The Hunt for the best portable audio player under $100
So you don't want to break the bank? You want to spend under $100 but you still want some killer sound quality. Your first hardware priority should always be upgrading your headphones or earphones to getting the best within your respected budget. This is where you will get 95% of your sound improvements on a portable setup and despite what some people tend to believe the actual improvement in sound when stepping up from one of these budget audiophile DAP (Digital Audio Player) units to something like the Astell & Kern AK380 is relativley minimal. Where you do see more of a dramatic jump is when coming from something like a mobile phone or low quality mp3 player.
Additionally, there are extra benefits to using a dedicated audio player to listen to your music on the go. Being able to handle a wider range of formats compared to simpler devices & having a dedicated stand alone unit with increased power to drive certain headphones can be a big advantage to some. For it means less drain on my smartphone battery when I'm out and about.
There's a lot of factors that make something a great sounding and featured DAP unit and here's my top 5 picks if cash is a little tight. The best portable audio player solutions under $100 right now.
FIIO X1 - A premium budget player
Fiio do one thing very well. They listen to the wants of the audiophile community and trys to build their products to meet those demands. The Chinese company has absolutely knocked it out of the park with the featured packed Fiio X1 DAP. The community wanted a feature packed budget audio player and Fiio obliged.
While it may not be able to match the all out performance of more expensive units it gives a taste of the more premium side of things.
The X1 audio player is small, well made and extremely portable. Hosting a wide range of file playback options and a simple but easy to use interface its great value for money.
Colorfly C3 - Beautiful Sound & Build
The C3 is one of our all time favourite players. The screen might be minuscule and the interface limited and quirky to say the least but it manages to match much higher priced audiophile DAP's for sound.
A beautiful design with solid aluminium and a glass touchpad on the front it looks like it costs way more than it does.
It has an ultra black background with smooth mids and treble. Lots of detail and an engaging listening experience means it would be my own personal choice for an HD music player under $100.
Sansa Clip Zip - The Myth the Legend
The old standard of audiophiles everywhere. The clip gained quite the following back in the day because of its super flat and balanced output.
The Clip does very well with amping and plays a whole lot of formats out the box.
They are also lauded for being able to work with Rockbox, a 3rd party software that lets you have a massive amount of control and customisation of your device.
The clip is cheap, cheerful and sounds good to boot.
Xduuo x2 - Quirky filesystem but great sound
Coming in at just under $50 the Xduoo has been making big waves over the past year. Supporting WAV Flac and Mp3 amongst others is a good start but its the sound we were most appreciative of.
The Xduuo works well with most portable earphones and with music being bumped out in a clear and detailed style that has rightfully earned them a lot of praise.
We also like that this DAP is portable and has support for microSD expansion.
Your phone Plus the AudioQuest Dragonfly V1.5
Ok, so this isn't a DAP. However, given that most people will likely carry around their mobile phone with them everywhere they go why not turn it into a powerful portable player. The Audioquest Dragonfly (Original Review Here)is a USB stick sized Amp/DAC unit that seriously ups the capabilities of your phone.
No decent sub $100 audio player supports Spotify and Tidal playback so that's one giant plus of using your phone as a transport device. The other big plus of this method, of course, is that the Dragonfly uses the incredibly good ES sabre DAC, something you find in DAP's upwards of $400. It sounds great and doesn't cost the world.