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Best small DAC/amp combo under $400 with volume control/remote & power supply or battery

Vik

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Since there seem to be no or few polls relevant to this topic here, and since I'm more confused now than I was before I had spent many hours/days checking out threads here:

Which DAC/amp combos (edit: I prefer to use a combined and and DAC) are generally agreed upon as being best, under maximum 400USD, if all those who don't have volume control – or a remote control – are excluded?

Ideally (for dongles), I'd really want FastForward/Rewind as well. I thought I would be buying HD-660s in addition to HD650/HD600, but I won't. I'll probably buy a Hifiman Sundara instead. I'm mainly looking for dongles with chargeable batteries or small, one-unit DAC-amps with a power supply.

I've tried to look at a lot of graphs/measurements, only to realize that they document a lot of differences that aren't audible.

The main requirement is that orchestral music – especially string instruments – should sound 'musical and natural', in the sense that they sound as close as possible to how a good orchestra does in a great hall (real life listening, no mics or amps involved).

Since this is not only about DACs, but also about amps: I don't mind at all if the 'bright' frequency range is exaggerated (louder than the otherwise would have been) as long as it only sound louder but not exaggerated/distorted/synthetic/stale/poorly recorded. That's because (as mentioned in another thread) my hearing isn't really good anymore (except in the bass range).

I often find certain sections to be way too loud or have way too low volume, so I constantly adjust volume while listening, and will keep doing that until I've found a way to apply a multiband compressor to everything that comes out of my iPhone 11.

I need to return my Dragonfly Cobalt soon to get a refund, and I simply don't have time to spend the week(s) it would take me to read through hundreds of pages. I may add a poll to this thread later. Thanks for any hints/tips/advice! :)
 
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Jimbob54

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Since there seem to be no or few polls relevant to this topic here, and since I'm more confused now than I was before I had spent many hours/days checking out threads here:

Which DAC/amp combos are generally agreed upon as being best, under maximum 400USD, if all those who don't have volume control are excluded? Ideally (for dongles), I'd really want FastForward/Rewind as well. I thought I would be buing HD-660s in addition to HD650/HD600, but I won't. I'll probably buy a Hifiman Sundara soon. I mainly looking for dongles with chargeable batteries and small DAC-amps with a power supply.

I've tried to look at a lot of graphs/measurements, only to realize that they document a lot of differences that aren't audible.

The main requirement is that orchestral music – especially string instruments – should sound 'musical and natural', in the sense that they sound as close as possible to how a good orchestra does in a great hall (real life listening, no mics or amps involved).

Since this is not only about DACs, but also about amps: I don't mind at all if the 'bright' frequency range is exaggerated (louder than the otherwise would have been) as long as it only sound louder but not exaggerated/distorted/synthetic/stale/poorly recorded. That's because (as mentioned in another thread) my hearing isn't really good anymore (except in the bass range).

I often find certain sections to be way too loud or have way too low volume, so I constantly adjust volume while listening, and will keep doing that until I've found a way to apply a multiband compressor to everything that comes out of my iPhone 11.

I need to return my Dragonfly Cobalt soon to get a refund, and I simply don't have time to spend the week(s) it would take me to read through hundreds of pages. I may add a poll to this thread later. Thanks for any hints/tips/advice! :)
Topping DX3 pro + or Topping EX5

Forget the dac/ amp that is right for your preferred music types, thats not how it works. Of you want to change the sound from your headphone use some software EQ on your phone/ PC or wherever you are sending from the the DAC.

Forget playback controls on the DAC too unless you are talking about something thats used as a Bluetooth receiver. Playback happens on the phone/ PC/ streamer and is controlled there.
 

Adaboy4z

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I've gone through two full size integrated amps and a few small desktop dac/amps. I finally settled on the SMSL D0200 and A0200. I use my phone and laptop for music playback Like Jimbob54 said buy one of the two he suggested or similar and use EQ to get the desired sound.
 
OP
Vik

Vik

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Topping DX3 pro + or Topping EX5

Forget the dac/ amp that is right for your preferred music types, thats not how it works. Of you want to change the sound from your headphone use some software EQ on your phone/ PC or wherever you are sending from the the DAC.

Forget playback controls on the DAC too unless you are talking about something thats used as a Bluetooth receiver. Playback happens on the phone/ PC/ streamer and is controlled there.
Thanks for the tip! I actually want to use this setup on a number of devices: 2-3 Macs + at least two iOs devices, and some of these may have an operating system which is too old to be able to run a master EQ or master AudioUnit host. Therefore, I'd like to have a DAC/amp (preferable in one combined hardware unit) which I can use also on these devices that maybe won't be able to run an EQ or a master channel strip.

