Smartphone+DAC vs DAP, relative impressions?
Feb 6, 2021 at 9:01 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 9

moskwiz

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Hi!

I've made a lot of strides in my music quality recently, jumping from Spotify on the phones' (Oneplus 5) own DAC, to Tidal Hi-Fi @ UAPP and Zorloo Ztella MQA/iBasso DC03.
While this setup already sounds incomparably better to my ears than the old way, I can't help but wonder, am I missing out in noteable clarity, soundstage and detail with this system when compared to a dedicated DAP?
My main source is and will remain Tidal Hi-Fi (I lack Tidal offline capability right now, which is a big argument in itself for a DAP) and I'm using 32 ohm headphones (V-Moda M100 Crossfade Masters) and IEMs (Sony XBA-N3AP), with plans to eventually buy a pair of open-back or semi-open back over-ears and also check out some Chi-Fi IEMs probably around 200€ (maybe also higher impedance ones but not necessarily).

So for example Fiio M11Pro, Hiby R6 2020, Shanling M6 Pro, A&K SR25 etc? Are they worth their price in terms of sound quality compared to my current arrangement?
While I'm here, I'd also be happy to hear your suggestions on which Android-based DAP you'd recommend in the 400-600€ pricerange, how many years would I be lucky to get out of a DAP like these? Got a lot of questions about DAPs really :p

Thanks in advance!
 
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Feb 6, 2021 at 12:49 PM Post #2 of 9

Deolum

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Personally i think so. The biggest weakness of smartphone into dac is imo the usb transport from your phone. No matter what dac you plug after your smartphone it won't sound good.

From what i hear Hiby R6 2020 and Shanling M6 are at the moment the safest bets.

I'm out of the dap game because i'm good with my LG G8X atm.
 
Feb 6, 2021 at 1:28 PM Post #3 of 9

HiFiHawaii808

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I've had the same question for months. I started down the path of wanting to use my smartphone to control all music. So, I bought a DragonFly Red, Chord Mojo/Poly, Chord Hugo 2/2go, Fiio BTR5 and Lotoo Paw S1. They all sound good to great and I use most of them regularly depending on use case. But, in the back of my mind I wondered, does a DAP sound better than what I've got now? They certainly beat any DAC/Amp device from a feature point of view. Hardly anyone could answer that question. It seems DAC/Amp people and DAP people are different. If you prefer one style of music playback, you tend to stay with it.

I wanted to EQ my HD800S headphones and I didn't want to insert my laptop back into the sound chain, so I thought about getting a DAP for the purpose of streaming and EQ. I checked out the various EQ apps and I learned that I needed Android 9 to run what I wanted. So, I ended up getting a Hiby R6 2020. I've had it for over a week and I absolutely love it. And, I am starting to build a perspective on where it fits into my portfolio of use cases.

First, let's talk about Sound Quality. The first use case I tested was mobile. So, I A/B tested my iPhone XS Max + Lotoo PAW S1 vs. Hiby R6 2020 with my IEMs. The Hiby sounds better, has more power, and the ergonomics of the HIBY are very well refined and thought out. The only issue is that it does not have a DATA Sim card, so to stream I need to bring my iPhone with me on walks. Fortunately, it has a micro SD card slot so I added a 512G SD card and downloaded 110G of music off tidal. In every way, this is like an Android phone on steroids and 5 input/output/power ports. It just lacks a SIM card. I downloaded YouTube, Tidal, Chrome and the speed is decent. It's heavy to carry 2 devices the size of smartphones. As example of ergonomics, when I walk, I hold the R6 2020 in my right hand. With my right hand, I can pause, skip forward or back tracks and I don't need to look at the phone. If I need to adjust the volume, I use my left thumb to rotate the volume dial.

Then, I tested the Hiby with my full sized headphones. Surprisingly, it can drive both my HD800S and ZMF Verite Closed at moderate to low volumes and it sounds great. But, if I want to listen louder, it's a bit underpowered, but fine for most listening. I haven't fully tested the EQ, which was my main purpose for getting the Hiby, but I have used MSEB and Wavelet. I must say that I am not impressed with it. I much prefer Equalizer APO on my laptop. And, when using the HIby as transport, you lose the ability to use most of the EQ features, so now I am thinking about getting a DAC wiht parametric EQ like a RME ADI-2. But, the best use for the Hiby is to use it as application and transport on top of my Hugo 2. It connects via Coax and works better than my 2Go and is cheaper. I also tested a Coax connection to my Chord Mojo and that sounds great as well. I prefer the Hiby + Mojo to the Hiby only sound signature as it is warmer and the Mojo can deliver more power to drive my high impedance CANS.

