Best Digital Audio Players by Budget (Affordable to High-End DAPs)

Choosing between the various DAPs available is not exactly an easy task. It is easy to get overwhelmed with the various models offered by different companies. If you are a beginner, you might not even know what features you need.  And you might not even know if you are willing to invest in the more expensive DAPs.

That is why in this article, we will be taking a look at the best daps for each price range. There is something for everyone here whether you are just getting into the hobby, if you are planning to upgrade your setup into the mid-range price tier, or if you are looking for your end-game DAP.

For a quick summary, here are the top contenders for budget pick, value for money, and high-end pick. 

  1. Budget Pick – Fiio M3K
  2. Best Value For Money – Fiio M11
  3. Best High-End for Audiophiles with a Large Budget – Astell & Kern A&Ultima SP2000

Best Digital Audio Players (DAPs) by Budget 

Best Cheap DAPs Under $100

1. Fiio M3K

FiiO M3K HiFi Metal Shell MP3 Player with Digital Voice Recorder,24 Hours Playback and Expandable Up to 512GB with Independent Lock & Volume Control,Silver
Fiio M3K (Image: Amazon)

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The Fiio M3K is the best dap you can get for under 100 USD. It presents the best value in terms of sound quality and Software experience. In terms of the software experience, the M3k has a simple approach that makes navigating fast and simple.

It isn’t as good as the touch screen approach of the M5 or any other touch screen DAPs found in the high price tiers. However, it is one of the best in this price range where there are no common Operating systems used. 

In terms of sound signature, it has a warm and fun sound that pairs well with most budget IEMs. It lacks Bluetooth but it is an okay compromise considering its predecessor, the Fiio X1ii, did not integrate Bluetooth very well

Overall, the good amount of features and good software implementation make the M3k a good entry-level DAP to get you started in your audiophile journey. 

Storage Size: No internal Memory (Expandable via micro SD)       

Max Sampling Rate: 32-bit/384 kHz     WiFi/BT: NO/NO

File Types: DSD, DFF, ISO, DXD, APE, FLAC, WAV, AIF, AIFF, DTS, MP3, WMA, ACC, OGG, ALAC, MP2, M4C, AC3, M3U, M3U8

Pros: 

  • User-Friendly UI
  • Excellent sound quality
  • Good synergy with other budget gears

Cons: 

  • No Bluetooth
  • UI isn’t as intuitive as other touchscreen-based players

2. Fiio M5

FiiO M5 AK4377 32bit /384kHz DAC chip Hi-Res Bluetooth Touch Screen MP3 Music Player with aptX/aptX HD/LDAC, USB Audio/DAC,Supports Calls and Sound Recordings(Black)
Fiio M5 (Image: Amazon)

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The Fiio M5 is an upgrade over the Fiio M3K in terms of features and is a direct competitor of the Shanling M0 that has the same form factor. There are some differences between the Shanling M0 and the Fiio M5 such as the volume wheel but essentially, they mostly have the same functions. 

The Fiio M5 has a slightly better sound quality when compared to the Fiio M3k. It also has Bluetooth which can both send and receiver audio. This will, however, be placed behind the Fiio M3k due to its non-traditional form factor. The small screen and cramped UI will not be for everyone. 

For buyers who want a compact device and do not mind the limitations of the UI, then the Fiio M5 is the better choice in this price range. For everyone else who prefers a more traditional DAP that is cheaper, the M3K is still the better value device. 

Storage Size: No Internal Memory (Expandable via micro SD)      

Max Sampling Rate: 32-bit/384 kHz     WiFi/BT: NO/YES

File Types: DSD, DFF, ISO, DXD, APE, FLAC, WAV, AIF, AIFF, DTS, MP3, WMA, ACC, OGG, ALAC, MP2, M4C, AC3, M3U, M3U8

Pros: 

  • Small form factor
  • Bluetooth implementation
  • Good sound quality

Cons: 

  • Too small for some

3. Zishan Z3

Zishan DIY Z3 HiFi DSD Professional MP3 HiFi Music Player Headphone OLED Amplifier DAC AK4490 with OLED
Zishan Z3 (Image: Amazon)

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The Zishan Z3 is a part of a series of DIY DAPs that offers modularity to some degree to the user. In this case, the OP amps can be modded by the user. 

