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The Best Portable Headphone Amps & DACs

This list has shrunk considerably over the years. Why is that?

by Stuart Charles Black
FiiO BTR3K vs. BTR5

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Hey there friend, and Welcome aboard!!

Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions leading to a beautiful audio experience that will make you fall in love with music (NOT gear) all over again, so…

Before we get into the Best Portable Headphone Amps & DACs, grab some snacks, kick back and relax because…

I’m Here to Help!!

I’m going to list out the DACS I think you should focus on and then give an explanation of why I chose so few towards the end.

I’ll also include my Criteria for choosing as well as mention my main specs to focus on with each recommendation.


Hidizs S9 Pro

Price: Check Amazon! | Check Hidizs! | Official Review: Here!

Hidizs S9 Pro Review

  • Connection(s): USB Type-C.
  • Bluetooth: No.
  • Line Out: Yes. This simply means you can hook it up to separate speakers like the Presonus Eris e3.5.
  • Balanced: Yes, 2.5mm.
  • DSD: Yes, up to 512.
  • Support: 32-bit/768kHz.

Starting things off is a DAC that I’ve come to absolutely adore if only for the simple fact that it’s a much better value than both the DragonFly Red and Cobalt – the former of which I recommended for quite a few years on this blog, and the latter of which I NEVER recommended. 


Because it was overpriced when it came out and is still overpriced now.

The S9 Pro essentially gives you the same 9038Q2M DAC chip found in the Cobalt for 1/3 of the price.

Read that again:

The S9 Pro essentially gives you the same 9038Q2M DAC chip found in the Cobalt for 1/3 of the price. 

And as much as I loved the DragonFly Red, I think it’s overpriced in today’s climate whereas a few years ago, it wasn’t.

The DragonFly Red doesn’t have a balanced jack and that’s typically how I listen nowadays.

You probably will, too.

Remember, we’re always looking for the best value when it comes to DACS.

The S9 Pro is just that – a fantastic value.

It feels very light but happens to be incredibly durable.

If you’re so inclined, it supports up to 32-bit/768kHz and DSD512.

Power Output

  • Single Ended: Up to 100mW+100mW@ 32 Ohm – 3.5mm SE 
  • Balanced: Up to 200mW+200mW@32 Ohm Balanced – 2.5mm


iFi hip-dac

Price: Check Amazon! | Check B&H! | Official Review: Here! | hip-dac 2 Review: Here!

iFi hip-dac 2 Review

  • Connection(s): USB Type-C (charging), USB Type-A (listening).
  • Bluetooth: No.
  • Line Out: Yes.
  • Balanced: Yes, 4.4mm.
  • DSD: Yes, up to 256.
  • Support: 32-bit/384kHz.

There are 5 reasons why I’m recommending the hip-dac:

  1. It has a gain switch and bass boost and some folks absolutely need those things.
  2. iFi products are built incredibly well and I’ve never once had a single issue with any of them.
  3. It’s very portable and you probably won’t mind attaching it to your phone.
  4. It has a balanced 4.4mm option.
  5. It’s priced right, and under no circumstance would I recommend you spend roughly $50 more for the upgraded hip-dac 2.

Just don’t do it. They are the same exact thing.

The build, buttons, and connections, down to the tiny text on the underside. It’s all 100% identical.

In fact, I’m fully convinced iFi colored it orange and called it a day.

Power Output

  • 2.0V/400mW @ 16 Ohm. This is around 135mW, so plenty.



Price: Check Amazon! | Check Apos! | Official Comparison to 3K: Here!

If you’re having issues pairing, press the – and + volume buttons on the side simultaneously until the indicator light stops flashing. Restart it and then try to make the connection again. This essentially clears pairing information and acts as a refresh/reboot – something I’ve done before but completely forgot about. xD

FiiO BTR3K vs. BTR5

  • Connection(s): USB Type-C.
  • Bluetooth: Yes.
  • Line Out: Yes.
  • Balanced: Yes, 2.5mm.
  • DSD: Yes, up to 256.
  • Support: 32-bit/384kHz.

The BTR5 is what you’ll want to consider first for the perfect portable solution.

It’s an incredibly well-built Bluetooth DAC with plenty of power at a perfect price point. 

The 5 Ps.

