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.
Tiny in size may be, but this is a huge DAP from Shanling. They surely know how to create an effective audio circuitry and great sound quality with that. The design is very charming and attractive, form factor is great, usage is good (although I think they should shift to a touchscreen later) and the sound is an absolute joy for this price. I’ll ask Lieven to take out their M2s DAP and replace it with the Shanling M3s to our beloved DAPslist. Without a doubt, I think it’s worth the extra money over the M2s, unless you’re looking for ultra mobility. Well done!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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: