The Best Portable DACs At Every Price Point
Get your hands on some of the finest portable DAC & Amps that are Curated by Raghav. This list includes DACs at every price point. This video will help you understand the basics of DAC and the difference between Single-ended and Balanced connections. This video will undoubtedly assist you in taking that step ahead if you want to advance in the realm of music.
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This video is all about DACs digital-to-analog converters and in the world of DACs you can get some gorgeous DACs that honestly take up a lot of space like some of the ones that we have behind you or you have portable DAC that you can pretty much plug into your mobile phone and convert it to a high-res audio player that sounds of the highest quality that you can use to listen to your headphones or IEMs.
Portable DACs are the way to listen to music when you're on the go and you want to stream music on your phone but make sure that you're listening to music at the highest quality that you would get on some of the finest dacs anywhere in the world now we have so many portable dacs that are now available to us in India at virtually every price point and sometimes gets a little confusing to know which is the right one for you so what we thought we'd do is we do a very interesting video specifically talking about the best portable DACs at every price point so that you're able to pick one that's right for you to use along with your headphones or your IEMs.
Astell&Kern - AK XB10
Let's get to it, starting off with what is currently our single most popular portable DAC that you can use on the go is all the way from South Korea the Astell&Kern xb10 for those of you who aren't familiar with Astell&Kern they're pretty much like the Ferrari of the headphone world do they make some of the finest high-res audio players out there in the world and the xb10 is their entry-level portable DAC that uses Astell&Kern's signature design philosophy and branding and applies it to a portable affordable device that's meant for everyone now the xb10 is a Bluetooth dongle DAC so this adds another level of convenience to your DAC so you can pair it along with your mobile phone using bluetooth and you're able to listen to music when you're on the go wirelessly and your wired IEMs go into the 3.5mm unbalanced output on this DAC and you can flip it onto your shirt or you can carry it with you anywhere you go.
It also has a 2.5mm balanced output if you're someone who wants to use the balanced upgrade cables for your IEMs Balanced output does make a big difference to the sound so I recommend that you do now why is this the most popular portable DAC on our list on of all the DACs that we have the xb10 outsells everything and that's because of the price its price is just Rs.2,999 and for less than three thousand rupees this is the easiest way for you to listen to high resolution music on the go with a nice IEM, so I highly recommend it to virtually everyone who's starting out in the hobby for the budget you get the convenience of Bluetooth the promise of Astell&Kern's high-res sound quality and you have a 2.5mm balanced output which is unheard of for you to be able to listen to music on the go so that ladies and gentlemen makes the xb10 my first recommendation for the best portable dongle DAC for less than 3000 rupees.
Shanling - UA1s
All right coming up next for just over 4000 rupees is this tiny little device that I'm holding in my hand which connects to your phone via USB this is the Shanling ua1s this is a wired dongle DAC it has a 3.5mm unbalanced output and for four thousand rupees it's probably the first dongle DAC that I genuinely think makes a big difference to your sound quality when you're using it along with your smartphone you can use this with virtually any IEM out there and you can instantly hear the difference now why would I recommend this over the Bluetooth xb10 because Bluetooth is just fine if you're listening to a streaming service like Spotify or apple music but minute you're listening to high resolution music Bluetooth is simply not going to be able to do it justice there is a certain amount of loss and quality that comes in with Bluetooth and using it with something like the ua1s which connects to your smartphone via USB ensures there's absolutely no loss in quality it gives you almost perfect output with high resolution files and you'll find that it's an absolute must-have if you're someone who's listening to music at high quality.
iFi Audio - GO Link
Now with a little bit more you get to what is one of my favorite dongle DAC which is for just under 5000 rupees this is the iFi audio go link it doesn't have the detachable cable that the Shanling has but what it does have is a very convenient adapter to use it with USB-C as well as Lightning so if you're someone who has an iPhone you don't have to go and get one of those expensive lightning to USB dongles you can simply use the one that comes along withthe iFi go link in the box so this is the cheapest dongle that we have in our selection that is perfectly compatible with Android and iOS now the reason I recommend this is for under 5000 rupees it is easily the nicest sounding DAC it makes virtually all your IEMs sound super clean super smooth and more musical it's hard to describe the sound except to say that it makes everything sound better and for 5000 rupees it's an absolute no-brainer iFi audio makes a beautiful products at all prices but this is the cheapest way to improving your sound quality with an iFi audio DAC.
