Pairing DACs With Headphones and Earphones for Android (Beginner’s Guide)

A DAC, or digital-to-analog converter, converts digital audio signals into analog audio that can be played through headphones or earphones. Using an external DAC with wired headphones or earbuds can substantially improve audio quality and listening experience compared to relying solely on a smartphone’s built-in DAC (–The-Essential-Role-of-External-DACs.html). This guide will provide tips on choosing headphones/earphones and selecting the right DAC for optimal audio with Android devices.

We’ll cover key factors like wired vs wireless DACs, setup and connections, enabling USB audio output on Android, using DAC apps, and audio quality improvements. The goal is to help you make informed decisions when shopping for a headphone DAC and getting the most out of it for enhanced music, videos, games, and calls.

Choosing Headphones or Earphones

When selecting headphones or earphones to pair with your Android DAC, you’ll first need to decide between over-ear headphones or in-ear earbuds. Over-ear headphones fully enclose your ears with padding, while earbuds sit inside your ear canal. Over-ear models generally provide better noise isolation and audio quality, but earbuds are more portable and discreet.

You’ll also need to choose between open-back and closed-back headphone designs. Open-back models allow exterior noise in and some audio to leak out, providing a more natural and spacious soundstage. Closed-back headphones block external noise and keep audio private, providing stronger bass response. For use in noisy environments, closed-back is usually preferable.

For connectivity, wireless Bluetooth headphones provide convenience but wired models offer higher fidelity, especially when paired with a quality DAC. Newer Bluetooth codecs like aptX HD and LDAC can now stream high-res audio. However, a wired connection is still recommended for critical listening and maximum resolution.

When selecting wireless earbuds, look for proper codec support, low latency, multipoint pairing, and good battery life. For wired earphones or headphones, focus on sound quality and the proper plug for your DAC, usually a 3.5mm or balanced cable.

Selecting a DAC

When selecting a DAC for use with Android headphones or earbuds, you’ll want to pay attention to a few key specifications:

Resolution – This refers to the bit depth (number of bits of data used to represent each audio sample) and sample rate (number of samples per second) that the DAC supports. For high-quality audio, look for a DAC that supports up to 32-bit depth and sample rates up to 192 kHz or higher.

Power output – This determines how much power the DAC can deliver to drive higher impedance headphones. Look for a headphone amp DAC with an output power of at least 100-200mW into 32 ohms for efficient power delivery.

Headphone amplifier – Many external DACs will include a built-in headphone amp to properly amplify the analog signal for headphones. An integrated headphone amp provides convenience.

Assess specifications like total harmonic distortion, signal-to-noise ratio, crosstalk, etc. to determine audio performance. Lower distortion and noise as well as high channel separation indicate better quality.

Key features like USB connectivity, portable construction, battery life, and controlling volume/equalization from the DAC directly may also be desirable.

Popular high-performance external DAC options include the Chord Mojo 2 and Fiio Q3.

Wired vs Wireless DACs

Choosing between a wired or wireless DAC for your Android device is one of the most important considerations when pairing with headphones or earphones. There are key differences in sound quality and convenience between the two options.

Bluetooth DACs like the Qudelix 5K[1] allow you to connect wirelessly to your Android device which provides flexibility and portability. However, Bluetooth audio suffers from compression during transmission which can reduce sound quality and fidelity compared to a wired connection, even with high quality codecs like aptX or LDAC[2]. Bluetooth data transfer rates max out at around 1000 kbps while wired connections can support lossless audio upwards of 3000 kbps.

On the other hand, wired DACs that connect via USB-C or the headphone jack can provide the highest possible sound quality and avoid compression, assuming your headphones or earphones support lossless audio as well. There is less latency with a direct wired connection. However, you lose the convenience and mobility of wireless and may need to keep your phone near the wired DAC amp.

Overall, if sound quality is your top priority, a wired USB DAC is preferable. But wireless DACs provide greater flexibility and may still offer excellent audio quality depending on your listening gear. Evaluate your needs and audio equipment when choosing between wired and wireless.



DAC Setup and Connections

Connecting an external DAC to your Android device requires a few cables and adapters. You’ll need:

  • A USB OTG cable – this allows you to connect USB devices like a DAC to your Android phone or tablet.
  • Micro USB to USB cable – to connect the DAC to the OTG cable and your Android device.
  • 3.5mm stereo audio cable – for connecting your headphones or earphones to the headphone jack on the DAC.

First, use the OTG cable to connect the DAC to your Android device. Make sure OTG and external USB devices are enabled in your phone’s settings. Then, use the Micro USB to USB cable to connect your DAC to the OTG cable. Finally, plug your headphones or earphones into the headphone jack on the DAC using a 3.5mm audio cable. This bypasses the internal DAC of your phone and routes audio through the external DAC.

