Finding the Right Music Player for the Essential Phone's USB-C headphone adapter

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TimboC2000

Member
Nov 14, 2017
20
16
One of the disappointing trends for me with new phones is the lack of a 3.5mm headphone jacks. However, given the popularity of wireless headphones and the large market share of Apple devices I expect the trend to continue and headphone jacks to be found on fewer and fewer phones in the future.

I imagine that I'm in the minority of users who use neither streaming services or Bluetooth headphones. My music is usually high bit rate FLAC, ACC or MP3 depending on when I ripped it. My initial listening on the included 3.5mm DAC was not promising. A lack of dynamic range and low volume even on efficient in ear monitors (IEMs) made me think about finding a replacement.

The problem is there aren't at lot of options for small passive DACs. And my bet is that most of the current phones with no 3.5mm jack use the same chipset that Essential uses - the Conexant CX20985 for their headphone adapters. (For more info - see the AnandTech article - Conexant Introduces USB-C Digital Audio Compliant Chips.)

So that lead me to see if perhaps there was something that could be done in software. Based on my limited research it would appear that Android above version 5.0 has a built in USB to DAC driver. It also appears that this is what Essential uses to access the USB adapter. However, this driver is quite limited. Consistent with what I heard, the driver resamples everything to 16-bit 48kHz and limits the dynamic range. (For more info see extreamsd.com and their USB audio driver page.)

Good news! There are several music player applications on GooglePlay that are capable of natively recognizing the Essential DAC over USB. The difference in sound quality, volume and dynamic range is like night and day. The most polished one I've used is the paid application Onkyo HF Player. However, the free application HibyMusic also works, but has few rough edges. The Onkyo application sounds good enough for me to make finding a better DAC no longer necessary.

One WARNING on both programs and the Essential DAC - when the DAC is recognized by the programs they frequently turn the initial volume level to 100%. If you do this while you've started music playing and have the headphones on you will be in for a very rude surprise. Trust me I learned this the hard way - plug everything in with no music playing and be sure to lower the volume first.

Update from comments - Apps that support the Essential DAC directly:
1. Onkyo HF Player
2. HibyMusic
3. USB Audio Player Pro
4. Neutron Music Player
 
Last edited:

widezu69

Senior Member
Aug 17, 2009
142
20
USB Audio Player Pro has a custom driver that supports bit-perfect on android. I use it with external DACs such as the Meridian Explorer 2 (MQA works perfectly) and the AudioQuest Dragonfly Red - hardware volume control works.
 
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chiadrum

Senior Member
Sep 4, 2010
145
25
One of the disappointing trends for me with new phones is the lack of a 3.5mm headphone jacks. However, given the popularity of wireless headphones and the large market share of Apple devices I expect the trend to continue and headphone jacks to be found on fewer and fewer phones in the future.

I imagine that I'm in the minority of users who use neither streaming services or Bluetooth headphones. My music is usually high bit rate FLAC, ACC or MP3 depending on when I ripped it. My initial listening on the included 3.5mm DAC was not promising. A lack of dynamic range and low volume even on efficient in ear monitors (IEMs) made me think about finding a replacement.

The problem is there aren't at lot of options for small passive DACs. And my bet is that most of the current phones with no 3.5mm jack use the same chipset that Essential uses - the Conexant CX20985 for their headphone adapters. (For more info - see the AnandTech article - Conexant Introduces USB-C Digital Audio Compliant Chips.)

So that lead me to see if perhaps there was something that could be done in software. Based on my limited research it would appear that Android above version 5.0 has a built in USB to DAC driver. It also appears that this is what Essential uses to access the USB adapter. However, this driver is quite limited. Consistent with what I heard, the driver resamples everything to 16-bit 48kHz and limits the dynamic range. (For more info see extreamsd.com and their USB audio driver page.)

Good news! There are several music player applications on GooglePlay that are capable of natively recognizing the Essential DAC over USB. The difference in sound quality, volume and dynamic range is like night and day. The most polished one I've used is the paid application Onkyo HF Player. However, the free application HibyMusic also works, but has few rough edges. The Onkyo application sounds good enough for me to make finding a better DAC no longer necessary.

One WARNING on both programs and the Essential DAC - when the DAC is recognized by the programs they frequently turn the initial volume level to 100%. If you do this while you've started music playing and have the headphones on you will be in for a very rude surprise. Trust me I learned this the hard way - plug everything in with no music playing and be sure to lower the volume first.

