Best Digital Audio Players of 2019

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Steve Scott

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It's neat having all your music in the back of your pocket, ready to go everywhere with you. Having that freedom to listen to your favorite song wherever you are, whenever you feel like it. 

And although phones can play music, the truth is they are not best suited for that job. Aside from all distractions that come with phone calls and messages, there's the issue of audio quality.

You can get the desired quality only with a proper digital audio player or DAP. And there are thousands of DAPs out there, with entirely different features, making it tough to find what's best for you. That's why we've compiled a list of best DAPs for 2019:

See related: Best Blu-Ray Players in 2019


​Best Digital Audio Players Reviews - Our Top Picks

1. Best Overall - FiiO M11

FIO-M11-1

Specifications

  • Size: 2.8 x 5.1 x 5.9 in
  • Weight: 7.5 oz
  • Screen: 5.15 in

Key Features

  • 9.5 hours battery life
  • Storage: 3 GB RAM + Up to 2 TB expanded storage
  • Six-core processor chip Samsung Exynos 7872
  • Flagship DAC chips dual AK449
  • 2.5mm/3.5mm/4.4mm headphone outputs
  • Two-way LDAC Bluetooth
  • 2.4/5G WiFi 
  • WiFi file transfer

PROS

  • Elegant design and materials
  • Simple to use

  • Built-in 10W Speakers dish amazing sound for max experience
  • 1080 Full HD High-Resolution Image Quality
  • 1080 Full HD High-Resolution Image Quality

CONS

  • Possible Rainbow Effect
  • Large
  • No horizontal keystone

FiiO M11 Review

FIO-M11-2

Well, FiiO keeps pushing the limits for other DAP manufacturers. With every new edition (which come rather fast), they keep on delivering. Roughly at the same time they have released M9 and M11 players. And M11 seems to be the best they’ve managed to make.

There’s so much to love in FiiO M11. The sound quality is superb. The highs and mids are just a joy to behold. Rather neutral, never too imposing and giving equal attention to all the aspects of the sound.

It just feels natural, like it’s not trying too hard. The bass sound also feels controlled and clean. So, if you are a fan of strong bass sound, you might want to look elsewhere.

All in all, M11 offers such clarity and richness of the sound that it feels like you could play every music genre with the same success. No matter the file size or format, the output is first-class.

Wi-Fi connectivity and the ability to use a variety of streaming services is also a thing that distinguishes it from its close competitors.

Two-way Bluetooth Option

M11 offers two-way Bluetooth functionality, meaning you can relay and receive a Bluetooth signal. If you want to learn more about the ​​best A/V Receivers, take a look at our post!

However, this DAP does come with a set of flaws. The previously mentioned Bluetooth is only 4.2, whereas the industry standard today is 5.0.

The same goes for USB 2.0 which nowadays feels kind of obsolete. Also, sometimes it feels that the controls could have been placed more naturally. But, all of this doesn’t change the fact that this is an outstanding DAP.

2. ​Best Connectivity - Shanling M5S

Shanling-M5S-1

Specifications

  • Size: 4.6 x 2.3 x  0.6 in
  • Weight: 6.2 oz
  • Screen: 3.2 in

Key Features

  • Bluetooth: LDAC (both ways)
  • Wi-Fi
  • Amplifier: AD8397 x 2
  • Sampling rate: 44.1kHz–384kHz
  • Output: single ended output (3.5 mm) / balanced output (2.5 mm)
  • External memory: supported up to 512G TF card
  • USB 2.0
  • Battery: lithium battery for 3400mAH
  • Playing hours: 16-17 hours (3.5 mm) 9-10 hours (2.5 mm)
  • Charging hours: 3-4 hours

PROS

  • Sound quality, precision and detail
  • Sleek design
  • Robust build
  • ​Two-way Bluetooth
  • ​Wi-Fi connectivity

CONS

  • Streaming services unavailable
  • Lack of strength in the low-end

Shanling M5S Review

Shanling-M5S-2

When you look at Fiio or Shanling, one thing becomes clear. The Chinese know a thing or two about their audio players! 

Shanling has been killing it over the last couple of years, and it’s no different with M5S. Although not as compelling as FiiO M11, it still offers excellent value for money.

Crisp and neutral highs and clean and flat mids feel like they were meant to be just like that, without ever sounding too dull or dry. M5S does lack a sense of warmth and color in its highs and mids, which you’ll probably miss if you want a more exciting ride. 

As far as low-end goes, M5S, like FiiO M11, doesn’t throw you off your feet. It's detailed, it has the accuracy, but it doesn’t go thundering from your speakers. 

Nevertheless, the powerful and precise sound is something people at Shanling should take with pride.

Wide Range of Connectivity Options

Wireless connection options are abundant. You have two-way Bluetooth connectivity, which works exceptionally well. 

Wi-Fi is available, but it has a downside. You can only connect to stream from your phone, PC or other devices, but using streaming services like Spotify isn’t an option with this one. 

If you want to learn something new about the best Bluetooth projectors, check out our guide!

3. Best Budget - Hidizs AP80

Hidizs-AP80-1

Specifications

  • Size: 2.3 x 1.9 x 0.5 in
  • Weight: 2.4 oz
  • Screen: 2.45 in

Key Features

  • DAC: Sabre ESS 9218P
  • DSD64/128
  • Storage: Up to 1TB Expandable Micro SD Card (No internal storage)
  • Headphone Output(PO): 3.5mm standard, support LO output
  • Type-C Port-USB2.0
  • Charging Time: less than 1.5 hours
  • USB Power Adapter: DC5V / 2A
  • USB Audio: DSD 64/128 support, 384 kHz/32 bit PCM support

PROS

  • Supports various file formats
  • Operating system
  • Sound quality for that price range

CONS

  • Occasional noise when using headphones

Hidizs AP80 Review

Hidizs-AP80-2

Picking the best budget DAP is quite easy. The Hidizs AP80 beats the competition by a long shot. 

With a variety of different file formats supported and an outstanding operating system it is far ahead from the competition. The sound is quite pleasing and it never disappoints. 

An Excellent DAC

Its Sabre ES9218P DAC does an excellent job of improving the overall listening experience. For such a price the vocals are crystal clear, while the bass is deep and punchy enough to satisfy even a more experienced listener.

Of course, we shouldn’t be too picky when we talk about low-budget DAPs, but if we had to pinpoint one downside it would be that you can pick up a bit of noise when you listen through your headphones.

4. Best High-End - Astell&Kern A&Ultima SP1000M

A&Ultima-SP1000M-1

Specifications

  • Size: 2.7 x 0.7 x 4.6 in
  • Weight: 14.1 oz
  • Screen: 4.1 in

Key Features

  • CPU: Octa-Core
  • DAC: AKM AK4497EQ x2 (Dual DAC)
  • Support up to 32bit / 384kHz Bit to Bit Decoding
  • USB 3.0 input
  • Wi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/n (2.4GHz)
  • Bluetooth V4.1

PROS

  • Smaller in size
  • Cheaper than its predecessor
  • Dual DACs

CONS

  • Price

Astell&Kern A&Ultima SP1000M Review

A&Ultima-SP1000M-2

The people at Astell&Kern were wise enough to listen to their customers, which brought us their SP1000M and upgrade of the SP1000 model. The main complaint about the previous model was that it was too expensive and too large. 

A Cheaper Upgrade

So, they’ve built a smaller and cheaper model. Although, you should take the word cheap with a grain of salt here. It is still a high-end DAP. 

Luckily, by making a smaller model they have not compromised the sound. Dual AKM AK4497EQ DACs are the factor that helps that impressive audio quality. This means that there are two DACs (converters), each for one side of the stereo.

5. Best for Tidal - Pioneer XDP-300R-B

Pioneer-XDP-300R-B-1

Specifications

  • Size: 0.5 x 3 x 5.1 in
  • Weight: 7 oz
  • Screen: 4.7 in

 

Key Features

  • Sabre DAC ES9018K2M
  • Supported Playlist: M3U/ PLS/ WPL
  • AndroidTM OS: 5.1
  • APU: Qualcomm APQ8074 (2.2 GHz quad core)
  • Internal Storage: 32 GB
  • Extend SD Card Slot: micro SD x 2 (SDXC)
  • Battery Size: 1,630 mAh / 3.8 V
  • Battery Life: 16 h

PROS

  • Built for Tidal
  • Brand recognition
  • Wi-Fi streaming

CONS

  • Small memory for high-res audio
  • Bluetooth 4.0

Pioneer XDP-300R-B Review

Pioneer-XDP-300R-B-2

Pioneer is not just a brand. It’s a household name in the audio reproduction industry. When seeing their products your first instinct is probably that their know-how cannot fail you. And in the case of XDP -300-B DAP you wouldn’t be wrong. 

Built With Tidal in Mind

What it does best, in particular, is stream music from Tidal, one of the most famous high-res streaming services. This DAP is made with such services in mind. Learn everything you need to know about high-res audio from this Techradar's guide.

It doesn’t offer much memory (64gb), at least for high-res libraries. However, you can add another 400gb by using two microSD slots

You can connect via Wi-Fi and stream music online, or connect through Bluetooth 4.0 which can’t produce high-def audio, but it will do the job just fine.

Other DAPs to Consider

6. Cowon Plenue D2

Cowon-Plenue-D2

Specifications

  • Size: 0.6 x 2.1 x 3.1 in
  • Weight: 9.6 oz
  • Screen: 2.8 in

Key Features

  • Dual DAC: CS4313
  • Premium Sound DAC Filter
  • Wide Angle Touch Display
  • High-Speed 64GB Internal Memory
  • microSD Card Slot
  • Output: 3.5mm / 2.5mm Balanced
  • Internal Memory: 64GB
  • Expandable Memory: MicroSD up to 192GB
  • Battery: Lithium polymer
  • Battery Life: 45 hours

PROS

  • Crystal clear sound
  • Variety of functions
  • Battery life

CONS

  • Lack of wireless options
  • Size and shape

Cowon Plenue D2 Review

Some people would argue that the Cowon Plenue D2 trumps audio quality of its competitors, namely FiiO M9 and Shanling M5S. And it can’t be denied that the sound is crystal clear with a plethora of built-in functions. 

​Fantastic Battery

Also, a superb battery can’t hurt the overall feeling about this player. In every way, D2 seems like a real upgrade of the original Plenue D. Here's how to get more battery life from a portable device.

However, the lack of wireless options is a bit strange for this price range, and it puts this player slightly lower down the list. Where FiiO M9 or Shanling M5S offer Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, Plenue D2 falls behind. 

Another downside might be its size and shape. Although it is quite small, holding it in your hand will feel a little strange.

​7.HiBy R6 Pro

HiBy-R6-Pro

Specifications

  • Size: 4.7 x 2.6 x 0.6 in
  • Weight: 1.47 oz
  • Screen: 4.2 in

Key Features

  • Operating System: Android8.1
  • CPU Model: Snapdragon 425 SoC
  • CPU Structure: Quad-Core A53
  • CPU Frequency: 1.4GHz
  • DAC: ES9028Q2M * 2
  • WiFi: IEEE802.11
  • Bluetooth: 4.2
  • USB: 2.0
  • RAM: 3GB
  • Battery Capacity: 4000mAh

PROS

  • New amp stage
  • Renewed output section
  • Fast operating system

CONS

  • Price
  • Noise issues

HiBy R6 Pro Review

As the name implies, HiBy R6 Pro is a slightly updated version of the original R6 series. It has a couple of noteworthy upgrades like a new amp stage or a revamped output section. 

But the thing that makes this DAP stand out is its new operating system. It uses Oreo, Android 8.0 operating system known for its speed and reliability. 

One problem with this player, except its price, is that there are some noise issues, namely hissing sounds. These are not too strong but shouldn’t be noticeable at all in this price range.

​8. Cayin N5iiS

Cayin-N5iiS

Specifications

  • Size: 4.6 x 2.3 x 0.6 in
  • Weight: 8.75 oz
  • Screen: 3.5 in

Key Features

  • Inputs: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, playback from onboard storage, OTG/USB
  • Outputs: Balanced 2.5mm and unbalanced 3.5mm headphone outputs
  • Storage: 64GB internal, two Micro SD card slots
  • Battery: 3000mAh Lithium Polymer
  • Two micro SD card slot covers

PROS

  • Twin SD card slots
  • Solid sound quality
  • Improved display

CONS

  • Cheaper models offer similar features
  • Battery life

Cayin N5iiS Review

Although you could find some better choices within the same price range, Cayin N5iiS still has its perks and it’s a pretty solid model. One thing that makes it stand out is its double 400gb SD card slots.

