Accessories for Using DACs With Android Phones (Beginner’s Guide)

What is a DAC?

A DAC, which stands for digital-to-analog converter, is an electronic device that converts digital audio data into an analog signal that can be sent to headphones or speakers (Source: The digital audio data is comprised of 1s and 0s, while the analog signal is a continuous waveform representation of the sound. DACs allow you to listen to digital audio files, like MP3s or streaming music, through traditional audio equipment.

DACs improve audio quality by converting the digital audio data into a smoother, more detailed analog waveform before it reaches your headphones or speakers. The digital data itself can often sound harsh or jagged. A good quality DAC will recreate the analog waveform accurately, providing better sound quality compared to relying just on the basic DAC built into devices like phones or laptops (Source:

The main components of a DAC include a digital input to receive the digital audio data, a digital-to-analog converter chip to transform the 1s and 0s into an analog waveform, filters to smooth the waveform, and analog outputs to send the signal to headphones or speakers. The converter chip and quality of the filters greatly impact the accuracy of the conversion process and final sound quality.

Why Use a DAC with Android Phones?

The built-in DACs in most Android smartphones, while decent, have some limitations that can degrade audio quality and listening enjoyment. An external DAC can provide benefits like:

Smartphone DAC limitations:

  • Limited bit depth and sampling rate – Smartphone DACs may only support 16-bit/44.1kHz audio, while high-res music and external DACs can do 24-bit/192kHz for better dynamic range and resolution.
  • Increased noise and distortion – The noisy environment inside a smartphone can lead to increased noise and distortion compared to an external DAC.
  • Limited headphone amp power – Smartphone headphone amps often can’t provide enough power to properly drive high-impedance audiophile headphones.

DAC benefits for music listening:

  • Cleaner, lower-noise audio output results in better clarity and detail retrieval compared to a smartphone alone, according to sources like SoundGuys.
  • Extended frequency response and dynamic range from high-res audio support can provide a more open, spacious sound.
  • Amplification tailored for high-impedance headphones can improve bass impact, soundstage, and overall musicality.

Examples of improved audio with an external DAC:

  • Lower noise floor allows subtle details and microdynamics to emerge from the mix.
  • Bass gains more slam and authority without getting boomy or bloated.
  • Highs sound airier and crisper without added harshness or sibilance.

Choosing an Android DAC

When selecting a DAC for your Android device, there are a few key specifications and options to consider:

Look for DACs that support hi-res audio formats like 32-bit/384kHz PCM and DSD256. Higher bit depths and sampling rates will provide better sound quality and future-proof your purchase. The DAC chip inside also matters – popular high-end options include ESS Sabre, AKM, and Burr Brown chips (TechRadar).

You’ll also want to decide between a wired or wireless Bluetooth DAC. Wired DACs generally provide lower latency and higher fidelity, while wireless models offer convenience and easy connectivity. Consider your usage – wireless is great for on-the-go use while wired shines when critically listening at home.

There are quality options at every price point. Budget models from companies like Hidizs and iBasso provide great value, while spending more gets you premium build quality, components, and features from makers like Chord, Astell & Kern, and RME. Determine how much you’re willing to spend for aspects like design, power, and app support.

DAC Accessories and Connections

To connect your external DAC to an Android device, you’ll need the right cables and adapters. Here are some of the key accessories to consider:

OTG Cables

Most Android devices require an OTG (On-The-Go) cable to connect a DAC. This allows your phone to act as a USB host. Look for an OTG cable with a USB-C connector on one end and a USB-A female port on the other. Some recommended options are the UGreen USB C OTG Cable, Anker USB C to USB A Cable, and CableCreation USB C OTG Cable.

USB Adapters

If your DAC has a different connector like micro USB, you’ll need an adapter to connect it to your OTG cable’s USB-A port. Look for a USB-A female to micro USB male adapter. The UGreen Micro USB to USB A Adapter is a good option.

Audio Cables

You’ll also need a 3.5mm stereo audio cable to go from your DAC’s headphone jack to your headphones. The cable length and quality can impact audio performance. Some top options are the Anker Premium Audio Cable and FiiO RC-MMCX Premium MMCX Cable.

Setting Up and Connecting a DAC

Connecting your DAC to an Android device requires the right cables, adapters, and setup steps:

First, you’ll need a USB OTG (On-The-Go) adapter cable to connect your DAC to your Android device. This allows your phone to act as a USB host. Make sure to get one that is compatible with your phone’s USB-C or micro USB port.

Next, connect your DAC using the USB cable included with the device. Plug one end into your DAC and the other into the OTG adapter. Then plug the OTG adapter into your phone. Some powered hubs may also be compatible for providing extra power to the DAC.

Once everything is connected, power on your external DAC. On some devices you may need to hold down a power button to turn it on. The DAC should display an indicator light when powered on.

Finally, you need to select the DAC as the audio output on your Android device. Go into your phone’s Settings > Sound and enable the option to use USB audio. You may need to select the name of your specific DAC model. Now audio will be routed from your phone to the external DAC.

Try playing music and adjusting the volume using your DAC’s controls. You should hear the audio clearly through your headphones. If not, check that your DAC is powered on and selected as the audio output in your phone’s Settings.

