When everyone has a smartphone in their pocket, the question of a portable player can cause a grin. But only for those music lovers who have never heard the difference in comparison – after all, as soon as a direct comparison is made, practically no one remains in the camp of phones. The sound of a separate portable music player, even in a not too high price category, leaves no chance for a smartphone – what can we say about more expensive model! Today we will study which models are optimal for purchase in the spring of 2021. So, we pick the best portable players in different price categories.
- FiiO M3 Pro
- Hidizs AP80 Pro
- Cowon Plenue D3
- Sony NW-ZX507
- Shanling M6 Pro
- Astell&Kern KANN ALPHA
- Kontinum K100
Proven manufacturer, sturdy device. FiiO M3 Pro is powered by Ingenic X1000 / E processor and is equipped with an advanced ESS Saber ES9218P chip. The small IPS-screen (340 x 800 pixels) is nothing outstanding, but the basic operations with it are quite comfortable. The output power of the FiiO M3 Pro exceeds 75 mW when operating into a load with a nominal impedance of 32 ohms, so the device is able to pump even complex headphones.
The device sounds very pleasant – subtly and delicately presenting the classics and demonstrating the necessary drive on the rock. Support for formats up to DSD256 is in stock, and a 1000 mAh battery guarantees 15 hours of listening on a single charge.
Price – $109
Hidizs AP80 Pro, housed in a 316L stainless steel casing, is a stylish and modern portable player. The model uses two ESS9218P chips and reaches 130 dB signal-to-noise ratio – but the most important thing here is the use of an HBC3000 FPGA and a separate clock. This approach provides a rich in detail, sophisticated sound with excellent dynamics. It is worth noting both the balanced output, and the Bluetooth 4.2 module (LDAC and UAT), and support for a bidirectional USB DAC – in general, we have a real find in front of us.
Price – $200
The Cowon Plenue D3 with 64GB of storage is powered by two reference CS43131 chips for stunning detail and luxurious dynamic range. An output of 4 Vrms is ideal even for “tight” headphones, and 45 hours of operation on a single charge will surprise even seasoned music lovers. Support for Bluetooth 3.0 will surprise no one today, but, say, 48 equalizer settings are very interesting to use. The disadvantage is the low-resolution screen (2.8”, 240 x 320).
Price – $469
The crystal sound of the Sony NW-ZX507 is hard to confuse with another device – the signature S-Master HX digital amplification, DSEE HX processor and a pair of precision clocks guarantee a surprisingly transparent and natural sound. The quality of the model’s workmanship, again, is beyond praise: a case with a frame made of milled aluminum and the same block for electronics, a high-polymer capacitor ft cap and, finally, gorgeous ergonomics (interface in the form of a video tape) – bravo, Sony!
Price – $739
Shanling M6 Pro is powered by the powerful Snapdragon 430 processor and is equipped with Asahi Kasei AK4497EQ dual converter. The screen here is already quite large (4.7”), and its 720p resolution is quite comfortable for controlling the device. Three headphone outputs at once, including a pair of balanced, advanced operational amplifiers OPA1662, ADA4610, BUF634 – all this just screams quality.
And so it turns out – in fact, it is difficult to find fault with the sound of the model, the player can perfectly reproduce even complex symphonic works, providing absolutely natural timbres and ideally separating sound images.
Price – $800
The luxurious Astell & Kern KANN ALPHA is one of the top models for today. The device provides amazingly plastic sound with amazing microdynamics and animal drive. “On board” – a complete gentleman’s kit, including a balanced headphone output (as much as 12 Vrms!), Gold-plated connectors, a wireless Bluetooth 5.0 module and a powerful battery that guarantees 14.5 hours of operation.
Two reference ES9068AS converters grab stars from the sky – both in terms of channel separation or noise minimization, and capabilities – there is support for 32-bit PCM, and native work with MQA 8x. Bravo!
Price – $1350
An extremely expensive model that delivers the ultimate in playback quality. In the sound of the Kontinum K100 there is the very diamond that High End fans are hunting for, and the dynamic characteristics of the player are excellent. Founded by James Lee, a native of Astell & Kern, the company is now beginning to overtake its main competitor in some ways.
The device has a lot of secrets – from replaceable batteries of the EV standard (usually used in electric cars) with a huge capacity of 4,900 mAh – to support for 32-bit PCM and a balanced output of 8 Vrms. A pair of AKM4497EQ chips, MQA support, 5 ”720p display, Bluetooth 4.0 – everything is fine here.
Price – $1500