You just can’t deny that 800gb memory is something. 864gb to be precise if we’re talking about the internal memory too. 

This makes it a sound choice for those with an extensive audio library. Although this is probably the only feature that can justify the price tag. Everything else you can find in cheaper, yet equally good models.

​9. FiiO X7 Mark II

FiiO-X7-Mark-II

Specifications

  • Size: 2.6 x 0.6 x 5.1 in
  • Weight: 7.5 oz
  • Screen: 3.97 in

Key Features

  • Battery Life: 8 hours
  • DAC: DAC ES9028 PRO
  • Quad-core Cortex A9 SoC Rockship RK3188
  • RAM: 2GB
  • Storage: 64GB internal
  • USB: 2.0
  • Customized Android 5.1
  • Bluetooth: 4.1

PROS

  • Great DAC
  • Sound quality
  • Upgraded storage space

CONS

  • Price
  • Doesn’t offer that much for the money

FiiO X7 Mark II Review

The X7 Mark II seems like quite an improvement from the Mark I series, which was perfectly fine to begin with. Mark II is equipped with one of the finest DAC chips (ESS ES9028PRO) in that price range. 

The sound quality is superb, especially if you look at the highs and mids. And the storage space has been upgraded to 64 GB, which is expandable to 576 GB.

But, to be honest, X7 Mark II probably does set the bar a bit too high for itself with the price tag. That extra couple of hundreds don’t necessarily improve the overall quality, which can sometimes be found in much cheaper models.

​10. iBasso DX220

iBasso-DX220

Specifications

  • Size: 4.9 x 2.7 x 0.75 in
  • Weight:8.45 oz
  • Screen: 5.0 in

Key Features

  • Operating System : Android 8.0
  • CPU : 8 Core (RockChip)
  • RAM : 4GB LPDDR3
  • DAC : Dual ES9028Pro
  • Analog Outputs : 3.5mm Line Out, 3.5mm Phone Out, 2.5mm Balanced Out 
  • Battery : 4400mAh 3.8V Lithium-Polymer
  • Battery Life : 8h

PROS

  • Crisp sound
  • Bigger screen
  • Robust design
  • MQA support

CONS

  • Operating system
  • Price

iBasso DX220 Review

It’s safe to say that the upgrade of the DX120 was done successfully with this model. Where the predecessor lacked in sound quality, DX220 now offers such decisive and crisp sound that it can compete with a lot more expensive DAPs. 

Screen size, new and improved robust design and MQA support are all new upgrades of the previous model.

But, there’s a matter of operating system. Where much cheaper models (like HiBy R6 Pro) shine with systems like Oreo, iBasso DX220 uses a slow and unintuitive Mango system. It seems like an unnecessary lapse in judgment, especially for such a pricey model.

Digital Audio Players - Buying Guide

What are DAPs?

What are Daps, and why do we call them that? Basically, Dap is short for Digital Audio Player. A DAP is a device that can play audio recordings in digital format.

Most of the time, when people talk about DAPs they mean MP3 players. But this doesn’t have to be the case.

Although they do play MP3 files, they are perfectly capable of playing other, more high-res quality formats. Some people even refer to DAPs as high-res players, MMPs (multi-media players) or PMPs (portable media players). 

DAPs Are Not Multi-Media Players

However, calling them MMPs is wrong. DAPs don’t deal with video files.

Today, many devices that you probably use daily can double as DAPs but are not called that. These are smartphones, tablets, navigation systems or digital cameras.

If we’re being strict, a DAP should only be capable of playing digital audio. Because of that, those devices may come equipped only with a small screen that can only support basic text and graphics. 

In fact, some of them won’t come with a screen in the first place. This makes them quite different than PMPs, which have larger high-res screens capable of outputting movies, photos, and other media.

But that doesn't mean that DAPs don’t have their slick features. If you’re picturing them like the old units you knew and used back in the day, you are dead wrong! 

Now they come equipped with touch screens, advanced volume controls or Wi-Fi and Wireless streaming. So don’t be surprised if you have to dig deep into your pocket to get one!

What is Audio Conversion?