iBasso - DC03 PRO
A very similar segment as slightly more premium product but one that I think absolutely deserves mention in our list is the iBasso dc-03 Pro from China ibasso again another really nice chi-fi brand makes some excellent higher and premium products the dc-03 pro is the third iteration of the very famous dongle DAC lineup we made some YouTube videos in the past as well talking about the iBasso DACs the dc-03 pro is their newest version It's a far Superior product than the other ones that I've spoken to right now it's got these really nice tempered glass front and back panels gives it a super premium look unlike everything else on our list this also has physical buttons that you can use to increase and decrease volume it comes with a 3.5mm unbalanced output but it uses some of the nicest DAC chips you can get at this price point so it gives you a super clean Super analytical sound and it's one of those devices that you pay a little bit more but you get a lot more I believe it's priced at about 6500 rupees and for the price I have to say it is the best DAC in this segment from a features design and sound point of view.
How does a balanced connection make an impact on the sound quality?
Now the next segment is a very very popular segment of DACs which are just under 8000 rupees what you get by spending this little bit more money is very very importantly a 4.4mm balanced output that is available on these DACs along with the standard 3.5mm unbalanced output now what difference is the 4.4mm balanced output make one it gives an independent channel for left and right so you'll find that the separation between both of these channels improves quite a bit the amount of power that's available to your headphones both for the left and right channel improves quite a bit and therefore on most IEMs you find that the bass becomes a little tighter so if your IEMs and headphones have the option of using a 4.4mm balanced cable it's almost without exception a rule that you should get a DAC which has a 4.4mm balanced output to take advantage of that consequently if you have a DAC which has a 4.4mm balanced output don't forget to change and upgrade your cables to use balanced cables that take advantage of that.
Shanling - UA2 Plus
Now we've got three DACs which I have to talk about in this segment all of which have the 4.4mm balanced output alongside the 3.5mm output that is there on all the standard DACs to start with I'm going to talk about one of my favorite DACs with the 4.4mm balanced output the very affordable Shanling ua2 plus this is super slim super thin considering it has a 4.4mm output which is sometimes a little fat this is super super portable comes with a detachable cable so you can plug in lightning or USB-C and use it on the go gives you a very clean balanced output so if you're someone who wants to get a taste of what difference the 4.4mm balanced output makes this is the device to start with.
Shanling - UA3
Shanling has the big brother to the ua2 plus that's only slightly more expensive which is the ua3 now this is a little fatter so it's not as portable as the ua2 plus but what it gives you is physical buttons to increase and decrease volume play and pause and in built microphone that you can use to pick up and drop calls and very importantly a lot more power so if you're someonewho's going to be using full-sized headphones like an Audio Technica m50x and HiFiMan HE 400 maybe even a meze 99 Classics I would recommend you get the ua3 because the little extra power makes a lot of difference.
FiiO - KA3
Speaking of power the most powerful DAC in this segment comes from another Chinese brand and one of our favorites FiiO ka3 is very similar to the other two DAC I spoke about from shanling there is some really nice design improvements for example it comes with very nice LED light which indicates what the bit rate and Sample rate of the file you're listening to is so it immediately tells you when you're starting listening to some of the high-res files or a DSD file the light itself gives you that so I really like that I think a DAC should tell you when you're listening to high-res music the 4.4mm balanced output on this is a lot morepowerful so I highly recommend that if you're wanting to get a more power specifically that you would need with headphones the ka3 just like the Shanling ua3 is very very powerful for the price and the one that you should probably go for I really like the fact that FiiO also comes with its own app you'll find that sometimes a lot of dongle DAC could use advantage of an app and the fact that FiiO has one is helpful.
FiiO - BTR7
All right let's assume you want the same level of performance the same DAC chips the same amount of output power but with the added convenience of Bluetooth you're gonna have to upgrade your budget to about 15,000 rupees because at 15,000 rupees you have two phenomenal portable DACs that I really really like the very very popular FiiO BTR7 which is just a phenomenal Bluetooth dongle DAC that you can use you'll find that it pairs along with virtually all your devices using the Bluetooth codecs it has aptX HD, LDAC that 4.4mm balanced output that's super powerful a 3.5mm output that's super clean and using the same DAC chips that you're seeing in some of the dongle DACs at a cheaper price point so they sound very very good but now you can use it on the go everywhere you want and wirelessly along with Bluetooth it supports MQA so you'll find that if you're listening to music on tidal this does a great job decoding that it has a THX amplifier which makes sure that it's really nice and clean and Powerful there's nothing not to like about the btr7 it's easily one of the most popular products of this price segment and for good reason.
