On this page, you’ll find the Portable Audio Player a.k.a. DAP recommendations of this moment. This is an ever-evolving list and the units are ranked from cheapest to most expensive.
For its very small price and footprint, very good usage and sound performance altogether, the M0 has made it to our Portable Player Recommendations. It sounds good, performs good and the number of features was just enough to convince me to make this decision. I can’t think of an extremely small player like this which has these features in an all in one package. I recommend the M0 to everyone who has an active lifestyle, who has good IEMs for sport and etc. and wants to have a good sound quality from their sources.
Simply put, the Shanling M2X is an M5S in kid clothes. You get the same sound signature – dry, precise, subtle – without the awkward design previously shown by the M5S. I was afraid the M2X might have lost what made the M5S different, in a good way, due to the mono DAC circuit instead of dual mono, but that didn’t happen. The sound stage is a bit narrower but honestly, that’s the only issue you have compared to the M5S. Sure the UI is still awkward, but if I found the Shanling M5S polarizing, it’s a very different story with the M2X: for 219$, it’s a very solid choice. Sound quality is top-notch, build quality is astounding and if you’re used to AirPlay streaming or Tidal, it’s a great alternative to DAP such as the FiiO M9.
iBasso DX160 [Added 28/07/2020]
Let’s make it short: the iBasso DX160 is a real success. The brand finally achieved a mid-range player that sounds as good as it looks. And, it’s pretty affordable too.
At 399$, the DX160 is definitely a no-brainer, packing excellent sound performances, and great versatility in a, surprisingly, neat case. The only drawback is, once again, the noise level when WiFi/Bluetooth is enabled. Too bad as I think that’s the only real issue with this player.
Yes, there are better players like the FiiO M11 Pro or Shanling M6 Pro, but those players are almost twice as expensive. And so, the DX160 goes directly to my recommendation list. Definitely worth it, kudos iBasso.
HiBy R5 Gen 2 [Added 02/06/2022]
I feel like HiBy can start to use this Class-A amp design with its other models even the higher end ones. For just 449$ it does a very good job in terms of dynamism, clarity, timing and attack. When I started to listen to it for the first time with the amp closed, I told myself; ”so it’s just another R5”, but that turned out not to be the case when I switched on the amp.
I appreciate HiBy’s effort in their new Class-A design. I’m sure they can build upon this and improve it even further. Sure, the battery life wouldn’t be spectacular regardless, but this new amplification has great potential.
It’s becoming hard to write bad things about FiiO players, even more with models like the M11. The $450 FiiO M11 is well designed, got great specs, sounds superb, and… costs less than 500 bucks.
With its latest player, FiiO is pushing the last nail in the coffin, taking the crown as the best DAP in the mid-tier section. At the moment, I can’t think of any other player that can compete with the M11: fluid UI, double micro-SD slot, solid WiFi connection with ApkPure, and a completely balanced layout. Again, there are better players out there, if you focus on musical performance only. But, if you want a player, that does it all without costing an arm, the FiiO M11 is the one to go for.
Luxury & Precision L3PRO
One of the prettiest DAPs on the market. The L&P focus is on design and sound and that’s exactly why it is up on this list. Because of their “Sound first” philosophy, however, the user interface isn’t the best or most modern one though. For a DAP at this price, there is no swiping in for example, but boy does it sound and look great. If you only care about getting good sound and you don’t need all the extra functionalities the other DAPs offer, then stop looking. L&P together with Astell&Kern also has the best build quality and the most silent and best sounding 2.5mm balanced output.
Astell&Kern A&norma SR25
The SR25 is a stunningly-packaged little device, both in terms of its one-of-a-kind looks, and its over-achieving capabilities. There are certainly some cheaper options out there in DAP-land that will get you into audiophile-grade sound for less, but they’re not really as interesting as the SR25. I found that what the SR25 does so well is the fact that it delivers an incredible overall experience in terms of sound, sight, and feeling – it really does deliver emotional engagement in spades, and for that reason, it’s well worth it as a ticket into high-end, portable sound. Highly recommended.
Shanling M6 Pro [Added 15/06/2020]
It comes at no surprise, the Shanling M6 Pro is an exceptional player. The brand simply took the regular M6, and push everything to the max: more power, various software upgrades, better sound quality, and the same, exquisite build quality.