The main appeal of this dap is the number of options that it has in terms of modifying the sound signature. Just like the other DAPs in this series (most notable, the Zishan Z1), this DAP has the potential to be the best sounding in this price range after some user modifications.

However, not everyone likes to tinker with electronics (especially beginners). And also the built quality and after-sales support are not as strong as a mainstream brand such as Fiio. This can be a good starter DAP but it falls short compared to the others in this price range primarily because it does not offer a good software experience and the built feels overall less polished compared to the others.  

Storage Size: No internal memory (Expandable via micro SD)

Max Sampling Rate: 32-bit/384 kHz     

WiFi/BT: NO/NO

File Types: DSD, DFF, ISO, DXD, APE, FLAC, WAV, AIF, AIFF, DTS, MP3, WMA, ACC, OGG, ALAC, MP2, M4C, AC3, M3U, M3U8

Pros: 

  • Customizable sound
  • Simple but effective UI

Cons: 

  • Not the best build quality

Best Digital Audio Players Under $250

1. Sony NW A55

Sony NW-A55/L Walkman NW-A55 Hi-Res 16GB MP3 Player, Moonlight Blue
Sony NW A55 (Image: Amazon)

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The Sony NW A55 takes the cake as the best sub 250 USD DAP. Despite being Sony’s entry-level dap, the A55 feels more premium than most of its competitors with its very good build quality and software implementation.

The A55 shares the same proprietary operating system shared by all of Sony’s DAPs. This is excellent because you never feel like you are being left out by not purchasing the more expensive models. The UI is fast and responsive. 

The A55 does not offer any streaming services. This can be a downside for most users who are into streaming. The A55 does, however, offer an excellent Bluetooth receiver mode which you can pair with your smartphone to send audio from streaming services. The A55 supports the LDAC codec which ensures that you get the best sound quality and minimum latency over Bluetooth. 

Storage Size: 16 GB Internal (Expandable via micro SD)       

Max Sampling Rate: 24-bit/384 kHz     WiFi/BT: NO/YES

File Types: DSD, DFF, APE, FLAC, WAV, AIF, AIFF, MP3, WMA, ALAC

Pros: 

  • Solid battery life
  • Fast and bug-free UI

Cons: 

  • Weak output
  • Proprietary charging cable
  • Sound quality isn’t as detailed as some of its competitors

2. Fiio M6

FiiO M6 High Resolution Lossless Music MP3 Player with aptX, aptX HD, LDAC HiFi Bluetooth, USB Audio/DAC,DSD/Tidal/Spotify Support and WiFi/Air Play Full Touch Screen
Fiio M6 (Image: Amazon)

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Depending on your needs, the Fiio M6 may be a better choice over the Sony NW A55. What gives the M6 the edge is its ability to run streaming applications thanks to its customized Android OS. 

Like the Sony, the M6 has a small form factor and overall solid build. It is less warm compared to the A55. The Fiio M6 is still an excellent device due to its versatility, size, and features. 

It is however ranked below the Sony NW A55 due to the software experience, battery life, and storage. The M6 isn’t as snappy as the A55 due to its lower specs and more demanding OS.  The 2 GB internal storage is not acceptable even though you can upgrade storage via Micro SD. 

