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The Sad State Of The So Called Audiophile DAP Market

post #1 of 1453
Thread Starter 

Some of you on these boards know me quite well while others have run across my posts on various occasions. Those of you who know me know that, as a general rule, I try my best to never rant, troll, or slam products for the sake of slamming it. As far a brand loyalty is concerned I'm quite an agnostic and will heap praise on a product when I feel it deserves such praise. What companies name may be etched on this product usually has very little bearing on how I would rate a product. I've been active on these boards for over 2 years now and in the span of that time I've witnessed some very innovative products hit the audiophile market as well as some world class duds. I've also shaken my head various times when reading posts from all sorts of people who have heaped praise on certain products all for the cause of overzealous brand loyalty.


Overall, my audio journey, as a whole, has been quite a positive one. I have of coarse run across my own share of duds over the last couple of years and as such I've treated it as a learning experience. My interest/expertise of choice has always centered more around mobile due to a rather busy life. As such, I've made some rather wonderful discoveries in the areas of mobile amps/DAC's, IEM's, CIEM's, and mobile headphones that's served to enrichen my personal life and my love of music. It's that love of music that first lead me here to head-fi and for me it will ultimately always be that love of music that drives me to further explore deeper into this hobby as well as some of the friendly bonds I've fashioned with other users on here who also search out the same experience in this hobby.


Although I've been quite pleased and feel rather lucky to have experienced the joy that comes from witnessing first hand what a nice audio setup can accomplish in music enjoyment it hasn't all been a happy skip down the yellow brick road to the wizards castle. The one area that's been a huge irritant for me has been the so called " boutique audiophile DAP market". For the life of me I can't understand why some of these companies seem to think that it's acceptable to release half finished products and to charge high boutique like prices for players that are far from deserving of the word boutique or great or audiophile. It's not to say I haven't heard great sound from some of these player's that isn't deserving of having the word audiophile attached to their description. Rather, it is to say they don't deserve the title of player, great, or, convenient due to the rather piss poor user experience due to ridiculously incompetent like firmware functionality. As a rule I don't like to rant but after being stung yet a second time by the so called audiophile DAP markets newest players shoddy OS performance I vented the only way I knew how, my YouTube channel.


When I vented and posted the video up I never expected the reactions I would receive. In a span of 1 day my views would hit almost 200 and I would receive a flow of new subscribers. These numbers are a ridiculous pittance in the sea of YouTube's huge sized vloggers but for such a tiny channel as mine they were quite a break from the norm. I also began to receive PM's on my Facebook page from people venting their own concerns and bad experiences with the audiophile market of whom all were people I never talked to before. As such, I've decided to carry the message further and post the video directly onto head-fi in it's own thread. Below is the video I've created showing me venting in not to candid terms. Please watch it and feel free to post your thought on this thread. I know there's enough of us out there who have been left with a bad taste in our mouths over the high prices we've paid for players with shoddy firmware that only makes us want to smash the player against the nearest wall. Please post your honest opinions and let it all out. Let these companies see that we aren't dumb and as such are becoming fed up with second rate players with boutique pricing.


post #2 of 1453

What I am really struggling with, is why players like iBasso and Hifiman get the hard part (hardware) right and the easy part (software) wrong. Anyways I am not so critical but I feel that for a Lamborghini price I should get a Lamborghini, not a Corvette.

post #3 of 1453

So you've finally made the thread. Congrats :D


This might get ugly though.



***Warning - this may get rather vague and referential. I will provide CliffNotes on request***





The Americans here who are well versed in the gentlemanly political circles (and those who have arcane satellite access to channel 249 on DirectTV in the States) will be all too familiar with the known political personality know as Sir Jonathan Stewart, MD. He had coined up a very colorful term. But for the sake of proper forum decorum and in order to make it relevantly apply towards the audio microcosm, let us refer to it as "BullSchiit™(as in the amps) Mountain" from now on.


On BullSchiit™(as in the amps) Mountain, the inhabitants are enablers. They enable the mighty Audio gods of the mountain to do atriocious things. Things that defy every feasible facet of common sense.


The logic of having $1200 plastic boxes the size of bricks and carrying them around shall not be questioned. This is a common occurence on BullSchiit™ (as in the amps) Mountain


$1200 plastic boxes you put inside your pant pockets can overheat along with your $1200 IEMs. Right in your pants. This is another common occurence on BullSchiit™ (as in the amps) Mountain.


