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Do I REALLY need a DAP?

post #1 of 18
Thread Starter 
I'm struggling with a serious case of upgraditis! Over the past 18 months, I've spent some hard earned on upgrading IEMs. Starting with a couple cheaper V-Moda phones I've gone, Ety HF-3 > UE TripleFi 10 > Shure SE535 > Westone 4R > Shure SE535LE (red ones). I also have some Bose QC15s for travel and Shure 840s for monitoring my keyboard practice to save my neighbour relations.

For music listening which I guess I spend about 10-15 hrs per week, I use my smartphone mostly. I recently updated from an iPhone 4S to iPhone 5. I mostly listen to Jazz, Indie, and 70s rock plus some classical. While my favourite albums are mostly mp3 ripped at 320kps, I recently Rockboxed an old iPod Classic and have re-ripped many in flac. I can listen to them on the iPhone using Accudio Pro which does seem to offer pretty fair EQ options too. But I also listen to Rhapsody and Pandora for variety. I do have a Fiio E17 DAC but only use this at home. I don't carry with me for airplane use and the like. It seems a good unit but frankly I can't really hear much difference to the headphone outs of my current sources.

Recently, my upgraditis has me wondering if I should purchase a decent DAP. Been considering a Cowon Z2 or Sony NWZ1070. But could also consider iBasso DX100. Trouble is, the iPhone is just so convenient and both it and RB'd iPod sound pretty darn good. And of course as good as the W4Rs are (my favourite IEMs), although some would say get customs, I am unlikely to do that anytime soon.

I've pretty much read most threads on these DAPs and I just don't seem to ba able to draw a conclusion that the sound quality of any DAP is going to be that much superior to my sources. There is just an apparent lack of emperical data and objective comparisons to guide me. Another reason I am skeptical about jumping further is my hearing is no longer what it once was with some serious loss in higher frequencies and about 30% overall.

So, guys, I'd really value some thoughts you might have one way or the other as to whether a DAP is justified by a very noticeable improvement in playback, or is it like using a higher end computer chip. The price seems out of proportion to the benefits they bring...? I mean I just wonder if I will REALLY notice a big improvement or just another way to blow money? Help me please?

post #2 of 18

If you are happy with the sound of your phone and current player, then why upgrade? I use a $35 Sandisk Clip+ player most of the time. The sound quality is quite good, however the battery life is only around 12 hours. I could buy a Cowon C2 for $145 to get more battery life, however I use some cheap usb battery packs instead to boost battery life.


There will allways be better sounding equipment. The real question is whether you enjoy what you are using now or not.


Lately I have become more appreciative of the cheap stuff that works quite decently(the Clip+ player, JVC HA-S160 headphones, etc.)

post #3 of 18
I notice definite improvements between my sources, I take it rather seriously.

I have about eight DAP's here, I'm buying a 9th next week. Each one vary's in sound quality to my ears, they all have their own signatures and flavour, I believe if you have decent IEM's you're limiting their potential by not feeding them a decent source. Of course the rule of upgrading your headphones gives the most improvements, what's the point if your source is weak? Differences in sources are a little harder to detect than IEM's. It works in a similar field though harder to pick up changes.

Main changes in DAP's are soundstage, dynamics, separation, timbre, detail, stereo, layering, transparency, imaging, (similar properties to headphones). The stage widens gains height, dynamics become energetic, detail and micro detail has correct placement, the left / right channels actually gain depth similar to centre channel staging, clarity improves, attack, the ability to hear EVERY instrument separately without intruding on each other through well layered samples. Bass gains great detail, separating completely from the mids and highs.

As you can see this is just the tip of what a source does, but what happens is everything works together to create a presentation. I believe a source is 40% possibly more of your listening experience. I also think a lot of people don't know what to listen for, hence we get "they sound basically the same"

IMO even a $100 Colorfly C3 will out do your iphone5 and ipod easily.
Edited by H20Fidelity - 12/25/12 at 11:58pm
post #4 of 18

All that for 15hrs per week eek.gif.  Not worth it.  You probably won't even notice a difference (besides placebo).


