Top 10 Best Portable Music Players For Audiophiles – Q4 2017 Edition
Portable music players or Digital Audio Players (DAP) are popular nowadays. Music lovers and audiophiles are in demand of DAPs than can drive their HiFi and Hi-Res headphones and IEMs to enjoy music wherever they go. If you are in the market looking for the best portable music players currently available, then you are in luck because there are lots to choose from. I have listed here 10 of the best portable music players for audiophiles that can play lossless and high resolution audio, from the budget friendly Fiio to the insanely priced Astell&Kern portable players. These DAPs are all best sounding and you really can’t go wrong with any of them. But each comes with varying prices and features, so I guess the determining factor for which DAP is best suited for your needs (aside from the sound quality/signature of the DAP) are the set of features, design and look, and ultimately its price. I’ll list down all the 10 DAPs according to their respective prices, from low to high. I’ll also update the list from time to time whenever something new and better comes out. Without further ado…
UPDATE: I have updated this list to cope up with the new and better DAPs that became available on the market. You can see what was previously included on this list at the very bottom marked with “DAPs previously on this Top 10 Best Portable Music Players”.
Best Sounding Portable Lossless Audio Players
ONKYO DP-X1 / DP-X1A Digital Audio Player
The Onkyo DP-X1 and DP-X1A portable digital audio players are currently the company’s flagship music players. The DP-X1A is the newly released and improved version of the DP-X1, more like a 2nd gen; and comes with twice the internal memory. They are also the big brother of the Pioneer XDP-100R and they are quite similar from one another, but the Onkyo DP-X1 is beefier than the XDP-100R. It features a nice 4.7-inch HD display, runs on Android 5.1.1 OS and comes with a 32GB internal storage (actual is lower due to OS), expandable up to 432GB via 2x microSD card slot. I’m not sure if it is powered with the same processor as the XDP-100R, but the DP-X1 comes with a dual DAC ESS SABRE DAC ES9018K2M and dual AMP SABRE 9601K with two types of balanced drives: ACG and BTL.
It supports a wide range of sampling rate from 44.1 kHz / 48 kHz / 88.2 kHz / 96 kHz / 176.4 kHz / 192 kHz / 352.8 kHz / 384 kHz (16 bit / 24 bit / 32 bit *) (* 32 bit float / integer play down-converted to a 24 bit ) and up to DSD 2.8 MHz / 5.6 MHz / 11.2 MHz (1 bit), (converted to PCM playback). For outputs, the Onkyo DP-X1 has 2.5mm 4-pole (for balanced output, 32Ω ~ 600Ω) and 3.5mm 3-pole output (16Ω ~ 300Ω); standard balanced and active control ground (ACG) Modes.
The Onkyo DP-X1 digital audio player supports DSD (DSF / DSD-IFF), FLAC, ALAC, WAV, AIFF, Ogg Vorbis, MP3, AAC, and MQA (update required). It can also play video formats like H.263, H.264 AVC, H.265 HEVC, MPEG-4 SP, VP8 and VP9. Plus it can also read and view JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, and WebP.
For wireless connectivity, the Onkyo DP-X1 has WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth supporting A2DP, AVRCP, HSP, OPP, HID, PAN, SBC and aptX. For wired connections it has a Micro USB-B port. It also has gain switch (low / mid / high) and a high precision equalizer with up to 16,384 discrete bands to select from and the ability to save up to 1,000 EQ profiles.
This is definitely the best or at least one of the best portable music player recently released in the market. The Onkyo DP-X1 and the new DP-X1A is third on my list due to their pricing. It’s also noteworthy to mention that the DP-X1’s price has dropped since it was first released, the new DP-X1A is more expensive than the first gen. It’s probably not a good decision yet to get the DP-X1A now considering that there’s no significant change or difference between the two. Wait for price drops or consider getting the other DAPs listed here.
Fiio X7 Mark II Hi-Res Lossless Portable Music Player
Fiio has released their new flagship DAP, the new Fiio X7 Mark II; an Android based high resolution audio lossless portable music player. This DAP is definitely an upgrade from its predecessor, the X7 1st Gen. It comes with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $650 USD and it’s now available. The X7 Mark II continues the success and the design of the Fiio X5 III (our review here). The X7 Mark II is like an X5 III with swappable or upgradable AMP section, just like on the 1st gen. X7 DAP. Aside from that, the new X7 Mark II features an ES9028PRO DAC from ESS; bringing exceptional signal-to-noise ratio of 129dB and a total harmonic distortion plus noise figure of -120dB.
