Picture Sunday: Portable Desktop Quality

The stars of this week’s Picture Sunday are the CypherLabs Duet and the Astell&Kern AK380 . Check out other recent Picture Posts Here, and Here.

A lot of people have been asking me lately what DAP they should get and the answer isn’t always as easy. I at home – in the no budget restriction category and depending on the room I am in – very often seem to fall back to the Astell & Kern AK380. Depending on the ear or headphone that I’m testing I use it with or without a portable amplifier but when I do use one it very often is the CypherLabs Duet.

Now the Duet is not the newest amp on the market but it still is one of the best sounding amps out there, offering both a balanced input and output. The AK380 while being expensive simply does sound really good and the synergy between both is just perfect. Together they bring a desktop quality sound in a portal package, and it’s easy to carry round the house.

One of the questions that keeps coming back is what is the best DAP under $700USD and they often give me the choice between the Cayin i5, the Astell AK70 and the Fiio X7. And that’s exactly where it gets difficult.  All of these DAPs are great and they have a lot going for them but we can split them up in two big categories: User Friendly Android and AK Android.

Both the Cayin as the Fiio have the friendly operating system and what I mean with that is that they offer a lot of flexibility. You in theory can run any app you want, such as Tidal, Qobuz, Spotify, Last FM, etc. On the AK the Android  OS isn’t accessible and you depend on AK to make things available or not. They’re all 3 great players but the Cayin and Fiio are more flexible. On the other hand, the AK simply is more stable and user friendly with their menu structure. If you’re looking for a DAP, this is something you have to think about.


If you decided you want the X7 or Cayin, you then have to figure out if you want to work with different AM modules or not. The advantage is that you can EQ the sound based on the AM module (or add balanced) but the disadvantage is that you might want or need several AM modules and that you have to be prepared to change them and carry them around. Another important thing is the (lack of a) balanced output. The AK70 has one and depending on the AM module you chose, the Fiio X7 has one too. Personally I find the AK’s balanced output the best sounding one (and it does balanced out).

Other things to look at are the sound quality, sound signature, portability, resell value, etc, etc etc. It’s not easy choosing a DAP but no matter what route you go, the DAPs and the DAC chips inside have become so good that you more easyly call them Desktop Quality gear. That is a very obvious market trend and it’s one we can’t complain about. The difficulty is finding that one DAP for you and with the dozens of DAPs on the market that isn’t an easy choice. That’s where we jump in to help.

What is your favorite DAP or which one are you planning on getting? Tell us in the comments!

4.4/5 - (8 votes)

Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.


  • Reply December 18, 2016


    Based on flexibility (Balanced and Unbalanced) , Android and 64GB on board will stick to Onkyo DP 1A

    Followed by Cayin i5

    What has won me on these DAP’s is the capability to offline music from the main music services to increase my music discovery. In the past the just the plain old expensive DAPs were like a gated garden

  • Reply January 6, 2017


    As far as pure sound quality goes my favorite DAP was the Calyx M. But in the end I sold the M as I wanted a DAP that did more (stream & offload Tidal, Bluetooth etc) and that had better battery life and didn’t distort with certain dynamic driver IEMS. I ended up going with the Sony ZX2 which I’m very happy with. It sounds great and for times when the cord would get in the way the LDAC Bluetooth streaming is great and sounds better than standard Bluetooth streaming (I also before purchasing the ZX2 already had the MDR-1000X headphones based on a positive review from Jude on head-fi). But the ZX2 sounds great and I also like the fact the WM port with the right cable serves as a lineout for connecting to my desktop amp unlike the Calyx which only has a headphone out.

  • Reply January 9, 2017


    Dap’s are tough but I need space hence A&K in the lead. I’m sweating it out over which one to get. So far the 240 is in the lead. I just bough two more amps Theorem 720 and a Centrance xL with the 4 pin xLr the later for the A&K. I will get another Dap besides the A&K to go with my other ones. I’m more interested in flexibility in the output of the Other Dap then space.
    Always in the background, always reading around.

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