I'm also skeptical when it comes to audiophile DAPs. Part of the reason is because the 5.5 Gen iPods have one of the top Wolfson DACs in them, and those are available on eBay for not a lot of money. You can load RockBox, and they will handle all of the Codecs of an expensive DAP. And it's easy to upgrade the storage, battery, etc. It's also easy to use an LOD to get better gain staging. So, really, I think this is one of those cases where something is considered better partly because it's more expensive.
That said, I do also have an iRiver H140, and the optical input and output is really handy. I use the optical in to record from a computer (Pandora etc.) without having to mess with rip software. So my iRiver is primarily used as a recording device. The iRiver optical out can be used to an optical DAC, and I do that occasionally, but my 5.5G iPod Video has a better UI and sounds really good, and holds a lot more music.
Sorry to say I completely disagree with you here. I've directly compared the ipod 5G to my former Sflo2 and the Sflo2 crushed the ipod. It's not funny how much better the Sflo2 was than it. The Studio V and DX100 I have are a big improvement even over the Sflo2 so there is absolutely no comparison. You'd have to hear it for yourself to know what I mean. But until you do its all speculation. Keep in mind the Studio V doesn't have the greatest DAC section out there yet it is much better sounding than your run-of-the-mill DAP. So it's not always what's under the hood, but how it is implemented. You can have a great DAC and have crappy internals, which will equate to mediocre sound.
I'm all for saving money and getting the best value (sound), but in this case it's not possible. Also your headphones will be a source of weakness when moving up the chain. If you have crappy headphones/IEMs don't expect the DAP to show you it's true potential either (as well as synergy). With sources such as my iphone4 and Sansa Fuze I use high bit rate mp3s as the difference in sound quality isn't enough to warrant the waste of space. On the DX100 and Studio V I strictly use FLAC as these devices are more revealing and warrant that extra space. To be honest the Sansa and iphone really get no love these days lol as I feel it's a waste of time to downgrade. Unless I'm in a real pinch I'll use them. Since the Studio V has about 55 hours of playback time, I don't see that happening :).
Edited by lee730 - 5/6/12 at 11:11am