User Review The best (budget) USB DAC AMP - Apple USB C to 3.5mm

Hi all,
This might seem a bit of a strange review but this has been one of the most surprising purchases for me. I had been searching for USB based DAC AMP from about 2 months, and came to know about Apple's type c to 3.5 dongle about 2 weeks ago (made for the newer iPad Pros which don't have a 3.5mm jack for some reason only God knows), and in one word I would review it as: fantabulous!

First things first, the primary reason tjic caught my eye was because it was the cheapest USB DAC AMP on Amazon from a known brand (to me) at INR 900. I did a bit of research and lo, it's actually really good. Other reviewers online, who've done a far better review on the technical aspects of it than I ever will be able to, have found that the noise floor and signal to noise ratio of this little thing is comparable to stuff which costs more than 100USD! I even saw one review (for the A2155 version specifically which is sold here in India) that it actually had db higher Snr than even the Chord Mojo, a DAC AMP which retails for 35k on headphonezone!

Coming to my usage and experience, I will be using these primarily with my triple driver IEMs - Signature Acoustics Raven. Before coming to how theey sound through the dongle, a bit of background - I like listening to a slighly V shape sound quality, and value detail. Before getting this dac amp, I was listening to music via my laptop's (Acer Nitro 7 i7 9750H GTX 1650) internal audio header via MusicBee (sometimes via Dolby), and through my phone (Vivo V15 Pro) using JetAudio+ and heavy use of equalisers. I listen to 320kbps MP3 (with the occasional flac/wav thrown in) and YouTube for recommendations.

My benchmark for sound quality was the detailed preset through Dolby Atmos' Gaming preset, and those were previously the best my IEMs had ever sounded. The stock audio quality from my laptop was very muffled with muddy bass and no Soundstage.
With Atmos, I experienced (relatively) wide Soundstage in IEMs for the first time, and started noticing much mkre details. But bass was still mostly muddy. I was willing to accept this compromise, and did so for the past 8 months or so.

Now, I'm not exaggerating when I say this, but this 900INR dongle blows even Atmos's sound quality away. Superb clarity, wide Soundstage, much tighter and very well controlled bass, comfortable yet very smooth highs and all that. Music had never sounded so good before.

As a bonus, even the mic sounds better through these dongle, and the one button remote on my IEMs actually works via these on Windows which wasn't the case before.

So in a nutshell, to all beginner and budget audiophiles (and actually even those higher up in the game) , I would absolutely recommend these. The best QoL improvement I've experienced yet in my audio journey.

The only thing that is a hit concerning is the build quality, but since I'm still using my stock iPad cable from 2016 hopefully this will last at least as long as that. You do need to be a bit careful handling it since the 3.5jack is quite tight and if you aren't careful, you might easily break the thin wire.

PS: doesn't really work that well with Androids, or at least on a Xiaomi Mi A1, Samsung S8+, Poco X3. Volume is really low and I don't think the dongle's DAC is being utilised since there's no difference in SQ for Android phones.
Also my reference point for reviews of this dongle while researching was chiefly the below website:
 

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Just that Android's shitty implementation of audio means that people have to pay for an app to get that.
Like people have to buy apple proprietary cables or overpaid dacs specifically made for lightning cables? All oses have some or other issue, overpaying for lightning specific cables and accessories is much more expensive than paying once for a 800 rupee app which comes on sale for even cheaper
 
Like people have to buy apple proprietary cables or overpaid dacs specifically made for lightning cables? All oses have some or other issue, overpaying for lightning specific cables and accessories is much more expensive than paying once for a 800 rupee app which comes on sale for even cheaper

No hes right , uapp is a workaround but that doesnt mean android doesnt have shitty audio implemetation via thier own mixer. And on top only few streaming apps work with it , for example I cant make apple music work with it or deezer and many other services and not even external dac can be used properly with them . Even Lgs qith duac dac etc are crippled due to androids bad implementation of audio . And ofc apple has its own issues nobody is denying that , but for android this fix os really minor and should have been done ages ago by developers.
 
Like people have to buy apple proprietary cables or overpaid dacs specifically made for lightning cables?
These are 2 different issues. Not sure if you understand how audio processing and DACs work. Would recommend you read up on how Android natively handles audio signals, and then read up on how UAPP makes it better.
 
