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DAP Music Player Buying Guide 2021

DAPs in all shapes, sizes, and price ranges

Portability is the name of the game in our always-moving world. Being able to bring your Hi-Fi system with you is pretty awesome if you ask us. There's a lot of choices out there and it can be difficult to know where to start when choosing what DAP is best for you. Apart from the obvious varying price points, there are also lots of different functionality and features that music players can have, making the trouble of finding one for your specific needs that much more difficult.

So where to begin? The best way to choose your DAP is based on the general sound you prefer. Some music players are more forward-sounding, some are warmer and more musical, and others lie somewhere in between. We're going to help break down some of the best high-res DAPs on the market so you can find the one that's right for you.


Sound Signature Quick Guide:

  • Astell&Kern DAPs - Analytical / Forward
  • iBasso DAPs - Balanced
  • Sony DAPs - Warm / Musical


What is a DAP?

Digital Audio Players are electronic devices capable of storing and playing high-resolution music or media files. Many digital formats, resolutions, and encoding exist. Most DAPs can comfortably play most digital files. DAPs are designed to play high-resolution or “lossless” digital files.

Digital Audio Players (DAPs) aren't new. You could argue the Sony Walkman, launched in the summer of 1979, was the first DAP. To say we've come a long way baby since the summer of ‘79 is to understate the portable digital music revolution. Today, with the right high-resolution musical sources and audio gear, we can hear symphony hall reference sound wherever we are and whenever we want. Apple's iPod was a cool product and an amazing idea - having your entire music collection with you at all times made Apple's 1,000 songs in your pocket tagline meaningful and exciting.

DAPs can play all sorts of audio files too. Formats like FLAC, WMA, ALAC, MP3, and other hi-res audio formats. Music players like Astell&Kern are also MQA certified and Roon Ready, giving the user an incredible amount of versatility in how they want to listen to music.

What is a DAP?

Digital Audio Players are electronic devices capable of storing and playing high-resolution music or media files. Learn more about DAPs in our "What is a DAP" guide here:


So where to begin? The best way to choose your DAP is based on the general sound you prefer. Some music players are more forward-sounding, some are warmer and more musical, and others lie somewhere in between. We're going to help break down some of the best high-res DAPs on the market so you can find the one that's right for you.


Astell&Kern

About Astell&Kern

Astell&Kern is a South Korean company that focuses on creating some of the most popular DAPs (Digital Audio Players), CD players, headphones, and home cinema products on the market. Astell&Kern products stylistically stand out from the crowd with their modern metals aesthetic, sharp edges, and sleek designs. Their digital music players look like the future. They are best known for high-end music players, portable audio devices, or hi-res “iPods.” Their sound signature tends to fall on the analytical side of the spectrum. Since they released their proprietary Open App Service, users can download and listen to their favorite music streaming services like Tidal, Qobuz, Spotify, and more.

Astell&Kern creates some of the best music players in the world as our customer reviews note plus their technology is easy to learn and navigate as a newbie or a technology wizard. Our founder, Drew Baird, P.E., and the staff at Moon Audio recommend Astell&Kern high-resolution music and media players for people who love “mobile audio.” Astell & Kern (A&K) music players are "iPods on steroids". If you love to listen to music “on the go” and want hi-fi sound AK Digital Audio Players (DAPs) are essential listening gear with Mastering Quality Sound (MQS). You will not believe what your ears were missing once you try AK music players!


Astell&Kern A&norma SR25 DAP Music Player

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The SR25 is Astell&Kern's entry-level DAP and is a great starting music player for those wanting a lot more from their music without emptying their wallet. It's also their smallest player, but don't be fooled by its small size. The SR25 is packed with a Quad-Core CPU and CS43198 Dual DAC, providing premium performance with Native DSD256 and up to 32bit/384kHz. The LDAC codec is also included, allowing you to listen to your high-resolution music untethered via Bluetooth. This level of performance for an entry-level device is unique and presents an incredible value for those music lovers wanting an upgrade from their consumer-level devices.

The SR25 has been developed to achieve stable, ultra-high-resolution sound. Astell&Kern has implemented a new Performance Mode with the SR25 that automatically optimizes and sets the memory mode in the system according to the data size of the source being played. As the resolution of the sound increases, it is necessary to process a large amount of data rapidly. If this part is not optimized, sound breakup can occur. To prevent this, the SR25 uses the new Performance Mode to adjust and optimize the system in order to produce near-perfect sound quality when playing back high-resolution audio.

