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If you are looking for a DAC for iPhone then you will realize after few hours into the search that it is not a very easy to task to find a good DAC with high performance and that too under a reasonable price. We’ll get into why finding a good DAC is difficult in current market conditions but before we begin with that we have tried to solve your problem of finding a good DAC by compiling some of the best DACs for iPhone below in this publication. We recommend you check them out.

Resonessence Labs Herus $350 The Canadian-made Resonessence Labs Herus is one of the most flexible USB-powered DACs in sample- and bit-rate capabilities. This lipstick-sized unit supports PCM up to 352.8/24 as well as DSD64, DSD 128, and DXD files. So, regardless of how you like your high-resolution files, the Herus will play them. It’s a truly great sounding delta-sigma DAC. It walks all over the Macbook Pro’s built in DAC and has superior detail retrieval, a more open soundstage and plenty more finesse. There are only the standard pair of left/right RCA jacks for output. There’s no 1/8″/3.5mm jack since this does not feature a built-in headphone amp. If you already have a CAC reader and it isn’t Mac friendly, you could update the firmware, however, for the non-tech savvy people out there, it’s probably better to just purchase a new one and save the headache – they’re only $11-13 dollars. Best Mac Compatible CAC USB Readers. Mar 17, 2020 Because DACs are a largely spec-driven item, you can almost always pick out the one you need simply by looking at the packaging. FiiO makes plenty good products for cheap, and if you want an amplifier to go along with the DAC so you never have to worry about either, their E10K is a solid pickup for under $100.

Finding a good DAC for your iPhone is difficult because of multiple factors in the market that contribute to this problem. The first factor is looking for a DAC for a specific device or purpose. Now generally the external DACs were never designed to be small or portable as that would not allow for a better performance. Now that we are looking for a DAC to use with iPhone you would need a specific design from a DAC so that it can be used with a phone. This specific requirement rules out most of the options in the market and you have to choose between limited options available and that is difficult when you don’t know what to look for in a DAC to begin with. That is why we have shortlisted some of the options for you to choose from which we recommend you have a look at.

If you decide to look for a DAC on your own then there are few factors that you should consider which will help you to make a smart decision. Let’s get into it.

Compatibility

The first thing that you should consider when getting a DAC is the compatibility factor. It is absolutely necessary that you should be aware of what kind of devices you will be running with the DAC. If you are planning to run sound systems or stereos you will need to have a different type of DAC and if you are planning to run headphones to connect to your PC or Smart Phone then you can go for a smaller less powerful DAC which will be enough for your use. So make sure you know which devices you’re going to be using with the DAC because there are compatibility issues with the DACs if you end up buying the wrong DAC.

Features

The next thing that you should look for in a DAC is the features it has on board. If you are getting a DAC for iPhone then you probably won’t find much features on board the DAC for that purpose because they are designed to be compact and portable and they don’t focus on the features that much. But if you are going for bigger powerful DACs then there are different features that you can get on the DAC and they can prove to be useful. The newer DACs are being launched with wireless connectivity and can be remotely controlled these features can make the DAC usage more convenient.

Now let’s start with the DACs we have on here for iPhone.

Best DACs For iPhone (Comparison)

DACWeight
NextDrive Spectra Portable USB DAC17g
iFi Audio Nano iDSD BL DAC139g
AudioQuest DragonFly Red DAC100g
Chord Electronics Mojo DAC (Editor's Choice)180g

NextDrive Spectra Portable USB DAC

The first DAC we have on here is the Spectra Portable USB DAC produced by NextDrive. NextDrive is a new name in DAC manufacturing and has proven to be a reliable one with this DAC. The DAC we have on here is suitable for iPhone use and it has high ratings. So how it fared in our review? Let’s find out.

Let’s start with the design of the Spectra DAC and it is an ultra portable DAC that requires no batteries to operate. The slim design of the Spectra allows users to store it anywhere and carry it anywhere and it is durable too. The Spectra DAC has very good compatibility and can work with any PC or Smart Phone with no issue at all. Some phones may require extra adapter depending on the port they have.

The frequency response rate of the Spectra DAC is between 20Hz and 40KHz. The dynamic range of this DA is +121dB. The total harmonic distortion or THD of the Spectra DAC is -110dB at 600ohms load while at 32ohms load the distortion is -100dB. When it comes to maximum power output the Spectra DAC produces 2Vrms at 600ohms and at 32ohms it generates 49mW. When it comes to supported data type the Hi-Res PCM data range supported by the Spectra DAC is up to 32bit 384KHz and 5.6MHz data support for DSD.