The inhabitants must be well-versed in Assembly and have more than 55 years of working experience with COBOL in order to get the firmware working. They must also use arcane button combinations that spell out the word Freemasons in Mayan. Yet another common occurence on BullSchiit™ (as in the amps) Mountain. 


Batteries in these plastic boxes must not perform for more than 10 hours. This is not just a common occurence on BullSchiit™(as in the amps)  Mountain , it has become a basic tenet. 


And I'm sure that the mighty gods have their reasoning unbeknownst to us plebians. I'm sure. And the acolytes, the fully initiated ripe from their 1000 years of meditation in the Altmann cave will have all the time in the world to let me hear it. Perhaps it'll even spawn 200 pages of discussion within the first month. That'd be fun to watch.





Metababblings and prose aside - it shouldn't take a handsome bus driver with an empty wallet to realize these discrepancies. We all have. Apathy is what drives this.


Portability is a compromise - it's in the definition, look it up. And I'm sure it'll be less and less of a compromise as time goes on. But here's the thing: you don't just suddenly jump the gun and rip out the compromising part halfway through. That's just faulty logic. 


Yes, these manufacturers have to find their niche to target in a world already saturated with player choices. And in this case it's an awful niche. Bricks that happen to sound very good but can't do much else - what sot of idiot would want that? But someone must have right?


Or perhaps the manufacturers just decided that this was a thing one day, and we all unwillingly agreed to it. I must have been asleep that day. Lunesta's a female dog. I should try other sedatives.


This time I'm not going to put blame on the manufacturers though. If anything I put blame on the enablers. The ones getting excited with these things. The ones overly eager to buy these things. The ones who think this is acceptable and swallow up the status quo. The ones who ruin it for the others.

The ones who'll eventually ruin it for themselves.


People want an solution? Stop complaining and just stop buying these darned things. (Not directed to DigitalFreak aka DigiHatetheMilklovetheGhettoFreak, I love the guy and he should buy as much stuff as possible) They'll have no choice but to stop making them so bad. That's what happened to New Coke.

post #4 of 1453

Hey, I did try the Studio V (normal edition) and after 10 minutes of fiddling with it, I couldn't get the damn thing to work. I can;t comment on the sound though. 

Please do not give up on the DX50 though. I have it and it runs almost perfectly on firmware 1.1.6 and all the playing bugs are solved. I've been told by iBasso that playlists are coming in on the next update. Yes, they should have made sure everything was good before sending it out, but they were already running late so that's why they sent them out before they had solved the issues. My DX50 syncs to my windows computer every time. Are you by any chance using a Mac? I've heard that the thing is running a type of android or something so maybe that's why it doesn't sync. 

post #5 of 1453

I sold my DX100 PURELY because the software was driving me insane. I had to switch it off always to stop it draining the battery in a few hours, then wait 5-10 minutes for it to start up because I had it loaded with 120GB of music. Listening to music isn't enjoyable when you are constantly fighting with the equipment. Thankfully the AK100 is somewhat better, but i DO have to go through a convoluted process to get my playlists on it from my Mac.

post #6 of 1453
Originally Posted by Mimouille View Post

What I am really struggling with, is why players like iBasso and Hifiman get the hard part (hardware) right and the easy part (software) wrong. Anyways I am not so critical but I feel that for a Lamborghini price I should get a Lamborghini, not a Corvette.

Hardware is much easier if they come from a hardware background(amp, dacs ). It seems like they hired whatever software engineer they could find to do such a monumental task.

All the buggy UI and OS talk has me backing off the products, hence I am going to stick with the classic. I am quite sure if a buggy product is presented to a bigger company such as Sony or Apple, they would be the hot seat. Had an old Sylvania mp3 player for like $30, OS was smooth and had no bugs. Just drop music and go, only real problem it had was it died a year later.
post #7 of 1453

It appears the sound quality we want from these audiophile players come at the cost of unstable or unpleasant user experiences, each audiophile labeled DAP I've owned always had some kind of problem or work around required to make do. We're kind of stuck in limbo because I think a large majority will agree these players do sound rather nice,. It reminds me of people doing just about anything (or putting up with anything) to acquire their search for audio nirvana.  Then some of me says they're small companies focusing on a small market, they don't have the finances or access to make a player 100% stable, then I encounter a problem that was so simple yet over looked and think wtf are they doing?! but that was so simple! How could they get that wrong?! 

