The Best High-Resolution Music Players for Audiophiles
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For many people, the transition from buying digital music and maintaining a local library has made way for streaming. But, if you want to experience the highest quality digital music, it’s still worth using a high-resolution music player instead. These devices can play high resolution (better than CD-quality) digital music without compression. They have a headphone jack, so you won’t need an adapter to use higher-end cans, but also support Bluetooth if you’d prefer to go wireless.
If you haven’t used a dedicated digital music player since the click wheel iPod, you’ll be happy to know they’ve been updated with modern conveniences like a touch screen. Some also support streaming from services that offer high resolution music, like TIDAL, without applying compression thanks to their DAC (digital analog converter). This best-of-both-worlds approach allows you to natively play files purchased from sites like HD Tracks, Quboz, and Acoustic Sounds alongside songs from massive streaming libraries.
While the main draw of these music players is support for high-resolution audio, they can also play MP3s, AACs, and other compressed audio formats. If you still maintain a local digital audio collection, don’t want to take up space on your phone, or listen to high-resolution music often, getting a dedicated high-resolution music player is a good move.
Maximum resolution: All of the music players we recommend can play DSD (direct stream digital) audio files, which are the highest quality digital music files available right now.
Storage: All of our picks have a fairly modest amount of internal storage space, but you can add more by popping in a MicroSD card. This upgrade allows you to continue using your high resolution music player as your library of music grows.
Streaming: As we mentioned earlier, some of our recommendations can play both local music files and high resolution audio available on premium services.
Compatibility: The music players we’ve chosen work with both Windows and MacOS, so you can transfer music to them regardless of which operating system your machine runs.
1. BEST OVERALL: FiiO M9
FiiO is one of the biggest names in the the high resolution digital audio player space, and its M9 offers all the right features.
The one that stands out most is its ability to play digital music from any source. It can play lossy (MP3 AAC) files, high resolution (FLAC, DFF, DSD) files, and music from high resolution streaming sites. It also supports codecs (digital technology standards) like aptXHD, LDAC, HWA, and SBC to reduce or eliminate compression when listening to music on Bluetooth headphones. The M9 has both a 2.5mm and 3.5mm headphone jack if you’d prefer to use a wired pair.
On the technical side FiiO’s M9 fares pretty well. You should get about 10 hours of music playback per charge, and the device recharges via USB-C, a universal standard for a lot of modern tech. It only has 2GB (gigabytes) of storage, which is its weakest link, but you can upgrade it by up to 2TB (Terabytes) with a MicroSD Card.
We’re recommending FiiO’s M9 as a standalone high-resolution digital music player, but can also be used as a DAC for your computer. Once connected over USB, you can output audio from your Mac or PC through the M9 and out of its headphone jack. If the DAC in your computer isn’t capable of playing high-resolution audio files natively, the M9 becomes a two-in-one device.
Anyone interested in listening to high-resolution audio on the go should consider FiiO’s M9, but it’s an especially good get if you’re in the market for a standalone DAC.
2. ENTRY LEVEL: Sony NW-A55 Walkman
Sony’s original Walkman was one of the most important piece of portable audio technology ever released, and the NW-A55 helps carry on that tradition.
It can play all of the popular lossy and lossless audio formats, and output them through a headphone jack or over Bluetooth. Like FiiO’s M9, the NW-A55 supports SBC, LDAC, and aptX-HD, so you get a better wireless experience. It does not support Wi-Fi, though, so you can only play music from your local music library. The NW-A55’s standout feature is its support of DSEE (digital sound enhancement engine), which Sonys says improves the quality of lossy digital files to sound more like high resolution audio. Your mileage may vary on this.
The NW-A55 fares pretty well on the technical side. It has 16GB of storage, with the option to increase it with a MicroSD Card. Sony says this audio player gets up to 45 hours of music playback per charge, and recharges using a proprietary connector.
If you don’t mind its lack of support for music streaming services, Sony’s NW-A55 is an excellent pick.
3. PREMIUM PICK: Astell&Kern SR25
If you primarily listen to high resolution digital audio files, you’ll appreciate the Astell&Kern SR25’s technical features.
On the audio side the SR25 supports everything from MP3s to DSD 256 files, both from your local library and music streaming services. The SR25 has a headphone jack, but also supports Bluetooth with lossless audio codecs for the best possible sound.
This high-resolution music player has a quad-core processor, and uses it to automatically analyze the music file you’re listening to, and optimize the way it sounds. Astell&Kern went so far as to design the SR25’s circuit board to regulate its power output, and send audio from its DAC to your headphones in the shortest amount of time. This level of precision can reduce little pockets of distortion deemed acceptable by other players.
The SR25’s tech specs match its impressive audio features. It has 64GB of onboard storage — the most of any player in this guide — and you can add up to 1TB more by using a MicroSD Card. It gets up to 21 hours of music playback per charge, and recharges over USB-C, which is pretty solid.
Astell&Kern’s SR25 is an excellent choice if you primarily listen to high-resolution digital audio, and want to get the most out of it.
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