The array of portable digital players sees continuous updates with the introduction of new models. In recent months, a myriad of compelling Hi-Res players has hit the market across various price ranges. Even the most budget-friendly options outshine smartphones significantly in terms of sound quality. The top-tier models merit consideration as digital sources for stationary systems.
8. Shanling M0 Pro
The miniature portable player comes in three different colors – black, green and red – and comes complete with a leather carrying case. The player is housed in an aluminum case measuring 43.8 x 45 x 13.8 mm and weighs only 36.8 grams, while the front panel is given over to a 1.54-inch color touch display. The built-in battery is small – only 650 mAh, but provides a power reserve of up to 14.5 hours. The DAC in the player is made on a dual ES9219 chip from ESS Saber, the amplifier has three switchable gain levels. The output power is 90 mW into 32 ohms with an unbalanced connection and reaches 236 mW into 32 ohms with a balanced connection. At the same time, the player has only one symmetrical 2.5 mm jack, but the kit includes an adapter from 2.5 mm to 3.5 mm. The Bluetooth adapter can work in two-way mode and supports LDAC and aptX codecs. The memory card slot can accommodate microSD up to 2 TB.
Cons – headphones with a 3.5 mm jack are connected via an adapter
Verdict: An excellent option for those who need a miniature player
7. HiBy R3 Pro Saber
The improved version of the previous generation model is distinguished by the use of a dual ES9219 chip from Saber Technologies in the DAC unit, as well as the presence of two clock generators operating at frequencies of 24.576 and 22.5792 MHz. The player has a bidirectional Bluetooth adapter with support for aptX and LDAC codecs, as well as the proprietary UAT (Ultra Audio Transmission) codec. The player can handle digital PCM signals up to 32-bit/384 kHz and native DSD256 streams and provides full decoding of MQA files. The player has a fully symmetrical amplifier path, and 4.4 mm and 3.5 mm jacks are provided for connecting headphones. At the balanced output, the power reaches 340 mW at 32 Ohms. The 1,600 mAh battery promises up to 15 hours of playback in balanced mode and up to 20 hours in normal mode. The player is equipped with a pedometer and has a Wi-Fi module on board for connecting to the network.
Pros – excellent DAC, bi-directional Bluetooth adapter, works with MQA
Cons – at this price – nothing
Verdict: Excellent value for money
6. Hidizs AP80 PRO-X Red Copper
The collector’s limited edition of the famous player was included in our rating solely due to its stunning case made of red copper with a purity of 99.99%. The functionality and technical specifications have not changed compared to the base model – DAC on two ES9219C chips from ESS Saber, output power at the balanced output of 190 mW at 32 Ohms, support for MQA decoding, 2.5 mm and 3.5 mm headphone jacks. The company will release only 499 copies of the model.
Pros: stunning appearance, compact size
Cons – low power
Verdict: For lovers of unique gadgets
5. TempoTec V6
An interesting Hi-Res player with support for Google Play and MQA runs on a proprietary OS based on Android 8.1. The DAC in the model is built on two AKM4439SE chips from Asahi Kasei, and the amplifier part uses four OPA1688 operational amplifiers for each channel. Output power is up to 610 mW into 32 ohms on a balanced 4.4 mm output, and the player also has a regular 3.5 mm mini-jack jack. The device can work with PCM streams with parameters up to 32 bit/768 kHz and DSD 512, and also provides full decoding of MQA files. Two generators operating at frequencies of 49.152 MHz and 45.158 MHz are responsible for precise compliance with the timing characteristics of the signal. The capacity of the built-in battery is 4,500 mAh, and there is a 4.2-inch diagonal touch display on the front panel.
Pros – availability of Google Play, MQA support, good amplifier power
Cons – unpretentious design
Verdict: A player with good functionality and good value for money
4. Shanling M3 Ultra
The advanced version of the popular M3 Hi-Res player is housed in an aircraft-grade aluminum alloy body with a tempered glass back. The 4.2-inch touch screen with a resolution of 1,280 x 768 pixels occupies the entire surface of the front panel. The DAC block uses two ES9219C chips from ESS Saber, and the amplifier section uses dual RT6863 op-amps. The output power of the device is 260 mW at 32 Ohms; there are 3.5 mm and 4.4 mm jacks for connecting headphones. The central processor is Snapdragon 665, the player runs Android 10. Wireless capabilities include a dual-band Wi-Fi module and a Bluetooth 5.0 adapter with LDAC support. The 3,500 mAh battery lasts for 20.5 hours. The player is capable of working with PCM streams up to 32 bit / 384 kHz and DSD256, as well as fully decoding MQA files.
Pros – improved DAC, long battery life, beautiful body
Cons – power could be higher
Verdict: Excellent mid-range player
3. FiiO M11S
The updated 11th model of the player with the S index differs from its predecessor in the central processor – Qualcomm Snapdragon 660 instead of Samsung Exynos – and other chips in the digital-to-analog converter. Here the DAC is built on a pair of ES9038Q2M chips from ESS Saber. The amplifier section has also become more powerful – the output power at the balanced connector is up to 670 mW at 32 Ohms. The player has three headphone outputs – 2.5 mm, 3.5 mm and 4.4 mm, and the latter can be switched to line output mode. The power supply has separate outputs for the preamplifier and power amplifier sections. The large battery has a capacity of 5,300 mAh and allows the player to operate in playback mode for 14 hours. The touch display on the front panel has a size of 5 inches and a resolution of 720p.
Pros – top-end DAC chip, powerful amplifier, three headphone jacks
Cons – Battery life
Verdict: New generation of successful player
2. Hiby RS8
The flagship model uses many interesting solutions, including the second version of the general Darwin II architecture, a Class A amplification path and others. It is enough to note that the DAC in the model is made on an R2R resistive matrix, which includes 12 high-speed switches and 184 resistors. Two femtosecond clock generators operating at frequencies of 45.158 MHz and 49.152 MHz are responsible for the accuracy of the timing characteristics of the digital signal. The player’s body is entirely made of titanium, the battery with a capacity of 12,000 mAh is enclosed in its own separate casing made of pure copper. The volume of internal memory is 256 GB, RAM is 8 GB. The player runs Android 12, the central processor is Snapdragon 665. The touch display has a size of 5 inches and a resolution of 1080p. Tantalum capacitors, ELNA SILMIC II silk capacitors, and Panasonic thin-film capacitors are used in the signal circuits. The digital filter operates in two modes – with and without oversampling. The model has two jacks for connecting headphones – 3.5 mm and 4.4 mm.
Verdict: Top player for portable and stationary use
1. Astell & Kern A&ultima SP3000
The new top-end player from the Korean manufacturer has a completely dual architecture, in which the balanced and unbalanced paths are completely separated. The amplifier is made using the proprietary Teraton Alpha circuit, which effectively suppresses power noise and optimizes the operation of the output stages. The player’s digital-to-analog converter unit is made using AK4499EX chips from Asahi Kasei. The eight-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 6125 is used as the central processor. The device body is entirely made of 904L stainless steel, the screen size is 5.46 inches and has a resolution of 1080p. The Bluetooth adapter supports aptX HD and LDAC codecs, the model is Roon Ready certified and supports MQA decoding. The maximum voltage at the balanced output is 6.3 V, at the regular output – 3.3 V. Three connectors are provided for connecting headphones – a regular 3.5 mm (can be used to output an optical digital signal) and balanced 2.5 mm and 4.4 mm. The player weighs 493 grams.
Pros – top chip from Asahi Kasei, separate paths for balanced and unbalanced connections
Cons – as always – expensive
Verdict: New flagship from Astell & Kern – and that says it all