16-Bit vs 24-Bit DACs for Android: What’s the Difference

A DAC, or digital-to-analog converter, is a device that converts digital audio signals into analog signals that can then be amplified and played through headphones or speakers. Inside smartphones, tablets, computers, and other digital audio devices, the audio data is stored in digital format. This data needs to be converted to an analog signal before it can be turned into soundwaves we can hear. The built-in DAC in a device like a smartphone or laptop will handle this conversion. However, many audio enthusiasts prefer to use an external DAC for higher quality audio playback. These external DACs can offer better components, circuitry, and design than a built-in smartphone DAC, potentially allowing for richer sound and lower noise. This guide examines the differences between 16-bit and 24-bit external DACs for Android devices.

16-Bit DACs

16-bit DACs have a resolution of 65,536 possible values, translating to a theoretical maximum dynamic range of around 96 dB. In 16-bit audio, each sample contains 16 bits of data, allowing it to encode a dynamic range from 0 dBFS (decibels relative to full scale) to 96 dBFS in increments of 0.00156 dB.

Some pros of 16-bit DACs are:

  • More than enough dynamic range for most listening situations
  • Files take up less storage space
  • Easier for devices to process

Some cons are:

  • Less headroom compared to 24-bit
  • More prone to quantization noise and distortion in low-level signals

Common 16-bit DACs found in Android devices include the Qualcomm Aqstic, Samsung Exynos 9611, and Huawei Kirin 810. These integrated mobile DACs power the headphone jacks on many smartphones and tablets.

According to audiophile forums, 16-bit audio offers sufficient resolution for most consumer use cases. The choice between 16-bit and 24-bit matters most for professional audio work or niche audiophile setups (Source).

24-Bit DACs

24-bit DACs have higher resolution and sample rates compared to 16-bit DACs. They can represent audio signals with up to 24 bits of data per sample rather than 16 bits. This allows them to reproduce sounds more accurately, with lower noise and distortion.

Some of the key pros of 24-bit DACs are:

  • Higher dynamic range – up to 144dB compared to 96dB on 16-bit.
  • Lower noise floor, resulting in blacker backgrounds.
  • Better handling of quieter sounds and nuances.
  • No potential for truncation of audio data.

However, some cons are that 24-bit audio requires more storage space and processing power. The benefits are also not always audible, depending on the listening equipment.

Popular 24-bit DAC chips used in Android phones include:

  • ESS Sabre DACs – e.g. 9018, 9028, 9220
  • AKM AK4376, AK4396, AK4497
  • Cirrus Logic CS43198, CS43131
  • Qualcomm Aqstic and Snapdragon audio chips

These DAC chips are found in phones from Samsung, LG, OnePlus, Sony, and other brands seeking high-resolution audio playback.

Key Differences

There are several key differences between 16-bit and 24-bit DACs in terms of sampling rate/frequency, dynamic range, resolution, and file size:

Sampling rate/frequency refers to how many samples per second are taken of an audio signal. 16-bit audio has a typical sampling rate of 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz, while 24-bit audio can support higher sampling rates up to 192 kHz. The higher the sampling rate, the more accurate the digital representation of the analog signal.1

Dynamic range is the difference between the quietest and loudest sounds a DAC can reproduce, measured in decibels (dB). 16-bit audio has a theoretical dynamic range of about 96 dB, while 24-bit audio has a theoretical dynamic range of about 144 dB. This greater dynamic range allows 24-bit DACs to resolve finer gradations of loudness and quietness.

Resolution refers to the number of possible amplitude values per sample. A 16-bit sample has 65,536 possible values, while a 24-bit sample has over 16 million possible values. The greater resolution of 24-bit audio translates to more precise replication of the original analog waveform.

24-bit audio files are also significantly larger than 16-bit files. For example, a 3-minute song in 16-bit audio may be around 5 megabytes, while in 24-bit it could be over 30 megabytes.2

Do You Need 24-Bit?

In most cases, the average listener does not need 24-bit audio quality for playback on their smartphone. Here are some key considerations:

The benefits of 24-bit audio are only noticeable on very high-end audio equipment. Most smartphone users are listening through basic earbuds or Bluetooth speakers, which cannot reproduce the full frequency range that 24-bit offers (1).

24-bit audio files take up significantly more storage space. A 24-bit file can be 2-5 times larger than the 16-bit version of the same song (2). With large music libraries, the extra storage required adds up quickly.

16-bit audio covers the entire range of human hearing already. The extended dynamic range provided by 24-bit is often imperceptible, even to listeners with trained ears using high-end equipment (3).

For most smartphone users looking for improved audio quality, upgrading headphones or speakers will make a much more noticeable difference than switching to 24-bit files. Focusing on the quality of the transducers converting electrical signals to sound waves is usually the better investment (1).

That said, if you have discerning taste, high-fidelity equipment, and storage space to spare, 24-bit audio can provide an enhanced listening experience. But for the average user, 16-bit remains sufficient in most cases.


