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.
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.
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.
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.
I really like the M2S from Shanling. It’s ultra pocketable and a great alternative for walking around or doing some sports. With the Bluetooth feature you can connect your phone, throw it in your pocket and use it as a wireless solution. You’ll have a great sound too. No doubt about it. The form factor, great design and build quality, rich feature set and very good sonics makes this DAP an instant recommendation from me in this level.
The Fiio X5iii is the prettiest of all Fiio DAPs. I love the design, lay-out and the usability of the Fiio X5. It’s easy and a pleasure to work with and as it is Android, the Fiio X5iii can basically run all the apps that you want. When buying the Fiio X5iii you don’t only get a DAP, but a portable DAC and DAC/Amp with five different outputs (3.5mm SE out, 2.5mm Balanced out, Line Out, Coax out and USB OTG). You basically get one unit that can do it all. The Fiio X5iii sounds more to the neutral side but with a musical and smooth presentation yet keeping all the detail nicely in there. Is the X5iii a perfect DAP? No it isn’t yet as there still are several kinks to work out with the upcoming firmware updates. Even in the current state though, the Fiio X5iii already is a killer DAP in the sub $500 category. It definitely has the possibility to become the very best one, once the remaining issues have been worked away. If Fiio manages to improve the reactivity/speed of the UI, lose some noise and improve the clarity of the sound a tad more, it’ll be the almost perfect player.
The Fiio X7 – just like the X5iii – runs on Android and it lets you install a whole bunch of 3rd party apps such as Tidal and Spotify. It can stream music from almost anywhere and it makes the X7 very versatile. It basically has the same functionality as the Cayin i5 does but the big advantage of the X7 is that it works with different amplifier modules and that way you can tune its sound or you can add a balanced output. My fav AM module is AM2. Connectivity wise the X7 also excels but it isn’t the prettiest and easiest DAP to work with because of its size. This to me still is the best sounding Fiio DAP. When the X7 was launched its price was $650, with the price it’s going for after the launch of the X5iii, it just has to be in this list. I’d still love to see the X7 sound in the X5iii though, that would be the ultimate Fiio DAP.
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.
This is the DAP that won the 2016 DAP award here on HFN. It looks great, is a pleasure to work with and it sounds really good. The 2.5 and 3.5mm outputs are dead silent and they can both be used as Line Out. The AK70 doesn’t have any kinks like so many other DAPs have, and it can even be used to stream music from your NAS to wherever you want using AK Connect. It is my favourite DAP to use on the go. Sound wise you get a very engaging, smooth, laid back sound signature combined with a good level of detail and clarity. The AK70’s performance for its price is very correct and it’s still a recommended DAP for sure.
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.
Astell & Kern AK380
AK’s TOTL reference portable player is quite expensive but this DAP hardly has any flaws. It’s like their AK70 DAP functionality wise but the sound quality is even better. The AK380 offers a high end desktop sound in a portable package. I myself use it at home as a source for a whole number of setups. Nathan described it as following: Where the AK380 truly excels is its portrayal of stereo detail and space. Not only does it cast a stereo image that practically wraps around your head, every step outward is accompanied by depth, minute detail, and delicate contrast. It is believable, and reverent.
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: