Using a DAC With Music Streaming Apps (How to)

With music streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal becoming the primary ways people listen to music, there’s been a renewed interest in improving audio quality on smartphones and tablets. One way audiophiles can take mobile audio to the next level is by using an external digital-to-analog converter (DAC). Connecting an external DAC to your mobile device bypasses the smartphone’s built-in DAC, allowing the external DAC to handle the critical digital-to-analog conversion process. This can provide greater resolution, dynamic range, and overall fidelity compared to relying solely on your device’s headphone jack or built-in DAC.

When paired with high-quality headphones, using an external DAC for mobile streaming can transform the listening experience and let you hear details and nuances like never before. Mobile DACs now allow audiophiles to have a premium listening session anywhere while still enjoying the convenience of streaming services. This guide will cover everything you need to know about using a DAC to enhance music streaming from your smartphone or tablet.

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 or speakers. The conversion from digital to analog allows you to hear the audio.

In simple terms, digital audio files like MP3s and streaming music contain 1s and 0s which represent the music data. But your headphones and speakers cannot directly interpret these 1s and 0s. The DAC acts like a translator, taking the digital data and transforming it into an electrical analog audio signal that your headphones or speakers can play.

DACs are used in CD and DVD players, smartphones, computers, and other devices that need to convert digital files into sounds you can hear. Having a higher quality external DAC can significantly improve the audio quality compared to using lower quality built-in DACs in phones and computers (LinusTechTips).

Why Use an External DAC?

One of the main reasons to use an external DAC with your mobile device is to improve audio quality. The DAC (digital-to-analog converter) is what transforms the digital audio data into an analog signal that can be sent to your headphones. Smartphones and mobile devices have DACs built into them, but they are often low quality in order to save costs. The headphone jack on your phone likely has a mediocre DAC that is prone to noise, distortion, and lack of detail.

By connecting an external high-quality DAC, you bypass the smartphone’s internal DAC completely. This allows the external DAC to take over conversion duties with far superior components that deliver much clearer and more accurate analog audio output. External DACs utilize better chipsets, clocking, power supplies, and amplification stages resulting in noticeably better sound quality. Your music will have greater resolution, dynamic range, stereo imaging, and an overall more realistic and engaging listening experience.

If you care about audio quality from streaming services or downloads, then bypassing the phone’s built-in low-quality DAC with an external audiophile-grade DAC is recommended for the best experience. You’ll be able to get closer to the fidelity the artists intended with improved clarity, detail, and spaciousness.

Choosing a DAC

When selecting a DAC for use with music streaming apps, there are a few key specifications to look for:

Bit Depth and Sample Rate – Higher bit depth (16-bit or 24-bit) and sample rate (96 kHz or 192 kHz) allow for better audio quality and resolution. However, even basic 16-bit/44.1 kHz is sufficient for most listening.

DAC Chip – The chip inside the DAC plays a big role in audio performance. Popular high-quality chips include ESS Sabre, AKM, Burr-Brown, and Cirrus Logic.

Output – Opt for a DAC with stereo RCA, balanced XLR, or 3.5mm headphone jack outputs to connect to your amplification system.

There are plenty of good budget options under $100 like the Qudelix-5K and EPOS GSX 300 that still provide noticeable audio improvements over your smartphone alone.

Key features to look for in an affordable DAC include high-resolution support, headphone amplification, and portability. Prioritize the audio chip, bit rate/depth, and connectivity method when shopping on a budget.

Connecting the DAC

Connecting an external DAC to your iPhone or iPad requires either a Lightning or USB-C port. Most newer iPhones and iPads utilize the Lightning connector, while some of the latest models like the iPad Pro and iPhone 14 Pro have switched to USB-C. There are a few options for connecting a DAC:

Lightning Port:

  • Use Apple’s Lightning to USB Camera Adapter to connect a USB DAC to Lightning iDevices. This provides power and a USB port for the DAC (source).
  • Some DACs like the DragonFly Cobalt have native Lightning connectors to plug directly into the iDevice.

USB-C Port:

  • Connect any USB DAC directly to the USB-C port on compatible iPads and iPhones.
  • Use a USB-C to USB-A adapter to connect DACs with USB-A cables.

MicroUSB is an older standard not supported on new Apple devices. Make sure to verify the input method required by your DAC before purchasing.

Configuring Your App

Once you have your external DAC connected to your phone, you’ll need to configure your streaming app to route audio through the DAC instead of your phone’s internal audio system. Here are the steps for some popular music streaming apps:


  • Open the Spotify app and go to Settings > Audio Quality.
  • Under “Streaming quality” select “Very High” to enable lossless streaming up to 24-bit/192kHz which takes full advantage of high quality DACs (1).
  • Under “Enable audio normalization” toggle this setting off.
  • Under “Output” select your connected external DAC. If you don’t see it listed, select “Storage” to default audio output to the USB storage where your DAC is connected (2).