Dac For Mac

For data input the Spectra DAC features USB 2.0 Type-A and USB 2.0 Type-B (Micros USB) ports and a gold plated 3.5mm mini jack for output.

When it comes to performance the Spectra DAC provides a clear and crystal sound output with no lag or jitters. The build quality of this DAC is very good and lightweight design contributes greatly to it’s portability. The sound clearly on this DAC has more depth and clarity and is excellent to use with iPhone or other smart phones. There have been no reported issues regarding this DAC’s functionality or performance.

Note: DSD support on this DAC is restricted to maximum volume.

ProsCons
LightweightNone That We Could Find
No Batteries Required
Wide Range Of Compatibility

Conclusion

If you are looking for a portable and small DAC for your iPhone the Spectra DAC by NextDrive is a very good option for you.

iFi Audio Nano iDSD BL DAC

The next DAC we have on here is the Nano iDSD BL DAC produced by iFi Audio. iFi Audio is a reliable name when it comes to production of good quality DACs for the masses. The DAC we have here in question is suitable for use with iPhone. The ratings of this DAC are high. How it fared in our review? Let’s find out.

Starting with the design of the iDSD BL DAC it is a small DAC that is very light in weight. The build quality of this DAC is very good and is overall a durable DAC. The iDSD BL DAC employs a rechargeable lithium polymer battery to power it up and on a full charge that battery will power the DAC for 10 hours of operational time.

The iDSD BL DAC has wide range of compatibility and it can be used with any PC or Smart Device. The frequency response on this iDSD BL DAC is between 20Hz and 16KHz, this is a self measured figure and not an official one. The dynamic range of the iDSD BL DAC is >109dB and the output impedance of this DAC is <240ohms. The channel separation on the iDSD BL DAC is >99dB. The input of the iDSD BL DAC is covered by a USB 2.0 port and it features 3 x 3.5mm output jacks as well.

When it comes to performance the iDSD BL DAC provides a very good sound quality with clarity and detail. The build quality of this DAC is very good and the lightweight design of this DAC makes it easy to carry it around and store. There is no sound distortion on the output of this DAC. It is a good contender for a iPhone DAC. There is room for improvement when it comes to features on this DAC but sound quality is very good. There have been no reported issues regarding this DAC’s performance.

ProsCons
Rechargeable BatteryNone That We Could Find
12 Months Warranty
Lightweight

Conclusion

If you are looking for a DAC for iPhone that is powerful and produces high quality sound then Nano iDSD BL DAC by iFi Audio is a good option for you.

AudioQuest DragonFly Red DAC

The next DAC we have on here is the DragonFly Red DAC produced by AudioQuest. AudioQuest is a reputable manufacturer of good quality DACs and have been doing so for quite a while now. The DAC we have here in question is different in design from other DACs and is suitable for use with iPhone. The DragonFly Red DAC has high ratings. So how it fared in our review? Let’s find out.

Let’s start with the design of the DragonFly Red DAC and it is a compact and small DAC designed in the shape of a USB Storage Stick. The DragonFly Red DAC features a functioning USB on one end. This DAC is portable and lightweight so it is easy to carry it around and store it.

The DragonFly Red DAC is compatible with number of devices and all the devices from Apple and Android can be connected to this DAC. The DragonFly Red DAC is a 32bit ESS 9016 DAC having minimum phase filter and it plays MP3 audio files as well as 24bit 196KHz high resolution files without any hitch. The DragonFly Red DAC has high power output of 2.1 volts which is enough for all the headphone even the ones that require high power to begin with. The asynchronous transfer on the DragonFly Red DAC ensures the digital timing integrity of the signal. The DragonFly Red DAC has a fixed output which feeds the preamp or AV receiver and it also features Bit-perfect digital volume control as well. The DragonFly Red DAC is designed to produce minimal packet errors.

When it comes to performance the DragonFly Red DAC produces high quality sound with low jitters and maximum clarity. The sound output has detail and has depth. The build quality of this DAC is good and the lightweight & compact design is a good thing if you like to carry the DAC around with you. There have been no reported issues regarding this DAC’s performance.

ProsCons
Low JitterNone That We Could Find
Portable
USB Design

Conclusion

If you are looking for compact and portable DAC for your iPhone then DragonFly Red DAC by AudioQuest is another good option for you.