In one sentence: this is the best player from Shanling, at the moment. But, the real question would be: should you get the M6 Pro or the M11 Pro? To me, the M6 Pro offers better lows while the M11 Pro exhibits finer mids but a narrower sound stage.
Fiio M11 Plus LTD [Added 10/06/2021]
Let’s make it simple, like the FiiO M11 Pro before, the M11 Plus LTD is one, if not the best player you can get in this price range.
UI is fast, the sound is superb, and it does almost everything well, either as a DAP or as a source. You can just fill it with your own music, install the music APP of your choice or simply use it as a great source for your car (yes FiiO did earn a certification for that too). Add a layer of finesse, thanks to years of work at FiiO’s engineer camp, and you got it all.
If you didn’t have the chance to get the M11 Pro before, you should seriously consider the M11 Plus LTD. It’s equally good, if not better in some aspects. The only viable contender that I could think of is the Shanling M6 21, but it’s also one of my top picks. So here it is people, two players, two choices, but at the end of the day two incredible devices. And you better get one till you can, who knows what could happen this year again.
The Fiio M11 Plus replaces the Fiio M11 Pro on our list of recommended DAPs. So yes, the FiiO M11 Plus LTD wins our recommended buy award!
HiBy R6 2020 [Added 02/01/2020]
HiBy’s new R6 2020 packs a big punch with its new and refined audio circuitry, new processor, and many features such as the x16 MQA decoding capability. It is nothing like the original R6 and R6 PRO. This is a complete overhaul and I am not sure why HiBy chose this name. They could’ve gone with the HiBy R7 name instead. Anyway, as I stated already, this is a feature-packed device, it has many tools like MSEB in which you can fine-tune and find that specific tonality you’re after. This flexibility means that finding earphones that synergize with the R6 2020 will be much easier and that’s a big bonus if you have multiple earphones in your arsenal.
Other than these, the R6 2020 has a gorgeous design, small enough to carry around without hassle, and light enough to put into your pocket. It has a custom Android 9 interface so the possibilities of what you can do are limitless, you could even use it as a USB-DAC as there is practically no downside to it. I downloaded my entire Tidal-Masters library into a 512GB SD card. It feels great to listen to MQA songs on the go. It has a very fulfilling sound quality, it doesn’t make me want to switch to my desktop rig at all. Players have come a long way and thanks to HiBy, we have one more awesome device. From top to bottom, my experience with HiByOS and the R6 2020 was hassle-free. No bugs, no stutter, nothing.
I really enjoyed my time with the R6 2020. It is an excellent package altogether. If you’re looking for a capable Android DAP and multimedia device, this is your best bet in this price bracket.
DethonRay DTR1+ [Added 16/01/2022]
The Dethonray DTR1+ retains its unique approach to the market and Anson aims to keep its customer base. I tell you he definitely did that with this release. When it’s time to just listen to your archive alone, there’s not a better option for that sole purpose. There’s nothing else better for this price tag in terms of pure sound performance.
Looking at the DAP market, I doubt anyone can show me a player for this price with a better sound. Of course, it is a limited product and doesn’t have any features at all, but that’s the point. The sound upgrades are clinical and eliminate the deficiencies of the DTR1, especially in staging and layering too. If you have the DTR1 already, I doubt there’s a need for the new model. But if you don’t have one, and if you don’t care about streaming or other features, and finally if you seek the best portability, this is the DAP to go.
iBasso DX240 [Added 10/11/2021]
The iBasso DX240 does exactly what it intended to: fill the gap between the DX160 and DX300. It’s powerful, dynamic, and still a bit too uptight compared to the DX300, but as a whole package, this might be my favourite one in the actual catalogue.
Sure at $999, the DX240 is definitely not cheap and leans more toward DX300 than the DX160, but size-wise, the new one is definitely more useable as a daily driver. My main complaint? The lack of a 4.4mm Pentaconn by default and the slightly thick case. But, apart from that, it’s a genuinely good player that should suit every genre and almost every headphone. Keep it up iBasso!
We are recommending this iBasso DX240 and it has been added to our Best Gear DAP list. We have removed the DX300 in the process as we feel the DX240 has the best complete package.
