The following Top Reader Voted Portable Amps & DAC scores are assigned by the readers, (Score) and apply only to all reviews where a slider voting system exists. This list includes all types of portable amps & DACs new and historical as reviewed on Headfonics.
This list also includes portable integrated amp/DAC’s where applicable and those that can be powered purely by a USB connection, (transportable).
Please note the list will change dynamically as readers continue to vote. Higher scoring amplifiers will automatically replace lower-scoring portable amps & DACs. They will also continue to change as we progressively work our way through historical reviews and add a voting system.
These lists are not to be confused with our forthcoming Editorial scoring lists which are the best gear as reviewed and scored by our review team. Those lists will form the basis of our Awards at the end of the year. Once the year is completed the Editorial scores will be deleted and the ‘annual top lists’ will start over again.
The Chord Hugo 2 is a DAC and then some. In some ways, I am convinced the Hugo 2 is the lovechild of the Mojo and Hugo 1 such is the degree of harmony of the two designs. Would the Hugo 2 have been possible without the Mojo? I doubt it.
The Cayin C9 is the company's most refined version yet of their DOA and timbre technology inside their portable audio gear. Not only that, but it also revitalizes tubes on the go, a traditional niche in our hobby that seems to be forgotten in the head-long rush to find that one DAP on steroids.
I have to stress that the Chord Hugo DAC and head-amp is an absolute killer device. But you already knew that because people have probably been telling you that for a while now. It's the Swiss army knife among portable DACs and it has an incredible headphone output (well, three) as well.
One thing is for sure if you are a planar guy and in particular, an LCD series owner the HPA-01M will sound really magical and will give plenty of high0end desktop systems a good run for their money. They are made for each other both on a power level and performance level.
The iFi Micro iDSD Signature series DAC amplifier is a fun machine capable of driving practically every headphone out there while at the same time remaining highly musical and hiss free and taking up a minimum amount of space on a desktop doing so.
The sound performance is world-class and I enjoyed using the OTG DAC mode with my phone or my laptop. If price, GUI experience is no object and you are looking for smooth, unaltered, rightful reproduction of sound, the HM1000 will be a solid recommendation.
The ALO Audio Continental Dual Mono has a very musical and rich sound signature that combines the magic of tubes with a little dose of solid-state sensibility to keep it tight and clean enough for both SS and tube camps to enjoy.
Such a well-built portable analog amp in 2017 will find itself more niche than the norm but for those who stack, those who have a weaker source and for those who want low noise period then the VorzAMPduo II is one heck of a portable amping choice.
The P5 is the best sounding iBasso out in the market today and the best they have produced to date. It has a very natural sounding tonality with very pleasing timbre that really matches well to rock and metal genres. It works a charm with headphones such as the LCD-2 and a touch of Nile.
The iFi iDSD Diablo to me sonically is the best iFi DAC amplifier with portability made up to date. Its sound characteristics are more in line with esoteric gear but that does not mean that their past units are far behind either. The sonic refinement is apparent on the Diablo once you give it a listen for a while.
On technical merits alone there is not a portable tube amp out there right now that is this small, this well designed and as powerful as the V5. That's the edge ALO brings to the market that could, and should, twist a lot of DAP user's heads in their direction in a positive manner.
At just the expense of an entry-level DAP, the Luxury & Precision W2 will give you advanced DSP technologies and precisely tuned sound, with a good balance between musicality and technical performance in its base tuning.
The build is perfect, it is exactly what I want physically. The LCD and UI are lovely, all be it, a bit clunky, but still easily traversed. The power output is very good and apart from the most absurd Planar's out there, this Monolith can drive anything I tossed at it perfectly fine.
The Chord Electronics Mojo is one of the best all-around portable DAC/Amps made with all the correct connectivity on offer for modern devices and audio quality that should please a large audience most of the time.
We need more portable tube amplifiers such as the Chimera and fewer 'tune by numbers' creations. Something with a bit of character and purpose. It fills an obvious gap below the Cayin C9 and gives you a lot more flexibility compared to the cheaper BA300s from Oriolus.
There might be other dongles that might edge out the Shanling UA2 in one or two particular areas but the ability to go single-ended or balanced with a clean soft mannered warm tonality and with the most features title goes to the UA2.
The Helm Audio Bolt DAC is a good example of a device that proves you don’t have to spend a fortune to get clean high-quality full-spectrum audio. The Bolt has become one of my favorite dongle DACs in my collection.
this is a very mature-sounding implementation of the AK4990EN, perhaps one of the best at this price point helped by the excellent AM3a amp card. Its low noise unbalanced for sensitive IEMs, good enough power for most portable cans, and paints a very natural to slight neutral sound that pairs well with a broad range of genres.
The Picollo amp fills an important gap in the Cypher Labs range. I would urge you to go for this over a Duet or Theorem if you are holding a set of mid-tier customs or universals that require better sensitivity handling and lower noise floors.
The DAC section offers crystal clear presentation with a smooth and even tonality that bests most DACs in its price range, while also featuring a surprisingly capable headphone amp that can capably power moderately sensitive headphones like the Sennheiser HD600.
The ULTRASONE Panther is a little monster of a product, at nearly 1w in balanced mode, I am immensely happy to finally have a massively powerful amplifier in the palm of my hand. It is slick and small, with roughly 12-15 hours of battery life.
The lower gain stage does mean in some ways it may seem a touch quieter than before but the power ratings remain the same and that does mean more ambitious pairings with the likes of the Edition X V2 and even the Ether C Flow do not sound bad at all making the HA-2SE a more than useful decoding and amping setup for portable headphone usage.
If you need long battery life and the amp is sitting in your pocket most of the day I might suggest the National to you.
But if you are a big tube fan then the answer is, albeit a more expensive one, a lot clearer - get the Continental.
I am particularly impressed with its ability to convey a musical tonality that is devoid of any harsh or sharp leading edges. In addition, the expansive properties of the Cloud Nine make it a force to be reckoned with in the arena of mid to hi-fi amps.
CEntrance has done a great job with the HiFi-M8 V2, it is indeed a multi-tool. It isn't geared for very warm headphones or speakers if you use it as a source, but overall it is well geared for the natural/neutral spectrum of products out there.
However, if you are an IEM guy, got a midrange DAP and want a little more juice to really liven up those IEM's without any unwanted noise or hum then the RX is probably going to get my vote for one of the IEM analog amps of the year.
Oppo should really get this into Apple and high-end lifestyle stores if possible. The HA-2 would look very much at home there and present a rather respectable level of audiophile credibility in stores where design often edges out everything else.