The X7 Mark II is bundled with an AM3A amp module that has both balanced and single ended output. The AM3A amp section features AD8620 precision, JFET operational amplifiers and OPA926 op-amp. The Fiio X7 II has 2GB DDR3L of RAM and 64GB of internal storage. It also has a dual microSD card slots that supports up to 256GB of microSDXC card. It also supports native DSD and Infinity Sound 3.5 + 2.5. In terms of wireless connection, it has WiFi 2.4GHz and 5GHz and Bluetooth 4.1 with aptX support. It’s also built with a 3800 mAh Li-polymer battery that can last up to 8 hours (according to Fiio) and supports Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0.
I think this is definitely an upgrade and one of the best DAPs released this year. We were quite impressed with the X5 III, but the sound quality is just up to mid-fi level. The X7 Mark II goes beyond that.
Pioneer XDP-300R Hi-Res Digital Audio Player
Next is the new Pioneer XDP-300R portable audio player. This new hi-resolution audio player was released together with the DP-X1A. It’s the successor of the XDP-100R, and is built with features that are similar with the Onkyo DP-X1. The XDP-300R features a dual DAC and dual AMP system; dual ES9018K2M DACs and two Sabre 9601K Amp chips to be exact. Its launch price is actually higher than the DP-X1, at £599.99, or 69,800 JPN Yen.
The Pioneer XDP-300R runs on Android 5.1 OS and fully supports third party apps from Google Play store. Its CPU side is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 APQ8074 APU and comes with a 32GB of internal storage that can be expanded via two microSD card slots. It features a nice 4.7″ HD display and comes with both wired and wireless connections. It supports most of the popular audio formats including DSD and the new MQA format; and yes it supports video formats as well.
This is quite an impressive DAP based on paper. You can read more information about the XDP-300R on our article here. For the current pricing and availability, you can check out the link below.
Astell&Kern AK300 Portable Hi-Res Audio Player
Astell&Kern’s latest high end portable audio players are the AK300 series (AK300, AK320 and AK380). They feature new body design compared to its predecessor and new set of features. The cheaper among the three 300 series DAPs is the AK300, featuring a single AK4490 DAC chip and supports 24-bit / 192kHz bit to bit playback. It also supports DSD up to DSD128 but it’s converted to PCM. The Astell&Kern AK300 comes with a suggested retail price of $899.
The AK300 also features VCXO Clock (0.2ps), metal touch sensor home button, DLNA-based AK connect app, and the new Expandable Docking Connector that is compatible with AK Amp, Ripper, Dock, & Recorder. The AK300 has also the least internal storage capacity among the three, with only 64GB of internal storage. But there is a single microSD card slot that supports up to 128GB or 256GB of microSD card. AK’s US site says it supports up to 256GB, but on AK’s global site it says up to 128GB of microSD. That’s a little bit confusing.
The Astell&Kern AK300 also features a nice 4-inch display with a resolution of 400×800 and is built with several connectivity options like WiFi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth v4.0 with aptX HD support. It has a standard 3.5mm single ended out, 3.5mm optical out and 2.5mm 4-pole balance outputs. This is not the best that AK has to offer, but if you want a high-end AK DAP without spending too much, the AK300 is a good place to start.
Astell&Kern AK70 MKII
The Astell&Kern AK70 MKII or Mark II is the second generation of the AK70 (well obviously). The physical design is (very) similar with the 1st generation, except for some cosmetic changes. But the real difference is the sound quality and performance. It now features a dual DAC setup; two Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC chips instead of one. It supports 24bit 192 kHz bit to bit play, and also supports 32-bit audio and single or double rate DSD. However, it doesn’t support native DSD playback, instead it will be downsampled or converted to PCM format. It also features a 4-pole 2.5mm balanced output; something that most IEM users fond of. Like the previous generation, the new AK70 MKII can also be used as a USB DAC for your PC.
For storage, the AK70 MKII has 64GB of internal memory (expect that actual usable capacity is lower) and a microSD card slot that supports up to 256GB of microSD card. It also features both WiFi 2.4GHz and Bluetooth 4.0 connections with aptX HD support. Like most of Astell&Kern’s newer portable audio players, the AK70 MK II can be used with the AK CD-Ripper and it is also compatible with AK Connect app. The AK70 MKII is small, but don’t belittle this DAP; because this is one great sounding DAP for its price.
Astell&Kern AK KANN
The Astell&Kern KANN is also one of the new portable audio player released by the company this year. This one is somewhat thick or bulky compared to the usual portable DAP. That’s because of its built-in high performance amplifier that supports an output of 7 Vrms when connected via a high-gain balanced output. The KANN was made for audiophiles or music lovers who wants to power not only their IEM/earphones, but full sized cans as well. It features a single AKM AK4490 DAC that supports native DSD playback of up to DSD256 or 11.2MHz. It also supports PCM audio playback of up to 32bit/382kHz.
