11 Best DAC Amp Combo Reviews In 2022 [Budget & Premium Buyer’s Guide]

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So, you have your favorite pair of studio headphones. You’re putting down tracks left and right, but you feel like you’re not getting the full potential out of those cans.

This might be because they have high impedance. Or, your onboard digital to analog converter (DAC) can’t push the range of loudness that you want. A solid solution to this is a DAC amp combo.

These little guys pack a punch, but it’s all about finding the best DAC amp combo for your specific needs.

Quick Picks

ImageProductScorePrice
TOP PICK
Monoprice Monolith Desktop DAC Amp
Monoprice Monolith Desktop DAC Amp

Frequency Response: 1Hz ~ 40kHz ±0.5dB (96kHz input) — Max resolution: 768 kHz — Max Bit Rate: 32 bit — Signal-to-Noise Ratio (A-Weighted): > 120dB — Analog Inputs: 1x unbalanced RCA, 1x unbalanced XLR — Digital Inputs: 1x Optical, 1x Coaxial, 1x AES/EBU, 1x USB

9.8
View At Amazon
RUNNER-UP
AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt
AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt

Frequency Response: (Unlisted) — Max resolution: 96 kHz — Max Bit Rate: 24-bit — Inputs: USB-A — Outputs: 3.5 mm 

9.7
View At Amazon
GREAT VALUE
Audioengine D1 24 Bit
Audioengine D1 24 Bit

DAC type: USB and Optical — Inputs: USB input audio SPDIF Optical — Input bit depth: 16 bit, 24 bit — Input sample rate: (USB) 32kHz-96kHz, (optical) 32kHz-192kHz — Outputs: Analog RCA, L/R stereo, 3.5mm

9.6
View At AmazonView At Guitar Center
WELL-ROUNDED
FiiO E10K
FiiO E10K

Power Supply: Standard Micro USB port — Output Power: 200 mW @ 32 Ω — Sample Rate: 24-bit/96 kHz — I/O: 1x Coaxial digital output, headphone jack — Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 20 kHz

9.5
View At AmazonView At Guitar Center
HIGH-END PICK
Topping DX3 Pro
Topping DX3 Pro

Power input: DC15V/1A — Input: USB/OPT/COAX1/COAX2/BT — Line Out output: RCA — Headphone output: 3.5mm — USB IN: 44.1kHz-768kHz/16bit-32bit — OPT/ COAX IN: 44.1kHz-192 kHz/16bit-24bit

9.4
View At Amazon
PORTABLE & POWERFUL
FiiO Q5S
FiiO Q5S

Frequency Response: 5 Hz to 50 kHz -3 dB — Max resolution: 768 kHz — Max Bit Rate: 32-bit — Signal-to-noise ratio: ≥ 117 dB (A-Weighted) — Connectivity: 1 x TOSLINK 1/8" / 3.5 mm Optical Input (Optical/Analog Combo Jack) 

9.3
View At Amazon
UPGRADE PICK
Sound BlasterX G6
Sound BlasterX G6

Frequency Response: (Unlisted) — Max resolution: 384 kHz — Max Bit Rate: 32 bit — Total Harmonic Distortion: 0.0006% — Signal-to-noise ratio: >110 dBV — Max Output: (Unlisted) — Output Impedance: 1 ohm — Inputs: MicroUSB, 3.5 mm headphone — Outputs: MicroUSB, (2x) 3.5 mm

9.2
View At Amazon
MOST VERSATILE
Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M
Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M

DACs: Dual ESS Sabre — Frequency response: 10Hz - 50kHz (±1dB) — I/O: 6.3mm Headphone Output, Digital Inputs (optical, coaxial, USB Type-B), Balanced and Unbalanced Analogue Outputs — Max file resolutions supported: 12-bit/96kHz (optical); 24-bit/192kHz (coaxial); 32-bit/768kHz, DSD512 (USB)

9.2
View At Amazon
SIMPLE & EASY TO USE
iFi Zen DAC V2
iFi Zen DAC V2

Max resolution: 384 kHz — Max Bit Rate: 24-bit — Total Harmonic Distortion: < 0.0015% @ 0dBFS (BAL/SE) — Signal-to-noise ratio: > 113dBA (6.2V BAL/3.3V SE) — Max Output: 2.1V RMS — Output Impedance: < 1 Ω (BAL/SE)

9.1
View At Amazon
POPULAR CHOICE
Chord Mojo
Chord Mojo

Output Power @ 1kHz: 600Ω 35mW — Output Power @ 1kHz: 8Ω 720mW — Output Impedance: 75Ohms — Dynamic Range: 125dB — THD @ 3v: 0.00017% — Weight: 180g (0.4lbs)

9
View At Amazon
GREAT FOR HOME STUDIOS
FiiO K3
FiiO K3

Decoding: 384kHz/32 bit PCM and native DSD256 — DAC: AKM AK4452 — I/O: USB Audio Class 1.0 and 2.0, 3.5mm SE and 2.5mm balanced headphone output, 3.5mm line out, Coaxial out, Optical out, ADC volume knob control

8.9
View At Amazon

January 2022 Update Notes:

  • The list was expanded to 11 total picks instead of 5.
  • The Monoprice Monolith was added and given the top spot over the Audioengine D1, which dropped to the 3rd spot.
  • I bumped the AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt up to the 2nd spot.
  • The iFi ZEN DAC and FiiO Q5S were added to the list.
  • The Schitt Magni was removed from the list.
  • The Sound BlasterX G6 slid down to the 7th spot.
  • The Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M moved to the 8th spot.
  • FiiO E10K dropped to the 4th spot.

