DAP Recommendation ($500-$800)

I currently have a MacBook / DragonflyRed source. My headphones are the Shure 1540. I am happy with this combination especially for Classical music. I’d like a more portable source to use with the 1540s without lowering the sound quality and of course if it improves it that’s great. So what DAPs should I consider in the $500-$800 range?

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As nice a unit as the DragonFly Red is, almost any DAP in that price range is likely to yield a fairly noticeable improvement in sound. And there are a good number that will be AS good, or slightly better, even if you stayed under $500.

What features do you need (or want) on the DAP? A few features to consider here are:

  • Bluetooth (Source) and/or Bluetooth DAC
  • Bluetooth CODECs (SBC, AAC, aptX, aptX HD, LDAC)
  • On-Device Streaming (usually means something Android-based)
  • Amount of Storage (can be internal or on cards; if needing lots then dual card slots are good)
  • How much does battery life matter?
  • EQ Support
  • MQA Support
  • DLNA (or other Network streaming protocol) Support
  • Balanced or Single-Ended
  • How sensitive to size/weight are you?
  • Firmware/Software stability
  • UX Performance
  • Power Output (the 1540s should be well covered by almost all DACs at this level)
  • True Line-Out (if you ever want to feed an external amplifier)

Personally I’ve liked the features, sound and overall performance of the last generation FiiO players (X5iii and X7ii), but not been so hot on their firmware. I’ve not tried the new “M” series stuff - but I’ve heard good things about them so far.

I am a fan of Sony’s DAPs … the ZX300 (best battery life you’ll find) is the first I’d personally consider. The WM1A is better still, but will be used to come in under $800. It’s quite large, but does everything I can think of except on-device streaming.

And the A&K SR15 has proven to be excellent, feature rich, stable, tiny, responsive, has on-device streaming, sounds excellent and is my favorite player under $1,100 (the WM1A out performs it sonically, but its twice the size and weight and has fewer features).

Lots of other options, but I don’t want to suggest things I’ve not heard and used (though if Cayin’s N8 is anything to go by, I’d probably be looking at their stuff as well as the above).


How portable? Do you mean mobile, or for active use? I have an A&K Kann, which will go on sale from time to time for around $800. Great unit, but a tad heavy for exercise, etc.

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I just recently picked up the A&K SR15 and I am really liking it’s size, build, feature set and quality. I also own the Pioneer XDP-300R which is a 3-year old Android-based player as well. It’s a bit more sterile and analytical sounding than the A&K.

I’ve own several budget DAPs in the under $300 price range as well. There is a step up in both sound quality and UI performance when you move up in price, but many newer DAPs are very fully featured starting at $150 now.


Thanks Torq

My needs are basic

Excellent sound quality
Support for SD Card

Oops forgot

Decent battery life

Not going to use with exercise. Just want something I can carry around the house and leave my MacBook as my library repository

“Excellent sound quality” and “decent battery life” are rather subjective!

Most of the non-Sony players come in somewhere around 6-12 hours of playback, depending on what’s being driven, what’s being played, whether you’re using WiFi/Bluetooth and their general capacity.

Some of the Sony stuff will get you 24-30 hours playback.

And if you really mean “SD” card, and not “microSD” then your options shrink rapidly … and from memory will all be more than $800.

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Sorry meant micro SD card. I think from what you have said I am leaning toward the Sony ZX300. I do want a clean and stable UI. I also like that it can be used as a DAC. Is that just a DAC or is it a DAC/AMP like the DFR?

Actually Drop has the 16gb version ZX300a for $469. Tempting. However I think I’d rather have the extra storage. I need around 256gb to hold my Classical library.

By excellent sound I mean equal to or better than DFR. From what you have written the Sony ZX300 or the FiiO players will satisfy that requirement. Thanks again.

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The ZX300A occasionally shows up on JoyBuy for $380ish.

I know @HeartOfSky recently received one from there for about that price.



The Sony’s is very good. The A&K SR15’s is a little better.

It’ll work as a DAC/Amp (which is true of every DAP I know off that offers USB or Bluetooth DAC support).

The ZX300 and SR15 will both meet that requirement easily, so will the FiiO X5iii and X7ii (I’m not sure if these are now end-of-line) - can’t comment on the “M” series.


Thanks again. Very helpfull.

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The M series will be fully replacing the X series of DAPs from FiiO so they are end-of-line. I know MAP pricing was recently lifted in the US on the X7II and the X3-III. Amazon banned the X5-III from being sold on Amazon so I imagine the pricing has been lifted there as well.


Just did some research on the Sony ZX300. Seems it and most Sony DAPs have difficulty displaying Album Artwork unless it’s a Baseline JPG instead of Progressive JPG. I believe most if not all my Artwork as well as it seems most people are Progressive.

Can anyone confirm this issue?
Is this an issue with other DAPs?

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The WM1A and Z used to require album art to be in baseline encoding. This affected about 2-3% of my library. I wrote a little script to fix it for those files.

I am not sure if this requirement was changed in firmware 3.0.

Every DAP I’ve used or owned has had some kind of issue with some portion of my library when it comes to album art.

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Well good to know Sony may have addressed this.