Best Portable Headphone DAC Amps – 2019 Buyer’s Guide

Sound is one of the most essential components of any form of entertainment viewing. With lousy sound, your whole experience can be made unpleasant, but it doesn't have to be that way. If you want to experience deep rich bass and amazing sound through those headphones you are inevitably sitting there wearing, then a great portable headphone DAC amp is the next purchase you should make. 

Whether you’re looking to get the most accurate reproduction of your digital music or get the best performance out of your headphones, portable digital to analog converters (DAC’s for short) are just what you’re looking for! These devices can be a game changer for the width, depth, clarity, and dynamics of the sound you hear out of your music playing device.

In this guide, we are going to give you some information that will help you choose the right option for you as well as give you our list of the best portable headphone DAC amps on the market today.

Comparison of the Best Portable Headphone DAC Amps

Product

Rating

Price

Audioquest- Dragonfly Red

AudioQuest - DragonFly Red USB DAC/Headphone Amplifier

Best Overall

Chord Mojo

CHORD Electronics Mojo, ultimate DAC/Headphone Amplifier, USB, Coaxial, and Optical, Black

Runner-up

Fiio K1 Portable Headphone Amplifier & DAC

Fiio K1 Portable Headphone Amplifier&DAC and USB DAC, Titanium

Best for the Money

OPPO - HA2 SE

Oppo HA-2 Portable Headphone Amplifier & DAC

Sony PHA1A Portable Hi-Res DAC

Sony PHA1A Portable Hi-Res DAC/Headphone Amplifier, Silver

What is a Portable Headphone DAC Amp?

The reproduction of sound to ensure authenticity can be quite daunting for any piece of tech out there. Everything can affect it, from the recording to what piece of equipment you use as an output. If you want a sound that is rich and crisp, and you just are not getting it, the problem could be the device you are using; if so, you may want to help it out with an outside source.

That is where the headphone DAC amp comes into play. DAC stands for digital to analog converter. This piece of technology takes the data from a digital sound file and changes it into an analog signal that a peripheral like headphones can play back. 

What Are The Best Uses For These?

There are so many things that having optimal sound can enhance and make more effective. The simple audiophile may want them for all-around sound quality improvement, but there are a few uses that offer the most return on your investment.

Gaming

So, you want to be fully immersed in that video game, right? It's not a good game unless you feel the intensity of the music or the sound effect that just signaled your doom. Well, a DAC amp can help with that. By boosting the bass and overall sound quality, you will get full immersion and be able to imagine the intensity of whatever just whizzed by you while you were hunkered down behind that wall.

Mobile Music

There is nothing like seeing a band live on stage or being in a studio as that band is recording their latest hot act. Though many feel that that is what you get with the mobile music you have streaming or downloaded on whatever device you are currently using, they would be wrong! By using this amp, the everyday audiophile or music nut will be able to experience high-quality stage-like sound by using a portable headphone DAC amp.

Editing

When you are chopping up footage to create your latest vlog, tutorial, or short film, you want to be able to ensure you have excellent quality sound. After all, the sound is an unsung hero when it comes to this field. So, if you are editing, utilizing a DAC amp is going to help you make sure you are producing the best content possible.

What Makes a Great Headphone DAC Amp?

When you are spending your hard-earned money, you want to make sure that you know what you are looking for. After all, the last thing you want is to end up with a product that you regret purchasing. So with that in mind, we crafted this small buyer's guide you can use to determine which portable headphone DAC amp is the right one for you.

Portability

Yes, all of them will be portable, but they do come in different sizes and materials (see the build subsection for more) that can affect just how easy they are to transport from place to place. So, knowing how much space you will be able to allocate to them can help you decide which one meets your portability needs.

Features

This is where you can get a little techy. Paying attention to the DAC chip that the device comes with can mean a world of difference. Some models also come with Bluetooth connectivity as well as rechargeable batteries. Before deciding, be sure to compare the features and see which one gives you precisely what you are looking for.

