What's the Best DAP for Me in 2023?

What's the Best DAP for Me in 2023?

The best digital audio players (DAPs) give you a world class sound system right in your pocket. They combine your music source, DAC, and amplification – often adding in WiFi, Bluetooth, and a host of other smartphone type functions – with a level of sound quality and execution that can rival systems multiple times its size. However, with dozens of excellent HiFi options on the market, and a wide range of prices and functionality, it might be hard figuring out exactly which one is best for you.

How is a DAP Different from My Phone?

Technically speaking, your phone is a digital audio player - it’s just not a dedicated one. While many people use DAPs just to avoid having phone notifications interrupt their listening, there are also a few elements that make digital audio players a better choice than your phone for listening to music:

  1. Your phone is primarily designed as a communication device first, and the media player functions are the second or third priority. DAPs are designed as a media player first, and they don’t waste power or generate interference through communication features you don’t need for your music.
  2. Most modern phones don’t even have a dedicated headphone jack, while DAPs typically have multiple options for directly outputting music.
  3. Even if your phone has a headphone jack or adapter included, the built-in DAC and amplifier don’t provide nearly the same level of audio performance as even many lower-priced DAPs.
  4. Along with these bigger distinctions, there are also a ton of subtle differences. From hardware controls, to RF shielding, every aspect of a good HiFi DAP has been designed with your listening experience in mind.

Astell&Kern SE300 DAP three quarter on leather couch with connected Meze Audio 109 pro headphone

Does it Make a Difference What DAP I Use?

While all of the DAPs we currently have at Bloom feature both the ability to listen to your downloaded music and use apps like TIDAL, Qobuz, or Spotify to stream music, some are more focused on the experience as a pure media player, while others offer stronger support for a variety of apps. Different DAPs have different focuses as well, with some being primarily focused on the maximum amplifier output, others having a broader variety of tuning options, and some simply aiming for the ultimate in sonic purity and sound quality.

As a whole, Astell&Kern players tend to provide the best experience for playing and managing your existing music collection, but have a more limited “walled garden” style app support. iBasso and Cayin both use a mostly stock version of Android, which allows you to install a wider variety of apps and customize more of your player experience. Astell&Kern also has a number of features built into their players, including Bluetooth file transfer via AK BT Sync, UPnP sharing with AK Connect, and AK File Drop, an FTP based file syncing solution. Cayin and iBasso let you find your own app if you need those features.

Comparison: iBasso DX240, Astell&Kern SR35 and KANN Max

In terms of the devices themselves, iBasso players tend to have a simple aesthetic, with solid construction and a similar quality to similarly priced smartphones. Cayin steps things up a few notches, with a more substantial build and more striking visual design. Astell&Kern remains perhaps the best out there in terms of craftsmanship, offering materials and build quality that represent the very best in consumer electronic design.

There’s a lot more to it, so we’re going to break down some of our favorites by price and a few other design and performance categories to help you choose the best DAP for you.

Best DAPs Under $1000

In the digital audio player world, you can pick up a very basic player for under $100, or you can go all the way up to special edition flagship players that might run you over $10,000. If you want something in between, our pick for a true budget DAP is the iBasso DX170 coming in at $449, and our overall pick under $1000 is the Astell&Kern SR35 at $799.

iBasso DX170 - $449

With a solid DAC chipset, output power that exceeds industry standards, Android 11 OS, and a solid selection of features, iBasso DX170 is a great choice for anyone who wants to keep it simple and not break the bank. The sound quality is impressive for the price, and easily matches other players and dedicated DACs in the same price range. Don’t expect blazing fast performance in the OS, but for the price, it’s hard to beat the combination of features, performance, and sound quality.

