Best Portable DACs: the best external DACs to replace your phone’s awful amp

So, why do you need a portable DAC or headphone amp?

Ideally, when you press play on your phone or speaker, the sound that comes out is crisp, clear, and sounds just as the artist intended. Sadly, that’s not usually the case.

There is a ton of work that goes into reproducing sound the way it should be heard – whatever that might mean. From the way the music is recorded to how it’s stored, from what headphones or speakers you use to the source’s DAC and amplifier, every step in the journey to your ears can affect how the music sounds.

That being said, if your music isn’t sounding quite as spectacular as it should – and the only thing you’ve changed recently is the source – it’s likely that your new device (a new laptop, desktop, phone or tablet) has a poor quality DAC.

A DAC, or Digital-to-Analogue Converter, is the device that takes the bits and bytes stored in a digital music file and converts it into something a headphone or speaker (analogue devices) can play back. 

The advantages of using an external DAC

The first advantage of using an external DAC rather than the DAC that comes built into your device, is that an external system will usually be better than the one

Simply put, external DACs will usually perform much better than those that come built in to your smartphone or equivalent playback device – usually because that aspect of the hardware usually isn’t the priority in all-round media devices like phones or tablets.

The second reason to shell out for a better system is the fact that some of the more premium headphones on the market are ‘high-impedance’ headphones, which require more power through the headphone jack on your music source in order to work properly. (Impedance, for the record, is measured in a unit called ohms, and less than 50 ohms is considered to be low-impedance.)

The general consensus is that the harder a pair of headphones is to drive, the better they will eventually sound when paired with the right equipment.

An external DAC helps with these headphones as it can work as a headphone amp to provide the extra power needed to drive a high-impedance pair of ‘phones.

Now that you know how the technology works, let’s talk about which devices you can get your hands on to amp up your audio.

What is the best DAC?

iFi xDSD

1. iFi xDSD

A DAC challenger to Mojo’s throne


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