Best DAC for iPhone - Volvo Car Play Connection?


I'm attempting to improve the audio playback in my car.  I have a newer Volvo with  a Bowers & Wilkins sound system.  I'm streaming Tidal audio through my iPhone. The iPhone is connected to the Volvo Car Play via a standard lighting connector to USB cable.

The weak link in the system I believe is the iPhone DAC.  So, my question is if there is an external, portable DAC solution that would work in this situation or not?

Please let me know if you have any suggestions.  Thanks!


there are many in-line DAC's out there that may work. Audioquest makes a selection, there are quite a few others out there now. You can find many reviews online usually in the head phone sections as most use them for headphone listening. 

If I understand the situation the DAC being used is on the car side. The iPhone would be sending a digital stream and the B&W converts to analog and amplifies.


I think this is correct.

This is something I am not clear on.  

The audio is coming from the iPhone and going out of the audio out of the iPhone.  So, therefore, the audio coming out of the iPhone is already going through the DAC in the iPhone.  If that is true, is there any way to bypass the DAC in the iPhone with an external DAC or not?

Please let me know what you think.  Thanks!

+1 Glennewdick

Check out the Audioquest Dragonfly line, notably Dragonfly Red. The form factor is ideal for what you are doing.  Plug it in to a Lightning-to-USB converter.  The Tidal app on your iPhone will recognize the Dragonfly and treat it as a MQA endpoint, direct-streaming digital to the Dragonfly DAC and yes, bypassing the generic iPhone firmware.  I is actually quite good, and can also be used to drive headphones.

Your iPhone is connected to the car's USB input, which is a digital connection. A DAC converts a digital signal to analog. Unless your car's audio system has an analog audio input, there is no way for you to use an Audioquest Dragonfly or any other kind of DAC.

+1 @sandstone

- AQ DRAGONFLY is what I use (along with a requisite cable adapter) … its a small footprint for my iPhone with good results…. And comparatively cheap.

- APPLE LIGHTNING TO USB CAMERA  cable out from the iPhone


- 3,5mm cable out to audio input in the auto head unit .

- there are other bulkier options. Any and all will be an upgrade to the standard basic Apple iPhone output.

- Regardless, also invest in and download a 3rd party HDPLAYER app to play the hi-rez files and improve your streaming output as an upgraded playback app to APPLE’s own; and worthy of a step up to an external DAC.

Speaking of Volvo's, my 2012 C70 radio reception SUCKS. It cannot get WBGO unless it is overcast.

A few auto audio shops tell me they have no solution.

Has anyone found a way to improve reception????


The iPhone musically performs three functions in musical streaming… streamer (creates a bit stream, digital) —> DAC (translates bit stream to analog) —> amplifies (here you would use headphones) —> headphone jack (new models do not have one, they expect to use Bluetooth).

You get a digital output (USB) if between the streamer and DAC. You get an analog output if you connect after the DAC (headphone jack).


Since you are connected via USB, it must be pre-DAC.

I also have a Volvo with the B&W audio system and it sounds fantastic.   What specifically needs "improvement "

You can try messing with the equalizer.   I did tweak that to get the color my ears prefer. 

Everyone who said the iPhone is sending a digital signal not going through the iPhone DAC is correct.   That said your iPhone may be running the sound through algorithms in its software driver that is sending out the digital through your usb.


I have both iPhone with car play and Samsung galaxy with android auto.   I noticed they do not sound the same as each other even though they are playing the same track in the same car

The android operating system resamples audio to 48KHz before finding the digital signal out.  It may be that ios is somehow messing with the digital data as well.  I was able to get an app that bypasses all of android's sound processing and sends things out bit perfect if you have hardware that supports it. There may be something similar for ios and tidal streaming is directly built in to the app.

I'm very picky and studied audio engineering in school.   This system sounds phenomenal once you tweak the eq to your liking.   Also I don't recommend the studio or concert hall sound modes.

I base my judgment on level of detail,  spaciousness of sound image, tightness of bass and dynamic range (how low the lowest volume sound is compared to the maximum.   In the track

Previous systems I have had and also loved were the $7K B&O system in my audi a8 the lexicon in my equus, and every other genrration of Volvo premium sound since the 850 turbo I had in college.  I think the one in my 2011 C70 actually sounds the best but it is really close.   The premium audio in my explorers, edges,  and escape are awful. 

One surprising stand out is the base system in Hyundai sonata.  


Hope this helps you achieve the sound you are looking for

As a few others have pointed out, there is no DAC in your iPhone and you are sending a digital signal into your car's audio system.   You could try a dongle DAC with your phone if your car's audio system has an analog input, but I suspect that you would not have access to Car Play with that connection.

Check to make sure the settings in your Tidal app are the ones you want.  You can choose different levels of resolution for wi-fi and mobile data.  I wouldn't be surprised if the default for mobile data is lower resolution to minimize data usage.

Huh? No DAC in your iPhone? Of course there is a DAC in your iPhone, otherwise you could not listen to music on your iPhone. You can get a digital output (these days… in the old days that was challenging when there was a 1/8” audio out.