Which ipod classic do you have?  I know my 5.5g sounds pretty amazing and from what I've read the iphones and ipod 5.5g are some of the better portable sources available.  Of course that is based mostly on this forum so take with a grain of salt.


Honestly I think just the convenience of having your phone as your source makes it not worth having to carry something else around.  If you really want to upgrade something get a DAC for your computer at home.  Since it doesn't sound like you listen at home much that would be pointless though.


A piece of friendly advice though, the cure to upgraditis is to delete headfi from your bookmarks redface.gif.  Seriously, if you don't want to spend anymore on this stuff just forget about everything on here and enjoy what you have wink.gif.

post #5 of 18
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the replies so far guys... And of course the differences of each is exactly the reason I am unsure of the real situation. In particular the last two posts seem to highlight the dilemma. The confusion arises because opinion on iPods and iPhones as adequate or even good sources vary greatly, yet no none seems able to quantify how much worse they are than a dedicated DAP. Worse, I can't simply audition alternative sources with my music here,

Yes, 15 hours doesn't seem much, but when I do I like quality. And actually my listening environments are 75% at home, 10% while exercising and 15% while traveling. At home, I use my AV receiver and speakers for an hour or so each night and then change to headphones later in the evening to give my neighbours and wife a break. Then I like listening via a portable source as I can get up and move about without being tethered to an amp. Even when I use the amp, I'm using a digital source as the storage of my music collection is so accessible that way from either tha NAS or via AirPlay, or our Sonos service. So a decent DAP is appealing IF it is discernibly better than the iPod or iPhone when privately monitoring. BTW, the iPod is a 6G 80gb Classic I think, although some seem to refer to this as a 1G Classic as the predecessor seems to be the iPod Video if I have the series correctly identified. As I said this is Rockboxed, but since I usually listen to my music flat EQ'd I doubt I am getting any if at all difference to the apple firmware but I can listen to Flac lossless this way.

As far as expense goes, I am 60 and well enough off that spending a few dollars on my hobby is not really a consideration. But I am respectful of money enough that I don't like wasting it either. So long as I get something like a 10-15% improvement that can be detected, I am okay. My othe reconsiderations are that the storage is reasonable given I use flac and 320kps MP3sas sources and don't really want to be constantly uploading albums to the DAP. That adds to the dilemma here in Australia. Sony, only sells the 16gb Z series Walkman. And it has no storage upgrade path. Stupid in my view. And the Android 2.3 OS on each of the Cowon Z2, Walkman Z and iBasso DX100 is variously described as clunky and slow and so on. Certainly my iPhone 5 is brilliant in terms of a convergent device. If the sound is comparable to a High end DAP I wouldn't bother. I wouldn't bother with a low end DAP either simply because I am looking for perfection and that's the very reason I've purchased so many IEMs. I should have just started with the Shures or one of the Westones right from the beginning. I intend to avoid this with the DAP.

One I have just got in my sights today is the iRiver, Astell & Kern AK100. This is clearly built for one purpose. HQ audio. No video, camera, photos, wifi, web browsing, phone, or all the other stuff my iPhone does perfectly. Just audio and with what seems to be a decent Wolfson DAC chip and small form factor. Plus 2 micro SD slots on top of 32gb on board. The reviews I have found all describe its audio as top drawer, and one can change volume, pause and navigate tracks via buttons and a knob without relying on a touch screen although it has that too. It doesn't come with headphones and all the other bells and whistles, so although expensive at $700.00, hopefully all the money goes into audio reproduction.

So here I am ready to spend that sort of money but the levelling comment is from one reviewer (PCMag) who while lauding its sound quality, flattens my enthusiasm with this and I quote:

"But up against lossless 16-bit/44.1KHz tracks coming out of an iPhone 5 with the same headphones, the AK100 sounds just a *little* better. Today's Android and iOS devices come with high quality headphone jacks and amps inside."

