Portable Player (DAP) Recommendations - Headfonia Headphone Reviews

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.

Hidizs AP60

It’s small, looks beautiful and it’s very easy to work with as it has a very clear menu structure. It also connects to an external DAC like the Mojo without issues and it can be the DAC for your phone or other sources. The sound quality of the headphone out might not be the very best (think bass, warmer and fun) but it sounds very musical. It offers BT4.0 & apt-X and you can even stream Tidal over BT from your phone. Unlike the N3 it can’t control your phone but the menu navigation/screen is clearer. It makes for a good transport and that’s probably how a lot of people will be using it.

$89 from Hidizs / Hidizs

Review: http:///headfonia.com/review-the-hidizs-ap60-body/

Fiio X1.2

The Fiio X1.2 positively surprised me sound wise. It isn’t the most sexy, easy to work with or most modern player (it still features a scroll wheel) but it does sound very good for the $99 price it is going for. Sound wise it’s only just behind the more expensive Cayin N3 but it is in front of the $10 cheaper Hidisz AP60. The AP60 for sure still is the recommended DAP when you want to use it as a transport but sound wise the X1.2 simply outperforms it. If the X1.2 would be more modern, easier to work with and be as versatile as the AP60 and N3, then it would be a serious contender in the sub $350 category.

$99 from Fiio

Review: TBC

Shanling M0

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 amount of features were 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.

$109 from Shanling

Review: https://headfonia.com/review-shanling-m0/

Cayin N3

The Cayin N3 is like the improved version of the Hidizs AP60. It does everything the AP60 does but it does it better. Great sound quality, less noise than the AP60, and all the same connectivity features. The N3 does also take over the control of your phone when streaming Tidal over BT 4.0. The N3 is the connectivity king looking at its features. It’s not only a great transport but it also sounds really good as a standalone player. The Cayin N3 is the recommended player under $150 without doubt.

$149 from Cayin

Review: https://headfonia.com/review-cayin-n3-the-master/

Cayin N3

Cayin N3

Shanling M2X

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. 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.

$219 from Shanling

Review: https://www.headfonia.com/shanling-m2x-review/

Cayin N5ii

I’ve loved the Cayin N5ii right from the beginning. It has a beautiful design, top build quality, customizable interface, extreme versatility and it’s easy to use. If that isn’t enough for you than its sound signature will win you right over. With the N5ii, Cayin has managed to deliver a DAP that looks, feels and performs like a high-end DAP double or more its price.The Cayin N5ii simply is a killer DAP in this price segment that kind of makes it difficult for the competition to live up to it.

$299 from Cayin

Review: https://headfonia.com/review-cayin-n5ii

Fiio M9

A versatile player, that was the goal of FiiO with the M9. With a lot of features, Bluetooth duplex, WiFi streaming and evolving hardware/software, the brand has made big improvements from the previous generations. It’s a smaller device, definitely more portable than before, yet it feels sturdier and nimbler. Sound is very good as you would expect, the FiiO M9 carrying the brand signature. The sweet sound of numeric I should say, as the DAP never felt harsh once. If you want a bright signature, I’d suggest another brand or model as this one is intended to please none but all. Access to third party-apps and Bluetooth duplex alone, make it a top choice for me. For 299€, it’s simply the most versatile audiophile player you could get at the moment. The perfect blend of audiophile prowess, compact design and Swiss-knife capabilities. Get this and a Q5, you’ll be fully equipped for years.

€299 From Fiio

Review: https://headfonia.com/review-fiio-m9/

Fiio M11

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… cost 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 apk pure and the complete 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.

