Using an external DAC on Nintendo Switch

One of the issue I had with Nintendo Switch is the headphone output quality. Due to how compact it is and the fact that it houses an active cooling fan inside the same housing, caused audible hiss to carry over to the headphone output. The issue, in particular, made worse in sensitive IEM, while Switch itself isn’t capable at driving full size headphone very well. The use of standard USB-C port in Switch gave me some hope, but USB audio support isn’t there at launch.

Then the 4.0 update came and some big features finally arrive. Important one like system transfer finally there and addition of video capture allow sharing great moment as easy as holding the screenshot button. But the most important feature for me is not mentioned anywhere in the changelog and it is the USB audio support. Yes! Switch finally allow you to use external USB DAC.

While this news spread through, journalist was more interested in how Switch finally able do wireless audio using headphone that connect over the USB port. It’s true that for the general masses, this is a more likely scenario the feature will be used. However, for us that considered ourself to be audiophile, it finally allow us to get the audio quality we deserved from the Nintendo hottest console right now.

Over the years, I have accumulated a few DACs from various price point, which I can test the Switch with. Pictured above is some of my collection, from the left is Radius LCH91, Chord Mojo, JDS Labs O2 DAC and FiiO Q1 respectively. I also have CEntrace DACPortable and the Schiit Fulla 2.

I first tested with my favorite DAC, the CEntrance DACPortable. This is a small, oddly shaped but a very portable DAC that able to drive most headphone out there. Even though it shared the same design as the DACPort Slim and DACPort HD, this latest iteration include a battery so it doesn’t need to take power from the source device. Unfortunately, the Switch failed to recognize the DACPortable, so it doesn’t work. 🙁

A bad start, but my next DAC to test is waiting and the next in line is the Chord Mojo. The acclaimed DAC also unfortunately failed, Switch just don’t want to recognize it. When my hope is about to lose, I tried with the Schiit Fulla 2 and voila, the latest budget DAC/Amp from Schiit did work!

At this point, I can almost conclude why Fulla 2 worked but the other two didn’t, and the answer to that is the battery. Any DAC that is self-powered won’t work with the Switch. To prove that hypothesis, I get the JDS Labs O2 DAC, which is USB powered. It worked! But the O2 DAC is old and used the obsolete mini-USB port (I’ll need a converter for USB-C), so while I won’t use it for Switch, at least I can confirm it worked. For the other newer device with micro USB port, I can just use a USB-C to micro USB cable.

Then I also have the Radius LCH91, while having battery itself, this DAC/amp only have one port for charging and data transmition. In fact, the battery seems to be only used when you connect to iOS device with the included Lightning cable and when it is working in USB audio mode, it will just taking power from the source. And yes, the Radius LCH91 worked! While this is not the most powerful DAC out there, it still outperform the Switch own headphone out and it is really lightweight! I ended up using it for my IEM and it’s perfect to take around.

Update: So what makes a DAC that Switch will support is still a mystery, and might depend more on the USB receiver chipset. C-Media chipset seems to have a better chance. It could also be that USB Audio Class 1 is better supported than Class 2. See comment by Zell for more information.

Update (September 10, 2018): I have acquired a couple of Bluetooth receiver that also works as USB DAC. I can confirm these Bluetooth receiver to work with the Switch: FiiO BTR3, Bluewave Get and EarStudio ES100. I’ll hopefully have a review for each of the receiver soon, stay tuned.

Finally, to push my setup into the limit, I ended up with Schiit Fulla 2 connecting to ALO Audio Continental V5, driving the MrSpeakers AEON Flow closed. This allow me to listen to the incredible music in Switch games with the quality it deserved. Unfortunately, as I’m using the USB-C port directly and the Switch still responsible to powering the DAC, it drains the battery faster too. I could only get about 2 hours of quality playtime with Switch this way. I was unable to test the dock mode though – as I’m handheld player only – so I can’t tell if the Switch will recognize the DAC using USB port in the dock.

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