As a headphone enthusiast who likes to run with an external amp while remaining "portable," I have no interest in a DAP with built-in headphone amp. I'm only interested in a well-built DAP with a card reader, a bug-free UI, a good 96/24-capable DAC and an analog Line Out jack.
That doesn't exist, but my Sony PCM-M10 recorder/player comes very close with its a MicroSD card reader, an absolutely error-free UI (noteworthy for being at firmware version 1.0.0), gap-less playback of MP3 and WAV up to 96/24 (via its proprietary sigma-delta DAC), and a 3.5mm TRS Line Out jack.
The $214.00 (currently) Sony PCM-M10 is mass-produced, and thus, offers build quality, reliability, and ergonomics the likes of which we will likely never see from any of the small companies who are dishing out half-baked "audiophile" DAPs.
Yes, it's a recorder, with mics and pre-amps I really don't use. But how is that so much different from buying a DAP that has a headphone amp I don't use? And besides, we're talking $200 for something that works as designed, right out of the box, vs. a lot more money for something that has you downloading firmware updates right up until the day the device is discontinued - never really fixing all the bugs!
I recently bought a refurbished HM-801 (my first-ever HiFiMan purchase), on the assumption that with the release of the HM-901, I would not suffer the pain and anguish of an early adopter, but... Even with the last firmware revision (v1.23), the HM-801 had me jumping through a lot of hoops just to get it to play 44.1/16 and 96/24 files without popping loudly between tracks. It's bad enough that the HM-801 doesn't offer gap-less playback, but the loud pops (and sometimes, double-pops) between tracks was unbearable. Three days later, having figured out on my own, with no responses from Head-Direct or HiFiMan support, that only WAV files cause the popping, I spent an entire Saturday, using dbPoweramp to batch-convert my entire SD card library from WAV to FLAC. But then, having put the FLAC files back onto the same FAT32-formatted 64GB cards on which my WAV files had resided, I discovered that the total number of FLAC files per fully-loaded 64GB card exceeded the capacity of the HM-801s internal database - it would lock up during the scan of the 64GB card, forcing me to power down to reset the HM-801. (The HM-801 had scanned those same FAT32 64GB cards without difficulty when the total file count was less with WAV files instead of FLAC files.) Then I spent several more hours at my computer, loading all of my FLAC files onto 32GB SD cards - and could only then, finally play the HM-801 without popping between tracks, with both 44.1/16 and 24/96 files.
Then and only then, was I ready to start actually using the HM-801, to discover its battery life is deplorable! My Sony PCM-M10 gives me 35 hours of Line Out playback on a single pair of AA NiMh Eneloop batteries. No brainer!
Lastly, I did a lot of A/B testing of the Line Outs and concluded that the HM-801 implementation of PCM1704U-K DACs doesn't offer enough of a sound quality advantage over the Sony PCM-M10's proprietary DAC to warrant putting up with all the problems that accompany using the HM-801! What a relief it was to invoke HiFiMan's 30-day refund policy and get back to using my spectacular PCM-M10! I loaded everything back to WAV on my 64GB MicroSD cards and was good to go!
Sony has recently released (in China and Japan) a US $980 big brother to the Sony PCM-M10...
The Sony PCM-D100
To start with, just look at the build quality compared to the stuff we for which we pay equal or higher amounts, from the likes of HiFiMan or iBasso!
And this bad boy will no doubt work perfectly, right out of the box. It could end up being at firmware revision 1.0.0 forever, just like the PCM-M10.
And get this: It supports gap-less playback (and recording) in WAV, FLAC, and other formats, at resolutions up to 192/24, plus DSD -and- it has native support for SDXC-formatted cards!
With its combo TRS and optical Line Out, I can't wait to get my hands on one of these! I don't care that its UI is designed for recording more so than for playback, as I've been using the PCM-M10 UI for nearly three years, now and don't find it to be lacking in any way. I don't need playlists, shuffle, etc.
No date has yet been announced for its release in the Americas, but I will gladly be an early adopter of this puppy, to run with my current "transportable" rig. (And I might even make a few recordings with it!)
HPRC 2400F case, with Touch shown for scale.
Edited by zilch0md - 10/1/13 at 3:30pm