But wait - there's more! If great sound quality and performance weren't enough, one of the most impressive things about the SR25 is the 21-hour battery life. Listen to your music all day without needing to charge - it's the ultimate freedom.

Learn more about the Astell&Kern SR25 DAP Music Player.


Astell&Kern A&futura SE180 DAP Music Player

The SE180 DAP actually came out after the SE200 player, but both players share in the philosophy of giving the listener the option to change the sound according to their preference. It's an innovative design for Astell&Kern, by implementing interchangeable all-in-one modules that pop in and out of the top of the music player. The system is similar to that of iBasso which they've used for years, but the difference is that Astell&Kern allows the user to swap out different DACs, which directly affects the sound. By applying different DAC/AMP configurations, adjusting the tuning and outputs for each module, the listener can choose the sound which most aligns with their personal listening preference. The Se180 also includes great connectivity, giving you 3 headphone connections out of the box.

The SE180 has a superb 5-inch full HD touch screen, and Astell&Kern has implemented some quality-of-life improvements to the overall navigation of the music player. The new navigation bar allows the user to quickly control their music from any screen. Equipped with Bluetooth 5.0, aptX HD, and LDAC codecs, the SE180 is one of the best players on the market for the latest high fidelity wireless audio. New features such as AK File Drop allows you to freely transfer files wirelessly through a PC, smartphone, or FTP program located on the same network. The new BT Sink function connects the SE180 to an external device via Bluetooth, allowing the user to playback music in high-quality on your SE180 from an external device like your smartphone using the BT Sink function. With the SE180, you have endless configurations to tailor your sound just how you want it.  

Learn more about the Astell&Kern SE180 DAP Music Player.

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Astell&Kern A&futura SE200 DAP Music Player

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The SE200 music player is a proverbial Swiss army knife of portable music players. It's packed with not one, not two, but three DACs giving the listener an unprecedented amount of control over their sound for one portable device. The SE200 features the latest audiophile-grade DACs from ESS, the Sabre ES9068AS in a dual DAC configuration. Dual DAC designs are common in many of the top flagship-level music players, offering enhanced fidelity, lower noise floors, and much more. But Astell&Kern didn't stop there. They also added a single AK4499EQ, AKM's flagship DAC that is used in Astell's own flagship model, the SP2000. Why? Because everyone hears differently. Astell&Kern wanted to give users the freedom and choice to tailor their music the way they want to listen to it. Each DAC sounds great, but their sound also varies. The ES chips lend clarity to the music, bringing out details and subtleties that can often be masked or veiled. The AKM DAC is the other side of the coin, offering warmth and a more musical interpretation. Also, each DAC comes with a balanced and unbalanced headphone output.

The Astell&Kern SE200 DAP also includes filters, specific to each DAC set. You can read more about the filters and settings in our written review of the SE200. The real takeaway from this device is the ability to choose how you want to listen to your music. Why bring two DAPs with you when you can bring one versatile music player? The SE200 gives you total control over your music and is a top recommendation for portable Hi-Fi.

Learn more about the Astell&Kern SE200 DAP Music Player.


Astell&Kern SP1000 DAP Music Player

The first generation flagship music player from Astell&Kern is so good, it still holds its own today. The SP1000 represents premium performance at a premium price. Featuring the AK4497EQ dual-DAC design and capable of native 32-bit/384kHz audio, it's a beast of a music player that doesn't skimp on bells and whistles. The left and right audio channels include independent DACs to provide a wider soundstage and better stereo separation. The eight-core processor is fast and responsive, and the larger 5-inch bezel-less screen looks amazing.

The SP1000 also comes in a stainless steel or copper housing, providing a nice weight to the device. The extra nice thing about buying a premium flagship device is that Astell&Kern provides a tailor-made leather case to protect your investment. Combined with an included screen protector, and you'll have your DAP ready to weather the elements (though we wouldn't recommend using it exposed in the rain).

Learn more about the Astell&Kern SP1000 DAP Music Player.