Chord Electronics Mojo DAC – (Editor’s Choice)

The last DAC we have on here is the Mojo DAC produced by Chord Electronics. Chord Electronics has been producing high quality and DACs for small scale usage and they have pioneered that area with their products. The DAC here in question by Chord Electronics is considered the best for use with Smart Phones and other small scale devices. It has high ratings. How it fared in our review? Let’s find out.

The Mojo DAC has a lightweight and small pocket size build and it is excellent when it comes to portability as well. The build quality of this DAC is very good mainly due to the Aluminium chassis it has onboard. So it is safe to say that it is a durable DAC to own. The rechargeable battery on board this DAC takes 4 hours to charge and provides 8 hours of run time on full charge.

The playback support on the Mojo DAC for all Hi-Res files ranges from 32KHz to 786KHz and DSD 256 support as well. The Mojo DAC features 768KHz coax input via jack along with 192KHz optical input and 768KHz micro USB input. There is a separate micro USB charging input as well. There are 2 x 3.5mm headphone output ports as well. The output impedance on this DAC is 75ohms and the dynamic range on the Mojo DAC is 125dB. The power output of this DAC is 35mW at 600ohm load and 72mW at 80ohms load.

When it comes to performance the Mojo DAC produces high quality clear and deep sound with no distortion. The build quality of this DAC excellent. The Mojo DAC is excellent for carrying it around with you since it has lightweight and compact design that can be stored easily. There have been no reported issues regarding this DAC’s performance.

Dac For Mac
ProsCons
Powerful Small DACNone That We Could Find
High Quality Sound Output
Portable

Conclusion

If you are looking for a high performance DAC for iPhone that performs well all round then Mojo DAC by Chord Electronics is a very good option for you.

Conclusion

The DACs listed here for iPhone in this publication are among the best in the market right now. If they have any reported issues regarding their performance or build quality they have been mentioned in this publication. We hope you find this publication useful. Let us know what you think about these DACs in the comments below.

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If you’ve started down the rabbit hole of audiophile gear, you’ve probably come across folks out there imploring you to buy a digital to analog conversion (DAC) unit. It can be a little startling being told that you don’t have the right equipment, but before you go racing off to figure out how much money you’re going to be blowing: read this article first to know if you actually need one. Chances are good that you’re completely fine without it.

This is a long article where I try to be as complete as possible, so feel free to skip around. I just don’t want anyone to see this and feel like they were misled or I glossed over something important.

Dac

Editor’s note: this article was updated March 17, 2020 to update the passage on bitrate to address newer audio compression standards, and their ability to perform better with lower bitrates.

What is a DAC?

A DAC simply converts a digital signal into an analog one so that your headphones can then create sound. It’s that simple! Most DAC chips are found in the sources of whatever you’re listening to, and generally run a manufacturer from $3 to $30. At this point, it’s a very basic component of any smartphone, though the headphone jack seems to be a dying feature (Editors’ note: a pox on your house, Apple).

A DAC simply converts a digital signal into an analog one so that your headphones can then create sound.

Much like headphone amplifiers, standalone DACs came about as a response to poor audio quality at the consumer level. Back in the day, it was a lot tougher to find good hardware, and nerds like me had to deal with devices that couldn’t keep up with higher-end headphones and speakers. Sometimes the DAC assembly would be improperly shielded—introducing staticy noise—or it’d be a little too cheap, making the output kinda crappy. Lower sample rates, badly encoded MP3s… there were tons of things that children of the 80s and 90s had to deal with when it came to audio. Who wants to listen to low-quality tunes?

But digital music has come a long way since then. Better tech has made shortcomings of even the cheapest chips almost nonexistent, while digital music has exploded in quality past the point of diminishing returns. Where it used to be true that your Walkman’s or laptop’s internal DAC chip wouldn’t be suitable for high-bitrate listening, there are plenty of more compact units nowadays that can keep up.

When do I need a DAC?

Buying an external DAC means the noisy environment in your computer won’t mess with your music, though improvements will be minor.

The reason you’d get a DAC today is that your source—be it your computer, smartphone, or home system—is introducing noise or incapable of outputting sound at the bitrate of your files. That’s it. I know that’s a really anticlimactic summary, but that’s really the long and short of it. The only other time you could possibly want something super high-end is if you’re recording audio for professional applications, but even then the equipment used for processing it can handle it relatively cheaply.