So, I have concluded that DAPs can at a minimum provide a superior solution to the Chord Poly and 2Go streamers. No need to purchase one of theose when you can connect to a DAP via Coax. The best combination of sound and features is DAP connected to a Chord Hugo 2 and the main advantage of the DAC/AMP is power and sound quality. Pair them together and you get the best of both worlds. A feature rich music player with outstanding sound quality.
 
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Feb 7, 2021 at 1:16 AM Post #4 of 9

Mhog55

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I would lean towards yes. I've been upgrading throughout the years, and in my experience, overall sonic performance does improve with better portable equipment. I believe I've found my end game dap in the Shanling M6 Pro. High quality sound at a somewhat reasonable price. I've also owned the Hiby R5 and Opus #1s. I currently have an LG V40 with a couple portable amps, and the Shanling is better than all in every way. I still have my R5, and I use the Oriolus ba300s tube amp with it. The M6 Pro still bests it. It's smooth, analog, and dynamic, with excellent width and detail. I don't stream, only local high res files - mostly vinyl rips. Source material is equally important. On a side note, the Ibasso SR2 is an incredible headphone if you're after a semi open that punches way above its price.
 
Feb 7, 2021 at 6:43 AM Post #5 of 9

surfgeorge

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I can't help but wonder, am I missing out in noteable clarity, soundstage and detail with this system when compared to a dedicated DAP?

Short answer: Yes
Your source has a huge influence on these characteristics.
If you can hear clear differences with your moderate dongles you will certainly hear and appreciate the SQ gains from better sources.

My main source is and will remain Tidal Hi-Fi (I lack Tidal offline capability right now, which is a big argument in itself for a DAP) and I'm using 32 ohm headphones (V-Moda M100 Crossfade Masters) and IEMs (Sony XBA-N3AP), with plans to eventually buy a pair of open-back or semi-open back over-ears and also check out some Chi-Fi IEMs probably around 200€ (maybe also higher impedance ones but not necessarily).

If your main data source is Tidal I would reconsider whether a dedicated DAP or a DAC/Amp connected to your phone or PC is the better solution for you.
The main advantage of a DAP over a phone is the SQ and the ability to take large offline music libraries with you. A problem with DAPs is that compared to phones they are slower and have older hardware to start with. that old hardware is likely not compatible with the latest Android versions for very long. I once bought a used, very good DAP, only to find out that the Android version was not upgradeable due to HW limitations, and I had to find workarounds to install an old Tidal App. This was a Sony NW-ZX2 which sold new around €1.100. In term of SQ it was different, but certainly not better than my €500 Chord Mojo DAC/Amp paired with a phone.

One big advantage of a DAP is pocketability and mechanical robustness, especially with the 4,4mm Pentacon connector. It's much safer to take with you in your pocket for music listening on the go.

But if you can live with a portable solution, i.e. something to listen to music in different places, a good DAC/Amp paired with your phone will deliver better SQ for the same money and it will likely serve you longer as you upgrade your phones but keep the DAC.

If you consider following this approach, there's IMO no better choice than the CHORD Mojo.
It's small, powerful, has 2 identical 3,5mm outputs, sounds stunningly good for it's price and has good battery life (if you follow some basic handling rules for LiIon batteries)
I have been using it for 3 years and still consider it the best value purchase in my portable audio journey. It's especially good with live recordings, classical and acoustic music, where it creates a smooth, detailed sound with excellent soundstage for it's price. I now have a Chord Hugo 2, which is almoust 5x the price and clearly better, but I still enjoy the Mojo and use it frequently. I have it stacked with a cheap HiBy R3 DAP in a 3D printed case and transport box, which makes it perfect for offline listening, for Tidal I connect it to my phone.

Hope that helps.
 
