The Dongle DAC Survey: Part 1: Ins and Outs

Just imagine if men and women had among their groups any number of different types of sex organs. Further only those with matching types could fit together, leaving all other pairings in need of add-ons.

I’d imagine Evolutionists and Creationists alike would view their respective grand plans in less regard asking — what were they thinking?

The Dongle DAC Survey Contestants

Clarus CODA DAC ($300)
Helm Audio BOLT DAC ($99.99)
iBasso DC03 DAC ($69)

Before I get to the review-proper (in Part 2) — I’ve decided to review all three Dongle DACs in one big roundup — it made sense to talk about sex the Ins and Outs of connecting Dongle DACs to their respective hosts since it can necessitate the need for add-ons.

Receptacles (Outs)

As companies like Apple and Google reach deity-like Capitalist stature, when it comes to connecting an outboard DAC to their progeny, we are left with the same question — what were they thinking? Unlike divine creators and evolution, corporations act  more like people where self-interest rules the day.

So it has come to pass that Apple/iOS and Android users have different needs when it comes to making a hard-wired connection to an external DAC.

iOS devices like iPhones and iPads are fitted with Apple’s proprietary 8-pin Lightning receptacle as digital output, when used in conjunction with Apple’s Lightning to USB Camera Adapter.

Computers (even newish Apple’s) and Android devices offer the 24-pin double-sided USB-C receptacle for digital output.

Connectors (Ins)

Dongle DACs fall into 2 categories when it comes to their digital input connectors — USB Type-A (male) and USB-C (male).

For Apple iOS devices (iPhones and iPads) looking to use a USB A-endowed DAC, you’ll need to purchase Apple’s Lightning to USB Camera Adapter ($29) and plug your DAC into the Adapter’s USB port and the Adapter’s Lightning connector into your iOS device.

a USB-C to USB-A adapter (left) and Apple’s Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter

To connect a USB-C endowed DAC to an iOS device, and this where things get positively add-on-silly, you’ll need to add a USB-C to USB-A adapter before plugging it into Apple’s Lightning to USB Camera Adapter’s USB-A receptacle.

The Dongle DAC Contestants: The Mating Game

The Clarus CODA sports a USB Type-A (male) input. Clarus also includes a 6.75″ USB A (female) to USB-C adapter cable. This means the CODA can connect to any computer or Android device out-of-the-box while iOS users need to add Apple’s Lightning to USB Camera Adapter.

The Helm Audio BOLT DAC offers USB-C input. Helm also includes a handy little USB-C to USB-A adapter, so the BOLT is also ready to roll with any computer or Android device and only iOS users need to add Apple’s Lightning to USB Camera Adapter.

iBasso’s DC03 DAC, like the BOLT, offers USB-C input. This makes the BOLT ready to roll with any USB-C endowed computer and Android device. Users with older non USB-C-equipped computers need to add a USB-C to USB-A adapter while iOS users need to add the USB-C to USB-A adapter and Apple’s Lightning to USB Camera Adapter.

The review proper will also include a few AudioQuest DragonFlys to sweeter the survey.