Because DACs are a largely spec-driven item, you can almost always pick out the one you need simply by looking at the packaging. FiiO makes plenty good products for cheap, and if you want an amplifier to go along with the DAC so you never have to worry about either, their E10K is a solid pickup for under $100. You could also decide to throw money at the problem by picking up an ODAC or O2 amp + ODAC combo, but that may be overkill. But seriously, don’t sink too much money into this. It’s just not worth it.

How does a DAC work?

Low bitrates (a) can mangle the waveform a bit, but higher bitrates (b) can sound better in certain circumstances.

Now that you know the why of DAC, let’s delve into the how.

All audio, whether it’s stored on vinyl or in an MP3 is a compression wave when it’s played back. When computers record an analog signal, typically it will be displayed in what’s called a waveform, or a representation of the wave where the Y axis is amplitude (how powerful the wave is), and the X axis is time. Each wave will have a crest and valley—called a period—and how many periods there are in a second is called frequency(displayed as Hz). If you’ve heard that word before, you know that what frequency a sound is also corresponds to what note it is. The higher the frequency, the higher the note.

Dac For Mac

The job of the DAC is to take a digitally stored recording and turn it back into an analog signal. To do that, it needs to translate the bits of data from digital files into an analog electrical signal at thousands of set times per second, otherwise known as samples. The unit then outputs a wave that intersects all those points. Now, because DACs aren’t perfect, sometimes this leads to problems. These problems are jitter, aliasing, narrow dynamic range, and limited bitrate.

Before launching into the nuts and bolts of how everything works, you need to know three terms: bitrate, bit depth, and sample rate. Bitrate simply refers to how much data is expressed per second. Sample rate refers to how many samples of data are taken in a second, and bit depth refers to how much data is recorded per sample.

What is jitter?

I’m going to preface this section just like I addressed it in the audio cable myths article: Jitter is mostly a theoretical problem at this point, and extremely unlikely to rear its head in any equipment made in the last ten years. However, it’s still useful to know what it is and when it might be an issue, so let’s dive in.

Dac For Macbook

So remember how I said that sample rate can lead to some problems? Jitter is one that gets a lot of attention, but not much understanding. Jitter is a phenomenon that occurs when the clock, or what tells the DAC when to sample, doesn’t work as well as it needs to. When the sample points aren’t happening when they should, this can lead to a change in pitch for short periods of time. The higher the note that’s being reproduced, the higher the likelihood that this problem might occur.

You don't need to worry about slight imperfections in notes near 20kHz because in all likelihood you can't hear them anyway.

However it should be pointed out that this is another one of those problems that isn’t as common anymore because DAC units of today are so much better than those of the past. Jitter tends to only happen at super-high frequency notes because those notes have the shortest wavelengths. However, what makes high-frequency notes more susceptible to this type of error also makes them less likely to be heard: most people over the age of 20 can’t hear the notes where jitter is most likely to occur.

You don’t need to worry about slight imperfections in notes near 20kHz because in all likelihood you can’t hear them anyway.

What is aliasing?

A demonstration of aliasing: waveform a and b are identical, but the low sample rate of DAC b has fooled the DAC into thinking the frequency is halved.

Basically, sometimes a sound that’s really really high in frequency like a cymbal shimmer, harmonic, or other high note will have this strange warbling or oscillating sound that wasn’t in the original recording. What’s happening is that the DAC is accidentally creating a lower frequency note because the sample rate isn’t high enough.

How do you avoid this problem? Increase the sample rate of course! The more data points you have, the less likely an error will happen in a given set of frequencies. However, there is a point where this simply doesn’t audibly help anymore. Essentially, you can eliminate this problem if you’re able to sample at least twice per period, thereby forcing sampling errors to exist only in the highest frequencies that you’d likely be unable to hear anyway. Considering that the uppermost limits of human hearing range from 12-22kHz (as in, 12,000 to 22,000 periods per second), doubling that rate nets you somewhere within 24-44 thousand samples per second, or 44kHz. That last number sound familiar? It should: 44.1kHz is the most common sample rate for MP3 files!

What is bit depth and dynamic range?

If you’ve listened to really old MP3 files or crappy MIDI music from your old consoles, you’ll probably notice that they can’t really ramp up volume in a given music track all that well, or that competing instruments are really really difficult to pick out if they’re all going at once. This is what bad dynamic range sounds like. Dynamic range in this instance simply refers to the difference between all possible volumes of sounds in a given file.

