The Rise of the HD Music Player for Audiophile's
UPDATE: We have updated the list of the best audiophile players to reflect the new competitors in the market space. New additions as of this date are the Astel & Kern AK70 Mk2 which I now use as my own personal day to day DAP. We also have a Astell & Kern SP1000 in for review and first impressions indicate that will be added to the list in before 2019.
Why use a dedicated audio player?
Following the rise in popularity of the hi-res audio player (DAP) in the past few years, audiophiles have a lot of options and it's getting kind of hard keeping up with all the new devices hitting the market.
Lots of you want to know who has the best HD Music Player. Many of these Audiophile players have caught our eye and the range of features you can now get in a portable package is mind-boggling. Plus you are going to be using some of the best headphones in the world then you don't want to bottleneck the sound with a bad DAP.
With ever more competitive pricing, this makes choosing the right one pretty darn complicated.
We wanted to make things a little bit simpler so we created this top 10 list of the best hi-res players we could find. Everything we have listed here has been tested by us and if there is not already a full review up there will be one live on the site soon.
Update 2: Lots of people have been asking what players I use myself and that really depends on what I am doing at the time. At home, you are going to find me using the rather over the top AK240 by Astell & Kern. On the go when traveling or commuting, I use a lot of different players but my favorite, right now, is the mint blue AK70 mentioned above. Of course, it goes without saying that what is right for me might not fit for your needs. The truth is I could happily listen to any of these players listed below all day, every day.
15 Best Hi Res Audio Players for Audiophile
In my opinion the Sony MW-ZX2 is the ultimate DAP right now for on the go use. Users can enjoy the benefits of having over 60 hours of MP3 playback or over 33 hours with High-Res formats such as FLAC & WAV. The inclusion of high end bluetooth for wireless headphones and wifi capable of being used with streaming services such as Tidal and Spotify is a great addition.
The sound quality is excellent and the unit works well with almost any headphones. Excellent Sony build quality and an easy to use Android UI round of a well polished package making the NW-ZX2 on of the finest HD players you can buy.
LOTOO PAW GOLD
Lotoo are still new to the Audiophile DAP game but with the PAW gold they entered the market and made a big splash. A quirky looking player the Gold has been praised for its reference level sound quality that will have fellow audiophiles grinning from ear to ear.
The interface is simple in that everything you need for switching settings on the sly is available through dedicated hardware buttons. Build quality is exceptional and despite the high price I would recommend the PAW gold to anyone who wants to do critical listening on the go.
SHANLING AUDIO M2
We reviewed the Shanling M2 earlier this year and praised it highly for being one of the best sounding DAP's for those of you on a budget.
Sound quality is clean and detailed with just a touch of warmth that makes this one of the most versatile DAP's on this list in terms of headphone pairing. The scroll wheel interface is fast and intuitive and file support is excellent.
Stong build quality and the inclusion of Line Out, headphone out and COAX connectors round off a great sounding and looking mp3 player at just under $200
OPUS #1 - HIGH RESOLUTION DIGITAL AUDIO PLAYER
If you were thinking about buying an Astell & Kern player then stop right there. Want all that performance with a way better UI? Welcome to the Opus #1. In side by side blind testing I nor anyone else present was able to distinguish a noticeable difference between the Opus #1 and the AK240. The kicker? The Opus #1 costs a quarter of the 240.
This dedicated HD music player comes with a host of bells. The interface is a stripped out audio focussed version of android that is both fast and simple to use. The sound is neutral, detailed and has the biggest soundstage we have ever heard from a mobile device.
Questyle with the Questyle QP1r looks, at first glance, like an ipod on steroids. Unlike the Ipod though this DAP sound great from the HP out and has the ability to drive most full size headphones.
The interface and scroll wheel is no match for some of the touchscreen offerings, it can get flaky at times but persevere and you are rewarded with beautiful sound that is warm spacious and detailed.
Build quality on the QP1R is unlike anything else and really helps make it stand out as a true premium audio device.
LOTOO PAW 5000
Another music player on this list from Lotoo and this one focuses on the sub $200 market. The PAW 5000 takes a lot of the features people like on the more expensive PAW Gold and brings them to the masses.
You get regular and balanced headphone out as the option to output optically to your HiFi system. The Paw 5000 is also capable of being utilised as a 24 bit DSD player.
Bluetooth is another draw but ultimatley we just like the sound on this little player. It works great at driving headphones up to 250 ohms and does equally well with all but the most sensitive of IEM's.
ONKYO DP X1
Implementation of both dual Sabre DAC's and Dual Sabre amps is a big feature of the Onkyo DP X1 and it sounds incredible. Crystal clear, uber transparent and loads of power give it a sound that is worthy of use with the best headphones and files you can throw at it.
The use of Google's Android UI is a dream and high-res support for streaming services is built in. Connectivity is further enhanced by balanced headphone out and Bluetooth 4.0.
Another thing we really like is that with the Onkyo DP X1 you won't be running out of space to store your files with 32GB built-in and dual micro-SD slots expanding the total capacity to 432gb.
One of my personal favorites on the list and one of the best portable options for playback of high definition audio files on the go.
Website: Onkyo DP X1
For a long time Fiio have been in control of the cheap DAP market but now there is some new competition in the way of the Xduoo X10 Hifi MP3 Player.
