Digital Audio Players can play digital audio files. Sales of the Portable Music Players (PMP) have declined with the increased penetration of the flagship smartphones. Mid-range to high-end Digital Audio Players are designed for sound engineers, musicians and audiophiles. There are a lot of things to learn about them before you purchase one since the price tag going to be $1000 to $1500.
Digital audio players have a dedicated DAC (Digital To Analog Conversion) chipset and the whole thing is optimized for listening to music. Although they look like smartphones, they are quite advanced than the smartphones.
In our earlier article, we have explained Basics About Digital Audio Files for Audiophiles. We would recommend reading that article since you will need to know about the terminologies. Please remember that listening to less than 85 dB for up to eight hours per day is the recommended limit to prevent hearing loss.
Astell & Kern SP3000 is probably the best Digital Audio Player at the time of writing this article. You can check its specifications and measure the cost-feature ratio of the rest.
The DAC of a Digital Audio Player
Probably the DAC is the most important part of a digital audio player. It is generally accepted that if the device has two DACs for left and right channels then there will be perfect sound. This increases the dynamic range and also reduces background noise. Also, the frequency range of the DAP is an essential parameter. We expect this value to be 20 to 60 kHz, the lower the better.
The Equalizer Settings and Operating System
Poweramp became popular because of its extensive equalizer settings. As because our choice of “how we will listen” differs and at least for some digital audio players, you have to rely on the apps such as PowerAmp. When you want to tweak the music, you will need a player like Poweramp.
Astell & Kern, FiiO to iBasso all run Android and do not try to control your choice of software but installing a third-party app can be easy to impossible. It varies because of the wish of the brand – how they have modified the Android. I would suggest sticking with the Android operating system.
It is obvious that if you purchase a brand or model which is popular, you’ll get more tips from the users. Also, the reviews will give you a better idea.
Generally Sony, Astell & Kern and FiiO products are officially repairable in many of the countries but not everywhere. The limitation of some of the European & China brands is the lack of availability of parts and servicing. I would suggest doing active research about repairability.
Physical Parameters and Specifications
The supported sample rate, bit rate, codec, and format are among the most important parameters to which you should give importance. Please read our previous article Basics About Digital Audio Files for Audiophiles to get an idea.
The player should have Line-Out Support to make it usable with amplifiers. I expect a costly player to have a 4.4mm balanced output and a 3.5mm normal output. Although these are obvious, a 4.4mm balanced port can be absent in certain players.
Oddly some digital audio players do not have WiFi, even Bluetooth. I am not sure why the manufacturers skip them but they are must features these days.
Which Models We Suggest
FiiO M11 Pro is best overall at that price but this is not the best sounding in the audiophile world.
The price tag of Astell & Kern KANN MAX is nearly 3 times. It is a great player but the problem is the operating system (Android) is so highly modified that it is difficult to install many apps.