DAP vs Dongle – Which Improves The Sound Quality The Most?

Smartphone audio output is degrading as more complex functions are added to them. Using a DAP (Digital audio player) or Dongle is a simpler way to improve this poor quality.

Enhancing song audio quality is the primary goal of using DAP and Dongle. Compared to standard audio playing on phones, both of these provide better audio performance.

But which one should you choose for audio improvement,  DAP vs Dongle

DAP gives an excellent listening experience than Dongle with its modern operating system and multiple functionalities, It significantly improves sound quality. Dongles, on the other hand, improve audio without requiring you to carry an additional device. It also eliminates the need to worry about battery life.

You must delve deeper to discover the benefits and drawbacks of these two systems. So that you can select the device that is best suited to your needs and listening preferences.

Don’t worry! The following paragraphs provide a thorough comparison of the DAP and Dongle. So let’s get going.

Dap vs Dongle: A Short Comparison!

Dongles or portable audio DACs offer the very same digital-to-analog converting capabilities as desktop DACs. The difference is that they can be used with a smartphone for on-the-go listening.

On the other hand, DAP is another portable option for enjoying high-quality music. DAP differs from others by using more premium and potent components. The conversion stage of their software is also adjusted for high-resolution files.

Let’s do a head-to-head comparison between these two and see who comes out on top –

Sound ClarityRich, Powerful and Top-notchHigh-resolution Audio
Storage/Personal LibraryPossible & Can be streamed but needs downloaded playlist for offlineNot Possible & Can be Streamed or played from Device’s Library
Streaming Spotify, Tidal, Amazon MusicNot Available
FunctionalityStoring and playing audio at high-resolutionUSB audio accessory 
Battery Life13-35 Hours on 70% volumeDoesn’t Require Charging
Operating System & ScreenAndroid & Linux_ _
Price$200- $1800 (for decent quality)$10-$40 (for decent quality)
Product LinkCheck price on AmazonCheck price on Amazon

DAP may seem like the better option at first glance. But there is more to it than meets the eye. I will be analyzing those characteristics further below-

DAP vs Dongle: A Detailed Comparison

Comparison Between DAP and Dongle Rated out of 5

You’ve seen the basic comparison of DAP and Dongle. But, which one is best suited to your specific requirements? Let’s go into greater detail so you can make an informed choice

Sound Quality:

DAPs are exceptionally well made for music. Even low-cost DAPs are made of incredibly high-quality parts. 

They weren’t made to browse the web or upload pictures. So, all of the money goes towards this objective of achieving the best audio quality.

The overall effect has a neat and clean balance. The DAPs strike a good balance between realism and enjoyment. Furthermore, the highs and mids will contain a balance in them as well.

On the other hand, you might understandably wonder how a dongle improves sound quality. 

After all, converting digital data to analog sound can’t affect the sound, can it? The dongle is merely reading and converting the data, right?

No, not really. Converting any digital data to analog can be difficult. It’s very easy to introduce timing errors into the sound. This can easily make your music sound a little ‘off.’ Noise, such as hiss, is also produced by poor conversion.

But a good quality dongle does have the capability to improve your audio quality. And it will also make every effort to reduce these problems. But they won’t be as effective as DAPs to improve your sound quality.

Different dongles have different sounds, owing to how the internal components are built and tuned. But you will have a noticeable difference in your listening experience while using the dongle.

Winner: DAP is the clear winner in this category for being less prone to timing errors.

Storage/Personal Library:

DAPs have internal and external storage options. A straightforward hard drive can be found inside DAP as internal storage. External storage indicates that the DAP has a memory card slot.

It is uncommon for a player to lack internal storage. I have come across a couple of DAPs like this though. But, you should anticipate at least 4GB of storage space.

Any decent DAP should support an external SD card with at least 400GB of space. A larger storage capacity will obviously cost more. It’s important to assess your current music library and determine how much space you actually require.

A dongle, in contrast, lacks its own storage space. You need a smartphone music library to experience better music performance with a Dongle. Or, you could use a streaming service to play music.

THX Onyx Dongle

Winner: I think you yourself can tell that DAP is the clear winner here as well.

Streaming Capability:

For music streaming services, both can handle the job.

DAPs do have the ability to stream music from Spotify, Tidal, and Amazon. But you will need a WiFi-enabled digital audio player for this. 

You can download the apps for popular streaming services like Spotify, Qobuz, Deezer, Apple Music, and Napster.

You can also use Tidal as well. But be sure to pick an MQA-compatible file for this.  You can download the songs in offline mode before use on the go. You can also share your smartphone’s connection.

Contrarily, it is obvious that the Dongle by itself cannot stream music through online platforms. But they can surely play music through your smartphone. The dongle can stream music on Spotify, Tidal, and other online services in the same way.

Desktop DACs can connect directly to Wi-Fi, enabling you to choose them as output devices. This makes it simple to use your preferred streaming services or music management specialized software like Roon. 

However, it is debatable if the Roon is worth it or not. But many seem to enjoy using the application.

Winner: This one is a no-brainer, DAP is the obvious winner here.

Battery Life:

There is no assurance that expensive models will have extended battery life. Because battery life varies greatly between different models. They frequently have parts and operating systems that put a lot of stress on the batteries.

