The Rise of the HD Music Player for Audiophile’s
Why use a digital audio player in 2021?
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 to keep 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 if 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: Lots of people have been asking, so I will tell you, that this is the DAP I am currently using on a Day to day basis (Updated November 2021), I am not saying it is the perfect model for everyone but it is for me right now. It sounds incredible. I have a lot of other units that I also use for testing but that is the one that has seen the most playtime over the past few months.
On the go when traveling or commuting, I use a lot of different players but I do prefer something smaller and use a Bluetooth DAC/Amp, right now, the one I use is the iFi Go Blu, and it’s definitely worth considering if you are looking for something small.
Of course, it goes without saying that what is right for me might not fit 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
As I mentioned above the Ibasso DX300 is my high res music player of choice as I think it strikes a nice balance of features and price. Oh and not to mention it sounds ridiculously good.
Whatever IEM or Headphone I throw at it the DX300 never seems to lack power and that is very important to me as someone who reviews a wide variety of hi-res headphones. I also love the big screen and smoothness of the Android operating system. I feel like I have never had it crash or lag on me even when sifting through a micro-sd card filled with 500GB of music. It works and works well.
Finally, the connectivity is on point with high-resolution wireless formats at hand as well as wired ports for balanced connectors and standard 3.5mm headphones.
Astell&Kern KANN are still dominant in the Audiophile DAP they make some of the most expensive models but they also make some of the best and in 2021 they really managed to spread out their offerings to ensure there are lots of options within their product range.
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.
The Kann is my favorite and one that I have personally owned because it is extremely feature-rich. The Kann is offering users dual Sabre DAC’s, balanced headphone out ports, and great file support with native DSD, APTX, and MQA. Let’s not forget the nice big screen, volume pot, and 14+ hour battery life.
Astell & Kern Futura SE200
I put the Futura SE200 below the Kann on this list for one reason. It’s really bloody expensive. That’s not to say it’s overpriced but for many users, it can certainly be considered overkill when we are talking about driving headphones and IEM’s to their full potential.
The magic going on here is that you are kind of treated to two high-resolution music players in one device. The SE200 is a multi DAC DAP. That means there are two DACs on the inside that can be switched to work independently. You can either choose between dual Sabre DACs or an AKM chip and each of those has its own independent amp section.
It sounds incredible, easily one of the best in the world right now and it looks gorgeous as well.
Link: Astell & Kern Futura SE200 Webpage
Astell & Kern SP2000
If you were thinking the above DAPs are expensive then stop right there. This music player is the most expensive on the list by a long way. Is it worth it? Well, I guess at a point all thought goes out the window when you are looking for completely uncompromised performance.
Having spent over a month testing one I can say for a fact it is the best sounding portable music player I have ever used and it puts many of my desktop units to shame. That sound is driven by a pair of dual AKM AK4499EQ chips and the whole unit runs off an eight-core CPU making it fast and responsive.
I want to be clear, I don’t think this is something anyone needs but there is no denying how good it is and if you can afford this without having to stretch for it then get it. It’s one hell of an experience when paired up with a really good set of headphones like the Focal Utopia or Sony MDR-1ZR.
The Fiio M6 gives us a look at the first mid-priced music player on our list. Despite being much cheaper than the above models it represents fantastic value to budget audiophiles looking to compliment a good set of hi-res earphones or headphones.
In terms of specs, it’s a little dated with a single ESS DAC unit and only Bluetooth 4.2. However, it supports High-resolution music streaming through Deezer and Tidal and can be hooked up to your computer to work as an external DAC. The sound is clean and crisp with very little coloration I would say it sounds neutral. Power-wise it does well and in my tests only extreme planar headphones suffered from power draw.
Some other plus points of the M6 are the large almost bezeless screen, USB-C charging, and 14 hours of battery life during the review.
Links: Official Fiio M6 Webpage.
HIDIZS AP80 High Resolution Lossless MP3 Music Player
Another budget music player on this list this time from Hidizs. The AP80 focuses on the sub $200 market and it punches well above its price point in terms of functionality and sound quality.
This is the ultra-light, ultra-portable DAP you have been looking for. It has a bug 2.5-inch front screen and tactile input buttons on the side. The Operating system is rock solid even when we had a 1TB micro sd card installed with 700GB of music.
Bluetooth is another draw and it includes support for the LDAC standard but ultimately 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. The only thing it lacked was a balanced output.
The Surfans F20 has gained a bit of a cult following. It’s a high res DAP with a focus on those who keep their music library on an SD card rather than using lossless streaming apps. It’s an old-school audiophile DAP that offers a lot of value for money.
All major lossless file formats are included and there is also Bluetooth output should you wish to use it. Sound quality and the low price more than makeup for the lack of touchscreen and apps. It’s a spacious sounding DAP with lots of power and a dark black background.
Finally, the last thing I love about the Surfans F20 is the tank-like build quality and tactile clicky buttons, and scroll wheel. It really gave me that throwback to a simpler time where I wasn’t tapping on screens and could just use my DAP for what it was meant for. Listening to music.
Fiio M11 Plus
For a long time, Fiio has been in control of the cheap DAP market but in recent years they expanded their line and are considered one of the best music player and amp manufacturers on the planet. The M11 plus is the companies latest mid-priced offering and it’s probably their best in terms of price to performance.
The M11 Plus 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 it’s still a hell of a bargain. Just look at this spec list.
11.5hours battery life/ 2.5mm/3.5mm/4.4mm headphone outputs / Two-way LDAC Bluetooth / Two-way Type-C / USB Audio/DAC / SPDIF output / QC4.0 quick charge / 2.4/5G WiFi / DLNA / WiFi file transfer / FiiO Link / Apple AirPlay
That’s a heavy hitter.
Stunning doesn’t even begin to describe the chassis of the NW-WM1Z. The entire body is milled out of copper and then gold plated making it a premium feeling mp3 player as well as a handsome one.
When Sony goes big on any product they really go all out and you do feel that even at the ridiculous price point they aren’t cutting corners. The internal cabling is an all-new design with a Kimber design braid. The special FT capacitors made for the player give tonnes of power. Even the amplifier is bespoke with their own S-Master – HX delivering rich detailed sound into the balanced headphone jack.
A big beautiful touchscreen adorns the front of the player making it easy to operate and we loved the clean and tactile feedback derived from the physical playback buttons on the side. To top it off it’s another high-resolution DAP with large internal memory (256GB) and a micro SD card slot to expand it by a further 1TB to hold all your high res music files.
Dethonray Prelude DTR1+
Dethonray blew me away with their Honey H1 which we declare the best portable headphone DAC in or 2021 tests. They make end-game products that deliver outstanding sound quality and have loads of power to drive audiophile headphones. The Prelude DTR1+ is not perfect but when it comes to sound it pretty much is.
The first thing you will notice is there is no large touchscreen on the DAP. It has its own Linux operating system that relies on physical input buttons. With that of course there is no app support. The screen is also terrible, low resolution, and not that bright.
However, the sound is ridiculous and there’s a lot of techs that go into it to make it so. For example, there are separate power sources for amp and decoding. EMI shielding for components. Insane file support: WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, APE (Normal, High, Fast), AAC, ALAC, AIFF, DFF/DSF, OGG – notice no DSD though.
If you have hard-to-drive headphones and want one of the cleanest and most transparent soundings DAP’s on the market then this is the one for you.
Links: Dethonray DTR1+ Prelude
Hidzis AP80 Pro
The AP80 Pro by Hidziz is an ultra-portable hi-res music player packed full of features you find on bigger DAPs. It’s meant for people on the go who don’t want to carry obscene large music players as a second device. It’s small and discrete but has enough power to drive most high-end IEM’s.
The all-metal body feels premium and durable, it’s also available in three separate colors to suit your style (Black, Blue, Silver). It has music playback control buttons on the right-hand side allowing you to play, pause and skip tracks. Just above it is a small volume pot to allow you precise control over listening levels.
Using dual flagship ESS Sabre DACs the AP80 Pro handles lots of high-resolution music formats including native DSD. On the bottom the even made room for dual outputs with a standard 3.5mm headphone jack and 4.4 mm balanced point for those seeking power through both channels.
Storage can be expanded to 512GB via the micro-sd card slot and the battery lasted for 8 hours balance and 12 hours regular respectively during our review.
Link: Hidzis Website
This is the second Ibasso 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 DX240 is the little brother of our favorite DAP the DX300 and it is a true Hi-Res experience. An ES9028 pro DAC chip is the heart of this music player that allows insane resolution playback supporting DSD512 and 32bit/768khz. MQA is also there so it’s one of the best DAP’s on the market for playing back MQA files when out and about.
Users are also treated to the ability to swap the amp units making it a versatile player in terms of tuning and power.
It’s compatible with balanced headphones through the jacks on the bottom and supports Hi-Resolution streaming via Tidal.
Luxury Precision P6 Pro
We would like to give a warm welcome to the list of Luxury Precision with their P6 Pro music player. 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. The only thing I can’t get over on this device though is the price.
The P6 Pro works well and sounds great, its also incredibly well made but I fail to see the point when you can get the same level of performance with products that are half the price. The company likes to use a lot of buzzwords and hype to describe the internal architecture but the end result is in the sound. It sounds amazing but not enough to justify its price.
Im including this player on the list because it is an engineering marvel and if you can find one at the right price it would be worth a buy.
Shanling M6 Pro
Another year another Shanling M6 hits the shelf. Since the release of the original M6 a few years ago Shanling has been tweaking its most popular music player and this time they nailed it. Striking a balance between affordability and performance like no other is the exact reason you should skip buying an Astel & Kern.
PCM decoding up to 32-bit/768khz and DSD support up to DSD256, the ES9068AS DAC is a beast and seen on some of the world’s best players and DAC units. The player runs on Android OS meaning there are no problems integrating the player with your favorite music app.
For many, the Fiio M17 is set to become an end-game music player, a hi-res DAP with all the killer features, stunning build quality. We will be getting one in for review but the feature list is so insane on this player we will let the specs do the talking for now:
- Powerful Dual DAC chipset featuring dual ES9038Pro flagship-grade DACs.
- THX-AAA 788 Pro Amplifier.
- Blazing fast user interface with Qualcomm 660 SoC.
- Multiple Headphone output ports: 2.5mm TRRS, 4.4mm TRRS, 6.35mm TRS, and 3.5mm TRS.
- Separate 3.5mm+4.4mm Line-Out ports.
- 5.99” Full HD IPS panel.
Out of the balanced connector, it can supply headphones with a massive 3 full watts. It runs Android 10 on a Snapdragon 660 and the amp unit has those three letters that make audiophiles around the world drool THX. This is a beast of a music player and we can’t wait to get our hands on it.
Links: Fiio M17 Webpage
Update: We are currently sourcing the best MP3 players and Digital audio players for 2021 and are open to submissions and suggestions. As readers of Audiophile On will know we need to fully test a product before it will appear on this list. If there is something you would like to see our review please do not hesitate to get in touch via our email or social media channels.