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DAP / DAC Dilemma

  1. atCodus
    Afternoon all! Apologies for the incoming wall of text.

    TLDR: i'm looking for a DAP <£250 with as much versatility (BT receiver, USB DAC, Spotify) as possible at the best price that gives me the ability to run a variety of IEM and headphones well. Music of choice is FLAC and Spotify Premium, listening to rock, metal, metalcore, EDM. Leaning towards the much cheaper end of the scale (£130) to pick up an M6 as an interim solution as it seems better than an ES100, just slightly bigger with no balanced out.

    I have recently started moving my music collection to FLAC (was poorly encoded MP3) and also have a Spotify Premium subscription. Not really interested in Tidal as it doesn't play nice with my car audio system. I currently listen on my Galaxy S10+ through Fiio FA7's while out and about, and ATH M50X when at my home desk through a Creative Labs E3 only because my old gaming headset wouldn't reach from the back of my PC to my head.

    I am looking to expand my IEM and headphone collection, so started researching what was out there that I might like to try (including balanced) and quickly found that the S10+ is probably not powerful enough to decently or cleanly drive some nicer IEM or headphones. I started looking at USB DACs and quickly found that the Exynos S10+ is a bit temperamental and may or may not work with a DAC. A few more weeks past and then I decided that the primary reason for me wanting something else is that when i'm commuting / travelling (which is daily) I constantly have to take my phone out of my pocket and the IEM cable is getting annoying. My boarding card or travel ticket is on my mobile, as is my coffee chain app and my contactless bank card. With the IEM cable under my jacket I usually have to unplug the headphone cable or unzip my jacket to get the phone near where it needs to be. Either way I end up looking like a weirdo.

    As a result of the convenience issue and the possible USB DAC issue, I started looking at bluetooth receivers, namely the ES100 and BTR3 as the two most recommended going. ES100 wins on paper hands down, but is double the price, so I started looking at what else I could get around the price of an ES100. Enter the Shanling M0, and then the Fiio M6, HiBy R3, Fiio M9 and Shanling M2X and every other DAP known to man. My though process was:

    • BTR3 is the cheapest option, removes the wire but doesn't give me much headroom to buy new toys;
    • ES100 is better than BTR3, adds balanced output, but is double the price;
    • The Shanling M0 is cheaper than the ES100 in the UK, and can act as a standalone player as well, but loses balanced and would need to be a BT receiver for Spotify;
    • The M6, while slightly less powerful than M0, offers native Spotify so can ditch the phone completely;
    • HiBy R3 seems reviewed as a comparison to M6, and adds balanced (at a cost) and loses native Spotify;
    • Fiio M9 is cheaper and more powerful than the HiBy R3 on paper, but bigger and is Android (drawback?);
    • Shanling M2X is new to market but looks good on paper. Too soon to tell / buy.
    • Fiio M11 juts seems too expensive to justify right now.

    So, from all of that I am leaning more towards the Fiio M6 or M9, purely because they offer what I think I need and I don't think I want to stretch to the M11 as a first DAP. Not ruling out anything at this stage, but would certainly like to keep things under £250 if I could. Native Spotify would be a high plus point, which is why Fiio seem to be ahead of everything else I've listed. I am half-tempted to save money now, get the M6 and use it as an upgrade path, possibly buying a USB DAC down the line for it.

    What is everyone's thoughts / recommendations? Is it a stupid idea to consider the M6 as a cheap entry point, and then add on a £200-300 DAC at a later stage when required? I could even possibly add balanced output with an iBasso DC01.
  2. dairy
    I have a M6 and am relatively satisfied with it. Like you, I like the convenience of using Spotify. I considered pretty much all of the options you listed, and for many of the reasons you listed, eventually settled on the M6. One of the weaknesses of the M6 is that the interface is a bit laggy. Nothing I can't deal with, but sometimes it does get annoying. For the price, however, I don't know of any other DAP that is Spotify enabled. It also has a low noise floor (no hiss), and output impedance that pairs well with multi-BA IEMs. I had a pair of Andromedas and they sounded great on the M6. The M6 is also powerful enough to drive relatively difficult to drive IEMs (E5000s) well. It is also very small, which I find very convenient. The only reason why I would get an M9 is if I needed the power of the balanced output and wanted a smoother UI.
  3. atCodus
    Thanks for the reply. I figured that since the M6 and M9 share the same SoC and RAM that they'd be equally laggy, although I think the M9 uses a different Android implementation.

    I think i'll get the M6 and see how it goes.

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