Feb 8, 2021 at 8:17 AM Post #6 of 9

moskwiz

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Sorry it took me a while to get time to write back. Thanks a lot for all your insightful impressions!
I feel like I'm still not much closer to a decision though! xD

If your main data source is Tidal I would reconsider whether a dedicated DAP or a DAC/Amp connected to your phone or PC is the better solution for you.
The main advantage of a DAP over a phone is the SQ and the ability to take large offline music libraries with you. A problem with DAPs is that compared to phones they are slower and have older hardware to start with. that old hardware is likely not compatible with the latest Android versions for very long.

But if you can live with a portable solution, i.e. something to listen to music in different places, a good DAC/Amp paired with your phone will deliver better SQ for the same money and it will likely serve you longer as you upgrade your phones but keep the DAC.

If you consider following this approach, there's IMO no better choice than the CHORD Mojo.

This is the reason I asked about the longevity of DAPs. I'm not wealthy enough to buy a 500€+ device only to have to replace it in a year, because Tidal suddenly doesn't work on it anymore. I will probably start building a FLAC collection at some point as well, but Tidal offline remains one of the key arguments for getting a DAP as it stands. The phone + DAC option would still require UAPP where Tidal offline is not an option and probably will never happen.

It does seem worrisome that basically all DAPs use old Android versions. Would there be sense in looking at DAPs with built-in Google Play app and newer Android versions then (like Hiby R6 2020)? For example Fiio M11Pro is good price right now, as it's an older model and from what I understand, one of the best in terms of SQ price/quality ratio. However it's 2 years old tech, uses Android 7 and has no built-in Google Play.. with the speed of Android app development these days, it's a big worry.

The other issue with phone+DAC (and one I should've perhaps elaborated more on) is that ergonomics and ease of use remain a top priority for me. I mostly listen to music on-the-go, that is, even when at home. I like to listen in different places, in the bed, while cooking or cleaning or outside walking, driving, running etc. The phone+DAC option becomes cumbersome if the DAC is any bigger than say a Dragonfly. The idea of having to carry two pocket devices, both connected to each other by wires, on my person is pretty much a no-go. So, as good as the Mojo sounds, its form factor is a debilitation that I'm probably not willing to cope with. Additionally, a DAP+smartphone is still more comfortable than a larger DAC+smartphone because I could just make a Wifi hotspot with the phone, eliminating the need for wired connection between the two.

Which leaves me back at square one basically :D Further questions -
  • Could the Dragonfly Cobalt be worth it's near 300€ pricetag in terms of SQ compared to micro-dongles? Could it be a solution in getting 500+€ DAP-level SQ? It would be pretty much the largest DAC form factor that I could live with @ DAC+smartphone setup and possibly powerful enough to drive my taste in IEMs/headphones.
  • If I decide to go the way of DAPs, which ones would be the best bet in terms of longevity, tech support and updates? Since I'm new to the scene, I don't know much about the tech support quality and consistency of these companies.
Thanks a lot!
 
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Feb 8, 2021 at 8:23 AM Post #7 of 9

silent-circuit

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My main source is and will remain Tidal Hi-Fi (I lack Tidal offline capability right now, which is a big argument in itself for a DAP) and I'm using 32 ohm headphones (V-Moda M100 Crossfade Masters) and IEMs (Sony XBA-N3AP), with plans to eventually buy a pair of open-back or semi-open back over-ears and also check out some Chi-Fi IEMs probably around 200€ (maybe also higher impedance ones but not necessarily).

https://support.tidal.com/hc/en-us/articles/201315081-Offline-Mode-on-Android

...you should be able to use Tidal in offline mode / with downloads on any Android device. You're saying it doesn't work on the OnePlus 5?
 
Feb 8, 2021 at 9:36 AM Post #8 of 9

moskwiz

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https://support.tidal.com/hc/en-us/articles/201315081-Offline-Mode-on-Android

...you should be able to use Tidal in offline mode / with downloads on any Android device. You're saying it doesn't work on the OnePlus 5?
Let me elaborate - Tidal offline works on Android's own Tidal app. But this sadly remains a limited way to listen, as the app relies on Android OS's own audio sampling (so forced 44.1khz, 16 bit and no MQA). To get past this, I use UAPP (USB Audio Player Pro), which has a Tidal integration and its own built in USB driver with a far superior SQ. UAPP unfortunately doesn't have Tidal offline capability and probably never will because Tidal is not interested in licensing this.
 
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