Top 10 Best Portable Music Players For Audiophiles – Q4 2018 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 only listed the 10 best portable music players for audiophiles in the earlier versions of this article. But there are simply many to choose from; more than 10, and they are all good in their own way. I decided to include the other really good DAPs on the table below. The digital audio players on the table are listed according to price, with the first one being the cheapest on the list. However, I will only discuss further the top 10 that I think are really good portable DAPs. Remember, each DAP has its own pros and cons. More expensive DAPs doesn’t necessarily mean better overall, or better in terms of sound signature compared to the cheaper ones. When all have really good audio quality, it all comes down to sound preference and sound signature; and other features as well. Some people would prefer a “music player only” device, while others want more than just a music player. Go ahead and check them out below. Again, I’ll update this list from time to time whenever something new and better comes out. Without further ado…
Best Sounding Portable Lossless Audio Players
|DAC||AMP||Audio Formats||Display||OS||Storage||Output||Connection||Batt. Life||Availability|
|Pioneer XDP-300R||2x ESS Sabre ES9018K2M||SABRE 9601K Amplifiers||PCM, DSD 11.2, MQA||4.7" (720x1280) Touch Screen||Android 5.1 OS with Play Store||32GB Internal, 2 microSD Card (up to 200GB each)||3.5mm Unbalanced, 2.5mm Balanced||MicroUSB, WiFi, Bluetooth, aptX||1,630mAh, Up to 16 hours||Amazon.com|
|OPUS#1S||2x Cirrus Logic CS43198||PCM, DSD||4" (480x800) Touch Screen||Android Modified (Player Only)||32GB Internal, 2 microSD Card (up to 256GB each)||3.5mm Unbalanced, 2.5mm Balanced||MicroUSB, Bluetooth, aptX||4,000 mAh, Up to 11 hours||Amazon.com|
|HiBy R6||2x ESS ES9028Q2M||2x TPA6120A||PCM, DSD256 (Native)||4.2" (768x1280) Touch Screen||Android 6.0 with Play Store||32GB Internal, 1 microSD (up to 256GB)||3.5mm Unbalanced, 2.5mm Balanced, 3.5mm Coaxial||USB Type-C, WiFi, Bluetooth, aptX||4,000 mAh, Up to 12 hours||Amazon.com|
|Astell&Kern AK70 MKII||2x Cirrus Logic CS4398||PCM, DSD128||3.31" (480x800) Touch Screen||Android Modified (Player Only)||64GB Internal, 1 microSD (up to 256GB)||3.5mm Unbalanced, 2.5mm Balanced||MicroUSB, WiFi, Bluetooth, aptX||2,500 mAh||Amazon.com|
|ONKYO DP-X1A||2x ESS Sabre ES9018K2M||2x SABRE 9601K Amplifiers||PCM, DSD 11.2, MQA||4.7" (720x1280) Touch Screen||Android 5.1.1 with Play Store||64GB Internal, 2 microSD Card (up to 256GB each)||3.5mm Unbalanced, 2.5mm Balanced||MicroUSB, WiFi, Bluetooth, aptX||1,630 mAh, Up to 16 hours||Amazon.com|
|iBasso DX150||2x AKM AK4490EQ||Depends on Module||PCM, DSD256 (Native)||4.2" (768x1280) Touch Screen||Android 6.0 Modified (No Play Store)||32GB Internal, 1 microSD (up to 256GB)||3.5mm Unbalanced, 2.5mm Balanced (depends on Module)||USB Type-C, WiFi, Bluetooth, aptX||4,400mAh, Up to 10.5 hours||Amazon.com|
|Astell&Kern A&Norma SR15||2x Cirrus Logic CS43198||PCM, DSD256 (Native)||3.3" (480x800) Touch Screen||Android Modified (Player Only)||64GB Internal, 1 microSD (up to 400GB)||3.5mm Unbalanced, 2.5mm Balanced||MicroUSB, WiFi, Bluetooth, aptX||3,150 mAh||Amazon.com|
|FiiO X7II with AM3A||Sabre ESS ES9028 PRO||Depends on Module||PCM, DSD (Native)||3.97" (480x800) Touch Screen||Android 5.1 Modified||64GB Internal, 2 microSD Card (up to 256GB each)||3.5mm Unbalanced, 2.5mm Balanced||MicroUSB, WiFi, Bluetooth, aptX||3,800 mAh, Up to 8 hours||Amazon.com|
|Sony NWZX300 Walkman||Sony Proprietary||S-Master HX digital||PCM, DSD 11.2||3.1" (480x800) Touch Screen||Sony Original OS||64GB Internal, 1 microSD (up to 256GB)||3.5mm Unbalanced, 4.4mm Balanced||WM-Port, Bluetooth, aptX||Up to 30 hours||Amazon.com|
|Astell&Kern KANN||AKM AK4490 DAC||Integrated AMP||PCM, DSD256 (Native)||4" (480x800) Touch Screen||Android Modified (Player Only)||64GB Internal, 2 microSD Card (up to 256GB each)||3.5mm Unbalanced, 2.5mm Balanced||USB Type-C, WiFi, Bluetooth, aptX||6,200 mAh, Up to 15 hours||Amazon.com|
|iBasso DX200||2x Sabre ESS ES9028 PRO||Depends on Module||PCM, DSD512 (Native)||4.2" (768x1280) Touch Screen||Android 6.0 Modified (No Play Store)||3.5mm Unbalanced, 2.5mm Balanced||4,400 mAh||Amazon.com|
