Improving Android Audio With a DAC (Beginner’s Guide)

The built-in audio capabilities of Android devices have some limitations that can lead to less than optimal sound quality and fidelity. The internal digital-to-analog converters (DACs) and amplifiers in smartphones and tablets are often basic implementations aimed at keeping costs down. While fine for casual listening, audiophiles and music enthusiasts can find the default audio lacking in depth, clarity and dynamic range.

Fortunately, it’s possible to dramatically improve Android audio quality by adding an external DAC. These affordable devices can bypass the integrated audio components to provide superior stereo separation, reduced noise and access to high-resolution music formats. With minimal setup, adding an external DAC can take your Android listening experience to the next level.

This beginner’s guide will cover everything you need to know to choose and set up a USB DAC to unlock better audio from your Android device. We’ll examine the benefits of an external DAC, wired vs wireless options, setup steps and how it enhances music, movies and other audio applications.

What is a DAC?

A DAC, or digital-to-analog converter, is an electronic device that converts digital audio data into an analog signal that can be sent to headphones, speakers, or other audio equipment (What is a DAC? And why do you need one?, 2022). In simpler terms, it takes music in a digital format like MP3, FLAC, or other audio files on your smartphone and converts it into actual sound waves.

Without a DAC, digital audio data would remain in its raw binary format and could not be played back as listenable audio. All digital audio players have an integrated DAC to convert the files to analog. External DACs offered as accessories generally aim to provide higher quality conversion than the built-in DAC on a device like a smartphone.

Some key functions of a DAC include:

  • Translating binary digital audio data into analog waveforms
  • Converting sampling rates and bit depths into analog signals
  • Applying analog filtering and amplification to optimize the audio output
  • Bypassing the lower quality DAC built into devices to provide superior audio fidelity

In summary, a DAC is the essential bridge between digital audio files and the analog speakers/headphones that turn electrical signals into actual sound waves you can hear (Do you need a DAC?, 2023). Upgrading to a dedicated external DAC can often noticeably improve audio quality compared to relying solely on a smartphone or computer’s integrated DAC.

How a DAC Improves Audio

A DAC, or digital-to-analog converter, is responsible for converting digital audio signals to analog so that they can be amplified and played through headphones or speakers. The primary function of a DAC is to take an audio file or stream that is encoded digitally – such as an MP3, FLAC, or Spotify stream – and convert the 1s and 0s into a continuous analog waveform. This analog waveform is what headphone drivers and speakers physically reproduce as sound waves you can hear.

Without a DAC, digital audio data would just remain encoded on a hard drive or transmitted as a data stream. By converting it into an analog signal, the music can be played back and heard. The tiny DAC chips built into smartphones, computers, and other digital devices already perform basic D-to-A conversion. However, these integrated DACs are often poorly implemented, leading to higher noise, distortion, and loss of audio fidelity compared to dedicated external DACs.

External DACs leverage superior components and circuitry optimized for converting digital signals to the cleanest analog audio possible. This leads to noticeable improvements in sound quality over built-in DACs (See 1). Proper analog conversion ensures clear treble without harshness, smooth midrange, tight bass, and an overall lifelike sound.



Choosing the Right DAC

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

Bit Depth – This refers to the number of bits of information recorded for each sample. While 16-bit is common, higher bit depths like 24-bit or 32-bit can provide improved audio quality and dynamic range. Many newer Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy S22 support high bit depths.

Sample Rate – The sample rate determines how many audio samples are taken per second, measured in kHz. 44.1kHz is standard for music, but higher sample rates like 96kHz allow capturing more detail. Select a DAC that supports the sample rates of your audio files.

Dynamic Range – Expressed in decibels (dB), dynamic range indicates the difference between the quietest and loudest sounds. A higher number means more detail can be reproduced. Look for specs of at least 110dB or higher.

Output Power – Important for driving high impedance headphones, output power is measured in milliwatts (mW). Aim for at least 100mW at 32 ohms for most headphones, more for high impedance models.

Format Support – Make sure the DAC supports the formats of your audio files, especially lossless formats like FLAC, ALAC, etc. if you have a large lossless library.

By evaluating DACs based on these key specs, you can find the right model to take your Android audio to the next level.

Wired vs Wireless

With DACs, you have the option of going with a wired or wireless setup. Both have their pros and cons.

Wired DACs offer the best audio quality by directly connecting to your phone or audio player via USB-C or Lightning cable. They bypass the onboard DAC and amplifier in your device, providing a cleaner signal path. According to users on Reddit, wired still sounds noticeably better than wireless. The drawback is you lose the freedom and convenience of wireless listening.