Build

When you transport stuff, there is always the chance that it gets tossed around or dropped, and you want to consider that for sure. So, when you are scouring your vast options, you may want to look at the quality of the interior components as well as the exterior to make sure you are choosing the right one.

Power

This is a significant factor in deciding which headphone DAC amp you will end up with. Take a look at the power supply needed. Is it rechargeable? How long of battery life do you have when fully charged? Getting these questions right will end with you skipping out of the store (or through your living room) listening to the sweetest sounds imaginable.

Quick Take: 
Top 3 Picks

Review of the Best Portable Headphone DAC Amp

Okay, now with all that knowledge tucked away in your brain, let's jump into our list of the best portable headphone DAC amps available to you. No matter what you are looking for, there is something on our list that will work for you; we are sure of it. Here are our choices for the best options on the market:

AudioQuest - DragonFly Red USB DAC/Headphone Amplifier

PROS

  • Treble is smooth and bright.
  • Overall sound details are excellent.
  • Soundstage of this piece is nice.
  • Vibrating voice quality is exceptional.
  • Detail and energy with a crisp, speedy bass.
  • Lightweight and compact for better portability.
  • Constructed with high-grade, durable materials.
  • Midrange has a stellar detail and amazing texture.
  • No battery to charge; simple, small, and portable.

CONS

  • Issues with the jack material quality.
  • Sound improvement may depend on an audio setup.
  • External peripheral cables may be needed to hook up on specific smart devices.
  • Requires adaptor for portable devices.

What Recent Buyers Report

Overall, recent buyers love the sound quality they get from this fantastic portable headphone DAC amp. Every aspect of the audio becomes crisper and more vibrant. They also love the build and compact size. However, there are a few buyers that feel that the need for an extra cable to connect individual devices and the unreliable sound output depending on your audio setup could be problematic. Plus, many have a problem with the price.

Why it Stands Out to Us 

The sheer capability and compatibility of this DAC are what stand out. Every music file and OS are supported, leaving no audiophile behind. On top of that, a stellar transfer system means no loss in integrity with the overall sound. All of this combines to make the best overall option out there today effortlessly.

Certainly the most simple and most compact DAC on this list. The Red comes in a USB “thumb drive” enclosure making it super easy to plug and play via computers. People on the go will need to find an adaptor, like Apple’s camera kit adaptor or Android/OTG adaptor to connect to your phone or portable music player. Also available is the Black version, which has less power amplification output for roughly half the cost.

Who Will Use This Most 

Audiophiles or anyone that is doing work with sound on the go will get the best use out of this. The ease of portability fused with the high-performance functionality of this piece makes it a killer choice for those that hit the road and need that high-quality sound to function correctly, whether that be personally or professionally.

Bottom Line

The AudioQuest Dragonfly is a high-quality sound improving portable amp that any music or sound lover should have in their back pocket. Throw that little thumb drive sized amp in your pocket and ensure that no matter what audio you want to listen to, it is the richest, crispest, most faithful to the original you can get.

Runner-up:
Chord Mojo

CHORD Electronics Mojo, ultimate DAC/Headphone Amplifier, USB, Coaxial, and Optical, Black

PROS

  • Crafted with high-quality materials for better durability.
  • Enhanced amplification ability for better all-around volume.
  • Compatible with multiple devices for more versatility of use.
  • Lightweight, compact build makes this unit extremely portable.
  • Built with double headphone sockets for multiple output devices.
  • Does a great job with music refinement for a more authentic sound.
  • Best sounding portable solution for your audiophile needs.

CONS

  • May not be compatible with older USB cables.
  • No wall adapter included for charging.
  • Heat is not well dissipated when charging, so may become hot.

What Recent Buyers Report

Those that have recently purchased the Chord Mojo love the sound quality that it produces. With that exceptional sound, you also get significant amplification, which means you can rock out to music that shreds like you were standing in front of the live amp itself. Most buyers' only complaints come in the charging aspect; the unit's heat while charging, incompatibility with specific USB models, and overall battery life are all things that many feel could be improved.