How to choose the right DAC Amp

Let’s start off by understanding this handy tool by breaking it up into its two components. As the name suggests, a DAC converts a digital audio signal into an analog signal so that a device can create sound.

The Difference Between a DAC and a Headphone Amplifier

A headphone amplifier is a low-powered amp that raises the low-voltage of a signal to a more adequate level.

Now, these two systems can be found separate from each other. This is a very acceptable route to go if you’re looking for more out of your headphones and their frequency response. But these clever DAC amps might just be a more practical route to go based on your needs.

The DAC comes into play when it comes to your computer. Internal DACs that already exist in smartphones and computers can sometimes create a static hissing noise. Nobody wants that right? A good way to get rid of this is with a dedicated DAC.

All in all, why not have the best of both worlds with a DAC amp combo? Well, that’s the argument that many audiophiles make.

Benefits of a DAC Amp

With a high quality DAC amp combo, you’re getting the best of two worlds. You’re powering those high-impedance headphones with a flat frequency response, and clearing up the soundstage with a dedicated DAC.

The combination of both is cost effective and really just makes the whole process easier. It’s definitely a worthy upgrade from most integrated DAC sound cards.  

Speaking From Experience

I can speak from experience here. A while ago, I bought a pair of 80Ω headphones with that ideal flat frequency response. I plugged them into my computer and they sounded muted. After some reading, I found out that I needed an amp. This was due to the fact that either the internal DAC chip or sound card in my computer wasn’t powerful enough. Hurray! I didn’t need to return my headphones.

Admittedly, I had no idea about the importance of this stuff, and it was a simple fix.

Things to keep in mind

Now let’s get into the more technical aspects to consider before making your final decision on the best DAC amp to add to your studio equipment list.

What Does Output Power Mean?

One thing to keep in mind on your quest is the sensitivity (or efficiency) of your headphones. This is measured in decibels (dB) and can be found just as easily as the impedance amount.

Sensitivity dictates how many decibels the headphones will output per milliwatt or millivolt. Knowing this will help you find out how many milliwatts you need for your headphones. All of this can have an effect on your how your headphones transmit their frequency response through the DAC Amplifier.

Luckily, there are free online power calculators out there to help with this output power process. Make sure the output power of the DAC you like is at least as high as the milliwatt level you need.

The output power levels of any unit can easily be found within the tech specs from the manufacturer.

Headphone Impedance vs. DAC/Amp Impedance

Choosing the best DAC amp depends almost entirely on the headphones you have. Moreover, it depends on the impedance levels of those headphones.

Impedance is the resistance of an electrical signal, measured in ohms (Ω). Higher impedance means you’ll likely need an amp to power them.

A pair of earbuds or cheap headphones sit at around 35Ω. Those puppies don’t typically need a headphone amplifier. Usually, headphones at 50Ω or above will tell you they need an amp. Anything in the 100Ω or above range will definitely need one.

One other thing to check up on. The DAC amp combo will have its own output impedance as well. This is separate from your headphones impedance. The guideline here is to make sure the output impedance is about 8x lower than the impedance of your pair of headphones. 

This baseline will ensure that the device you decide upon will adequately power any headphones you might have. Generally speaking, most headphones won’t require too much power from a DAC Amplifier. If you have a pair with crazy high impedance you won’t have to worry as long as you follow that baseline.

The Benefits Of Multiple Inputs

Usually the best DAC amp options include such inputs as a 3.5mm jack, RCA stereo, USB input, coaxial S/PDIF and optical. Now, the manners in which you plan on using one of these devices should require you to have multiple inputs. It’s just a good rule of thumb to live by in a home studio.

The nice thing is, with these modern devices you have a ton of power at your fingertips. Most of the amp DAC units on this list will give you numerous inputs right out of the box so you can find the right input you need for a particular project.

Portability & Size

Honestly, you probably aren’t going to need a DAC amp combo that’s ultra-portable. Chances are your device will have a comfortable home on your studio desk and will rarely be moved around.

That being said, it never hurts to save space on your desk. Most amp DAC devices of this kind have a naturally small footprint, and they can be taken to a live performance if you need it to. Form factor isn’t as crucial here as it is with other pieces of equipment.

At the end of the day, you’re probably going to need room for a bunch of equipment. An audio interface, a MIDI keyboard, your computer monitor, etc. That’s not to say you shouldn’t make some room for a headphone DAC amp combo though.

Thankfully, you shouldn’t have to sacrifice too much to fit one in.

A Quick Word About Bit Rate

Back in the day we all used to spend hours trying to find that 320kbps bit rate song to download and burn onto a CD-R. Not you? Well, maybe I’m just old. Anyway, modern digital audio music has come a long way, and a modern DAC chip that can handle samples with a bit rate of 16-24 bits is a must. Moreover, the 24 bit and 32 bit craze has gained traction in recent years.