If you prefer a device with more features and are willing to sacrifice software stability, then this can be a better deal compared to the Sony NW A55 

Storage Size: 2 GB Internal (Expandable via micro SD)         

Max Sampling Rate: 32-bit/384 kHz     WiFi/BT: YES/YES

File Types: DSD, DFF, ISO, APE, FLAC, WAV, AIF, AIFF, MP3, WMA, OGG, AAC, ALAC

Pros: 

  • Small form factor
  • Ability to run streaming services
  • Good battery life

Cons: 

  • Specs aren’t good for Android
  • Slow Operating System
  • 2 GB internal memory

3. Shanling M0 

Music Player Shanling M0 Hi-Res Bluetooth Touch Screen Portable Music Player (Blue)
Shanling M0 (Image: Amazon)

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The Shanling M0 is the most compact DAP in this price range, It is similar in a lot of ways with the Fiio M5. In terms of sound, it can compete with the other DAPs in this price range due to its ESS Sabre ES9218P DAC chip. 

It also has a good amount of features such as a Bluetooth receiver to make up for its lack of WiFi. However, like the M5, the limited screen size isn’t going to be for everyone. Both the M6 and A55 will be easier to use than the M0. 

However, if what you are looking for is a compact DAP in this price range, then this is the DAP for you. However, if you wish to have more functions such as streaming applications or a cleaner UI, then the other 2 in this list would be a better choice,  

Storage Size: No Internal (Expandable via micro SD)

 Max Sampling Rate: 32-bit/384 kHz     WiFi/BT: NO/YES

File Types: DSD, DFF, ISO, DXD, APE, FLAC, WAV, AIF, AIFF, DTS, MP3, WMA, ACC, OGG, ALAC, MP2, M4C, AC3, M3U, M3U8

Pros: 

  • Quality DAC chip 
  • Good Software for the small screen
  • Plenty of functions such as Bluetooth receiver

Cons: 

  • Too small for some users

 

Best Digital Audio Players Under $500

1. Fiio M11

FiiO M11 Android High Resolution Lossless Music Player with aptX HD, LDAC HiFi Bluetooth, USB Audio/DAC,DSD256 Support and WiFi Play Full Touch Screen
Fiio M11 (Image: Amazon)

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The Fiio M11 is Fiio’s midrange DAP. It takes all the good features and design choices of the Fiio X5iii and makes them even better. Unlike the previous generation model, the M11 is faster in terms of its software experience which is already comparable to a smartphone. It is running Android 7.0 which is a bit outdated when compared to its competitors such as the Hiby R6 who are running Android 8.0) but it is not a big deal since it supports most streaming applications as well as Google Play Store.

The M11 also offers both 2.5mm balanced and 4.4mm Pentaconn balanced connection making it the most versatile in this price category. The sound implementation from its dual DAC is a lot better compared to the previous generation. It has a more neutral and accurate presentation with a good amount of detail retrieval.

As mentioned earlier, the modified version of the Android OS found in the M11 features the Google Play Store as well as the ability to sideload APK files. With its speedy OS, the ability to install various apps, and a wide array of connectivity options, the M11 is very hard to beat in this price point. 

Storage Size: 32 GB (Expandable via dual micro SD slots)        

Max Sampling Rate: 32-bit/ 384kHz     WiFi/BT: YES/YES

File Types: DSD, DFF, ISO, DXD, APE, FLAC, WAV, AIF, AIFF, DTS, MP3, WMA, ACC, OGG, ALAC, MP2, M4C, AC3, M3U, M3U8

Pros: 

  • Fast OS
  • Good Specs
  • Dual Micro SD Slot
  • Lots of outputs available

Cons: 

  • Bigger size compared to other DAPs
  • Noisy output jacks for sensitive IEMs

2. Sony NW ZX300

Sony NWZX300/S Walkman with High-Resolution Audio
Sony NW ZX300 (Image: Amazon)

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The Sony ZX300 is Sony’s mid-tier DAP and an upgrade of the Sony NW A55. It takes the best parts of the Sony NW A55 such as the great software and Bluetooth receiver function and also adds its own unique set of features. 

The screen is now bigger which makes navigation a bit easier. The size of the device is also bigger. The most notable addition of the ZX300 is the 4.4mm balanced output which Sony has been rolling out for most of their recent DAPs. 