|Sony NW-WM1A||Sony Proprietary||S-Master HX digital||PCM, DSD 11.2 (Native), MQA||4" (480x854) Touch Screen||Sony Original OS||128GB Internal, 1 microSD (up to 256GB)||3.5mm Unbalanced, 4.4mm Balanced||WM-Port, Bluetooth, aptX HD||Up to 30 hours||Amazon.com|
|OPUS#2||2x Cirrus Logic SABRE32 ES9018K2M||PCM, DSD128 (Native)||4" (480x800) Touch Screen||Android 5.1.1 Modified (Player Only)||128GB Internal, 1 microSD (up to 200GB)||3.5mm Unbalanced, 2.5mm Balanced||MicroUSB, WiFi, Bluetooth||4,000 mAh, Up to 9.5 hours||Amazon.com|
|Astell & Kern A&Futura SE100||ESS Sabre ES9038 PRO||PCM, DSD256 (Native)||5" (720x1280) Touch Screen||Android Modified (Player Only)||128GB Internal, 1 microSD (up to 400GB)||3.5mm Unbalanced, 2.5mm Balanced||USB Type-C, WiFi, Bluetooth, aptX||3,700 mAh, Up to 11 hours||Amazon.com|
|Sony NW-WM1Z||Sony Proprietary||S-Master HX and DSEE HX||PCM, DSD 11.2 (Native), MQA||4" (480x854) Touch Screen||Sony Original OS||256GB Internal, 1 microSD (up to 256GB)||3.5mm Unbalanced, 4.4mm Balanced||WM-Port, Bluetooth, aptX HD||Up to 30 hours||Amazon.com|
|Astell&Kern A&ultima SP1000||2x AKM AK4497EQ||PCM, DSD256 (Native)||5" (720x1280) Touch Screen||Android Modified (Player Only)||256GB Internal, 1 microSD (up to 256GB)||3.5mm Unbalanced, 2.5mm Balanced||USB Type-C, WiFi, Bluetooth, aptX HD||3,400 mAh, Up to 12 hours||Amazon.com|
OPUS#1S Hi-Res Portable Digital Audio Player
The OPUS#1S is the second generation or the improved version of the Opus#1 (the company’s first DAP). The Opus#1S offers improved audio quality by providing better clarity, a bit wider soundstage, darker background, almost no background noise and reference-like sound signature. Sound is actually very clean and clear. The Opus#1S features two Cirrus Logic CS43198 DAC chips and it sports both 3.5mm single ended and 2.5mm balanced output ports. The 4” display is touch screen and it looks nice, not the best, but acceptable; has 32GB of internal storage but offers two microSD card slots that can support up to 256GB microSDXC each slot. The operating system is based on a heavily modified and stripped down Android OS. So one downside on the Opus#1S (like other Opus’ DAPs) is that it’s basically a pure music player only and no other function. The body is also made of ABS plastic, but the optional leather case is well-made.
The Opus#1S Portable Digital Audio Player is available on Amazon.com here
HiBy R6 Portable High Resolution Audio Player
Up next is the HiBy R6, and this one is probably the best and the most I can recommend when it comes to sound quality, set of features and value (price / performance). It’s simply a bang for the buck DAP. It features two ESS ES9028Q2M and the unit itself is powered by a Snapdragon 425 processor with 4GB of RAM. This is probably the only DAP with this caliber of compute power for a smooth operation in this price range. It’s based on Android 6.0 OS but it features a bit-perfect output, thus bypassing Android SRC. Aside from being a music player, it does support Google Play Store, this means you can install apps and thanks to its powerful SoC, it’s more than just a music player. You can do other stuff on the HiBy R6 as well. It has both balanced and unbalanced output, as well as digital output and features Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0. The only thing that you need to note on this DAP is that it has a high output impedance and some sensitive IEMs might not pair with it well. To fix this issue, simply use iFi’s IEMatch for (very) sensitive IEMs.
You can grab the HiBy R6 Digital Audio Player on Amazon here
Onkyo DP-X1A Hi-Res Digital Audio Player
The Onkyo DP-X1A portable digital audio player is currently the company’s flagship portable music player. 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. It’s also somewhat similar with the Pioneer XDP-300R but Onkyo’s version is better overall. The DP-X1A features a dual ESS Sabre ES9018K2M DAC chip paired with two Sabre 9601K amplifiers for a balanced setup. It supports lossy, lossless, 32bit/384kHz PCM audio formats as well as DSD 11.2 MHz. However, it doesn’t support DSD natively, instead it will be converted to PCM format. The Onkyo DP-X1A is more than just a music player. It runs on Android OS and does come with Google Play; meaning you can install apps on this device and you can do more than just listening to music. It supports Spotify, Tidal, tunein, Pandora, iHeartRadio and other music streaming services.