Astell&Kern SR35 with connected iBasso SR3 headphone on wood table

Astell&Kern SR35 - $799

Astell&Kern SR35 has some of the same basic qualities as DX170, but offers that next-level Astell&Kern build, as well as a slightly smoother, more refined tuning. SR35 is also the king of battery life. The screen is small, and the output power isn’t particularly impressive, but when your goal is a “music first” experience, that’s a small price to pay for 20 hours of continuous playback time.

Best for Hard to Drive Headphones

Astell&Kern’s KANN series has been one of the most consistent performers when it comes to powering hard to drive headphones, and – with KANN Ultra’s impending release – KANN Max holds the “best powerhouse DAP" title for a little longer. However, you have some other options to get more power out of your existing DAP, like Cayin’s C9 portable amplifier.

Astell&Kern KANN Max - $1299

KANN Max delivers a maximum 15Vrms from its balanced outputs, meaning that the list of headphones that KANN Max can’t handle is very short. High impedance headphones in particular are easily handled by KANN Max’s robust output. KANN Max is held back by slower hardware and an older version of Astell&Kern’s player software that doesn’t offer the same sort of user experience of the brand's newer players or similarly priced Android based DAPs.

Astell&Kern KANN Max three quarter rear with HiFiMAN headphone on vinyl album jacket

Cayin C9 - $1999

C9 isn’t actually a DAP - it’s a standalone portable amp. Why are we including it in a list of DAPs? Well, you can connect it to virtually any player on this list to seriously upgrade your output power. So if you want the interface and design of the Astell&Kern SE300, but you want desktop level amplification, C9 lets you have both. C9 also has the ability to switch between Class A and Class A/B amplification and tube and transistor modes. With up to 4.1W of output power, you can combine C9 with any DAP and get the best of both worlds – just be wary of the fact that getting the “best of both worlds” here means having a portable sound system with sufficient mass and size to generate its own gravity.

Best DAPs Under $2000

Between $1000 and $2000 you can expect something with practically flagship level quality across the board, but perhaps missing just a touch of that absolute top end experience. iBasso has historically done well in this category, and the DX320 is no exception. Along with that, Astell&Kern’s latest A&futura DAP, the SE300, makes a strong showing, with sound and design that compares favorably with flagship players that cost nearly twice as much.

iBasso DX320 - $1699

The iBasso DX320 is the quintessential all-arounder. The sound quality is excellent, the UI is blazing fast, and you can install any app you want using the open Android OS. On top of that, the interchangeable amp card system lets you tweak the sound to your preferences. It’s not the best looking player on the planet, but DX320 is functional, versatile, and – more than a year after its release – still one of the best players out there.

Astell&Kern SE300 three quarter with connected Vision Ears Phonix earphones highlighting UI

Astell&Kern SE300 - $1899

SE300 is the latest in Astell&Kern’s line of experimental A&futura DAPs, and it seems that this experiment was a success. Featuring an amp that can switch between Class A and A/B modes, as well as an R2R DAC with NOS/OS options, SE300 gives you a range of tonal options, along with the classic Astell&Kern good looks. While it lacks the tuning refinement of A&K’s flagship players, the overall technical capabilities are top notch.

Best Flagship DAPs

If we’re talking about an upgrade from a phone or budget DAC dongle, the iBasso DX170 we started with was already a significant upgrade, and – until you’ve heard it for yourself – it’s almost unfathomable how much you can improve from there. The Astell&Kern SP3000 and Cayin N8ii are simply the best of the best. The level of detail they can reveal in your music, coupled with the immersive imaging and vivid instrumental presentation makes these the best portable audio systems in the world.

Astell&Kern SP3000 - $3699

Simply in terms of sound, SP3000 is it: the absolute best portable digital audio player on the planet. SP3000 upgraded A&K's OS and design, and has the best UI performance in any DAP that Astell&Kern has ever made. $3699 is a pretty steep asking price, but SP3000 exudes a premium, luxurious feeling that complements the sound and performance due its craftsmanship and design. For elegance, simplicity, and pure sound quality, SP3000 is on top of the world.

