Use Apple Lightning DACs With USB-C Android Phones: Is It a Good Idea

Lightning DACs (digital-to-analog converters) were originally designed for use with iPhones and iPods to allow connection of high-quality headphones. The Lightning connector allows the DAC to tap into the device’s digital audio signal before it is converted to analog, bypassing the phone’s internal DAC and producing superior audio quality.

With the rise in popularity of USB-C ports on Android phones, some audiophiles have started using Lightning-to-USB-C cables/adapters to connect Lightning DACs to their Android devices. This allows Android users to leverage the excellent audio performance of Lightning DACs like the ones made by Apple, Fiio, and others.

In this article, we’ll examine the feasibility of using Lightning DACs with Android phones. We’ll look at compatibility considerations, benefits for Android users, audio quality comparisons, and top product recommendations. Ultimately, we’ll determine whether going the Lightning DAC route is a good idea for improving audio from USB-C Android devices or if standard USB DACs make for a better choice.

What Are Lightning DACs?

Lightning DACs (digital-to-analog converters) are small devices that connect to the Lightning port on Apple devices like iPhones and iPads to convert the digital audio signal into an analog signal that can then be output through a 3.5mm headphone jack or other analog audio connection. They essentially replace the internal DAC built into Apple mobile devices with a higher quality external DAC in order to provide improved audio performance.

The main benefit Lightning DACs offer is substantially better audio quality compared to the built-in DAC in an iPhone or iPad. By using a dedicated audio chipset optimized for music playback, external DACs are able to provide lower noise, improved stereo separation, wider frequency response, and greater audio detail retrieval. This leads to a cleaner, more accurate sound with better instrumental separation and spatial imaging. The improved analog signal offers wider dynamic range and greatly reduces noise and distortion issues.

Top audiophile-grade DAC chips from companies like ESS, Cirrus Logic, and AKM are commonly found in Lightning DACs from brands like Fiio, Mojo, and others. This allows the DAC to drive high-end headphones with full lossless audio support. So for iPhone users with headphone collections, a Lightning DAC is an essential accessory.

Lightning DAC Compatibility

Lightning DACs are compatible with iPhone models that have a Lightning connector and support iOS 10 or later, including:

  • iPhone 8 and later
  • iPhone 7 and 7 Plus
  • iPhone 6s and 6s Plus
  • iPhone SE (1st and 2nd gen)
  • iPhone 5 and 5c

For a Lightning DAC to work properly with an iOS device, it must be officially MFi (Made for iPhone/iPad/iPod) certified by Apple. This certification process ensures the accessory meets Apple’s standards and will function as expected. Per Apple’s MFi requirements, the DAC must contain a certified chip and firmware that enables communication with the iOS device over the Lightning connector. Unofficial or counterfeit Lightning accessories often lack proper MFi certification and may not work reliably or could potentially damage your device.

When purchasing a Lightning DAC, look for the official MFi logo or confirmation from the manufacturer that the product has been certified by Apple. This will provide assurance that the DAC will seamlessly connect with and function as intended on your compatible iPhone model.1

Using With Android Phones

USB-C to Lightning adapters allow you to connect Lightning DACs to Android phones and other devices with USB-C ports. These adapters have a USB-C connector on one end and a Lightning port on the other. They act as a bridge between the two connector standards, enabling cross-platform compatibility.

When using a Lightning DAC with an Android phone via a USB-C to Lightning adapter, you can expect excellent audio quality. Most quality Lightning DACs support high-resolution formats like Hi-Res Audio and MQA. The digital-to-analog conversion happens within the DAC before the analog signal is sent to your headphones. This provides superior audio performance compared to the built-in DACs in most smartphones.

In terms of compatibility, Lightning DACs work with nearly all modern Android phones with a USB-C port and support for USB Audio Class 2.0. Popular models like the Samsung Galaxy S20 series, OnePlus 8 Pro, Google Pixel 4 XL, and many more are compatible. The DAC will be recognized as an external USB audio device.

Functionality-wise, expect to be able to control basic playback, volume, and access your music apps as normal. The inline controls on the Lightning cable of the DAC can typically be used to pause, play, skip tracks, adjust volume, etc. Make sure the DAC is MFi certified for full compatibility. Audio latency should be imperceptible for most use cases.

Benefits for Android Users

Using a Lightning DAC with an Android phone can provide several benefits, primarily related to improved audio quality.

The main benefit is bypassing the internal DAC (digital-to-analog converter) of the Android phone. As noted here, the built-in DACs on most smartphones are limited, which can negatively impact audio playback. By using an external Lightning DAC, you can take advantage of superior DAC technology and components.

This leads to better overall audio quality, including improved resolution, dynamic range, stereo imaging, and lower noise. External DACs can deliver a cleaner, more accurate sound compared to relying solely on the internal smartphone DAC.

Additionally, premium Lightning DACs can unlock high-resolution and lossless audio playback that may not be supported natively on the Android device. As explained in this Engadget article, quality DACs allow you to get the most out of lossless music formats for an enhanced listening experience.