DAC Apps and Compatibility

There are several recommended audio apps for Android that allow you to take full advantage of an external DAC.

USB Audio Player PRO is one of the most popular and fully featured audio players designed for use with external DACs (USB Audio Player PRO – Apps on Google Play). It supports hi-res audio up to any resolution and sample rate your DAC can handle. You’ll want to dive into the settings to optimize the app for your particular DAC.

Neutron is another excellent app that is engineered to bypass Android audio processing and route audio directly to your external DAC (Name of android that app that uses the DAC connected to …). You can tweak settings like digital filters and gain control.

There are also popular general audio apps like Poweramp and VLC that have compatibility with external DACs. You may need to go into settings and change the audio output to route to your DAC.

In terms of compatibility, most USB DACs should work seamlessly with Android phones that have USB-C connectors. For older Android phones with micro-USB ports, you may need an OTG cable. Always check your phone and DAC manufacturer specs.

Occasionally driver downloads may be required from the DAC manufacturer website if you experience compatibility issues. But this is rare with modern phones and DACs.

DAC Settings and Features

One of the advantages of using an external DAC with your Android phone is the ability to adjust settings like gain for optimal audio output. Many DACs have built-in amplifiers that allow you to increase or decrease gain, helping you achieve the ideal volume and power for your headphones.1

Higher-end DACs may also come with software features like an equalizer (EQ) to customize the frequency response. This gives you more control over the sound signature, letting you tweak the bass, mids, and treble to your preference. Some DAC apps have presets like “Rock” or “Jazz” to optimize the sound for different genres.2

Keep in mind that DAC manufacturers periodically release firmware updates that can improve performance, fix bugs, and add new features. It’s a good idea to keep your DAC updated to the latest firmware for optimal compatibility with your Android phone. Some companies provide apps that notify you of new firmware and walk you through the update process.

Listening and Testing Your DAC

Once you have your DAC set up and connected, it’s time to critically listen and test it to evaluate any improvements in sound quality. Here are some tips for getting the most out of listening and testing your DAC:

Critical listening techniques involve carefully and analytically listening for subtle differences and changes in the audio. Listen for improvements in resolution, imaging, soundstage, dynamics, instrument separation, and any reduction in noise or harshness. Focus on aspects like decay of notes, reverb, and ambience cues. Pay special attention to challenging passages with many instruments playing at once to hear if they are more discernible.[1]

Use well-recorded high resolution audio test tracks to put your DAC through its paces. Test tracks allow you to hear specific elements like soundstaging, imaging, panning, and frequency range. Listen for audible changes compared to listening without the external DAC. Some good tracks to try are the Chesky Ultimate Demonstration Disk, the Philips Golden Ears Challenge, or sample tracks from companies like 2L.[2]

Compare listening with your DAC to unamped listening directly through your smartphone’s built-in DAC and headphone jack or USB-C port. Level match the volumes, then critically switch between setups and listen for any improvements in resolution, imaging, dynamics, separation, harshness, etc. This A/B testing can reveal the impact and benefits of the external DAC.

DAC Troubleshooting

Some common issues when using an external DAC with an Android phone include no sound, distortion, and error messages. Here are some troubleshooting tips for resolving these problems:

If there is no sound when connecting your DAC, first check that the DAC is properly connected to your phone either via USB-C or USB-OTG cable and that the DAC is powered on (if it has a separate power source). Make sure your phone recognizes the DAC by checking your sound or notifications settings. You may need to change the audio output to the external DAC. Also try different music apps as some may not be compatible with external DACs, according to this Android community thread (source).

Distortion or reduced sound quality can occur if the audio sampling rate or bit depth is not supported by your DAC or Android phone. Try adjusting the settings in your music app or look for an app like USB Audio Player Pro that allows advanced audio configurations, as recommended in this Reddit thread (source). Make sure any enhancements like EQ are disabled.

Some DACs may show error messages in the notifications or settings. This could indicate compatibility issues with the DAC chipset, drivers, or Android version. Consult your DAC manufacturer’s website for troubleshooting tips. You may need to try different OTG cables or adapters. As a last resort, check for any firmware or software updates for the DAC and your Android OS.

Future Upgrades and Accessories

Once you get accustomed to using a portable DAC with your Android device, you may want to upgrade to a more advanced setup. Here are some common accessories audiophiles pair with their Android DACs:

Amp Pairings: Adding an external headphone amplifier can provide more power and improve the audio quality compared to just a standalone DAC. Popular portable amps to pair with Android DACs include the Fiio A5 and the Topping NX4 DSD. For desktop use, the Schiit Magni and JDS Labs Atom are top choices.

Higher-End DACs: Once you experience the benefits of an external DAC, you may want to upgrade to a more advanced model with additional features like balanced outputs, native DSD playback, and upgraded D/A converters like the ESS Sabre chips. The Chord Mojo and the iBasso DC04 are well-regarded high-end portable DACs. For desktop use, the Topping D70s and the Gustard X26 Pro are excellent options.

Cables, Cases, etc: To connect your Android device to your DAC, a USB OTG cable is essential. Braided and right-angle cables allow for neat, durable connections. Carrying cases like the Dignis Arkae let you securely transport your DAC setup. Other accessories like external batteries can extend playback time for portable setups.

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