$450 from Fiio

Review: https://www.headfonia.com/fiio-m11-review/

iBasso DX150

With the DX150 and DX200, iBasso does a superb comeback on the DAP market, a sheer revival of the DX50 and DX90 combo. The iBasso DX150 sounds great and the wide range of amplifier modules should cover every need for every audiophiles. The best choice being the AMP8, a balanced discrete amplifier module, yup. Design wise, I have mixed feelings. The screen is superb and handling is good, better than the previous generation, despite its mid-fi position. Yet, it’s 19.5mm thick, even more with the case which makes the DX150 a pain to carry on. Imagine piling up 3 iPhone and you have an idea of what you’ll have to bear. In term of functionality, the iBasso DX150 is a good all-rounder. Android allows audio streaming and third party installation (remember to install the Google play store though), bi-directionnal Bluetooth transform the DAP into a portable DAC and the coax/optical/usb output is perfect for those who just need a source.

Without regard to the price, the DX150 is a sure choice, an alternative to the excellent Cayin N5ii for those who prefer stock android experience and a comprehensive range of amplifiers. If you take the price in count, it’s a superb DAP which goes directly in my buyer’s guide. If you own a DX90, you can finally switch to a new iBasso DAP, it’s just that good.

$499 from iBasso

Review: https://headfonia.com/review-ibasso-dx150/

iBasso DX150

iBasso DX150

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 in 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 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.

$549 from Luxury & Precision

Review: https://headfonia.com/review-luxury-precision-l3pro-dap-mmmmusic/

Sony ZX-300

A world in which Sony does not lead the middle and top end of the DAP market is thankfully a bitter past. Sony’s disappointing A-series Walkman are long gone. And so are fiddly controls whose sole capital is size. The ZX300 pulls its weight both stylistically and in use. With the singular proviso of audible hiss when combined with sensitive earphones, it sounds great. It looks great. It works great. Its screen is better than most of the competition at its price. It’s killer.

$698 from Sony

Review: https://headfonia.com/review-sony-zx300/

Astell&Kern A&norma SR15

The A&norma SR15 combines all the necessities of a modern audiophile EDC DAP. It is small, light, has a no nonsense User Interface and sounds excellent on top. The build quality is excellent and the attention to detail in the design astonishing, if you’re wondering about the tilted screen, hold it in your hands before making a final judgement. The SR15 matches best with easy to drive headphones and in ear monitors. It’s a solid recommendation for everyone looking for a companion on the go!

$699 from Astell&Kern

Review: https://headfonia.com/review-astell-kern-sr15/

Astell&Kern SR15

Astell&Kern SR15

HiBy R6PRO

The HiBy R6PRO, and especially the balanced output, has quickly grown on me. Not only does it sound excellent, it’s also a pleasure to just hold and work with. Beautiful design, superb UI, and great versatility. The R6PRO gets good points all over and it’s hard to find any flaws. If I could change something it would probably be the SE output. If that SE output had a bit more emotion, the R6PRO would get a perfect score from me but that’s something personal. That being said, the R6PRO still scores very high and it without any doubt goes straight to the recommended DAP list. It’s a serious contender already for the best of 2019 awards, I kid you not.

$799 from HiBy

Review: https://www.headfonia.com/review-hiby-r6pro/

Astell&Kern SP1000M

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 Magestic, 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 to be the best of both.

$2399 from Astell&Kern

Review: https://www.headfonia.com/review-astell-kern-sp1000m/

Sony WM1Z

Sony produced a masterpiece with this DAP. Sony has their own S-Master amp technology and Pulse With Modulation system, which creates unrivaled battery life time 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.

$2699 from Sony

Review: https://headfonia.com/review-sony-wm1z-splendid/

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.

3,199$ from Lotoo

Review: https://headfonia.com/review-lotoo-paw-gold-touch

Lotoo PAW Gold Touch

Lotoo PAW Gold Touch

Cayin N8

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 flavoured, and that makes the N8 very unique.

