Yes, we are a headphone store, but we believe a review shouldn't be called a review if it's primary purpose is to sell a product.

We want to publish the most well-written, balanced and informative reviews in the industry and our goal is to provide you with the information you need to experience the best possible sound. Even if you end up buying from somewhere else.

So, Headphones.com doesn’t write reviews. The reviews on our site come from The HEADPHONE Community forum’s Community Preview Program. Our reviews are sent straight from community members to an independent editor to avoid bias.

Ian Dunmore (@torq) is our independent Managing Editor. In order to avoid potential conflict, Ian has chosen not to be compensated for his role. Ian is passionate about the headphone community and makes sure the published reviews are of exceptional quality.

All reviews are sent directly to Ian and posted on Headphones.com without editorial input from Headphones.com staff. As a result, you will see negative reviews of products we sell and positive reviews of products we don't.

Sincerely,

Taron & Andrew Lissimore

Top 3 USB Headphone Amp/DACs under $200 in 2018

A good DAC is the easiest way to upgrade your headphone experience (assuming you already have good headphones and a good source). Unfortunately, there are many people who will never experience the sound improvement of a DAC because they don’t know what to buy. We’d like to help with that.

To learn more about DACs, here's a good place to start: What is a DAC? or our post on using DACs and AMPs with computers.

Here are 3 incredible DACs under $200 that will make a huge difference in your listening experience.

The Best USB Amp/DACs Under $200:

1. AudioQuest DragonFly USB DAC/Headphone Amplifier

Good for: Super portable, crazy performance, MQA, harder to drive headphones

Audioquest is best known for their premium cables that can run into $1000s per meter. They have taken their expertise to the world of DACs and developed what we think is the ultimate sub $200 audio upgrade. You will be able to hear the difference the DragonFly makes instantly.

It’s just a bit larger than a USB stick and the DragonFly Red brings huge performance for its size. It works with any Mac or PC computer and also works with Android and iOS phones (you have to buy a dongle for both).

SPECS

  • Plays all music files: MP3 to high-res
  • Compatible with Apple and Windows PCs, as well as iOS and Android mobile devices (requires Apple Camera Adapter or Made for Android/OTG adaptor)
  • Drives headphones directly
  • Fixed output feeds preamp or AV receiver
  • Asynchronous transfer ensures digital timing integrity
  • High output (2.1 volts) drives almost all headphones, including power-hungry models
  • 32-bit ESS 9016 DAC with minimum-phase filter
  • Bit-perfect digital volume control

2. AudioQuest DragonFly Black USB DAC/Headphone Amplifier

Good for: Portability, cost to performance ratio

The DragonFly Black is a more cost-effective DAC/AMP from Audioquest that still provides a huge performance boost. It’s half the price of the Dragonfly Red, but in our opinion, it gives 80% of the performance.

SPECS

  • Plays all music files: MP3 to high-res
  • Compatible with Apple and Windows PCs, as well as iOS and Android mobile devices (requires Apple Camera Adapter or Made for Android/OTG adaptor)
  • Drives headphones directly
  • Fixed output feeds preamp or AV receiver
  • Asynchronous transfer ensures digital timing integrity
  • Medium output (1.2 volts) drives a wide range of headphones
  • 32-bit ESS 9010 DAC with minimum-phase filter
  • Analog volume control

3. iFi Audio Nano iDSD Black Label

Good for: Functionality to cost ratio

British-based iFi has been making a huge splash in the DAC/Amp market. This DAC is up to date with the latest technology and for the price packs a ton of functionality.

The Nano is not as portable as the DragonFly’s and the form factor looks a little old-school compared to the competition. However, it’s the features that get us excited.

It handles MQA natively, decodes PCM up to 32BIt/384kHz and comes with a lot in the box: 

  • IFI Nano iDSD Black Label
  • Male-to-female USB charging/data cable
  • USB-A-to-USB-B adapter
  • USB-A-to-USB-B adapter cable
  • 2x Silicon bands
  • Soft storage pouch
  • Instruction leaflet(s)

 SPECS

  • 32-bit 384 kHz
  • Works with iOS, Android, OSX and Windows
  • 10 hours of battery life
  • Hi-Res Audio Certified
  • DSD, DXD, PCM DAC by Burr Brown Bit-Perfect DSD processing, BitPerfect DXD processing
  • Low-jitter crystal clock
  • Audio Formats
    • DSD 256/128/64/12.4/11.2/6.2/5.6/3.1/2.8
    • DXD 384/352.8kHz
    • PCM 384/352.8/192/176.4/96/88.2/48/44.1kHz
    • MQA 88.2/96/176.4/192kHz filters

Conclusion

Those are our favorite USB DACs under $200. They combine portability, price and performance into a package that is very accessible. If you want to upgrade your computer or cellphone listening experience without dropping a ton of cash, one of these USB DACs is a no-brainer.

If you have any questions about the right DAC for you, fire us an email at info@headphones.com


4 comments


  • Chris Tweedale

    I have just purchased a pair of Sony Z1R headphones, primarily to listen to my classical CDs. I have an Audiolab 8200CD CD player. I was thinking of buying an Audiolab M-DAC+ but have read a review which states that the M-DAC+ is first and foremost a hi-fi DAC which just happens to have a headphone socket. “It is not a high end headphone amp” (Robert Meech). Please can you recommend a hi-fi DAC which is also a high end headphone amp (if there is such a device).


  • Louis Wood

    I sure appreciate your presence on the internet. I need help (I believe) because I have a Beyerdynamic T1 Gen2 headphone on the way and “heard” I would need an amplifier to benefit fully when connected to my laptop computer. Well… I started investigating amplifiers and found great comments and an attractive price of $79 for a FiiO E10K … which is also on its way! My question now is whether these two will be compatible or if I’ll need a more powerful amplifier than the FiiO to help me with the Beyer T1.2. Thanks for your reply.


  • Louis Wood

    I sure appreciate your presence on the internet. I need help (I believe) because I have a Beyerdynamic T1 Gen2 headphone on the way and “heard” I would need an amplifier to benefit fully when connected to my laptop computer. Well… I started investigating amplifiers and found great comments and an attractive price of $79 for a FiiO E10K … which is also on its way! My question now is whether these two will be compatible or if I’ll need a more powerful amplifier than the FiiO to help me with the Beyer T1.2. Thanks for your reply.


  • Louis Wood

    I sure appreciate your presence on the internet. I need help (I believe) because I have a Beyerdynamic T1 Gen2 headphone on the way and “heard” I would need an amplifier to benefit fully when connected to my laptop computer. Well… I started investigating amplifiers and found great comments and an attractive price of $79 for a FiiO E10K … which is also on its way! My question now is whether these two will be compatible or if I’ll need a more powerful amplifier than the FiiO to help me with the Beyer T1.2. Thanks for your reply.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published