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Astell&Kern SP1000M DAP Music Player

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Yup, you guessed it. The "M" means it's smaller! You could argue that it stands for "mobile" since it is a more portable version of the SP1000, however, Astell&Kern is quick to point out that it doesn't stand for one word in particular. They argue that it encompasses many characteristics that the product aims to pursue: Mini, Mobility, Maximum, etc (read more on the product page here). The SP1000M is a more accessible flagship-level product for less. It utilizes the same Quad-core CPU and AK4497EQ dual-DAC design of the SP1000, but shrinks down the overall size from a 5-in screen to a 4.1-inch. Another notable difference is the change to an all-aluminum body which dramatically decreases the overall weight of the device.

The SP1000M is for those who want the performance of the SP1000 but in a smaller and lighter design. Keep in mind that the gold color variation is the only one that comes with the matching 256GB internal storage, whereas the other colors only have 128GB. The good news is that any Astell&Kern device is easily upgradeable with micro SD card slots.

Learn more about the Astell&Kern SP1000M DAP Music Player.


Astell&Kern SP2000 DAP Music Player

The SP2000 is Astell&Kern's bread and butter. The latest flagship DAP offers 6Vrms balanced output, 3Vrms unbalanced output, supports up to 32-bit/768kHz bit-to-bit playback, and native playback of DSD up to DSD512. It's impressive. The SP2000 comes in stainless steel and copper body variants and is also equipped with the latest and most advanced Asahi Kasei DAC chips, the AK4499EQ in a dual-DAC design.

The SP2000 is the first Astell&Kern player to use separate, independent audio channels between the balanced and unbalanced outputs. This design offers more power than previous models, so you can drive your headphones even further. Astell&Kern also doubles the internal storage to 512GB which is a nice upgrade. Combined with Dual-band WiFi, Open App Service, MQA, and much more, the SP2000 redefines flagship-level performance and features. If you want one of the best sounding DAPs on the market, then look no further.

Learn more about the Astell&Kern SP2000 DAP Music Player.

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Astell&Kern KANN Alpha DAP Music Player

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Don't worry, Astell&Kern brought the big guns to the party. The KANN Alpha is a powerhouse DAP, outputting a whopping 12Vrms. What makes this even more impressive is that they managed to keep the same power output as the KANN Cube, and yet managed to dramatically shrink the chassis into a more portable design. Using exclusively-made ultra-small tantalum capacitors and a redesigned power circuit, the KANN Alpha shows just how well you can pack a bunch of power into a small unit and still manage to get an amazing 14.5 hours of continuous playback on a single charge.

Also upgraded with Bluetooth 5.0, aptX HD and LDAC codecs, DAC filters, and a new 4.4mm balanced output port, the KANN Alpha is the DAP to beat when it comes to being able to power-hungry headphones. What's really impressive about the Alpha is the fact that it has physically separated the 2.5 and 4.4mm outputs using micro relays. The KANN Alpha boasts noise-free output because Astell&Kern built an independent structure that completely blocks interference from outputs that are not being used and to be switched off, therefore preventing noise from occurring. The Alpha music player also features a never-before-seen Crosstalk measurement of -141dB (High Gain), which is unmatched by any other portable audio product in its class. It's a beefy music player AND headphone amplifier that is truly portable.

Learn more about the Astell&Kern KANN Alpha DAP Music Player.


Astell&Kern SA700 DAP Music Player

What's old is new again. The SA700 is a love note to the Astell&Kern players of old, adopting much of their retro design but modernizing it to the point of a pretty great-looking and sounding portable music player. The SA700 began with the original design of the AK120, modified into a simple, more refined form. It's also the first DAP to use an AK4492ECB dual DAC to offer a new sound signature to AK players. It aims to mimic the AK4497EQ but consumes much less power making it perfect to extend battery life on a portable device. Made from stainless steel, the music player retains some nostalgic design elements like the sliding door over the micro SD card slot.

It's also a very capable high-end music player. Able to playback 32-bit/384kHz and native DSD playback up to 11.2MHz, the SA700 can play your high-resolution audio with ease, and combined with the Open App Service, you have an unending streaming library at your fingertips. The smaller size will be welcomed by those looking for a more portable format, and although on the weighty side, Astell&Kern is known for its outstanding build quality. The SA700 is a perfect mobile companion for you and your music.

Learn more about the Astell&Kern SA700 DAP Music Player.

