To DAP or to enhance iPhone output?
Apr 7, 2021 at 4:18 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 5

MarkWalsham

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Hey everyone!

I think I may be on a journey to nowhere, but wanted to seek the advice of those in the know here. I have been an Apple user for as long as the iPhone has been around, and have had iPods before then, but as time as gone by, I have started to feel that the SQ from these devices has been somewhat lacklustre and a bit dull.

This recently got me into thinking about my music files and have recently started to re-rip my CD collection not straight into iTunes/Apple Music, but to FLAC files. This in addition to a recent purchase of a Fiio K5 Pro desktop DAC/AMP combo which I use as a DAC for a Raspberry Pi running PiCorePlayer, I have been able to notice a considerable difference in SQ with this combination - even with a fairly entry level system comprising of Sony components.

This led me to ask the obvious question, if I can get the hifi system sounding much better by the use of a DAC, how can I get my portable music setup sounding better?

Here is where a rabbit hole has been jumped into!!!

First I started with purchasing a set of KZ ZX10 Pro's, my first foray into IEM's and yes I know they are budget, but at the time it is all I could afford, and whilst these do make the source material on the iPhone sound better, the common theme I keep coming back to is the source device sounds a bit dull and lacklustre.

As a side note, I do prefer a fairly neutral sound with a good solid sub-bass, tight mid-bass and light airy and sparkly treble, with some slightly recessed mids (mids are my killer, if they are pushed I get fatigued very quickly by them).

So, I recently bought a pair of Moondrop Starfields, as they seem to get good reviews, and I am pleased to say that once they are sealed in the ear properly, they really do sound great, even with my iPhone and the external Apple dongle/DAC - but not stellar sounding.

What better to partner a new set of IEM's with, a new DAP? - I ordered (again, I am on a budget here) a Hidisz AP80, and latterly a Hiby R3 Pro - mainly as I wanted something small, reasonably priced and something that could take advantage of my growing FLAC (and some DSD) music files.

Both of these suffered from terrible software issues (I think they both use a variant of HibyOS) and they also locked up many times when using a large (256GB) MicroSD card, which I could have lived with except out of the box, both these players sounded quite dull again. Yes, I could mess around with the MSEB/EQ of these devices, but I would rather just have a great sounding DAP out of the box and not have to mess with these settings. Indeed, trying to set MSEB on the AP80 was near impossible due to the screen size and my massive fingers!

So - I have to come to a bit of a cross roads here:

Do I splurge some additional cash on something like the iBasso DX160 in the hope that this will provide a better companion to my music files and new Moondrop Starfields

OR

Do I look at a combination of using my iPhone (11 Pro Max) with an external AMP/DAC

My worry here is that I cannot (easily) playback FLAC files on the iPhone and generally I really like the experience that the Apple Music app provides, it is fast, fluent and easy to navigate, which is the complete opposite of the experiences I have had with the Hiby and Hidizs devices which are slow, laggy and prone to freezing - but they do offer playback of FLAC and DSD files (I can hear a discernible difference with DSD playback, despite the 6db drop in volume).

So a long way of asking this, but should I go up to the iBasso DX160 (approx £350GBP) or should I invest in something like the Fiio BTR5 or similar to be a companion to my iPhone?

I really don't know what the best way forward is, and I am hoping that someone who has been in this position might be able to help me and provide some guidance?

My budget is fixed at £300 odd, so no point in suggesting a higher end player as I don't have the cash to do this, but fundamentally, is a separate DAP going to be better than trying to enhance my iPhone output?

Thanks and sorry for the long post, I always appreciate your thoughts.

Mark.
 
Apr 7, 2021 at 9:17 AM Post #2 of 5

Nolbert0

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First of all, what a lovely predicament to be in!

Also, there's always the option of converting flac to alac. Converting between lossless codecs is a lossless process.

So, another option would be a decent dongle. Hidisz S9 measured very favourably over at ASR. Desktop level snr, apparently. TempoTec V1 may also be a great source to plug it into. Dual microsd slots, Bluetooth with LDAC and HibyLink.

If you want peq, Qudelix 5K is a very capable BT receiver that can also work wired. Arguably better that btr5 in everything it does except DSD support. I believe the peq is also supported in wired USB mode. Both 5K and S9 are capable of balanced output.