All of these factors will insure that the DAC amp combo device you decide to invest in will be able to handle the bit rate of the samples that are fed through it. The last thing you want is clipping of any sort. Rest assured that the devices I’ve included on this list should be adequate at this job.

Sound Quality

You aren’t necessarily going to want a device that adds a ton of color to the sound of your headphones. I mean, all you’re looking for out of a DAC amp combo is clarity and added neutral emphasis.

It’s somewhat inevitable that any component you add to the signal path will add some degree of color to the mix. The key is to find a unit that’s subtle about it. On my list, I’ve done my best to find DAC amp combos that don’t overdue it while still being beneficial to the ultimate goal.

Speaking of which, I think it’s time to dive right in to the best DAC amp combo list…


Best DAC Amp Combo List

Now that we’ve covered all of the factors to consider when choosing an amp DAC combo, it’s time to get into my list of options. In this list, I’ve taken everything we’ve covered into account and have done my best to give you a wealth of devices to choose from.

That being said, here’s my list of the best DAC amplifier combos on the market today.


Monoprice Monolith Desktop DAC Amp

TOP PICK
9.8/10Studio Frequencies Score

Features & Specs:

Frequency Response: 1Hz ~ 40kHz ±0.5dB (96kHz input) — Max resolution: 768 kHz — Max Bit Rate: 32 bit — Signal-to-Noise Ratio (A-Weighted): > 120dB — Amplifier: 2x THX AAA 788 — DAC: 2x AKM AK4493 — Analog Inputs: 1x unbalanced RCA, 1x unbalanced XLR — Digital Inputs: 1x Optical, 1x Coaxial, 1x AES/EBU, 1x USB

Reasons To Buy: 

+ Great price-to-performance ratio

+ Excellent THX AAA amplifiers

+ One of a kind sound quality

Reasons To Avoid:

- Overall design leaves much to be desired

9.8out of 10

Build Quality9.6
Features9.8
Sound Quality9.9

If you’re looking for the perfect way to power your ultra-premium set of studio headphones, then the Monoprice Monolith Desktop DAC amp is certainly a top-tier choice. This device utilizes THX AAA amplification to bring those drivers to level. To answer your question, that is the same THX from big-cinema.

Monoprice is mainly known for making excellent cables, but they’ve made waves in the audio industry with their relativity new line of headphone amplifiers. The Monolith 124459 in particular is a simple device with a streamlined design. Actually, one of the gripes I have with this device is it’s modest finish, especially when you consider it’s price tag.

With that in mind, this is a desktop DAC amp combo that sets out to prove itself with how it performs, not how it looks. It has a max bit rate of 24bit/192kHz and it introduces little to no sonic distortion. The digital to analog converters do their job very well on the Monolith, so you can have loads of confidence in the “DAC” portion of the load.

Now, onto the amplifiers. The THX AAA amps on this thing are among the best that any option has to offer. In fact, the amplifiers alone are what sets this device apart from the rest. The dual AAA-788 amplifier modules that are stuffed inside the Monolith provide what’s called “linear amplification.” In other words, this means a lesser amount of distortion and less power being used. They are low-profile amplifiers and give a massive boost to your headphones.

In terms of connectivity options, you get everything you could possibly hope for in the Monolith amp DAC combo. The build quality is also solid. The downsides here are the overall finish of the device and the annoyingly bright LCD screen.

Despite it’s minor shortcomings, this truly is a top-notch headphone DAC amp. It’ll pair well with any audio interface, and it will surely be enough to satisfy your studio needs.


AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt

RUNNER-UP
9.7/10Studio Frequencies Score

Specifications:

Frequency Response: (Unlisted) — Max resolution: 96 kHz — Max Bit Rate: 24-bit — Total Harmonic Distortion: <0.003% — Signal-to-noise ratio: >120 dB FS — Max Output: 2.1V RMS — Output Impedance: (Unlisted) — Inputs: USB-A — Outputs: 3.5 mm 

Reasons To Buy:

+ Great resolution & sound quality

+ Super convenient

+ Very easy to use

Reasons To Avoid:

- Limited in terms of extra features

9.7out of 10

Build Quality9.8
Features9.3
Sound Quality9.9

If you’re looking for a no-frills DAC amp combo, then the AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt is a great choice. This Award-winning device doesn’t stand out above the rest when it comes to aesthetic features. There’s no volume knob, no parameter configuration switches, and no extra inputs and outputs. It’s a simple, streamlined DAC amp that gets the job done.

The AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt DAC amp combo is no larger than your average USB flash drive, making it ultra-portable. This gives you a whole new level of freedom in the studio. I mean, you have enough gear taking up desk-space, the last thing you need is your headphone DAC amp obstructing everything else.

This little DAC amp combo puts out the same sound quality as the big guys as well. The size of the device might make you think that this thing can’t put out the power you need, but with a 24 bit/96kHz sample rate, you’re getting plenty of sonic support.

Like I said before, there isn’t much in terms of extra-features on this little DAC amp combo. You get a single 3.5mm headphone jack and a standard USB output. For those of you who aren’t looking for a lot of fancy features and just want a DAC that powers your headphones, then the Dragonfly Cobalt is perfect! That being said, if you’re looking for more control, then you won’t get it here.