Shanling - UP5
Shanling's answer to the btr7 is the Shanling up5 slightly more compact a little bit more user friendly and has a 2.5 and a 4.4mm balanced output so if you're someone who has some iems which have a 2.5 Jack and some headphones which has a 4.4 Jack you'll find that something like the up5 gives you the flexibility of having all the possible outputs that you want 3.5 unbalanced 4.4 or 2.5mm balanced super powerful supports all the formats which are out there comes with very nice leather carry case that you can clip onto your belt and you'll find that it's capable of driving all your headphones and iems effortlessly for 15,000 rupees both of these two Bluetooth portable DACs I have to say give you phenomenal value for money.
iFi Audio - hip-dac2
If you're someone who values the convenience here's another product for 15,000 rupees which I think is just a phenomenal phenomenal DAC but very different from the Shanling and the feel I just spoke about this ladies and gentlemen is the beautiful iFi audio hip DAC aptly name because it looks just like a hip flask but as a DAC you don't get a more powerful and better sounding DAC at this price point now this does not have Bluetooth it's meant to be used along with your smartphone using USB or using a lightning adapter that you'd have to buy separately but unlike a lot of the dongles that we have seen until now this has its own inbuilt battery dongles normally don't have an inbuilt battery it draws power from your smartphone that it uses to power your headphone or your IEM so yes you'll find that it drains your battery life relatively fast and two it's not very powerful because if it's going to add a lot morepower to drain your battery quickly the push comes to shove that because it comes with its own inbuilt battery that you will have to charge separately so yes now you have to charge a separate device but the advantages that it's able to power even full-sized headphones quite effortlessly it's got enough output power that of course all your IEMs are going to sound phenomenal but even full-sized open back headphones most of them at least should sound decent along with the hip DAC 2 it has a 4.4mm balanced output that I've used along with headphones like the HiFiMAN sundara the meze 99 Classics and it sounds quite nice it gives you a lot of power that normal dongle DACs can't it also has two very interesting features the power match which allows you to lower the noise floor so that sensitive iems don't have any kind of a disturbance and two a very popular feature called the xbass button which does exactly what it says adds a little bit more bass to make your headphones sound a little bit more fun so all the iFi DACs hereonwards have that feature so you'll find that's very very popular with people who want to be able to add that little low end.
Moondrop - Moonriver 2
A little bit more money for sixteen and a half thousand rupees you have this DAC which is a relatively new entrant from moondrop this is the Moonriver 2. I see a lot of people who really like listening to the Moondrop IEMs especially between the 20 and 30,000 rupee price point like the blessing 2 it's such a popular IEM it sounds phenomenal and for good reason it's just one of the best iems at the price segment the Moon River 2 is really a companion DAC for people who love their Moondrop iems and want a moondrop back this is the flagship DAC from Moondrop has a 4.4mm balanced output a 3.5 mm unbalanced output looks a little funny but it's very lightweight very portable and comes with a detachable cable so you can pair it along with your smartphone super clean Super analytical sound so even though you're paying 16 and a half thousand rupees.
Cayin - RU6
I still believe you're getting good value for money for it the best portable dacs for under 20,000 rupees now at this segment I've got two very very interesting DACs both of which I really really like the first is the incredible Cayin ru6 this is easily one of the most popular dacs of this price segment and let me tell you a little bit about them Cayin is a really nice Hi-Fi Company from China they make some outstanding products but the fact is that cayin's been able to take that technology and implemented something that's smaller than a thumb drive that's incredible this has an r2r DAC inside it I mean I still have to ask myself how they made that possible but the fact is that because of it the ru6 sounds unlike any other DAC that we have in this segment or close by anything it's got a very vintage organic sound makes it sound very nice and warm but still very detailed it brings out things in the music that you wouldn't normally hear on any other DAC but doesn't sound very clinical doesn't sound very digital in fact just the opposite and for that reason the ru6 is a very very very popular DAC that a lot of people who have balanced armature driver iems really like because it really tonally balances it out it takes a very analytical IEM to balance it out with an r2r DAC and the output is a beautiful listening experience that's unlike anything else the ru6 comes with a whole bunch of buttons comes with a bunch of filters that you can use a 3.5mm unbalanced output and a 4.4mm balanced output that I know lot of people really really like using for that reason the ru6 is probably the most popular dongle DAC for under 20,000 rupees and it's just incredible what you get for the price.