Now I can't see why this device wouldn't sound on par with say the DX100 iBasso given the many favourable reviews of its SQ, but if correct, this reviewer's take is exactly the reason I question the "value" proposition over my iPhone.

H2Ofidelity is a member whose opinions I highly regard given the many posts of his I've read on his forum, and clearly supports buying a DAP, even a cheap one like the C2 Colorfly, yet I can't see why I'd bother unless it sounds every bit as good as one of the high cost ones playing 16bit lossless and again significantly better (by that I mean easily discernable) over my Apple devices.

So H2O, which of these would deliver to my expectation based on the foregoing, Colorfly C2 or CK4, Cowon X7, X9 or Z2, Sony NW-Z1070 (Japanese 64gb model), iBasso DX100 or the Astell & Kern AK100, or stay with my current Apple iPod and iPhone? Or choose something else altogether?

Anyone else who wants to chime in, please do....

Thanks in advance.
post #6 of 18
Unfortunately Astell & Kern AK100 is seriously flawed, there's a problem with AK100 high output impedance making it unsuitable for IEM's.

We have a whole thread with people running wild talking about that problem past months since release. One member in particular has begun doing modifications lowering the output impedance to 1ohm last I recall. If you read the thread you will soon understand it's to be avoided, only suitable for fullsize headphones or using the line out for amping in an IEM situation. I think if you're prepared to spend that kind of money and want the ultimate experience ibasso DX100 is the best choice. I mean, as you said you're wanting to avoid the trouble of several small increases. Basically ibasso DX100 is king of the hill, nothing can really touch it, considering you're willing to spend that much I recommend the DAP.

There are other choices like Hisound Studio V 3rd ANV for around $450, they can be found online at Noisy Motel in Victoria, That gives you another option to read up on. I don't know if Colorfly C3 is what you're looking for, I think we may need to excel past that tier completely. I believe it will give the 10% 15% increase you want though I cannot stop thinking about your willingness to spend enough on AK100, may as well be a DX100.

The Colorfly CK4+ would be a good option and going at $180 online sounds wonderful, though I cannot recommend the player due to a problem I discovered between it's internal and external memory sounding slightly different. I also think after my comparison between C3 and CK4 my opinion on the players stands (I prefer C3)

See, this really becomes out of my hands, because I haven't heard Studio V 3RD ANV or DX100, though I have good friend here who owns both and for that reason I recommend you contact him with any questions you have, he also knows more about why exactly AK100 is not suitable for IEMs. It's out of my reach now when you're willing to spend this much. So I'm going to send you to the big guns. Something you want to get right and I will not give false guidance.

They call him Lee......cool.gif Give him PM msg.


I'm sorry I cannot help you any further.
Edited by H20Fidelity - 12/27/12 at 3:56am
post #7 of 18
Thread Starter 
Really appreciate that input.... Started to go through that long thread to check out the story. Be a shame if the AK100 cannot be adequately used with my IEMs. I must admit without yet reading the relevant posts I am wondering why there should be a problem. My SE535s are rated at 36ohm and the W4R are 31. IRiver actually recommend the SE425s which are dual BA IEMs vs triple and quads for the 535 and W4R respectively. I guess it will become clear as I read on,

Of course, my E17 does have optical in so I could get around it if necessary with that and I am really thinking the DAP is for home use rather than out and about when my iPhone would be with me anyway. Some reading and thinking to do...

At least I now think I have to reconsider the iBasso.

Thanks again
post #8 of 18

hey im in similar situation, i owned the ipod classic latest generation+fiio e17, now it belongs to my little brother. i just ordered the ibasso dx100 today, i also wanted to skip upgrading a little at a time for daps because its troublesome, unlike upgrading amps and headphones which can be fun. i basically wanted the best dap and nothing else. and about lee, he has the dx100 now and is selling it so contact him for more info. he also uses iems and hes looking forward to maybe buying the rwa modded ak100 so you may want to look into rwa modded ak100 as well. i myself use only full sized headphones so ibasso dx100 should be a better choice for me, i read that the amp on the ibasso is stronger and ibasso has a more likable sound signature, so thats why i went with dx100. i think a good place to check out reviews for daps is headfonia. good luck to you smily_headphones1.gif

