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The DAP is Dead: Long Live the New DAP

Apple just killed off the iPod putting an end to an era. Are DAPs dead or have we begun a new era of portable audio?

Sony WM1AM2 DAP

If you asked the average person on the street about the status of the Apple iPod, most would probably reply that Apple killed it off many years ago; the reality is that Apple pulled the plug on everything but the iPod Touch (which will run out soon) earlier this week. It has also been a week of news in regard to DAPs from brands like FiiO which just announced that they were discontinuing all models below $600 USD.

FiiO’s announcement may seem less relevant, but remember that it was the X1; a budget DAP that put FiiO on the map to begin with, so abandoning the segment is a big deal.

I recently recorded a video chat with Brian Mitchell to discuss DAPs, dongles, and DAC/Amps and how the market is shifting and some of this will sound familiar if you’ve watched that.

Between 2012-2017, DAPs made their mark in the portable audio category delivering better sound quality than any smartphone, superior battery life, greater storage capacity, and had superior interfaces than many of the first music apps.

Fast forward to 2022, and there have been some interesting changes in the world of smartphones; the 3.5mm jack has been deleted to improve the waterproof nature of the device, battery life has improved enormously, and the ability to stream from the cloud takes up far less storage space.

When one can access Apple Music, Spotify, Qobuz, TIDAL, and Amazon Music on the same device which gives you access to millions of songs — it’s an entirely new experience.

Another change has been the maturation of applications; Hiby, Apple Music, USB Audio Player Pro, Neutron, Poweramp, and others now offer the same functionality of the software used on DAPs

There is also no denying that dongles killed the market for DAPs. When smartphones and dongles can offer sound quality similar to the best DAPs, deliver better connectivity options (how many DAPs have 5G?), and more freedom of choice between streaming services, it is pretty easy to see the reasons for the shift.  

Add to that, one less brick to carry around, and the cost of a good dongle being $150-$300 and it strengthens the case even further.

But there is still a market for DAPs. It isn’t as large as it once was and because of that prices have jumped. To compete with the phone/dongle combination, DAPs must offer the same operating system flexibility and application choices phone users have; meaning most DAPs now sport the same processors, memory, and operating systems as phones.   

The heart of most DAPs today can be thought of as a flagship phone minus the 5G connectivity. That explains a big chunk of the cost and a lot of the reason the iPod just got retired.

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Add to that the need for a DAP to differentiate itself with features dongles can’t provide like increased amplifier output, larger internal memory, the ability to add a micro-SD, the ability to accept coaxial and optical inputs — and we see why prices now start in the $600-800 range and run into the $3,000+ range at the top end.   

The new generation of DAPs have become desktop replacements; packing all of the capabilities and power of a Chromebook, desktop DAC, and headphone amplifier and somehow finding a way to make it all battery powered and last an entire day between recharges.

Think about how far we’ve come in a decade.

The current crop of ultra high-end DAPs are technological marvels when you look at what they can do and music listeners are better off for it.

The original DAP is dead. Long live the new DAP.

Related:

W. Jennings explains DAPs, dongle DACs and DAC/AMPS on YouTube

Best Dongle DACs

More articles by W. Jennings

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. David Ellefson

    May 20, 2022 at 2:28 pm

    I have a FiiO and I will have to admit I rarely use it anymore. This is mainly because of lack of Bluetooth capability.

    • Ian White

      May 20, 2022 at 3:12 pm

      David,

      I think it’s becoming almost mandatory at this point with all of them.

      Best,

      Ian White

    • W. Jennings

      May 20, 2022 at 6:58 pm

      Amazing how quickly the market has gone from “wireless and portable gear will never be as good as wired desktop gear” to True Wireless in-ears and dongles being the hottest selling market segments. I’ll admit early on I saw Bluetooth as an answer in search of a question, but now have to concede the convenience of it along with the improvements in protocols have won me over. I still love my ciems (the day will come when those go wireless but it hasn’t happened yet) but the M&D, Sony, and B&W TWS models are making it easier to go wireless.

  2. ginandbacon

    May 20, 2022 at 10:58 pm

    I own the Sony XM4 (wireless in ear. Latest model) and some IEMs sound way better. I just splurged on the Moondrop KATO and I personally haven’t heard better in ear monitors. I had been using Bluetooth for years and 8r.made.me forget how much more clear and clean the sound is. While the sound of the Sony is good, and wires are more of a hassle, the sound is way better to my ears.

    I recently bought the FiiO 13 (not the brick model). One good think is it can play SACD ISOs. This really makes the IEM show their capability. I know it’s a dead format but so far remastered for 5.1 exceed 7Mpbs and it’s immediately clear why. Obviously compression has come a long way, but a 300kbps mp3 doesn’t come close to lossless 9n the right setup,regardless if it’s a home theater setup or headphones.

  3. Bob

    May 21, 2022 at 11:04 am

    The article did not include who makes these “new” DAPS and where/how to get them.

    • Ian White

      May 21, 2022 at 2:23 pm

      Bob,

      We’re going to add the links to all of our reviews and news items.

      Best,
      Ian White

    • Luvuyo Booi

      May 23, 2022 at 7:02 am

      The article didn’t even give a definition to the acronym: DAP

      • Brian Mitchell

        May 23, 2022 at 8:42 am

        DAP = Digital Audio Player, which are typically portable handheld sized devices.

  4. DAda

    May 21, 2022 at 11:56 pm

    i have a cayin N8 with Empire ears LX

    New Cayin is soon?

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