Shanling - UA5
Now the other alternative is from the modern Delta Sigma DAC school of thought and the best that you can get from that point of view is this the Shanling ua5 this is the flagship portable dongle DAC from Shanling they've literally got one at every price point the ua5 is the top of the line This has a really nice battery inside so just like the hip DAC 2 it doesn't drop battery from your mobile phone and it's able to power virtually all the IEMs and some full-size headphones effortlessly it's got a multi-function wheel that I really like playing around with a really tiny display which is really nice but unlike a lot of other devices that have a display and have a multi-function wheel and have an inbuilt battery this is still super super thin and portable something that you can fit in your pocket something you can use with your iems and only for that reason I think that this is amongst the best DAC for under 20,000 rupees that you can get especially if you're someone who doesn't want that vintage old school r2r sound and you want something that complements a warm sounding IEM by adding a lot more detail and power that's the Shanling ua5 guys.
Chord - Mojo 2
Alright guys now we get to some of the more expensive DACs on our list with some of the really nice ones that I personally really really enjoy so I'm going to really talk about these and why I think that they're absolutely phenomenal first up is one of my favorite dacs of all time the chord Electronics Mojo 2. I've been using a Chord Electronics Mojo now for the last six or seven years first the Mojo one and last year I upgraded myself to the Chord Electronics Mojo 2. It's absolutely beautiful it's meant to be used along with your mobile phone something you can use on the go now how Chord Electronics is different from everybody else is that they don't just go out there and buy an off-the-shelf DAC chip from one of the many DAC manufacturers and stick it into their product they actually design and program their own dacs all by themselves using a technology called FPGA.
FPGA dacs are a lot more complicated but all the DACs are programmed by a genius of the industry Mr.Rob Watts who has also applied all of his learnings over the decades making super high-end DACs into the Mojo 2 it's very hard to describe what the Mojo 2 does to sound but it just makes everything sound better to a degree that you cannot get from anything at this price point you'll find that instruments sound more believable more organic music just sounds like it's coming from wider the bass becomes a lot more Tighter and believable the airiness just becomes a lot more exciting that's what the Mojo 2 does and you can probably tell that I really like the way that this sounds now there are not too many bells and whistles it's a very simple device it connects to your phone or laptop via USB it also has a coaxial and an optical input that it can take so you can even use this along with some HiFi setups and it simply has two 3.5mm unbalanced outputs nothing else nothing else and it still sounds fantastic and that's saying something guys so for 44,000 rupees I truly believe the Chord Mojo 2 is still phenomenal value for money even though it's one of the more expensive products on this list I truly believe for less than 50,000 rupees whether you're using full-sized headphones or you're using iems this is probably one of the best products to go for.
Now Chord Electronics also has a very interesting add-on for this which is called the poly the poly is a streamer that quite literally converts your mojo to into a high-res player that you can pair along with any device and use it as a streamer so it gets lossless music you can use it along with roon and it makes it completely wireless the problem is that the poly costs another 40,000 rupees and so it's quite an expensive bargain to take the Mojo 2 and make it Wireless but what it also allows you to do is now make this into a dedicated source that you can even use with your Hi-Fi speakers at home one of the things that I love about the Mojo 2 that I have to mention about before we end this video is that it comes with really nice parametric EQ so you'll find that these buttons allow you to tweak the sound signature up a little bit increase the bass tighten the treble a little bit and even though the changes might seem very very subtle this is probably one of the only DAC that I would actually use the EQ on because it makes it so much more fun to listen to and it allows you to customize the sound to your taste.