All 3 devices mentioned above will be under £300 total and still leave u with enough for a decent lightning to type c cable of your choice.
 
Apr 7, 2021 at 9:58 AM Post #3 of 5

HiFiHawaii808

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Hey everyone!

I think I may be on a journey to nowhere, but wanted to seek the advice of those in the know here. I have been an Apple user for as long as the iPhone has been around, and have had iPods before then, but as time as gone by, I have started to feel that the SQ from these devices has been somewhat lacklustre and a bit dull.

This recently got me into thinking about my music files and have recently started to re-rip my CD collection not straight into iTunes/Apple Music, but to FLAC files. This in addition to a recent purchase of a Fiio K5 Pro desktop DAC/AMP combo which I use as a DAC for a Raspberry Pi running PiCorePlayer, I have been able to notice a considerable difference in SQ with this combination - even with a fairly entry level system comprising of Sony components.

This led me to ask the obvious question, if I can get the hifi system sounding much better by the use of a DAC, how can I get my portable music setup sounding better?

Here is where a rabbit hole has been jumped into!!!

First I started with purchasing a set of KZ ZX10 Pro's, my first foray into IEM's and yes I know they are budget, but at the time it is all I could afford, and whilst these do make the source material on the iPhone sound better, the common theme I keep coming back to is the source device sounds a bit dull and lacklustre.

As a side note, I do prefer a fairly neutral sound with a good solid sub-bass, tight mid-bass and light airy and sparkly treble, with some slightly recessed mids (mids are my killer, if they are pushed I get fatigued very quickly by them).

So, I recently bought a pair of Moondrop Starfields, as they seem to get good reviews, and I am pleased to say that once they are sealed in the ear properly, they really do sound great, even with my iPhone and the external Apple dongle/DAC - but not stellar sounding.

What better to partner a new set of IEM's with, a new DAP? - I ordered (again, I am on a budget here) a Hidisz AP80, and latterly a Hiby R3 Pro - mainly as I wanted something small, reasonably priced and something that could take advantage of my growing FLAC (and some DSD) music files.

Both of these suffered from terrible software issues (I think they both use a variant of HibyOS) and they also locked up many times when using a large (256GB) MicroSD card, which I could have lived with except out of the box, both these players sounded quite dull again. Yes, I could mess around with the MSEB/EQ of these devices, but I would rather just have a great sounding DAP out of the box and not have to mess with these settings. Indeed, trying to set MSEB on the AP80 was near impossible due to the screen size and my massive fingers!

So - I have to come to a bit of a cross roads here:

Do I splurge some additional cash on something like the iBasso DX160 in the hope that this will provide a better companion to my music files and new Moondrop Starfields

OR

Do I look at a combination of using my iPhone (11 Pro Max) with an external AMP/DAC

My worry here is that I cannot (easily) playback FLAC files on the iPhone and generally I really like the experience that the Apple Music app provides, it is fast, fluent and easy to navigate, which is the complete opposite of the experiences I have had with the Hiby and Hidizs devices which are slow, laggy and prone to freezing - but they do offer playback of FLAC and DSD files (I can hear a discernible difference with DSD playback, despite the 6db drop in volume).

So a long way of asking this, but should I go up to the iBasso DX160 (approx £350GBP) or should I invest in something like the Fiio BTR5 or similar to be a companion to my iPhone?

I really don't know what the best way forward is, and I am hoping that someone who has been in this position might be able to help me and provide some guidance?

My budget is fixed at £300 odd, so no point in suggesting a higher end player as I don't have the cash to do this, but fundamentally, is a separate DAP going to be better than trying to enhance my iPhone output?

Thanks and sorry for the long post, I always appreciate your thoughts.

Mark.
Excellent question. I've been asking this very question for the better part of the last year.

I own the following:

DragonFly Red
Fiio BTR5
Fiio UTWS3
Lotoo PAW S1
Luxury & Precision W2
Chord Mojo
Chord Hugo 2.

My intent was to stay away from DAPs entirely because I have an iPhone and I wanted that device to be my main player, storage and application device. But, the iPhone is a closed system meaning application developers can't offer all the apps I want (e.g. Wavelet which works on Android 9), doesn't have sufficient ports, doesn't have the correct music player buttons and has insufficient storage. Android is better than iPhone for audio since it does offer some applications the ability to have system wide control needed for EQ as an example. An Android DAP is basically an audiophile specific smartphone without a SIM card. Now, you can even get a SIM card in a DAP in the Hiby R8. So that's a nice twist.

