Sharkoon Mobile DAC, Mobile DAC PD & Gaming DAC Pro S Review 6

Sharkoon Mobile DAC, Mobile DAC PD & Gaming DAC Pro S Review

Sharkoon Gaming DAC Pro S »

Sharkoon Mobile DAC PD


The Sharkoon Mobile DAC PD is a €20 DAC with an integrated headphone amplifier. It features a USB-C connector on one side and a 3.5-millimeter audio port plus a USB-C PD port on the other. The audio port works both as an output and input, so you can use your headphones and headsets, and the USB-C PD port can be used to charge the device the Mobile DAC PD is connected to.

Specifications

  • DAC: 24-bit/96 kHz
  • Headphone Amplifier: 1 V output voltage, 100 mW maximum power, 16–250 Ω recommended headphone impedance
  • SnR/THD: 100 dB/0.003%
  • Connector: USB-C, USB-C PD (up to 60 W), 3.5-mm audio (TRRS)
  • Dimensions and Weight: 31 x 27 x 11 mm, 6 g
  • Extra Features: Built-in equalizer
  • Compatibility: Android, Windows, macOS, Linux, and PlayStation 4 (with an adapter)

The Package


The box is almost identical to that of the Sharkoon Mobile DAC. On its front, you can see a glossy photo of the DAC and a massive "Hi-Res Audio" logo. On the back are a list of technical specifications.


Inside, you'll find the Sharkoon Mobile DAC PD along with a multi language user manual and some safety instructions. Don't throw away the paper insert the DAC is initially attached to as that's the only place where Sharkoon mentions that the built-in equalizer technically has four presets instead of the three listed in the manual and on the official website.

Closer Examination


The Sharkoon Mobile DAC PD is no larger than a coin, although significantly thicker. Most aspects outside of its design are identical to the Sharkoon Mobile DAC. The key difference is the secondary USB-C port on its bottom which supports power delivery (hence the "PD" in its name). USB-C PD is by definition a protocol specification that allows for faster and flexible charging. In practice, the USB-C PD connector on the Sharkoon Mobile DAC PD means you'll be able to use the sound card and simultaneously charge the device it's connected to. This USB-C PD port can deliver up to 60 W of power, which is more than enough for any smartphone and even many laptops.


One end of the Sharkoon Mobile DAC PD is supposed to be plugged into any device with a USB-C port. For most users, that's going to be an Android smartphone, although connecting it to any other USB-C-equipped device is entirely possible, like a desktop or laptop PC. The DAC supports Windows, macOS and Linux operating systems. Regardless of the platform, it works out of the box without any additional drivers.


The front of the Sharkoon Mobile DAC PD has four LEDs and a button. The LEDs on the left are marked 44, 48, and 96 for the respective sample rate of the incoming audio signal. They also double up as notification LEDs for the built-in equalizer. When you press the EQ button next to the LEDs, the LEDs will temporarily light up to tell you which of the four equalizer modes is currently active. In Mode 1 (44 kHz LED lights up), the equalizer is V-shaped, which boosts the bass and highs and subdues the midrange. Mode 2 (48 kHz LED) only boosts high frequencies (potentially useful for darker-sounding headphones), while Mode 3 (96 kHz LED) only boosts bass. In Mode 4, all three LEDs light up, which means the equalizer has been flattened, which leaves the acoustic characteristics of your headphones untouched. The aforementioned equalizer settings cannot be edited or changed in any way. The EQ button is much larger than on the Mobile DAC, and that makes it significantly easier to press—just aim for its right half.


The LED on the right lights up when you plug a USB-C cable into the USB-C PD connector. It's red when the charging voltage is lower than 5 V and purple when the voltage is above 5 V.


On the bottom left of the Sharkoon Mobile DAC PD you'll find a 3.5-millimeter audio connector for your headphones or headset. Since this is a 4-pole (TRRS) audio port, it works as a combined headphone output and microphone input. Most analogue headsets nowadays come with a 4-pole audio connector, so you should be able to connect them without purchasing any extras. If your headset doesn't, a splitter cable with two female 3.5-mm TRS connectors and a single male 3.5-mm TRRS plug will do the trick.


The bottom right side of the Sharkoon Mobile DAC PD is reserved for the USB-C PD port. Use this port if you want to charge the device the Mobile DAC PD is connected to. The power requirements of the device are negotiated automatically through the USB-C PD protocol specification. Unfortunately, every time you unplug or plug a USB-C cable into the USB-C PD port, audio reproduction is interrupted. If you're playing a game, the sound will briefly play through your smartphone's speaker(s) and then automatically switch back to your headphones. No such luck with music or YouTube clips, though. You'll have to manually un-pause these to get the sound to play through your headphones again. While I understand why this happens—the sound card has to switch power sources—it's still quite annoying.