One last thing. I wouldn’t recommend using this portable DAC amp to power headphones with an ohm rating higher than 300Ω. There are plenty of other ultra-high-end amp/DAC’s that can get that job done. With that, the AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt is suitable for most headphones out there, including studio headphones

All in all, it’s easy to see why this little DAC amp combo is so popular. It’s super easy to use and it puts out power that’s almost hard to believe. Also, almost everyone who’s invested in this little guy is a happy camper. Ultimately, I can’t recommend it enough!


Audioengine D1 24 Bit

GREAT VALUE
9.6/10Studio Frequencies Score

Specifications:

DAC type: USB and Optical — Inputs: USB input audio SPDIF Optical — D/A converter: AKM4396 — USB transfer mode: Asynchronous dual clock — Input bit depth: 16 bit, 24 bit — Input sample rate: (USB) 32kHz-96kHz native playback 188.2kHz & 192kHz re-sampled to 96kHz — Input sample rate: (optical) 32kHz-192kHz native playback — Outputs: Analog RCA L/R stereo Analog 3.5mm mini-jack stereo

Reasons To Buy:

+ Small footprint

+ Sleek design and solid build quality

+ Good sound quality

Reasons To Avoid:

- No ¼” jack output

- 0.6m USB cable is quite short

- No notch on volume knob

9.6out of 10

Build Quality9.4
Features9.7
Sound Quality9.8

The D1 DAC/headphone amplifier from Audioengine is a solid value unit. It is a 24 bit/96kHZ device with USB and optical S/PDIF inputs as well as an RCA output. The front includes a 3.5mm headphone port and a large volume control knob.

The sound quality is superb. The soundstage is wide range, and the accuracy it has is nice and tight with a very balanced output.

Individual frequencies will really shine in conjunction with a great pair of headphones. The high signal to noise ratio and low distortion gives this unit a competitive edge to it’s more expensive counterparts. All in all, the sound signature is just great. This is all to say that the D1 DAC amp combo can handle any bit rate that’s thrown at it without any unwanted distortion.

The build quality on this DAC amp is noteworthy as well, made with high quality materials that feel rugged in your hands. It feels solid and sturdy. It’s worth it to point out that there aren’t any rubber feet on the bottom of the device, so it has a tendency to slide around easily. That’s a small gripe though.

The volume knob weirdly enough doesn’t have a notch that indicates the exact level of output. I would recommend just using a sharpie if you find it really necessary. Yes, a ¼ headphone jack would have been nice, but there is only a 3.5 mm jack. Luckily, most top notch studio headphones are interchangeable so you can connect to a given DAC amplifier.

You might have to refer to that online power calculator to accurately decipher the output power of this device if you’re concerned about it. That being said, I’m sure the D1 digital to analog converter/Amplifier has more than enough power for your headphones.


FiiO E10K

WELL-ROUNDED
9.5/10Studio Frequencies Score

Specifications:

Power Supply: Standard Micro USB port — Output Power: 200 mW @ 32 Ω — Sample Rate: Maximum of 24-bit/96 kHz supported
Signal to Noise Ratio: ≥108 dB — I/O: Digital Output 1x Coaxial digital output, stereo PCM format — Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 20 kHz — Recommended Headphone Impedance: 16 to 150 Ω — Dimensions: (H x W x D) 3.1 x 1.9 x 0.8″ (79.0 x 49.1 x 21.0 mm) — Weight: 2.8 oz (78 g)

Reasons To Buy:

+ Inexpensive

+ Low noise floor

+ Great low end boost

Reasons To Avoid:

- Very few inputs

- Build quality

- Can have issues with higher frequencies

9.5out of 10

Build Quality9.5
Features9.4
Sound Quality9.7

You’ve probably seen the FiiO E10K USB desktop DAC amp combo here and there. It’s gained its popularity mainly due to its affordable price range. Don’t be fooled though, this little guy still does its job well.

It has a sample rate of 24bit/96kHZ. It also includes a micro USB port, a coax output, and a high or low gain switch on the back. The front has a 3.5mm jack, a bass boost/low pass switch, and volume knob.

One of my favorite attributes of this DAC with a built in headphone amplifier is the select-able bass boost option and low pass filter circuit. This unique addition is much needed considering the E10K isn’t what I would call “rich with features.” On top of that, the small footprint/output power ratio of this device makes it a great portable digital to analog converter/amp.

The bass boost and low pass filter characteristics creates a lower noise floor when engaged. This gives you the freedom to really customize sounds to your taste. It’s an all around cool feature, though it might not be for everyone. 

The sound quality of this little guy might actually surprise you. The E10K won’t necessarily win any awards amongst audiophiles, but it gets the job done well at this price point.

Its compact size won’t take up too much desk space, and the fact that it uses power via USB means less hassle in your set up. If all you need is an amp DAC combo to power your headphones while keeping the soundstage clear, then it won’t let you down.

While the overall sound quality of the E10K DAC amp is good, it might give you issues at higher frequencies. Some people experience a static clipping after an extended period of time owning the device. This might have something to do with the sensitivity of the USB DAC port that has the ability to degrade over time.

These are both somewhat rare occurrences, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.

