Using Noise Cancelling Headphones With a DAC on Android (How to)

Noise cancelling headphones use built-in technology to actively cancel out ambient noise. This can provide a clearer, more immersive listening experience in noisy environments. DAC stands for digital-to-analog converter – it converts digital audio signals into analog signals that your headphones or speakers can play back. Using noise cancelling headphones together with an external DAC on an Android device allows you to get superior audio quality and noise cancellation compared to using headphones alone.

This guide will provide an overview of how to connect noise cancelling headphones to your Android phone or tablet using a DAC to maximize audio quality and noise cancellation. We’ll cover choosing the right DAC, making the connections, compatible apps and settings, and troubleshooting any issues that arise. The goal is to help Android users fully utilize their high-quality headphones and hear their music the way it was meant to be heard.

What are Noise Cancelling Headphones?

Noise cancelling headphones use active noise cancellation technology to electronically counteract outside noise and provide a quieter listening environment (Source 1). They have built-in microphones that detect ambient noise around you. The headphones then produce their own sound waves that are inverted from the incoming noise waves. This process, called “phase inversion”, cancels out the external noise through destructive interference before it reaches your ears (Source 2).

This is different from passive noise isolation that relies on the physical design and materials of the headphones to simply muffle outside sounds. Active noise cancellation requires power and actually generates anti-noise to actively cancel out external sounds (Source 1). The technology allows noise cancelling headphones to eliminate ambient noise across a broader range of frequencies compared to just passive isolation.

What is a DAC?

A DAC, which stands for digital-to-analog converter, is an electronic device that converts digital audio signals into analog signals that can then be sent to headphones, speakers, or other audio output devices (Source). The primary purpose of a DAC is to bypass a device’s built-in DAC and provide higher quality audio conversion.

Smartphones and other digital audio players have internal DACs that convert audio files into analog signals. However, these built-in DACs are often low quality since they are limited by the device’s size and cost constraints. An external DAC can offer substantially better audio quality by using higher end components designed specifically for audio conversion. This leads to a cleaner analog signal being sent to your headphones or speakers.

By connecting an external DAC to your Android device via USB, Lightning, or wirelessly over Bluetooth, you bypass the smartphone’s internal DAC and take advantage of the superior audio conversion in the external DAC. This results in substantial improvements to audio quality, resolution, dynamic range and overall listening experience compared to using your smartphone’s DAC alone (Source).

Connecting Noise Cancelling Headphones to an Android Phone

There are two main ways to connect noise cancelling headphones to an Android phone – wired and wireless. Here are the steps for each method:

Wired Connection

Many noise cancelling headphones come with a 3.5mm audio cable you can use to connect to your Android phone’s headphone jack. Simply plug one end of the cable into your headphones and the other end into your phone’s headphone port.

If your Android phone does not have a headphone jack, you may need a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter to connect your wired headphones. Plug the adapter into your phone’s USB-C port, then plug your headphones into the adapter.

Using a wired connection will provide lossless audio quality and you won’t need to charge your headphones, but you will be tethered to your phone.

Bluetooth Connection

Most noise cancelling headphones also support Bluetooth so you can connect wirelessly. Here are the steps:

  1. On your Android phone, go to Settings > Bluetooth and turn on Bluetooth.
  2. Press and hold the power button on your headphones to turn them on in pairing mode. The headphones will show up for pairing in your phone’s Bluetooth menu.
  3. Tap on your headphones name in the Bluetooth menu to pair them.

The headphones and phone will connect automatically when Bluetooth is on. The advantage of Bluetooth is freedom of movement, but audio quality may be slightly degraded compared to a wired connection. You’ll also need to recharge your headphones.

For help troubleshooting Bluetooth connections, check out this guide: How to Connect Bluetooth Headphones to Android Phone

Choosing a DAC for Android

When choosing a DAC for your Android device, one of the first decisions is whether you want a wired or wireless DAC. Wired DACs like the iFi xDSD Gryphon ( connect directly to your phone’s USB-C port, while wireless DACs use Bluetooth to connect wirelessly. Here are some factors to consider:

Wired DACs offer a more stable and higher fidelity connection without signal loss or interference. A USB-C connection avoids battery drain and allows the DAC to draw power from the phone. However, wired DACs tether you to your phone limiting mobility.

Wireless DACs like the FiiO BTR5 2021 ( allow greater freedom of movement and convenience. However, Bluetooth audio compression can negatively impact sound quality. Wireless DACs also require charging when not connected to power.Â

When choosing a wired DAC, opt for USB-C connectivity to ensure compatibility with Android phones and allow passthrough charging. Look for support for high resolution audio formats like 32-bit/384 kHz for optimal sound quality. Portable DACs with onboard volume controls and batteries provide the most flexibility.

