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The 5 best portable digital audio players in 2024: MP3 to hi-res DAPs

Today, we’re overwhelmed by the number of portable devices available to music enthusiasts willing to invest in a dedicated music player.

In this article, we’ll look at the best portable audio players on today’s market, ranging from simple and affordable MP3 players to high-end, hi-res DAPs to experience the music in the highest possible fidelity.

Quick recommendations

If you can invest thousands of dollars in a portable audio player, then the impressive Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000 is your best option.

The most powerful and performing DAP on the market, it delivers a pristine audio performance that’ll satisfy your audio needs for years to come.

However, my favorite DAP is the Fiio M17, an excellent combination of high-quality performance and versatility at a more accessible price.

It’s the best option for most people, and one that’d work well for seasoned and beginner audiophiles alike.

Finally, the Ruizu A55 is your best bet if working with a budget of around $100.

Despite its price, this is a device that punches way above its weight, with an impressive built quality and features that make it a perfect entry-level MP3 player, or a backup player to carry with you at all times.

Contents

Use these jump links to navigate to the desired section of the review.

Why you should trust me

Marco Sebastiano Alessi, writer at Higher Hz

I’m a seasoned audiophile, producer, and audio engineer with over a decade of experience in the industry.

I run a small record label focused on electronic, avant-garde music. As a result, I listen to the dozen demos I receive every month with a dedicated DAP, which I also use for deep listening sessions when I have to evaluate the mix or master of an album that we’re going to publish.

Over the years, I’ve learned a thing or two about digital audio players, and I consider mine as a sort of sanctuary: a digital space where the music I need at that moment, and only that, is stored and can be experienced at its highest quality.

How I chose the DAPs for this list

First and foremost, sound quality. All the audio players on this list come with cutting-edge DACs and built-in components that support a variety of audio formats, and not just standard or MP3 files.

Another important aspect is storage. Hi-res audio files are large, so I picked portable players with generous internal storage and/or a slot for expandable memory.

Other factors I deemed just as crucial are: seamless connectivity with streaming platforms, long battery life, and Bluetooth connectivity for wireless headphones.

Finally, the budget. You can end up spending a fortune on a digital audio player, but should you do it? Here you’ll find options for all budgets, so that you can start your audiophile journey without breaking the bank.

Here are all the portable digital audio players I recommend in 2024:

Also, be sure to check the Honorable mentions for audio players that didn’t quite make my best list but couldn’t be left out altogether.

Best overall: FiiO M17

FiiO M17 portable hi-res audio player
M17 hi-res audio player | Image: FiiO

It was hard to pick one, it really was. But to me, the FiiO M17 is an exceptional digital audio player that pushes the boundaries in terms of build quality, advanced features, and audio performance, all without costing thousands of dollars.

The M17’s exceptional audio performance is mostly due to the dual ES9038PRO DACs: high-end, uncompromising chips that bring to life a sound of impeccable clarity.

Furthermore, the THX AAA-788+ amplifiers boost output power while keeping output impedance at bay. I can’t think of any pair of headphones the FiiO M17 wouldn’t be able to drive.

I like that the M17 comes with a plethora of connectivity options, from USB connections for data transfer and charging, and a coaxial port for digital audio.

Another great highlight is the innovative cooling system which ensures the audio player will keep performing admirably even after long hours of listening sessions.

In terms of OS, it’s an Android-powered device with a Snapdragon 660 processor, which gives you the stability necessary to connect it with your favorite streaming service without breaking a sweat.

The stable and reliable Bluetooth 5.0 is also a nice touch, for a device that will completely revolutionize the way you experience audio.

What I like

  • High-quality sound.
  • Reasonable price.

What I don’t like

  • Relatively short battery life.
See current price at: AmazonB&H

Best budget: Ruizu A55

Ruizu A55 hi-res audio player
A55, budget-priced portable DAP | Image: Ruizu

If you’re an audiophile on a budget or just getting started, the Ruizu A55 is an excellent option.

This MP3 player delivers impressive sound quality for its price (just under $100 at the time of writing), supports a wide range of high-resolution audio formats, comes in a sleek and compact design that makes it highly portable, and the touch interface and satisfying volume knob make it as intuitive as it can be.

The secret ingredient of this seemingly-unassuming audio player is a powerful 64-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A35 processor, which punches way above its weight and delivers a high-quality performance for most formats, including DSD, FLAC, standard WAV, and more.

You’ll have ample space for your music library with 64 GB of internal storage and support for micro-SD cards up to 512 GB.

The A55 also comes with an impressive 10-band equalizer, providing a level of sound quality and customization that you wouldn’t expect at this price point.

What I like

  • Affordable at around $100.
  • Great for newbies.

What I don’t like

  • Sluggish software.
  • Long boot time.
See current price at: Amazon

Best under $500: HiBy R6 III

HiBy R6 III digital audio player
3rd Gen R6 digital audio player | Image: HiBy

The HiBy R6 III is a fantastic option if you don’t have the budget for a high-end product, and even if this is not your first HD music player, I’m sure you’ll be impressed by how pristine and refined its playback is.

If you are already familiar with the 2020 model, let me just say that after the latest firmware updates, the DAP’s UI offers a much smoother experience. It’s like a totally different device, and in a good way.

