely used setup, but it is the best DAC amp combo considering overall features and functionality.

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Tech Specs

  • Input Interface: Coaxial, Optical, USB, Bluetooth
  • Output Interface: Unbalanced RCA, 6.3mm (1/4″), Unbalanced XLR
  • Chip: Dual ESS ES9038Q2M
  • Connectivity: Wired/Bluetooth
  • Resolution: 32-bit/768kHz
  • Supported Formats: DSD512, MQA, PCM, LDAC (Bluetooth)

This desktop DAC is 11.1″ long, 7.91″ wide 2.91″ tall, so despite being a little less portable, it is easy to use and covers the basics.

The chassis or enclosure has a fairly impressive build quality. It’s light yet sturdy enough, and the volume knob feels solid and responsive. The device includes the DAC and amp in a single device; hence, there’s no need to stack, but if you need to connect a more powerful headphone amplifier, you can do so easily since it is stackable.

There’s a display that shows relevant information such as the input source, active headphone outputs, high gain mode, etc. There’s also a remote control that allows you to cycle through filters, switch output ports, set up the game stage, etc.

Unfortunately, the headphone amplifier section of this device is not a particularly exceptional sound blaster. There are no balanced outputs (despite having XLR connectors), and it draws in direct AC power via a dedicated AC cable. So for a veteran audiophile, this headphone amp may not feel like the best in terms of sound quality; it’s an entry-level option at best.

What We Like

XLR connectors

Stackable and compact design

Bluetooth streaming

Remote Control

Know Before Buying

Lacks balanced analog inputs/outputs

Analog sound quality is not up to par

Slightly more expensive

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The Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M is the worthy successor to the DacMagic Plus.

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Tech Specs

  • Input Interface: USB Type-B, Coax, Toslink
  • Output Interface: Balanced XLR, RCA, 6.3mm (1/4″)
  • Chip: 2 x ESS ES9028Q2M
  • Connectivity: Wired/Bluetooth 4.2
  • Resolution: 32-bit/768kHz

Similar to its predecessor, the DacMagic 200M is a competitively-priced entry-level DAC amp combo that works best for larger desktop audio setups.

This DAC amp combo is a fully-fledged device designed to provide excellent analog audio through any of the inputs. There are four distinct digital signal inputs: USB, Bluetooth, D1, and D2. D1 and D2 inputs each have separate Coaxial and Optical input ports.

Speaking of I/Os, the DacMagic 200M is one of the best DAC amp Combos for drawing out balanced outputs for your loudspeakers and headphones. So on top of the RCA analog outputs, there are a couple of XLR ports that provide balanced output. (Which is the recommended option in terms of noise reduction.)

The DAC weights around 2.6lbs and it’s dimensions are 2.0″ x 8.6″ x 7.6” (height, length, width). The device draws power through a dedicated DC port (DC adapter included) and no longer relies on USB power. (The maximum power consumption is 12W.)

In terms of the audio quality, it’s not the most premium or high-end, especially on the bass and highs. The mids are relatively decent and worth the price you pay. The front panel of the DAC is very intuitive; you’ve got dedicated buttons for power, source, and filter, with a volume control knob and indicator LEDs for the different sources, sample rates, and MQA file decoding. (Cambridge introduced MQA with this DAC.)

What We Like

Fully Featured I/O panel

MQA support

Bluetooth functionality

Know Before Buying

Slightly larger form factor

Requires a separate Power Source via a DC adapter

Definitively more expensive than budget-level DAC Amp Combos

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The Cambridge Audio CXA81 functions more like a loudspeaker amplifier; hence, its primary purpose is to drive 4-8Ω loudspeakers and connect to multiple stereo channels via RCA.

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Tech Specs

  • Input Interface: Coaxial, Optical, USB, Bluetooth
  • Output Interface: Unbalanced RCA, loudspeaker terminals, 3.5mm TRS
  • Chip: ESS Sabre SE9010K2M
  • Connectivity: Wired/Bluetooth
  • Resolution: 32-bit/384kHz
  • Supported Formats: DSD512, PCM, aptX HD (Bluetooth)

The Cambridge Audio CXA81 like many other desktop DAC amps on this list, you’re limited to a stationary workstation or home theater system.

The inputs include a USB Type-B port, two optical/Toslink ports, a coax port, and Bluetooth. Alongside that, there are four separate RCA outputs (unbalanced), a Pre-amp RCA output (for plugging into an amplifier), a subwoofer output, and loudspeaker terminals for two sets of speakers.

Regarding the sound quality, this device has an amazing mid-presence, vocals are crispy and clear, and the highs are also quite good. Unfortunately, the bass isn’t powerful; hence, modern bassy songs might not sound as good as you would expect.

Regardless, the Cambridge Audio CXA81 is a definite sound blaster and would work great for parties and pumping high-quality music to a home theater setup. Although, I wouldn’t recommend it for gaming or studio work.