I'm using the volume control on the phone now, but I often listen to music in bed before falling a sleep, and it would be better to have the phone at a distance and only the DAC/amp close to me, or even better: a remote control.

I'll check out both the SMSL D0200 and A0200 and the two Topping unites, but I really hope to be able to do this with only one piece of hardware (plus remote control).
 
OP
Vik

Vik

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Here are some of the most interesting/recommended products I've found in this and another, relevant thread so far. Comments are corrections are welcome!

– Topping DX3 pro +
$199

DX3Pro-0112-600x600.jpg


Review: "not only performed superbly, it also vindicated the audio analyzer!"

– Topping EX5
(2019)
Topping EX5 Amplificateur Casque DAC 2x ES9038Q2M Bluetooth 5.0 LDAC 32bit 768kHz DSD512 MQA Argent

$349
Review: "produced exceptionally good performance with bot my Drop Ether CX and Sennheiser HD650"


– SMSL DO200
$499
(above my budget and no shops have it here)

Also: ("the DO200 is damn right good") https://www.headfonia.com/smsl-do200-review/4/

– SMSL AO200
($279, but full sized)
Reviews/comments:

Also: https://hifitrends.com/2021/10/11/s...d-down-integrated-amp-has-jaw-dropping-power/

– Qudelix 5k
Qudelix-5K Reference DAC AMP – Qudelix, Inc.

$110
Has battery and EQ

Review: "The DAC performance of the Qudelix 5K is not very good and indeed would get a failing score if it were compared to desktop products", but also "overall, I am happy to recommend the Qudelix 5K"



– iFI Go Blu
GO blu by iFi audio - The pocket rocket Hi-Res Bluetooth DAC from iFi audio

$199
Has battery
Volume wheel which can pause/ff/rewind tracks
Wired or wireless connectivity
Balanced and unbalanced inputs

Review:
"Pros: light weight, great looking, build quality and support for many different Bluetooth types from SBC to LDAC. Microphone works great for calls too!
Cons: USB connection from source is limited to
24-bit/96kHz , no MQA, a clip would be convenient"


DAC/headphone amp: iFi Go Blu



Also: https://www.headfonia.com/ifi-audio-go-blu-review/5/

– HIDIZS DH80S
$140
MQA Support
Battery

HIDIZS DH80S Portable Balanced DAC & AMP, Supports MQA Audio Technology,  DSD64/128 Portable Audio Decoding Amplifier, 4.4mm/3.5mm Port Output for  Windows 10/Mac OS/iPad OS/Android/iOS System (Black) : Electronics -  Amazon.com


Review: "The DH80S is well built and featured. I like the manual tactical buttons, up down volume control, and flexibility and power of balanced output in addition to unbalanced. Distortion and noise at full output is extremely good for a portable device. The only low point was the noise level at 50 mv output."




– Hidizs S9 USB-C DAC and headphone amplifier
$112

This doesn't have battery or volume control, but a brilliant review:
Amazon.com: HIDIZS S9 PRO Balanced & Single-Ended Mini HiFi DAC & AMP,  768kHz/32Bit, DSD512 Portable Audio Decoding Amplifier for iPhone iPod  Android PC with Windows/Mac OS/iOS/iPad OS System (Black) : Electronics


Review: "The Hidizs S8 was a ground breaking adapter delivering stunning good performance. The S9 takes that performance and adds balanced output to deliver even more power at the same cost as the S8. The result is a tiny device that delivers desktop class performance. You pay more than $9 that throw-away dongles cost but in exchange you get a serious player which delivers great fidelity in wide range of headphones."

YouTube:



– Fiio A5 Portable Headphone Amp Review (amp only):
$130

Fiio A5 Portable Headphone Amplifier Controls Review.jpg


Review (2019):
"The Fiio A5 is a delightful surprise when it comes to both objective measurements and subjective performance. When operated on battery, it rivals the best of the desktop headphone amplifiers. There is plenty of power to drive just about any headphone with very low output impedance. I don't think we have seen this combination before. It runs circles around the venerable O2 headphone amplifier for example.

It is my pleasure to strongly recommend the Fiio A5 if you want a battery operated portable headphone amplifier"

– MEIZU Hifi Pro USB-C
$45

Review: "I must confess that I am not a fan of testing these dongles because they mostly, well, suck. :) Not so with MEIZU Hifi Pro. This is a level of performance that you don't have to apologize for. If I ever get stuck with a phone or tablet that doesn't have a headphone jack, this dongle would be my choice."
 
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