Digital audio players are one of those audiophile staples that seem excessive from an outside point of view. However, they are known for bringing great technology that can significantly bolster the fidelity of your music. Companies like Astell & Kern, IBasso, and Fiio, have been developing portable players with Android operating systems that make it easier for audiophiles to listen to hi-res music on the go. Some may still prefer using their everyday smartphone with a DAC dongle or a portable DAC/Amp, but DAPs can offer something more. They give you a lot more space for your downloaded music or CD collection so that you can access your personal library all on one device. One major downside though, is the price point that most of these devices go for. Here, we will list some of the best DAPs in every price range currently on the market.
Best Budget DAP
It’s no secret that hi-res DAPs can be pretty expensive, so anything less than $500 is a good deal. There are brands like HiBy or Cayin that have some options for less, but the Shanling M3X gives you the best package for its current $369 price point. It is one of the fastest devices in this range, with a user-friendly interface that has a familiar Android OS that is easy to navigate, running Qualcomm Snapdragon 430. This is a compact player with a 4.2-inch touchscreen that fits nicely in your hand. Combined with that is a dual-dac design that provides a level of sound quality that you just can’t find for less, with sound resolution up to 32bit/384kHz, DSD 256.
Best Mid-budget DAPs
The DX170 has one of the sleekest designs for this price range, with a 5-inch screen with extremely thin edges. This is probably one of the simplest-looking players around, more in line with a common smartphone. Carrying this device in your hand is a breeze, and offers a beautiful 1080p screen using Android 11. IBasso is known for neutral sound tuning, and this is definitely the case for the DX170. So if you’re looking for a more accurate sound performance in this price range, then the DX170 is one of the best. Like the M3X, the DX170 gives you a dual-dac design, this time Cirrus Logic DAC chips with RK3566 processors.
Fiio M11 Plus
Fiio has a few great mid-priced DAPs, but the M11 Plus is our pick. Other players like the M11s are great options too, but the Plus version has a much better performance. The overall look of the M11 Plus is very modern, with a 5.5-inch screen with bezel-less edges. Snapdragon 660 powers this player very well, supporting a snappy interface that will offer all of your preferred streaming services. Its real selling point is its sound performance, powered by two THX AAA-78 amplifiers and two ES9068AS chipsets. Their sound is known for being smoother, more textured, and can even expand the soundstage in some instances. The Fiio M11 Plus will offer some big power for this price range.
Astell & Kern SR25 MKII
As of writing this list, the SR35 is on the way, but we have not been able to try it out yet. However, we still have the SR25 MKII to enjoy. This is the first and definitely not the last entry for Astell & Kern, as they’re known for their premium players. At first, the SR25 will look quite odd with its slanted screen, but it’s easy to get used to. With A&K’s DAPs, the sound quality is heavily spotlighted. Their sound signature has a purity to it that is reminiscent of IBasso’s players but with even more precise details. For less than a thousand dollars, the SR25 MKII might be the best investment you can make for a DAP.
Best High-End DAPs
Astell & Kern KANN MAX
The KANN series is not quite as premium as their SP series, but great in its own right. These are like the chunker variants of A&K’s players, but still offer a reference-level sound quality. It boasts a quad-core CPU, along with an ESS quad-dac, with playback resolution up to 32-bit/768Hz and DSD up to 22.4MHz. The user experience is fast and easy to manage, even with A&K’s more limited software options.
IBasso DX 320
One of the best Android-based DAPs around, the DX 320 houses one of the most effortlessly exceptional performances. The interface is super smooth, and it feels as intuitive as any Android smartphone. You get IBasso’s neutral timbre but on a way bigger scale, engaging you with more biting details and dimensional imaging. The Mango OS is very well-optimized, and the sound performance is bolstered by a flagship-level 34301 EKV DAC chip. You can even upgrade the sound more with different AMP modules you can attach to it.
With the Fiio M17, you’re getting less of a portable music player, and more of a desktop computer specifically meant for hi-res audio. This is a monster of a device, as it is one of the largest and most powerful players on the market. It even comes with its own cooling fan. The build of the M17 is like no other DAP, and it even comes with its own quarter-inch headphone jack, which you won’t see on many players. Like the M11 Plus, the M17 also has dual THX amps built-in, as well as dual ES9038PRO DAC chipsets. The power of the M17 rivals desktop-class amplifiers, with a power output of 225% up to 3000mW per channel. That makes this one of the few DAPs that can really power any set of headphones, even ones that are very power-hungry.
Astell & Kern SP3000
The SP3000 is simply the endgame. It is the gold standard of DAPs, sporting A&K’s flagship design with the return of the AKM chipset, and the SP3000 gives your four of them. The HEXA-Audio Circuitry structure and TERATON ALPHA sound solutions are highly innovative for audio players, as it is able to use the circuitry to sustain the highest level of purity possible in the sound. A Snapdragon Octa-Core CPU makes the OS lightning quick, and even though you don’t have as much freedom as IBasso, or Fiio devices give you, you should still have everything you need at your fingertips. A&K’s crossfeed feature is also a big standout, as it aims to deliver a more speaker-like experience to your headphones and IEMs. The price might be the most extravagant, but with the SP3000, you’re getting the best portable audio experience possible.
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