$0-$500 : iBasso DX150
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. 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.
$501- $1500 : Fiio M11 Pro
The FiiO M11 Pro is basically a FiiO M11+, but this extra plus is what makes a great player, a fantastic player. For a cost. This M11 Pro costs 200$ more than the classic M11 and it ditched the second micro-SD slot. So if you’re on a budget or need a vast amount of storage, you may want to stick to the first version. That said, if sound quality is your main concern, all of those changes are of no concern. All in all, the FiiO M11 Pro is a fantastic player : hassle-free navigation, solid battery life, superb sound.
+$1500 : HiBy R8
The HiBy R8 makes for an excellent TOTL player in this segment. Not only is the HiBy R8 an extremely versatile DAP, it also sounds great. 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 short list. In this price range it’s easy for me to recommend the HiBy R8.
No limit: Astell&Kern SP2000
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 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-round High-end portable player on the market.
DAC/AMP – Portable
$0-$250: Lotoo PAW S1
When I first saw photos of the PAW S1 appear online, I was very intrigued. Even though I am a die-hard DAP user, the idea of a simple DAC/Amp dongle with Lotoo’s sound had me going. Overall the PAW S1 comes with Lotoo’s neutral but natural house-sound. It adds some body to instruments and musicians, but also comes equipped with high skills in technical abilities. As a simple DAC/Amp dongle solution I think it absolutely wins. People who don’t see the benefit of a Digital Audio Player but still want a higher quality experience should certainly take the Lotoo PAW S1 on their shortlist. On top of the great sound you also get superb EQ/ATE pre-settings that fit your current situation and two gain settings should you need it to go to eleven. Just remember, that the quality of your music files really matter with the PAW S1. For less than 200 USD this is a fantastic device and it gets a very strong recommendation from me.
$251- $1000 : EarMen TR-AMP
It was quite fun to review a DAC/Amp unit again after all this time and the TR-Amp pleasantly surprised me with its transparency and dynamics. You get a detailed and energetic sound, combined with a musical delivery. What’s not to like? For the $249 USD / €279 Euro price it is selling for, you get a lot in return. Actually way more than I was initially expecting.
+$1500 : Chord Electronics Hugo 2
You get real desktop class sound quality in a transportable package. It sounds really good with all ears and headphones I have used it with, and I am very much looking forward to trying out many more in the future. If you are in the game for a high end DAC that appears to also be used on the go with your smartphone or DAP, the Hugo 2 is definitely worth serious consideration. For the retail price of 2195$ Hugo² sure doesn’t come cheap, and deciding if it’s worth that much is completely up to you. I advice to listen to it on an extended run to come to a decision, but be warned, you might end up with a brand new Hugo.
Wowzers! Chord was going strong already and they keep on making better gear each and every time. While the Hugo will certainly be seen as a classic in the near future (as it was the first with such a high performance), it’s the Hugo 2 that will go in the books as one of the best performing transportable DAC/AMP combos. With the Hugo 2 you’ll come as close as you can get to a portable DAVE, and that says a lot. If you can afford it, I don’t see any reason why not to buy the Hugo 2. It looks great, sounds extremely good, is well built and has all the inputs and outputs you’ll ever need. It’s pure desktop quality in a transportable package.
DAC/AMP – Desktop
$0-$500: iFi Nano iDSD Black
iFi has delivered marvelous work with the the BL version of the Nano iDSD. Although I’ve never had a chance to test the original version, I can easily say this is an amazing DAC/AMP for the price. I’m not sure you can ever find better technicalities from a device that costs this little. I’m sure the Micro iDSD BL is also very very good in its own price range. People say this one sounds close to the Micro version and if I ever listen to that one I will edit this review at that time. A superb little device, for those who are looking for a nice DAC/AMP that can give a good amount of power for not extremely hard to drive headphones, and with a competitive price. If you also like to listen to your in ear monitors with these types of devices, I just can’t recommend it enough. It’s flexible, built to last, useful and compact. Most importantly, it sounds flawless for the money. Just go for it.
$501- $1500 : Burson Audio Conductor 3XP
I expected a lot of the Conductor 3XP based on my experience with Burson’s other units and I have to say they fully delivered. Of course the Conductor 3XP isn’t cheap but it doesn’t break the bank either. I honestly do feel it outperforms its price level. It’s the kind of amp that drives all different types of headphones with ease and from the test results we can obviously say it matches well with all kind of headphones. The 3XP will make your headphone sound best, it being the $6000 USD Hifiman Susvara or the $130 USD Beyerdynamic DT770/32. The 3XP might be the Conductor 3X Reference’s little brother, but here’s nothing little in the performance of this unit. This for many will easily be an end game unit. Fully recommended.
+$1500 : Chord Electronics Hugo TT2
Chord Electronics’ Hugo TT2 is a wonderful piece of equipment. It’s beautifully finished with superb craftsmanship and its sound is nothing short of spectacular. From the start it has made its place at the very top of my DAC list clear. I can absolutely see why people would call it quits after getting the Hugo TT2.
No Limit: Flux Lab Acoustics Atlas
It’s one of those amps you enjoy so much and listening to your favorite tunes is just pure bliss. I just want to listen to more tracks and turn up the volume because it sounding so good. Atlas might be expensive (and huge) but boy does it sound incredible. You get a high end, very well balanced, detailed but musical sound and you’ll fall in love with it right away. It’s no wonder the first batch sold out directly. You better start saving up and don’t forget new, extra large, furniture.
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