In terms of sound quality, the ZX300 takes the warm Sony sound signature that is present in the NW A55 but adds more clarity and detail. Driving power is now better both in the single-ended and balanced output. It is still not as good as the others on this price range but is a significant upgrade over the NW A55.

The Sony ZX300 is a competent device that would be a good fit for buyers who are not into streaming and buyers who want a DAP with good battery life, software experience, and sound quality.

Storage Size:  64 GB (Expandable via micro SD)      Max Sampling Rate: 32-bit/384 kHz     WiFi/BT: NO/YES

File Types: DSD, DFF, ISO, DXD, APE, FLAC, WAV, AIF, AIFF, DTS, MP3, WMA, ACC, OGG, ALAC, MP2, M4C, AC3, M3U, M3U8

Pros:

  • Fast and Clean UI
  • Inclusion of 4.4mm Pentaconn balanced output

Cons: 

  • No support for streaming services 
  • Sony proprietary charging cable

3. Sony NW A105

Sony Walkman NW-A105 Hi-Res 16GB MP3 Player, Black
Sony NW A105 (Image: Amazon)

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The Sony NW A105 is the entry-level model for Sony’s new line of Android DAPs. It is essentially an A55 that has an Android OS and offers USB Type-C instead of Sony’s proprietary cable and OS. 

The Android implementation here is very good and quite surprisingly, better than a lot of Android DAPs in this price range. This new OS however significantly affects the battery life of the A105. The A105 can only last up to 8 hours with WiFi on and less than 15 hours when airplane mode is engaged. This is a significant downgrade from the A55’s incredible 45 hours of playtime. 

The A105 sounds identical to the A55 in terms of sound quality which means it will have trouble keeping up with the other devices in this price range that are implementing dual DACs and sports balanced outputs. 

Still, this device has a good software implementation and has a significantly smaller form factor. If you value these things over sound quality, then this will better suit you compared to the other 2 DAPs in this price range. 

Storage Size: 16 GB (Expandable via micro SD)  Max Sampling Rate: 32-bit/384 kHz     WiFi/BT: YES/YES

File Types: DSD, DFF, ISO, DXD, APE, FLAC, WAV, AIF, AIFF, DTS, MP3, WMA, ACC, OGG, ALAC, MP2, M4C, AC3, M3U, M3U8

Pros: 

  • Solid Android implementation
  • USB Type-C

Cons: 

  • No balanced output
  • Same downsides as the Sony A55
  • No Bluetooth receiver functionality

Best Digital Audio Players Under $1,000

1. Fiio M11 Pro

FiiO M11 Pro Android Hi-Res Lossless MP3 Music Player with Dual AK4497, THX AAA amp, MQA, aptX/atpX HD/LDAC/Bluetooth/DSD/Tidal/Spotify/5G WiFi/4.4 Balance Output, Full Touch Screen
Fiio M11 Pro (Image: Amazon)

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The Fiio M11 Pro is the upgraded version of the Fiio M11. It features an upgraded THX AAA 78 amplifier that has a significantly better noise floor compared to the Fiio M11 as well as upgraded dual AK4497EQ DAC.  

It also features a single micro SD slot instead of the dual-slot of the M11. Aside from those, the M11 Pro is practically the same with the M11. This is not necessarily a bad thing since the M11 received praise for its build quality, output selection, and software implementation. 

The better noise floor in the M11 Pro means that sensitive IEM’s such as the Campfire Audio Andromeda would have less hiss. Overall, this is the best value in this price range especially if you mainly use sensitive IEMs. 