post #9 of 18
Thread Starter 
I have done a bunch of reading on this high output impedance issue, not just on the AK100 but on the so-called 1:8 rule. And the more I read and experiment I am drawing the conclusion that there is some hysteria about this. Bear in mind this is a conclusion I've drawn from others inputs not from any qualified expertise. But I think most of us on Head Fi qualify as armchair experts rather than audio engineers although some of the posts that support my conclusions are from qualified persons and that's why I have out my faith in my findings.

Please understand, H2O, I am not having a go at you. Your warning was very much appreciated and welcome as you realise I don't want to waste my money and I am sure much of the concern is valid where people may use very low impedance IEMs with the AK100 and even iRiver warn against that. And I wouldn't like to destroy some $400 IEMs I can tell you. The warning has caused me to read more on the topic an will help me with my choice.

Fact: My Yamaha RX-A3000 receiver has a headphone output impedance of 100ohms. I've used it from time to time but admittedly not a lot as I don't like running cables across the floor. Now I've used for the most part my Shure HRH840 full size phones with it. That's only 44ohms. Driving 100 through it has never caused an issue with them. So I've tried a bunch of IEMs through it this morning and not a moment's concern nor am I getting strange soundstage and the like.

And doing some more reading and research, my AV is pretty normal with older amps having much more. Some apparently upwards of 4-500!

As one guy said I the older amps with modern headphones thread, too many people seem to be listening with their eyes rather than their ears.

Now back to my DAP. If the iBasso DX100 was without its issues, it would be a no brainier. But there's heaps of people with issues with it too. And frankly its bigger than I would want to carry around. Plus I just don't need all the fluff that comes with it. The AK100 is just so right sized and there seems to be enough good comments to counter the doubters to give it a try. So I have one coming. Will report back here and on the AK100 thread with my thoughts including my view on the impedance issue.
post #10 of 18
Regarding AK100 take a look at these charts. What the high 21ohm output impendance does is mess up the normal frequency response of low impedance IEM's. Take a look at TF10 and how it measures on AK100 compared to DX100. if the player wasn't flawed people wouldn't be doing drastic mods to correct it.. I follow the thread closely and I won't touch that player with a 10 foot pole for low impedance IEM's. Ask Lee as I mentioned, he's on there more than I am always talking about. Make sure you read the whole thread before coming to conclusion just to be safe. smile.gif

Here's the graphs. Look how it measures with low impedance IEM's.


Also we were thinking, check out Colorfly C4 as an option for you. That is Colorflys flagship model.

Sorry for being breif, I'm rather busy right now.
Edited by H20Fidelity - 12/27/12 at 9:00pm
post #11 of 18

You only listen to your DAP 15 hours a week? That's not much.

Admitedly I live right out in the sticks with no neighbours.... if similar and If you spend a lot of time at home I'd probably just save the money and put it towards a well considered seperates 5.1 system.

Mine consists usually of my Sony X-series Dap as main source with a pre amp line out (LOD) to a creative X-dock, this creates a 5.1 DTS signal transferred optically via toslink to my Onkyo 5.1 Amp (130w each channel), the sub is active 150w. I use a pair of old classic Pioneer CS-363? iirc as my 2 main (FL & FR) speakers and simply use the small onkyo satelite speakers for the high frequency surround imaging. I cant begin to describe how amazing it sounds... hair standing up on the back of your neck stuff, especially when calibrated correctly, Bang for buck is second to none.  You could build this for less than £250 buying second hand and no Dap/Iem combo could ever compare with it....