There’s a reason why the FiiO E10K is such a coveted device. It’s affordability, its simplicity, low noise floor, and its form factor are all attractive qualities. It would be remiss of me to not include it on my list of the best DAC amp options.


Topping DX3 Pro

HIGH-END PICK
9.4/10Studio Frequencies Score

Specifications:

Measured: 12.0cm xX 16.5cm x 4.0cm — Weight: 400g(Unit only) — Power input: DC15V/1A — Colour: Full black/Full silver — Input: USB/OPT/COAX1/COAX2/BT — Line Out output: RCA — Headphone output: 3.5mm — USB IN: 44.1kHz-768kHz/16bit-32bit,DSD64-DSD512(Native),DSD64-DSD256(DOP) — OPT/ COAX IN: 44.1kHz-192 kHz/16bit-24bit

Reasons To Buy:

+ Functional and versatile

+ Powerful Amp

+ Great looks and build quality

Reasons To Avoid:

- Highs might be too crisp for some

- Requires custom drivers

- Remote control

9.4out of 10

Build Quality9.5
Features9.3
Sound Quality9.4

The Topping DX3 Pro USB DAC/Amp by Fanmusic is a powerful device. It has a slightly higher price range, but it has great functionality to justify that. In fact, if it weren’t for the higher dollar amount, the DX3 Pro could’ve easily been at the top of the list of my favorite DAC Amp devices. 

The build quality of the DX3 Pro DAC amp combo is robust and heavy. Its metal casing is a very nice touch. The display screen is vibrant. It’s a simple looking unit, but I like a design like that. No muss, no fuss. The DX3 Pro will likely stay sturdy and solid for a long time.

The DX3 Pro has a sample rate of 32bit/768kHz via USB, and 24bit/192kHz optical or coax. The sound quality is quite neutral overall. Low end frequencies are controlled well, and mids to highs are crisp. To be fair, the high end frequencies this amp DAC reproduces might be a little too much for some users. Low mids do come off a little undersaturated.

All in all, the soundstage is impressive, not leaving a whole lot to be desired.

Interestingly enough, the DX3 Pro can work as a standalone digital to analog converter, preamp, or a combo through optical, coax and USB inputs.

It also has Bluetooth 5.0 capabilities for those looking to simply stream music through it. It has high and low gain options and RCA outs. It has a standard 3.5 mm headphone jack up front and a large output knob next to the screen. 

Controlling the DX3 Pro amp DAC combo can be a pain. You mainly navigate the device with the included remote control, which can temporarily act up from time to time. Also, using a remote control just feels a little unnecessary.

You also need custom drivers provided by the manufacturer that can be buggy, leading to your OS not recognizing the device. Maybe there will be an update to fix this, though it’s not a very common issue.

This high quality desktop DAC amp truly is a great addition to any audiophiles repertoire. It’s a highly versatile device, and its negative qualities are few and far in between. Once I get passed the remote control, I really like the DX3 Pro as an entry level, or even intermediate option.

Alternative Pick – Topping DX7 Pro (32 Bit/768 kHz)

Specifications:

Sample Rate: 32 Bit — Max Resolution: 768 kHz — Power input: AC110V/AC220V 50HZ/60HZ*— Signal input: USB/BT/OPT/IIS/AES/COAX — Line Out output: XLR/RCA — Headphone amp output: 6.35mm/XLR Balanced output/4.4mm Balanced output 

This is the ultra-powerful DAC/amp alternative to the Topping DX3 Pro. I included the DX3 on the main list due to it’s more universally affordable nature, but the DX7 Pro DAC amplifier combo is a true powerhouse.

This DAC has specs that are pretty much topped out. With a 32 bit sample rate and a high resolution of 768 kHz, its a device meant for die hard audiophiles. Most DAC amps with this much under the hood can cost you a pretty penny, and the DX7 Pro is no exception.

You can achieve real clarity in virtually any set of headphones at 32bit/768 kHz, and the Topping DX7 Pro is a great DAC to do the job. So, if you’re looking to take your mixes to the next level, I’d highly recommend taking a look at the Topping DX7 Pro amp DAC combo.


FiiO Q5S

PORTABLE & POWERFUL
9.3/10Studio Frequencies Score

Features & Specs:

Frequency Response: 5 Hz to 50 kHz -3 dB — Max resolution: 768 kHz — Max Bit Rate: 32-bit — Signal-to-noise ratio: ≥ 117 dB (A-Weighted) — Connectivity: 1 x TOSLINK 1/8" / 3.5 mm Optical Input (Optical/Analog Combo Jack)

Reasons To Buy: 

+ Very portable

+ Sample rate of 32-bit/768kHz

+ Loaded with awesome features

Reasons To Avoid:

- The strictly portable design might not work for everyone

- EQ options are disappointing

9.3out of 10

Build Quality9.2
Features9.5
Sound Quality9.3

Yest, yet another option from FiiO, this one being a bit more of a high-end portable DAC amp. The Q5S has become a beloved option among casual users and audiophiles of all kinds. This is mainly due to it’s versatility. It’s an extremely powerful device that can still fit on your pocket.

That small form factor is one of the main reasons why the Q5S is so desirable. Those of you who have a small home studio will love the fact that you can put this thing anywhere and still have clear audio coming from your studio headphones. Casual users and audiophiles can take this thing anywhere and you will barely even notice it.