Storage Size:  32 GB (Expandable via micro SD)      Max Sampling Rate: 32-bit/ 384kHz     WiFi/BT:YES/YES

File Types: DSD, DFF, ISO, DXD, APE, FLAC, WAV, AIF, AIFF, DTS, MP3, WMA, ACC, OGG, ALAC, MP2, M4C, AC3, M3U, M3U8

Pros: 

  • Improved noise floor over M11
  • Everything good about the M11

Cons: 

  • Not many differences with the M11
  • Single Micro SD slot

2. Astell & Kern A&Anorma SR15

Astell&Kern A&Norma SR15 Portable High Resolution Audio Player, Dark Gray
Astell & Kern A&Anorma SR15 (Image: Amazon)

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The A&Norma SR15 is Astell & Kern’s new entry-level DAP. Despite the “entry-level” tag, it is already competing with most brands’ mid-fi offerings. Like most DAPs in this price range, it sports a dual DAC and unlike its predecessor (AK70 MkII), it can now install streaming applications approved by Astell & Kern such as Tidal and Spotify. 

The SR15 features several of Astell & Kern’s signature features such as the premium build quality and near-perfect software implementation. It also features Astell & kern’s sound coloration that many people prefer over neutral-sounding devices. 

As a dedicated device, the AK SR15 performs remarkably well. It will, however, be ranked lower than the M11 Pro since the M11 Pro is a more versatile device that has a better driving power and quieter noise floor. 

However, If a compact DAP that can do streaming is what you are after, and if you like Astell & Kern’s signature sound, then the A&Norma SR15 will be the best fit for you. 

Storage Size: 64 GB (Expandable via micro SD)     Max Sampling Rate: 24-bit/192 kHz     WiFi/BT: YES/YES

File Types: DSD, DFF, ISO, DXD, APE, FLAC, WAV, AIF, AIFF, DTS, MP3, WMA, ACC, OGG, ALAC, MP2, M4C, AC3, M3U, M3U8

Pros: 

  • Support for streaming applications
  • Dual DAC
  • Astell & Kern signature sound
  • Fast and stable OS
  • Good build

Cons: 

  • Battery life is not great
  • Small texts due to the small screen
  • Micro USB
  • No APK sideloading

3. Dethonray Prelude DTR1

Dethonray Prelude DTR1 HiFi Audio Music MP3 Player High Resolution Lossless
Dethonray Prelude DTR1 (Image: Amazon)

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The Dethonray DTR1 is a surprise contender in the sub-1000 USD category. At first glance, it seems like an odd choice as it does not feature a touch screen nor does it feature WiFi or Bluetooth. However, it has a bunch of tricks up its sleeve that make this DAP deserve its name. 

Despite its lack of Android implementation, the Linux based OS is pulled off very well. UI is fast and free from any kind of bloatware. Navigation via the buttons is easy to learn. You won’t see any kind of lag here unlike some of its competitors. 

The real magic trick here is the sound quality. The AK4490 DAC chip is implemented very well.   

If you don’t want a smartphone experience in your DAP and all you care about is sound quality, then the DTR1 will probably suit you the best. 

Storage Size: No internal storage (Expandable via micro SD)       

 Max Sampling Rate: 32-bit/ 768kHz     WiFi/BT: NO/NO

File Types: DSD, DFF, ISO, DXD, APE, FLAC, WAV, AIF, AIFF, DTS, MP3, WMA, ACC, OGG

Pros: 

  • Fast UI
  • Very good sound quality 
  • Good implementation of AK 4490 DAC chip

Cons: 

  • UI isn’t as good as other touch-based DAPs
  • No search function
  • No support for streaming apps
  • Micro USB

Best High-End Digital Audio Players (Audiophile DAPs)

1. Astell & Kern A&Ultima SP2000

Astell&Kern A&Ultima SP2000 High-Resolution Music Player, Stainless Steel
Astell & Kern A&Ultima SP2000 (Image: Amazon)

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The Astell & Kern SP2000 is currently Astell & Kern’s flagship DAP. It embodies all the features and design elements of their various DAPs such as the clean software and amazing build quality but incorporates the latest dual AKM 449EQ DAC. It also has a massive 512 GB storage

In terms of the software experience, it is the same one found in the other DAPs in their current lineup which means streaming applications are also available. It is not as fully featured as the Android implementation found on Android DAPs such as the Fiio M15, but it is cleaner, bug-free, and more intuitive to use.

