As many of you probably noticed, I have been focusing a lot lately on headphones and portable DAC/Amp/DAP reviews. There is no denial, our smartphones becoming our personal entertainment center to watch tv shows and movies, to play video games, to listen to music, to stream social media, and so on. The smartphones get bigger, more powerful, and have better displays. But one thing still remains the same - the sound delivery is nowhere near a hi-fi quality. For those who are OK with a pair of $10 earbuds, this will not be an issue because you will not hear a difference. But for others who value a sound quality and have an audiophile collection of headphones - you are limited by a sub-par internal DAC which takes a raw digital audio data and converts it to analog signal delivered to headphone jack inside of your phone. This is a not a clean solution to drive a quality headphones. Fortunately, there is a number of portable mobile DACs and amplifiers. Some can connect to your micro-USB port to receive a raw digital audio data for external processing, while others can take output of your headphone jack and process it through external amplifier. Unfortunately with a combined DAC/amp device you don't have a flexibility to use a different amplifier, and driving an external amp from headphone jack will mean amplifying already processed audio signal. That's where HiFimeDIY Android DAC comes to the rescue!
I wasn't even aware of this product until someone mentioned to me in the forum with a request to review it. This Android DAC is a very compact solution of bringing your digital audio outside of your phone to be processed with an external DAC. Using PCM2706 USB receiver which accepts up to 48kHz/16bit audio and also a popular Sabre ES9023 DAC chip, you get a clean analog conversion of the extracted digital audio signal brought out to 3.5mm port. You can connect your headphones directly, but that's not the main intent of this product. Just for the purpose of using headphones without amplifier, I'm not sure if it makes sense to add another dongle to your phone. But if you want to drive your high impedance headphones from a portable amplifier or want to connect your phone to a high class audio system - this little gadget for under $30 will be a perfect solution! One thing to mention, since it doesn't have built in rechargeable battery, it will source a power from your phone, but I haven't noticed any major drain.
The analog output from this Android DAC sounds relatively clean and neutral. I tested and compared it to my Note 2 headphone output, and you can really hear a difference at higher volume where Note 2 DAC starts to saturate while Sabre is still clean. Of course, you can always go with a fully integrated solution such as I have with FiiO E18 or Beyerdynamic A200p, but that cost anywhere from $160 to $300 and more. I don't have any dedicated headphone amps to test with now (never had a need since I have all low impedance headphones), but hopefully will update my review in a near future when I get one. Overall, with HiFimeDIY Sabre Android DAC you have more flexibility and can pick your own amplifier to match your favorite set of headphones with your smartphone.
Here are the pictures.