DAPs, do you use them?

DAPs (Digital Audio Players) have been around for quite some time in various forms.
(TLDR: Do you use a DAP or does the inconvenience of carrying multiple devices turn you off?)

Evolving from the music players like the Walkman and the Discman, DAPs & MP3 players started to gain some traction in 1997.

The first DAP invented is credited to British scientist Kane Kramer in 1979. He called it the IXI and it could play up to one hour of audio but it never hit commercial markets.

After that, SeaHan Information Systems launched its MPman which got re-branded into the Eiger10 and Eiger20. They could hold 32mb and 64mb of audio files respectively.

There were some other products in between but not until 2003 when Apple launched the iPod, did portable music really change forever.

Nowadays, you can have your music, phone, internet all in one device and the need for carrying around a separate music player has been greatly reduced. Generally though, your phone will not produce the same sound quality as you can get from a DAP.

Companies like Astell&Kern, FiiO, Sony, Questyle, even Pioneer are all producing quality DAPs with various specs and functionality.

The question is: Do you use a DAP or does the inconvenience of carrying multiple devices turn you off?

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Lol, I love how there is basically a TL;DR at both the beginning and the end of the post.

I used to be a devoted owner and carrier of an MP3 player. Part of the reason for that was because I kept an ancient phone that was way behind this day and age of smartphones. But the other reason was because I could expand the storage of the thing–unlike a lot of phones that are out today.

With that said, I finally had to let go of the MP3 when its battery gave up. And since then, I’ve used a Blackberry, an HTC, and now a OnePlus phone as my main portable audio player. None of them really excel in sound fidelity in any noticeable way, unfortunately, but it is kind of nice to be able to carry my music on the same device that I use to stream podcasts, radio, and all that.

The one exceptional hybrid I wish I had on hand is the LG V30 (or any of their V-series phones). That phone could make music sing again. So, because of this particular device, I’m inclined to believe that technology has advanced in a way that renders a DAP almost redundant. If I could get away with carrying only one device for my needs, I’ll take it.

TL;DR: I abide by some hidden EDC code and carrying more than one device is just not practical for me.

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A few years ago I bought a bunch of midrange DAPs—AK100, X5, DX80, HM602–and while they sounded generally better than my phone, I’ve found I don’t appreciate the difference enough when I’m on a subway or a plane since those subtleties are usually drowned out by background noise. The inconvenience of trying to juggle two devices wasn’t really worth it for me as well.

Funnily enough, the Apple dongle has proved to be not half bad for portable use. Since it has low output impedance it’ll react funky with some BA designs like the Andromeda, but it serves its purpose better than I’d expect it to for my use.

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Funny enough I use a DAP (Fiio X5) exclusively at work, so I have ditched the “portability” aspect of it. I like it because it produces great sound, which I can appreciate at my desk, but when I am done or not using it, I can put it into a drawer.

I definitely can hear an increase in sound quality over my iPhone but unfortunately it is not enough to warrant carrying two devices when mobile. Walking around town, on runs, subway, or in the car, I still use my iPhone. However for more dedicated listening sessions, where I am away from my home rig I will use the Fiio. These include on planes, long train rides or long road trips.

TLDR, in certain situations I think it is worth it, but when mobility is key, I ditch the DAP and stick with my all-in-one device

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I do use a DAP, have for years, but it’s now very much a “situationally progressive” thing for me. Which really means that it depends on where I am, what I’m doing, and how much listening time I’ll get … as well as how light I want to (or can) pack when traveling as to whether I take/use a DAP or listen via other means.

Walking over lunch, or very short (usually same-day in/out deals) trips, or trips where the only listening I’m doing is on the flights in/out and they’re shorter (under 4 hours), then it’s pretty much just the iPhone X and AirPods and/or the lightning dongle and Bose QC20i.

Longer trips, without my fiancé (so lots of time to listen), or longer flights, but for which I can get away without taking a laptop is really when the DAP comes into play. Currently I have a Sony NW-WM1Z and generally use it with the Empire Ears Zeus XRA.

Shorter trips, that require a laptop, it’s usually the AudioQuest Dragonfly Red or Meridian Explorer 2 that come along, same if there are real space/weight constraints. As the trip and available listening time go up, so does the scale of what I’m willing to carry.

For longer trips with lots of potential listening time, but that don’t need a laptop, I might even take the WM1Z and the Hugo 2 and use the Sony as a high-quality transport, only using the phone as a source for streaming.

I’d probably have to be gone for a month, on my own, with lots of free time for listening, to bother taking both the laptop and the Hugo 2.

Most of the portable listening occurs on IEMs, but I’m looking for an excuse to play with the LCDi4 … obviously not a candidate when isolation is needed, nor when others are around, but it’s an interesting proposition for when I’m stuck somewhere for a week or more with limited exploration/entertainment options once back at the hotel.

That’s a long winded way of saying, I only use a DAP when I’ll have lots of time to focus on listening and can spare the extra space/weight, and don’t have my laptop to hand!

And there’s been a progression of DAPs. First it was a series of iPods. Then I picked up an Astell & Kern AK120 (from the “old” Headphones.com) which was used with an RSA Intruder and SE846 for most of it’s life, and then briefly as a transport feeding a Chord Mojo. It was a while, after that, before I found another DAP I thought was worth dealing with.

The AK100ii and 120ii did nothing for me, nor did the AK240 … I just don’t get on with stuff based around the CS4398 converter (or, at least, the overall implementations that use it as the DAC chip). The AK3XX series were too much of a pain to use with a Mac, and had storage limitations I was not willing to put up with at their price points … and they was a bit too much “Velvet Sound” going on (AKM49XX DAC reference).

The FiiO X5iii was a lovely little unit … hardware wise. Unfortunately the firmware was “never quite there”. It actually went backwards in terms of stability and functionality for me, and to this day I don’t think it still supports all the features/capabilities listed on the box (more than a year after I bought one, since sold).

Had a WM1A for a bit, and that’s probably the sweet spot for me, but I eventually succumbed to the lure of the WM1Z, even if the weight is a bit silly and the gold finish a bit too flashy. It’d be nice if these units could be used as USB DACs (the last firmware added MQA support, which would be a lot of work if they couldn’t eventually be used as such), but other than not being able to use them for streaming it’s a near-perfect solution for me.

May I ask what was specifically wrong with the firmware? I have been using the Fiio X5iii for a bit and haven’t had any issues with the firmware, besides it being a bit slow. Fiio Music has been fine for me personally, and the applications outside of that are all full Android applications.


@ryan There were myriad issues with the firmware initially. Many of them were responded to/fixed quite quickly, though weekly updates rapidly gave way to monthly-or-slower … which was a bigger problem than it should have been when those same updates started breaking functionality that was previously fine.

Up through firmware 1.1.4 most of the issues were related to library scanning failing (for a variety of reasons), album art not showing up consistently (sometimes it would appear for a specific album, other times not at all, and still others it’d be there 20 minutes later), and navigation not always doing what it should.

With firmware 1.1.5 they broke WiFi streaming for TIDAL (maybe other applications too). I had no dropouts with TIDAL at all streaming over AC-class WiFi with the X5iii until v.1.1.5. And once that was installed I couldn’t go more than three or four songs (usually less) without it disconnecting and needing to be restarted to continue playing.

Firmware 1.1.6 didn’t fix this, which was a primary use-case for me, and was still unable to play 24/192 content via COAX (as a transport) without major dropouts, break-ups and stuttering.

About two months went by from when 1.1.5 came out and I got tired of waiting to be able to use the unit, or getting any word out of FiiO about the issue (which I was not alone in experiencing) to stream reliably again. At that point I sold it, so I don’t know what happened after 1.1.7.

Still think it was a nice little unit, with good sonic performance and a good spec for the price, but I have very little tolerance for things that don’t work properly/consistently, and keeping it made no sense since it wouldn’t work for my primary use-case for the thing.

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That’s probably the main reason why I use a DAP for audiophile listening exclusively. Another reason would be that audio player apps on smartphones generally suck. I also find it simpler (drag & drop) to manage my audio content on a DAP that has ample storage rather than being limited by the storage capacity of my smartphone (not all offer expandable storage options). I do use my smartphone for audio books though.

The LG V20 and V30 definitely have some good built in DACs and will hopefully push other phone manufacturers to do the same! I have noticed that due to their output impedance they can have some wonky pairings with some headphones.

The beauty of DAPs or portable DACs (when they have a headphone amplifier built in) is generally the headphone amplifier is good enough to give a decent amount of power to most headphones. It just is a real pain in the butt to be carrying around that much gear, especially if its for daily use.

Me and @andrew were sharing a Pioneer XDP-300R which was actually pretty great. Most people don’t know about their DAPs since Pioneer doesn’t advertise or really care about their players / headphone division in comparison to their receivers and speakers. But as with most of the DAPs, its built on Android software but not as restricted as FiiO / A&K and others. It has has the ability to stream Tidal offline which was the reason we kept it around for so long.

Actually now that you mentioned it, I had some problems like that when I first got the unit. I updated to the latest firmware and it seemed to fix my issues. It is a Chinese company and it definitely has its quirks, but I’m enjoying it for the price. I also wouldn’t like waiting for a year to have a company fix their product, so maybe it’s best that I bought it a long while after launch!

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I have had many DAPs over the time. I actually tried ti use my iPhone as a one-stop source. Too many limitations. I use my Fiio X5iii and X3iii all the time. The X3 sees a lot of hiking and travel time. Looking to reduce carry weight and footprint with the up-coming Shanling M0 or Hidizas AP80. Something to be said about a dedicated high quality audio source.


years back i had a stationary DAP and loved the sound. Now I primarily use my phone or laptop; preference is still listening from a cd versus mp3 or mp4. Whether it’s imaginary or not, I feel as if I’m only getting part of the full package when I listen to mp3 or mp4 rips. Would I buy another dedicated DAP??? Not unless i also had a serious headphone upgrade to truly take advantage of what was offered.

I’ve been using a DAP since the iPod classic first came out. Although the batteries of mine are long gone, I still use them plugged into a dock that can read the digital output and feed a DAC. Also used Fiio X5 and X5iii which were fine for portable use. Recently got A&K KANN, which is small enough to be portable (barely) and has large improvement in sonics. I use it much more than I used the Fiio’s.

I was shocked to learn that Pioneer makes DAPs. If I was in the market for one personally, I would give them some serious consideration.
What kind of stumped me was that there are not many good low-range options available, like let’s say in the $50 - 100,- dollar range. Good ones I should say. When I checked Amazon I found tons of no-brand-name options available, but once I started reading the reviews (unstable OS, weird OS behavior, etc) none of them stood out. I would love to find one for my brother in the $50 - 150,- range. Apart from Sony and Sansa most seemed garbage.

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This seems to be a common theme amongst no-name-brand manufacturers even with better known ones like Fiio and Hifiman.

I have 3: two literally (HiFiMan SuperMini and an iPod) and a third by extending the definition to include the iPod+telephone+(whatever else Steve Jobs said on stage) a.k.a. iPhone.

The first one (SuperMini) was so disappointing I stuck a Dragonfly onto my phone and call it done. That really should say something with my blown ears. I don’t even know if the iPod takes a charge anymore.

I still have the SuperMini but it is only for when I worry about my phone’s battery life. Sometimes I look at A&K or its cousins and wonder “what if.” Most of the time I wonder “why.”

About multiple devices: Yes, I find it a turn-off. But I also find “all-in-one” devices carry too many disadvantages, which leaves me wondering “what is the third option?” I concede the Dragonfly, phone and ON2 are already multiple devices but is leaving the little bug home and carrying something even bigger than my phone the answer? Hmmm. I think not for me. The environments are generally not right for this ADHD kid to really enjoy the sound improvement from the extra brick+battery+charger hassle. (Or USB cable)

I love my V20. It’s a great music player and it drives my higher impedance headphones quite nicely. It gives me more leeway with the set of headphones I choose when doing tasks around the house or traveling.

As a smartphone its garbage. I have no apps on it, uninstalled most of the G-apps and disabled almost all notifications. Anything that can drain the battery is switched off, because when you’re using it as a normal phone the battery doesn’t last long at all.

I work in commission sales for a cellphone carrier and in the past I’ve been the only guy on the team with an LG phone (the V-series for it’s music playback capabilities) and I’ve own a few LG sales contests (free soundbar for my wife’s TV is dope right?). I’m currently jockeying for the store’s free LG G7 ThinQ when it becomes available. When everybody else on the team wants free Galaxy’s and iPhone X’s it’s relatively easy to get the other free stuff when you’re the only one who wants it ;-D

The V30 supported MQA via Tidal. My team was passed over for free V30s. Details on the DAC are still sparse for the G7. All anybody is saying as of yet is that it’s the same 32-bit Sabre dac from previous flagships. I’m hoping it offers MQA. I can stream MQA at home but my DAC is not fully compatible with the format. It would be nice to hear what it’s capable of.

I was waiting for someone with a LG V-series phone to speak up! It looks like you’re using the V20 as a DAP. Do you use another phone for actual phone functionalities? Are you carrying two devices??

I daily an iPhone 6S Plus. I’ll make out-going work calls with the V20, but only when I’m at work. I was hoping an Android phone would keep me up to date on features of that OS however the V20 was the first phone to drop with 7.0 and still currently runs 7.0.

I couldn’t be happier than I am with my Fiio 5 3rd gen. It amazes me how much quality you can get out of this. Easy full of formats including DSD I’m not sure if there is anything in this price range that is better. “ Oh my “ did I just say that?
Yes I did and I can because I’m the one who is listening. “ Music to my Ears “