On this page you’ll find the DAC/AMP Combo recommendations of this moment. This is an ever evolving list and the units are ranked from cheap to expensive.
It’s not Fiio’s cheapest unit but it certainly is one of their best portable DAC/AMP starter units. The E17K has a digital volume control and balance, bass & treble can all be modified just like the 0-6-12 gain setting. the E17K delivers a clear and reasonably neutral sound. Gone is the warmer sound of the “older” Fiio gear but you now in return get a more linear sound with moderate bass (for Fiio). The DAC section of the E17K is identical (sounding) to the E10K’s DAC section and we quite liked that one. The E17K is a very versatile entry level unit but don’t expect it to sound like a high end one.
AudioQuest DragonFly RED
Small but great sounding, that’s how you could describe the DragonFly RED in only 4 words. This USB dongle transforms your laptop or phone into a great sounding device and it even has the power to drive some full sized headphones. Yes the BLACK version costs only half but we prefer the RED version. Red gives you better layering from the lows to the highs and it has better depth and layering with even more body compared to the Black. I find the Red version to be a little warmer and more unforced/relaxed sounding than the Black one and that brings a lot more emotion and musicality to the sound. The Red version sounds a lot richer. Never go on a trip without a DragonFly in your pocket!
iFi Nano iDSD Black
iFi has delivered marvelous work with the the BL version of the Nano iDSD. Although I’ve never had a chance to test the original version, I can easily say this is an amazing DAC/AMP for the price. I’m not sure you can ever find better technicalities from a device that costs this little. I’m sure the Micro iDSD BL is also very very good in its own price range. People say this one sounds close to the Micro version and if I ever listen to that one I will edit this review at that time. A superb little device, for those who are looking for a nice DAC/AMP that can give a good amount of power for not extremely hard to drive headphones, and with a competitive price. If you also like to listen to your in ear monitors with these types of devices, I just can’t recommend it enough. It’s flexible, built to last, useful and compact. Most importantly, it sounds flawless for the money. Just go for it.
Burson Audio Play
There’s no way to exaggerate the utility, performance, and overall OCD funness of Play. Burson nailed it. If you need or want power, 299$ will get you power out the wazoo. If you want compatibility with DSD and other hi-res formats, bingo. If you want to eat your cake, too, Play is as reliable and stable an amp/DAC as I’ve ever tested. I’ve started mentioning prices; it’s something I didn’t want to do. It’s easy to get ugly. But gosh, I’ll be damned if Play hasn’t nailed the competition’s coffin shut. Buy it and forget about it. Add some new op-amps if you want. And be secure in your purchase, because it’s a hell of a deal.
It’s impossible not to put the Chord Mojo on this list. Mojo is small & Mojo is very good and a s a result Mojo is a big all over the world. It has two 3.5mm headphone outputs and sports a Micro USB, Optical and Coaxial input. It works with phones, DAPs and computers and it without doubt will upgrade your listening experience. Mojo isn’t cheap but gives a lot in return. Some say it sounds smooth, others say it sounds digital but it does sound good. Its big brother HUGO is better equipped to drive some full sized headphones though. Never the less, this is THE DAC/AMP combo ever since it was released in London.
The Hugo is my personal favorite Chord unit. IT’s detailed, spacious, well layered and it has a great sound stage. ALmost all of my full sized headphones sound gorgeous when hooked up to the Hugo. Like the Mojo it has an optical, (double) USB and coaxial input but it also features BlueTooth. Hugo has two 3.5mm headphone outputs, one 6.3mm output and an RCA phono output. In all seriousness I can really see people buying the Chord Hugo as an end setup. Sure it isn’t cheap but it’s got a desktop quality sound and you’ll be able to listen to it anywhere you want. Even though the HUGO 2 is just out, the original HUGO is still recommended.
Chord HUGO 2
The Original Hugo is still available from some seller so for now both units will be listed here.
The original Hugo was regarded a landmark in portable audio, and I think it’s offspring will follow the footsteps. You get real desktop class sound quality in a transportable package. It sounds really good with all ears and headphones I have used it with, and I am very much looking forward to trying out many more in the future.
If you are in the game for a high end DAC that appears to also be used on the go with your smartphone or DAP, the Hugo 2 is definitely worth serious consideration. The Hugo quickly won me over and has become my main DAC/amp at the office and my desktop DAC at home – it simply is that good. A recommended buy? How the hell could it not?!
Woo Audio WA8 Eclipse
The Woo WA8 is tube powered and it was chosen as best DAC/AMP of 2016 here on Headfonia.com. The WA8 can handle sensitive monitors, high impedance dynamic headphones and current hungry orthodynamics. The WA8 delivers a whole lot of detail and the sound is clear, clean and fast. While it often is the case that the amplifier section in AMP/DAC combos is better than the DAC section, the WA8 actually sounds its best as a combo. Oh and it’s so pretty.
JDS Labs The Element V1.53b
The Element combines a smooth digital stage with a balanced amplifier, which makes this combo unit very intriguing and capable of sounding great with a lot of ear and headphones. The fact that it has a dead-silent background is very well received. It’s hard to find a desktop amplifier in this price range that offers the possibility to be used with efficient in ear monitors and hard to drive over ear headphones. The build quality is outstanding and if you can live with the limited file format support, I suggest you start taking a closer look at this one. Overall, the Element delivers more than enough power to drive any headphone I have at home. For the price it’s going for, I think you will have a tough time finding something similarly great performing.
Project Audio Pre Box S2 Digital
The S2 Digital’s filter system should satisfy everyone but the hardcore valve listener. The S2’s got a solid, and largely load agnostic output system. Everything from its remote control to its input array work brilliantly with 99% of upstream sources. It syphons powers via USB and outputs decent power to most headphones. Its rich tones and encompassing stereo output are nearly in a league of their own in the camp of devices that ride on ESS DACs. It does all this at 349 Euro. In my books, it is a coup. Well done.
If you haven’t found what you’re looking for, do take a look at the category overview:
Portable Sources: https://www.headfonia.com/category/source/portable-source/
Desktop Sources: https://www.headfonia.com/category/source/desktop-source/