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Which DAPs work as digital transport (over USB, SPDIF coax/optical)

Discussion in 'Portable Source Gear' started by zolkis, Nov 12, 2017.
  1. zolkis
    Use case
    - Enjoy the DAP on the go during the day.
    - At home, put it in a dock/cradle with power in and digital out: either USB, or if that is not supported, then SPDIF coaxial output, or Toslink optical output.
    - Connect the digital out to an external DAC and enjoy.

    R1. bit-perfect USB audio output.
    [R2. otherwise TCXO clock and SPDIF coaxial output is needed.]
    [R3. otherwise TCXO clock + SPDIF optical output is needed.]
    R4. internal architecture optimized in order to have highest quality digital output.
    R5. it doesn't harm to have good internal DAC and amp for the portable use.
    R6. hot-swappable SD cards, at least 128 GB.
    R7. should support streaming (Tidal, Spotify, eventually DLNA).
    [R8. works as external DAC.]

    There are few DAPs that also support USB audio out. Some of the good sounding ones have no digital out (e.g. Calyx M), or only optical out (e.g. Opus #3), or the non-USB digital out reportedly sounds better than the USB out (e.g. Cowon PM2).

    Several smartphones do provide high-res bit-perfect USB audio out, e.g. the Sony Z3 series when used with Android 4.4.4 images and Sony audio drivers. However, R4 is somewhat compromised, and a DAP might have better architecture for digital audio out.

    Several DAPs have limited support for R1, [R2, R3], e.g. Fiio X5iii, Cayin i5, etc. Future firmware updates might fix that. The question is with what Android version.


    1. Sony NW-ZX2 (USB out) and similar Sony players (ZX300, ZX100?)
    Supports R1 (USB audio out) with the optional WMC-NWH10 cable, or via the BCR-NWH10 dock/cradle.
    It also supports R4 and it provides digital out that "sounds" better than a Sony Z3 digital out.
    In fact, it ticks all requirements except R2 and R3 that are optional if R1 is supported.

    2. iBasso DX200 (USB out, SPDIF coaxial + optical)
    Also ticks all boxes, except that it may sound a bit bright?

    3. Fiio X7ii (USB out, SPDIF coaxial)

    4. Onkyo DP-X1A (USB out?)

    Recommendations (DAP transport as good as high-end CD transports/players)
    AK SP1000
    Sony NW-ZX2

    (Any other suggestions?)
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2017
  2. zolkis
    Reserved for a checked list of DAPs that support the use case above.

    AK SP1000 (USB, coax, optical)
    Sony NW-ZX2 (USB out via adapter cable or dock)
    iBasso DX200 (USB out, SPDIF coaxial + optical out)
    Fiio X7ii (USB out, SPDIF coaxial + optical out)
    Onkyo DP-X1A (USB out)
    Onkyo DP-CMX1 (USB out)
    LP L5Pro (coax out)

    DAPs that support at least SPDIF coaxial out (https://www.head-fi.org/threads/inexpensive-dap-with-coaxial-out.864750/). USB out has issues. (To be confirmed).
    - Cayin N3, N5, N5ii (coming) - with USB to coaxial cable
    - Fiio X5iii
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2017
  3. psikey
    How about Sony ZX300 sounds great over balanced (and SE) plus doubles up as a DAC.
  4. zolkis
    Being a DAC was not listed among the requirements, but why not :). The opposite direction, being a digital transport is more rare it seems.
    Since it supports the WM port, looks like the ZX300 (and seemingly also the ZX100) joins the NX-ZX2 in the club, at least with the adapter cable (not sure whether the cradle works). However, Tidal and Spotify are not supported (not Android devices).
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2017
  5. zolkis
    My shortlist currently is:
    - Sony NW-ZX2 with the cradle for USB out
    - iBasso DX200 (coaxial SPDIF, see X7ii comment, they use same ESS platform).
    - Fiio X7ii with coaxial SPDIF (which allegedly sounds better than the USB out)
    - maybe the LP L5Pro (coaxial SPDIF).
  6. zolkis
    A short comparison between the Sony ZX2 DAP USB out (using the powered cradle), Sony Z3 Compact and XZ1 Compact phone USB out and a 22 kg heavy, modded Marantz CD10 as transport through coaxial SPDIF feeding a TDA 1541 NOS DAC (2x4 DAC chips). Material was CD source, ripped as wav, and high-res files 192 kHz PCM, stored in the internal memory of the players (I know, various SDXC cards are to be tested as well). I listened through my Stax system, my dynamic headphones setup, and speakers. I will just summarize my conclusions here.

    1) First off, the Z3C digital output was surprisingly better (cleaner, calmer, more dynamic, more defined) than that of the much newer XZ1.

    2) There was little difference between the ZX2 and Z3C digital output, perhaps I preferred the ZX2 more often (if I could tell a difference). With high-res material the ZX2 pulled ahead slightly with its own slightly bass-bloomy way, however, not enough to justify buying a ZX2 over a Z3C. The Z3C more than held its own with piano playback from ppp to fff.

    3) The Sonys were also better than Mac Mini USB out filtered through various decrapification and LPSUfication (about 18 months of various experiences in this sentence, perhaps the best was Mac Mini --> Ethernet --> Beagleboard + Linux --> USB). Never tried the SoTM Ultra or the UltraRendu, maybe they are better, I don't know, but's it's hard to top the simplicity and convenience of a battery powered digital source. Anyway I intended to evaluate all these against a top CD transport (LP and reel tape sources don't count now).

    4) The CD transport was still better than the Sonys, especially with dynamic peaks, but I'd say within surprisingly small margins so it makes sense to finally digitize the CDs and forget disk handling. Despite very small presentation differences, there was nothing missing from the music, sound stage, details when played through the DAP/phone. Maybe I will keep one all-rounder multi-bit CD player (Stax CDP Quattro, looking at you) and it's time to clean up the cupboards from CDs.

    To wrap up this monologous thread, if a digital transport is needed, there is not much risk in trying a Sony Z3C with Android 4.2.2. Of course a DAP may be justified depending on the use case, so feel free to try a DAP like the Sony ZX2 + cradle with USB out. With a proper USB interface, I expect it would be quite enough as a transport.
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2017
  7. rolandpsp
    I am very interested in this subject and more specifically, which one sounds best ? As we all know, there are small differences between any cd-transport and another or any audiophile PC/transport and another so i'm pretty sure there must be differences between these. Which one has the lowest jitter and noise coax/usb out , if anyone has compared at least between 2 ?
  8. Whitigir
    Sony docking cradle

    You are looking at native DSD over usb output. Charging and playing altogether. Probably WM1A just sound as good ? No idea
    zolkis likes this.
  9. gimmeheadroom
    Hey guys, any more possibilities? I want something I can run into my Chord Mojo for travel use. Any ideas?
  10. wmacky
    And how about the DX150, can it output USB to a external DAC?
  11. gimmeheadroom
    I don't know but that's still pretty expensive.
  12. Whitigir
    Opus 1
  13. gimmeheadroom
    I didn't find USB out in the first page of the Opus#1 thread so not sure about it. And not sure if it is sold here.

    Still looking...
    I know this is late, but was the Ibasso dx80 placed here? Its has SPDIF coax/optical but no USB. I have one hooked to a Teac amp/dac portable with a Fiio and AK male to male toslink cables. Also the Questyle QP1, which I used to own, also had optical out....
  15. XP_98
    What is the reference off the Sony cradle suited for WN1Z ?

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