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The 5 Best Portable Hi-Fi Music Players Under $1,000

There is more to mobile music than your smartphone.

astell kern anorma sr25
Astell&Kern

It's been almost 20 years since the original iPod upended the portable music world (and eventually spawned its own demise in the form of the iPhone). Along the way, almost every element of mobile technology has been systematically improved by leaps and bounds except for one notable hole wide enough to fly an A-10 “Warthog” through: support for high-quality audio.

It’s taken some time, but the lack of attention on the part of major tech manufacturers hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2014, artist Neil Young seized the opportunity to spark an internet revolution that generated over $6 million in just seven days. His goal? To create the latest offering in a category of devices known as digital audio players or (DAPS). Young’s resulting Pono Player turned out to be a spectacular failure, but other niche companies have succeeded where he couldn’t.

So how exactly are these devices different from the MP3 players of yore? Think of them like an iPod on steroids. They combine integrated storage, a digital transport, digital-to-analog conversions chips and a headphone amplifier into a portable hi-fi machine capable of replaying high-resolution audio tracks in all of their detailed glory. Here’s a look at the best portable hi-fi music players on the market today.

The devices in this buying guide represent a substantial upgrade over your smartphone, but it’s important to remember that they’re still only one part of the listening chain. You’ll need high-quality source material as well as a good set of headphones to make the most of these devices.

Cowon Plenue D3

cowon plenue d3
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Best All-Around

Cowon makes high-quality portable hi-fi players that generally don’t demand the high price tags of competitors by Sony and Astell&Kern. The Plenue D3 (also referred to as the “PD2”) is the next-generation model of the highly acclaimed Plenue D2, and it delivers some much needed upgrades, including built-in Bluetooth, USB-C charging (instead of micro-USB) and superior controls and volume wheel. It uses dual CS43131 DACs and supports native DSD playback. The other big thing is battery — 45 hours of playtime is triple most other players will get you.

File Types: DSD, FLAC, APE, WMA, WAV, ALAC, DSF, SACD, MP3, OGG, AAC, AIFF
Max Sampling Rate: 24-bit/192kHz
Storage: 64GB; up to 128GB with microSD expansion
Battery: 45 hours of playtime

Price: $359

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FiiO M11 Pro

fiio m11 pro
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Best Upgrade

The FiiO M11 Pro is really the total package. It combines excellent sound quality and a beautiful aluminum-and-glass design, with a price that most audiophiles can manage. It sports dual AK4497EQ DACs and three different headphone jacks (3.5mm, 2.5mm and 4.4mm). It also can be used as USB-DAC to upgrade the audio of your desktop, which is pretty cool! The M11 Pro supports Wi-Fi streaming and built-in Bluetooth (with aptX support) so you can use with your wireless headphones. It also charges via USB-C, so even though its battery isn’t the biggest, it charges rather quickly.

File Types: FLAC, WMA, WAV, Apple, LOSSLESS, DSF, and DSDIFF
Max Sampling Rate: 32-bit/384kHz
Storage: 64GB; up to 2TB with microSD
Battery: 9.5 hours of playtime

Price: $650

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Hidizs AP80

hidizs ap80
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Best Budget

The Hidizs AP80 is one of the best bang-for-your-buck portable hi-fi players you can find. It has a big and beautiful touchscreen display and unlike older portable hi-fi players, the Hidizs AP80 has several modern features, such as support for Bluetooth AptX (no wired headphones needed) and USB-C charging. The only real downside is that the Hidizs AP80 doesn’t come with built-in storage, so you’ll need to invest in a microSD card.

File Types: DSD, FLAC, APE, WMA, WAV, ALAC, DSF, DFF
Max Sampling Rate: 32-bit/348kHz
Storage: None; up to 512GB with microSD card
Battery: 15 hours of playtime

Price: $120

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iBasso DX160

ibasso dx160
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iBasso has consistently delivered some of the best bang for the buck portable hi-fi players you can buy, and the 2020-released DX160 is one of the company's newest offerings. It looks a bit different from its other DAPs — with a premium-looking aluminum and glass design, golden scroll wheel, large 5-inch display and t's also available in a variety of vibrant colors — but it still delivers excellent audio playback. It supports dual CS43198 DACs to help deliver a warm and expansive soundstage. And it sports modern features like USB-C charging and support for Bluetooth 5.0.

File Types: APE, FLAC, WAV,WMA, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, OGG, MP3, DSD.
Max Sampling Rate: 32-bit/384kHz
Storage: 32GB; up to 2TB with microSD
Battery: 13 hours of playtime

Price: $399

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Astell & Kern A&norma SR25

astell kern anorma sr25
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Astell&Kern is one of the biggest names in premium portable hi-fi and its A&norma SR25 is its most affordable new offering. It combines superb audio and build quality, with numerous new features that modern audiophiles will love. It has a snappy processor, runs a new Android operating system and it charges via USB-C, so it feels very modern. Additionally, it supports BluetoothaptX HD as well as Sony's LDAC, in case you want to cut the cord and ditch (temporarily) your high-end wired headphones.

File Types: WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, OGG, APE, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, DFF, DSF
Max Sampling Rate: 32-bit/348kHz
Storage: 64GB; up to 1TB with microSD
Battery: 21 hours of playtime

Price: $699

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