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The 5 Best Portable Hi-Fi Music Players Under $1,000


May 10, 2019 Tech By

More than 10 years have passed since the original iPod upended the portable music world and eventually spawned its own demise in the form of the iPhone. Along the way, almost every element of mobile technology has been systematically improved by leaps and bounds except for one notable hole wide enough to fly an A-10 “Warthog” through: support for high-quality audio.

It’s taken some time, but the lack of attention on the part of major tech manufacturers hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2014, artist Neil Young seized the opportunity to spark an internet revolution that generated over $6 million in just seven days. His goal? To create the latest offering in a category of devices known as digital audio players or (DAPS). Young’s resulting Pono Player turned out to be a spectacular failure, but other niche companies have succeeded where he couldn’t.

So how exactly are these devices different from the MP3 players of yore? Think of them like an iPod on steroids. They combine integrated storage, a digital transport, digital-to-analog conversions chips and a headphone amplifier into a portable hi-fi machine capable of replaying high-resolution audio tracks in all of their detailed glory. Here’s a look at the best portable hi-fi music players on the market today.

Contribution by Tucker Bowe and Ben Bowers.

Editor’s Note: The devices in this buying guide represent a substantial upgrade over your smartphone, but it’s important to remember that they’re still only one part of the listening chain. You’ll need high-quality source material as well as a good set of headphones to make the most of these devices.

Finding the right match between headphones and DAPs requires a bit of research. As such, we recommend spending time with the knowledgable community at Head-fi.org to see if the setup you’re considering plays nicely together, as well as reading the detailed reviews and headphone matching comparisons at Headfonia.com and Headfonics.com

Best Budget Player: Hidizs AP80

At $150, the Hidizs AP80 is one of the best bang-for-your-buck portable hi-fi players you can find. It’s compact but has a big and beautiful touchscreen display. Unlike older portable hi-fi players, the Hidizs AP80 has several modern features. It supports Bluetooth AptX, so you don’t have to use wired headphones, and its USB-C charging ports means it can fast charge. If you’re looking for downsides, the Hidizs AP80 doesn’t come with built-in storage; you’ll need to invest in a microSD card.

File Types: DSD, FLAC, APE, WMA, WAV, ALAC, DSF, DFF
Max Sampling Rate: 32-bit/348kHz
Storage: None; up to 512GB with microSD card
Battery: 15 hours of playtime

Best Upgrade Player: Cowon Plenue D2

Cowon makes high-quality portable hi-fi players that generally don’t demand the high price tags of competitors by Sony and Astell&Kern. The Plenue D2, which sometimes gets referred to as the “PD2,” is the next-generation model of the highly acclaimed Plenue D. It’s a little bit of a price jump from the above Hidizs AP80, but you’re getting significantly better-sounding machine — it supports 24-bit/192kHz for WAV, FLAC, ALAC and AIFF files. The Plenue D2 offers a ton of flexibility when it comes to adjustable EQ, too, so you can fine-tune the sound for whatever genre of music you’re listening to. Another thing is battery life — 45 hours of playtime is triple most other players will get you. The downsides to the Cowon Plenue D2 are that it doesn’t support Bluetooth or Wi-Fi streaming.

File Types: DSD, FLAC, APE, WMA, WAV, ALAC, DSF, SACD, MP3, OGG, AAC, AIFF
Max Sampling Rate: 24-bit/192kHz
Storage: 64GB; up to 192GB with microSD
Battery: 45 hours of playtime

Best All-Around Player: FiiO M9

The FiiO M9 is really the total package. It combines excellent sound quality and a compact design, with a price that most audiophiles can manage. The M9 comes with features that many portable hi-fi players lack; it supports Wi-Fi streaming along with apps like Spotify and Tidal. It has built-in Bluetooth (with aptX support) so you can use with your wireless headphones. It also charges via USB-C, so even though its battery isn’t the biggest, it charges rather quickly.

File Types: ALAC, AIFF, FLAC, WAV, WMA Lossless, AAC, MP3, WMA, DSD, OGG, APE
Max Sampling Rate: 32-bit/192kHz
Storage: 2GB; up to 512GB with microSD
Battery: 10 hours of playtime

Most-Portable Player: iBasso DX90

hf-music-gear-patrol-ibasso
A strong contingent in the audiophile community feel iBasso’s DX90 offers the best bang for the buck on the DAP market today, especially with recent price drops and a bevy of firmware updates. Even though the DX90 is also one of the smallest products in the category, it packs an impressive amount of firepower; it dual mono ESS Sabre32 ES9018k2M chips help it provide a neutral and expansive soundstage the competition can’t replicate. Burning it in also creates a tremendous improvement in the DX90’s audio quality according to the user community at Head-fi.org. So make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and use the included burn-in cable for the best possible sound.

File Types: APE, FLAC, WAV,WMA, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, OGG, MP3, DSD.
Max Sampling Rate: 24-bit/192kHz
Storage: 8GB; up to 2TB with microSD
Battery: 8.5 hours of playtime

Best High-End Player: Astell&Kern Kann


Astell&Kern was one of the first companies to address the portable hi-fi music player market. The Kann, which falls in the middle of its lineup, is like the Swiss Army Knife of DAPs; it has a vast number of inputs and outputs that make its large form-factor worth it, including SD and MicroSD card slots, 64 GB of internal storage, USB-C and Micro USB for fast charging, and 2.5mm and 3.5mm outputs; it also has a massive 6,200mAh battery (about 15 hours of listening), Bluetooth connectivity and Tidal music streaming support. Plus, the Kann can play up to 32bit/382kHz files and uses a single AKM AK4490, a great-sounding DAC. The Kann is a DAP that is sure to satisfy any audiophile.

File Types: WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, OGG, APE, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, DFF, DSF
Max Sampling Rate: 32-bit/348kHz
Storage: 64GB; up to 192GB with microSD
Battery: 15 hours of playtime

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