It also provides a 2.5mm balanced option. There isn’t much more to say.

Let’s take a look at the power numbers:

  • Single Ended: 80mW into 32 Ohms and 90mW into 16 Ohm Single-ended.
  • Balanced: 240mW into both 16 and 32 Ohm.

I’ve never had an issue powering or driving any of the headphones I have here (Balanced or Unbalanced), so don’t overthink it!


With that in mind, what are some good criteria you should look out for when deciding on the best portable headphone amps & DACs?


  • Power Output. It’s important to know how much power is supplied to various Impedance loads. If you have a 300 Ohm headphone like the HD600, you’ll want to make sure to purchase an Amp that outputs enough power into that load. That said, all of the above options supply plenty and I’ve never had an issue with them.
  • Features & Versatility. We’re looking at portable options, but do you need some extra features with your purchase? Things like bass boost, gain, Bluetooth, line-out functionality, etc. Definitely, something to keep in mind.
  • Phone Compatibility. Do you intend to use it with your phone? If so, you’ll want a combo Amp/DAC since there’s only one piece of equipment to worry about. Buying an Amp and DAC separately makes for a much more difficult time. A Bluetooth DAC provides extra convenience, hence why the BTR5 is first on the list.

With that, what does Portable actually mean?

I actually looked up the term out of curiosity.

Portable – Adjective.

  • Able to be easily carried or moved, especially because being of a lighter and smaller version than usual.
  • synonyms: transportable, moveable, mobile, transferable, easily carried, easy to carry.

So what’s my recommendation today?

Recommendation & Final Word

FiiO BTR3K vs. BTR5

If I had to choose one Amp/DAC on this list for portability, it would most certainly be the BTR5.

It perfectly fits the description of what we’re looking for.

It can be used on your desktop or with a phone via wire or Bluetooth, it’s the most portable Amp/DAC on this list, its sound is phenomenal, it’s super easy to use, and it’s priced well.

Interested in my top portable option?


Video Discussion

Don’t forget to leave me some love and subscribe! Also, keep in mind that the article here has updated options while the video is what it is. 🙂

My Reasoning & Philosophy

Even just a few years back, there weren’t nearly as many Amps & DACs as there are today.

In fact,

There are way too many at this point.

I’m almost completely done with them at this point, and I tell you why.

I’ve demoed 60+, and the differences, while generally apparent, are incredibly subtle.

So if you’re reading this, you’re in the right place.

The DACS listed in this article are the only ones you’ll need to consider.

Think of DACS like pencils – there are millions of pencils in the world, but they all serve one purpose and one purpose only: to write sh** on paper.

OK, fine. 2 purposes. To write and erase. Writing is the main one though.

DAC/Amps are very similar in that they also serve 2 main purposes.

  1. They provide a digital-to-analog conversion.
  2. The amp portion amplifies the sound so you can hear it.

That’s it.

Are some pencils better than others? Yeah, probably.

Are some DACS better than others?

That’s highly debatable.

99% of the differences you hear from track to track have everything to do with the way it was recorded, mixed, and mastered, and very little to do with the DAC.

Those are basic sound engineering principles that will never change.

Headphones also play an important role, but I’d say the song itself is the main indicator of how music will sound to you.

Here’s a great explanation I recently received from Stephen Mejias of Audioquest:

We design all of our products to have as little impact as possible on the overall sound of a system, but DACs do tend to have some character of their own. That said, and though I haven’t actually heard the SHP9500, I wouldn’t expect the DragonFly Black to impart additional sibilance on any partnering headphone. As you suspect, however, it would reveal more of the headphones’ inherent quality. So, if the headphones are tuned to exaggerate detail, the DAC might very well make that obvious – hopefully, while also being forgiving enough to remain listenable and pleasurable. Stephen Mejias, Audioquest

It’s important to keep in mind that these differences are pretty marginal, and probably won’t be caught by anyone except people like me who have many on hand to vigorously go back and forth with!

What does vary a lot more?

Output Impedance and Power Output are of paramount importance.

Why is that?

It’s because headphone Impedance and Sensitivity ratings are different from headphone to headphone.

If you are unfamiliar with these terms, don’t fret! Here are a couple of great articles I wrote on the matter.

Some headphones will work better with certain Amps simply because the Amp in question provides plenty of Power for the headphone’s Impedance level.