Thanks for this, I was searching just today for something that would be compatible with the USB-C output and I didn't want to waste money on anything that won't work on the Essential. And I have an Onkyo receiver for my living room to boot. I wonder how the Iron Maiden flavored version of the app works? I am a Maiden fan as well. Maybe I'll try that version and report back on this thread.
 
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TimboC2000

Member
Nov 14, 2017
20
16
A quick update. For $9.00 I figured I’d give the Google Pixel DAC a try. It only samples at 48kHz. It also provides no identifying information as to manufacturer. So it works, but the Essential DAC is superior.

For a small compact passive DAC the new Razer Phone DAC at $20 would be the one to try. It is 24bit and THX certified, but as yet untested on the Essential Phone. So it may only work on the Razer.
 

TimboC2000

Member
Nov 14, 2017
20
16
How do you know if the app has native support?

Sent from my PH-1 using XDA Labs

The Onkyo program will identify the DAC and tell you the sampling modes. Both programs bring up a dialog box noting a USB device when it is plugged in.

But you have to rely on the program author and description to see if they support DACs natively.
 

oken735

Member
Apr 15, 2010
14
5
Baltimore MD
Personally I have been using Neutron Music Player on the Play Store, and it has been working great.
I picked it up years ago on sale and downloaded it on my PH-1 to see if it added a setting to support USB DACs, and it turns out it did :)
However, it did not use the external DAC by default, you have to enable it in the settings. The setting was specifically under Audio Hardware, as 'Direct USB Driver' to allow direct access to the USB device. I am on Nougat and after closing and reopening the app, the background hiss/static I could hear while using the default output is now gone and my Essential USB-C DAC has been working great.
 
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chiadrum

Senior Member
Sep 4, 2010
145
25
Personally I have been using Neutron Music Player on the Play Store, and it has been working great.
I picked it up years ago on sale and downloaded it on my PH-1 to see if it added a setting to support USB DACs, and it turns out it did :)
However, it did not use the external DAC by default, you have to enable it in the settings. The setting was specifically under Audio Hardware, as 'Direct USB Driver' to allow direct access to the USB device. I am on Nougat and after closing and reopening the app, the background hiss/static I could hear while using the default output is now gone and my Essential USB-C DAC has been working great.

And this has a trial version, perfect. I will give it a try. After I get some files on my PH-1. Had to order a cable to connect to my PC since Essential doesn't include one! I am guessing that none of these apps work with Tidal,Spotify,Pandora etc?
 
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avd

Senior Member
Aug 17, 2009
796
210
And this has a trial version, perfect. I will give it a try. After I get some files on my PH-1. Had to order a cable to connect to my PC since Essential doesn't include one! I am guessing that none of these apps work with Tidal,Spotify,Pandora etc?


Yes a "regular" USB to USB C. Monotone had it on sale this week.

Out you can use software like synching.

Sent from my PH-1 using XDA Labs
 

oken735

Member
Apr 15, 2010
14
5
Baltimore MD
And this has a trial version, perfect. I will give it a try. After I get some files on my PH-1. Had to order a cable to connect to my PC since Essential doesn't include one! I am guessing that none of these apps work with Tidal,Spotify,Pandora etc?
You can use a UPnP source, or ftp/webdav, but yea, no option to use any of those natively, without downloading the songs to local storage as far as I know

Sent from my PH-1 using Tapatalk
 

viperc

Senior Member
Jun 23, 2013
81
16
Initially was very disappointed with the supplied dac. I can hear static n audio breaking up. Then i realised that the issue only appear when I'm on low volume with equalizer turned on. Bumping up the volume fixed the static n breaking up issue. So my current setup is supplied dac + portable amp. The amp is to control the volume as connecting directly to the dac is too loud for my preference. It is the best sounding setup i have thus far. Sounds better than pairing my old mp3 player with the same amp. I'm using poweramp to play my songs.
 

mvadu

Member
Dec 3, 2011
37
4
Madison, WI, USA
Personally I have been using Neutron Music Player on the Play Store, and it has been working great.
I picked it up years ago on sale and downloaded it on my PH-1 to see if it added a setting to support USB DACs, and it turns out it did :)
However, it did not use the external DAC by default, you have to enable it in the settings. The setting was specifically under Audio Hardware, as 'Direct USB Driver' to allow direct access to the USB device. I am on Nougat and after closing and reopening the app, the background hiss/static I could hear while using the default output is now gone and my Essential USB-C DAC has been working great.

