Small and smaller: Two mobile USB-C DACs from Sharkoon tested
The German company Sharkoon, which specializes in PC accessories, including the gaming segment, provided us with an external sound card for testing last year with the Gaming DAC Pro S. This year, the company is bringing other "digital-to-analog converters" to the market, including the Sharkoon Mobile DAC and the Sharkoon Mobile DAC PD. Both are, as the names suggest, intended for mobile use.
Once again, we received both DACs in our editorial office so as to perform a short audio test. The size is remarkable because it's record-breakingly small and, therefore, ideal for when you're on the road. Both are connected to the sound source via USB-C. It can be a PC or a laptop and also a Nintendo Switch or a smartphone. Moreover, the compact cases are made of plastic; they each have a crisp-sounding button and convey good workmanship.
A 3.5 mm audio jack is provided as output; the Mobile DAC PD also has a USB-C input that can handle up to 60 watts of power delivery. This means that the smartphone can be charged at the same time while the USB-C port is occupied by the DAC. The voltage is indicated by a small LED that shows if the phone is being charged with 5 volts or more. Mini LEDs also provide information about the current sampling frequency (44 kHz, 48 kHz or 96 kHz at 24 bits) on both models. Sharkoon specifies a signal-to-noise ratio of 100 dB for the sound cards, a distortion factor of 0.003%, and an impedance of 16 - 250 ohms. The Mobile DACs are allowed to boast the "Hi-Res Audio" logo since they have been certified by the Japan Audio Society (JAS).
Can be used as a USB-C to 3.5 mm audio jack adapter
Smartphones with a missing 3.5 mm audio jack are on the rise; these only have a USB-C port now. Instead of purchasing a normal USB-C to 3.5 mm audio jack adapter, you can solve this with the Sharkoon Mobile DACs in an extremely elegant way. Especially the smaller Mobile DAC without Power Delivery is a perfectly suitable adapter with an integrated sound card that can be taken anywhere.
Since the DACs from Sharkoon feature TRRS ports and thus have a fourth AUX contact for microphone signals in addition to the left and right audio channels and the ground pin, the hands-free system can be used here.
Both also have a hardware equalizer that can be adjusted using a button. Here, you can choose between emphasizing the bass, the treble, both or balancing all frequencies. The difference is clearly audible with each setting.
The practical test
We tested both sound amplifiers on a laptop and directly on the USB-C port of an ASUS ROG 2 smartphone, using different headphone models.
The very high-impedance Beyerdynamic DT 880 (600-ohm version) was also supplied with enough power and could be used directly on the mobile phone with convincing volume. In-ear headphones such as the Brainwavz B400 with a 30-ohm impedance bring an improvement in sound enjoyment as well. With some low-impedance headphones, the volume is noticeably increased compared to the normal 3.5 mm jack of the smartphone - if it still has one. Subjectively, it felt like the volume of the Taotronics TT-BH085 headphones, for example, had even been doubled, while the sound pressure level of the Sennheiser Momentum headphones remained more or less the same.
Not only are the diverse application areas for different devices and the sound quality convincing, but the Sharkoon DACs are also extremely attractive for headphone wearers in terms of price. The smaller Sharkoon Mobile DAC can be found for around 15 Euros (~$18) and the Sharkoon Mobile DAC PD can be picked up for just under 20 Euros (~$24) on Amazon.