Drive High-Impedance Headphones With This Stylish USB DAC

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For anyone with an interest in building audio projects, it’s likely that an early project will be a headphone amplifier. They’re relatively easy to build from transistors, ICs, or tubes, and it’s possible to build one to a decent quality without being an electronic engineering genius. It’s not often though that we see one as miniaturized as [daumemo]’s USB-C DAC and headphone amplifier combo, that fits within a slightly elongated 3.5 mm jack cover as part of a small USB-to-headphone cable.

The DAC is an off-the-shelf board featuring an ALC4042 IC, it has a line-level output and a handy place to tap off a 5 volt line for the amplifier. This final part is a tiny PCB with two chips, a TPS65135 that produces clean +5 and -5 volt rails, and an INA1620 which is a high-quality audio amplifier set up for 2x gain. All this has been designed onto a very small PCB, which sits inside a 3D-printed housing along with the 3.5 mm earphone socket. The result is a very neat unit far better able do drive high-impedance headphones than the output from an unmodified DAC, but still looking as svelte as any commercial product. We like it.

This may be one of the most compact USB-to-headphone amplifiers we’ve seen, but it’s by no means the first.