I am using Neutron Trial version (which is a full version limited to 5 days) and I don't see much of a difference between its direct USB driver vs generic driver. Could you please check in the settings Audio Hardware, what is the bitrate listed? For me when I enable "Direct USB Driver" its fixing the bitrate to 48kHz, is it the same for you as well?
 

oken735

Member
Apr 15, 2010
14
5
Baltimore MD
I am using Neutron Trial version (which is a full version limited to 5 days) and I don't see much of a difference between its direct USB driver vs generic driver. Could you please check in the settings Audio Hardware, what is the bitrate listed? For me when I enable "Direct USB Driver" its fixing the bitrate to 48kHz, is it the same for you as well?

The direct USB driver, to my knowledge, is the setting that enables direct DAC driver. The generic driver is a setting that says to use a less specific version of the direct DAC driver that should work with more USB DACs. Each of these settings have submenus that you can play with that should allow you to change the format, frequency, mode, and other settings you might want.

When I have both direct USB driver and generic driver selected, my driver shows up as conexant USB audio, and my bits show up as 32, and frequency 44100. I haven't tryied to tweak the bitrate/frequency as I am happy with the sound from the stock settings with some small EQing for my headphones.
 

qnc

Senior Member
Apr 27, 2007
331
91
Has anyone tried the Essential DAC with PowerAMP? I know it supports USB DACS pretty well.


I used PowerAmp for a while sound was OK, but it did not appear to be loud enough some times. also tweaking the settings, EQ, etc. seem to make it worse for me.
I had paid for Power amp back with my nexus 4 and loved the app, but it just does not sound right for me know.
Also I'm definitely not an audiophile just want to hear my music.

I have been testing Vinyl Music Player and it seems to sound better to me. This is from the Fdroid repository.
Free, No adds and no extra permissions, but no extra settings also.
 
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mvadu

Member
Dec 3, 2011
37
4
Madison, WI, USA
The direct USB driver, to my knowledge, is the setting that enables direct DAC driver. The generic driver is a setting that says to use a less specific version of the direct DAC driver that should work with more USB DACs. Each of these settings have submenus that you can play with that should allow you to change the format, frequency, mode, and other settings you might want.

When I have both direct USB driver and generic driver selected, my driver shows up as conexant USB audio, and my bits show up as 32, and frequency 44100. I haven't tryied to tweak the bitrate/frequency as I am happy with the sound from the stock settings with some small EQing for my headphones.

Makes sense.. Have you been able to use the headset to receive to calls while you are listening to music? I can't hear the incoming calls, and if I make a call, it goes to device speaker. Both cases it stops the music though.
 

oken735

Member
Apr 15, 2010
14
5
Baltimore MD
Makes sense.. Have you been able to use the headset to receive to calls while you are listening to music? I can't hear the incoming calls, and if I make a call, it goes to device speaker. Both cases it stops the music though.

I think it depends on the Rom you are running. When I was on nougat, receiving phone calls while music was playing was a crapshoot.
On Lineage OS, the few times I have received or made a call with the headphones plugged in, it worked fine, I could hear them and it came through the headphones, and it even switched to earpiece when I unplugged the adapter. :good:

I'm not sure how it is on the current official Oreo 8.1 release as I haven't used it for enough time where I would have ran into a situation where I was making or taking a call with headphones in.
 

TimboC2000

Member
Nov 14, 2017
20
16
Has anyone tried the Essential DAC with PowerAMP? I know it supports USB DACS pretty well.

When I wrote this originally I tried the paid version of PowerAMP and its beta version. Neither was able to natively recognize the Essential DAC. I'd used PowerAMP for years.

I haven't bothered to try it since I switched to Onkyo HF
 
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rockhevy1000

Member
Apr 27, 2016
7
2
Maybe you want to add BlackPlayer EX to the list. I proved with the Onkyo HF Player, HibyMusic and USB Audio Player Pro and I can hardly find any significant difference.
Also I tried with the LeEco LeMax 2 headphones (the only one with usb- c port I have) and the ubs-c to 3.5mm adapter. The LeEco headphone are way much better. Better bass, better clarity, greater sharpness. Even at louder music. So, if you want to recomend a cheap but great usb-c headphones, the LeEco option is wonderful.
 
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roustabout

Senior Member
Feb 12, 2011
825
212
So glad I found this thread. we just got two essentials in the house and I am interested in some of the add-ons but really just wanted the USB to mini adapter to work a bit better.

