I remember the first time I used a Walkman, I was thinking that this got to be the most innovative invention ever, I can listen to my music on the go, anywhere and anytime, till the batteries died that is. Then came the Discman, my mind was blown, CD audio quality on the go, I thought it can’t get any better than this. There is a major flaw though with both the Walkman and Discman, you won’t be able to bring the whole library of music with you.
I remember I need to seriously consider which music CDs to bring with me but the problem is my favorite songs are from different albums. To carry more than 10 compact discs is a tad too much for me and that’s not a lot of songs either. Rarely I have an album that has more than 50% of the songs listed in it which I like. Changing compact discs while you are walking to your destination is so troublesome and quite risky too. Cassette tapes are smaller and easier to change but the rewinding and forwarding to the song you want to listen to, sheesh, I can’t believe I was ever that patient.
To be honest, I only started to really complain about using Discman after I was introduced to the legendary Winamp and the CD burner. The number of songs you can put inside the playlist and how fast you can retrieve and play them, I was instantly hooked. Fortunately for all of us, Digital Audio Player aka DAP was created, and finally we can enjoy great music while on the move.
What is a Digital Audio Player
A digital audio player or DAP is a portable electronic device that is capable of storing and playing digital media files. They are specially designed to playback high-resolution digital audio files, of course, other than high-res, most digital audio players are able to play most of the common digital formats. Unlike their predecessors such as the Walkman and Discman, DAP has a far greater capability, which is storing thousands of songs into its’ internal storage/SD card and playing them back without any hassle. Some DAP even enables you to access streaming services like Tidal, giving you even more access to high-quality music on the go.
You may be thinking your mobile phone can do the same thing, storing thousands of songs in a device and able to access streaming services. Yes, you are right but storage is only one function, playing them back in high fidelity and pristine sound quality is what sets DAP apart. A digital audio player’s true and only purpose is to play music, that is their sole focus, unlike your mobile devices which are built for multiple purposes.
DAPs are designed and built with premium quality audio circuitry. Integrated with high-end DAC like the Fiio Flagship M15 which comes with a high-performance DAC that is capable of decoding up to 768kHz/32-bit sampling rate (when switched to USB-DAC mode). Digital audio players also have powerful amplifiers that can drive most headphones and some even have multiple headphone outputs such as 3.5mm unbalanced, 2.2mm balanced, and 4.4mm balanced headphone outputs whereby the mobile phones do not have. Most DAPs are able to play DSD format which most mobile phones are unable to do so.
What features to look for in a DAP
Now you know what is a digital audio player and maybe you are interested in buying one. Here are some features that you should look out for when buying a DAP. The first thing you should look out for will be the user interface, if you are a vivid android user, then you should stick with DAPs that use Android OS. Since the Ui can be different with each brand, it will be advisable to try it out first either at the shop or better yet use your friend’s DAP.
Another feature which you should really find out about will be how the songs are been transferred over to the DAP. This is very important, as, without the song files, your DAP is practically a glorified paperweight. Some DAP may require you to use software for the songs transfer and it may only work on Windows/macOS so you need to be a little cautious.
High-quality DAC is an important feature as well, it plays a major role to improve your sound quality. What it does is that it will take the digital data of your music files and convert them into an analog audio signal. The analog signal will then be sent to an amplifier. DAC will also work on providing you a cleaner sound quality, to improve the overall soundstage and clearer sound clarity. Get a DAP that is at least capable of decoding up to 192kHz/24-bit sampling rate and if possible, go for 348kHz/32-bit.
You will also need to check if the amplifier of the DAP, is powerful enough to drive your headphones and has the necessary headphone outputs which you want to use. You should bring your headphones/earphones down to the shop, where you can audition the DAPs you are interested in buying. Play your favorite songs and see if you can tell an improvement in sound quality.
For people who absolutely love the quality of SACD then you must get a DAP that can play DSD files natively without converting them down to PCM. DSD is the format used by SACD if you are wondering. Based on your music library’s various audio formats, you should also look out for other audio codecs such as FLAC, AptX, WMAL, and more. You would definitely want your digital audio player to be able to playback all your music files.
The storage capacity is crucial as well, as I believe you would prefer to transfer all your music files over to the DAP. You may want to calculate how much storage capacity you will need now and in the foreseeable future. Based on your calculation, you may want to seek out DAPs that can accommodate you on this. DAP doesn’t just rely on their internal storage as most of them can expand using microSD cards.
Where to get High-Resolution music
You may have gotten all you need, your new DAP, headphones, etc., but the major factor that influences sound quality is the digital media file itself. You can’t expect much from an MP3 file. Even the soundtracks you ripped from your CD are not in high resolution but don’t be disappointed, you can still get high res music from various websites. One of them will be HDtracks, other than the thousands of amazing songs that are available for purchase, most of them can be downloaded in various high-resolution sound formats. Do note that, the higher the resolution, the more expensive the music album will be, for instance, DSD 256 is more expensive than DSD 64 format.
You should only buy high res songs/music from reputable online sources, another site will be Linn Records and they even include a download manager for either Windows or Mac. If you are into classical and jazz, this will be the right place for you. They do have other genres of music as well, just check it out.
For Home Stereo
You can use DAP to replace CD players in your home stereo system, since it can play thousands of high-resolution audio files without the need to keep changing the discs, and has its own DAC. It is so much more convenient and affordable. You will just need to purchase DAPs that have line out which could connect to your integrated amplifier. Since various brands and models may have a different set of inputs and outputs, you might want to double-check on this before purchasing a particular model.
To sum it up
Younger me can never imagine I can actually listen to thousands of music on the go, just by carrying such a small package and it doesn’t hinder your movements. Gone were the days of compact discs porch and bags to carry them. With the introduction of DAP, we are able to listen to music almost anywhere we want. With all the audiophile features, we can even listen to this high-resolution music at such high sound quality. You can also integrate DAP into your home stereo system.
Some DACs like the Fiio M15 can be set and use as USB DAC, it gives you an additional functionality which is a very useful feature if you ask me. If you are free this weekend, why not go audition a few of the DACs for fun. It will definitely be worth the trip.