Smartphones have come a long way and they provide a convenient way to listen to music. However, if you are not satisfied with the sound quality of the phone, it may be time to invest in an external DAC.
When playing a song on the phone, you play a coded digital audio file- It is most simplified to stream one and zero. The thing is, your headphones are not able to turn the stream into analog audio without the aid of a very suitable digital to analog converter (DAC) name.
DAC is built into most devices, and they convert digital signals into headphone-friendly analog signals. That said, not all DACs are created equally, and cheap built-in DACs tend to produce low quality sound. If you can't figure out why your otherwise good cordless headphones sound like garbage when connecting them to your phone, it's most likely the phone's green built-in DAC.
Fortunately, there are many portable external DACs on the market. Some of them are expensive, some of them are affordable, but they are all a significant upgrade from the built-in DAC. Just remember that newer phones without headphone jacks do not work with any DACs. If your phone lacks a jack, you need a model with a micro-USB or USB-C connector.
Best for most people: FiiO A1
Ultra-Portable DAC ($ 28)
If you're looking for a cheap, ultra-portable DAC, check out FiiO A1 . This small device has four built-in EQ modes, responsive volume controls, and a small pocket clip for on-and-on listening. In addition, it has a 13-hour battery life and it can be charged during use. It's a great way to see if you add a DAC to your setup without breaking the bank.
Best for phones with USB-C: NextDrive Spectra USB-C DAC ($ 127)
NextDrive Spectra is a practical High quality alternative to large DACs, it delivers rich sound without looking like you're carrying a power transformer, and it's powered by the phone's USB-C port, so you don't have to worry about charging a battery.  If you want to use NextDrive Spectra with an iPhone, then you need to get the USB-A model and a USB-A for the light adapter. Other models of NextDrive Spectra do not work with the iPhone, even with an adapter. is sold on the form factor, iPhone users should check out the MFI-certified FiiO Q1 Mark II instead of or iPhone-friendly Audio-Technica Wireless DAC.
Best for High Impedance Headphones: FiiO A3 DAC ($ 56)
If you're looking for a premium DAC at a reasonable price, check out FiiO A3. This thing is like the FiiO A1's great cousin. It has a satisfactory volume button, built-in gain and bass control and 16-hour battery life.
This DAC is especially useful for people who use high impedance headphones from 16 to 160 ohms. If your expensive headphones don't seem to be high enough, they are probably high-impedance headphones, and they need extra power to work properly.
Best for Apple users: FiiO Q1 Mark II Native DSD DAC ($ 100)
If you're looking for a premium Apple MFI Certified DAC, You should consider FiiO Q1 Mark II. Everything about this DAC screams high quality. It has a satisfactory volume button, two inputs (one of which is a balanced input for limiting sound disturbances), gain and bass control, and a solid metallic case. In addition, it has an 8-hour battery life.
This device is Apple MFI-Certified, so you can be sure it will play with all Apple devices. And like the FiiO A3, this DAC works well with high impedance headphones, from 16 to 160 ohms.
Best for phones with Micro USB: FiiO E17K ALPEN 2 Micro USB DAC ($ 120)
Are you going for the nerdy futuristic mood? Fiio E17K ALPEN 2 mates a Walkman vibe with the technology of a modern portable DAC. Like other FiiO devices, the ALP 2 crushes a large volume button (which doubles as a menu navigation tool), an 8-hour battery and a premium construction. But it can also be customized to EQ settings, a coaxial digital input, a two-function input port, and of course a monitor.
Before buying the ALP 2, keep in mind that the DAC features only work over Micro-USB connections. If you listen to music through ALPEN 2's standard audio inputs, the device will only work as an amplifier.
Best Wireless Options: Audio-Technica Wireless DAC ($ 97)
DAC is seriously useful, but they are not always practical. If you are not concerned with cables, check out the Audio-Technica Wireless DAC. This device connects to the phone via Bluetooth without sacrificing sound quality. It has a satisfying volume button, built-in EQ features and a pocket clip for that retro mood. In addition, it has an 8-hour battery life, so you shouldn't worry about losing access to high quality audio in the middle of the day.
Unlike some other DACs, Audio-Technica works well with iPhone and high-impedance headphones. This is a great option for iPhone users who do not want to use a USB adapter or for anyone who wants to use impedance range from 15 to 300 ohms.