$3400 from Cayin

Review: https://www.headfonia.com/review-cayin-audio-n8/

Astell & Kern SP1000

Is the SP1000 the ultimate DAP as the A&Ultimate name says? For the moment it, to me, certainly is right up there together with the Sony WM1Z, but the AK380 isn’t that far behind at all. The SP1000 not only looks great but it’s one of the very best technical DAPs that manages to remain musical in a neutral way. It’s great as a DAP, DAC, transport, source and even a network streamer. Sure it’s not the smallest or lightest DAP on the market but once you’ve listened to what it can do, you’ll happily carry it around with you.

$3499 from Astell&Kern

Review: https://headfonia.com/review-astell-kern-sp1000-impressive/

 

Only the most popular DAPs are listed here. If you feel it to be too limited, feel free to browse the full portable source Category:

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36 Comments

  • Reply August 4, 2017

    Miles

    Why didn’t Ibasso DX200 make the list ?

    • Reply August 4, 2017

      Lieven

      As long as they refuse sending us gear, I refuse listing them ????

      • Reply November 25, 2017

        Darren Cotter

        I wouldn’t worry too much about not having an iBasso Dx200 reviewed. It is a good sounding unit, but out of the three I’ve owned, the second two developed different faults.

      • Reply June 22, 2019

        goats

        wait are your reviews bought? damn, this completely destroys any credibility you may have had.

    • Reply June 11, 2019

      Phillip Brenton

      I bassodx200 is trash……The laundry list of things it glitches on, just wow. from bluetooth dropping to slow UI, I regret ever buying one.

  • Reply September 10, 2017

    Jorik

    Why isn’t the Opus#1 on this list? When I compared it to the Fiio X5iii I found it to be so much better in terms of sound quality and smooth UI.

    • Reply September 11, 2017

      Lieven

      that’s a tough one. Non of my writers have asked to put it in the list, so there must be something they don’t like about it.

      • Reply October 12, 2017

        Michell

        Strange a little bit I think ! , I looked for it here as I want to get 1 as the price of the opus #1 now is 294$ , so it’s really important to know how it fares against the others , sadly I live in Egypt where you can’t dream to find them in shops to try or buy ????, so I’m asking about you personal opinion under 300 is there are any better dap to get ? , my headphones are Senny’s HD 598 SE

  • Reply September 11, 2017

    Mustafa Yeten Yavas

    Very many thanks for all excellent reviews of the all listed DAP’s dear expert site headfonia.com . According to me Headfonia is very best site regarding the audiophile gears . Keep on running in such an amazing road dear head and staff of Headfonia . I am very happy to read your amazing reviews and to be one of your faithful subscriber’s .
    Best Regards
    Mustafa Yeten Yavas
    Retired Captain Turkish Navy
    Member of the Turkish Audiophile Club Techno-Fi
    Istanbul Turkey

    • Reply September 11, 2017

      Lieven

      Güzel sözler için teşekkürler. En iyi dileklerimle

  • Reply October 19, 2017

    ElTejano

    Thanks for the reviews- I’ve been going back and forth looking at your site. I finally wound up purchasing some cheap(er) IEMs from your list and a Cayin N3. I’m very happy with everything so far, even if I don’t understand half of the features or specs. But again, I appreciate all the details and insight.

  • Reply November 27, 2017

    JeroenW

    TheFiio X1.2 is listed here as review: soon but on facebook you said it wouldn’t be reviewed because it’s cheap and you are lacking in time.

    What are you going to do with the X1.2?

    • Reply November 27, 2017

      Lieven

      It’s on the list but it’s not a priority. Not because of the price, but because of the lack of time and the availability of other, more interesting products.

  • Reply December 12, 2017

    Sudershan Srinivasan

    Would you consider adding the Cowon Plenue S to this list?

  • Reply December 24, 2017

    LOUIS

    How about the sony zx300?

  • Reply January 26, 2018

    Beginning Audio

    So are you saying the “Sony NW-WM1Z High-Resolution Audio Walkman” is the best
    of all of these DAPs, because I’m just getting into music, and I’d like to know which is the best
    to buy, I have heard the SP1000 was the best on the market, but in the Sony part you said
    you’d choose the Sony over the Astell&Kern, there is a £700 difference.

