As more streaming music services add lossless or high definition audio, the interest in DACs has increased — so much so that this guide was created . This once-reserved gadget is now a favorite of audiophiles and is a popular choice for people who need more than their AirPods or phone can provide. They have their limitations. They can be expensive and they may not fit on the same phone as the one you are attaching them to. Enter the Tea DAC by Khadas .
Khadas began by making single-board computers that were media-friendly (SBC, which is a reference to media-specific Raspberry Pi-type things), before moving onto desktop DACs. Tea is the first mobile DAC from the company and was initially designed for iPhone users, though it can also be used with Android. MagSafe compatibility is the reason why I think it’s better suited for Apple’s phones. This, combined with its slim, iPhone-esque all metal design solves the problem of mobile DACs hanging out of your phone’s back.
The Tea sticks to your phone’s back and is barely noticeable than Apple MagSafe wallets. MagSafe-compatible cases are available for Android. However, your budget and phone will play a role.
The Tea isn’t just slick in its form factor. It also supports codecs. Over USB/Lightning, the Tea can handle audio right up to 32bit/384kHz. Given that most mainstream music services don’t offer anything above 192kHz, streamers will be more than covered. The Tea also supports MQA (Tidal), AAC, FLAC and APE as well as all standard formats (WAV/MP3, etc.). The Tea supports LDAC and AptX HD via Bluetooth if you prefer to go wireless.
Here I should mention that, for all its iPhone friendliness, Apple doesn’t offer either LDAC or AptX HD support in its flagship phones. While you can still use Bluetooth in Tea, you won’t have the ability to access the higher-quality formats. It does allow you to charge your phone with Bluetooth, but you won’t be able to use the DAC. You can also carry the smaller tea around with you and your headphones. There are plenty of Android phones that do support LDAC/AptX HD, but you’ll need to check the manufacturer website to confirm (most Pixels, Samsung flagships and OnePlus phones offer LDAC/AptX HD decoding).
There are some things that you won’t see here, but they all fall under the audio category. There is only one 3.5mm headphone socket – there are no options for balanced cans of 2.5 or 4.4mm. However, rumors suggest that a “Pro”, version might be coming soon. You don’t get any feedback on the codec/audio quality of the current audio, other than a simple, color-changing LED that indicates the format. This can only be seen if the phone is facing down. The inputs are limited to USB C, so it will work with your phone or PC but not line in.
This puts the Tea in a unique category. This tea is perfectly capable of streaming for those who want to get the best out of their streaming service. It should also appeal to audiophiles who are looking for an affordable option that covers all bases. But at $199 it’s a reasonable spend. The Fiio BTR5 is perhaps its closest competitor. That’s also a portable DAC with high-res Bluetooth support along with a similar selection of cabled formats (also up to 32bit/384kHz with MQA support). The Fiio also offers balanced headphones (2.5mm). When you factor in that the BTR5 also typically retails for $159, you have to really want that slim, MagSafe design.
It’s hard to oversell it. The Tea and the BTR5 were tested side-by-side and I was impressed by the ease of use. The Fiio makes your phone feel tethered and almost weighed down with the DAC. With the Tea, it’s similar to using one of those iPhone cases with a battery in it – a little more thickness, but y