Headphone Amp Vs DAC – Which One To Choose?

From radio, vinyl, and cassette tapes, to mobile phones, speakers, and television, the devices through which we get our music have transformed over time.

There are a variety of devices available that are both of good quality and inexpensive through which we can listen to music.

Now that you are here, you might want to give a new life to your sound source by improving their sound quality through an amplifier or a DAC.

No doubt it is possible to enhance the performance of your headphones using an amp or a DAC.

You can get an affordable and high-quality amp or a DAC which will enrich your life with spectacular music anytime anywhere.

Before getting an amp or a DAC, you need to understand why one should need them, how do these things work, and when should I buy them?

You will find the answer to these questions in this article so stay adhered to the end.

What Is A Headphone Amplifier?

Video: “Headphone Amplifiers: Explained”

Headphones amps are low-powered amplifiers that deliver electrical power to headphones.

They raise the audio signal of low-voltage to such a level that these signals could be converted into sound waves by the speakers of your headphones. Headphone amplifiers are used to operate at a lower scale.

If you want to hear all the details of the music, headphone amps will help you with it. Using the right kind of headphone amp, you will have a better music experience.

You can improve the quality of your headphones that came with your smartphone using a headphone amp. High-quality components in these little amps are enough to enhance the digital signal.

Types of Headphone Amps



[amazon box=”B07WDXDNM1″]

Designed for smartphone or MP3 player. These have a rechargeable battery.



[amazon box=”B079H4JFDB”]

Designed to fit in racks. It can be connected to four to six headphones simultaneously.



[amazon box=”B07QDN6JXG”]

Designed for studio and stage applications. They have up to four output.

Why Do You Need Headphone Amplifiers?

All the digital devices already have built-in amplifiers and DAC. However, the quality of those amps and DACs varies from device to device.

Some of the devices have pretty decent amps and DACs that provide excellent quality sound, but some of the devices have really terrible sounding components inside them. That is why you need to have separate amps or DACs.

You can use a headphone amp in several ways.


When Your Sounding Component Lacks A Headphone Jack

You need to have a headphone amp if your sounding component lacks a jack.

There are lots of high-quality audio components available in the market that do not include a headphone jack.

Using a headphone amp will solve your problem.


When You Want To Improve The Performance Of Your Headphones

You can hear the subtle details of the music by using a headphone amp. It improves the quality of the sound. But having a headphone amp for a bad-quality headphone will do you no good.

A headphone amp will work only if you have good-quality headphones.

Using the right type of headphone amp will substantially improve the performance of your headphones by strengthening the digital signals.


When You Want To Use Headphones Of Higher Impedance

Some audio devices, including smartphones, do not have an amp for the headphone section.

In this case, the sound you hear through headphones is not loud enough.

A separate headphone amp is the best solution in this situation. Get your headphones an amp and give them life.

What Is A DAC?

Video: “What is a DAC? – Explained”

DAC is a digital analogue converter which converts the digitally stored information into a low-voltage signal (an analogue sound) that we can hear.

You already have a DAC on your TV, computer, tablet or phone but the DAC present inside these devices is not optimized for a good-quality sound.

In some cases, you cannot connect a DAC directly to your device, so you need to have a headphone amp for this purpose.

The other most popular method of connecting a DAC is via USB from a computer.

Types of DAC’s

They are of three main types


Portable DACs

[amazon box=”B0842W67F1″]

Designed for portable devices like smartphones, tablets, and laptops. It always includes a built-in amp.


Standalone DACs

[amazon box=”B00KNNSKV0″]

A box simply made of input and output. It needs an amplifier to boost the sound to the playback device.


DAC/Headphone Amp Combination

[amazon box=”B00LP3AMC2″]

Designed for desktops or dedicated listening spaces. They have an additional volume control option.

Why Do You Need A DAC?


Listen to music with better sound quality

If you are a music enthusiast, you definitely need to have a high-quality external DAC. It will improve the sound quality and overall experience of music.

Not only does a DAC improve the sound quality, but it also gives depth to the music.


Have a high-quality output

Your computer, laptop, or a tablet might have great features, but all these devices fail when it comes to recording good quality audio or delivering high-quality audio output.

Standalone DAC is a need in this case. They are designed to perform merely a single task, and they will indeed do it better.


Listen to music in depth

A DAC basically holds power to convert the music and give it depth. Once you get addicted to listening to high-quality music that sounds exactly like how it was recorded, you will never want to hear music any other way.


Listen to each music element separately

You will get a transparent sonic background with a good quality external DAC. A DAC will create a broader and deeper listening scape.

In this way, you will hear the music with subtle details of all the musical instruments. It will also add separation between the elements.

Using a DAC will give life to the music you are listening to. Investing in a good quality DAC will never leave you in regret.

It will basically create a space between individual elements so that each component shines solely. This is actually really important in music with complex instrumentation.

Headphone Amp Vs DAC – Which One To Choose?

Now that you know what an amp and DAC is, I will let you know which is better. The headphone vs DAC battle going on in your mind will end right here with some facts.

When you are listening to music on a device that has a low-quality amp and DAC, you will hear a bad-quality sound.

Not only that, but the overall volume output will also be meagre. To drive the headphones really well, a headphone amp assists your headphones in bringing them to a line level.

If your mobile phone, laptop, or any other music source lacks a built-in digital to analogue converter, you need to have a DAC. You will also need a DAC in case your music source has a really low-quality built-in DAC.

Similarly, if your speaker lacks a built-in amplifier or the amp it has is of terrible quality, you need to have a separate headphone amp for a good quality sound.

What should I get?

A DAC and an amp is an integral part of any device. Both of these are equally important to listen to a high-quality sound. None of these can be used as a substitute of the other.

A good option is to buy an amp with a built-in DAC. Otherwise, you need to have an amp separately to provide the optimum voltage to your headphones.

Some devices are available that include a HiFi amp and a DAC along with a battery. This device saves your money and space.

[amazon box=”B0842W67F1″]

With your headphones, either you need a DAC+amp, or you can use your computer’s onboard audio along with an amp.

You can also use a soundcard which is basically a DAC and amp software in one. An amp is a must in this case since the headphones are unpowered and you need to have an amplifier to drive them.

Headphones require both DAC and amp for a good quality sound. You cannot use a DAC with headphones if it does not have a built-in amp.

You need to have a DAC for powered speakers. Since the speakers are being already driven by a built-in amp, you need to only have a DAC for high-quality sound.

In Conclusion

If you are looking for a portable solution which you can use with your phone anywhere, you should get a high-quality DAC.

DAC converts a digital signal to an analogue signal while an amplifier simply amplifies the signal. To get a better output signal, you need to have a better-quality DAC that should be implemented in a better way.

To hear a sound out of your headphones or sound source, you need to have both the amp and DAC.

But when it comes to the question, which of these is more important? Headphone vs amp? Then an amp is a right answer.

Nonetheless, none of these could replace the other. Source quality also matters, so the headphones you are using should be of good quality.

Now that you know the difference between a DAC and amp, and have understood which is the right choice for what purpose, get yourself a device according to your preference.

Don’t forget to consider your need before purchasing anything as it is useless to throw a lot of money on a thing which does no good to you.

Juan Stansbury
Juan Stansbury

I'm Juan Stansbury, author and owner of Homerecordio – your ultimate destination for everything about homerecording. With hands-on experience, courses, workshops, and industry research, I offer tips on selecting the best equipment, and mixing and mastering your recordings to achieve professional-quality results at home. Join me on this journey to explore the world of homerecording and music production.

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