DACs for Android: Types, Functions, Benefits & More

What is a DAC?

A DAC, or digital-to-analog converter, is a device that converts digital audio signals into an analog signal that can be sent to headphones or speakers (https://www.whathifi.com/advice/dacs-what-is-a-dac-and-do-you-need-one). DACs take digital data, like the 0s and 1s stored in audio files on your phone, and transform it into a continuous analog waveform that replicates the original sound as accurately as possible.

In simple terms, a DAC takes music from your digital devices and turns it into sound you can hear. DACs are required to connect digital devices like smartphones, computers, or portable players to analog audio playback equipment like amplifiers, headphones, and speakers. Without a DAC, the digital audio data would remain in the digital domain and could not be turned into actual sound waves.

High-quality dedicated external DACs offer superior audio performance compared to the basic integrated DACs built into most digital devices. They can provide increased clarity, detail, imaging, and overall fidelity to the original source audio. For audiophiles and music lovers, adding an external DAC introduces a clear upgrade in sound quality from digital devices.

Why Use a DAC with Android?

Using an external DAC (digital-to-analog converter) with your Android device can offer several benefits for audio quality:

Improve audio quality – Bypassing the built-in DAC allows you to tap into the superior audio processing capabilities of high-quality external DACs. This can result in cleaner, more accurate sound.

Bypass built-in DAC – Most Android devices have relatively basic built-in DACs. An external DAC bypasses the internal audio processing, avoiding noise and distortion introduced by other components inside the device.

Built-in DACs are lower quality – Many smartphones and tablets use inexpensive, lower-quality DACs in order to cut costs. External audiophile-grade DACs can offer far superior audio performance.

External DAC offers higher bitrates/sampling – External DACs support high-resolution audio formats, high bit rates (24-bit/32-bit), and high sampling rates (96 kHz/192 kHz) that go well beyond CD quality or built-in DAC capabilities.

As one audio enthusiast put it: “The benefit of using an external DAC on Android devices is the ability to bypass the often cheap, low quality onboard DACs built into the devices in favor of much higher quality outboard DAC implementations.” (Source)

Types of DACs for Android

There are several types of DACs that can be used with Android devices to improve audio quality. Some of the most common types include:


USB DACs connect to Android devices via the USB-C or micro USB port. These allow you to bypass the internal DAC of your phone or tablet and use an external DAC. USB DACs like the FiiO BTR5 2021 offer high resolution audio up to 32-bit/384 kHz PCM and native DSD256 decoding.

Bluetooth DACs

Bluetooth DACs wirelessly connect to your Android device via Bluetooth. They can provide improved audio quality over a basic Bluetooth connection. Examples include the Questyle M12 and iFi GO bar.

DAC Amplifiers

Some external DACs include a built-in amplifier to help drive high impedance headphones. The amplifier provides additional power and volume beyond the DAC itself. The FiiO BTR7 is one example of a DAC amplifier.

Portable vs Desktop DACs

There are portable DACs designed for on-the-go use with Android smartphones and tablets, like the Helm Audio Bolt. Desktop DACs are larger, more powerful units meant for home use. The type you need depends on your usage.


Several excellent USB DACs work well with Android devices to improve audio performance and quality. Some top options include:

The AudioQuest DragonFly is a portable USB DAC known for its convenient size, easy plug-and-play functionality, and ability to deliver cleaner, more powerful sound from Android devices. It supports up to 24-bit/96kHz audio and offers a simple volume control. The DragonFly works seamlessly with Android thanks to its USB-A connector that plugs into a device’s USB-C port via an adapter. According to TechRadar, it’s one of the best portable DACs available.

The Chord Mojo is a high-performance portable DAC capable of hi-res 768kHz PCM and DSD512 audio. Its advanced design delivers neutral, dynamic sound and it has useful features like adjustable color-coded volume buttons. The Mojo connects via Micro USB and works seamlessly with Android phones and tablets, making it easy to experience studio-quality sound on the go. Android Police praises the Mojo 2 as a top DAC on par with more expensive desktop models.

For those on a budget, the FiiO E10K Olympus 2 is a value-packed USB DAC starting under $100. It supports up to 24-bit/96kHz audio with improved signal-to-noise ratio over onboard phone DACs. The E10K offers easy plug-and-play use, independent volume control, and a low-profile design. It’s an affordable way to enhance audio from Android devices.

Top Bluetooth DACs

Bluetooth DACs allow you to stream high-quality audio from your Android device wirelessly. Some of the top Bluetooth DAC options include:

The FiiO BTA30 is an excellent Bluetooth receiver and DAC that supports LDAC codecs for streaming up to 990kbps. It has a portable design with a clip and comes with a USB-C cable for charging and digital connections. The BTA30 provides detailed sound with tight bass and clear mids and highs.

The Shure BT2 is a high-end Bluetooth 5.0 DAC and amp with support for aptX HD, aptX Low Latency, AAC, and SBC. It has an adjustable gain control and delivers clean audio with emphasized mids and smooth treble. The BT2 has up to 8 hours of battery life.

