Best USB DAC Amp Combos For Audiophiles On A Budget (2022)

Give your Budget Audiophile Setup a boost without spending a ton of cash!

In today’s digital audio world, you need a good digital to analog converter or DAC to get the best out of your hi-fi setup. The DAC takes the digital audio signal produced by your source (most likely a laptop or smartphone) and converts it to an analog audio signal that can be amplified by a headphone amp or powered speakers.

While most sources already have a DAC built-in, they are usually rudimentary and don’t have the best sound quality. That’s where the budget USB digital-to-analog converters that we list below come in. They have advanced digital conversion circuitry designed to add dimensionality and detail to your music. As always, we point out the components that will give you the best performance for your hard-earned cash!

In addition, the DACs we recommend here have powerful headphone amps built-in so that you can use them in an affordable desktop hi-fi system or a quality portable listening rig with a pair of Audiophile headphones. They’re otherwise known as DAC/Amp combos.

DAC/Amp combos come in three basic types: Portable DAC/Amps, which are USB powered (via the source) and made for use on the go, Desktop DAC/Amps, which are usually DC powered and made to sit on a desk, and Transportable DAC/Amps, which can be USB powered via the source, or a battery, or DC power so you can use it on a desk or on the go.

The list below has examples of each so that you can pick the best one for your needs.

We have over 20 years of experience evaluating and reviewing hi-fi components, and we listen to tons of gear, so you don’t have to!  Here are our picks for the Best Budget USB Digital-to-Analog Converter/Headphone Amp Combos (2022):


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Here’s our shortlist of the Best Budget USB Digital-to-Analog Converter/Headphone Amp Combos (2022):


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The List:

Best Value Portable DAC/Amp w/o MQA: SHANLING UA2 Portable USB DAC Headphone Amp ($85)

For: Those who want a compact, balanced, high-value DAC with nice detail and power.

Key Features/Specs:

  • Interchangeable cables, using USB-C connector.
  • Compatible with Android, Laptops and iOS.
  • Special mode for Nintendo Switch.
  • 3.5mm Single ended and 2.5mm Balanced output.
  • ESS ES9038Q2M DAC and Ricore RT6863 amplifier.
  • Up to 195mW@32 output power (Balanced).
  • Hi-Res support up to PCM 32/768-DSD512.
  • Advanced settings in companion app.

What we love:

  • Solid Build
  • Sound Has Excellent Balance and Detail For The Price
  • Powerful Amp Section

What to think about:

  • Lacks a little bit of depth

We dig the UA2. We love the compact metal casing, the detachable cable, and the balanced output option. Both the balanced and single-ended outputs can drive a wide variety of headphones, and the detachable cable makes it easy to use with an iPhone.

The sound is also excellent, especially on the Balanced side with its excellent separation and tonal balance. If you don’t care about MQA and like running your headphones balanced, the Shanling Audio UA2 is a top-flight DAC Amp Combo available for a song. Highly Recommended!!

Full Review

Buy: AliExpress


Best Value Portable DAC/Amp w/ MQA: THX Onyx Portable DAC Headphone Amplifier ($199)

For: Those who want a portable MQA DAC/Amp with the best combination of output power and sound quality under $250

Key Features/Specs:

  • CNC-machined metal chassis that’s durable
  • Compatible with mic-equipped headsets
  • Meets rigorous THX Certification standards for mobile DAC/amps
  • MQA renderer can decode digital Master Quality Audio recordings from services like Tidal
  • Built-in magnetic clasp offers convenient cable management

What we love:

  • Sleek Beautiful Design
  • Great Build Quality
  • Amazing Balanced and Transparent Sound

What to think about:

  • Nothing at this price point

At $199, The THX Onyx may be the best value in USB DAC/Amps today. It has crazy power, a clean, transparent sound that is breathtaking, and a sleek design that makes it easy to carry around. The well-thought-out features also make it quite flexible for many different use cases. Music lovers looking for a lightweight USB Dac/Amp that can compete with Desktop models for output power and sound quality should give the THX Onyx a look.

Full Review

Buy: Amazon


Best Value Desktop DAC/Amp: iFi Zen DAC V2 Desktop Digital Analog Converter ($189)

For: Those who want an affordable, great-sounding DAC/Amp for their desktop setup.