The X10 supports a range of high resolution audio formats such as DSD: DSF: DFF PCM: APE: Flac: WAV: AIFF: ALAC: WMA: PCM: MP3: OGG: ACC
This music player packs a heavy punch for both its size and price and competes with many of AK's entry level models on sound. The interface is less refined but its still a hell of a bargain for budget audiophiles.
Pioneer are a big name Audio brand. Huge in the world of home and in car audio they have now stepped into challenge some of the relatively obscure brands that dominate the audiophile hobby.
The Pioneer XDP-100R is a great first attempt and one that is already gaining a lot of popularity over at the Head-Fi forums.
Style wise it looks an awful lot like those overpriced Astell & Kern music players. The build quality is great and it even has a built in bumper for added protection.
With a Sabre ES9018K2M DAC and 9601K amp inside its sounds damn good. Neutral, detailed and balanced offering users high levels of transparency in the sound.
Another player supporting high resolution wifi streaming with compatible software the XDP-100 will work well with both Hifi and Headphone systems.
Website: Pioneer XDP 100R
Pono Music Player
Everyone was skeptical at first even myself but the PONO player has gone a long way to proving doubters wrong. While the PONO might not be the ultimate end game HD Music Player on this list it is still one of the best sounding. Additionally considering you can now pick one up for under $400 it seems to be a bit of a bargain.
Smart choices such as supporting high-fidelity DSD audio, a balanced headphone out and having Ayre acoustics technology inside has made for a surprisingly popular High Res audio player.
Sound is immersive and engaging, with lots of space and air between instruments. Detail retrieval is even more impressive and I like it so much I just bought one for myself... I think that is testament enough.
Fiio X7 2nd Gen
While we weren't the biggest fans of the X5 3rd Generation the same can't be said for the feature rich Fiio X7.
This modular audiophile player has plenty to offer aficionados with huge expandable storage, native DSD file support, excellent build and all this based off a familiar Android User interface.
You get support for multiple streaming options including tidal and Spotify plus you have some of the best connectivity specifications found on any Hi Res player currently available.
Gone are is the physical volume wheel and dual card slots found on the X5 but on a pure sound standpoint the X7 seems to offer incredible value and is without a doubt Fiio's current flagship.
Find out more about the company and its range of Audiophile DAP's at www.fiio.net
This is the second Pioneer player to find its way onto our list and it makes for a great day to day listening device.
In many ways, this is a perfect example of execution with very little room for improvement when the price is taken into consideration.
The 300-R houses dual Sabre DACs and is capable of decoding 24 bit DSD master files (through conversion to multibit) making it a true Hi-Res experience.
Users are also treated to 2 micro-sd card slots that allow for over 512GB of combined storage when used with the internal 32gb.
It's compatible with balanced headphones throught the 2.5mm jack and supports Hi-Resolution streaming via Tidal.
More information on the XDP-300R and its siblings can be found on the pioneer website.
Astell & Kern AK240
We would like to give a warm welcome to the list to Astell & Kern. While not the inventors of the modern audiophile DAP they sure have made a name for themselves with a number of their high end products. We have been plenty critical of AK in the past especially when it comes to their pricing model but there can be no denying their reputation for outstanding sound.
The AK240 is what I term as the realistic flagship, it's still portable enough and not as bonkers as the 300 and 320. In the hand the 240 feels every bit as premium as the price tag would suggest. It's an outstanding, class-leading device that is also deep in features only available to these units.
It makes this list on sound alone but does not come without its drawbacks. Firstly, price is ridiculous and you can get almost equal sounding players for far less. Secondly battery life is a joke with us getting around 5 hours when playing DSD back through our LCD-2 headphones.
Astell & Kern AK70 Mk2
Now we have my favorite HD music player on this whole list. Well admittedly I might be a little bias as the Astell & Kern AK70 is the DAP that I use on a daily basis.
No audio player is perfect but for me this is as good as it gets right now. The perfect combination of sound, build and price all together in a rather attractive and compact package.
The AK70 mk2 comes in 3 separate colors but my pick of the bunch is the cadet blue and pair it up with one of the leather cases and the right headphones and there is very little else an audiophile on the go could want.
If you are someone who loves Hi-Res audio but doesn't want to be weighed down by bulky players with bad UI's then I strongly suggest checking out the AK70.
It comes with regular and balanced output, supports a wide variety of file resolution playback support.
It sounds absolutely amazing with wide open spacious sound-stages and wonderful detail rich imaging.
For those of you wanting to spend a little less money the original AK70 model offers a lot of bang for the buck and can still be found new and reduced at many online retailers.
For a long time, the Opus#1 was my go to music player of choice. It was able to outperform may more expensive DAP's and cost a whole lot less. In many ways, it was as close as an audiophile could get to value for money.
Unfortunately, the 2nd music player from the bit comes in north of $1000 at the time of writing making it a whole lot less accessible to the majority of enthusiasts.
Price notwithstanding, this DAP is more than capable of matching any Astell&Kern player so in that sense it may be far more palatable than the upper AK range of overpriced nonsense.
Rocking dual Sabre DAC's, 1GB of Ram and unusually a powerful arm-cortex A9 is all good but the best thing about the number 2 is the end-game sound quality and the ability to drive almost any headphone imaginable.