The iFi Zen Blue is a portable Bluetooth DAC and headphone amp with support for aptX and AAC. It produces a balanced sound with tight bass and has a battery life of up to 8 hours. The Zen Blue has separate volume controls for headphone and line out.

DAC Apps for Android

To take full advantage of an external DAC with an Android device, you’ll need a specialized music app that supports USB audio output. Some of the top options include:

USB Audio Player Pro – This app is designed specifically for use with external DACs and high-resolution audio. It supports bit-perfect output up to 32 bit/768 kHz and DSD256. USB Audio Player Pro also includes its own audio engine and parametric EQ.

Neutron Player – Similar to USB Audio Player Pro, Neutron Player is another audiophile-focused music app for Android. It features bit-perfect audio output and supports high sample rates. Neutron includes both graphic and parametric EQ options.

UAPP Driver – This app serves as an audio driver to allow other music apps on your Android device to access the external DAC. The UAPP Driver works alongside streaming apps like Tidal or Spotify to redirect audio output to the external DAC.

By using specialized music apps that bypass Android’s default audio output, you can take full advantage of the improved audio performance of an external DAC.

Configuring Android for External DACs

To take full advantage of an external DAC with your Android device, you’ll need to configure your phone to route audio over USB and enable bit-perfect output. Here are some key steps:

Enable USB audio routing in your phone’s developer options. This allows audio to be sent over the USB port instead of the phone’s internal headphone jack (Source).

Install a compatible USB audio driver like UAPP on your device. This bypasses Android’s audio processing and provides bit-perfect output to your DAC (Source).

Use an OTG (On-The-Go) cable to connect your Android device to the DAC. This allows your phone to act as a USB host for the external DAC (Source).

In your music apps, select the USB audio driver as the output option. This routes audio through your DAC rather than the phone’s headphone jack.

Set your Android music apps for exclusive audio access to achieve bit-perfect output. Turn off any audio processing like EQ in the app.

Your external DAC will now receive the digital audio signal directly from your Android device for the best quality playback.

Sound Quality Considerations

When selecting an external DAC for your Android device, there are several key factors that influence sound quality to consider:

Bitrate and Sampling Rate: The bitrate and sampling rate determine the resolution of the audio signal. A higher bitrate (24-bit vs 16-bit) captures a wider dynamic range, while a higher sampling rate (192 kHz vs 48 kHz) allows for reproduction of higher frequencies. Though the audible differences may be subtle, higher bitrate and sampling can result in a smoother, more detailed sound.

Distortion and Noise: External DACs aim to provide lower distortion and noise than the built-in DAC in your Android device. Lower total harmonic distortion (THD) and noise means clearer audio with less fuzziness or interference. High-end DACs with premium components excel in providing black backgrounds and distortion-free sound.

Frequency Response: A wider, flatter frequency response allows an external DAC to accurately reproduce the full spectrum of sound – from deep bass to crisp highs. Many standalone DACs advertise an extended 20-20,000 Hz frequency range for superb hi-fi performance.

By evaluating technical specifications like these and reading professional reviews, you can choose an external DAC that provides the best audio quality upgrade for your Android device’s particular use case.

Other Features to Look For

Beyond core sound quality, DACs can offer other useful features that enhance the listening experience:

Volume Control

Having volume control on the DAC itself allows you to adjust the level without having to dig into your phone’s settings. This is especially convenient when switching between highly dynamic classical recordings and quiet audiobooks.


Some DACs include onboard equalization, giving you tone control to tweak the sound to your preferences without additional software. This can be helpful for compensating for headphones with skewed frequency responses.

Balanced Output

Balanced outputs utilize separate ground and signal lines for each channel. This can improve channel separation and reduce interference. If your headphones terminate in a 2.5mm, 3.5mm or 4.4mm balanced plug, having a balanced output can provide cleaner sound.

MQA Support

MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) is an advanced audio codec that can deliver high-resolution sound in a compressed file small enough to stream. If you listen to services like Tidal that offer MQA tracks, having a DAC that can fully decode them allows you to take advantage of this technology.

DACs vs Amp/DAC Combos

When shopping for a DAC for your Android device, you may come across combined DAC/amp units. These are devices that contain both a DAC for digital-to-analog conversion as well as a headphone amplifier in one device. There are some key pros and cons to consider when deciding between a separate DAC and amp versus an all-in-one unit.

Some of the benefits of standalone DAC and amp components include:

  • More flexibility to mix and match components to your specific needs and Preferences
  • Can replace/upgrade one component without having to replace both
  • Dedicated components can sometimes offer superior quality

On the other hand, Amp/DAC combos provide:

  • Convenience of a single device
  • Often more portable
  • Streamlined user experience

Some popular portable Amp/DACs for Android include the FiiO BTR5 (https://www.androidpolice.com/best-dacs-for-android/), iFi Hip DAC, and the Chord Mojo. The all-in-one design makes these great options if you prioritize minimalism and portability. However, audiophiles looking for the utmost sound quality may want to use separate DAC and amp components.

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