The portable DAC/amp has become one of the most important items in creating a personal audio collection. Whether you need something ultra-portable that easily disappears into your pocket, or you just want to listen to music in more than one room at home without having multiple setups, portable DAC/Amps are a great solution for plugging into your audiophile lifestyle. With new releases coming all the time it’s hard to keep track of all the options, so we’re here to help you figure out the best devices out there, and the ones that will work the best for you.
Best Budget DAC/Amp: hip-dac2, Questyle M12, GO blu
If you want an upgrade over the stock headphone output from your phone or tablet, but don’t want to break the bank, there are some excellent options for under $200. At $189, the iFi hip-dac2 provides solid power along with excellent performance and sound quality. hip-dac2 has a little bit of it all: it’s a stylish looking device, with balanced and unbalanced output options, as well Power Match to adjust the output for IEMs or over-ear headphones, and XBass to give you that little bit of extra oomph.
If you’re looking for great sound quality, but aren’t as concerned about power – or if extreme portability is a greater concern – the Questyle M12 is as good as it gets at $139. M12 has no controls or switches, but it automatically adjusts the power based on the impedance it detects from the headphone output. What it does have is a crisp, transparent sound that gives you a taste of Questyle’s flagship DACs in your pocket.
It’s also worth mentioning the iFi GO blu in this category as it’s one of the cheapest options out there for a wireless portable DAC. You get balanced output and Bluetooth 5.1 connectivity, as well as features like XBass and XSpace. While the sound quality isn’t as strong as hip-dac2 or the Questyle M12, it’s quite the package for $199.
Best Ultra-Portable: Questyle M15, iFi GO bar
For Ultra-Portables, we’re looking at devices with a very small footprint that in particular have no battery and can draw power from a mobile device, meaning that the DAC becomes, more or less, an extension of your headphone cable. The two current standouts are the Questyle M15 ($249) and the iFi GO bar ($329). Both feature compatibility with Android and iOS devices, though only GO bar includes all the cables you need in the box. And both push the limits of power you can provide in this form factor with balanced 4.4mm connections to maximize the output. The Questyle is the simpler of the two, with only a high/low gain switch, and it also boasts an edge in sound quality. GO bar gives you more options – like XBass and XSpace – along with volume controls on the device.
Most Feature Packed: iFi xDSD Gryphon, CEntrance HiFi M8
If you’re looking for tons of features and capabilities in a sleek, modern device, the xDSD Gryphon ($599) is simply unbeatable. You can use it as a DAC or an amp, with wired or wireless connection, and can tune the sound with iFi’s updated XBass+ and XSpace. The interface is simple and user friendly, with an OLED screen and clear indicators for each feature.
If you want a similar feature set, but with a powerful, more industrial design, it’s worth checking out the CEntrance HiFi M8 ($749). HiFi M8 delivers amazing performance with its own myriad of features – including four headphone output options, bass and treble boost, and high and low output sections to accommodate both power-hungry headphones and sensitive IEMs. What it doesn’t have is the sleek usability and style you get with Gryphon.
Most Power: iFi Diablo
If what you need is power, power, and more power, nothing on the portable market beats the iFi Diablo ($999). Diablo provides genuine desktop level power in a portable form factor, and still manages to sound great. Diablo doesn’t give you a ton of features or options, but it does give you all the power you could ever ask for. If you ever want to take a Susvara on the go, Diablo can genuinely provide the juice you need. In addition to having incredible power, Diablo provides excellent detail and strong imaging characteristics that make it competitive – in more ways than one – with many desktop products in the same price range.
Steve’s Picks: iFi micro iDSD Signature, Chord Electronics Mojo 2
While there are any number of portable DAC/Amps out there which provide an array of features, incredible sound quality, and power, iFi’s Micro iDSD Signature ($749) strikes a balance with a number of connection options, up to 4.1W of output power, and features like adjustable gain levels, XBass, DAC filters, and iEMatch to tailor the sound to your preferences. Unless Bluetooth is an absolute must have, it’s hard to beat the combination of versatility and musicality provided by the micro iDSD Signature.
If power isn’t a major concern, but sound quality is the number one priority, Mojo 2 ($775) maintains Chord’s tradition of providing DACs with incredible delivery of detail and imaging. Mojo 2 adds what is quite possibly the best portable DSP out there, giving you a 4-band EQ and Crossfeed options to get the perfect sound from your headphones. Mojo 2 doesn’t have the same level of features and connectivity as some of the other options, but the simplicity of just incredible sound quality and superb DSP help it stand out from the pack.
What’s Your Pick?
Whether you’re looking for a way to listen to your HIFIMAN Susvara on the couch or just need a simple setup to rock your Kinera Idun on the train ride to work, there are a lot of options out there. Ultimately you’re just looking for the right combinations of features, power, and price. If you don’t mind a larger unit, devices like Diablo, HiFi-M8, and micro iDSD Signature give you tons of power and features. If size is of the utmost importance Questyle’s M12 and M15, along with iFi’s GO bar and GO blu, give you great sound with IEMs and sensitive headphones. Or if you need something in the middle, Mojo 2 and Gryphon will be “just right” for many headphone aficionados. From ultra-portable to ultra-powerful, there’s an option out there that meets your needs.