The implementation of the AKM 449EQ makes the SP2000 the best in Astell & Kern’s lineup. It is the best version of Astell & Kern’s signature coloration. If you are a fan of Astell & Kern’s sound and design implementation, then this is the best DAP for you. 

Storage Size: 512 GB (Expandable via micro SD)       Max Sampling Rate: 32-bit/768 kHz     WiFi/BT: YES/YES

File Types: DSD, DFF, ISO, DXD, APE, FLAC, WAV, AIF, AIFF, DTS, MP3, WMA, ACC, OGG, ALAC, MP2, M4C, AC3, M3U, M3U8

Pros: 

  • Astell & Kern software
  • 512 GB storage 
  • Astell & Kern signature sound
  • Top of the line DAC

Cons: 

  • Bigger than most DAPs
  • Not all streaming apps are supported (No APK installation) 
  • Average battery life

2. Sony NW WM1Z

Sony NWWM1Z Signature Series Hi-Res Walkman
Sony NW WM1Z (Image: Amazon)

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The Sony WM1Z is Sony’s flagship DAP. Like the rest of the devices in this price range, it features a premium build. This one is made out of copper. 

The WM1Z features 256 GB of internal memory and most of Sony’s signature features such as the 4.4mm Pentaconn balanced connection, as well as Sony’s proprietary OS and proprietary cable. 

The WM1Z once again the warm signature that Sony has been known for. This DAP, however, features the best version of this sound signature. It has a more accurate and detailed sound compared to the mid-tier ZX300. 

If you are a fan of Sony’s operating system and signature sound, you don’t mind the lack of streaming services in this price range, and you want the absolute best version in their lineup, then the WM1Z is the DAP for you.

Storage Size: 256 GB (Expandable via micro SD)      Max Sampling Rate: 32-bit/768 kHz     WiFi/BT: NO/YES

File Types: DSD, DFF, ISO, DXD, APE, FLAC, WAV, AIF, AIFF, DTS, MP3, WMA, ACC, OGG, ALAC, MP2, M4C, AC3, M3U, M3U8

Pros: 

  • Excellent battery life
  • The best representation of Sony’s sound
  • Best build quality

Cons: 

  • No support for streaming applications
  • Sony proprietary charging cable

3. Fiio M15

FiiO M15 5.15inch 64G Android Hi-Res MP3/MP4 Music Player Dual AK4499EQ with HiFi Bluetooth CRS8675 5.0/aptX HD/LDAC/USB DAC/DSD512/MQA,WiFi/Spotify/Tidal/Amazon Music Support
Fiio M15 (Image: Amazon)

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The Fiio M15 is Fiio’s current flagship DAP. It replaces the older Fiio X7ii. Despite not featuring amplifier modules similar to the X7ii, the M15 has enough power to drive power-hungry headphones. It takes most of the same design elements found in the M11 and M11 Pro models. 

For example, the 2.5mm balanced and 4.4mm Pentaconn balanced connections are back on the M15. The Exynos 7872 processor that is used to power both the M11 and M11 Pro have also returned. This means that the same fast performance that was found on those 2 models can be expected on the M15. 

Despite being a newcomer in the high-end price range, the M15 gets a lot of things right. The M15 features a solid build quality. It isn’t as premium as Sony and Astell & Kern’s offerings but it can compete with them. 

The M15 packs 10 op-amps that gives plenty of power on the balanced outputs. This is why changeable amplifier modules are no longer needed on the M15. The Fiio M15 is a complete package and one of the only full Android DAPs that is available in this price category. 

While this takes place 3rd place in this category, You shouldn’t hesitate to pick this one up if you are a fan of the Android OS and Fiio’s mid-tier DAPs. 