I once asked a question on these boards many months ago about why players like Apple and Sansa don't suffer bass roll-off (measure well) yet some audiophile players don't, I couldn't understand if these companies are focusing on making a player for audiophiles why it's not to audiophile standard, (measurements and the whole lust for a flat sound)

ClieOS had a very interesting answer which can be read below, and I think that the answer can in some ways relate to why we're seeing mediocre UI and software.


Edited by H20Fidelity - 9/23/13 at 2:47am
post #8 of 1453

I'll attempt to offer some explanation based on what I have observed over the last few years, and also from talking to a few hardware manufacturer.


On a more national level:


The easily understanding part is that the Chinese, having replaced the Japanese of the 70s~80s and the Taiwanese of the 80s~90s, is now the largest electronic hardware manufacturer in the world. Well, it isn't so much that they actually out do the Japanese and Taiwanese but more to the fact that the Japanese and Taiwanese have moved their factory to China. So after a decade or two of very strong electronics manufacturing development, one thing that the market isn't short of are over-qualified electronics engineers. In fact, the Chinese universities have been pumping out a huge number of hardware engineers over the last two decades because of the demand in the market.


So why are the firmware is still so bad? Well, because there isn't enough software engineers around to write the code. But it isn't as simple as not having enough graduate from universities. If anything, there are more software engineers in China now than any time before. The problem is, as the Chinese internal market has grown stronger and stronger, foreign and domestic companies are now in strong demand of software engineer. The pure manufacturing industry is slowly giving way to the R&D, where companies are now hiring the brilliant local for product R&D instead of just workers on assembly line - and big companies are paying top dollars for experienced software engineer. For an example - I talked to a company representative awhile ago, and he told me they have difficulty hiring good, well experience software engineer to write the software for their product. Whomever is qualified for the job doesn't want to work for them because Foxxcom's (or any big company for that matter) headhunter will offer the same job with much higher payroll. How much higher? Well, much higher than the highest paid person of the company, as I was told. So in a sense, they can't afford to hire well experienced software engineers. They can of course hire lesser experienced, or freshly graduated software engineer, but it take a toll on quality and time - and there is no guarantee that the freshly graduated software engineer won't get offered by the same headhunter for much higher pay once (s)he has enough experience. In short, it is not easy for a small company to hire good people when some of the largest companies in the world is your competition.


Now to a more local level:


All DAP in the market, audiophiles or not, runs on a SoC - a chip that combines CPU, RAM, and all kind of controllers into one unit. A decent Samsung SoC that can run a DAP requires a minimum of 10K units per order. That's far exceeding any local Chinese DAP maker's capability on expected manufacturing quantity, given most of them only make a few hundreds or a few thousands units of the same model at most. Also, the price tag of that 10K order will likely bankrupt most of these DAP maker. Beyond that, there is the question of whether Samsung will actually entertain such a small order - that's because ordering SoC is not just about chip, but also about getting access to the bootloader and basic firmware, which are trade secret. It is a common practice that when you buy an SoC, you are buying a solution, both hardware and software included, and paying for the physical chip is actually a lot easier than asking Samsung to release the code, especially if you are a small company with a tiny order. In most cases, SoC supplier will actually NOT give you the code, but develop the firmware for you (as a package deal for your SoC order). That means you have close to no control on the code but your faith to the SoC supplier that they will commit enough resource to get the job done, or at least iron out the majority of the bugs. Whatever code you have accessed to is also highly likely get locked down by some contract you signed for the SoC order, preventing you to release it to the general public (which is why you don't see every DAP maker running to the RockBox team, as they just legally can't).