Some things to note – make sure to plug in the OTG cable first, before turning on the DAC. You may need to restart your device or DAC app to make it detect properly. Use a powered USB hub if your Android device doesn’t provide enough power over OTG for the DAC.


Enabling USB Audio on Android

To route audio through a USB DAC on Android, you first need to enable USB audio output in your device’s settings. The steps vary slightly depending on your Android version:

On Android 9 Pie and newer:

  • Go to Settings > System > Developer options
  • Enable the “USB Audio” option

On Android 8 Oreo:

  • Go to Settings > System > Developer options
  • Switch “Select USB Configuration” to “Audio Source”

On Android 7 Nougat and older:

  • Plug your USB DAC into your Android device
  • Go to Settings > Developer Options > Select USB Configuration
  • Choose “Audio Source” from the menu

This will set your Android device to route all audio through the connected USB device rather than the built-in headphone jack or speakers. Once enabled, audio played on your Android will output through the DAC.

DAC Apps and Settings

To get the most out of your external DAC with an Android device, you’ll want to use an audio app that bypasses the Android audio pipeline and outputs audio directly to the DAC. One of the most popular apps for this purpose is USB Audio Player PRO, which supports bit-perfect audio output and sample rates up to 32 bit/768 kHz for compatible DACs.

USB Audio Player PRO has specific settings to optimize audio quality when using external DACs, including the ability to disable audio effects, EQs, channelBalance, and other audio processing done by Android. This allows your external DAC to handle audio decoding and processing. You can also adjust buffer sizes in the app to reduce latency and lag between your music files and the audio output.

Other popular audio apps with USB audio support include Neutron Music Player and HiBy Music. However, USB Audio Player PRO remains one of the most recommended options for bit-perfect audio with external DACs on Android.

DAC Audio Quality

Using an external DAC can provide noticeable improvements to audio quality compared to relying solely on a smartphone’s internal DAC. Some key benefits include:

Increased resolution and bit depth – Smartphone DACs are often limited to 16-bit/44.1kHz, while external DACs can support hi-res formats like 24-bit/192kHz for improved dynamic range and detail.

Lower noise floor – External DACs have better signal-to-noise ratios, resulting in blacker backgrounds and less hiss.

Better stereo imaging – Channel separation and stereo imaging are generally superior with dedicated DAC hardware, providing a more spacious soundstage.

Tighter, deeper bass – Smartphone DACs can sometimes struggle with lower frequencies, while external DACs offer fuller, tighter bass.

Smoother treble – Treble quality can benefit from external DACs, with less harshness or sibilance.

Overall fidelity – The combination of higher resolution, lower noise, better imaging, and improved frequency response adds up to a more realistic, faithful sound.

Of course, the degree of improvement depends on the specific DAC and headphones/earphones used. But in general, pairing decent headphones with an external DAC provides audio quality closer to dedicated desktop systems. See this guide for DAC sound quality comparisons.

Other Considerations

When using an external DAC with your Android phone, one issue that can come up is battery drain. The phone will try to continuously power and charge the connected DAC, which can quickly deplete the battery. According to discussions on Reddit and OnePlus forums, this battery drain can be 20-30% per hour when a DAC is connected via USB OTG [1].

There are a few potential solutions to mitigate this battery drain. Some users recommend fully discharging and then fully charging your phone’s battery to try to recalibrate it. You can also try going into your phone’s developer options and toggling settings related to USB power management. However, these solutions do not work reliably on all devices [2].

Beyond battery drain, portability and phone specs are other key considerations for using a DAC with your Android device. Make sure to choose a DAC that is lightweight and compact enough for your needs. Also ensure your phone has sufficient storage space for any required DAC apps, and that it supports USB OTG connectivity.

Recommendations for Headphones, Earphones, and DACs

For those just getting started with using an external DAC for their Android device, here are some top picks to consider:

For headphones, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x is a great choice. This is a wired, closed-back headphone that provides excellent sound quality for the price. They have a balanced sound profile that works well with most music genres.

For earphones, the 1MORE Quad Driver in-ear monitors are highly recommended. With four drivers per earbud, they deliver crisp highs, dynamic mids, and powerful bass in a compact in-ear design.

As for DACs, the FiiO BTR5 is a top pick. This portable DAC and headphone amp connects via USB-C or Bluetooth and supports high-resolution audio up to 32-bit/384 kHz. It’s easy to use and sounds great.

For a budget option, the TempoTec Sonata HD Pro is an excellent choice at under $40. It converts digital audio to analog and improves the sound from your Android device.

These headphone, earphone, and DAC recommendations are great starting points for Android users looking to upgrade their listening experience.

Leave a Reply

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