I just need to get myself a generator/invertor, rig up some telescopic speaker stand goose necks and modify a supermarket trolley to make it all portable. wink.gif

Edited by Ari33 - 12/28/12 at 4:10pm
post #12 of 18
Most of your headphone equipment seems to be high grade IEMs which which are great for travelling as are your noise cancelling Bose QC15. If you listen a lot at home would not a reference set of headphones give much more sound quality ie. Sennheiser HD650s? I used to have a 6th generation iPod Classic and I really disliked its sound. It seemed best with IEMs if a bit too much colour/bass and horrible with over the ear headphones, lacking bass/clarity too much distortion etc. I much prefered my iPod 5th generation with over the ear headphones although this is not in the same leauge as my Nationite S:Flo2 which you can't buy these days. Do you not prefer you Shure 840s for listening with your iPhone? That AK100 interests me although it is too expensive, it says it is the first portable device with a Wolfson WM8740. I've got two of them in my S:Flo2. I think a dedicated DAP might improve home listening with over the ear headphones but not listening while travelling with IEMs. The problem is relatively few high quality DAPs these days. I've never heard the Hifiman Hm601/801 players but they should provide a good source. A player with true line-out capability like the Teclast T51 gives fine sound quality if you can find one to buy. But HIFI DAPs are a minefield with many claiming the ultimate sound quality with large compromises and high prices.
post #13 of 18
Thread Starter 
These are all good points that deserve comment from my perspective...

Our climate here is very warm and humid. Cans are just too hot to wear for lengthy periods. The Shure 840s are a great can but my main reason for having them is as monitors for private playing and practice on my keyboards...I'm a home only musician. These give as flat and natural a sound as I could find. I mostly use the QC15s on long haul flying. About 4-5 trips per year. But in recent times I've found good isolating IEMs like my W4Rs and SE535s do a pretty good job of keeping most unwanted noise out and infinitely more comfortable than full cans. The reason I've had so many IEMs is because real enjoyment of good IEMs started with the TripleFi Pro 10s and while I was quite happy with them, I tried out the 535s on a trip to the US 18mths ago and liked them better. I only got my W4rs in September again while in the US. I purchased the special edition 535s even more recently and passed my bronze ones on to my wife. I mostly toss between the SE535SE and W4Rs depending on mood and music. The Westones are superior for classical and instrumental while the vocals are the territory for the Shures for me.

I have an AK100 on the way so I may as well try that out now. I read though most of the long thread on it and no disrespect to H2Os mate Lee but I feel he is caught up in technicalities seems to be disregarding people who own this DAP and too stuck on this impedance issue when he hasn't either heard them IIRC or at least tried different IEMs. Not saying charts lie, but I have looked at a few and I think many comments about high frequency variations can be discounted because the average human adult hearing is between 40Hz and about 12KHz. Note that most music and percussion is in the range of 40Hz and about 4KHz (the highest note on a piano is only 4,000Hz. Above 12KHz, most of us won't hear anything anyway. I note that much of the graphs provided are fine in normal hearing ranges.

I'll know tomorrow...

As I said earlier, some seem to be listening with their eyes rather than their ears. I'll soon know if I've made a mistake...
post #14 of 18
I never thought about the climate on the Gold Coast. Listening with your eyes as you put it is something most people do. As I've commented before you only really find out what a DAP is when you plug it in. I have some Shure SE425s and find them a little less comfortable than cans but I live in a colder climate. Hope th AK100 is a pleasant surprise, the Wolfson WM8740 is a great DAC. Unusual that it has 2 microsd slots. One with microsdxc would have done. It seems a little mean to only supply 32GB internal on a player at this price especially one designed to use Flac high resolution files. Small capacity and massive files seems to be the way.
post #15 of 18
Thread Starter 



Been living with my AK100 for a few days now and so far I like what I have bought. H2OFidelity, I appreciate why you warned as you did but my listening experience has not been like the warnings in the AK100 thread. Frankly, I found the 90 pages hard going because there was a heap of OT posts and very few from anyone who owns one. So everything tended to be subjective opinion and not very constructive. I may do a more comprehensive review sometime in the future, but in the meantime I have posted a none too flattering reply in the AK100 thread which sums up my findings and my opinions. I don't see why I should not join in seeing as opinions are like a##holes, every body's got one... here's my take... post #1341


Cheers all and Happy New Year.

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