It’s portable nature makes you wonder how much punishment it can take. Well, in that regard, the Q5S DAC amplifier won’t disappoint. Just like most FiiO products, this device is built quite well and it would take a lot to permanently damage it.

The sound quality on this little device is really what shines though. With a bit rate of 32bit/768kHz (PCM) and native DSD, this little guy pumps out an audio quality that’s hard to believe. You also get a slew of connectivity options that’s surprising at this size with the coaxial, optical, and analog line-in input all being handled through a multi-function input port that supports up to 32bit/192kHz.

The amplifier itself is a new and improved version of the AM3A found in other FiiO devices. The AM3E works on a balanced circuit, which helps to limit harmonic distortion and uses up less power. Overall, the dual AK4493 DAC chips do their job well, and help to create an excellent listening experience in conjunction with the new amps.

The extra features on this amp DAC are noteworthy as well. With a gain/bass boost switch, Bluetooth capabilities, RGB status lights, and ADC volume control, you have a lot of power and control at your fingertips.

The few shortcomings of this DAC/amp combo are pretty minor, but worth mentioning. For one, the aluminum edges are prone to scratches, and the micro-USB connectivity feels a little archaic. Also, there’s not a lot in terms of EQ options.

At the end of the day, this is one of the most versatile amp DACs on this list. You can really throw any task at the FiiO Q5S and it will handle it with ease, and you can take it literally anywhere with you.


Sound BlasterX G6

UPGRADE PICK
9.2/10Studio Frequencies Score

Specifications:

Frequency Response: (Unlisted) — Max resolution: 384 kHz — Max Bit Rate: 32 bit — Total Harmonic Distortion: 0.0006% — Signal-to-noise ratio: >110 dBV — Max Output: (Unlisted) — Output Impedance: 1 ohm — Inputs: MicroUSB, 3.5 mm headphone — Outputs: MicroUSB, (2x) 3.5 mm

Reasons To Buy:

+ Intuitive design

+ 32bit/384kHz output

+ Included software has some great features

Reasons To Avoid:

- Installation process

- Below average build quality

- Colorized sound out of the box

9.2out of 10

Build Quality9
Features9.5
Sound Quality9.2

The Sound BlasterX G6 Gaming DAC/amp by Creative is popular in gaming circles, but there is a lot to this device for all audiophiles. Though it’s not a dedicated DAC, the G6 has an incredible 32 bit/384kHz digital output and high resolution. Also, the signal to noise ratio is 130 dB.

All of this power comes at a cost though. Out of the box, the default audio settings add an unnecessary boost to higher frequencies.

Luckily, the included software gives you the ability to correct this externally from the DAC. The Sound Blaster Connect 2 software comes with some other useful features as well that include extra effects, an EQ, voice improvements, dynamic range control, among others.

This powerhouse DAC amp combo also simulates virtual 7.1 surround sound. The Connect 2 software is one of the things that makes the G6 stick out above the rest.

The G6 has a 3.5mm headphone jack, a 3.5mm optical in (no optical out unfortunately), and a 3.5mm mic-in. The rear 3.5mm line in bypasses the discrete headphone amp and only uses the digital to analog converter, and the front 3.5mm jack uses the DAC. Keep that in mind to avoid any confusion. You will also find a high and low gain switch.

It is fair to point out that the installation process can be a bit of a pain. Usually, updating the firmware out of the box is all you’ll need to do.

Sometimes, that won’t be enough. It can have issues recognizing your drivers and this can lead to a lot of frustration. Also, this is not a great option for a portable DAC amp, it’s definitely a little bulkier than others on this list.

This is not a common enough issue to be worried about, but I needed to bring attention to it nonetheless.

The volume control knob also can become flimsy depending on the unit. Overall, the materials used on the G6 DAC/Amplifier don’t feel as high quality as some others on this list. That being said, the device is cool looking, and the logo lights up when there’s music playing. 

If you’re looking for a device purely for musical needs, then some of the features I’ve listed might just go to waste. But for anyone who enjoys gaming, cinema, and other entertainments on top of just music, this DAC is a jack of all trades and it’s one of the best on this list.


Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M

MOST VERSATILE
9.2/10Studio Frequencies Score

Specifications:

DACs: Dual ESS Sabre — Frequency response: 10Hz - 50kHz (±1dB) — I/O: 6.3mm Headphone Output, Digital Inputs (optical, coaxial, USB Type-B), Balanced and Unbalanced Analogue Outputs — 3 x Pre-set Digital Filters: Fast, Slow, Short Delay (Selectable) — Integrated Bluetooth Input: Bluetooth 5.0, aptX, AAC, SBC — Max file resolutions supported: 12-bit/96kHz (optical); 24-bit/192kHz (coaxial); 32-bit/768kHz, DSD512 (USB) — Dimensions: (H x W x D): 52 x 215 x 191 mm. — Weight: 1,2 kg. 

Reasons To Buy:

+ Very powerful

+ Loaded with interesting features

+ Impressive sound quality

Reasons To Avoid:

- Very large footprint

- Not as easy to use as others on this list

9.2out of 10

Build Quality9
Features9.5
Sound Quality9.1

Cambridge Audio is best known for “home theater style” stereo amps, but they do offer a couple of high-end options for headphone DAC amps. The DacMagic 200M is a wonderful option for those who love having control over numerous parameters.

