The DAC3 ($149) combines the well-regarded 32-bit ESS ES9281A PRO Ultra DAC with a high-performance headphone amplifier in a lightweight aluminum case not much bigger than a USB flash drive that goes between your phone, tablet, or computer and headphones (it’s only 1.9 inches long, 0.6 inches wide, and less than 0.4 inches thick). With a USB Type C input on one end and a 3.5mm minijack output on the other, the amp/DAC draws its power through the USB connection so there are no batteries and no worries about charging.
The onboard amplifier is designed to drive headphones with impedances of 12 ohms or higher and provide “plenty of headroom” so listeners can experience maximum dynamic range and has a variable line-level output so it can also be used with other gear, including powered speakers and A/V receivers. In addition to a volume up/down button, the DAC3 has a sample-rate indicator light.
The device supports standard hi-res audio formats including MQA, PCM, and DSD and is said to provide enhanced playback from hi-res streaming services such as Tidal and Qobuz. The input sample rate is 44.1kHz-96kHz for native playback; 188.2kHz and 192kHz are re-sampled to 96kHz.
Audioengine claims the DAC3 “reveals stunning detail and music clarity headphones often miss when connected directly to your streaming device” and provides a 30-day “love it or return it for a full refund” trial period so listeners can decide for themselves.
The DAC3 comes with USB-C and lightning-to-USB-C cables. For more information, visit audioengine.com.