What governs the theoretical limits of the dynamic range of an audio file is the bit depth. Basically, every single sample (discussed above) contains information, and the more information each sample holds, the more potential output values it has. In layman’s terms, the greater the bit depth, the wider the range of possible loudness of notes there are. A low bit depth either at the recording stage, or in the file itself will necessarily result in low dynamic range, making many sounds incorrectly emphasized (or muted altogether). Because there’s only so many possible loudness values that a sound could have inside a digital file, the lower the bit depth, the crappier the file should sound however you listen to it. So the greater the bit depth, the better, right?

Adapted from: Flickr user chunso That’s certainly an impressive amount of equipment, but quite overkill.

Well, this is where we run into the limits of human perception once again. The most common bit depth is 16, meaning: for every sample, there’s a possible 16 bits of information, or 65,536 integer values. In terms of audio, that’s a dynamic range of 96.33dB. In theory, that means that no sound under 96ish dB should be deleted or incorrectly assigned a loudness value.

While that may not sound terribly impressive, you really need to think hard about how you listen to music. If you’re like me: that comes from headphones 99+% of the time, and you’re going to be listening to your music at a volume much lower than that. For example, I try to limit my sessions to about 75dB so I don’t cook my ears prematurely. At that level, added dynamic range isn’t going to be perceptible, and anyone telling you otherwise is simply wrong. Additionally, your hearing isn’t equally-sensitive across all frequencies either, so your ears are the bottleneck here.

While I'm a super big crank when it comes to silly-ass excesses in audio tech, this is one point I'm forced to concede. However, the necessity of 24-bit files for casual listeners is dramatically overstated.

So why do so many people swear by 24-bit audio when 16-bit is just fine? Because that’s the bit depth where there theoretically shouldn’t be any problems ever for human ears. If you like to listen to recordings that are super quiet (think, orchestral music)—and you need to really crank the volume in order for everything to be heard—you need a lot more dynamic range than you would with an over-produced, too-loud pop song would in order to be heard properly. While you’d never crank your amp to 144dB, 24-bit encoding would allow you to approach that.

Additionally, if you record music, it’s always better to record at a high sample rate, and then downsample, instead of the other way around. That way, you avoid having a high-bitrate file with low-bitrate dynamic range, or worse: added noise. While I’m a super big crank when it comes to silly-ass excesses in audio tech, this is one point I’m forced to concede. However, the necessity of 24-bit files for casual listeners is dramatically overstated.

What’s a good bitrate?

While bit depth is important, what most people are familiar with in terms of bad-sounding audio is either limited bitrate, or aggressive audio compression. Ever listen to music on YouTube, then immediately notice the difference when switching to an iTunes track or high-quality streaming service? You’re hearing a difference in compression quality.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably aware that the greater the bit depth is, the more information the DAC has to convert and output at once. This is why bitrate—the speed at which your music data is decoded—is somewhat important. If the bitrate is low, it’s possible that not enough data will be converted to create the analog wave, meaning less information is converted, meaning you hear crappier audio. It’s really as simple as that.

320kbps is perfectly fine for most applications... and truth be told most people can't tell the difference.

.dav For Mac

So how much is enough? I usually tell people the 320kbps rate is perfectly fine for most applications (assuming you’re listening to 16-bit files). Hell, it’s what Amazon uses for its store, and truth be told most people can’t tell the difference. Some of you out there like FLAC files—and that’s fine for archival purposes—but for mobile listening? Just use a 320kbps MP3 or Opus file; audio compression has improved leaps and bounds in the last 20 years, and newer compression standards are able to do a lot more with a lot less than they used to. A low bitrate isn’t an immediate giveaway that your audio will be bad, but it’s not an encouraging sign.

If you’ve got space to spare, maybe you don’t care as much how big our files are—but smartphones generally don’t all come with 128GB standard… yet. But if you can’t tell the difference between a 320kbps MP3 and a 1400+kbps FLAC, why would you burn 45MB of space when you could get away with 15?

What about phones that don't have built-in DACs and dongles output at weird sample rates (e.g. Pixel 2). Does it make sense to get an external DAC then?

On some older phones: sure. But the errors and noise that you're likely to come across in this situation will be minor at best—not really something that you'll hear in the din of a commute, or wherever else you go with your smartphone as your main source of music.

Do I need a DAC if I'm using Bluetooth headphones?

No. Do not buy a DAC for Bluetooth headphones, as they will already have a DAC chip inside to handle converting the digital signal to an analog one to send to the headphone's drivers. A second DAC would be redundant.

I have a Project turntable, a 40 year old Pioneer integrated amp and 50 year old KLH speakers. Do I still need a DAC?

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