What We Like

Impressive amplification

Versatile I/O setup

Bluetooth streaming

Know Before Buying

Lacks phono input

Highly expensive

Less impressive DAC

Quite bulky

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Quality is the name of the game. And, with this high-quality DAC + headphone amplifier, you’re definitely getting liquid gold poured into your ears. It’s that good when paired up with a set of premium speakers.

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Tech Specs

  • Input Interface: USB Type-B, Coax, Optical
  • Output Interface: Balanced XLR, Single End (SE) RCA, SE unbalanced 3.5mm TRS
  • Chip: AKM AK4493EQ DAC
  • Connectivity: Wired
  • Resolution: 32-bit/768kHz
  • Supported Formats: DSD512, PCM

This magnificent beast can pump 3.6Watts of power into each channel and includes D-A and A-D amplifier converting circuits to output impeccable lossless audio from all four digital inputs.

This USB DAC offers Coax analog input and USB and optical digital inputs. (Unfortunately, no Bluetooth.) The outputs are quite impressive since it has single-ended RCA and 3.5mm TRS along with balanced XLR on the front (for headphones) and two XLR on the back (for loudspeakers).

The controls are pretty simple. There’s a decent volume control knob, buttons to switch between inputs, filters, and indicator LEDs to show the current inputs and filters. The device is powered using a dedicated DC adapter, and the enclosure is about the size of a typical desktop DAC; hence, it will easily stack and fit into a desk.

The sound quality is very impressive, and a lot of audio enthusiasts have had good things to say about it. So even if you are a beginner or a pro, the Monolith Liquid Gold will prove an enjoyable listening experience.

What We Like

Exceptional Sound Signature

Balanced XLR outputs

Premium-Looking enclosure and buttons

Know Before Buying

Significantly expensive

Lacks all the features of a modern USB DAC (Bluetooth, MQA)

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DAC Amp Combos Buying Guide

Before we head into the product reviews, let’s talk about the major deciding factors that will affect your purchase. Since you’re buying a DAC amp combo and not two separate devices, you need to consider factors such as your budget, use cases, and the overall sound quality before committing.

PriceHeadphone amp, professional.

For me, price is a huge factor that can affect which DAC amp combo I’ll be spending my money on. As you’ll soon realize (after going through the products on my list), DAC amps come in various price tags, most often ranging from a hundred dollars to a couple thousand.

The phrase “you get what you pay for” readily applies here, so the more expensive the DAC amp setup is, the more likely it sounds good and lasts a long time.

If you are a budget-conscious audiophile, I highly recommend deciding on the maximum amount you are willing to spend before you move on to the other decision factors. If you are a beginner, worry not, as some of the best DAC amp combos are not that expensive; you’ll be able to snag an amazing USB DAC at just under $300.

 

Portability

After considering your budget constraints (or having already decided to green-light the budget), you should consider the portability aspects.

Do you want to use your DAC amp to listen to lossless music on your smartphone? Or, do you want a desktop DAC that you can keep in your workstation? These choices matter since compact devices will have fewer I/Os, power management setups, minimal controls, and often: lower sound quality.

A compact battery-powered or direct USB-powered DAC amp combo means less clutter, but due to the smaller form factor, they might compromise on the XLR, RCA connectors, volume control knobs, displays, and other features. On top of that, portable amps will not be effective at driving high impedance speakers.

I/Os

The most common interfaces on a desktop DAC amp are USB and TRS (either 1/4″ or 3.5mm, depending on the form factor). In most cases, you can make do with these since you’ll be using a computer and headphones.

That said, if you want better I/Os such as balanced XLR, unbalanced RCA, Optical, Coax, and sometimes mic input, you might need to consider a larger DAC amp combo that has an extensive I/O panel that caters to your needs.

So if powering loudspeakers or plugging in an optical/coax digital signal are some of your top priorities, you might need to set your sights on a more feature-packed desktop DAC amp.

Sound Quality

And finally, nothing matters if your DAC amp combo is no better than the soundcard on your laptop or smartphone. Your expensive headphones and loudspeakers won’t reach their true potential if the new DAC amp cannot decode and amplify hi-res audio and deliver it to your speakers.

If you are a beginner and just hoping to dip your toes in HiFi audio, an inexpensive DAC amp will surely impress you with its audio quality. (Especially when compared with the built-in headphone amplifier and soundcard.) However, a veteran might need a more high-end DAC/headphone amp capable of handling digital files at a higher bitrate and amplifying the resulting analog inputs with minimal noise.

So, with all these covered, let’s get into the product reviews. Please note that I’ve categorized the DAC amps on this list based on their form factor and price range.

Conclusion

Best Portable DAC Amp

With so many choices picking the right DAC amp can be difficult. If you prioritize your needs, whether sound quality, portability, or budget, you’ll have an easier time figuring out which brand or device to go for.

Nonetheless, having a DAC amp is always better than going full commando with your computer’s or smartphone’s soundcard. So if you are a beginner trying to find the best sound, don’t worry because any external DAC amp on this list will impress you.