Upgrade The Sound Of Your Smartphone With Strauss & Wagner’s Alva USB-C DAC Dongle

With the removal of the headphone jack from nearly all smart devices in recent years, dongles have become a necessity for wired music enjoyment. There are still people out there who won’t make the move to Bluetooth headphones for various reasons. One is the fact that none of them offer the same level of lossless and hi-res listening. Even with a headphone jack, your phone still has a limit on the type of resolution it can unfold, which is why DAC dongles have become so popular. They usually feature a higher sample rate and bit depth, which has a big effect on how your wired headphones and IEMs respond.

Sometimes they can be rather inexpensive, but some of the great ones can cost as much as your headphones. The best ones on the market right now are the iBasso DC-Elite, and Questyle M15i, which cost above $200. You might be asking for an option that is sub-one hundred dollars that can do almost the same thing as these other models. That’s where the Strauss & Wagner Alva comes in.


The Alva is a USB-C DAC adapter, so it can work on all current Android phones, as well as the latest iPhone 15. It features a 4.4mm balanced termination, so it can pair with your higher-end headphone and IEMs. Balanced adapters like this usually charge more, but the Alva will only set your back fifty bucks. Other dongles in this price bracket like the iFi Go Link are also good, but only feature a 3.5mm headphone output. The 32 bit 31993 Chipset also increases the value of the Alva, making a significant jump between your common adapter into a full fledged DAC. In theory, the Alva should be able to reproduce more cutting details and musical fidelity than most other DAC dongles in this range, so let’s put it to the test.

Sound Impressions

I tried out a couple of balanced IEMs with the Alva, including the new Meze Alba with their upgraded cable. As a package, the Alba and Alva put together is one of the best inexpensive listening experiences you can get, while other IEMs like the Letshuoer S12 Pro also offer better quality with the Alva.

The soundstage is very open and the imaging is super precise. You can feel the complete movement of the sound around your head while sticking to a mostly linear stereo field. It shows more depth than a straight line across a plain sonic environment, but the positioning still adheres to accuracy. I felt the sub-bass feature a more subtle rise than before I paired the Alba to the Alva. Though it was a tight response that has a narrow tone, I could still appreciate its improved transparency. The mids and highs have a similar timbre, but with more room to play with. There’s a slight upper-midrange/treble emphasis that features control as well as crisp vocals and cymbals.

While the clarity and depth was always there, I didn’t get much drive from my IEMs. Even though they’re already easy to drive, don’t expect any greater power from the Alva. You can achieve a comfortable gain, but it doesn’t leave you much headroom to play with. Over-ear headphones with high impedances like the Sennheiser 660S2 can only just get there, and only give you a sliver of volume to adjust to.

Should You Buy The Strauss & Wagner Alva?

The Alva is a great option if you need a simple DAC dongle for your balanced IEMs, but for headphones the results won’t be as impressive. IEMs are the best way to show off the Alva’s musicality, enhancing the attributes of the soundstage while making you aware of more expressive details. If it was able to sustain more of a considerable drive, then the Alva would be more of a no-brainer, but it should still fulfill the needs for your IEMs when paired with your chosen smart device.

The Strauss & Wagner Alva is available at Audio46.

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Alex S. is a sound designer and voice-over artist who has worked in film, commercials, and podcasts. He loves horror movies and emo music.