I've been using the note 3 with kitkat and viper4android with my um merlins for a few weeks now and I can't remember enjoying my music so much for a very long time. With uncompressed or Hi res sources-well recorded of course, I'd take a well mastered mp3 over a poor 24/192 any day. I've owned and sold numerous daps, starting with the iRiver 140, just about all idevices (which I'm not mad about apart from the origional shuffle and especially algorythm into ALO mk3 which is fantastic) , colorfly C4, HiFiman 801, Ibasso DX 100, Altman tera (most overrated, overpriced of all imho). I've never tried AK and I've just ordered the fiio X5, so can't comment on those.
I have done no A-B comparisons and I can't claim to be an audiophile in the accepted sense. I wouldn't say I'm strictly a basshead either, although I do enjoy lots of it, I also like lots of treble detail, texture etc.. but a fun sound more than a strictly accurate one. The purpose of this post isn't really to compare the note 3 to any of the others, but rather to say what a surprise the audio was to me. I didn't buy it with that in mind and didn't use it for music until I read that it could do 24/192 which I thought was ridiculous for a phone, but as I had bought some Hi res files anyway, I thought I'd give it a try. I then read about viper4android, loaded it and tweaked it to my liking, and was floored.I must qualify this by saying that the great sound was not noticeable on lower level iem's or h/phones, but particularly with the merlins and also the ultrasone ed 8's the level of detail, size of soundstage, prat, musicality, texture,depth and bass slam (which is easy to dial down if you don't like it) is brilliant. I just don't want to stop listening, which is the true test of any setup for me. I'm amazed at how this can scale up to better headphones. My advice to anyone looking at this setup is to forget about external amps or dacs until you've maxed out on headphones or iem's As an example I haven't had a great experience with the atrios mg 7's as they cannot reproduce the added detail or texture . This isn't the blackest of sources but hiss isn't a problem with my iem's. Another thing that's impressed me is the gain settings on viper4android, which completely kills my fun and volume loving ear's need for an external amp. I'll trot out the old cliche that I'm hearing detail I can't remember having heard before in many favourite tracks but that is really what I keep thinking.
An analogy from photography, which I also love, comes to mind. Many photographers are learning that for most situations any modern camera from micro four thirds and up (and sometimes even phone cameras) are good enough for the vast majority of applications. Sure you can get better results from a medium format if you want the weight and hassle(blad), but I think devices like the note 3 have reached a level where I personally will never carry a brick, especially a two or three part brick around ever again, just as I ditched all my dslr equipment for mirrorless.
Please don't take this rant as an attempt to say that this is better than any of the other daps I've mentioned. All I intend is to share my experience and find out if anyone else has had a similar experience. I also don't want to start a debate about the relative merits of various daps-even though I may have said some provocative things.
Thanks for reading.