These are 2 different issues. Not sure if you understand how audio processing and DACs work. Would recommend you read up on how Android natively handles audio signals, and then read up on how UAPP makes it better.
Bhai I already know the limitation of 96 kHz vs 48 kHz. Just because someone doesn't agree with you doesn't mean they don't know anything. For me spending once on an app is much easier than continously paying apple tax for every cable or accessory I buy after paying the tax on device first
 
more expensive than paying once for a 800 rupee app which comes on sale for even cheaper
I would have happily paid for the app if my phone was my primary listening device, but since I primarily use my phone for listening via bluetooth buds, not to mention power drain while using a DAC, I didn't feel the need to pay for an app which I'd use maybe twice. Would be happy to be sponsored to try and use it, and post the results for everyone's benefits :)
 
I would have happily paid for the app if my phone was my primary listening device, but since I primarily use my phone for listening via bluetooth buds, not to mention power drain while using a DAC, I didn't feel the need to pay for an app which I'd use maybe twice. Would be happy to be sponsored to try and use it, and post the results for everyone's benefits :)
How are you hearing more than 48 kHz on Bluetooth in apple? Care to enlighten us?
 
Bhai I already know the limitation of 96 kHz vs 48 kHz....For me spending once on an app is much easier than continously paying apple tax for every cable or accessory I buy after paying the tax on device first
lmfao this proves you don't know jack about how Android handles audio signals.
See basically, by default Android doesn't send the pure digital sound signal to any device. It first processes the audio through it's own signal, which as you correctly mention is limited to "just" 48khz (which is no issue with me lol, 48Khz vs 96Khz is indistinguishable for me). But that is not the main issue. Main issue is that it also does a bunch of other processing apart from just that, which means that any DAC connected to android (be it Apple, or even LG phones' internal quad DACs, or some other USB C DAC like Musiland), will never receive the pure digital signal from the sound file. So first whammy is that they get a pre-processed audio, meaning that playback will never be bit-perfect by default, then the already processed audio is processed once more in the DAC itself.
Had Android worked properly, it would have recognised that there's an external DAC connected to phone, and then instead of sending it a pre-processed signal, it would have sent the digital signal right away to the external DAC, which would then convert the signal to analogue, to be sent to headphones.
What currently happens is that you get the same digital signal sent to the USB DAC as to the headphone jack or built in speakers, which is what the entire problem stems from. If Android sent the signal directly to DACs, we wouldn't need to pay for an app to unlock this functionality.
Just because someone doesn't agree with you doesn't mean they don't know anything.
Never said that mate, but clearly you were lacking some education in the above part :)
How are you hearing more than 48 kHz on Bluetooth in apple? Care to enlighten us?
When did I ever mention that lol? I just said that when I use my phone for listening to music, it's mostly via my bluetooth buds. Hence I didn't see the need to pay for an app which would unlock the capabilities for a dongle which I'd never use with my phone anyway. My primary listening device is my laptop, and I'm more than happy with that. Plus the Hifiman HE400i isn't exactly portable, so again no need for the app, or anything more than mp3 320kbps on the go, forget 48 or 96khz.
Get a grip dude - calm down a bit
For me spending once on an app is much easier than continously paying apple tax for every cable or accessory I buy after paying the tax on device first
Also just to be clear, I never said Android or Apple is good/bad. Please don't derail this into an Apple vs Android thread. YOur views about where you choose to put your money are fine, but not relevant to this thread which is for discussion of the Apple USB C dongle, not specifically the shortcomings of Androids or iPhones.
@mods can create a separate thread for discussing whether someone would prefer to pay Apple Tax or live with Android shortcomings (considering that most Android flagships also lack headphone jacks, but that is a thread for another day ;))
 
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lmfao this proves you don't know jack about how Android handles audio signals.
See basically, by default Android doesn't send the pure digital sound signal to any device. It first processes the audio through it's own signal, which as you correctly mention is limited to "just" 48khz (which is no issue with me lol, 48Khz vs 96Khz is indistinguishable for me). But that is not the main issue. Main issue is that it also does a bunch of other processing apart from just that, which means that any DAC connected to android (be it Apple, or even LG phones' internal quad DACs, or some other USB C DAC like Musiland), will never receive the pure digital signal from the sound file. So first whammy is that they get a pre-processed audio, meaning that playback will never be bit-perfect by default, then the already processed audio is processed once more in the DAC itself.
Had Android worked properly, it would have recognised that there's an external DAC connected to phone, and then instead of sending it a pre-processed signal, it would have sent the digital signal right away to the external DAC, which would then convert the signal to analogue, to be sent to headphones.
What currently happens is that you get the same digital signal sent to the USB DAC as to the headphone jack or built in speakers, which is what the entire problem stems from. If Android sent the signal directly to DACs, we wouldn't need to pay for an app to unlock this functionality.

