The Best Portable Headphone Amp With Built-In DAC

The Best Portable Headphone Amp With Built-In DAC

Our pick

AudioQuest DragonFly Red

AudioQuest DragonFly Red

Best for computers

Powerful enough to drive most headphones, the diminutive DragonFly Red works best with computers because it needs to draw power from the connected source.

Buying Options

$200 from Amazon
$200 from Best Buy
$200 from World Wide Stereo

The USB-powered AudioQuest DragonFly Red can comfortably power difficult-to-drive headphones—and sounds great too. Discerning listeners may notice a slightly more three-dimensional soundstage and a touch more precision in the bass notes compared with a computer’s built-in headphone jack. It also doesn’t add any coloration, so instruments sound true to their recorded tones. About the size of a small thumb drive, the DragonFly Red is very portable and, unlike larger battery-powered amps, is easy to leave connected to a computer. It’s compatible with Windows and macOS, although you may need an adapter to link its Type-A USB connector to a newer laptop. However, because it lacks a battery and draws a decent amount of power, we think it’s a poor choice for use with handheld portable devices.

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Our pick

iFi Hip-dac

iFi Hip-dac

Best for mobile devices

This battery-powered DAC/amp can handle tough-to-drive headphones without draining your music device’s battery, but you may need to purchase a separate cable to use it with your mobile device.

Buying Options

$150 from Amazon

The iFi Hip-dac is our pick for use with mobile devices because it can power headphones without draining your portable’s battery, and it’s around half the price of most similarly equipped devices. The Hip-dac can power even the most difficult-to-drive headphones to ample loudness levels, and while it won’t make bad headphones sound good, careful listeners may notice a slight increase in detail and sense of space when used with tougher-to-drive headphones. The battery life is rated for around eight to 12 hours of use. However, because it’s the size of a smartphone, it’s not as easy to leave permanently plugged into a computer as the tiny DragonFly Red—but it is small enough to pop in the front pocket of a messenger bag to take on the go. iPhone users will need to purchase an adapter cable, as will folks with a phone that uses Micro-USB, but there is a USB-A–to–USB-C cable included for Android users.

Also great

FiiO Q5s

FiiO Q5s

If you need more connection options

With Bluetooth and both digital and analog connections, the Q5s is highly versatile and solidly powerful, but it’s more expensive.

Buying Options

$300 from Amazon

With the ability to connect via Micro-USB, optical digital, coaxial digital, or a 3.5 mm analog line input, the FiiO Q5s has the versatility to amplify more than just your laptop or portable device. The addition of Bluetooth gives you a bit more mobility—you can stream from your wireless device to the Q5s and listen through wired headphones (with support for the aptX HD, LDAC, HWA, AAC, and SBC codecs.) Though the Q5s isn’t quite as powerful as the iFi Hip-dac, it sounds equally as good. The battery life will depend on how you use it, with around nine hours of playtime via Bluetooth, 10 hours through the coax connection, and 25 hours if utilized purely as an amp. The myriad of included cables means you can connect most devices right away, though if your music device has USB-C outputs, you’ll need to purchase a USB-A–to–USB-C cable. But all this versatility comes at a notably higher price than our other picks.

Everything we recommend

Our pick

AudioQuest DragonFly Red

AudioQuest DragonFly Red

Best for computers

Powerful enough to drive most headphones, the diminutive DragonFly Red works best with computers because it needs to draw power from the connected source.

Buying Options

$200 from Amazon
$200 from Best Buy
$200 from World Wide Stereo

Our pick

iFi Hip-dac

iFi Hip-dac

Best for mobile devices

This battery-powered DAC/amp can handle tough-to-drive headphones without draining your music device’s battery, but you may need to purchase a separate cable to use it with your mobile device.

Buying Options

$150 from Amazon

Also great

FiiO Q5s

FiiO Q5s

If you need more connection options

With Bluetooth and both digital and analog connections, the Q5s is highly versatile and solidly powerful, but it’s more expensive.

Buying Options

$300 from Amazon

Source: NY Times – Wirecutter

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