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Filling the void: 5 DAPs that do Tidal, Qobuz, Spotify etc.

  • The IFPI’s Global Music Report 2018 annual report confirms what we already know: that downloads are down, way down, 20% down (on the previous year). And that streaming is up. Way up. 41.1% up (on the previous year).

    Many switched on hi-fi manufacturers are moving with the times, baking Bluetooth, Google Chromecast, Spotify Connect, Tidal, Qobuz and Roon into their streaming hardware, thus allowing end users to stream from the cloud as well as over the home network.

    The Music-First Audiophile has his/her finger in many streaming service pies, each one complementing a hard drive full of downloads and CD rips. More crucially, streaming services allow us to discover new music.

    I think we can agree that a network streamer that only dealt in locally stored files and didn’t offer the possibility to stream Tidal, Qobuz, Apple Music, Soundcloud or Spotify wouldn’t sell too well.

    And yet…

    For portable audiophiles, smartphones come up wanting on sound quality and hi-res audio compatibility.

    We look to digital audio players (DAPs) for superior audible satisfaction. A second device whose internal circuitry – DAC and headphone driver – are built to a higher specification than most smartphone manufacturers would deem financially worthwhile. A DAP plays music copied over to its internal storage or onto a microSD card inserted into its side, hi-res audio included.

    However, one look at the flagship DAPs of the headphone world’s most popular manufacturers – Sony and Astell&Kern – and we see that the finest in portable audio sound quality not only comes at a price – several thousand dollars – but at a cost – zero streaming functionality* [see footnote #1].

    For the Music-First Audiophile, that’s some long green to lay down on a second device that won’t talk to Spotify, Soundcloud, YouTube Music or Qobuz. Three and a half grand sitting idle as we plug our headphones back into our smartphone (if possible!) just to check out that new album we just read about on Pitchfork or Resident Advisor.

    Not only is this an issue for the Music-First Audiophile doing time at the high-end. The majority of entry- and mid-level DAPs are ‘download only’.

    I still rate the Sony NW-ZX2. It runs a more standardised version of the Android OS to permit access to the Google Play Store and its (streaming) apps. The ZX2 is three years old (and likely discontinued) but its internal circuitry can be applied to any music source: internal storage, microSD cards and almost every streaming service currently available. The ZX2 seems, somewhat ironically, more relevant to more listeners in 2018 than upon its 2015 release.

    Let’s hone in on some of this Sony player’s functional aspects…

    Sony NW-ZX2

    • Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. 10cm, 854 x 480px  touchscreen. Sony S-Master HX decoder/headphone amplifier.
    • aptX and LDAC Bluetooth. 2.4Ghz wifi.
    • 128GB internal storage. 1 x microSD card slots (supporting max 256GB).
    • Decodes ALAC, AIFF. wav and FLAC up to 24bit/192kHz. DSD support.
    • 3400mAh. 30+ hours playtime from 3.5mm single-ended headphone socket.
    • Connection to external DAC via Sony 22-pin WM charging port. Sony 22-pin USB cable required.
    • US$1200 [discontinued]

    Further information: Sony

    And yet despite its popularity, streaming compatible DAPs aren’t as common as one might think.

    What follows are five more. The last one has a twist in its tail.

    Note: each DAP will sound different, its output power dependent upon the headphone, IEM or earbud being driven.

    Our focus here leans toward the functional: interface, wireless connectivity, storage, file compatibility, battery capacity/runtime and headphone socketry. For those who wish to add DAC to DAP, or use the DAP/DAC as a home-hi-fi streamer, digital socketry is also quoted.

    FiiO X5 III

    • Customised Android 5.1.1 Lollipop. 10cm, 800 x 480px touchscreen. 2 x AKM AK4489 DACs.
    • aptX Bluetooth. 2.4Ghz wifi.
    • 26GB internal storage. 2 x microSD card slots (supporting max 256GB each).
    • Decodes ALAC, AIFF and FLAC up to 24bit/384kHz and .wav up to 32bit/384kHz. DSD support.
    • 3400mAh. 10 hours playtime from 3.5mm single-ended headphone socket. 8 hours from 2.5mm balanced headphone socket.
    • Separate 3.5mm line-out socket doubles as coaxial S/PDIF for connection to external DAC.  
    • €399

    FiiO

     

    Pioneer XDP-300R

    • Android 5.1 Lollipop. 12cm, 1280 x 720px touchscreen. 2 x ESS SABRE ES9018 DACs.
    • aptX Bluetooth. 2.4Ghz wifi.
    • 32GB internal storage. 2 x microSD card slots (supporting max 200GB each)
    • Decodes .wav, AIFF and FLAC up to 24bit/384kHz. Quad DSD support. MQA support.
    • 1630 mAh. 16 hours playtime from 3.5mm single-ended headphone socket. ?? hours playtime from 2.5mm balanced headphone socket.
    • MicroUSB charging socket doubles as USB output via OTG cable.
    • €499

    Pioneer

     

    Onkyo DP-X1A

    • Android 5.1.1 Lollipop. 12cm, 1280 x 720px touchscreen. 2 x ESS SABRE ES9018 DACs.
    • aptX Bluetooth. 2.4Ghz wifi.
    • 64GB internal storage. 2 x microSD card slots (supporting max 256GB each).
    • Decodes .wav, AIFF and FLAC up to 24bit/384kHz. Quad DSD support. MQA support.
    • 1630mAh. 16 hours playtime from 3.5mm single-ended headphone socket. ?? hours playtime from 2.5mm balanced headphone socket.
    • MicroUSB charging socket doubles as USB output via OTG cable.
    • €499

    Onkyo

     

    HiBy R6

    • Android 6. 10cm, 1280 x 768px touchscreen. 2 x ESS SABRE 9028Q2M DACs.
    • aptX Bluetooth. Dual band 2.4Ghz and 5GHz wifi.
    • 32GB internal storage. 2 x microSD card slots (supporting max 1TB each).
    • Decodes .wav, ALAC, AIFF and FLAC up to 32bit/384kHz. Double DSD support.
    • 4000mAh. 12 hours playtime from 3.5mm single-ended headphone socket. 7 hours playtime from 2.5mm balanced headphone socket.
    • USB-C charging socket doubles as USB output via OTG cable. Separate 3.5mm line-out socket doubles as coaxial S/PDIF for connection to external DAC.  
    • US$649 (Stainless steel frame version)

    HiBy

     

    LG G7 ThinQ

    • Android 8.0 Oreo. 15cm, 3120 x 1440px touchscreen. 1 x ESS SABRE ES9218P DAC/headphone driver.
    • aptX HD Bluetooth. Dual band 2.4Ghz and 5GHz wifi.
    • 64GB or 128GB internal storage. 1 x microSD card slot (supporting max 512GB).
    • Decodes .wav, ALAC, AIFF and FLAC up to 32bit/384kHz. DSD support. MQA support.
    • 3000mAh. 25+ hours playtime from 3.5mm single-ended headphone socket.
    • USB-C charging socket doubles as USB output via OTG cable.  
    • ~€600

    LG


    Think we’ve missed something crucial? Don’t thump the table in disgust. E-mail us.

    *Footnote 1: Astell&Kern offer Tidal streaming but only over wifi. Offline content was reportedly red-carded by the record labels.

    John H. Darko

    Written by John H. Darko

    John is the editor of Darko.Audio, from whose ad revenues he derives an income. He is an occasional contributor to 6moons but has previously written pieces for TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile. John used to live in Sydney. Now he lives in Berlin.

    Follow John on YouTube, Vimeo and Twitter

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