How to Connect a DAP to a Headphone Amplifier?

Fiio M11 DAP connected to xDuoo MT 604Tube Amp

DAPs are great high-quality sources. They have tons of features and are your best for a compact and portable rig. However, one issue that most DAPs have is power output. 

Aside from a few DAPs such as the Astell & Kern Kann Alpha/Cube, most DAPs are not able to deliver the necessary power requirements to make full-sized headphones such as the Sennheiser HD800 sing. Fortunately, if you already enjoy the sound quality of your DAP, then there is a quick fix for this issue. 

The best way to make the power output of your DAP higher is by connecting it to an external headphone amplifier. All you will need for this setup is a DAP with a line-out feature and the appropriate adapters or connectors to hook up your DAP to your headphone amplifier. 

In this tutorial, we will be teaching you everything you will need to get this kind of setup. We will be connecting our Fiio M11 DAP to our Xduoo MT 604 balanced hybrid tube amplifier for our example. 

How To Connect a DAP to an AMP 

Line Out 

xDuoo MT604 Tube Amp Back Part

The most important feature that you should be looking for in DAP is the line-out feature. This allows you to bypass the internal amplifier of your DAP, making it act purely as a DAC. The reason why you do not want your DAP’s amplifier circuit to be active is that it can cause “double amping.” 

There are several issues that can occur with double amping. The DAP’s amplifier can color the sound, which will not give you the desired results. Having two amplifiers active can also cause distortion. And overall, you won’t be utilizing your external amplifier to its full potential. 

Take note that not all DAPs have a true line-out feature. Other DAPs, entry-level ones in particular, usually just max out the volume when the line out feature is activated. Again, this is bad since it will cause double amping. 

For DAPs with multiple outputs, make sure to check which one can act as a line out. The Fiio M11 that we have recently reviewed only allows line out via the 3.5mm SE output. 

This is important since it will determine what cable you need to purchase. We will be talking more about that in the adapters section of this article. 

Be very careful when using the lineout feature of your DAP. If you forget to turn it off, then your volume will automatically be set to maximum the next time you use it. This can potentially damage your hearing and your IEMs/headphones. 

DAC Configuration

Fiio M11 Output Selection

 

Another thing that you should be paying attention to in a DAP is its DAC configuration. Remember that your DAP will be acting as your DAC in this setup. This means that you’re DAP will be responsible for the quality of the sound of your setup. 

As we mentioned in our DAC chip article, the DAC chip used and its configuration will play a large role in how your DAP will sound. So if your DAP is utilizing a better DAC chip, then chances are that it will perform better than lower tier DAPs. 

Cables and Adapters

xDuoo MT604 Tube Amp with Fiio M11 and XLR Cable

Once you are sure that your DAP has a line-out feature, the next thing that you need to determine is the adapters that you will be using. Most headphone amplifiers will usually have an RCA input or an XLR input. If you haven’t purchased your headphone amp, make sure to do your research in order to prevent purchasing the wrong cable. 

In our case, the Xduoo MT 604 is a fully balanced headphone amplifier. This means that it will only accept balanced inputs and outputs. So our only options are either an XLR input or a 4.4mm balanced input. 

Both cables can either be purchased from reputable brands such as ddHiFi and iFi Audio, or you can make DIY cables. However, if you are going to build your own cables, we highly advise using quality materials. 

We tried making DIY cables utilizing different materials. The cable that was made with cheaper materials with poor shielding gave lots of noticeable hisses. So if you are unsure of the quality of your DIY cable, we recommend purchasing a prebuilt one. 

Additionally, we would like to stress out that the other end of your cable should correspond to the appropriate line-out compatible output of your DAP. In our case, the other end of our XLR cable is a 3.5mm jack since our M11 is only capable of utilizing the line-out feature on its 3.5mm SE output. 

If the other end of your cable has a different termination, we highly recommend using adapters. We also highly recommend checking out our review of ddHiFi’s adapters

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