Advice - cheap DAPs (or even an LG G8?)
Feb 22, 2021 at 4:08 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 12
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Hello all,

I am looking for a DAP so I can have something distraction-free. When I have some time to myself, often washing the dishes at night, is when I get to listen to my music. Nothing holds things up or keeps me stressed like going to change a track and seeing notifications (or just searching things that are on my mind instead of waiting until later).

My budget is very low because my overall budget is low and I'd like to keep a decent pair of IEMs.

I've been looking at the $100-150 range, almost always used.

I'm not looking for something too small as then it's heck to navigate (I'm otherwise a huge Shanling M0 fanboy. If I saw one for $50 like I did last week, I'd get it regardless of size). Something too large becomes a pain to carry around with a separate phone, needs a dedicated pocket free of scratchy objects. Tough in summer.

If I wasn't very fussy about the camera on my phone, I'd probably get an LG phone and be done with it, rather than an old Pixel model. That wouldn't eliminate the distraction issue either, which is a main motivation for a separate device.

Here are my thoughts, please feel free to chime in with any experience or advice:
(Any cellphone options I am imagining getting in functioning condition, ESN wouldn't matter, not planning to use as main device)
  • Most recent idea: LG G8 ThinQ with intact screen off eBay. $110, great quad dac, very customizable and snappy interface. TBH for the money it seems like a no brainer apart from no balanced output? Apparently Meridian tuned the quad ESS Sabre DAC. (Example)
  • Sony NW-A45 I have one on the way that was $110, I play to put a Mr.Walkman firmware on it (and drop him some bucks for a beer!) I am just hoping it won't be hissy for IEMs, one place suggested it might be
  • iBasso DX90 - Ancient, but rugged, the kind of buttons you don't press by accident when adjusting grip or in pocket, trusted sound and noise floor, and by golly a replaceable battery. Disappointed that this is almost always around $150, it doesn't seem to have dropped in second-hand price for years.
  • LG V20 - also replaceable battery, can be around $70, quad DAC, if I get the right model I can use roms/kernels to further perfect it for music playback
  • Hiby R3 Pro - I did buy one within budget second hand and really liked it, unfortunately the buttons had travel issues on the one I bought. Buggy system, and lack of customization (sort by artist instead of album artist for example) it did have balanced output which is impressive!
  • FiiO M9 if I can somehow swing one cheap enough - $160 seems to be the floor so far.
  • Question: Would an old iPhone (original 5S/SE for example) sound as good through the Apple lightning dongle as the newer ones do? That could for sure be an option. Batteries are hecka easy to change on those, too.
One of my favorite dacs I've had the chance to try was an Astell and Kern AK120. Like an iPod without the scroll wheel, loved the ergonomics and music focused feel.

As far as I know power is not an issue, I use IEMs and any DAP I've tried has been considerably louder than a phone. If they can push a Moondrop SSR or Final E4000, they have enough power for me.

A plus: If the model has balanced output (2.5mm or 4mm doesn't matter as I'd be buying a new cable to use it anyway). I've never tried balanced but I would like to keep the option open. Battery life is a big deal to me too, I hate the idea of something needing a daily tether like a phone. Can't be button operation only, unless it has a heck of a wheel for scrolling a-la iPod classics. I don't want to have to tap/hold a button to navigate a long list of artists.


For now I'm just refreshing the source/components classified forum like a hawk, and have some saved searches on eBay at all times, to try to get something at a great value. So bummed I passed up on going in for the iBasso DX160 for $190 earlier this week (no kidding).

Anyone been in the same journey and found an underdog I haven't mentioned? Anyone have a good price on one of these they've ceased to use? I'd love to talk about it all instead of just thinking about it.
 
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Mar 4, 2021 at 10:20 AM Post #2 of 12

543645

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What are you listening too, your own files or streaming? I ask because I found a dx160 for 179 on ebay and its great but lots say its weak on battery / WiFi. I use my own flacs and airplane mode so happy. No replaceable battery only longterm concern so may swap it at some point.

Heard some of the sources you mention, dx160 wins, and no other underdogs I can suggest, but if you're stalking you'll find stuff and can flip it after trying. Unless you already got something?
 
Mar 4, 2021 at 10:34 AM Post #4 of 12
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Hi thanks for the input! My own files preferably, otherwise I'd go down rabbit trails when I should be listening. I have apps on my phone I can use for discovery of new music, when it's something I've intentionally put time aside for.
Battery is an important factor for me, ideally I'd like to be able to pick it up and use it for 3-4 days before any recharging is completely necessary.

While I'd still like to try combining a good dongle dac with my phone, I have a Hiby R3 Pro on the way which has a good sound/battery life/form factor ratio in my eyes. I've tried one before that had faulty buttons, but I liked it apart from that so this other one could well fit the bill. I'm excited to try the balanced output.

I think if I ever transition from DAP to a dongle, it will be a budget constraints matter, freeing up the difference in price for a largely similar result.

I personally did not like the sound profile of the NW-A45, which seems to be a rare opinoin. I may be over generalizing to say "V shaped", but to some extent that's how I hear it, although I can't really put into words the ways it sounds a little "off" to me.
 
Mar 4, 2021 at 10:36 AM Post #5 of 12
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Hi it's funny you mention that, because it's spot on! I just moved back to a Pixel 4A from an iPhone, and I've been using the Focus mode a lot. It really does fit the bill. The only reason this topic is still somewhat relevant now is that the IEMs I'm using don't sound as good as they could through the 3.5mm jack, a good DAC and a little more power, like a DAP provides, completely change them for the better. If I ever downgrade headphones to be more easily driven I think this app would address the distraction issue completely.
 
Mar 4, 2021 at 10:37 AM Post #6 of 12

HipHopScribe

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I'd go for the G8. I've owned Shanling, Fiio and Sony players in this price range and the G8 sounds at least as good or better and is miles ahead in terms of the usability of the UI just by virtue of having a much faster processor and better screen.

As for the lack of balanced, I don't think there's any need or benefit from balanced for most IEMs or portable headphones. If you were using hard to drive headphones on the go then the extra power would be a benefit, but otherwise I don't see any reason to chase a balanced output. The V20 would be a good choice too since you can get an extra battery or a higher capacity battery, but that does get much bulkier at that point.
 
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Mar 4, 2021 at 10:54 AM Post #8 of 12
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I think that's an excellent suggestion for cost and function. Apart from perhaps worrying about the DAC dongle draining my battery too fast, this ticks the most boxes for the least money, and has the fewest moving parts. This was the dongle that came out on top from the research I could do on it, so that's a good confirmation.
:thumbsup:
 
Mar 4, 2021 at 6:40 PM Post #11 of 12

Deolum

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Maybe a simple ipod touch? For this money you won't get anything significant in sound quality anyway so i'd focus on the most comfortable handling and UI and second hand low budget android devices, especially slow daps, can be very frustrating imo.

I have a LG G8X myself and the sound is really not spectacular. The only useful thing is the high impedance mode for headphones above 50 ohm.
 
Apr 5, 2021 at 7:49 AM Post #12 of 12

audiobomber

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Maybe a simple ipod touch? For this money you won't get anything significant in sound quality anyway so i'd focus on the most comfortable handling and UI and second hand low budget android devices, especially slow daps, can be very frustrating imo.

I have a LG G8X myself and the sound is really not spectacular. The only useful thing is the high impedance mode for headphones above 50 ohm.
Sound quality of my G8 ThinQ beats the AK300 I had on loan for a day, using Sennheiser Momentum IE1, Grado GH4 and Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro.
 

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