Astell&Kern SP3000 vertically sitting on wood headphone stand base with Meze headphone

Cayin N8ii - $3499

While SP3000 wins for the simple elegance of incredible sound, design, and performance, N8ii comes very close in the sound, but adds a much wider variety of tuning options to complement it. N8ii’s amp stage is based on the C9, giving you the same Class A and A/B options, along with tube and transistor modes (though not as much power.) Combine that with a world class DAC and the freedom of Android OS, and N8ii is the flagship DAP for those who need that greater degree of freedom and customization.

So, What’s the Best DAP for Me?

Of course, that’s still a lot of options, and maybe some features you hadn’t thought of before. But when you take price, power, performance, portability, and design all into account, hopefully you can find the one that hits the perfect cross-section for your personal listening.

Note: we have several products listed in this chart that we don’t have sufficient experience with to nominate as a “Best of 2023,” but may still be a great fit for you!






The Bottom Line

iBasso DX170


Android 11

2x Cirrus Logic CS43131

3.5mm/4.4mm, 3.2/6.4Vmrs

32GB internal, up to 2TB microSD

Easy to use, top tier sound, budget price

Astell&Kern SR35


A&K Crimson (Android based)

4x Cirrus Logic CS43198

3.5mm/4.4mm/ 2.5mm, 4Vmrs/6Vrms

64GB internal, up to 1TB microSD

Great sound and build for the price, exceptional battery life

Astell&Kern PA10


Amplifier Only

Amplifier Only

3.5mm/4.4mm, 4.2Vrms, 6.2Vrms w/ High Current mode

Amplifier Only

A simple, powerful add-on to enhance the performance of lower power DAPs

Astell&Kern KANN Max


A&K Classic (Android based)

4x ESS ES9038Q2M

3.5mm/4.4mm/ 2.5mm, 8Vmrs/15Vrms

64GB internal, up to 1TB microSD

Massive power, reference sound

iBasso DX320


Android 11

2x ROHM BD34301EKV

3.5mm/4.4mm/ 2.5mm, 3.5Vmrs/7.1Vrms & Interchangeable amp cards

128GB Internal, up to 2TB microSD

Top tier UI performance, flexible interface and sound. Amazing sound and performance

Astell&Kern SE300


A&K Crimson (Android based)

Discrete R2R

3.5mm/4.4mm/ 2.5mm, 4Vmrs/6Vrms (Class A or Class A/B)

256GB Internal, up to 1TB microSD

Flagship level build and detailed sound, with good tonal flexibility

Cayin N7


Android 12

Fully-Discrete1Bit Resistor DSD DAC 

3.5mm/4.4mm, 4Vrms/7Vrms (Class A or Class A/B)

128GB Internal, up to 1TB microSD

Excellent all-around performance with flexible Android 12 OS.

Cayin C9


Amplifier Only

Amplifier Only

3.5mm/4.4mm, 5Vrms/10Vrms (Class A or Class A/B)

Amplifier Only

Powerful portable amp, with tube and transistor output options

Astell&Kern CA1000T


A&K Classic (Android based)


3.5mm/4.4mm/ 2.5mm, 8Vmrs/15Vrms + RCA and mini XLR

256GB Internal, up to 1TB microSD

Transportable desktop DAP with incredible flexibility, and hybrid tube sound.

Cayin N8ii


Android 9

2x ROHM BD34301

3.5mm/4.4mm, 3.5Vrms/5Vrms (Class A or Class A/B)

128GB Internal, up to 1TB microSD

The ultimate flagship for those who need flexibility in the UI and sound.

Astell&Kern SP3000


A&K Crimson (Android based)

4x AK4499EX DAC w/ dual AK4191EQ digital signal processors

3.5mm/4.4mm/ 2.5mm, 3.3Vmrs/6.3Vrms

256GB Internal, up to 1TB microSD

The ultimate in sonic refinement, detail retrieval, and immersive, holographic sound.