So if you can't order your SoC from Samsung or any big SoC supplier because you are a small DAP maker, what do you do? Well, you turn to the local small SoC companies like RockChip, which specializes in the order of a few thousands units. What is the bad? Well, they have been known to have poor support and very limited hardware capability, and in most case you still won't get the code because they are also handling the firmware development for you. Basically it is a bad situation makes worst, but you have to live with it because you have no other option. That's why many of the Chinese electronic manufacturer (not just the DAP makers) employs a fast-in-fast-out tactic - they start making a new hardware based on whatever SoC RockChips (or any other small SoC maker of such) has developed this year, and only offer (if at all) firmware update and support as long as that particular SoC model is still on the market (which means it is about a year or two). That means you won't likely to see all the bugs getting fixed because RockChips has moved to something newer and won't bother to proactively fixing bugs for the manufacturer - If you are an electronics manufacturer, that's your cue to move onto a new model as well. 'Keep it cheap and keep it new' is how most of them survive, because 'latest and greatest' makes money; software maintenance doesn't. Unfortunately that situation applies to the audiophile DAP maker just as much to any small electronics manufacturer in China. You don't have the software engineering team of your own to do the job and the SoC supplier is more happy to sell you a new chip than to answer your phone call for more bugfix.


That being said, a more recent trend is for the the DAP to find SoC supplier that are willing to commit to a longer relationship or at least partially release the code. There is a reason why HiFiman and FiiO both went to the same SoC supplier and able to have their own firmware written in house. Another trend is to adapt Android as it is open-sourced. iBasso does that, though they still stuck in the hole I called RockChips and Andorid isn't really optimized for pure audio purpose. However, the biggest obstacle, as far my opinion goes, is still the lack of a good in-house software team for most of them - and that's harder to fix than choosing a new SoC supplier. It is getting better, but there is still a long way to go before any Chinese DAP maker is able to stand up to the Korean / American in firmware maturity.


Well, I hope these explanation at least partially addresses the OP's question.

Edited by ClieOS - 9/23/13 at 3:40am
post #9 of 1453

Well written!

post #10 of 1453
Originally Posted by Currawong View Post

I sold my DX100 PURELY because the software was driving me insane. I had to switch it off always to stop it draining the battery in a few hours, then wait 5-10 minutes for it to start up because I had it loaded with 120GB of music. Listening to music isn't enjoyable when you are constantly fighting with the equipment. Thankfully the AK100 is somewhat better, but i DO have to go through a convoluted process to get my playlists on it from my Mac.


Tell me about it! I have well over 200 playlists and I recently updated a lot of my music rooting out loudness wars crap. I do not want to go through the BS to add these files to the playlists and removing the older files from the playlists :(. I wish iRiver would get their act together and get properly working playlists. For me it is a very important aspect to a DAP. :(


Sound quality has always been paramount for me but this is getting very old and these manufacturers need to get with the times.... Stop releasing half-baked crap and the price gouging.....

post #11 of 1453
Whats the life expectancy of a 200usd dap for everyone? 3 years is good enough for me
post #12 of 1453
Originally Posted by CosmicHolyGhost View Post

Whats the life expectancy of a 200usd dap for everyone? 3 years is good enough for me


I still have my Sony player s738f..so 5 years is good enough for me..which means I am on the lookout for a DAP to be with me for 5 years again!
post #13 of 1453
Originally Posted by Mimouille View Post

What I am really struggling with, is why players like iBasso and Hifiman get the hard part (hardware) right and the easy part (software) wrong. Anyways I am not so critical but I feel that for a Lamborghini price I should get a Lamborghini, not a Corvette.

Perhaps because the software part is NOT easy?

You are describing two different skill sets, often talents that are not in the same person.
post #14 of 1453

Why doesn't Rockbox start licensing their product to these DAP makers (like Windows does for PCs)? We'd get a better, stable OS and the cost of DAPs will be lower because each company wouldn't have to reinvent the UI wheel.

post #15 of 1453

I think another reason for the current state of audiophile DAPs and their software is that in the Asian market the consumers seem to care more about just good sound and the UI can be very simple as long as it works. That's why if you read, for instance, fiio x3 impressions and opinions of Chinese consumers you'll see that they mainly comment on the sq and don't complain about the stuff Western consumers, which are used to ipods and their smartphones, complain about - probably most of them just use the browse folder option and that's perfectly fine for them.

With that said, I foresee that soon things might change for the better. For instance, Vsonic's CEO said multiple times he wants to make a world-class DAP with good UI and he seems to be set on that. According to him, he has hired a very experienced team of foreign software engineers to work on it instead of just going with the options available in the local market. While I won't keep my expectations high at such an early stage of development I really do hope they can pull it off and soon we have the first Chinese audiophile DAP that can compete usability-wise to the the Western consumer-oriented products.

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