Lotoo PAW 6000 (Added 1-12-2019)
With the PAW 6000, Lotoo set out to create a machine nearly as good as the PAW Gold Touch. They took out a few hardware bits here and there yet managed to keep the clean reference sound from their flagship. Most companies would try to cut down on sound quality to make a clear ladder of product hierarchy. Not Lotoo. They want to offer their customers the best sound they can make, even if it means it will rival their own products in some way.
The PAW 6000 has superb build quality, is pocket-friendly by today’s standards, and comes with a very mature user interface. I am still baffled how they managed to pull off a firmware that was stable with basically their first try. On top of all that, the Lotoo PAW 6000 lasts longer than almost any other DAP on a single charge.
Shanling M7 [Added 19/05/2022]
Shanling claimed that this was the much more compact version of the M9. But for some reason, I mostly associated it with the Shanling M8, which I think is still a great DAP. So in my opinion, this is simply the replacement of the M8, instead of challenging the M9 with a smaller footprint. I think an “M8 MKii” name would be fitting for this player.
So the M8 owners can still use their DAP, especially if they love that very warm sound signature. However, if you want to get a compact, stylish, competitive DAP in the market today with plenty of features and great sound, this I think is the best choice right now. When you think about the great user experience and much smaller footprint of the M7, it’s a great option with excellent sound quality.
Astell&Kern A&futura SE180 [Added 08/07/2021]
Once more, Astell&Kern gave us a fantastic player, albeit a bit too big for any true nomad users. It’s not as versatile as a FiiO, nor it is cheap. But, all in all, the SE180 is the best-sounding DAP I ever listened to this year. So much, in fact, that I literally bought one after a few tries, and wrote this review. The player is simply gorgeous – if a bit thick – and from the moment you’ll lay your eyes on it, to the time you hold it, everything screams posh and luxury. To be fair, priced at €1599, you’d expect the player to look like a luxury product, but I can still remember my SP1000 and its dangerously sharp edges, which now look like a downgrade as if it was twice more expensive.
Personally, I’ve always favoured ESS DAC compared to AKM, and one and again, the A&K SE180 strengthens my opinion: better dynamic range, sharper sound, and thanks to the brand tuning, it sounds equally natural now. If you want something a bit cheaper, you can check the SA700 or the new FiiO M11 Plus LTD (until stock lasts) or the iBasso DX300 if you favour versatility over performances. But, if your main goal is to get the best sound, under €2000, I’d say that the SE180 is the obvious answer, for the moment. A full recommended buy!
The Astell & Kern SE180 to me is quite a successful audio player. It has the usual A&K experience with polished software, good battery life, and authentic design. Most importantly though, I really enjoyed the sound quality and technical performance as a whole, especially with the SEM2 module.
It is pretty close to the performance of the SP2000, and that reason alone makes it a great alternative for the audiophiles who don’t have that huge budget for the flagship.
Review with SEM2 DAC Module: https://www.headfonia.com/astell-kern-se180-review-sem2/
HiBy R8 [Added 17/08/2020]
Doing DAP reviews is something I really like, and if the unit is good, it’s extra fun for me. Once you’re used to a high level of DAPs, it’s often difficult to stay motivated doing reviews of lesser sounding gear, but this absolutely wasn’t the case for this HiBy R8 (review), and I feel my +4K-word review shows it.
I have really enjoyed my time with the R8 and I feel it makes for an excellent TOTL player in this segment. Not only is the HiBy R8 an extremely versatile DAP, it also sounds great. As you can read in the comparison part, I feel the HiBy R8 also is the best performing player in this segment at this moment. If you’re looking into a higher-end portable player that can do it all (thank you Android & HiBy Music), then the R8 probably is the DAP to put on the number 1 spot of your shortlist.
With the SP1000M Astell&Kern has built another great top-level portable player. The M sound-wise is different enough from the SP1000 for AK to “have” two flagships in the product line-up. Not many people will own both as you’ll normally prefer one signature over the other, but at the same time, both of the top DAPs are compatible. The M obviously stands for Musical. And Mini. And maybe also Majestic, cause that’s how it sounds. For many the SP1000M will be their end level high-end DAP, and that’s exactly what it is. The SP1000M is easy to use in the sense that it pairs perfectly with anything you hook up to it in both single-ended or balanced mode, though we feel the balanced AK outputs always be the best of both.
Shanling M9 [Added 27/01/2022]
When Shanling introduced the M9, I thought it would be a design and operation improvement only. Turns out it wasn’t true. The sound quality has a distinctive upgrade too, which has been a surprise for me. M9 performs great with many different IEMs/headphones with good consistency and great technical performance. I know many people found the price increase hard to swallow, but when you listen to the device, it impresses.
If you’re looking for a TOTL portable DAP with an excellent screen, good battery life, fast operation and full Android support, this is one of the best players in the market. I don’t know if the regular version will be as good as this one, but regardless, I recommend the M9.
Sony produced a masterpiece with this DAP. Sony has its own S-Master amp technology and Pulse With Modulation system, which creates unrivalled battery lifetime in the market. The biggest criticism was on the S-Master but they seem to have solved its weak points now, with a much better noise floor and power. It’s a shame some units still have capped volumes but thankfully it’s easy to get around that limitation. This is the very best audio player I’ve experienced together with the AK SP1000. I personally would choose the Sony, because of its heart-warming sound and long-lasting battery.
Lotoo PAW Gold Touch
Lotoo has a very unique approach to digital audio players. With their pro-audio background, it doesn’t come as a surprise that they have opted for a super neutral signature for their top of the line music player. At the end of the day, it is the ground for their customers to build their own sound on, and what better signature to have than a reference one?
The PAW Gold Touch brings a few features to the table which we haven’t seen in any other portable player, at least none that I know of. If I’m correct, it’s the very first player to come with a built-in Sample Rate Converter and enabling this one, makes a noticeable difference in sound.
Hats off to Lotoo for one of the best audio players in the current market. The Touch gets my personal stamp of approval and goes on to the list of recommended DAPs.
I have really enjoyed my time with the N8 and want to thank Cayin for letting me be one of the first to review it. I am sad to see the N8 go back to Cayin, unfortunately, the unit is on loan and it won’t be joining the SP1000, SP1000M, and Sony WM1Z as high-end DAPs at the HFN HQ. Has Cayin achieved their goal? Oh yes, the N8 is a high-end DAP, there’s no doubt about it. Does it beat the Sony or AK? No, but it doesn’t have to either. Sound-wise it offers its own approach to high-end sound and that puts it on the same level as the other high-end DAPs. No, the N8 might not have application loading but it does offer three different sound signatures of which one is tube flavored, and that makes the N8 very unique.
Astell & Kern SP2000 [Added 12/05/2020]
The Astell&Kern SP2000 is the best-sounding portable player the South-Korean brand has built so far. No, it doesn’t come cheap but you in return get a DAP with an innovative design, extreme usability, and most important of all: a top-level sound where the technicalities are king.
On top of that, you can use it as a portable source with the Line Out, as DAC/AMP, or just as a digital carrier. And then there’s streaming, APK install capability, and AK Connect if that wasn’t enough already.
In short, the Astell&Kern SP2000 is one of the very best all-around High-end portable players on the market.
Luxury & Precision P6 Pro [Added 24/01/2021]
It’s very easy to conclude that the Luxury & Precision P6 Pro is the improved version of the P6. It was a difficult thing to pull off, but L&P managed to do just that.
The P6 Pro isn’t only the better sounding DAP of both, but with its touch screen (and added features) it’s also the easiest to work with. If money really is no object and you want the best possible P6, then the Pro version is the easy choice for you. The original P6 is a great player but as you saw last week, we didn’t add it to our recommended buy lists where we award the very best gear. The P6 Pro version however is a fully recommended buy in the high-end DAP category. It absolutely deserves its spot there among the very best DAPs on the planet.
If you want extremely good sound, and can live with the fact that you can’t install apps and need to use an external source to stream music, then the P6 pro probably is one of the very best portable players on the market.
Luxury & Precision LP6 [Added 18/02/2020]
The LP6 and LP6ti DAPs are technical marvels and Luxury & Precision has managed to deliver sublime sounding, full-size headphone powering DAPs. If you have big pockets and you don’t care about Android usability, streaming, or network play but only want the best possible sound on the market from a DAP, then the LP6 is your ideal match. Priced at $4,399USD, the LP6 is very expensive but the sound quality is extraordinary. The R2R DAC inside the LP6 is of a very high level so you can also use this DAP as a dedicated DAC in your home system. Maybe that makes the price a little more acceptable.