Just to give you an idea, it comes with cutting-edge dual ES9038Q2M DAC chips, Android 12 and a Snapdragon 665 processor, Bluetooth and dual-band features, and compatibility with virtually all HD lossless music formats, including 16xMQA and DSD512.

But these are just specs. What the HiBy R6 III excels at is the sound: vibrant, analog-like, and immersive, bringing to life a soundstage devoid of artifacts and magnificent in its purity.

The class A and AB amplification and two dedicated crystal oscillators further enhance the precise audio reproduction the R6 III delivers.

Finally, the large memory capacity (64 GB plus micro-SD up to 2 TB), fast charging and remote-control functionalities, and impressive battery life (up to 12 hours on class AB) make it an absolute bargain.

What I like

  • Best mid-tier device.
  • Endless customization options.

What I don’t like

  • Nothing at this price.
See current price at: AmazonMusicTeck

Best high-end: Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000

Astell&Kern A&ultima SP3000
A&ultima SP3000 audio player in Silver | Image: Astell&Kern

The A&ultima SP3000 is a celebration of technology and craftsmanship: an item you should get only if you’re ready to invest thousands of dollars on the highest possible audio quality in a portable device.

Apparently, it’s the first DAP to fully separate digital and analog signal processing, which takes its sonic purity to a whole new level.

Furthermore, it comes with Asahi Kasei’s innovative AK4499EX DAC chip within a HEXA-Audio Circuitry, and a Snapdragon octa-core CPU; with these specs, if you’re tech-savvy, you can probably use it to get to the moon!

Jokes aside, the SP3000 is an engineering marvel, and you can feel it (the 904L stainless steel construction feels extremely sturdy in hand) as much as you can hear it.

Astell&Kern’s Digital Audio Remaster (DAR) technology enriches audio playback by upsampling, improving the clarity and depth of any track, even those recorded in less-than-ideal environments.

With a signal-to-noise ratio of 130 dB, the highest among DAPs on the market, the SP3000 is the best you can get right now, and it comes with a price that perfectly reflects the sonic quality it delivers.

What I like

  • Top-notch technology.
  • Unbeatable performance.
  • Feels premium.

What I don’t like

  • Very expensive.
See current price at: AmazonB&H

Best user experience: iBasso DX320

iBasso DX320 hi-res music player
DX320 hi-res music player | Image: iBasso

Building on the success of the DX300 (another great DAP, by the way) the iBasso DX320 is truly an exceptional product, and with a price similar to the FiiO M17, is the real contender as the best value-for-money portable audio player on this list.

The DX320 features dual BD34301EKV DAC chips from Rohm with exceptional signal-to-noise ratio: the result is a pristine, distortion-free experience that any audiophile will appreciate.

It can drive even the most demanding headphones, so even if you use anything from the Hifiman HE6 series (notoriously hard to drive), you’ll be fine with the DX320.

The DX320 has an interchangeable amp module system that allows interesting customization options: you can use the AMP13 tube amplifier or the AMP11 Mk2 to create a smooth, analog-like experience without losing any sound clarity.

Compared to the more neutral Fiio M series, the DX320 has a warmer sound that people accustomed to long listening sessions will find pleasing.

What I like the most about the DX320 is the user experience: the screen is wide and bright, the Android 11 OS feels smooth, the touchscreen feels responsive and nice, and the compatibility with any streaming service is seamless.

Navigating through songs is as intuitive as it can be, with no-nonsense customization options that can help you make your DAP truly yours. Together with an exceptional sound performance, this makes the DX320 a serious contender for the best humanly-priced portable audio player.

The only downside is the battery, which lasts roughly 8 hours, as opposed to the 10 hours of advertised battery life. If you can live with that, then the DX320 is a great investment.

What I like

  • Powerful.
  • Versatile.
  • Easy to use.

What I don’t like

  • Battery life not great.
See current price at: AmazonHeadAmp

Honorable mentions

While the five digital audio players in the main section would undoubtedly be my personal go-to choices, here are three other portable DAPs that are worth your consideration.

  • FiiO M11 Plus. The M11 Plus is a great option if your budget is between $500 and $800. It supports most hi-res audio formats, has a great battery life (11 hrs on average), and the soundstage is detailed and sublime. The only downside is the portability, but for the money, it’s not a big deal.
  • Sony NW-A306. The good thing about the Walkman is that it’s portable, affordable, and offers a high-quality audio experience when listening to professional formats. The downsides? A rather sluggish interface, unimpressive battery life, and its performance with non-hi-res formats is lukewarm. Still, for less than $300, you get a great DAP.
  • Shanling M6 Ultra. With its 13 hours of playback time, the M6 Ultra is a great option for travelers. Plus, it supports a wide range of hi-res formats. But most of all, it sounds amazing. However, it comes with a few notorious issues: it doesn’t work well with external DACs, it gets hot quickly, and the interface tends to slow down considerably when filling up disk space.

Recent updates

  • April 19, 2024: I’ve fixed minor errors and updated the text for better readability.
  • March 27, 2024: I published the original selection of the five best DAPs based on my experience with the tested units.

Final thoughts

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. What’s your experience with portable audio players? Have I forgotten some crucial DAPs worth talking about?

I hope this guide will help you choose an audio player that’ll satisfy your needs as an audiophile and meet your budget. If you choose to go down this path, remember to pair your new DAP with appropriate audiophile-level headphones. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Happy listening!

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