Not only that, but the DacMagic 200M DAC amp has a lot of inputs and outputs, and I mean a lot! Don’t let that deter you though, this device is actually quite easy to use thanks to it’s clever design.

The DacMagic 200M can easily be used in a home theater environment, which in turn makes it great for using in a home studio. The amount of I/O’s alone make it great for music studios, but the powerful amplifiers and amazing converters are almost too good to be true.

This device isn’t just a DAC/amplifier though. The DacMagic 200M can also be used as a preamp for microphones and speakers. XLR and RCA are on the list of includes I/O’s in case you were wondering how that’s possible. All in all, this DAC/amplifier is basically a pseudo audio interface and is very versatile for studio users.

The major downside to this DAC/amplifier is it’s form factor. It’s a big, hefty fellow that’ll definitely take up a lot of desk-space.

The DacMagic 200M is a ultra-powerful DAC amp that can easily enhance any pair of headphones or speakers you throw at it!


iFi Zen DAC V2

SIMPLE & EASY TO USE
9.1/10Studio Frequencies Score

Features & Specs:

Max resolution: 384 kHz — Max Bit Rate: 24-bit — Total Harmonic Distortion: < 0.0015% @ 0dBFS (BAL/SE) — Signal-to-noise ratio: > 113dBA (6.2V BAL/3.3V SE) — Max Output: 2.1V RMS — Output Impedance: < 1 Ω (BAL/SE)

Reasons To Buy: 

+ Built to last

+ Has great desktop appeal

+ Performs very well

Reasons To Avoid:

- Limited in terms of connectivity

9.1out of 10

Build Quality9.6
Features8.7
Sound Quality9.1

The iFi ZEN DAC is a straightforward headphone amplifier and DAC combo that doesn’t offer a whole lot in terms of connectivity, but excels with cool features and great desktop appeal. This is a device that’s great for those of you who just need a way to power your headphones without all the fluff.

Another positive this device has going for it is the build quality. This thing is rock-solid and it can take a lot of abuse. That coupled with the unique, attractive design makes this a winner on the exterior.

Internally, this amp DAC is loaded with amazing features that you won’t find elsewhere. For instance, you get variable analogue volume control, PowerMatch adjustment, TrueBass to add bass to in-ear monitors and a new and improved low jitter clock with >20dB improved performance. All of these features help to create a clean and clear listening experience with very little harmonic distortion.

Yet again this is another DAC amp that’s powered and connects via USB, which raises questions about noise introduction. Surprisingly, you’ll be happy to find that the ZEN DAC has no noticeable problems with unwanted noise. I will say that there is a bit of a warm up period. The first hours of using this DAC, you might notice that things sound a little off, but after a number of uses, things should even out.

There is one pretty major downside to the ZEN DAC though, and that’s it’s input offerings. All you get is the single digital USB input. That’s it. Like I said at the beginning of this review, this is a very simple device that’s really only made for powering headphones. It was made to be ultra-portable, so it’s a bit limited when it comes to flexibility. If you absolutely need some coax inputs or optical inputs, then definitely consider looking at a different DAC amplifier combo.

If you’re fine with USB being your only input choice, then the ZEN DAC is still an excellent choice. It exceeds expectations in every area besides connectivity. It’ll make for a great headphone amp to take on the road, or to use in the studio alongside a quality audio interface.


Chord Mojo

POPULAR CHOICE
9/10Studio Frequencies Score

Specifications:

Output Power @ 1kHz: 600Ω 35mW — Output Power @ 1kHz: 8Ω 720mW — Output Impedance: 75Ohms — Dynamic Range: 125dB — THD @ 3v: 0.00017% — Weight: 180g (0.4lbs) — Dimensions: 82mm (l) x 60mm (w) x 22mm (h) — I/O: 2x 3.5mm Headphone Jacks, 1x Micro USB 768kHz/32-bit Capable Input, 1x 3.5mm Jack Coaxial 768kHz/32-bit Capable Input, 1x Optical TOSLINK 96kHz/24-bit Capable Input, 1x 1amp Micro USB Charging Port Input 

Reasons To Buy:

+ Plenty of connectivity

+ Great aesthetics

+ Very popular option

Reasons To Avoid:

- Expensive

- Longevity is questionable

9out of 10

Build Quality8.5
Features9
Sound Quality9.6

The Chord Mojo is a widely used DAC amp combo. You’ve likely seen it being used by Twitch streamers and YouTube content creators. It’s easy to see why with its high resolution and impressive sample rate.

With that, I want to start out with the downfalls of the Chord Mojo this time so you can understand why it doesn’t sit higher on the list. For one, it’s pretty expensive. Secondly, there are a lot of questions about the longevity of this device. At such a premium price, you’d expect this DAC amp to last forever, but certain complaints have made me suspicious. Some users of the Chord Mojo that I know personally have had units that broke after only a year.

Now, onto the positives. Chord uses their own microchips that handle the DAC portion, and boy do they work well. This DAC amplifier combo has near-zero noise and distortion and everything sounds loud and clear through it.