Storage Size: 64 GB (Expandable via micro SD)      Max Sampling Rate: 32-bit/768 kHz     WiFi/BT: YES/YES

File Types: DSD, DFF, ISO, DXD, APE, FLAC, WAV, AIF, AIFF, MP3, WMA, OGG, ALAC

Pros: 

  • High-Quality specs
  • User-friendly software implementation
  • Variety of outputs
  • Good power output

Cons: 

  • Built-in storage lacking compared to competitors
  • Build quality isn’t as premium as some of its competitors

DAP Buyers Guide

What is a DAP?

If you’ve made it this far, this is probably saying the obvious but just to be clear:

A DAP (Digital Audio Player) is a standalone device that is designed for music playback. Modern DAPs are considered to be the evolutions of past stand-alone music players such as the Sony Walkman and iPod. Unlike its predecessors, the modern-day DAP is built around the idea of high-resolution audio and compatibility with other portable audio gear such as headphones, in-ear monitors, and external DAC/Amps.

Some of the common features found in DAPs include a dedicated high-quality DAC (Digital to Analog Converter) and an amplifier chip as well as multiple outputs (for example an unbalanced 3.5mm, balanced 2.5 mm, balanced 4.4 mm pentaconn, and line output). 

A DAP is primarily designed for high-resolution music playback. Most DAPs can natively support lossless codecs such as FLAC (free lossless audio codec), DSDWAV, etc. And of course, it also supports more common lossy codecs such as MP3’s. 

DAP Operating Systems

A lot of newer DAPs such as the Hiby R5, R6/Pro, Fiio M11, M11 Pro, and M15 use an Android operating system. The main advantage is the ability to install Android applications such as music players that help improve the overall user experience and streaming apps have been made possible. 

There are however some drawbacks with the Android operating system, the main drawback is the shorter battery life. 

Android DAPs are not as efficient compared to those with proprietary operating systems. They can only give you about 8 to 10 hours of battery life as compared to non-Android daps which can go even beyond 10 hours. Sony’s offerings, for example, can last you up to a week of use. 

Android DAPs need to process more which results in quicker battery drainage. This is not the fault of DAP manufacturers since the Android operating system is primarily designed for smartphones. 

The advantage of having an Android DAP is that you get the flexibility that Android provides. You can change from the default player that your dap provides and are free to install applications as long as your device supports it. Some DAPs feature a complete version of Android, letting you customize several aspects such as the look of your home screen and other menus. 

Most Android DAPs are also equipped with Wi-Fi that gives you access to streaming apps such as Spotify and Tidal. With an Android DAP, you are almost getting a smartphone experience without the drawbacks of a smartphone.

If you value battery life and reliability over customization and streaming, then a non-Android based DAP will suit you better, Otherwise, if you can’t live without Android features, Android daps will suit you better,

DAP Storage Explained

Music libraries consisting of lossless file formats such as FLAC and DSD can usually take up a lot of space. This is why most DAPs feature expandable storage. This is usually done via micro SD. Some players, however, such as the Astell & Kern Kann also accept an SD card.

Most mid-tier to flagship DAPs contain built-in storage. For Android-based DAPs, this is a requirement as Android needs storage to be installed. Flagship DAPs such as the Astell & Kern SP2000 have 512 GB of storage built-in which should be plenty for most music libraries. 

Smaller form-factor DAPs such as the Shanling M0 and Fiio M3k or DAPs that have a Linux based operating system do not have built-in memory. For DAPs such as these, it is encouraged to purchase a micro SD card. 

Some DAPs that supports a dual Micro SD slot. An example of this is the Fiio M11. However, these kinds are becoming rarer since higher capacity micro SD cards are now entering the market. DAPs with dual micro SD cards sometimes encounter issues with higher capacity micro SD cards since they cannot properly deliver enough power to the micro SD slot.  This is why later revision changed this. 

