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You might think the best route to optimal sound on your phone or laptop is a good pair of headphones. For some, that's enough. However, if you really want to kick the sound up to 11, you might need a bit of help.
One way to get a serious boost to your sound is with a digital-to-analogue converter (DAC). But good audio is not just about volume. You see, a DAC converts digital sound to analog, such that the signals can be understood by the human ear. The better the DAC, the better the sound. The problem is that a lot of phones and laptops don't include the best DACs.
First, let me lay out the specs for the UA100 DAC.
Features a ES9038Q2M DAC chip and dual RT6863 amplifier chip
Supports 32bit/768kHz and DSD512
High signal-to-noise ratio and 195mW@32Ω output power
Offers both 3.5mm SE and 4.4mm BAL headphone jacks
Utilizes a CT7601 USB audio transmission chip to ensure compatibility with smartphones and apps with very low latency (delay)
Advanced voltage regulator for a noise-free, high-fidelity sound
LED indicator displays sample rate for true DSD playback
Crafted from aluminum
Weighs only 10.6g
Price -- $79.99 (currently $56 with promo code "5ASUA130")
The EarFun UA100 is a plug-and-play device, so there are no drivers to install and it should work with almost any operating system you use (including gaming consoles).
I should preface this review by stating I consider myself an audiophile. I collect and listen to vinyl when I'm in my office and often find digital sound to be a bit sterile. Thanks to devices like the UA100, it's possible to get more warmth from digital sounds played through devices with DACs that don't stand up to the audio that spills from my turntable.
I tested the UA100 on both my Pixel 7 Pro and my MacBook Pro. The first thing I realized is that this DAC seriously bumps up the sound levels. When I plugged the device into my MacBook Pro that had the sound level cranked to max, I had to scramble to press pause because it was so loud.
When using the DAC on certain operating systems (such as MacOS), you must open the sound settings and select the EarFun UA100 as the output device.
Once I readjusted the level, I was immediately presented with a sound that was warmer, sounding closer to analog than digital.
I tested the sound of the UA100 with the original score to the film No One Will Save You (a brilliant film, by the way) by Joseph Trapanese, and my go-to for sound testing, Tom Sawyer by Rush.
In both cases, the sound was improved considerably. Of course, your mileage may vary. If you can't hear the difference between a good pair of headphones and a great pair, you might not notice the change.
Also, audiophiles might tend to scoff at a DAC this cheap. No, the UA100 won't beat the sound produced by the FiiO Q7 DSD512 MQA (which sells for nearly $800.00). But for those who would like to get more volume and a warmer sound from their smartphone, laptop, or gaming console, the UA100 is hard to beat.
Another outstanding feature
Outside of the improved sound, one of my favorite features of the device is that you won't have to also use a 3.5mm to USB Type-C adapter to use wired headphones on your smartphone. Plug your 3.5mm headphones into one end of the DAC and then, with the supplied 4.5" USB Type-C cable, plug the DAC into your device. And if your headphones have a 4.4mm plug, the UA100 can accommodate it.
ZDNET's buying advice
For most users, the biggest benefit of the UA100 DAC is that it can increase the output volume from your device. At the same time, you must use this DAC with caution because the increased levels can be dangerous.