Headphone Jack DAC vs USB DAC: Which Is Best for Your Android?

A DAC (digital-analog converter) converts digital audio signals into analog signals that can be sent to headphones or speakers. The DAC plays a crucial role in audio playback by converting the digital bits from a file into an analog waveform we can hear.

Android devices like smartphones and tablets have built-in DACs to handle audio output. However, there are also options to use an external DAC which connects via the headphone jack or USB-C port. Headphone jack DACs plug into the 3.5mm audio port, while USB DACs connect to the USB-C port on Android devices. This allows bypassing the internal DAC and using a higher quality external DAC instead.

This article provides an in-depth comparison of headphone jack vs USB DACs for Android devices. We’ll examine the audio quality, compatibility, convenience, cost, power, and use cases to help determine which is the best option for your needs.

Headphone Jack DACs

Most Android devices have built-in headphone jack DACs that convert the digital audio signal to analog for headphones. The quality of built-in headphone jack DACs can vary considerably depending on the hardware components used. Many budget and mid-range Android phones tend to use lower quality DACs, while flagship and high-end models may include better quality audio components. According to a Reddit thread, the headphone jack DAC quality on a Samsung Galaxy S10 maxes out at 24-bit/192kHz, which is decent but not as good as many external DACs [1].

The main limitations of built-in headphone jack DACs are that they rely on the phone’s battery for power, don’t support balanced output, and may pick up interference from other phone components. However, using the headphone jack does avoid draining the phone’s battery faster like external USB DACs can. The convenience of the built-in solution makes it appealing for casual listening.


USB DACs (digital-to-analog converters) can be connected to Android devices via USB-C or USB-OTG ports to bypass the built-in DAC and provide higher-quality audio conversion (Android Documentation). Whereas the integrated DAC in smartphones is limited by size and power constraints, dedicated USB DACs offer audiophile-grade components and advanced audio processing.

By connecting an external USB DAC, the digital audio data is sent directly to the external DAC via the USB port rather than going through the internal audio processing pipeline. This allows the external DAC’s superior components to handle digital-to-analog conversion and analog audio amplification or drive high-impedance headphones. The improved audio quality is especially noticeable when listening with high-end audiophile headphones or speakers.

Most USB DACs are compatible with latest Android versions and many models include native Android support to change sample rates and bit depths on-the-fly without additional apps or drivers. They simply plug-and-play when connected via USB OTG cables or USB-C. With higher dynamic range, lower noise, lower distortion, and better channel separation than integrated smartphone DACs – external USB DACs can take your Android’s audio experience to the next level (Reddit Discussion).

Audio Quality Comparison

When it comes to audio quality, both headphone jack and USB DACs can provide excellent sound reproduction that exceeds the built-in DAC of most smartphones. However, there are some differences that can impact audio fidelity.

In terms of noise levels, USB DACs tend to have a lower noise floor, resulting in less hiss or static, especially with high-sensitivity headphones. The USB connection provides better isolation from electrical interference inside the phone. Headphone jack DACs, on the other hand, can sometimes pick up electrical noise from other components. However, a high-quality shielded headphone jack DAC can still achieve very low noise levels.

For frequency response, or the accuracy across the audible frequency range, both headphone jack and USB DACs are capable of exceeding 20Hz to 20kHz, which is the range of normal human hearing. Premium audiophile DACs aim for an even wider frequency response, but for most listeners, either type of DAC will sound equally good in terms of frequency reproduction.

In terms of distortion, the naturally analog signal path of a headphone jack may have subtler types of distortion compared to the digital processing occurring in a USB DAC. However, advanced DAC chips and data conversion technology have made USB distortion imperceptible. Most listeners would not notice a difference.

Overall, both headphone jack and USB DACs are capable of reproducing audio with exceptional quality, low noise, wide frequency response, and negligible distortion. The audible differences for most listeners, even discerning audiophiles, will be small. Much has to do with the DAC chip technology itself and high-end components rather than just the connection type. For the best audio quality, choose a DAC designed and built specifically for audiophile-grade sound, whether it uses a headphone jack or USB connection.


Headphone jack DACs work with most wired headphones since they connect directly to the phone’s built-in headphone jack. This makes headphone jack DACs universally compatible across any device that has a 3.5mm port.

