Setting Up a DAC for Optimal Audio Performance in Android

A digital-to-analog converter (DAC) is a device that converts digital audio signals into analog signals that can then be amplified and played through headphones or speakers. DACs provide higher audio quality and fidelity compared to the built-in DACs found in smartphones, computers, and other devices (1). The main benefits of using an external DAC include improved stereo separation, lower noise, wider dynamic range, and the ability to handle high-resolution audio formats like FLAC and DSD (2).

In this guide, we’ll specifically cover how to set up and configure an external USB DAC for optimal audio performance when using Android smartphones and tablets. We’ll go over DAC compatibility, driver installation, audio output configuration, media app compatibility, system-wide bit settings, EQ, and other tips to get the most out of your external DAC on Android.


Choosing the Right DAC

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

Bit Depth and Sample Rate – Most audio is recorded in 16-bit/44.1kHz, so look for a DAC that supports this as a minimum. However, higher resolution audio like 24-bit/192kHz is becoming more common, so opting for a DAC that can handle hi-res audio will future-proof your purchase.

Output Impedance – This determines compatibility with different headphones. Aim for under 1 ohm output impedance for wide compatibility.

Common DAC Chipsets – ESS, AKM, Cirrus Logic and Burr-Brown are reputable chipset brands found in quality DACs. Each has their own sound signature.

Wired vs. Wireless – Wired DACs offer the best audio quality and connectivity options. However, wireless DACs provide convenience and portability. Lightning and USB-C models have direct digital connections while Bluetooth introduces compression.

Other considerations are form factor, battery life, extra features like EQ and noise reduction, and price. Do research to find the right balance for your needs. Sources like Android Police and HiFiGo have in-depth DAC reviews and selection advice.

DAC Compatibility with Android

DAC compatibility with Android devices depends largely on the Android OS version and OEM enhancements. Early versions of Android had limited USB audio support which caused issues with external DACs. However, USB audio support was significantly improved in Android 5.0 Lollipop, with additional enhancements in later versions.[1]

Here are some of the most compatible Android devices for use with external DACs:

  • Google Pixel series – These phones run clean Android builds and work very well with external DACs.
  • LG V and G series – LG has added robust USB audio support to their flagships.
  • OnePlus phones – OnePlus phones are popular choices for audiophile use.
  • Samsung Galaxy S8 and newer – Samsung improved USB audio in TouchWiz on the S8 and newer devices.

In most cases, Android 6.0 Marshmallow or newer will provide a solid level of USB audio support for external DACs. However, there can still be variances depending on OEM software implementations.

Connecting the DAC

Connecting an external DAC to an Android device requires using the right cables and adapters. Most Android devices support USB OTG (On-The-Go), which allows the phone to act as a USB host for connecting peripherals like a DAC.

You’ll need a USB OTG cable or adapter to connect your DAC to your Android device. The OTG cable has a micro USB connector on one end to plug into your Android device, and a standard USB A connector on the other end for your DAC. Make sure to use an OTG cable designed for connecting peripherals, not just for charging.

If your DAC has a large USB plug or doesn’t fit well into the phone’s micro USB port, you may need a USB OTG hub or adapter. This provides a standard sized USB port to plug your DAC into. Some hubs may also allow you to connect multiple USB devices.

Depending on your DAC, you may need external power to use it with your Android device. The phone may not provide enough power over USB alone. Check if your DAC needs external power connectivity and use an appropriate power adapter if so.

Driver Installation

A key consideration when connecting an external DAC is ensuring the proper drivers are installed so the device is recognized by the Android system. Most manufacturers provide their own drivers that should be used for optimal compatibility and performance. However, Android natively supports the USB Audio Class 2 (UAC2) standard, allowing many devices to work without additional drivers by leveraging the built-in UAC2 driver (Android Source).

When installing a manufacturer’s custom drivers, it is important to follow their instructions closely. Drivers usually need to be installed through a PC connection to the DAC initially before the device can be recognized directly via Android. Troubleshooting steps for driver issues include trying different USB ports/cables, rebooting the device, uninstalling/reinstalling drivers, and checking for firmware updates from the manufacturer. The UAC2 driver can also be tested as a fallback if the custom drivers are not recognizing the DAC.