In a nutshell, audio conversion is taking one type of signal and turning it to another one. Since we have an analog and digital signal, there are ADC (analog to digital) and DAC (digital to analog) conversions.

The latter is the most important in the world of DAPs. The sound quality is entirely dependant on DAC. It is responsible for transforming digital into audio signals and sending those analog signals to the amplifier.

digital-to-analog-1

So, even when you’re listening to a digital recording of your favorite song, you are basically listening to an analog signal made through a conversion process.

Let’s be clear – not all DACs are the same quality. The quality of the DAC setup usually dictates the price of a digital audio player. 

And the sound quality between those players is easily distinguishable. So, there’s a reason why some DAPs cost $50 while others can go as high as a couple of hundreds or even more!

dac-converter

What Are Some Common DAP Features?

So, what are some typical characteristics of a common digital audio player? What would make you consider getting one in the first place?

First, and the most essential feature is that DAPs can boast about the extraordinary sound detail and quality. The audio quality has never been that good before. Most of these players are able to play lossy, lossless or high-res formats.

Always Pay Attention to Storage Space

But there’s another critical DAP feature you should pay attention to – storage space! High-resolution audio files can take up a lot of space on the hard drive. Hence, DAPs need to have massive storage capacity. 

What separates a good DAP from the competition is that it has at least 64 GB of storage space.

That being said, some models vary from half a terabyte, all up to two terabytes. But these models come at a price of a couple of thousands of dollars!

An issue you should also pay attention to is file transfer. Since most of the audio players on the market use a USB 2.0 to transfer data at around 35mb/s it can take some time to transfer or upload your albums, especially if they’re high-res files. 

Luckily, manufacturers started dealing with this problem lately. Now you have new models that offer USB 3.0 connectivity that can transfer data up to 640mb/s.

File Types Supported by DAPs

.

The beautiful thing about compression is that it reduces the size of a song while also retaining its quality. Or, if we’re being honest, nearly all of it. 

Naturally, some quality will be lost in the compression process, but that’s the price you have to pay for being able to carry all that music in your pocket.

In simple terms, compressing a song through MP3 will shrink a 40 MB song into a 4 MB one. Seeing that an hour of music equals roughly 64 MB of storage a DAP with 1 GB of storage space will be able to hold over two hundred songs in it.

audio-file-types

But what other file formats do digital audio players support? That’s the greatest thing about them. They do well with almost any audio format that you can think of. Some of the most common are:

  • WMA
  • WAV
  • MIDI
  • AAC
  • FLAC
  • OGG ( Ogg Vorbis)
  • ALAC, and many more.

Learn more about some common audio file formats from this guide.​

DAP Operating Systems

If you’re an avid Android user then a DAP might be right up your alley. Why is that, you wonder? Well, more often than not DAPs work powered by an Android OS

Naturally there are exceptions but they are rare. All interactions with the system, choosing songs, albums, connectivity will all be the same as on the Android device. So, if you’re used to dealing with an Android smartphone daily then a DAP will fit you like a glove.

Integrating a DAP in Your Home Setup

We’ve discussed the sometimes limited DAP storage abilities. So, what if your audio library is simply too big for your player to handle? Try streaming audio with it. 

By connecting your DAP to a computer server, you can enable it to stream audio files from your computer directly to the speakers.

The great thing is that in most cases you won’t have to install new drivers or they’ll be automatically found on your computer. Want to learn more about the best bookshelf speakers? Then check out our comprehensive guide!

However, you’ll need to have a couple of things in mind. The stream quality and speed depend highly on connectivity. So, if your device is equipped with and USB 3.0, streaming files from it will be a walk in the park. 

Also, if your computer doesn’t recognize high-res files or any other file type that your DAP does you might have to install a different audio player (the one that supports all those file formats).

In Conclusion

Now you can see that it is not just a matter of playing songs. If that were the case, you wouldn’t even consider getting a DAP. Your smartphone and a pair of headphones would do the job. But, if you’re a music aficionado who likes to listen to quality renditions of his favorite songs while having a wide choice of additional features, then a DAP just might be a thing for you!

My name is Steve Scott. Father of 2 and owner of Outdoor Movie HQ. I’ve been involved in the A/V industry for most of my life and built this blog to help people better understand projector technology. Please leave a comment if you have any questions.

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