It has a max sample rate of 32bit/768kHz, so it sits among the top of the list in that regard. To give you an idea of the power the Mojo has, it can play quad DSD 256 files with ease. That’s no easy task, and not many amp DACs can do it.

Probably the most notable feature on the Chord Mojo headphone DAC amplifier is the large spherical lights, which are used to show battery life and the current sample rate. These lights tend to be pretty confusing out of the box, but you get used to them after a while. I just wish that Chord would have used a simple screen to display this information instead, it would honestly be less complicated that way.

The amplifier has the ability to power headphones with an impedance rating of up to 800Ω. While that isn’t necessarily realistic, this does mean that you can use the Chord Mojo DAC combo as a preamp for speakers should the need arise.

Overall, the power of this amplifier/DAC combo is unmistakable. I’m not 100% sure that the pros outweigh the cons on this one, but it’s definitely easy to see why it’s so popular. If you can get passed the concerns and you’re lucky enough to get a device that lasts a while, then the Chord Mojo is a great choice.


FiiO K3

GREAT FOR HOME STUDIOS
8.9/10Studio Frequencies Score

Specifications:

Decoding: 384kHz/32 bit PCM and native DSD256 — DAC: AKM AK4452 — Low-pass filter: TI OPA1612 — USB chip: XMOS XUF208 — I/O: USB Audio Class 1.0 and 2.0, 3.5mm SE and 2.5mm balanced headphone output, 3.5mm line out, Coaxial out, Optical out, ADC volume knob control — Extra Controls: Gain and bass switches — Output 3.5mm: 220mW (16Ω, high gain)/120mW (32Ω, low gain) — Output 2.5mm: 320mW (16Ω, high gain)/200mW (32Ω, low gain)

Reasons To Buy:

+ More powerful than the E10K

+ Quite portable

+ Easy to use

Reasons To Avoid:

- The E10K might be a better value for most

8.9out of 10

Build Quality9
Features8.6
Sound Quality9.2

Yes, another mention for FiiO. There’s a reason why they’re such a reputable brand, they make reliable devices. The K3 is no exception. It’s cheaper younger brother, the E10K, is a great option too. But, if you’re looking for a slightly different unit from the same manufacturer, take a gander at the K3 USB input DAC and headphone amp.

It functions very similarly to the E10K, but is a little more sturdy and offers a more intuitive design. It is slightly more expensive but the trade off is a better sound signature, an improved 32 bit sample rate, and an increased wide dynamic range.

There is also the FiiO K5, which offers a sample rate of 32bit/768kHz, but I find the K3 to be the perfect middle ground for home studio users.

The K3 is also a great choice for casual listeners and audiophiles who want a cleaner tone on-the-go. If you refer the the review of the FiiO QS5 from earlier, you’ll see that the K3 uses the same AK4493 DAC chips, and the same XMOS XUF208 USB receiver chip.

The difference between the K3 and the QS5 is mainly the form factor. The K3 is still portable, but it’s more of a desktop DAC and is more suitable for using with an audio interface. It’s also better suited for gamers and streaming studios as well. It still has a lot of the same great features as the E10K and the QS5. You can see the trend here. The K3 is simply a great, well-rounded DAC amp offering from FiiO, and worth considering if you’re a studio-head in particular.


Frequently Asked Questions

Does a DAC Amp improve sound quality?

Yes, a dedicated DAC amp combo device can improve the overall sound quality of a digital audio signal. This is due to the higher-quality conversion that takes place in the device, which in turn helps to limit noise distortion. That being said, the quality of the output signal itself has a huge role in the sound quality of the signal flow.

Do I need a DAC if I have an amp?

In order to achieve the best possible listening experience, you need a dedicated DAC amp combo. Moreover, it’s best to make sure that a headphone amplifier has a high-quality onboard DAC. That way you’re getting the best of both worlds: top-notch digital to analog conversion and amplification.

How do I choose a DAC amp combo?

First things first, you need to find out what impedance rating you have on your set of headphones. From there, you can choose a DAC amp combo that can properly power them. Outside of that, you need to consider the types of inputs and outputs you need as well as your budget.

Are DAC amp combos worth it?

If you want to achieve the best possible listening experience for any situation, then yes, DAC amp combos are more than worth it. You will noticeably improve your audio signal flow while also taking some load off of your computer.


Conclusion

So there you have it! The clear winner on the list of DAC Amp combos in my eyes is the Monoprice Monolith, simply due to the price-to-perfomance ratio it has. But, all of these devices are great. The main thing when it comes to combo units is that it sounds good to you and suits your needs.

Final Thoughts

On the long road to finding that perfect sound signature that you like, a DAC Amp is an important stop. Before dropping loads of money on an ultra high end computer with an upgraded sound card or DAC chip, consider investing in an external device like one of these instead.

I can’t stress enough the importance of hearing all the nuances in your mixes clearly. One of these DAC amplifiers will certainly help you with that.

Anyway, I hope this guide has helped on your quest to find the best DAC amp combo for your studio. As always, feel free to reach to me with any questions you might have.

Happy hunting!

Author
Jeremy Bongiorno
I have been a musician and producer for over 15 years. My goal is to provide reliable, honest information and hopefully help to improve the quality of life in your studio.

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