Other factors like Output Impedance, Total Harmonic Distortion, Signal To Noise Ratio, etc. are all important as well, but not as much as the Raw Power Output (in my opinion anyway). What is Output Impedance?

Closing Thoughts

iFi Go Bar Review

This article used to be littered with options, but over the years I’ve whittled it down more and more.


Because my extensive experience with DACS has taught me that they are almost irrelevant to your musical experience.

They’re just a tool used to complete a task.

In this case, convert digital information into the analog sound that your brain comprehends. 

Nothing more, nothing less.

I also started noticing an alarming trend in wildly varying price points for an array of different DACS: They all sounded roughly the same.

That’s right you heard me correctly.

$329 Go Bar? Yup, sounds the same as something in the $100 range. You’re basically paying for the “newness factor” or “Shiny object” which quickly fades when another DAC comes out.

The cycle then repeats.

In other words, their “unique sound signature” as people like to put it, had absolutely no effect on how my music sounded.

And I listen to A LOT of music.

This is why I’d rather you just save money and get the one with the best overall value – i.e. the most sensible price point for the features you’re receiving.

Right now that’s the BTR5 until something better and cheaper comes along.

I sincerely hope you’ll keep these things in mind the next time a new DAC comes out.

Well, that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this article on The Best Portable Headphone Amps & DACs.

Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please let me know down below or Contact me!!

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Which of these are you most likely to go with? Do you have any to add or take away from this list? I would love to hear from you. Until next time…

All the best and God bless,





Can’t decide which headphones to purchase? Interested in a complete buyers guide outlining over 40 of the best options on the market? Click on over to the best audiophile headphones to learn more!!

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Just Steve December 29, 2021 - 6:18 pm

I’ve hit your site a couple times after seeing your YT videos. Currently wondering if I should get a FiiO K3 or an ifi Zen DAC v1 from ebay. I doubt there’s a right answer for me, both should be a DAC upgrade and let me get better headphones.

Stuart Charles Black December 29, 2021 - 6:25 pm

Hey Steve! Yeah, the differences there will be fairly marginal. Both do balanced but the K3 is 2.5mm vs. 4.4 for Zen so almost a wash as well.

FWIW, I use the Zen pretty much every day whereas I don’t use the K3 nearly as often. I’d go with a Zen and if you do any console gaming, get the V2.

Hope that helps! Let me know.

Mac April 13, 2022 - 3:10 am

Hey Stu ! Thanks for this I went with the Dragonfly Red. I’ve literally had it for two hours. It sounds great, that said I do feel like I need to adjust a bit like my ears aren’t used to hearing this much on my phone. LOL! Thanks agian!

Stuart Charles Black April 13, 2022 - 4:11 pm

Haha my pleasure man! Yeap, that’s exactly what happens with the DragonFly. Very eye-opening indeed like a cold shower!! It’s good you like!

Hennie July 24, 2022 - 11:19 am

Hey Stu. What are your thoughts on the following setup: smartphone – Fiio Ka1 – Topping NX7 – Hifiman Arya. Sound quality wise, is the Ka1 the weak link in this setup, or is it up to the task.

Stuart Charles Black July 26, 2022 - 3:25 pm

Hey Hennie! Haven’t heard the Ka1 or NX7. Arya isn’t terribly hard to drive. Do you know the output power on those dacs?

M September 27, 2022 - 4:24 pm

Any thoughts on the Hidizs DH80s? Really curious on your take since that offers more power in the off chance you need to power something less efficient.

Stuart Charles Black September 28, 2022 - 4:04 pm

Haven’t heard that one, but I will reach out to them about it!

Rodo November 13, 2022 - 11:26 am

I’ve recently bought HD660s headphones and listen to music on my laptop.
I would preferably buy a portable dac/amp such as iFi Hip-dac 2, but I wonder whether FiiO K5Pro or FiiO K7 would be much better choice in terms of sound quality and sound features. What are your thought.

Stuart Charles Black November 15, 2022 - 3:35 pm

Hey man!

Yeah, my top 2 for desktop entry-level/mid-level are FiiO K5 Pro or ATOM. So if you think you’ll be doing a lot of listening at your desk, I’d look at those first.

Keep me posted!



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