In summary, the core benefits are superior audio quality, bypassing the limitations of the built-in smartphone DAC, and enabling hi-res playback. This can lead to substantial improvements in sound for discerning Android listeners using high-end headphones or speakers.

Drawbacks and Limitations

Using Lightning DACs with Android phones comes with some drawbacks and limitations to consider:

Firstly, adapters are required to connect the Lightning DAC to a USB-C Android phone. This adds extra cost, bulk, and the potential for connection issues. Lightning to USB-C adapters range from simple passive adapters to more advanced active adapter dongles with a built-in DAC chipset. Passive adapters will not provide enough power for many audiophile Lightning DACs.

There can also be compatibility issues. Some Android phones may not properly support the advanced DAC capabilities and high sample rates offered by Lightning DACs. According to a Reddit user, many Android phones limit Lightning DACs to around 0.5V output rather than the full 1V output they can provide on iOS. This reduces maximum volume and dynamics[1].

Finally, using a Lightning DAC with an Android phone costs extra compared to using a standard USB-C DAC designed for Android. Lightning DACs made for iPhones tend to be more expensive, so adding an adapter and compatibility issues on top of that makes it a potentially cost-prohibitive set-up just to get iOS-quality audio on Android.

Audio Quality Comparison

When it comes to audio quality, Lightning DACs generally provide better performance compared to the built-in DACs on most Android phones. The Lightning port allows the DAC and amplifier to be housed externally from the phone, avoiding interference and allowing for better components to be used.

Tests have shown that popular Lightning DACs like the Apple Camera Adapter achieve lower noise floors and distortion compared to flagship Android phones like the Galaxy S21 (source). The noise floor on the Lightning DAC measures around -117 dB, while the Galaxy S21 hits -108 dB.

However, some high-end Android phones like the LG V60 do have very capable Quad DACs that can compete with or even surpass Lightning DAC performance in some areas like power output. But most average Android phones still can’t match the consistency and quality of external Lightning DACs (source).

Overall, while Lightning DACs generally provide better audio quality than built-in Android DACs, the gap has narrowed with recent flagship Androids. But for average users, Lightning DACs remain a great way to upgrade audio from an iPhone or Android phone.

Top Lightning DAC Recommendations

Here are some top recommended Lightning DACs for using with Android phones:

FiiO Q3

The FiiO Q3 is a portable amp and DAC that connects via Lightning or USB-C. It offers improved audio quality over built-in phone DACs and can drive high impedance headphones. The Q3 features a premium metal design and intuitive controls.

Astell&Kern SR25

The Astell&Kern SR25 is a high-end portable DAC and amp with audiophile components like dual AKM AK4497 DAC chips. It connects via Lightning and has a beautiful aluminum chassis. The SR25 delivers clear, dynamic sound.

Audioquest DragonFly Cobalt

The DragonFly Cobalt is an ultra compact DAC/amp stick that plugs right into a phone’s Lightning port. It uses an ESS 9038Q2M DAC and provides 2.1V of headphone amp power. The Cobalt excels at retrieving detail and expanding the soundstage.

Overall, these Lightning DACs offer convenient mobile use while providing cleaner, more powerful audio than a phone alone can output. Their premium components and amplification lead to an improved listening experience.

The Verdict

Overall, using an Apple Lightning DAC with an Android phone has both advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, Lightning DACs like the Apple dongle provide excellent audio quality at a low price point, often outperforming cheap DACs made specifically for Android. The Apple dongle measures well and is regarded as audiophile grade according to enthusiasts on Reddit.

However, there are some clear drawbacks. You lose charging capability when using the Lightning port, battery life can be a concern for extended listening, and connecting the DAC prevents using other wired accessories. There may also be compatibility issues depending on your Android device. Additionally, volume may be lower when paired with sensitive IEMs.

For Android users who prioritize sound quality and don’t mind the limitations, using a Lightning DAC can be a cost-effective way to upgrade. But for those who value connectivity and convenience, a dedicated USB-C DAC like the ddHiFi TC44A may be preferable. The Apple dongle brings hi-fi sound to Android, but with compromises. Evaluate your priorities to decide if it’s the right accessory for you.

Overall, while using a Lightning DAC with Android is certainly possible, it is hard to recommend for most users given the availability of more seamless options designed for Android. But for audiophiles on a budget, an Apple dongle can be an excellent value.


In summary, using Apple Lightning DACs with Android phones via a USB-C adapter is technically possible but comes with some compromises. The key benefits are access to high-quality Apple DACs like the Dragonfly and improved audio quality over built-in smartphone DACs. However, the setup requires additional components, doesn’t support charging while in use, and bypasses the Android audio system which could impact functionality. Overall, it can work well for Android users who prioritize portable audiophile-level sound quality, but it’s not seamlessly integrated. Consider if the audio boost is worth the tradeoffs.

Lightning DACs are impressive devices that can substantially improve audio quality for Apple device owners. With the right accessories, Android users can tap into these premium DACs too. But the experience isn’t as straightforward as using Lightning DACs with iPhones and iPads. Weigh the pros and cons to decide if utilizing these DACs is the right move for you.

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