Key Features/Specs:

  • Burr-Brown “True Native” digital-to-analog converter chip
  • 16-core XMOS processor/microcontroller for optimized sound
  • PCM and DXD up to 32-bit/384kHz; DSD up to DSD256 ( up to 11.2 MHz)
  • Full decoding for MQA audio files
  • One unbalanced 1/4″ headphone output and one balanced Pentaconn 4.4mm output
  • output power up to 330mW @ 32 ohms
  • TrueBass Bass Boost
  • PowerMatch gain switch

What we love:

  • Great Build Quality
  • Nice Detail and Separation
  • Full MQA Decoder

What to think about:

  • Dedicated Power Supply Sold Separately

While I loved the sound of the original, the sonic improvements in the Zen DAC V2 are well worth the additional $30 bucks. iFi did a great job adding a bit more sophistication to the sound while still keeping the price low. Also, if you’re an MQA fan, the full MQA decoder will give you the best sound the format has to offer.

Add the excellent features and power brought over from the Zen DAC V1, and you once again have the desktop DAC/Amp to beat around $150. However, if you’re looking for a great-sounding desktop rig that won’t break the bank, it will be hard to beat the Zen DAC V2/Hifiman SUNDARA combo for around $500.

Full Review

Buy: Amazon or Crutchfield


Best Sounding Portable MQA DAC/Amp: AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt USB Digital-to-Analog Converter ($329)

For: For those who want top-notch (especially MQA) sound but don’t have a lot of room on their desktop, also the road warriors

Key Features/Specs:

  • Native Resolution up to 24-bit / 96kHz
  • DAC Chip ESS ES9038Q2M DAC chip with minimum-phase slow roll-off filter for more natural sound
  • Plays All Music Files: MP3 to MQA and Hi-Res
  • Compatible with iOS Mobile Devices (requires Apple Lightning-to-USB adaptor) and Android Mobile Devices (requires USB adaptor)
  • Dimensions: 57mm (l) x 19mm (w) x 12mm (h)

What we love:

  • Big power for all but the least sensitive headphones
  • Remarkable depth and transparency
  • Compact, Lightweight Design

What to think about:

  • There’s no external volume control or gain control

This compact USB DAC/Headphone Amp is a powerhouse! The latest addition to the acclaimed Audioquest Dragonfly line, the $299 Dragonfly Cobalt, is the best yet. It has the most power, the cleanest sound (thanks to a flagship ESS DAC Chip), and it’s also the smallest, lightest one they have ever made.

In addition, Cobalt has a depth to its sound that we’ve never experienced in a USB DAC. It separates the various elements of a mix like a full-sized component DAC, allowing you to hear “into” a recording. As a result, you can listen to each instrument and vocalist in their own little “bubble,” which is the hallmark of a good DAC at the end of the day.

Buy: Amazon or Crutchfield


Best Sounding Transportable DAC/Amp: iFi xDSD Gryphon Ultra-Res Portable Balanced DAC & Headphone Amplifier ($599)

For: Those who want the absolute best sounding transportable DAC out there, with great features to boot

Key Features/Specs:

  • 32-bit Burr-Brown True Native DAC chip
  • Full decoding for MQA audio files
  • Two headphone outputs: one unbalanced 3.5mm stereo minijack output and one balanced 4.4mm output
  • Dual-mono circuitry
  • XBass II processing
  • XSpace expands soundstage
  • Output power up to 1000mW @ 32 ohms
  • Bluetooth 5.1 chip (supports aptX, aptX HD, aptX Adaptive, aptX LL, LDAC, HWA, AAC and SBC codecs)

What we love:

  • Great Build Quality
  • Warm, Natural, Detailed Sound
  • Deep Feature Set

What to think about:

  • Could Use A Little More Power

The Gryphon may not have the power or depth of the flagship iFi Diablo, but it has the best tuning of any portable iFi product. Its smoothness, transparency, and separation made any headphones we plugged into it sing. The sound is good enough to warrant a place in many two-channel hi-fi rigs.

Add to that a sharp, easy-to-read display, excellent sound customization, a lightweight, sexy design, plus a ton of inputs and outputs, and you genuinely have a serious hi-fi system you can put in your pocket.

Full Review

Buy: Amazon or Crutchfield


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