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iBasso

About iBasso

iBasso represents the middle-of-the-road sound signature between Astell&Kern and Sony. An incredibly resolute and neutral sound, iBasso DAPs are also known for their extreme customization options. Their products incorporate a replaceable AMP card design that can switch out I/O, amplifier, DAC, and more to customize your music player to how you want to listen to your music. They represent an incredible value as well for the price point.


iBasso DX300 DAP Music Player

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The DX300 is iBasso's sparkly flagship player. The DAP sports an amazingly beautiful 6.5 near-bezel-less screen with a UHD resolution of 2340 x 1080. The DX300 utilizes a patented dual battery structure with the AMP and digital section being powered by independent batteries. The independent battery provides a sufficient power supply to ensure the stability of the AMP section and it isolates the digital section interference to achieve better overall sound quality. This ensures that the analog section receives extremely clean DC, allowing the AMP section to perform to its fullest. When a single battery is powering the entire system, a large demand of current by the digital section and the analog section can affect each other, which can cause distortion, that ultimately degrades the sound quality.

A feature of the DX series is the replaceable AMP card design. AMP cards provide for more variety, personalization, and enjoyment of your music. You can change the output port configuration, circuit design, playtime, and much more. The DX300 music player features the Octa-Core Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 mobile platform, 5th Gen Mango OS + Android 9.0 OS, 6GB of RAM, 128GB internal storage with external expansion option, and Quad CS43198 DAC chips, the current flagships from Cirrus Logic. Get a flagship DAP without the flagship price.

Learn more about the iBasso DX300 DAP Music Player.


iBasso DX150 DAP Music Player

Fully balanced and fully synchronized, the DX150 features an X-MOS chipset and dual DAC design for high-performance audio. It comes with the AMP6 amplifier card that can easily be upgraded for an even more powerful sound and extended life. An 8-core CPU and a 4.1-inch HD screen assure that your navigation experience is snappy and responsive. Like all DX models, the DX150 supports replaceable amp cards, allowing the DAP to provide completely different listening experiences, giving you more choices for listening to your music the way you want.

The DX150 can also be configured to be used as a standalone high-powered USB DAC with the Thesycon USB driver. The device also supports PD2.0 rapid charge so you can achieve a full charge in two hours (100W). The DX150 utilizes two AK4490EQ chips. Each AK4490EQ has 2 built-in DACs. This means that the DX150 has 2 DACs in parallel for each channel. The DXC150 also has several ultra-low noise power regulators that provide the cleanest power for the DACs. Panasonic film capacitors and symmetry topology, that altogether utilizes the full potential of the AK4490. On our test equipment (APX525), we measured -110dB on THD+N and 118dB for S/N, which shows the highest performance of the AK4490. One of our most accessible DAPs at Moon Audio, the iBasso DX150 is a great starting point to get into the world of audiophilia.

Learn more about the iBasso DX150 DAP Music Player.

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iBasso DX220 DAP Music Player

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The DX220 is a step up from the DX150 in terms of overall specs. Dual ES9028PRO DACs, 8-core CPU, 4GB of RAM, 5-in FHD screen, Two-way Bluetooth 5.0 - it's a feature-rich and incredibly functional music player. The design is a little more industrial than other models, with sharp edging and metal siding. It's a great size and option for those wanting more performance and finesse without the flagship price.

I've always appreciated the value that iBasso music players represent. You can get way more for the money than some other brands on the market. The name of the game, here again, is replaceable amp cards. Want a different DAC? Change it. Want a different amp? Change it. Want a different port configuration? Change it. You can literally adjust and fine-tune your device to play your music exactly how you want to listen to it. iBasso creates DAPs that can be as unique as you, and make your music sound amazing at the same time. The DX220 DAP is customizable because no one listens to music the same way, so why should you have the same DAP as everyone else?


iBasso DX220 MAX DAP Music Player

You guessed it - it's a bigger version of the DX220? Yes, but there's so much more. The DX220 MAX is iBasso's version of AK's KANN Cube. It's a beast. Internally, the MAX retains much of the same: the dual Sabre ES9028PRO DACs, capable of 32-bit/384kHz and up to DSD512 playback. It also has the same 8-core CPU and 4GB of RAM as the DX220. But that's where the similarities end. Armed with a new power supply, the MAX implements separate configurations for the DAC/CPU and the amp circuit. This design helps to isolate noise in the signal path and keeps your music pristine.

