USB Headphone DAC options


Distinguished Member
I've been using a Mini-ITX PC with integrated sound for a while and it's just not up to the standard of my previous Creative X-Fi soundcard when used with my Audio Technica AD700 headphones. So, I'm pondering ways to improve it.

I don't have a slot for an expansion card, but I do have empty space where the case could fit a few 2.5" drives as well as a free internal USB2 header so I'm considering fitting a small USB DAC inside. Total free space is around 6cm x 11cm x 12cm.

I'm just wondering what my options are. There is stuff from the AV world like the Dacmagic XS and Dragonfly Black but you get the impression they're pretty high margin products.

Are any of the gaming world products from the likes of Creative or Asus better value? Or better suited to game audio?

What about stuff for the mobile market, Fiio etc. Big competitive market, but does the requirement to minimise power draw and the extra expense of a battery make it a suboptimal option for big headphones on a computer?

Or should I be looking at a different option entirely?


Distinguished Member
It's going inside my case, so any external volume control isn't accessible.

From the recommendations I'm guessing there's no clear differences between the models aimed at different markets?


Active Member
I have a cyrus soundkey and i love it to bits. As well as being plugged into my pc - it comes out with me to work where I plug it into my phone. Sounds incredible and a step up from some of my old Fiio's


Active Member
The Fiio Olympus is very nice for a desktop unit. The volume dial is very handy when gaming and not being able to jump out of the game for the software volume control. When mine gave up I got a Emotiva big ego which was great and portable but without a hardware volume control. Due to that and the need for a subwoofer output I moved up to the Emotiva TA-100 amp with builtin DAC. The Emotivas big ego has both headphone and line outs so could be paired with a headphone amp of your choice if so desired. They also do a little ego which is a bit cheaper.

One point of note is that one advantage of the external DAC's is the 'external' parts. They are less affected by noise in the PC case as they are not inside it. YMMV if you put it inside the case. Better to have it on your desk if possible.

In my experience an external DAC makes a big difference to on-board audio and even PCI-e audio cards. It would be painful for me to go back now :D.


Distinguished Member

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