Wireless DAC/amps like the Fiio BTR5 use Bluetooth to connect wirelessly to your device. While Bluetooth quality has improved substantially, audiophiles report that wired still sounds better. However, wireless provides flexibility and can still deliver excellent audio quality. Latency can also be an issue with wireless. Overall, wireless DACs provide a good middle ground if you need mobility but don’t want to sacrifice too much sound quality.

DAC Setup

Connecting an external DAC to an Android device requires a USB OTG (On-The-Go) cable which allows the Android device to act as a USB host. Most modern Android devices support USB OTG.

To connect the DAC, plug the USB OTG cable into your Android device, connect the other end to your DAC, and turn on the DAC. Make sure your device is unlocked and stay on the home screen when first connecting. Some devices may ask you to allow a USB connection when detected.

Once connected, you can change the audio output in your Android settings to the connected DAC. Just go to Settings > Sounds & vibration > Audio output and select your DAC. Now audio from your device will be routed through the external DAC rather than the built-in one.

For optimal performance, enable ‘USB exclusive mode’ in Developer options which allows the DAC to bypass Android’s audio processing. You may also need to install USB Audio Player Pro or a similar app to unlock high-resolution output.


Software and App Support

There are several audio apps available for Android that are compatible with external DACs and allow you to take full advantage of their capabilities. Some popular options include:

USB Audio Player PRO – This app supports high resolution playback up to 32 bit/768 kHz and direct bit-perfect output to external DACs. It has its own audio engine optimized for audio performance and also includes audio effects like an equalizer, bass boost, and more.

Neutron Music Player – Designed specifically for use with external DACs, this player app supports hi-res formats, bit-perfect playback, gapless playback, audio effects, and customization. It can even upsample lower resolution audio to take advantage of high-res DACs.

To fully utilize the external DAC, the compatible audio apps will need to be configured to route audio output directly to the DAC rather than through the Android device’s built-in audio. Most apps have an option for this in settings. Enabling exclusive audio output is also recommended for bit-perfect unprocessed sound.

Audio Improvements

Using an external DAC can provide noticeable improvements to audio quality compared to relying solely on a phone’s internal DAC. Here’s what to expect:

Improved clarity and detail – With higher bit rates and sampling frequencies, a dedicated DAC can reproduce subtle audio details that get lost through a phone’s lower quality DAC.

Better dynamic range – An external DAC provides greater amplitude between the quietest and loudest sounds, bringing out nuances.

Reduced noise/interference – DACs isolate the analog signal from other phone components that can cause interference or noise.

More powerful headphone amplification – Many external DACs have a built-in headphone amp that drives higher impedance headphones than a phone can handle alone.

Balanced output – Some DACs offer balanced output which can improve stereo separation and give a wider soundstage.

Overall, the cleaner analog signal from an external DAC leads to a more natural, high-fidelity sound compared to relying on the built-in phone DAC alone. The improvements are most noticeable with high quality music files, headphones, and attentive listening.

Other Usage Scenarios

A DAC can be useful for more than just improving the audio quality from your Android device. Here are some other ways a DAC can enhance your listening experience:

Using a DAC with headphones – A quality DAC will help headphones deliver a cleaner, more accurate sound. The DAC processes the digital audio signal and converts it to analog in a high-quality way before sending it to your headphones.

Connecting speakers – Speakers connected to your Android device via a DAC will benefit from the improved analog signal conversion. This leads to better soundstaging, imaging, clarity and detail from the speakers.

Gaming audio – For mobile gaming, a DAC can give you higher quality game audio and improved positional imaging for competitive titles. The audio will sound less processed and more natural.

TV and movie viewing – Connect your Android device to a TV or projector using a DAC rather than the built-in audio. This allows the DAC to handle the audio signal conversion resulting in a more cinematic experience.

Recording audio – A DAC enables you to record cleaner, better quality audio directly from microphones or instruments connected to it. The analog signal conversion is done right at the source.

Bypassing built-in DACs – Using an external DAC allows you to completely bypass lower quality built-in DACs found in most smartphones and tablets. This avoids double conversion of the signal.


In this guide, we learned how an external DAC can significantly improve the audio quality on an Android smartphone or tablet. The built-in DACs on most mobile devices are limited, leading to issues like low volume, distortion, and lack of detail. Adding an external DAC provides a dedicated chip focused solely on digital-to-analog conversion, bypassing the internal DAC entirely.

We discussed key factors in choosing a portable external DAC like connectivity options, power requirements, and headphone amp integration. While wireless DACs provide the most convenience through Bluetooth, wired USB DACs offer the best audio quality by reducing interference and allowing for higher bitrates. Setting up and configuring the DAC drivers and compatible audio apps is straightforward on Android.

With an external DAC, you can expect louder, cleaner, more dynamic sound across various music genres. Instrument separation improves, letting you pick out more details. The audible benefits justify the additional cost for Android users who rely on their device to listen to music and desire a more immersive experience.

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