Connecting a DAC to an Android Device

Connecting a DAC to an Android device requires a USB OTG (On-The-Go) cable. This allows you to connect USB devices like a DAC directly to your Android smartphone or tablet.

Here are the steps to connect a DAC to an Android device:

  1. Connect the DAC to the USB OTG cable. Plug the micro USB end into the DAC and the USB-C or micro USB end into your Android device, depending on which type of port it has.
  2. In your Android settings, go to Developer Options and enable USB audio routing. This allows the audio signal to be sent directly to the DAC.
  3. Some music and audio apps like UAPP (USB Audio Player Pro) have their own USB audio settings you may need to enable as well.
  4. Set the DAC as the default audio output in your Android audio settings.

Once connected and configured properly, audio from music, videos, games and calls will be routed through the external DAC rather than your device’s internal DAC. This should provide higher quality sound. Make sure to set your preferred audio quality settings within music apps as well to take full advantage of the external DAC’s capabilities.


Using Noise Cancelling Headphones with a DAC

When using noise cancelling headphones with an external DAC, it’s important to plug the headphones directly into the DAC rather than your Android device. The DAC will provide a cleaner, amplified signal that takes full advantage of your headphones’ noise cancelling capabilities.

Most noise cancelling headphones have an analog 3.5mm or USB input that can connect directly to the headphone output of your DAC. Be sure to use the appropriate cable for your headphones and DAC.

According to discussions on Head-Fi (1), you’ll want to adjust the noise cancellation and audio settings through your headphones and DAC interface rather than relying solely on your Android device’s built-in settings.

The DAC and amp will give you more granular control over the signal and noise cancellation performance. Look for settings in the DAC app like gain/volume, noise cancellation intensity, and audio effects to customize your listening experience.

DAC Apps and Settings on Android

When using a DAC with an Android device, it’s recommended to use a specialized audio app like USB Audio Player PRO (UAPP) rather than the default Android music player. UAPP bypasses Android audio processing and sends bit-perfect audio to the DAC for the highest quality playback.

In the UAPP settings, enable ‘Bit Perfect’ mode as well as ‘Use with Bluetooth’ to minimize resampling when using Bluetooth headphones (1). Set the audio driver to ‘Hires Audio’ and sample rate to ‘Device Native’ for optimal quality.

You may also need to enable developer settings on your Android device to allow high-resolution audio output. In developer settings, disable audio resampling and set the sample rate to match your music files for bit-perfect output.

Try different USB audio routing apps like USB Audio for Android to configure audio output to the DAC. Some devices may require an OTG adapter cable for the DAC to be detected properly.

Once configured properly with a specialized audio app like UAPP, Android can deliver studio-quality audio through a connected DAC.

Troubleshooting Issues

If you’re having connection, noise cancellation, or sound quality issues when using noise cancelling headphones with a DAC on Android, there are a few troubleshooting steps you can take:

Check that your headphones are fully charged. Noise cancelling headphones rely on battery power, so if the battery is low, noise cancellation and audio quality can suffer. Make sure to fully charge your headphones before troubleshooting further.

Make sure your DAC and phone are properly connected either via USB-C or USB-OTG. Loose connections can cause intermittent sound and connectivity issues.

Toggle noise cancellation off and back on again. Sometimes cycling the noise cancelling feature can help resolve problems.

On your paired Bluetooth device list, forget/unpair and re-pair your headphones. This clears out any problematic settings and resets the connection.

Check for firmware updates for both your DAC and headphones and update if available. Firmware updates often resolve bugs and improve performance.

Try a different music player app if you are experiencing sound quality issues. Some apps may not play well with certain DACs.

As a last resort, reset your headphones and DAC to factory default settings if issues persist across devices, apps, and connections.

Improving the Listening Experience

There are several ways to improve the listening experience when using noise cancelling headphones with a DAC on Android. First, make sure you are using high quality audio files whenever possible. Music files in lossless formats like FLAC or ALAC will provide better sound quality than heavily compressed MP3 files. Streaming services like Tidal offer high fidelity tracks for premium subscribers.

Take advantage of the built-in equalizer in your music apps or system settings to tweak the sound signature. Boosting certain frequencies like bass and treble can make the audio more lively. The approved DAC and headphone apps mentioned earlier often have more advanced EQ options. You can also try Spatial Audio effects like Dolby Atmos which aim to create a surround sound experience.1

Consider accessories like a headphone amplifier to further boost and refine the audio signal before it reaches your headphones. Some external DACs have a built-in headphone amp. High impedance headphones may benefit more from the extra amplification. Upgrading to a balanced cable can also help reduce noise and interference.

Experiment with different settings and combinations to find the optimal listening experience for your particular gear and preferences. Just be careful not to boost any frequencies to the point of distortion or damage your hearing.

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