The Hunt for the Best Hi-Res Portable Audio player under $100
So you don't want to break the bank? You care about sound and want to buy the best budget MP3 Player under $100. Well let me tell you that yes it is possible to have audiophile level Hi-res music on the cheap. Your first priority should always be having good quality files followed quickly by upgrading your headphones or earphones. These two steps will go a long way to getting the best within your respected budget.
This is where you will get 90% of your sound improvements on a portable setup and despite what some people profess to believe the actual improvement in sound from stepping up from one of these budget audiophile DAP’s listed below (Digital Audio Player) to something like the Astell & Kern AK240 is relatively minimal.
Where you do see more of a dramatic jump is when coming from something like a mobile phone or cheap mp3 player to one of these dedicated music players that are designed with sound quality in mind.
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. Also using a separate audio player means less drain on your smartphone battery when out and about.
There's a lot of factors that make something a great sounding and fully 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.
Shanling M0 - Best on the list!!
Shanling really put the audio world on notice with the release of their cheap MP3 player the Shanling M0.
There is a lot to love about this device and its hard not to start with discussing the super clean looks. Styling is on point and it has the build to match.
Features are also incredible and for $100 cant be beaten. You have a full touch screen interface. Dedicated volume control pot. It has certified high res Bluetooth audio which nothing else on the list has. It supports micro SD cards up to 512gb.
So with all that packed in you would expect them to maybe cut costs on the internals. Well, they didn’t. Driving the sound is the much loved Sabre DAC unit the ES9218P.
I cant stress enough what an incredibly good deal the M0 is right now and by far it is my favourite player on this list. So much so that I actually use on on a daily basis.
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.