iFi Audio - xDSD Gryphon
So just under 50,000 rupees the other product that I have to talk about for sure is the iFi audio xDSD Gryphon this is an absolute Beast offered that using Flagship DACs from Burr Brown you'll find that this also sounds absolutely phenomenal but unlike the Mojo 2 this has all the bells and whistles and features that you could have asked for from any portable DAC it has that one it has Bluetooth supports all the high-res Bluetooth formats like aptx HD LDAC so you're listening music at some of the highest quality even the convenience of bluetooth available it also does wired mode you find that it has multiple inputs and outputs everything from lightning to coaxial that has a balanced 4.4mm output an unbalanced 3.5mm output the X bass the X space feature all of which go into tuning the sound a little bit based on what you like normally something like this would be very very very hard to carry around if you don't you know have a lot of space but you'll find that the xDSD Gryphon makes the size and weight worth its while because it can drive anything you throw at it you'll find that it sounds almost effortless with even full-sized headphones even expensive planar magnetic headphones using the 4.4mm balanced output something like this drives it just fine so I've seen a lot of people using the xDSD Gryphon specifically to use full-sized headphones at home especially they don't want to be sitting on a desk locked into a desktop amplifier the xDSD is one way of doing it and therefore it makes it onto our list for one of the best portable DACs for under 50,000 rupees.
Chord - Hugo 2
Alright guys now to end this video we're going to talk about the best portable DAC that money can buy prices no bar and guess we do a very very interesting product and don't say I didn't warn you this is the Chord Electronics you go to priced at 1 lakh 89,000 rupees oh my God this is absolutely phenomenal the price is going to raise a lot of eyebrows you have to ask yourself why is is this so expensive for a portable DAC that you can use on the go and the answer is because it simply is the best DAC that money can buy that is also portable it's don't get me wrong a desktop grade DAC and a headphone amp in virtually every respect the Chord Electronics Hugo and now the Hugo 2 have been absolute pioneers of the industry nobody will argue with you when you say that this is the best way to be listening to a headphone no matter which headphone you throw at it at any price point it sounds amazing with the Hugo 2.
I have seen people use this along with Flagship headphones like the focals stelia a close back headphone like the Dan clark audio stealth close back headphone even something like an Audeze LCD 5 which is an open back headphone the Hugo 2 makes them all sound absolutely phenomenal if you're someone who's listening to headphones or iems at that level at that price segment some of the finest headphones made you'll find that the Hugo 2 does an effortless job of driving them it uses a DAC chip which you would typically find on desktop DAC like the Hugo TT brought down into a super compact form factor it has two independent batteries that separate out the circuitry for the DAC as well as the power output on this and to add to it you also have analog outputs from RCA ports you have digital inputs with Optical and coaxial along with an unbalanced 3.5 and a 6.35 mm headphone output what that should tell you is that somebody thought that this device is good enough to be used as a desktop DAC along with Hi-Fi stereo speakers and it is the fact that it gives you these analog outputs should tell you that you'll also find that it supports Bluetooth and aptx HD so you can even use this wirelessly if you should want to but if you really want to add to the streaming capabilities of the Hugo 2 and simply use it as a desktop streamer you will have to get yourself something called the 2go from Chord Electronics which will cost you an additional 1 lakh rupees but then makes it a complete streamer as well as a DAC and an amp all in one oh my God that's a mouthful guys but needless to say for the price absolutely worth it all.
Right guys I think I've covered a very large range of portable dacs that you can use and you can pick from different ones depending on the price point that you're looking at a couple of things that you got to keep in mind I think if you're looking for something that's just optimized for sound quality using a dongle dac that connects via lightning or USB-C with your smartphone is the best way of getting high resolution music on the go if you would like to add an element of convenience and portability making sure that it has Bluetooth but supports high-res codecs like aptx HD and LDAC is important some of these dacs do that if you're using it along with full sized headphones then look for a DAC which has its own inbuilt battery like the the Mojo 2 and the Gryphon it makes a lot of difference if the inbuilt battery is there because you're able to give it a little bit more output power without draining your mobile phone and for each of these price points I hope we've been able to help you choose which is the right DAC for you of course you will find that depending on the headphone depending on the IEM depending on the kind of sound signature you're looking for some of these may be better suitable than others but a good sounding DAC always sounds good irrespective of what you pair it with I truly believe that good sounding DACs are the right way of listening to any full-sized headphone or IEM and you'll find that makes a world of differences compared to plugging it straight into your mobile phone or your laptop which is just woefully inadequate in giving you high-res music.
With that signing off and hopefully you found this video helpful please feel free to come by and listen to any of these dacs along with your headphones and IEMs at our experience Studio here in Mumbai if you're in the neighborhood if not we are having headphone connect events happening all across the country this year keep and look out for the event that's happening closest to you and on our IEM bar you will have all of these and more to listen to with your iems and headphones come by say hi and with that I'm signing off.