The 5-in screen returns with a larger bezel this time, due to the larger chassis, and it's a great screen despite the extra bezel real-estate. Power-wise the DX220 MAX can handle it all. Like the KANN Cube, if you have power-hungry headphones, then this should be a no-brainer. The MAX will provide plenty of juice and quality sound for all your favorite headphones, giving you a good selection of headphone ports as well. iBasso is also generous in their included accessories, making sure you get the most out of your new beast as soon as it's unleashed from the box.

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Sony

About Sony

Sony needs no introduction. The inventor of the Walkman is still innovating and producing some of the best-sounding audiophile gear on the market. Typically a warmer sound signature, Sony DAPs provide great bottom end and fullness to your music. Their high-end DAPs can be pricey, but you're also paying for a product that is single-handedly created to make your music sound the very best it can.


Sony NW-WM1Z Premium Walkman Music Player

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All that glitters is not gold ... but sometimes it really is! The Walkman has come a long way since its inception. The NW-WM1Z Walkman from Sony is quite literally plated in gold, lending a striking, high-end look to this flagship portable digital audio player (DAP). Highs are gorgeous, lows are bountiful, but mids retain a rich and emotive presence. Everything just sounds super clear and natural. There's happiness to the sound, but it doesn't feel contrived.

Now, technically the NW-WM1Z is portable. You can pair it with your favorite IEM or full-size headphone and take it on the go if you choose. But you have to remember that this thing is hefty, and it's also an investment piece. It's probably not something you would choose for a walk in the park. That being said, you could absolutely take it with you when you travel and listen to it in a more static setting. It's also a great choice for the office or home. And with the Bluetooth capability, you can use it with a Bluetooth speaker or in your car. If you're looking to stream music, the NW-WM1Z won't be for you (it doesn't have Wi-Fi). But for the audiophile with a large music library who loves a warm, full, detailed, and organic sound, the Sony NW-WM1Z may be your hi-fi dream come true.

Learn more about the Sony NW-WM1Z Premium Walkman.


Sony NW-WM1A High-Resolution Walkman Music Player

Great Sony sound at a great price. The WM1A is not really a "step-down" in this regard from the flagship Walkman, as there are a lot of comparisons. These Walkman designs are no-nonsense music players concerned with one thing: playing music. Your music to be more specific. Like the flagship, you won't find Wi-Fi or streaming options on this DAP, but it does a great job of cataloging and playing your personal library.

Sony likes to implement its own operating system (OS), so unfortunately the WM1A (and 1Z) are incompatible with audio head units (since they don't implement Android or iOS). But that's where the Walkman shines. It focuses on your music, and having your music with you on a device that is designed to play it well is everything an audiophile could want. For those wanting a warmer sound signature, the WM1A Walkman is going to be a great choice. Battery life: superb. Up to 30 hours on a single charge is something only Sony can claim in the DAP market. Sony's proprietary technology also gives them a sonic boost over the competition with S-Master HX and DSEE HX. S-Master HX digital amp technology cuts distortion and noise across a wide range of frequencies, providing a richer and fuller sound. DSEE HX upscaling technology uses an algorithm to analyze your music and replace any lost information so that the quality is almost high-resolution level. Sony includes five modes to bring out the best in your music.

Learn more about the Sony NW-WM1A High-Resolution Walkman.

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Sony NW-ZX507 Walkman Music Player

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Remember all those things we told you that the NW Walkman's can't do? Well, the ZX507 music player fixes that. Supported by Android, with Wi-Fi for downloading and streaming, the NW-ZX507 Walkman lets you enjoy music from all your sources. The DAP is milled from aluminum, providing a strong frame that is resistant to electrical noise. Low noise floors help to accentuate the low end, in that they don't have to compete with other frequencies in that spectrum. it also means it's much lighter and portable than the other models. Like all Sony DAPs, the ZX507 has a wonderfully warm and lush sound signature, exuding musicality and fullness to your tunes.

The ZX507 has great battery life, lasting up to 20 hours on a single charge. The DAP is also smaller than its other Walkman brothers, with a 3.6-inch screen, but it still has the great side key controls for managing your music playback. With Android, you'll be able to download all your favorite music streaming apps and incorporate your music player into your car system (if you use Android Auto). Overall, it's a great device if you're looking for a warm sound signature and want streaming capability in your DAP.

Learn more about the Sony Walkman NW-ZX507 Music Player.


DAP collection laid out on a table

What to read next:

Digital Music Guide

Music Downloading Guide


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