  • Go to Settings > Streaming > Audio quality and select “HiFi” or “Master”.
  • Under Audio output, select your connected DAC or USB audio device.
  • Toggle off all audio enhancements like loudness normalization and auto volume leveling.

Amazon Music:

  • In Settings > Audio, choose “Best Available” for audio quality.
  • Toggle off any audio enhancements.
  • Under Audio Device, select your connected DAC.

Following these steps will configure each app to bypass your phone’s internal DAC and amp and output high resolution audio directly to your external DAC. Be sure to select the maximum audio quality setting in each app to take full advantage of your high quality DAC.

Recommended DACs

Finding the right DAC to suit your needs and budget can be challenging. Here are some top picks for budget, mid-range, and high-end options:

Budget Picks Under $100

If you’re looking for an entry-level DAC on a tight budget, consider these options:

  • FiiO D3 – Simple, no frills DAC that gets the job done for around $20.
  • FX Audio DAC-X6 – Extremely affordable at $60 with decent audio quality.
  • Creative Sound Blaster Play! 3 – Portable DAC/amp combo for under $100.

Mid-Range $100-$500

Ready to step up in audio quality without breaking the bank? Try these mid-range options:

  • Audioquest DragonFly Black – Great value at $100 for desktop and mobile use.
  • Chord Mojo – Audiophile favorite at $400 with stellar performance.
  • iFi xDSD – Portable, feature-packed DAC for $400.

High-End $500+

For audiophiles seeking the ultimate in sound quality, consider splurging on these high-end DACs:

  • Chord Hugo 2 – Studio-grade DAC with pristine audio for $2,300.
  • Sennheiser HDV 820 – Gorgeous design with balanced output for $2,400.
  • Mytek Manhattan II – Highly versatile with MQA support for $5,000.

Research thoroughly and match the DAC capabilities to your mobile setup for the best experience. It’s worth investing in a quality DAC to get the most out of high-res streaming.

DAC Compatibility

Not all mobile devices support connecting to an external DAC. The compatibility depends on a few factors:

  • Operating System – Most Android devices running Android 8.0 or later support USB digital audio out, allowing connection to an external DAC. iOS support is more limited.
  • USB Port Type – Devices need a USB-C port with USB 3.0 support or Lightning port on iOS. Older micro USB ports do not provide digital audio output.
  • Manufacturer Limitations – Some manufacturers disable or limit digital audio out support. So compatibility can vary even between devices running the same OS version.
  • DAC Drivers – Using USB DACs usually requires installing drivers/apps on the mobile device, so driver availability affects compatibility.

Most flagship Android phones from the last 2-3 years support USB DACs. Popular compatible models include the Samsung Galaxy S20 series, Google Pixel phones, LG G and V series, and OnePlus 7 and up. For iOS, only Lightning equipped iPhones and iPads support external DACs.


Here are some common issues and fixes when using a DAC with your music streaming apps:

DAC Not Detected

If your phone is not detecting the DAC, first make sure the DAC is properly connected via the USB-C or micro USB port. Check that the DAC is turned on and set to the correct input mode. You may need to restart your phone or the app with the DAC connected. Also try different cables, ports, and OTG adapters if available [1].

Audio Not Routing Through DAC

Go into your phone’s Developer Options and disable “USB Audio Routing.” You may need to restart your phone after this change. The app USB Audio Recorder Pro can also help force audio through the external DAC [2].

Issues With Specific Phone Models

Some phones like Google Pixel have known issues with external DAC detection that manufacturers are working to address. Check online forums for workarounds that may help [3].

Future of Mobile Audio

The future of mobile audio technology looks bright as new innovations continue to emerge. Some key trends in this space include:

High-resolution audio – Music services like Tidal are offering songs in lossless, CD-quality formats up to 9216 kbps, providing superior sound quality for audiophiles. Smartphone makers like LG are including advanced DACs and amps to support hi-res playback.

Wireless technology – Bluetooth codecs like aptX HD and LDAC allow for improved wireless audio quality and lower latency. Truly wireless earbuds are also becoming more popular and advanced. 5G networks will enable faster streaming speeds and bandwidth for wireless audio.

Smart assistants and voice control – Voice assistants like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Bixby are being better integrated into audio devices for convenient hands-free control. Expect more natural language processing and personalization in the future.

Immersive audio – Technologies like Dolby Atmos and Sony 360 Reality Audio are bringing more three-dimensional, spatial audio to mobile listening. This creates a surround sound experience and places sounds all around the listener.

AI and personalization – With machine learning, audio devices and services can learn user preferences and patterns to provide customized, tailored recommendations and experiences.

As mobile processors, storage, batteries and networks continue improving, mobile audio fidelity and features will reach new heights. The convenience and quality of the listening experience on phones and earbuds keeps getting better. According to one analysis, the global mobile audio technology market is projected to grow at an annual rate of over 20% from 2021-2027 (Coderus, 2023). Exciting innovations lie ahead as this technology evolves.

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