You can learn more about the Onkyo DP-X1A Hi-Res DAP on Amazon.com here
FiiO X7II with AM3A
Next is Fiio’s flagship portable digital audio player – the Fiio X7 II. It’s the second generation DAP of the X7 series and features an interchangeable amplifier module. The AM3A is perhaps the most popular or common choice, but there are other amp modules available as well. The X7 II features ESS ES9028PRO, an 8-channel DAC chip, and supports various audio formats up to native DSD support. That’s no ordinary DAC chip and sound quality alone is really good. The X7 II is runs on Android 5.1 OS, so you get full Android experience and can install other apps for added functionality. It also features Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0, this means this DAP charges faster compared to other DAPs that doesn’t feature any quick charging technology. If you like the design of the Fiio X7 II, but is somewhat short on budget, you might want to check out their mid-range Fiio X5 III instead.
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).
The Fiio X7 II with AM3A Amp module is available on Amazon here
Sony NWZX300 Walkman
Ah! It’s a Sony….! The Sony NW-ZX300 Walkman is another “player-only” portable digital audio player. You can think of it as the little brother of the NW-WM1A and the flagship NW-WM1Z. It supports both PCM and DSD file formats and also features DSEE HX and S-Master HX digital amplifier. It has a 3.5mm unbalanced and 4.4mm balanced output ports and features LDAC wireless audio transmission and MQA formats as well. I don’t know what DAC chip is used in this device. Most likely Sony is using a proprietary DAC chip and amp components, just like the Operating System that is incorporated in the NW-ZX300 (all proprietary).
The Sony Walkman series’ audio quality and sound characteristics usually leans towards the warm side. It’s not the best the company has to offer, but I’m sure it’s sound quality is easily likeable. Sound is fantastic and it’s easy to use. If you can’t afford the NW-WM1A or WM1Z, and you want a Sony digital audio player, then this is it. The only thing that may prevent you from getting this one is if you don’t find the feature(s) that you need in this device; example video playback and streaming perhaps.
The Sony NW-ZX300 Walkman is available on Amazon.com here
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 Premium Walkman
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. This is one really good portable audio player and it’s also one of the most popular among audio enthusiasts as well.
The Sony NW-WM1A Hi-Resolution Portable Audio Player is available on Amazon here
Astell & Kern A&Futura SE100 Portable Music Player
The A&Futura SE100 is one of Astell & Kern’s latest portable digital audio player released this year. It’s generally better compared to the A&norma SR15, and it looks like a cut down version of A&K’s flagship SP1000. This is probably the next best option if you want an A&K music player but don’t have the budget for the flagship SP1000. At the heart of the SE100 is an ESS Sabre ES9038 Pro 8 channel DAC chip, supporting both 32bit/384kHz PCM and native DSD 256 audio formats. The unit itself is powered by an Octa-Core CPU for a fast and smooth operation. The rest of the features are actually very similar with the SP1000 already, like display size, connectivity options and more.
The A&futura SE100 portable music player differs (slightly) in design compared to the SP1000. However, the SP1000 does have the advantage when it comes to the DAC setup and configuration. The SE100 is built with a 128GB of internal storage plus you also get 1 microSD card slot that supports up to 400GB of microSDXC card. If ever you plan to buy one of this, I recommend that you also get the leather case (which unfortunately is not included in the box). Why do you need the leather case? Well, first is to protect the device from getting scratches and second is to protect yourself or someone from the device itself. Because the edges are sharp!
The Astell & Kern A&futura SE100 portable music player is available on Amazon.com here
Sony NW-WM1Z Signature Series 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 cohesively with each other and the setup / pairing is really good. The Sony NW-WM1Z DAP currently retails for around $3,199.99, while the MDR-Z1R 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 upscale 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).
Astell&Kern A&ultima SP1000 High Resolution Audio Player
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.
The Astell & Kern A&ultima SP1000 Audio Player is available in Copper, Onyx Black and Stainless Steel variants. All are available on Amazon.com here.
By the way, A&K also released a “trimmed down” version of the SP1000, and it’s called SP1000M. It features the same CPU, same DAC configuration, but slightly smaller display, only 128GB of internal storage, slightly smaller battery capacity and also a slight difference on the output and audio quality. Nevertheless, it’s $1,100 cheaper from the SP1000. You can grab on here.
There you have it guys; this is currently my list of the best portable music players available in the market (as of Q4 2018) that are geared towards the hobbyist, enthusiasts and audiophiles. Remember, all of these portable music players have fantastic sound quality. Remember, 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, at least. 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!
See also my Top 10 Best Open Back Headphones under $500