(1) https://www.soundguys.com/do-you-need-a-dac-13488/

(2) https://www.reddit.com/r/headphones/comments/y6ocw6/how_can_i_enjoy_24bit_flac_files_on_android/

(3) https://www.androidpolice.com/how-to-improve-your-phones-audio-with-a-headphone-adapter-portable-dac/

Finding a DAC

When looking for a DAC for your Android device, there are a few places you can find key specifications to compare:

  • Manufacturer websites – Companies like FiiO, iFi, etc. will have product pages detailing the DAC specs.
  • Reviews – Sites like Android Police and TechRadar often test and compare DAC products.
  • Product listings – Retail sites like Amazon provide DAC specs and customer reviews.

You’ll mainly be looking at external USB DACs versus built-in DACs. External DACs connect to your device via USB-C or lightning and provide their own dedicated audio processing. This allows for higher-end components compared to a DAC built into a phone or headphones.

Key features to compare on external DACs:

  • Bit depth – 16-bit vs 24-bit (or 32-bit on some models)
  • Sample rate – 44.1kHz, 48kHz, etc. support
  • Headphone amp – Power output, impedance range
  • Connectivity – USB-C, lightning, Bluetooth
  • Format support – FLAC, DSD, MQA, etc.

Consider phone compatibility, portable size, battery life, and controls as well when choosing a DAC. Testing the sound quality yourself across different music genres is ideal.

Listening Tests

Blind listening tests have been conducted to determine if average users can hear a difference between 16-bit and 24-bit audio. In one test on Head-Fi.org (1), participants were given two samples of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” one in 16-bit and one in 24-bit. The results showed that listeners were unable to reliably distinguish between the two versions. Many guessed incorrectly which was 16-bit and which was 24-bit.

On Reddit (2), the consensus seems to be that while 24-bit audio technically has a wider dynamic range, in practical terms most average listeners cannot hear an audible difference, especially when listening to music through consumer headphones or speakers. The extra dynamic range provided by 24-bit is often outside the range of human hearing.

While some audiophiles claim to hear subtleties between 16-bit and 24-bit, for most everyday listeners the difference is likely inaudible. Blind testing seems to indicate average users cannot reliably distinguish 16-bit from 24-bit audio.

Other Factors

While the DAC is important, there are other factors that significantly impact sound quality:

Headphones have a large effect on what you hear. High-end audiophile headphones will reveal more detail and clarity compared to cheap earbuds. The headphone driver design and materials impact the sound reproduction across frequencies 1.

Amplifier quality also makes a difference, as a weak amplifier can degrade and distort the audio signal. Matching your headphones properly with a headphone amplifier provides cleaner power and better sound.2

To take advantage of 24-bit audio, the full playback chain needs to support high-resolution formats. Playing back a 24-bit source on equipment that only supports 16-bit will negate any potential benefits.


If you’re looking for a budget-friendly 16-bit DAC, the FiiO BTR3K (https://www.androidpolice.com/best-dacs-for-android/) is a great option at around $55. It has Bluetooth 5.0, delivers clean and accurate sound, and works well with Android and iOS devices. The HELM Audio Bolt DAC (https://www.techradar.com/news/phone-and-communications/mobile-phones/if-iphone-7-ditches-the-audio-jack-these-three-dacs-will-keep-the-music-spinning-1321629) is another good budget pick at $99, with a compact design and solid performance.

For audiophiles who want the best possible sound quality, 24-bit DACs are the way to go. The iFi Hip DAC (https://www.androidpolice.com/best-dacs-for-android/) delivers hi-res audio up to 24-bit/192kHz for around $150. It has plenty of power to drive high-impedance headphones and a fun, musical sound. The FiiO Q3 (https://www.techradar.com/news/phone-and-communications/mobile-phones/if-iphone-7-ditches-the-audio-jack-these-three-dacs-will-keep-the-music-spinning-1321629) is another great hi-res DAC under $350, with a clean and neutral sound.

The bottom line is that 16-bit DACs provide very good audio quality for most people, especially when listening on the go. But if you want the absolute best fidelity, are willing to pay more, and listen primarily at home, a 24-bit DAC is recommended.


In summary, the key differences between 16-bit and 24-bit DACs are:

– 16-bit DACs have a dynamic range of 96dB while 24-bit DACs have a dynamic range of 144dB. This means 24-bit DACs can encode a wider range of volumes.

– 16-bit audio has a resolution of 65,536 possible values per sample, while 24-bit audio has over 16 million possible values per sample. This allows more precise reproduction of the original analog audio waveform.

– 16-bit audio has a theoretical limit of 96dB signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), while 24-bit audio has a theoretical limit of 144dB SNR. This results in lower background noise and greater dynamic range in 24-bit audio.

– 24-bit audio requires 50% more storage space than 16-bit audio at the same sampling rate.

The extra storage requirements and cost of 24-bit audio may only be worthwhile for audio professionals mastering and editing audio, or for high-end audiophile playback systems. For most consumer listening situations such as streaming music, 16-bit audio is likely sufficient.

Ultimately, the audible differences between high-quality 16-bit and 24-bit audio are subtle and hard to notice for most listeners. Focus on choosing a high-performing DAC at your desired price point rather than just bit depth alone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *