Portable DAC vs DAP

Any recommendations for the single BEST portable DAC under $400? I want to prioritise sound quality so I have been looking at stuff like the ifi xDSD. I would connect this DAC to an iPhone with an Apple camera connector. Would it be better to use a DAP like the FiiO M11 at his price point?

Why on earth would you connect with a camera connector to an external DAC. If that works I would be highly surprised. You are better off just connecting to the lightning connector on the iphone and using OTG to connect to the DAC. Just make sure the DAC you get supports Apple OTG.
The xDSD does support it.

For 400 dollars you can’t really make too big a fuckup. Just check the specs and see what options each has and make a decision.

On the DAP side there are a lot of options at 400 dollars. Just remember the more portable you go the more you are losing in the power output aspect and gaining (usually) in other aspects like it being music/audio dedicated, longer play times, dedicated UI etc.

If I had to make some suggestions these would be them:
Monoprice THX AAA portable (tbh this one is better than the ifi xDSD and the FiiO Q5)
Fiio Q5
Xduuo xd05
Oppo Ha-2
Cowon Plenue D2

If I were you I would just go for the Monoprice THX portable.
It has more power than anything else at this price point and probably higher too. It is THX!!
It is clean. Has a shit ton of options. It is the whole package and more.

It’s similar to the dragonfly red if you want to connect USB to an iPhone, your best bet is using the Apple Camera Connector.

And thanks, I was looking at the portable THX
Felix

weird. I would just use a lightning to micro-b/usb mini/usb c (whatever the DAC takes on the unit), since it makes it one cable instead of a cable and converter. But hey whatever works right.
The THX portable should come with one for the lightning connector. So might as well try that too.

Oh and hey I see you have the same speakers I used to have. The diamond 220. I loved them. They got stolen recently along with some other stuff. so yay. Hope you like them as much as I did.

Good luck and i hope you are happy with whatever choice you go with.

1 Like

damn, that sucks, and yeah they’re nice budget little things.
I’ve got a line up of 2 or 3 DAPs and another few portable DAC/AMPs that I’m looking at, and I’m completely stuck.
Have you got recommendations between stuff like the ifi xDSD, Monoprice THX AAA Portable, FiiO M11, Dragonfly Red, or anything else?
I’m still not sure whether or not I should go DAP route or DAC/AMP, and I’m tearing my hair out.
Thanks
Felix

Between those options I would go with the THX AAA personally. It suits MY portable needs the best.
The only reason I would pick the xDSD over it is if I had an ifi ecosystem that I could benefit from.
The Fiio M11 is nice, but there are better DAP options out there for less in my opinion.

If you are struggling to choose between a portable DAC/amp and a DAP. Then you need to figure out your majority use case. Because the utility of say a THX AAA portable is very different from the Fiio M11 as a DAP.

The THX AAA for example is also good in a desk situation where you are connecting to a PC because you can feed it music from your computer and have a lot of power at the same time.
The biggest downside to the THX is the UI. Because it is very basic with the UI, you can’t interact as easily.

On the other hand the M11 is far more portable because it is a single piece of hardware and you connect your headphones or IEM’s directly to it and that is that. No need to worry about a phone battery ontop of the dac amp battery.
But with that smaller footprint you lose things. You lose output power mainly and a lot of it. 195mw at 32 ohm vs 340 mw at 32 ohm on the THX.
The M11 also has to deal with being android. So if you are an apple person that might be a problem for you. TBH on the DAP side I prefer ones with a dedicated UI and OS just designed for music without bloat.

So just think about what you would do every day with whatever you would buy and what features you would need or make you happy. Then pick the device that suits those needs.

Only you know what your needs are. So figure that out first and then you can probably figure out what you want.
Things to think about:
what headphones will you be using and how much power do they need.
will you use it on a desk.
do you dislike the idea of having something extra attached to your phone whenever you want to play music
how important is size in your pocket during portable times
etc. Go through features you see on hardware you were considering and figure out if those are features you need.

If you let me know those types of things I am sure we can help you find exactly what you need.

Alternately if you are in the US and don’t mind abusing Amazon a bit. You could probably do a try and return. If you can find the THX AAA portable on Amazon. I can’t remember if it is there.

2 Likes

I’m sure I can abuse UK Amazon as well aha. Thanks for such an in-depth answer by the way!
I reckon I am gonna go with the THX, because I walk an hour and a half - two hours a day and might sometimes connect to a Mac, but I usually use my NAD C350 for that. It all depends on how it sounds. I would pretty much exclusively use it with IEMs, stuff like the Shure se425 and the Fearless Audio s8f (when I FINALLY get them that is).

Lol you probably can.

If you are outside I wouldn’t be too concerned about sound quality or at least not as concerned. The noises from around you will thoroughly mess with SQ, as well as the sound of your movement.
Well i wouldn’t be concerned enough to spend 400 dollars. Personally I would buy a Colorfly C10 or maybe a Shangling M0. Something 150 dollars or so. If I was doing strictly portable and that is all I would ever use that device for. But I think you will get a lot more utility from the THX due to your requirements.

I personally would not use low impedance earphones or headphones on a desktop speaker amp like that. Typically they just chop the power from the speaker amp down to something headphones can handle, but at the same time it brings the output impedance up. Typically you will hear crackling and popping on sensitive IEM’s or headphones sitting in the background of your music.

Quickest way to test would be to play a zero sound piece of audio or with something extremely soft.

You might just end up using the THX portable as a desktop headphone/IEM amp as well. Guarantee it will sound better or at least be a lot cleaner.
You could also feed line out from the THX into the NAD. That would work too and be a good option depending on the DAC you currently feed to the NAD.

Hope you enjoy the Fearless S8f
Have you had a look at the new TinHifi P1’s? Seeing as you seem like an IEM person.

Yeah, I’ve checked out the P1’s. I’m not particularly keen on Planar IEMs at the moment, but I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to test them. Thanks for your help, by the way, I’m pretty much set on the THX AAA portable now.
My set up is very messy I know, a complete mismatch of kinda shite gear, that’s why I need to upgrade. I know that sound quality will be worse outside, but I’m looking for more of an endgame IEM setup, endgame desktop speaker setup and an over-ear setup, so if I spend a decent amount now, hopefully, I won’t have to break the bank for a few years :slight_smile:. THX AAA looks the way to go
Felix

Your setup isn’t so bad on the speaker and amp side. Nothing really wrong with the Nad C350.
Are there better speaker amps? sure. Does it matter so much? not really so much.
Your speakers are nothing to scoff at either. Sure they aren’t 500-700 dollars a pair. but they sure as hell hold up.
The only mismatch is the IEM powered by a speaker amp. That’s a bit rough. The THX will fix that.

The Tin P1’s have a very different sound signature to both of your current IEM’s (although I think you might stop listening to the Shure’s when you get the Fearless S8f). So if you are an IEM person they might be nice to have for it’s flat response and speed that a planar gives.
But probably wait and see if you are officially end game with the Fearless. If you are you can probably ignore them.

Glad to help and hope you enjoy your music because that’s all it’s really about at the end of the day.

True, it’s all about the music. Didn’t think when I bought the se425s, wayyy too boring for me. I’m looking for my music to be encompassing and engaging, and the s8f will give me that.

Felix

Not to hi-jack this tread, but I did just join the drop for the P1 and have been trying to figure out which way to go for portable dac/amp setup since the P1 are going to need it. Is there a way to make the THX bluetooth? I know the Q5 can have a module added to it that makes it bluetooth, but like you said, I thought the THX would be the cleaner option.

The most normal option would be to use a bluetooth receiver and line out from it to the THX. But then you are ignoring the dac inside the THX which would suck somewhat.

The best option and I can think of would be a bluetooth receiver that has fiber optic out.
There are desk units that require external power that can do this. I am not sure if there are any portable battery powered devices that do this.

The Q5 might be a good option in this case, although you don’t need to add a module. As far as I know the bluetooth is built into the main unit. To me the modules, which are just different amps, are basically a novelty. You get the base module which includes balanced and single ended and that one weird connector for special players. All the other ones are somewhat pointless or have very little utility.

Alternately there are some good DAP’s out there too that have bluetooth.
You might get better sound by just using a good DAP with bluetooth instead of relying on a “cheap” bluetooth receiver with line out to the THX.

But if you can find a bluetooth receiver with fiber out or maybe OTG out, then you are fine.

Take a look at the ifi xDSD

The only way to wire connect an iOS device to an external DAC is though the camera connection kit! Nothing else.

Having said that if there is need for Bluetooth/amp/dac the xDSD is a great choice! Yes it’s more bulky than a single device but way more versatile than a DAP! You have the choice of consuming media in general and not only music! It’s not the strongest amp out there but with the right selection of headphones it can shine!
Another option would be the xCAN if someone wants only wireless (or line) connection. It is a stronger amp than xDSD but lacks the DAC features.
I have no personal experience with the other devices mentioned above so I can not make any comparisons!

1 Like

Thanks, I am definitely going down the portable DAC/AMP route instead of the DAP route, I’ve been looking at the THX AAA monolith from monoprice, as well as the Oriolus BA300S

Felix

You sure about that? there are plenty of portable DAC’s out there that support IOS with a single cable from the standard apple connector converting into usb c, micro usb and mini usb.
To say it doesn’t work would be like saying the lightning connector DAC that apple sells (because fuck you we aren’t giving you a headphone jack), needs a camera connector. That is just silly.

Please don’t forget that some DAP’s (high end and low) have the ability to be connected via USB to a PC to act as an external DAC.
So those you can’t really use that argument on.
Also don’t forget DAP’s that run android. They can also be quite versatile. For example, streaming a movie from it to a TV whether you are at home or on a trip and not willing to take a bunch of hardware.
You plug your headphones/IEM’s into the android DAP, stream your movie to the TV and listen from the DAP. Yes you can make an argument against that saying something like, “well I am going to be carrying a phone anyway so why would I carry essentially another phone”. It is a somewhat niche not so niche use case. For example I carry 2 phones with me at all times. One is a work phone that I can’t have anything personal on. The second is where I take personal calls, keep my handful of mobile games, I have music on it, audio books, youtube etc etc.

Remember everything that has a large market must exist for a reason. DAP’s are a specific subset of audio that provides things that something else can’t. If something else existed in the same portable size and offered the same features, then the market would slowly shift to that thing.
Funnily enough the portable dac amp market it slowly shifting to become more DAP like. Small screens with some information, menu options with eq’s etc. They are getting closer and closer to being DAP’s. The next step would literally be incorporating a way to add storage and a way to navigate the local storage and play it. So really not that far off.

Please don’t knock a market segment if you personally don’t require it or you don’t understand why it exists.

3 Likes

That would be something for me I guess - Monoprice THX AAA portable with a card slot and very simple DAP functionality :slight_smile:

I’m actually looking for something better to replace my good old Sandisk Sansa Clip+ with FiiO E11 - yesterday I got the Tin T2, my first IEM, and looking for being portable again. And I think I’d rather like to have only one device with as simple navigation as possible (got my Clip+ Rockbox-ed so am used to a very simple setup), maybe with balanced out if I’d decide for upgrading the T2’s at some point…

If the monoprice thx aaa portable was released right now with an sd card slot and as basic as it get’s ui for playing music, then I would snap one up in a heartbeat. Realistically if they added another 50 dollars to the unit they could probably do it and have a decent screen too. Might have to get a touch thicker though.

If you want to go fairly cheap but have pretty good power (it’s somewhere around the 100-120mw range. Maybe more it has been a while since I had one.), a good dac, decent battery life etc. But want to keep it as minimal as possible. Give the Zishan Z3 Pro a go. Should be about 42-45 dollars shipped. Can handle up to DSD 256 and 64 bit 192Khz depending on the format.
It has a AK 4493 DAC.
Line out and obvously headphone out.
Can work as an external DAC amp for your pc via USB.

That is what I would consider my default cheap portable reference and is as simple as it gets really. The only thing simpler would be an ipod shuffle I guess.

If you want balanced then you need to kick up in cost a bit. Cheapest portable balanced DAP…Probably going to fall to Zishan again. They have the Zishan DSD which ups the power output significantly, improves the dac to a AK4497EQ, makes the screen bigger and adds a balanced 2.5mm.
I haven’t personally tried the Zishan DSD but people that have it like it. Getting a portable balanced dac amp at 100 dollars is as good as it gets price wise. I can’t think of anything else that offers that dac and balanced etc for 100 bucks.

Oh and you an op amp roll on both of them if that’s your thing. You aren’t going to get a massive burson op amp in these. But you can do some nice things.

Zishan also seems like it might be the company behind? or a subsidiary of Walnut who has made some portable dac amp dap like things that quite a few people like.

Alternatively if you need more UI and don’t mind losing some power. Then the Ruizu A50. About 46 dollars, 80mw of power, touch screen, small, volume dial click. No connect to pc to act as a dac.
The A50 is nice. But the DAC and amp performance of the Z3 outshines it.

1 Like

Thanks a lot for such detailed answer, I’ll have a look at the Zishan stuff. Currently I’m torn between upgrading my portable rig (unplanned stuff) and upgrading my desktop gear by adding a digital player from Aune so I can get rid of laptop usage when listening to music (planned for a while) :slight_smile: