Advice before you buy a cheap DAP!
Your priorities should be in order, there are steps you can take to get better-sounding music, and there are multiple pieces to the puzzle that create good sound.
Did you know you can convert your phone to a high-resolution music player with an external DAC and amplifier?
Ok, these aren’t DAP, but many people don’t even know these products exist. Most people will likely carry their mobile phones everywhere they go, but with the removal of headphone jacks, they think they have lost the ability to use high-quality wired headphones.
That’s no longer true, and a few audio companies are producing tiny dongles with audiophile DAC and Amp chips inside that can convert your smartphone to a high-resolution audio player.
My favorite External DAC has Bluetooth and a balanced connector so that you can use it untethered from your phone.
The Audioquest Dragonfly (Original Review Here)is one of the most popular of all time and is a USB stick-sized Amp/DAC unit that seriously ups the audio capabilities of your phone. Similarly, Nextdrive has the Spectre X, and Cozy has the Takt-C. These are all great options and significantly improve the sound while allowing you to use Spotify and Tidal.
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. Of course, the other big plus of this method is that these DAC’s uses the excellent ESS Sabre DAC, something you find in daps upwards of $400. It sounds great and doesn’t cost the world.
Use well-mastered music
It starts with high-quality master tracks. Music produced to a high standard will always sound better, and no amount of money spent on headphones or mp3 players will improve poorly mastered music. In fact, in cases where your source material is sub-par, a good set of headphones will expose how bad the music is.
Upgrade your music file formats for a free boost to sound quality.
Next, it’s always best to have high-quality source music files. This means choosing file formats that do as little as possible to degrade the original recording’s sound. Small-rate MP3 files, for example, compress the music files so much that the music loses much of its detail and nuances.
We suggest sourcing high-quality files like high-bitrate MP3s to FLAC and even DSD. Lossless or near-lossless music formats are essential here, making a big difference when used with other audiophile-grade components. We suggest you read the list of the best music formats to understand your options better.
Why are cheap high-definition music players worth buying?
The2 areas mentioned above are where you will get 60-70% of your sound improvements in a portable audio setup. Despite what some people profess to believe, the actual improvement in sound when stepping up from one of these budget audiophile DAPs listed below (Digital Audio Player) to something from our best Hi-Res music player list is relatively minimal.
Budget DAPs are fantastic and have come a long way in the past decade. While they may lack some of the features of the more expensive units, they usually have solid DAC and Amp sections, which will count most at this price.
You will see a dramatic jump if you come from a mobile phone or a cheap mp3 player. Moving to one of these dedicated music players created with sound quality in mind will make a significant difference.
There are also some extra benefits to using a dedicated audio player to listen to your music when on the go and to handle a broader range of formats compared to simpler devices. In addition, having a dedicated stand-alone unit with increased power to drive high-impedance headphones can be a significant advantage to some. Not to forget, using a separate audio player means less drain on your smartphone battery when out and about.
Many factors make something a great-sounding and fully featured DAP unit, and here are my top 5 picks if cash is a little tight. The best portable audio player solutions are under $100 right now.
Leave a reply