The AK KANN has a 64GB of built-in internal storage, but it has a microSD card that supports up to 256GB of microSD cards and a full-sized SD card slot that can support up to 512GB of SD cards. In terms of wireless connectivity, it features WiFi 802.11 g/b/n supporting 2.4GHz connection speed and Bluetooth V4.0 with A2DP, AVRCP and aptX HD codec support. Consider getting the AK KANN if you plan to pair it with (or use) full sized headphones as well.
Sony NW-WM1A Walkman Digital Audio Player
The Sony NW-WM1A is one of the company’s latest portable hi-resolution digital audio players. This is actually a trimmed down version of the NW-WM1Z DAP (the gold one below), priced significantly cheaper at $1,399.99. Like the NW-WM1Z, the WM1A shares the same body design, user interface and almost everything, except for what is under the hood (or its internal parts) and the material used for its body.
The Sony NW-WM1A DAP features 128GB of internal storage capacity, half of the WM1Z’s capacity and it uses regular OFC copper cables for its internal wiring instead of the braided Kimber Kable found in its higher counterpart. It also features Sony’s S-Master HX digital amp technology, DSEE HX digital sound enhancement and other sound enhancements found on the higher end one.
The body of the NW-WM1A is made out of aluminum chassis and Sony used MELF registers instead of Fine Sound registers found on the NW-WM1Z. Whether or not there is a huge difference in the audio performance it up to your ears. But I doubt that both DAPs will have huge difference in sound quality; and by huge I mean really significant that even an untrained ear can detect it easily.
Like most of the high end portable players, the NW-WM1A supports most of the lossy and lossless audio formats available. It also supports native DSD playback up to 11.2MHz. Also, Sony has got to improve on the naming scheme of their products. It’s pretty confusing actually and not easy to remember. You couldn’t tell which one is the higher end version based on their names alone.
Opus#2 Hi-Res Portable Digital Audio Player
The Opus#2 is the latest portable DAP from the Korean company The Bit. It’s the successor of their mid-range DAP the Opus#1 and it’s currently the company’s flagship DAP. The Opus#2 features an all-metal aluminum body, unlike the Opus#1, and features dual ES9018K2M SABARE32 DAC chips; a huge improvement over the dual CS4398 on the Opus#1. Currently, the Opus#2 comes with a suggested retail price of $1,599 at launch.
The Opus#2 supports up to 32bit 382kHz audio formats and native DSD playback. Aside from the dual ES9018K2M SABRE32 DACs, the player itself is powered by an ARM Cortex-A9 quad core CPU clocked at 1.4GHz, with 1GB of memory and runs on a modified Android 5.1.1 operating system. It is also built with a large 128GB of internal storage and can be expanded via the microSD card slot that can support up to 200GB of microSD. Unfortunately, as of its early firmware version, it doesn’t support third party app installation or Google Play store, unlike the Pioneer XDP-300R.
Aside from the 3.5mm singled ended output / optical output and a 2.5mm balanced output, the Opus#2 does comes with wireless connectivity options like WiFi and Blutooth v4. Although, I am not sure if it supports aptX HD on Bluetooth.
Sony NW-WM1Z Signature Hi-Res Walkman
The Sony NW-WM1Z is the company’s latest and currently the flagship digital portable audio player that is loaded with lots of features. The NW-WM1Z is just one of the Signature series that Sony recently released. They also released the new MDRZ1R headphone and TAZH1ES amplifier. These three audio gear works together with each other. The Sony NW-WM1Z DAP currently retails for around $3,199.99, while the MDRZ1R headphone retails for $2,299.99 and the TAZH1ES amplifier for $2,199.99.
The Sony NW-WM1Z is built like a tank, it’s pretty much solid. It features a 4″ touch screen display, with dedicated buttons on the side; and runs on a Sony original OS. Under the hood it features an S-Master HX digital amplifier and they even used a Kimber Kable inside to connect the components with the headphone socket. It also features DSEE HX technology that upscales music to high resolution quality. As for wireless connectivity, it has Bluetooth with LDAC and NFC.
The NW-WM1Z has a generous internal storage capacity of 256GB, but if that’s not enough (since you’re loading DSD files), its storage can still be expanded via the microSD card slot. This portable digital audio player supports high-resolution audio formats like: DSD Native (11.2 MHz), AAC (Non-DRM), AIFF, ALAC, FLAC, HE-AAC, Linear PCM, MP3, and WMA (Non-DRM).
