Ever since Astell & Kern hit it big with their original AK100, the Digital Audio Player (DAP) market went into overdrive. Companies with all sorts of audio backgrounds showed their hand at the game, from classic HiFi companies such as Cayin, more consumer known brands such as Onkyo and Pioneer and even brands such as thebit who started out with sat-navs! Honestly we have just not been able to keep up with them all and while we have looked at a few of the top end options such as the AK380 and Lotoo Paw Gold, Josh and I thought it was time to scratch the surface with some other brands at the cheaper price points. By no means have we got them all, oh no that would be madness but we have got 4 rather interesting models to go head to head. We are going to break down the DAPs into pieces and individually assess their abilities in what we think are the most important areas. It’s going to be a long ride but hopefully it will show both ourselves and you where the current DAP market is, what are the problems, what are the strengths and most importantly, make it easier to pick the right one for you.
I think it is important that we get a background and overview of the 4 products we plan on shooting out, lets run through in price order.
We first of all have the Cayin N5, the cheapest of the bunch but one that in terms of specs deserves as much attention as the others and certainly deserved to be in the mix with the more expensive competitors. Cayin are one of your more traditional HiFi companies based in China. Looking through their portfolio you will see some glorious tube amplifiers and wooden encased CD players but like a lot of speaker related companies, they have seen the light which is portable audio. Starting off with the extremely well acclaimed C5 portable amp, they moved to the N6 as their first DAP which I have off good authority from my friend and owner over at Headfonics (Marcus Downey) is an impressive product. The N5 is their second attempt at a Digital Music Player and also a cheaper one than the N6 that seems to remain as flagship. The price in the UK is £249 from Advanced MP3 Players who I know to be solid but is £10 cheaper from EGlobal UK who is an unknown to me.
Next up is the iBasso DX80. iBasso have always been a portable audio company (also from China) and the Android based DX100 was one of the first audiophile centred DAPs along with HiFiMANs original models and the Colorably C4, way before the AK100 come into existence. More recently they have had the DX50 and DX90 but this is their first model in a while, perhaps a little taster for the up coming DX200, their first true flagship since the DX100 all that time ago. The DX80 goes for £289 through Advanced MP3 Players and again is cheaper from EGlobal, this time by £20.
We then have a third entry from China with Aune’s M2 Pro. Now this is easily the most confusing model and the circumstances behind my review sample make it even more so. Basically Aune released their M2 DAP in 3 incarnations. There is the standard M2, the M2 Pro and the M2S. Starting at $349 the price increases $150 to the pro and then $300 to the S. The Pro has better clocking and the S has the Pros upgrades and a better PCB structure. While the standard and Pro are only available in Black and Silver, the S comes in blue. My unit is certainly blue and it also is branded S on the back of the unit. The confusing part is that the S design was not finalised when my sample was sent so internally it is a Pro. So I will review it as the Pro but in the pictures you will be seeing the S. The Pro is $499 which translates to roughly £350. That would be buying it through the Aune Online Store. I also found it on EGlobal UK for £329.
Lastly we have a brand new player from Korea in thebit Opus #1. This is going to be the most expensive of the bunch at $600 which would be roughly £400 but with no retailer in the UK you could be scorched on import duties as well, which would make it even more expensive. thebit as I mentioned earlier have a background in all sorts of products but seem to be really pushing the Opus Audio branding which comes with a new site and a promise of a lot of new models. It is also certain that these guys are inspired by Korean country mate Astell & Kern based on appearance of design and even the use of the Master Quality Sound tag AK went with from the start. Now we have the models lets turn the page and get started with the features on offer.
Page 2 will cover Features
Page 3 is UI
Page 4 is Build
Page 5 is IEM Performance
Page 6 is Headphone Driving Ability
Page 7 is Sound Quality
Page 8 is Our Summary