Why it Stands Out to Us 

For us, it is all about amplification and sound quality. That is what a DAC amp is for, after all. So, when you hear that rich mid-tone or those clear highs enriched with that smooth bass, you will be happy that this was the one you went with. That is how it got to be the runner-up on our list.

While you likely wont be playing audio files at 768kHz / 32 bit, Chord’s Mojo offers top-of-the-line custom DAC chips featuring programmable processors. Chord is noted in the hifi world as producing some of the best sounding converters available. Nothing to disappoint here.

Who Will Use This Most 

This is great for the audiophile that wants to listen to music at the highest quality while traveling from place to place. It is especially useful for a new convert to the world of DAC amps. It is easy to use and set up, and the ability to keep your settings means that those music fans that don't want to have to set it up every time will be well suited by using this DAC amp.

Bottom Line

In the end, you may not hear the distinction in sound at first, but we promise once you have used the Chord Mojo, you will never be able to listen to music the same without it. The sound improvement will be supremely evident once you try to listen to music without it. In the end, this DAC amp is a great choice and will rock your world every time you plug it in.

Fiio K1 Portable Headphone Amplifier&DAC and USB DAC, Titanium

PROS

  • Comes with a small USB cord.
  • Easy to use; plug and play capabilities.
  • Lightweight, compact build for better portability.
  • Overall audio improvement is that of a high-end option.
  • Value of the product far surpasses the budget-friendly price tag.

CONS

  • Lack of controls to modify bass for fuller sound quality.
  • Lack of controls to modify gain for better audio enhancement.
  • Unfortunately, not compatible with all android devices.

What Recent Buyers Report

The truth of the matter is that most recent customers approve of the quality and build of this easy to use DAC amp option. When paired with a great budget-friendly price, they love it. That said, a few love it with a little caveat. This caveat is that they wish there were better gain and bass controls for an even more personalized and improved sound.

Why it Stands Out to Us 

You can save your money and still get a great DAC amp. That is what truly stands out to us here. The ability to get rich sound and amplification for an affordable price will make any audiophile giddy with excitement. The ease of use and the overall durability of the build, plus its attractive looks, make this product easily the best budget choice in this category.

Who Will Use This Most 

You want to get the most from any investment, and that is precisely what you will get should you settle on this as your final choice. The budget-minded individual that wants to improve their sound quality so that they get the full effect of their device is who would use the Fiio K1 the most.

Bottom Line

No one wants to suffer in silence or with bad-sounding audio just because they don't have a bank account full of money. With this product, that suffering will be a thing of the past. A budget-friendly model that allows you to revel in the reverb is precisely what you get when you pick up the Fiio K1.

Oppo HA-2 Portable Headphone Amplifier & DAC

PROS

  • Built of high-grade, durable materials.
  • Comes with a great warranty and manual for easy setup.
  • Wide range of compatibility when it comes to audio files.
  • Ability to choose between multiple configurations options.
  • Provides rapid charge no matter if you are using an Apple or Android device.
  • Excellent quality sound, sleek design, charging options.

CONS

  • Not water-resistant.
  • Not compatible with older model USB cables.
  • Lacks a pot knob to control bass and treble.
  • Unnecessary bass boost feature.

What Recent Buyers Report

The one big issue that most recent buyers have with this DAC amp is the lack of control given regarding the treble and bass. They seem to want a knob that can be used to adjust this to their liking. Other than that, all the reviewers love the overall quality of sound and ease of use this model affords them.

Why it Stands Out to Us 

The glaring thing that struck us as ultimately impressive is the inclusion of a line out jack. This means that you can use it in multiple ways. Let's just say the versatility of this model allows anyone, no matter what device or configuration of audio you want, to be able to use it just the way they want.

As a more practically priced solution to your DAC needs, the Oppo HA2 SE offers a sleek design with no compromise on sound quality. The design fits comfortably alongside any smart phone and you can even charge it! Additionally, its battery offers 13 hours of analog playback.

Who Will Use This Most 

This would be great for someone who wants to listen to audio while sending it through a portable speaker. Someone like a DJ would especially get the most out of the OPPO HA2 SE. Even a musician who wants to listen to the sound as they are playing while recording via whatever method they use could be a beneficiary of this remarkable piece.