I don’t know the specific chips used inside the Sony NW-WM1Z. Sony is very tight-lip about those specifics, but this is one really interesting and not to mention very expensive audio player as well.
Astell&Kern AK320 and AK380 Hi-Res Portable Audio Player
Finally, Astell&Kern has the new AK320 and AK380 Hi-Res portable audio players; both offering the best sounding portable audio players available;
not to mention the most expensive in the market, with a current retail price of around $1,799.00 for the AK320 and around $3,500 USD for the AK380. The AK320 and AK380 somehow look different. The picture on the left (below) is the AK320, meanwhile on the right and the two other photos below is the AK380.
The AK320 looks similar with the AK300, but despite having a slight difference on the body design, both the AK320 and AK380 are very similar under the hood. The AK320 features a dual AKM AK4490 DAC and similar other components. They also share similar features and capability. The main difference is that the AK320 does not support native DSD playback, like the AK300; and the internal stage capacity is only 128GB unlike the AK380 with its 256GB.
The Astell&Kern AK380 also features a dual DAC AKM AK4490 chips that supports 32-bit 384kHz bit-to-bit playback, native DSD support, Parametric Equalizer, 200fs VCXO reference clock, Metal Touch Sensor Home Button, Scalable Amp, DNLA based AK Connect App and more. The company has designed the AK380 with the Pro-Audio in mind, claiming that “the sound that Pro-Audio people have been looking for starts with the AK380”. That’s a bold statement; literally, they bold that line on the official page.
It features a 4-inch WVGA (480 x 800) touchscreen display and supports all sorts of audio file types: from the lossy MP3 format, to the popular FLAC lossless format and all the way up to DSD256 1bit 11.2MHz audio format. The AK380 also has both 3.5mm unbalanced out with optical out and a 2.5mm unbalanced out; a USB micro-B input; and WiFi and Bluetooth V4.0 (A2DP, AVRCP, aptX).
Special Mention: A&Ultima SP1000
The A&Ultima SP1000 is currently Astell&Kern’s flagship DAP. It’s their top of the line product, cream of the crop, “the ultimate”; and it exceeds the AK380 not only in sound quality and performance, but also in price as well. This $3,000++ portable audio player features dual AKM AK4497EQ DAC chips and octa-core CPU. It also has a 5-inch HD touch display with a resolution of 720×1280. You can also notice that the overall design is different from the AK300 series. The volume wheel has been redesigned, and the housing will be available in either stainless steel or copper. The two AK4497EQ DAC chips from AKM is able to playback 32bit/384kHz natively “with no compromise on sound quality”. It supports native bit-to-bit DSD playback up to 11.2 MHz and I’m more positive that it supports PCM formats as well.
Gone are the micro USB ports and A&ultima SP1000 features a Type-C USB port, allowing file transfers of up to 10Gbps. The SP1000 also features fast charging at 9V/1.67A; and it will only take 2 hours to charge and will allow you to playback music up to 12 hours. Other features are: built-in 256GB internal storage that can be expanded up to 256GB via microSDXC; WiFi 802.11 g/b/n with Bluetooth 4.1, 3700mAh battery, 3.5mm unbalanced output (serves as optical output as well) and a 2.5mm 4-pole balanced output.
The A&Ultima SP1000 is one seriously priced DAP and it’s for people with (very) deep pockets. Diminishing returns for this DAP is very real and it doesn’t really offer great value compared to other DAPs due to its price. But you can expect that sound quality is top of the line level. So think twice or thrice before getting this DAP; unless money is not an object for you.
There you have it guys; this is currently my list of the best portable music players available on the market that is geared towards the enthusiasts and audiophiles. Remember, all of these portable music players have fantastic sound quality. You may or may not hear any difference or differentiate the sound signature from one DAP to another using the same set of headphones or earphones. This all comes down to personal preference. Audio is a subjective topic, and what’s good for you may not be good for me. Just one thing, do yourself a favor, if ever you are going to buy one of these DAPs, be sure to load them with high resolution lossless audio files. Please don’t load them with a lossy and sometimes poorly encoded MP3 files. Otherwise it would defeat the purpose of getting one and you’re better off using your smartphone instead. Good luck!
DAPs previously on this Top 10 Best Portable Music Players:
Acoustic Research AR-M20
Astel&Kern AK100 II
Cowon Plenue P1
Luxury & Precision L5 Pro
Cowon Plenue M2
Astell&Kern AK120 II
See also my Top 10 Best Open Back Headphones under $500