USB DAC compatibility varies more across Android devices and headphone types. Not all USB-C ports support analog audio output, so you need to check if your specific phone model supports USB DACs. Certain USB DACs may also not work properly with higher impedance headphones that require more power. According to sources, Samsung devices in particular can have issues driving power hungry headphones from a USB DAC. Overall USB DAC compatibility depends on both your Android phone model and your choice of headphones.1


When it comes to convenience, headphone jacks have the advantage of being plug-and-play. Simply plug your wired headphones into the 3.5mm audio jack on your phone, and you’re good to go. There’s no need for additional setup or drivers.

USB DACs require a bit more effort to get going. You’ll need to connect the USB DAC to your phone, install any required drivers or apps, and configure your audio output. However, the initial setup allows you to have more control over the audio experience. For example, you can adjust volume levels, enable EQ presets, set sample rates, and more through apps like USB Audio Player PRO (https://www.extreamsd.com/index.php/products/usb-audio-player-pro).

So while headphone jacks offer seamless plug-and-play functionality, USB DACs give you more customization at the cost of some added setup.


When it comes to cost, headphone jack DACs built into Android devices have a clear advantage – they don’t incur any additional cost beyond the device itself. The DAC is already included in the phone or tablet you purchase.

USB DACs, on the other hand, start at around $100 and can go up significantly from there. An external DAC is an added purchase you’ll need to make to improve audio through the USB port. This additional expenditure may be worthwhile for audiophiles seeking higher-end sound, but it does represent a significantly higher cost overall.

For those simply looking for an inexpensive way to get improved audio from their Android device, a built-in headphone jack DAC that requires no extra purchase is the most budget-friendly option. But if you’re an audio enthusiast willing to pay for premium sound, a USB DAC can be a solid investment that pays off in terms of audio quality, despite the higher initial cost.


Headphone jack DACs draw their power directly from the device’s battery, which can impact battery life. As one Reddit user reports, “It depends. It’s not only about the dongle. The sensitivity and impedance of the headphones, as well as the volume one listens at, all factor into how much battery a headphone jack DAC will use up” (source). So using a headphone jack DAC may drain your Android’s battery faster, depending on your headphones and listening habits.

USB DACs, on the other hand, often have their own external power source and do not tax the device’s battery as much. As discussed on the Audiophile Science Review Forum, “USB DACs with their own power supply will draw little to no power from the host device like a phone or computer” (source). This gives USB DACs an advantage in terms of power efficiency.

Use Cases

When choosing between a headphone jack DAC and a USB DAC, it’s important to consider the use case. For everyday portable listening, a headphone jack DAC often makes the most sense.

Headphone jacks are nearly universally compatible with smartphones, tablets, laptops, and portable music players. The convenience of simply plugging into a headphone jack without any adapters or cables makes headphone jack DACs great for listening on the go [1].

Since headphone jacks don’t require additional power, they work well with portable devices that have limited battery life. The small size of most headphone jack DACs also adds to their portability.

For critical listening or getting the best possible audio quality, a USB DAC is generally the better choice. USB DACs allow for higher bandwidth connections capable of lossless hi-res playback. They also permit much better power delivery for driving high-end audiophile headphones [2].

If you predominantly listen to music at a desk with professional studio headphones, the superior fidelity of a USB DAC makes it the way to go. Just keep in mind that USB DACs require either a power cable or sufficient USB bus power to operate.


In summary, the key differences between headphone jack DACs and USB DACs for Android devices are:

  • Headphone jack DACs plug directly into the phone’s headphone jack, while USB DACs connect via the USB-C or micro USB port.
  • USB DACs generally offer better audio quality and higher bitrates, while headphone jack DACs provide sufficient quality for many users.
  • Headphone jack DACs work with nearly all Android devices, while USB DAC compatibility depends on the specific phone model.
  • Headphone jack DACs are more portable and convenient to use on the go, whereas USB DACs may require an OTG adapter and external power.
  • USB DACs are more expensive on average compared to portable headphone jack DACs.

For most Android users looking to improve their audio quality, a headphone jack DAC is the easiest and most affordable option. These portable DACs plug directly into your phone and can provide a noticeable upgrade over your phone’s built-in DAC and amplifier. Brands like Fiio, iBasso, and Hidizs make well-reviewed portable headphone jack DACs.

For audiophiles seeking the highest possible audio quality, USB DACs have advantages, especially when paired with high-impedance headphones. However, USB DAC compatibility should be checked before purchasing, and an OTG adapter is required. Top options for USB DACs include models from Audioquest, Chord, and iFi.

Ultimately, both headphone jack and USB DACs can enhance your listening experience. Consider your budget, headphones, convenience needs, and Android device compatibility to choose the best option for your personal use case.

Leave a Reply

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