Cayin N8ii
Source: The Headphone List

DAP’s battery life can range from 13-35 hours on 70% volume, depending on the model. However, it does matter what kind of DAP you are using. A DAP should provide at least 13 hours of battery life on 70% volume on average.

On the other hand, a dongle does not require charging. This is their biggest advantage. Although they do deplete phones charge continuously while you listen to music.

Winner: For not having the hassle to charge an extra device, Dongle is the winner in this battle.


One of DAP’s distinctive features is its ability to function as a dongle. Your smartphone can easily be connected to it.

For instance, FiiO M11 DAP can be used as a dongle when integrated with a standalone system. The player’s dual AKM AK4993 chips have a better signal-to-noise ratio and less distortion.

M11 will mainly be used as a DAP, it performs remarkably when connected as a USB DAC. In cases of emergencies, this type of functionality is a great advantage. 

However, you cannot do the same for a portable USB DAC or Dongle.

Winner: For sheer versatility of being used as DAP and Dongle, the DAPs are the best choice.

Operating System & Screen:

The majority of DAPs operate on an Android. But Apple manufactures DAPs as well. It’s a good idea to purchase one with an operating system you are familiar with. Here’s what someone has to say about Apple’s DAP.

However, a dongle has nothing to do with the type or quality of the screen. However, the smooth operation is unquestionably dependent on the dongle model you select.

Shanling M3X
Source: AndroidBrick

High-end dongles have systems that enable smoother music conversion than low-end ones. In reality, though, this pales in comparison to the quality that DAPs will provide.

Winner: DAP is taking first place here as well.

File Format:

Dongle supports a variety of formats. FLAC is an extremely popular format on many streaming services that can be played by any dongle. 

A dongle also supports Ogg Vorbis, which you can find on Spotify. These lossy file types have a sample rate that typically streams at 44.1 kHz.

The dongle can easily convert these files without any issues. Additionally, a dongle can be used to stream Apple Music in ALAC, or Apple Lossless Audio Codec. But you might have to look through your Apple Music settings to find out more about this.

Dongles or portable DACs don’t usually support MQA files. But a few Desktop DACs are MQA compatible, and they are usually quite expensive. At $2195, the Mytek Brooklyn DAC+ supports the MQA files.

The number of file types that each DAP can support is limited. But don’t worry, it’s usually quite a large set. DAPs do support the most popular file formats like FLAC, or MQA, which have their differences. They also support APE and DFF. 

But before you go to buy any DAP model, do check which file format you normally use. You’re good as long as your DAP of choice can manage them.

Compatible File Format for DAP and Dongle

Winner: Both are quite compatible with usual file types. So, it’s a tie between these two in this section.


The biggest and most notable factor in this situation is price. One of the intriguing aspects is that the best quality dongle costs between  $10-$40. Here are some of my recommended dongles that work like a charm.

  • Remember the good old days when you used to charge your phone and listen to songs? Well, it is dangerous but without a 3.5mm headphone port, it is impossible. However, the Xumme 2-in-1 Dongle will give you that nostalgic feel. You can check price on Amazon.

At a minimum, you need to spend between $150 and $250 to get a decent-quality DAP. You might still be making a lot of compromises. Here are my top 3 most favorite DAPs that I have used.

  • FiiO M11 DAP is perfect all around. It has crystal clear audio reproduction ability with a great chipset. You can check the price on Amazon.

Winner: Dongle is the clear winner here.

Final Verdict

DAP and dongle are both capable to deliver the audio you desire. Clearly, it states that DAP overtakes the dongle in every aspect apart from price. But is DAP worth it?

Yes, DAP is absolutely worth it. For listening to music while traveling, the DAP is a more independent option. It doesn’t interfere with the smartphone’s autonomy. Phones’ storage capacity is unaffected by this as well. They are constantly trying to improve the system and give more even in the same budget range.

However, a dongle gives you the luxury of not carrying another brick in your pocket. It is a simple plug-and-play USB accessory for your phone. But, it lacks to deliver the same audio quality as a DAP.

So ultimately, the decision is yours. A dongle is a good option if you don’t mind a moderate improvement through a smartphone.

However, if you are willing to carry an extra device for optimal performance, pick DAP.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is DAP Preferable to A Phone?

No, it’s not. The primary advantage of a DAP over a phone is large offline music libraries. One issue with DAPs is that they are slower than phones and have older hardware. This old hardware is unlikely to be compatible with the most recent Android versions.

Does A DAP Support Streaming?

The answer is yes for the vast majority of DAPs. They can all be wirelessly connected to your local network. You can also use the DAP to access the streaming service by using your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot. But some DAPs don’t automatically support every streaming service.

Is An External DAC Worth Purchasing?

An external DAC is required for most users if the impedance is causing volume issues. The advantages of an external DAC are instantly recognizable. Especially  if your headphones have an impedance of more than 100 ohms. However, unless you’re a true music enthusiast, an external DAC is just an increased expense.

End Words

That was all about dap vs dongle. It may appear odd to compare the two at first. They do, however, share some similarities.

You may have to decide which of these two to use depending on your needs. Dap is typically preferred by users over the dongle because it is a more flexible device. 

Although dongles are becoming more advanced with their built-in technology. In the end, both improve your audio quality by some margin.

Until next time!

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