Configuring Audio Output

Once the DAC is properly connected and drivers are installed, the next step is to configure your Android device to use the external DAC as the default audio output. There are a couple of key things to do here:

First, you need to designate the external DAC as the preferred audio output device. On Android 11 and newer, you can do this by going to Settings > Sound & Vibration > Audio Output and selecting the DAC. On older versions of Android, you may need to enable Developer options and change the audio output within those settings (Business Insider, 2021).

Secondly, you should force close any media apps that may be using the internal audio driver, like Spotify, YouTube, etc. This releases the audio session so that Android routes all audio to the external DAC. Simply swipe the apps away from the recents menu to force close them.

Android supports seamless audio output switching, so once you have the DAC set as the default output, the system will automatically route audio accordingly. But force closing open media apps helps ensure a clean hand-off to the external audio device (Android Source, 2023).

Media App Compatibility

When using an external DAC with Android, compatibility with media apps like Spotify, Tidal, and others for streaming is important for audio quality. Many popular apps are designed to take advantage of external DACs when available.

According to a Reddit user, Spotify works seamlessly with most external DACs, automatically switching to the external audio output when connected over USB [1]. Tidal also easily connects to external DACs, with settings to choose the audio output [2].

For local music playback, apps like USB Audio Player PRO and Neutron Music Player are optimized to bypass Android’s audio processing and send untouched audio to the external DAC. This avoids double sampling and provides bit-perfect output.

Setting the app to “USB audio” or “external DAC” mode is generally required to take full advantage. But most major apps work seamlessly with external DACs, providing improved audio quality compared to the internal smartphone audio.

System-Wide Bit Settings

Setting the proper bit depth and sample rate system-wide can help the DAC perform at its optimal level. By default, Android OS limits audio output to 16-bit/48kHz, even if the source material and DAC support higher resolutions like 24-bit/192kHz. To unleash the full potential of the DAC, you need to change the system-wide audio settings.

Go to Settings > Developer options and scroll down to the section titled “Audio.” Here you can change the default output sample rate and bits per sample. Set these to match the maximum capabilities of your DAC. For example, if your DAC supports up to 32-bit/384kHz, choose those values. This tells Android OS to allow the highest possible resolution instead of limiting to 16-bit/48kHz.

You may also need to set the specific app settings. Music apps like USB Audio Player PRO have their own audio configuration menus where you can set the bit depth and sample rate. Set these to match the system default you chose in Developer options. Finally, ensure any EQ, audio effects, and DSP are disabled for bit-perfect audio.

According to some users, bypassing Android’s default 16-bit/48kHz limitation can provide audibly better sound quality, assuming your DAC, source files, and headphones can take advantage of the increased resolution (Source).

EQ and DSP

One of the primary benefits of using a dedicated DAC is the ability to precisely tune the sound with higher quality software equalizers. The built-in EQ settings on Android are very limited, but apps like USB Audio Player PRO allow you to adjust the sound in great detail across different frequency ranges to match your preferences and headphones.

You can create highly customized EQ presets for different genres or use existing presets tailored for specific headphones. Advanced features like channel balance, gain control, and parametric EQ bands give you studio-grade tuning capabilities. This level of software EQ can take full advantage of your DAC’s audio resolution and tuning it to your preferences.

DACs aimed at audiophiles also include DSP features like upsampling lower resolution audio to better match high resolution capabilities of the DAC. Some models allow you to toggle options like depth 3D soundstaging effects as well. The key is finding a DAC whose software allows you to customize the EQ and enable DSP features that enhance the listening experience for your particular taste.


Setting up an external DAC with an Android device improves audio quality but requires careful setup. Here’s a summary of the key steps:

  • Choose a USB DAC compatible with Android and OTG support
  • Enable developer options and USB audio routing on your Android device (cite1)
  • Connect the DAC to your device using an OTG cable
  • Download USB Audio Player Pro or similar high-quality audio apps (cite2)
  • Enable exclusive mode and bit-perfect output in your music apps
  • Adjust system-wide audio settings like bitrate and sample rate

Consider accessories like a portable USB hub or external battery pack to provide extra power to the DAC (cite3). If you experience connectivity issues, try different OTG cables and USB ports. Restarting the phone and DAC can resolve driver conflicts. Visit forums like HeadFi for troubleshooting help.

With careful setup, an external DAC unlocks audiophile-grade playback, allowing you to get the most from high-res music on your Android device.


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