Anyway, give the limitations of my iPhone, I decided to buy a DAP. I bought a Hiby R6 2020 since it supports Android 9. I love the device. It is just like a smartphone without a SIM card. I download apps like Chrome and YouTube and I can browse and respond to Head fi and watch video reviews of products through YouTube all on my DAP. There are only a few DAPs that support Android 9 and have sufficient processing power to have a responsive user interface. And, given the pace of innovation in smartphones, these audio companies have a hard time keep pace with the smartphone manufacturers who can spend 10s of millions of dollars in R&D to improve their products and to get them to run on better chips and faster processors.

So why I do I go through this background? Because in order for you to answer the question of getting a DAC/AMP vs a DAP, you need to understand the markets and the technology and how it is likely to evolve over time. In general, DAP owners and DAC/AMP owners are different market segments representing similar, but different use cases. So, they often times don't have much experience with products in the other category. Look at me. I own most of the DAC/Amps in the market, but I only own one DAP. You will find others who have a dongle or two which is the code word for DAC/Amps, but they will have owned or tried a dozen DAPs. Users in these markets tend to self select their use case and then stick with it.

This post is already too long, so let me now cut to the chase. Should you buy a DAP or a DAC/Amp? The answer requires a 2 part response. First question, are you okay with having a separate device just for audio. Do you want to carry around a smart phone and a music player or are you set on having only one device you lug around. The answer to that question will rule out or enable DAPs. Second question, are features or sound quality more important to you? If you want a great form factor with easy to use features optimized to music in a highly mobile form factor, then go DAP. If you want the high quality sound for the lowest cost, go DAC/AMP.

If you buy a Luxury & Precision W2 DAC/AMP for $300. The sound quality on that device is better than my midfi HIBY R6 2020 which is brand new this year and costs $799. IF you go to the LPW2 thread, you will see several midfi DAP owners who also have claimed that the W2 sounds better than their DAP under $1000. If you want sound quality that is better than your smartphone plus a $300 dongle, you need to spend well in excess of $1000, maybe $2000. That's because much of what you are paying for is user interface, ports, storage, android support etc. A dongle provider just needs to focus on sound quality.

Anyway. Good luck with your decision.

Oh, I forgot to mention. I am going down the rabbit hole of DAPs because I want to see where smartphone + DAC/AMP vs. DAPs stack up. So, I recently purchased a Cayin C9 which is a high powered, feature rich, high quality AMP that pairs with DAPs to improve their SQ. Cayin has addressed with the C9 the performance gap that DAPs had vs. DAC/AMPs by offering an independent amp that turns midfi DAPs into TOTL monsters.
 
Last edited:
Apr 7, 2021 at 10:27 AM Post #4 of 5

MarkWalsham

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Excellent question. I've been asking this very question for the better part of the last year.

I own the following:

DragonFly Red
Fiio BTR5
Fiio UTWS3
Lotoo PAW S1
Luxury & Precision W2
Chord Mojo
Chord Hugo 2.

My intent was to stay away from DAPs entirely because I have an iPhone and I wanted that device to be my main player, storage and application device. But, the iPhone is a closed system meaning application developers can't offer all the apps I want (e.g. Wavelet which works on Android 9), doesn't have sufficient ports, doesn't have the correct music player buttons and has insufficient storage. Android is better than iPhone for audio since it does offer some applications the ability to have system wide control needed for EQ as an example. An Android DAP is basically an audiophile specific smartphone without a SIM card. Now, you can even get a SIM card in a DAP in the Hiby R8. So that's a nice twist.

Anyway, give the limitations of my iPhone, I decided to buy a DAP. I bought a Hiby R6 2020 since it supports Android 9. I love the device. It is just like a smartphone without a SIM card. I download apps like Chrome and YouTube and I can browse and respond to Head fi and watch video reviews of products through YouTube all on my DAP. There are only a few DAPs that support Android 9 and have sufficient processing power to have a responsive user interface. And, given the pace of innovation in smartphones, these audio companies have a hard time keep pace with the smartphone manufacturers who can spend 10s of millions of dollars in R&D to improve their products and to get them to run on better chips and faster processors.