DAP File Types Explained

Most DAPs can accept a wide variety of file formats. The most common being MP3, FLAC, WAV, and DSD. 

The most common file format used both by enthusiasts and casual listeners alike are the MP3 format. This was originally made to make bigger files such as WAV (CD Format) more accessible. It is a lossy compression but depending on the compression used, it can be identical to its lossless counterparts.

The general bitrates used for MP3 files is 128 kbps, 256 kbps, and 320 kbps. 128 kbps usually have the smallest file size and the worst sound quality while 320 kbps usually have the biggest file size and sound the best. 

For lossless formats, we have FLAC, WAV, and DSD. These files usually have large file sizes and offer the best sound quality. FLAC files (Free Lossless Audio Codec) use an algorithm that compresses the file without losing any data. This means that FLAC files are smaller than WAV files but do not sacrifice data. Most websites that sell high-resolution music albums such as HDTracks and Tidal sell music in this format.

WAV files are the digital file formats used with CDs. This usually has the highest file size and the highest file format. This is not as popular as FLACs since FLACs have the same quality and have smaller file sizes. 

The DSD file format is another format for high-resolution audio. Its file size is significantly larger than both FLAC and DSD. It employs a different compression method compared to the other file formats which are why not all DAPs can natively decode DSD. 

Battery Life

DAPs usually have a longer battery life compared to other consumer devices such as the smartphone. However, this depends on the size of the DAP, the driving power, the number of DACs and the operating system used.

Most DAPs can usually last 8-10 hours playing lossless files using the single-ended output. Using the balanced output usually reduces the total playing time by 1-2 hours. This applies to Android DAPs such as the Fiio M11 and Android-based DAPs such as Astell & Kern’s offerings. 

Some DAPs have longer battery life. Sony’s non-Android based DAPs are known to have great battery life. The entry-level Sony NW A55 can usually last up to 45 hours. The rest of their higher-end DAPs which feature the 4.4mm balanced Pentaconn connection have less battery but still, usually last more than 30 hours. 

The reason for this is because Sony’s DAPs uses a well-optimized and lightweight OS that isn’t taxing the hardware too much. These DAPs also do not feature WiFi and streaming applications which are known to reduce the battery life of DAPs. 

Dual DACs and other more powerful components also affect the battery life of a DAP. Most midrange DAPs that incorporate dual DAC chips can usually get hot due to the additional processing being done. This results in the standard 8-10 hour battery life. 

DAP Outputs

DAPs have several outputs. Unlike consumer devices, the outputs found in DAPs are optimized for connection with IEMs, headphones, and external Amplifiers or AMP/DACs. The standard 3.5mm single-ended output is found in most DAPs. Depending on the model of the DAP, the 3.5mm output can serve other functions which will be discussed later in the article.

Aside from the 3.5mm single-ended output, DAPs usually incorporate a balanced output. This can either be 2.5mm or 4.4mm Pentaconn.  Balanced outputs use a different amplification method which achieves more output compared to the single-ended output. Some DAPs can even power more demanding headphones without an amplifier with their balanced output. This is why an alternative connection is used to avoid confusion. 

Another output that is commonly found in DAPs is the line-output. This is used to bypass the internal amplifier of the DAP to connect to an external amplifier. Some DAPs share this with the 3.5mm output and can be toggled via software. Others have a dedicated 3.5mm line-output. 

An output that isn’t featured in most DAPs is the coaxial and optical outputs. Similar to the line out connection, these are used for connecting to external amplifiers. The 3.5mm line output of most DAPs can also double as a coaxial output and can be switched via software. Optical outputs on DAPs, on the other hand, are harder to find. Only a few DAPs such as the Questyle QP1R continue to use the optical output. 

The last thing that most modern DAPs are incorporating is the digital audio output. DAPs that support OTG connection via micro USB or USB Type-C can also connect to amplifiers or DAC/Amps that support USB audio input. DAC/Amps from iFi and Chord are examples of these. 

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