Never said that mate, but clearly you were lacking some education in the above part :)

When did I ever mention that lol? I just said that when I use my phone for listening to music, it's mostly via my bluetooth buds. Hence I didn't see the need to pay for an app which would unlock the capabilities for a dongle which I'd never use with my phone anyway. My primary listening device is my laptop, and I'm more than happy with that. Plus the Hifiman HE400i isn't exactly portable, so again no need for the app, or anything more than mp3 320kbps on the go, forget 48 or 96khz.
Get a grip dude - calm down a bit

Also just to be clear, I never said Android or Apple is good/bad. Please don't derail this into an Apple vs Android thread. YOur views about where you choose to put your money are fine, but not relevant to this thread which is for discussion of the Apple USB C dongle, not specifically the shortcomings of Androids or iPhones.
@mods can create a separate thread for discussing whether someone would prefer to pay Apple Tax or live with Android shortcomings (considering that most Android flagships also lack headphone jacks, but that is a thread for another day ;))
You're right, i didn't know the processing part. On the android ios issue you already know where i stand
 
Glad I could be of help! So you see, the problem isn't with cheap vs expensive phones - it's just Android lol. I remember back when I used to be heavily into custom ROMs and rooting and such, I was blown away when I tried Viper4Android on my OnePlus One with my mediocre Sony XB450 AP - you wouldn't believe how bad Android's stock audio processing is. You should definitely give rooting a try (on some spare phone preferably), if not custom ROMs, and use Magisk to get mods which will bypass the stock android audio buffer and tinker around with V4A. Truly a mind-blowing experience.

Regarding the iOS vs Android debate all I'll say on this thread is this - I hate both parties, and I'm looking to switch to CalyxOS soon myself. Till this news about Apple was released, I was actually thinking that my next phone would be an iPhone, looking at how Google has changed since they removed "Don't be Evil" as their motto, but now it'll be some old Pixel, or if I'm feeling adventurous (and lady luck smiles on me) I'll get the PinePhone :p

Let's get the thread back to the Apple USB C dongle discussion now!
 
You're right, i didn't know the processing part. On the android ios issue you already know where i stand
Wow someone acknowledging they are wrong or didnt know on an online forum and not meaninglessly debating . Hard to see that now a days . Respect !

But yeah I dont think we have to turn everything into ios vs android , both have their issues neither is perfect . Fwiw I prefer android , but for audio only especially for lot of us who need bitperfect playback for our high res files , android implementation is a nuisence and worse part is there is no work around ( uapp helps but not with everything , just 2 streaming services) and it is super easy to fix if android developers cared.

Back to apple dongle , it is by far best sounding and bang for buck dac especially for use with pc etc . One thing I didnt know before and I want to put it here just in case , is that apple usbc to 3.5mm only supports 48kHz / 24-bit. max ( which should be enough for most ) so if you want something more than that, you need something more expensive.
 
Don't want to derail the thread, can anyone elaborate how the Apple Lightning to 3.5mm dongle fare when compared to the Usb-C version
Back to apple dongle , it is by far the best sounding and bang for buck dac especially for use with pc etc . One thing I didnt know before and I want to put it here just in case , is that apple usbc to 3.5mm only supports 48kHz / 24-bit. max ( which should be enough for most ) so if you want something more than that, you need something more expensive.
 
Don't want to derail the thread, can anyone elaborate how the Apple Lightning to 3.5mm dongle fare when compared to the Usb-C version
Not an audiophile, but have a lighting to 3.5 dongle, let me know what you want to know, I also have the USB C to 3.5 dongle, the sound signature is pretty similar, I have tested them only with Blon 03, TCL Elit 200 and KZ ZEX
 
What is the blue green thing in pic called. Does it help with the life of the dongle

The adapter is good but the (short) cable seems to be a bit flimsy. These provide some stress relief - the cable doesn't bend too much. My adapter is 24x7 in that position (bent). I don't know if what I've done really helps :)
 
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