So why I do I go through this background? Because in order for you to answer the question of getting a DAC/AMP vs a DAP, you need to understand the markets and the technology and how it is likely to evolve over time. In general, DAP owners and DAC/AMP owners are different market segments representing similar, but different use cases. So, they often times don't have much experience with products in the other category. Look at me. I own most of the DAC/Amps in the market, but I only own one DAP. You will find others who have a dongle or two which is the code word for DAC/Amps, but they will have owned or tried a dozen DAPs. Users in these markets tend to self select their use case and then stick with it.

This post is already too long, so let me now cut to the chase. Should you buy a DAP or a DAC/Amp? The answer requires a 2 part response. First question, are you okay with having a separate device just for audio. Do you want to carry around a smart phone and a music player or are you set on having only one device you lug around. The answer to that question will rule out or enable DAPs. Second question, are features or sound quality more important to you? If you want a great form factor with easy to use features optimized to music in a highly mobile form factor, then go DAP. If you want the high quality sound for the lowest cost, go DAC/AMP.

If you buy a Luxury & Precision W2 DAC/AMP for $300. The sound quality on that device is better than my midfi HIBY R6 2020 which is brand new this year and costs $799. IF you go to the LPW2 thread, you will see several midfi DAP owners who also have claimed that the W2 sounds better than their DAP under $1000. If you want sound quality that is better than your smartphone plus a $300 dongle, you need to spend well in excess of $1000, maybe $2000. That's because much of what you are paying for is user interface, ports, storage, android support etc. A dongle provider just needs to focus on sound quality.

Anyway. Good luck with your decision.

Oh, I forgot to mention. I am going down the rabbit hole of DAPs because I want to see where smartphone + DAC/AMP vs. DAPs stack up. So, I recently purchased a Cayin C9 which is a high powered, feature rich, high quality AMP that pairs with DAPs to improve their SQ. Cayin has addressed with the C9 the performance gap that DAPs had vs. DAC/AMPs by offering an independent amp that turns midfi DAPs into TOTL monsters.
Thanks for taking the time to reply, it's much appreciated.

Given "Sound Quality" is my number one consideration here, I can see that possibly buying into the low to mid range of DAP's may not be the answer. I have seen and heard with my ears that the two DAP's I mentioned sounded quite lacklustre to me, but I do find myself drawn to a singular device that centres around that one task, playing music and doing it well. It maybe that this is folly for a £300 budget, which is good to know and accept.

Maybe I am naive to think that there are DAP's that perform really well at this price point.

Thinking logically, it would seem that a DAC/AMP combo would make sense, I just need to think about the practicalities of such a setup, having two devices tethered to each other and one to my IEM's seems cumbersome, but if this does provide the SQ I am looking for, then it may be a compromise that I will have to live with.

I also guess that at least an external DAC/AMP combo will also be (slightly) more future proof.

The barrier for me is the lack of true high resolution music file support from Apple and the iPhone. Yes I can rip to ALAC (and have done so before), but to lose out on the DSD/DSF of my favourite music is a hard pill to swallow (as is the compromise of side loading DSD/DSF files onto an iPhone which is a faff).

Hence my dilemma.

At least I have more to think about now, and not necessarily be distracted by 'It has to be a DAP' mentality, I can think wider too.

This audio business can be all consuming for the holy grail of sound quality eh?

Thanks again,

Mark.
 
Apr 7, 2021 at 10:29 AM Post #5 of 5

MarkWalsham

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First of all, what a lovely predicament to be in!

Also, there's always the option of converting flac to alac. Converting between lossless codecs is a lossless process.

So, another option would be a decent dongle. Hidisz S9 measured very favourably over at ASR. Desktop level snr, apparently. TempoTec V1 may also be a great source to plug it into. Dual microsd slots, Bluetooth with LDAC and HibyLink.

If you want peq, Qudelix 5K is a very capable BT receiver that can also work wired. Arguably better that btr5 in everything it does except DSD support. I believe the peq is also supported in wired USB mode. Both 5K and S9 are capable of balanced output.

All 3 devices mentioned above will be under £300 total and still leave u with enough for a decent lightning to type c cable of your choice.
Thanks for the reply!

I have previously ripped to ALAC and they do sound good (with the right equipment), so that is an (and time consuming) option.

I think I am going to expand my thinking into a DAC/AMP combo for use with my iPhone!

Thanks again,

Mark.
 

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