The majority of those DAC/amp combos we analyzed –either in our first evaluations and our summertime 2020 upgrade –seemed very similar, therefore the majority of the versions listed below will do the job just fine in a sound-quality standpoint. What distinguishes them is that the mixture of features, simplicity of use, and cost. But excluding some duds recorded in the very bottom, if you want one of these designs within our selections, that is fine.
Apogee Groove: Throughout our blind evaluations, the USB-powered Groove appeared somewhat milder at the mids and also a bit more rough from the extremities, but still fairly excellent. It features a lightweight, easy-to-use layout and its very own electronic volume control. The Groove functions with Mac, PC, iOS, and Android apparatus, but such as the DragonFly Red, it drains power from cellular devices.
AudioQuest DragonFly Black: The audio of this DragonFly Black was almost equal to that of this DragonFly Red–that is to say, good. We heard plenty of sparkle and detail over the highs, nimble lows, along with an even, broad noise at the mids. However, the DragonFly Black is significantly less successful than the Red. AudioQuest asserts 1.2 volts or 4.5 mW, that is more appropriate to effective earbuds.
Centrance DACport HD: The DACport does not offer very much quantity in its own low-gain manner, along with the change to toggle into the high-gain style is shining, which means you’re going to have to monitor a paper clip on to reverse it. The plasticky layout feels cheaply produced, particularly in comparison to the contest. In general, it seemed nice, if a bit quiet, however, nothing regarding the DACport HD overwhelmingly impressed, particularly for its 150 first cost.
FiiO Q1 Mark II: Landing at the center of the bunch, the Q1 Mark II appeared absolutely okay for us. It had a bit too much low end that produced man vocals seem slightly glowing, and it did not really have the life and glow from the highs which our top selections exhibited.
miniDSP IL-DSP: The IL-DSP features EQ configurations, which may be amusing for many people to fiddle with, however, the amp is not exceptionally effective and the original setup is a small complex chore. The IL-DSP sounds nice with lower-impedance cans, however, the encounter is aimed toward somebody who enjoys fussing over audio profiles as a pastime.
Monoprice Monolith USB DAC 29512: In case you are searching to save a couple dollars, it is a strong small apparatus. It isn’t quite as strong as our selections and perhaps it doesn’t find firmware upgrades as often, but if you do not take care of MQA or newer programming, which might not matter for you. We do desire the volume controller have been a dial as opposed to buttons with predetermined measures, but that is a small quibble. If you discover you would like a budget DAC/amp to push cans beneath 250 ohms, then the 29512 will do the job just fine.
Monoprice Monolith Portable Headphone Amplifier 24460: Even the most effective version we quantified because of our spring 2020 upgrade, the 24460 managed to get much more volume from 600-ohm cans compared to iFi Hip-dac (23.3 mW). It sounds fantastic, feels well-built (when a little heavy), also contains a three-year guarantee. The issue is the fact that it’s double the purchase price of this iFi Hip-dac. Though the 24460 has some amazing features for one to noodle about with (such as filters and Sensaround), we discovered that, together with well-tuned cans, we did not require all of that.
NextDrive Spectra X: Even though we all value that the diminutive dimensions of this Spectra Xwe do not suggest it to be used with portable devices (such as a telephone ), because it pulls power from the device. Apple users may also wish to bypass, since the USB-C variation is compatible using iOS, and upgrading the Camera Adapter will produce the USB-A variant readable too. In terms of Android and PC notebook usage, the Spectra X fares nice on 32-ohm equipment. However, for higher-impedance headphones over 250 ohms, you might discover you won’t find sufficient quantity. For PC/Android users, even should you want the layout, then the Spectra X is nice, but our selections are more effective and will decode formats.
Sony PHA-1A: The PHA-1A’s audio quality always ranked near the very top of the lists, however it seemed marginally more two-dimensional compared to our top selections, using a little bit of midrange coloration. In the end, it had been the PHA-1A’s bigger, heavier assemble and battery life which nudged this version from this winner’s team.
We struck a couple of DAC/amps which our panelists did not enjoy, and we advocate bypassing themif they are available at a reduction:
Creative Sound Blaster E5: This version always ended toward the base of our panel blind-test ranks. Though the overall sound was not objectionable, our panelists enjoyed most everything we discovered improved. Brent described the noise as”rather dull, primitive, and edgy compared to others,” and John and Lauren agreed. Lauren also discovered it to possess lower-end bloat and also a more 2D solid quality compared to the majority of the additional DACs.
FiiO i1: Considering that the i1 was created for Lightning iOS apparatus, our board blind-tested this version against Apple apparatus. Astonishingly the MacBook Pro and iPad Mini, by using their built in headset, as well as also the iPhone 7, throughout the enclosed headphone dongle, seemed almost equal with the quantity matched. We could notice a distinct difference between the i1 and also the Apple apparatus, but our board felt it was a lateral movement: ” The i1 definitely appeared flatter, either from the frequency-response feel and from the spatial feeling. The Apple apparatus were more fostered from the highs and lows, but which made them seem more 3D. All of us agreed the i1 altered the noise, but we did not believe change enhanced the noise.
iFi nano iDSD Black Tag DAC/Amplifier: This really is much more of a mobile desktop apparatus than a mobile DAC/amp. There are two preferences, listen and measure, which appear to mildly change the reduced frequencies. After we turned on the volume dialup, we have some minor crackling sound, which should not occur within this budget. In general we were disappointed, particularly in contrast with just how much we enjoyed the Hip-dac from exactly the exact same firm.
JDS Labs C5D: The C5D really amazed –and disappointed–that our board. JDS has an excellent reputation, however the C5D was clearly muddier, even bassier, blurrier, boomier, and more than some of those additional DAC/amps we analyzed, though we analyzed it using its own tone change set into the neutral position. It is the only version which our blind panel stands out as consciously disliking.
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