Bottom Line

No matter what reason you have for picking up this portable headphone DAC amp, you will be pleased with the ease of use and the quality of sound you get with this model. So, if you are looking for one of the best options available that gives you extra features like a line out jack, then look no further.

Sony PHA1A Portable Hi-Res DAC/Headphone Amplifier, Silver

PROS

  • Sound quality is outstanding and is Hi-res capable.
  • Overall build of the product leads to a long life.
  • Battery life is extended due to its rechargeable battery inclusion.
  • Amplification is improved to even better levels than some competitors.
  • Built with multiple input ports for a more versatile headphone compatibility.

CONS

  • Price versus value is not equivalent.
  • Weight versus size is an issue for some.
  • Not compatible to charge with all mobile devices.

What Recent Buyers Report

Recent buyers may not love the price combined with the notion that they must shell out more for accessories, but what they do love is the overall quality of sound that emanates from their headphones once they have jacked in. Overall, this DAC amp from Sony seems to be a big hit.

Why it Stands Out to Us 

The hi-res capability and extra accessories allow for not only versatility of sound but also audio options. With vibrant, crisp, hi-res sound capabilities, this DAC amp stands out as one of the best options for an audiophile or anyone looking for the best music quality possible.

Who Will Use This Most 

That person on the go that wants to experience the full sound stage of whatever audio they are listening to now will enjoy this the most. These are the people that will get the most out of the Sony PHA1A for sure. Another person that would benefit from the purchase of this product is the gamer on the go. Just imagine getting the full effect of every game, no matter whose house you're at or where you are.

Bottom Line

Sony has been a name in electronics for decades, and with intense attention to crafting high-quality goods, they keep on getting better. A perfect example of this is this portable headphone DAC amp. Created with high-grade materials, both interior and exterior, this model is by far one of the best on the market today.

Aspects to Consider Before Buying

You now know what makes a great portable headphone DAC amp, but what do you need to consider before choosing your final choice? The truth is that even with the buying guide we produced above, there are still a few things that may factor into your decision. So, let's take a little look at those quickly.

Budget

Nobody likes to think about money, but unfortunately, it is an essential factor when making any purchase or investment. Figure out what you are willing to spend, and then this may end up kicking a few options off your list. Even though you may whittle down your list, you will be sticking to your budget and can still afford to pay your bills and eat, which most agree is very important.

Intention

The reason you are getting this portable tech is an important one as well. If you are getting it for cinematic reasons or editing, you may want to look at other options; if you want to have the sickest sounding bass when you walk down the street, that can make a difference in your decision and choice.

Audio Source

Laptops, desktops, and most smart devices already come with a DAC built-in. Considering the quality of sound they deliver before expending that cash may lead you to the decision that you don't need this extra piece of gear. Alternatively, it may do just the opposite.

Conclusion

In the end, the decision is ultimately yours, but if you want a more vibrant, more accurate sound, investing in one of the best portable headphone DAC amps might be a smart choice. Hopefully, with the information and options above, we have helped your decision-making process and have made it just a bit less stressful.

People Also Ask

Before you go, we know that there are always questions that arise as you peruse the information streams and dive through the options, so we have put answered a couple of the most commonly asked questions to potentially help you out just a bit more.

Do You Need a DAC with a Headphone Amp?

The real answer is that it all depends. Most smart devices and technology today come with a DAC already built-in, but the quality of the DAC may be a little sub-par; so, if your laptop or whatever device you are currently using to listen to music doesn't seem like it is quite right, then getting a headphone amp with a DAC might be your best bet.

Does DAC Improve Sound Quality?

Depending on the quality of the DAC, yes it will improve the overall sound. A higher-quality DAC will convert more data and therefore create a smoother, more authentic tone and sound to whatever audio file you are listening to. Making sure you pay attention to the converter's capabilities will make all the difference in the world as you are watching that epic space fight scene in whatever fantastic film you have decided to watch. Alternatively, they will make you feel like you are front row at your favorite artist's show.