With more and more manufacturers tipping their toes into the high-end segment of portable audio players, we see the competition growing. When we compare these players to each other, it’s important to look past sound and evaluate what they have to offer. In today’s world, features can become almost equally important than audio quality when deciding for a new DAP.
Lotoo – PAW Gold (2,399$)
Built on the original PAW Gold the Touch comes with a hand full of new features. Things like LDAC Bluetooth, a touch screen, a new UI, a balanced output and WiFi have found their way into the new Lotoo flagship. Both only have support for external memory via SD cards and don’t come with any internal storage.
Sound wise these two aren’t very different. The Touch is a bit more neutral and has less sub-bass rumble, but other than that, both perform on the same level. Of course, you will also get a more silent background from the Touch, making it easier to play with more sensitive gear.
If you’re on the fence of upgrading from the PAW Gold and don’t care much for the added features, I think you’re safe where you are now.
Astell&Kern – SP1000 (3,499$)
When we look at features, it’s clear that the SP1000 has a few advantages. It comes with 256GB on-board storage, streaming services, digital outputs (optical and USB) as well as DLNA support.
The PGT however also packs a few things the AK misses out on, like a powerful Parametric EQ, though AK also has one built-in, it’s limited to lower resolution files and +/- 5dB, ATE effects or Digital Filters. Also, Lotoo has confirmed that they are working on implementing digital output via USB C. The Touch also comes with bi-directional LDAC Bluetooth which supports 24/96, while the AK has aptX HD, capable of 24/48. Touch also sports hardware sample rate conversion.
Software wise both are very mature, and though I’m a longtime supporter of the AK firmware, I am leaning more towards Lotoo on this, as the incredible speed and lag-free UI truly impresses me.
Sound-wise the SP1000 and PAW Gold Touch are very close in terms of technical performance. Both have outstanding resolution, where I don’t feel like I’m missing a single beep. The sound stage on both models is wide and deep, but the Touch keeps musicians a bit closer to you, whereas the AK portrays them in a more holographic manner in front of you.
The Touch has a more neutral and reference style tuning, whereas the SP1000 is richer in its mids and treble. The AK is a bit more dynamic in the lower end, while I feel the Lotoo has higher resolution in bass.
Cowon – Plenue L (1,999$)
Comparing the features first again.
The Plenue L has 256GB storage and can output a digital signal (optical), both of which the Lotoo lack. The Cowon though misses out on Bluetooth, WiFi and digital filters. Touch also comes with a Parametric EQ, which the Cowon doesn’t have. Plenue L also comes with a micro USB port, which doesn’t offer the speed of the USB 3.1 standard.
Both come with sound enhancing features, namely ATE respectively BBE. On the user interface perspective, I’m again giving Lotoo the nod for the better experience. The Touch can decode higher sample rates (32/768) and supports DSD up to 512, whereas the Plenue L only supports 24bit/384kHz and DSD256. The Lotoo also brings the XRC function to the table, which Plenue L does not have.
On the level of sound, the Cowon has fuller notes with more body and emotion. Both are relatively neutral in their signature, but the Plenue L is smoother in its midrange, whereas the Lotoo has a professional grade reference sound. Touch brings out details clearer and more up front than the Plenue L. The Cowon has a slight warmth in its sound, that especially plays a role in treble, as it is not as bright as the one found on the Touch.
In technical parameters both have great staging, with the Touch going a notch wider and the Plenue portraying music more in front of you. Both the PGT and the Plenue L have very good resolution, but I find the Touch to be coming out on top here. Same goes for instrumental separation. The Plenue L though wins on background noise, as it is completely silent, even with the Empire Ears Zeus, though Touch really isn’t far behind here.
What a ride this has been. If you have made it through the past 5600 words before, I must applaud you. I hope the review wasn’t too long, but there is just so much to tell about the 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.
I can only imagine how long it took Lotoo to code their own firmware for this unit, and I am deeply impressed by how far they have come with it. It’s one of the most enjoyable units out there and I tip my hat to the engineers who made it a reality.
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 Best DAPs.