    What DAP should I buy, when I’ve never heard one and I am looking to buy one?
    I don’t know about “sound signatures” it’s all greek to me.

    • Reply January 26, 2018

      Lieven

      It depends on the reviewer. I don’t think there’s one best. Depending on the monitor I use I prefer the Sony or the SP1000. Berkhan prefers the Sony cause it’s bigger bodied and warmer.

      For my ears the SP1000 performs best with BA drivers, but it can be different for anyone

    • Reply January 26, 2018

      dale thorn

      If I were buying a ~$3000 DAP, my primary use would have to be at home or in an extremely quiet place, using ordinary premium headphones or IEMs (no noise canceling or DSP). Used outdoors or on public transport, you might as well have the $250 DAP, because you won’t hear the very finest of the $3000 detail in most portable uses.

  • Reply May 19, 2018

    Garmt

    I think Questyle is a big omission.

    • Reply August 5, 2019

      Ronja Mesco

      this is fact on so many levels…I’ve owned two, and its no joke.

  • Reply June 28, 2018

    Pablo

    Among the nintaus x10, the fiio x1.2, cayin n3, shanling m0, what would you put first in the list, or any better sugestion within the same price tag and specs?

  • Reply July 5, 2018

    Benjamin Pillmore

    Is there an A&K SE100 review in the works?

    • Reply November 27, 2018

      Lieven

      That has been published already

  • Reply September 24, 2018

    Peter

    I would like to replace my old iPod in my car. I do not understand why manufacturers do not think of those who want to listen to high-quality music in their car. Could you suggest to me a DAP that meets the following:
    – Max Sampling Rate: 32-bit / 384kHz
    – File Types: DSD, FLAC, WAV, ALAC, WMA, IOS, DSF
    – Handle external HDD to 2 TB
    – Have composite video out (via 3.5mm A / V connector)
    – have remote control
    Thanks in advance if you can help me.

  • Reply October 5, 2018

    Chris

    Would the shanling m3s be enough to drive dt880pro 250 ohm?

    • Reply January 20, 2019

      Ralph

      Probably, no. I have the M3s and a pair of 250ohm DT770 pro’s and even on high gain they are woefully flat and underinflated. With the addition of a Fiio E12i though it’s perfect.

  • […] Portable Players (DAP) […]

  • Reply December 29, 2018

    Waldo Becker

    Thanks for sharing

  • Reply February 16, 2019

    Robin Landseadel

    Have the Fiio X1, works best as a line-level source to a decent headphone amp. Have to say the Fiio M3K has better sound all by its lonesome, as long as the headphones are low impedance/low power requirements. There seems to be more grunt with the X1 + 12a Monte Blanc combo, but much more transparency/resolution for everything above the bassline with the M3K. Seems like Moore’s law still applies to DAPs.

  • Reply March 3, 2019

    Prakash Dudeja

    U mean Shanling M0 is better than Hiby R3, fiio m6 and Hidizs AP80….

  • Reply June 15, 2019

    rnine

    why there is no place for hifiman?

  • Reply July 5, 2019

    Jon T

    In looking at the reviews, I would like to know what you think of the updated Dacs, to be specific, the AP60 II and the Hidizs AP80.

    I am thinking about them or a FiiO unit.

    Thank you,
    Jon

  • Reply July 27, 2019

    Alessandro

    Sono ondeciso fra M11 AK SR15 e cowon PL. Cosa mi consigliate a livello sonoro?

  • Reply September 18, 2019

    Bruce Harrington

    Are there any reasonably priced units that have over 20,000 file/song capacity? 400gb or better.

  • Reply October 4, 2019

    Saurabh Ashtamkar

    Surprised that none of Cowons are on the list. Any reason…they have been received very well by reviewers here on hfn.

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