Mon. Jan 24th, 2022


As more music streaming services introduced lossless or high-definition audio in their offerings, interest in DACs (digital-to-analog converters or “headphone amplifiers”) grew – so we created This guide. What was once an audiophile reserve is slowly becoming a go-to gadget for those who want more than they can afford on their phones and airpods. But they are not without caution. For one, these are often expensive and sometimes not much smaller than the phone you’re connecting to. Enter Tea DAC by Khadas.

Before moving to the desktop DAC, Khadas began building media-friendly single board computers (SBC – think … media-specific raspberry pie type things). Tea is the company’s first mobile DAC and it seems to be primarily aimed at iPhone users – although it is compatible with Android. The reason I suggest it is more suitable for Apple phones is that it is MagSafe compatible. Combine this with the slim, iPhone-esque all-metal design and it solves one of the major problems of mobile DAC: having something heavy on the back of your phone.

With tea, it sticks to the back of your phone and the low profile makes it a little more noticeable than Apple’s own Magsaf wallet. You can certainly find MagSafe enabled cases for Android, but your phone and budget will be a factor.

Beyond the glamorous form factor, tea does not shake its codec support. With USB / Lightning, the Tea can handle audio up to 32bit / 384kHz. Given that most mainstream music services don’t offer anything above 192kHz, streamers will do more than cover. Similarly, tea can decode MQA (Tidal) with DSD, AAC, FLAC, APE, OGG and all standard formats (WAV / MP3 etc.). If you prefer to go wireless, Tea supports LDAC and AptX HD via Bluetooth.

James True / Engadget

I should mention here that, for all its iPhone friendliness, Apple does not support LDAC or AptX HD on its flagship phones. You can still use Bluetooth functionality, but you can’t enjoy high-quality formats. This does mean at least that you can still charge your phone while using the DAC or you can go around with a small cup of tea attached to your headphones instead of your mobile. There are lots of Android phones that To do LDAC / AptX HD is supported, but you need to check the manufacturer’s website to make sure (most Pixels, Samsung flagship and OnePlus phones offer LDAC / AptX HD decoding).

You won’t find some things here, but most of them fall on the high end of the audio For example, there’s only a regular 3.5mm headphone jack – there’s no substitute for a 2.5 or 4.4mm balanced can at this point (although there are rumors that it could come with a “Pro” version). There is also limited feedback on what codec / audio quality you are currently receiving, indicating only a simple color-changing LED format, which you will not see until the phone is tilted. Inputs are limited to USB-C, so it will work with your phone and PC, but no line.

This puts the wheel in an interesting section. This is perfectly suited for people who want the most out of their streaming service and should even apply to audiofiles is a prudent option that covers most bass. But at $ 199 it is a reasonable expense. Probably the most obvious competitor is the BTR5 from Fiio. It is a portable DAC with a similar selection of wiring formats with high-resolution Bluetooth support (up to 32bit / 384kHz with MQA support). Oh, and the Fio also offers a balanced headphone option (2.5mm). When you consider that the BTR5 also usually retails for 159, you really want that slim, magsafe design.

That doesn’t undersell it though. I tested BTR5 and tea side by side, and the sheer benefits of tea were obvious. With Fiio, your phone feels tethered, almost loaded by DAC. With tea, it’s like using one of the iPhone cases with a battery – a bit thicker, but you can still handle the phone as you normally would.

The tea has a much larger battery capacity – 1,160 mAh than Fiio’s 550 mAh. This is obviously not an audio feature, but if you plan to listen for extended periods or stay away from the charging option for a few hours, this will soon become one. Which, given the mobile nature of these devices, seems like a reasonable possibility.

Tea Mobile DAC is connected to an iPhone.

James True / Engadget

Of course I’m not a big fan of the user interface. The tea has three buttons: one on the left and two on the right. The single button works by calling the power switch or your virtual assistant. The two buttons on the other side will either control the volume or skip the tracks You can toggle between volume and skip mode with the dual press of the power button and the top button on the other side. It works … fine, but it’s not too elegant. Also, if you leave it in track skip mode and go to adjust the volume, you’re going to move on to the next track before you know it. A minor, but frustrating thing.

In wired mode, tea emits strong, loud, clear audio. It may not be as loud as some other DACs. Even the little firefly gives tea there for its money. However, the word you get is clear and full of benefits, and here’s the goal: take a good signal and let it sound without coloring.

Aside from its initial function as a DAC, it will also not get in the way of taking calls. A pair of mics at the beginning of the tea allows you to talk on your phone without going back to the mic. What’s more, tea mics are a few leagues better than iPhones, especially when it comes to resting at a desk. You can set your phone to charge tea if you want, or disable this feature to avoid paying tax on your handset’s battery.

After all, tea is a welcome addition to a growing segment. At $ 199 it’s not the cheapest for the feature set, but its thoughtful design and aesthetics make it quite convenient and discreet. Unfortunately, if all of this is heard in your alley, you’ll have to wait a little longer. Although Khadas is obviously production-ready, the company is choosing to go Indigogo track, To be live next week with the campaign.

All products offered by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you purchase something through one of these links, we may receive an approved commission.



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