Compared to their "regular" Mobile DAC, the form factor of the Sharkoon Mobile DAC PD adds an additional layer of impracticality in everyday usage. Mounting the phone on car cradles with narrower bottom holders becomes impossible with it sticking out from the bottom of the smartphone. This is somewhat disappointing as I for one was looking forward to using it in my car, where I want to have my phone connected to my in-car stereo system, but also constantly charging since I use it for navigation. A solution would be to buy a different mounting cradle, but that's not something I wanted to deal with since finding a good car cradle is hard enough as it is. Of course, if you have a car cradle for your smartphone with wide bottom holders or no bottom holders at all, this is not an issue.

Sound Performance


The sound performance of the Sharkoon Mobile DAC PD is identical to the "regular" Mobile DAC, so I can only repeat what I already wrote in its review.

Sharkoon doesn't reveal what's being used in the Mobile DAC PD in terms of electronics. All we know is that the built-in DAC supports 24-bit/44 kHz, 24-bit/48 kHz, and 24-bit/96 kHz playback, and that the headphone amplifier has an output voltage of 1 V, a maximum power output of 100 mW, and a recommended headphone impedance range of 16–250 Ω.

I used the Sharkoon Mobile DAC PD to successfully drive various mobile over-ear and in-ear headphones, every analogue gaming headset I had at my disposal, as well as several hi-fi headphones, such as the Sennheiser HD 660 S, Philips Fidelio X2, Meze 99 Noir, and Oppo PM-3. Output was clean and never distorted, and I had more than enough volume on all of them. That being said, if you own a pair of low sensitivity/high impedance headphones, you'll have to seriously manage your expectations or look elsewhere. This device simply wasn't made to drive very demanding headphones.

The Sharkoon Mobile DAC PD generally sounded surprisingly good. It's an instant upgrade to pretty much every smartphone or laptop audio output I ever had the misfortune to plug my headphones in. The built-in equalizer presets aren't set up too aggressively, so you're welcome to try them out, especially if you find the bass or treble of your headphones somewhat lacking.

Microphone Performance


As I've mentioned earlier, the Sharkoon Mobile DAC PD uses a 4-pole TRRS 3.5-mm audio connector, which means it also offers a microphone input. To analyze the quality of its microphone output, I used a combination of the Philips Fidelio X2 hi-fi headphones and the V-Moda BoomPro omnidirectional microphone. The Mobile DAC PD was connected to a USB-C port on my ASUS ROG Maximus XI Formula motherboard. Testing was done in Audacity, and I also used Audacity to record the sound from the microphone. The sound was not postprocessed or edited in any way.

Here's a microphone sample with the V-Moda BoomPro microphone, connected to the Sharkoon Mobile DAC PD. For comparison, I've also included a sample recorded with the same microphone connected to the excellent Creative Sound Blaster X3 external USB sound card (reviewed here).




The quality of the microphone input is identical to that of the Mobile DAC: it's excellent. This is as good as the V-Moda BoomPro microphone can sound without adding filters. The quality difference to the Creative Sound Blaster X3 is indistinguishable, which is quite a feat for the €20 Sharkoon Mobile DAC PD.

Value and Conclusion

  • The Sharkoon Mobile DAC PD can be bought online for €19.99.
  • Good performance both on output and input, especially for the price
  • Sufficient power amplification for mobile headphones, gaming headsets, and even various hi-fi headphones
  • Several equalizer presets
  • Ability to charge the device it's connected to (up to 60 W)
  • Good price-performance ratio
  • Plugging and unplugging the charging cable interrupts audio playback
  • Form factor is problematic in some scenarios (incompatible with many car smartphone mounts, for example)
For the most part, the Sharkoon Mobile DAC is practically identical to the Sharkoon Mobile DAC: it performs the same in terms of sound and microphone quality, supports the same types of headphones (16–250 Ω), works with the same bitrates and sample rates (up to 24-bit/96 kHz), and comes with equivalent equalizer profiles.

What you get for an additional €5 is a USB-C PD charging port. The purpose of this port is to charge the device the Mobile DAC PD is connected to. It can deliver up to 60 W of power, which is more than enough for smartphones and many laptops. Unfortunately, connecting or disconnecting the charging cable interrupts audio playback, which is quite annoying, especially when done often.

Another big difference to the Sharkoon Mobile DAC is the form factor. The Mobile DAC PD isn't just a small DAC with an integrated headphone amplifier module and an audio input/output on a short cable. Additional electronics required for the USB-C PD feature make it significantly bulkier, to where it can make your smartphone incompatible with many car mounts. Also, if your laptop has USB ports stacked close together, the width of the Mobile DAC PD may render the adjacent USB port(s) unusable.

If you're not affected by the aforementioned issues, the Sharkoon Mobile DAC PD is a good, inexpensive investment. If you are bothered but still need the features offered by this device, you can help yourself by getting a quality USB-C extension cable. Just keep in mind that such a cable will likely cost you half of what you paid for the Mobile DAC PD.

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