I'd forgotten about USB audio pro, which I bought some time back for a tablet and outboard DAC.

works great with the usb-c to mini, and it lets you browse Tidal and, iirc, upnp libraries.

For those interested, just now essential is offering 3 months of Tidal for free.
 

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    One of the disappointing trends for me with new phones is the lack of a 3.5mm headphone jacks. However, given the popularity of wireless headphones and the large market share of Apple devices I expect the trend to continue and headphone jacks to be found on fewer and fewer phones in the future.

    I imagine that I'm in the minority of users who use neither streaming services or Bluetooth headphones. My music is usually high bit rate FLAC, ACC or MP3 depending on when I ripped it. My initial listening on the included 3.5mm DAC was not promising. A lack of dynamic range and low volume even on efficient in ear monitors (IEMs) made me think about finding a replacement.

    The problem is there aren't at lot of options for small passive DACs. And my bet is that most of the current phones with no 3.5mm jack use the same chipset that Essential uses - the Conexant CX20985 for their headphone adapters. (For more info - see the AnandTech article - Conexant Introduces USB-C Digital Audio Compliant Chips.)

    So that lead me to see if perhaps there was something that could be done in software. Based on my limited research it would appear that Android above version 5.0 has a built in USB to DAC driver. It also appears that this is what Essential uses to access the USB adapter. However, this driver is quite limited. Consistent with what I heard, the driver resamples everything to 16-bit 48kHz and limits the dynamic range. (For more info see extreamsd.com and their USB audio driver page.)

    Good news! There are several music player applications on GooglePlay that are capable of natively recognizing the Essential DAC over USB. The difference in sound quality, volume and dynamic range is like night and day. The most polished one I've used is the paid application Onkyo HF Player. However, the free application HibyMusic also works, but has few rough edges. The Onkyo application sounds good enough for me to make finding a better DAC no longer necessary.

    One WARNING on both programs and the Essential DAC - when the DAC is recognized by the programs they frequently turn the initial volume level to 100%. If you do this while you've started music playing and have the headphones on you will be in for a very rude surprise. Trust me I learned this the hard way - plug everything in with no music playing and be sure to lower the volume first.

    Update from comments - Apps that support the Essential DAC directly:
    1. Onkyo HF Player
    2. HibyMusic
    3. USB Audio Player Pro
    4. Neutron Music Player
    2
    USB Audio Player Pro has a custom driver that supports bit-perfect on android. I use it with external DACs such as the Meridian Explorer 2 (MQA works perfectly) and the AudioQuest Dragonfly Red - hardware volume control works.
    1
    Personally I have been using Neutron Music Player on the Play Store, and it has been working great.
    I picked it up years ago on sale and downloaded it on my PH-1 to see if it added a setting to support USB DACs, and it turns out it did :)
    However, it did not use the external DAC by default, you have to enable it in the settings. The setting was specifically under Audio Hardware, as 'Direct USB Driver' to allow direct access to the USB device. I am on Nougat and after closing and reopening the app, the background hiss/static I could hear while using the default output is now gone and my Essential USB-C DAC has been working great.
    1
    Personally I have been using Neutron Music Player on the Play Store, and it has been working great.
    I picked it up years ago on sale and downloaded it on my PH-1 to see if it added a setting to support USB DACs, and it turns out it did :)
    However, it did not use the external DAC by default, you have to enable it in the settings. The setting was specifically under Audio Hardware, as 'Direct USB Driver' to allow direct access to the USB device. I am on Nougat and after closing and reopening the app, the background hiss/static I could hear while using the default output is now gone and my Essential USB-C DAC has been working great.

    And this has a trial version, perfect. I will give it a try. After I get some files on my PH-1. Had to order a cable to connect to my PC since Essential doesn't include one! I am guessing that none of these apps work with Tidal,Spotify,Pandora etc?
    1
    Has anyone tried the Essential DAC with PowerAMP? I know it supports USB DACS pretty well.


    I used PowerAmp for a while sound was OK, but it did not appear to be loud enough some times. also tweaking the settings, EQ, etc. seem to make it worse for me.
    I had paid for Power amp back with my nexus 4 and loved the app, but it just does not sound right for me know.
    Also I'm definitely not an audiophile just want to hear my music.

    I have been testing Vinyl Music Player and it seems to sound better to me. This is from the Fdroid repository.
    Free, No adds and no extra permissions, but no extra settings also.