Question DAC/amp for iPhone


Distinguished Member
I currently listen to much of my music on my DAP, a FiiO X3 (2nd gen).

I occasionally listen to my music streamed on my iPhone, but it’s limited by the quality of streamed music and the on-board headphone amp’s inability to drive my DT770 Pros to the level I’d like for home listening (I have some in-ears for when I’m on the move).

But now we have the arrival of Amazon Music HD, and initially at least the quality problem is solved.

I’m going on holiday soon, and gave bought a FiiO i1. Should be better than the iPhone’s own DAC, and powerful enough for the in-ears (I’m not taking the 770s to the beach!), but longer term I’d like something better.

My home music system is no longer hi-fi, so any proper listening at home will be through the iPhone/DAC-amp/DT770s.

Please recommend a DAC/amp for this set up.

Obviously, needs to be portable (I say obviously, maybe the i1 will do for on the go).

Also, at least as good as the DAC/amp contained in the X3. Indeed, in an ideal world the X3 would work OTG with the iPhone, but sadly it doesn't.

Also not expensive. The X3 cost a bit over £100, so around that, or less. Must be iPhone certified.

FiiO would be good.
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Senior Moderator
Assuming that carrying a stack / dongle chain are acceptable a usb stick dac/amp is the usual suggestion (e.g. dragonfly line is in budget, others are available) or something bigger like the chord mojo but that is over budget. It's quite easy to find them in dedicated headphone retailers to demo, with the proviso one is near you

The thing to watch out for is a potentially fickle connection between iOS device <--> dac/amp, which can be explained better by others but can be summarised by (i) excessive power draw and/or (ii) no Apple certification so needing the cck

(References to 30 pin are applicable to lightning iDevices)

I would not rule out maximising the headphones. I pair the Shure SE846 with the Samsung Note 4. I accept the SE846 can scale higher with a better source, but neither a stack / dongle chain or a dedicated DAP suit my personal needs. Your mileage may vary


Distinguished Member

Just a quick update. I've returned from Skiathos, and week using the FiiO i1 with my iPhone.

It was fine. A limited, but real step up from the iPhone itself, and capable of switching between standard, HD and UHD seamlessly. Indeed, some albums (I'll cite Kate Bush's Hounds of Love) are an unfortunate mixture of HD and Ultra HD. At first, on 'Side 1', I thought this was due to the singles being Ultra HD and the rest vanilla HD, but even on Side 2 (The Ninth Wave) it flitted backwards and forwards...but perfectly! Seamless, gapless playback.

I'll give the set up a go with my Beyers ASAP.

Steve, a big thanks for the tips. The Shure's look (and, I'm sure, sound) fantastic, but are currently just a tad outside my budget. Would that it were otherwise!

Since writing the thread, I've spotted that FiiO (I don't own shares, honest!) Q1 ii for £88. But as far as I can tell it draws power from your iPhone, and I suspect that will not be enough to drive larger 'phones to any sort of decent volume.

Do I have that right?


Senior Moderator
I purchased the SE846 in Tokyo years back while visiting a friend teaching English out there, the exchange rate at the time and saving over the UK retail justified the expense. Plus I sold the SE535 on

Re a portable dac / amp,

- a smartphone may well not have enough power but it depends on what the headphone is. It is not just about volume for the sake of volume (or loudness) though

- a dac / amp will also likely provide more granular volume adjustments, this particularly matters for sensitive in ear monitors / on ear headphones which are more commonly paired with smartphones for on the go listening

- see Ultimate Headphone Guide Articles: What is a headphone amplifier, and why do I need one?

- the usb stick dacs / chord mojo category of product does provide flexibility on what headphone pairing is possible
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