After the release of the Apple iPod and subsequent cultural shift it created, having access to an entire music library in your pocket has become not only acceptable, it is the new status quo. Commonly known simply as mp3 players (or even just iPods to younger folks), digital audio players (DAPs) are designed to play digital audio tracks that come in a number of file formats. Mp3 files are obviously the most popular, but most DAPs also play WAV, FLAC, and WMA files.
Compared to devices that play analog formats (cassette tapes, vinyl records) DAPs are ultra-portable, sleek, and easy to use. Imagine having to lug around a record player to share your friend’s mixtape. There is such demand for DAPs of all shapes, sizes, and functions, that the market has exploded. Everyone is familiar with the most popular DAPs, like the iPod, and may even remember the short lived and regrettable “Zune” line of products. But there are products out there designed for serious audiophiles that you simply won’t believe (and probably have never heard of).
While Apple and Samsung publicly unveil every iteration of their devices, some serious mad scientist stuff is going on in the world of ultra high fidelity audio. Here are four types of digital audio players represented by the best products available today.
Apple iPod ($200-$400)
Okay, yes you already know everything about the iPod. But to put it into context, the iPod is the pinnacle of affordable, lightweight digital audio players. And surprisingly, it wasn’t even close to the first one on the market. It was preceded by a number of mp3 players from the laboratories at At&T, Rio, Creative, and Eiger. The first generation iPod was released in 2001. The first prototype DAP was actually created way back in 1979 by British Scientist Kane Kramer, though his product was never made commercially available.
iPods rely on a world famous user-friendly interface, connectability, and multi-functionality. They support most common file types for music, podcasts, and audiobooks. Most importantly, they are designed around the use of apps which cover everything from calorie counters to games. They are ubiquitous, incredibly popular, and a great option for everyday music listeners who want a device that can do it all.
Astell & Kern SP1000 ($3,500)
Now this, I bet you were not expecting. If you are familiar with everyday mp3 players, the most expensive you may have heard of is $1000 for an iPhone X. And I bet you thought even that was wholly unreasonable. But if you are a true audiophile in pursuit of sound quality that if you closed your eyes could be a live musician in your living room, then the folks at Astell & Kern are designing products that are worth getting giddy about. Why does this thing cost as much as a used car?
The SP1000 represents a whole class of state-of-the-art digital audio players that are dedicated to playing ultra high quality music tracks. We are talking studio quality and beyond studio quality uncompressed music files of any type. Ever wanted to stand in the middle of a philharmonic orchestra while they perform Beethoven’s 5th? This will do the trick. It boasts not one, but two digital analog converters, to improve the sound quality for each stereo speaker or headphone you are using. The list of specs and features is endless. But to truly understand, you will have to try it out for yourself.
Roon Nucleus ($1400)
The wizards over at Roon have put together a pretty amazing DAP that starts to push the envelope of software integration integration. The Roon Nucleus is designed with a proprietary Linux OS custom built dedicated just to playing music. The magic if the Nucleus is that it is designed to interface with any and all other music software AND hardware products you already have. It can connect to wireless speakers, CD players, home entertainment systems and more. The built in smart software accesses your subscription music services like TIDAL, Spotify, or Apple Music to house them all in one place. Additionally, the Nucleus excels at providing top quality formats and playback to your music. If you love the look and feel of sleek wireless headphones and speakers, the Roon Nucleus accommodates that style while still scratching that itch for amazing audio.
Bryston BDP-2 ($2695)
The Bryston BDP-2 does one thing, and does it very well. You guessed it: Play high quality music. Other DAPs on this list have multiple functions, or are optimized for portability. The BDP-2 stays in its lane and focus all design energy towards optimizing the next track in your playlist. This DAP can play tracks of any format off of USB flash drives or hard drive discs. Obviously by the shape and appearance, this player is meant for home use and has to stay plugged in. No taking this guy to the beach. Heads up: The BDP-2 does not have an integrated digital analog converter, hence the (relatively) low price tag. Pick up the BDP-2 if you are a hardcore audiophile that is looking to upgrade your DAP but already have the gear to support it.
The world of hi-fi audio is expansive. To really understand the benefits, it takes a little bit of research and time. But for those among us who can truly appreciate the outstanding quality, lucky you. There is a multitude of awesome players and other hardware options out there to suit your every need.
Do you own a DAP? Tell us a bit about what device you use. Do you like it? Would you recommend the same device to others? Leave a comment and share your thoughts in the section below.