Budget Portable DAC + IEM Pairings
Budget Portable DAC + Earphone Pairing
When it comes to portable AMPS/DAC’s, even the lower-priced models will be an upgrade 99% of the time over using your phone as your source. There are certain earphones with very low Impedance (OHM) ratings that will run well from most sources but if you want a bump in sound quality, detail retrieval, or just for the Bluetooth feature, there is an option for everyone and every budget.
The lower the OHM’s typically coincides with the ease in which to drive your earphones. Sub 20ohm rated in-ear monitors will have little issues in terms of being powered from your phone, tablet, laptop or PC.
A DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter) will bring out characteristics in your earphones that most of those sources cannot, they can alter the sound signature and tone or give you a boost on your favorite frequency.
When choosing a portable DAC there are a few things to consider; size, battery life, signature, and driveability of your earphones. Here are some budget-friendly earphone pairings that benefit the most from having an external DAC to bridge the gap between your devices.
Planar driver technology isn’t new but its use in mainstream earphones is relatively new. It was typically only found in over the ear headphones such as Hifiman’s HE models. The P1 has a warmer yet analytical sound signature with the bass being very neutral yet rich; it just doesn’t have a ton of air behind them to deliver a lot of it. These earphones are centered more towards a clean, coherent sound. That being said, planar drivers have a unique sound of their own and while they’re more smooth than exciting they bring a certain clarity and stereo sound that’s full of detail and well separated. While it’s not the most budget pairing, planar drivers are very hungry for additional power, scale well with amplification, and pairing them with the XDUOO XD-05 will give you ample amounts of it including, but not limited to a boost to the low end, extending your sub-bass and opening the soundstage in a natural manner. The XD-05 makes for a great portable and at-home AMP/DAC that can be upgraded to Bluetooth with the Digital Turntable available for the regular and Plus models.
The Spring 1 is a tri-hybrid iem with a Piezo driver for the highs, Balanced Armature for mids, and Dynamic for the lows. This iem is already good right out of the box with wonderful high’s and larger soundstage, when paired the BTR5 you’ll get even more out of your treble, making it a bit brighter if that’s one of the main reasons you’re looking at the Spring 1. The earphones themselves aren’t neutrally tuned as they have some coloration across all frequencies with great detail. The BTR5 will accentuate the sound signature already present in the Spring 1 while making them more resolving and natural. If the energy brought by BQEYZ is already good enough for you and you'd like to bring back the treble a bit and boost the bass, making them a bit warmer overall, than the Shanling UP4 would also serve you well.
The NX7 also utilizes a tri-hybrid like the Spring 1 while being a bit brighter overall. Some may find them too bright at times, and the UP4 will dial them back a bit in the treble department. If you already appreciate the signature and tuning of the NX7 or think you will, but find them too revealing and would like a more laid back sound this is one of the best budget pairings you could hope for. The Tempotec Sonata iDSD is very similar to the UP4 and both will give a similar sound signature to the NX7. The Shanling DAC is a bit more expensive than the Sonata but does carry more features but in this case, you really can’t go wrong with either one.
The Shuoer Tape brings a newer technology of the audio world, the electrostatic (E-stat) driver at a very affordable price. They are similarly detailed as the TinHiFi P1 but have a noticeable boost in the bass region that the P1 doesn’t out of the box. The soundstage is wide and you’ll get some of those out of head sound experiences with clear notes and impressive layering. They don’t need a ton of additional power or amplification and can be driven well with a budget portable DAC. The Topping NX5 will give you a tighter, more controlled bass and bring out a more resolving sound from your Shuoer Tape earphones, which will also do well when paired with the more affordable Topping NX3 as both will articulate your low-end with the NX5 doing the job a bit better and more efficiently.
Pairings and sound signatures are subjective across all categories. Depending on the sound you prefer, your DAC choice will of course vary, with the exception of the NX7 that does very well with some warmth introduced, and the P1 which needs additional amplification to shine, most pairings will come down to personal taste. These are more practical pairings but if you have any questions or would like a suggestion based specifically on how you want to listen to your music we would be happy to provide additional, customized insight.