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“Audiophile” players: how to sell iPod for a million

Players Apple iPod revolution in the music market, is rapidly losing popularity under the pressure of smartphones. But it raises the head is entirely new segment: the audio player for audiophiles, with support for lossless formats, large memory capacity and high-quality DAC.

Of course iPod is too early to write off. There are cheap players, however, their ranks have thinned considerably: apart from a couple of Sony players, and several Russian-Chinese brands such as TeXet, and Digma, in this segment you will find very little; of course, if you do not take into account the Chinese shops, where tens and hundreds of unknown brands offer cheap and poor quality players for every taste.

Resource Zoom made a selection of players with good sound, eager to catch up and overtake the iPod. The question of whether to pay more for “audiophile” 192 kHz/24 bits, remains open.

Chinese breakthrough

Fiio is a new name in the segment of portable audio, but it has already managed to catch the fancy of music lovers. The current lineup for a long time and is well sold on the Russian market players is represented by X1, X3 and X5 II II. They all have the ability to play lossless audio formats (i.e., audio data compressed without quality loss), but the difference here lies only in the set of supported formats are base MP3, AAC, OGG, APE, ALAC, FLAC, WMA and WAV to X3 and X5 II II supplemented MP2, AIFF and DSD. Maximum settings playable lossless-audio — audiophile 192 kHz/24 bit.

All three models are supported playlists formats are M3U and M3U8, there is no built-in memory, and music are encouraged to store on MicroSD cards up to 128 GB. And in X5 II can be installed two at a time: thus, the amount of memory for storing music rises to an impressive 256GB.

Players have different DACs, operational amplifiers, and the display settings are different: if X1 is Junior 320×240 on a normal TN-matrix, in X5 II has IPS matrix with a diagonal of 2.4 inches. Displays, interestingly, not touch: and that’s a plus, since controls are done quite wisely, plus non-touch screen significantly reduces power consumption and overall cost of the device.

All three minigetaway there is a standard (3.5 mm) headphone output, while the X3 and X5 II II optionally present a combined linear/SPDIF output (X1 they are combined), and also supports OTG mode. The battery life when playing lossless formats at maximum settings 192/24 ranged from 10 hours for the older models up to 15 — in the primary.

Their design is all similar — it is easy to guess a normal iPod, but with no touch wheel: the Apple of his previously patented, so “bagel” in the mechanical Fiio players. Review — very good. This contributes to the case from a single piece of aluminum, and X3 so do II back cover glass.

As a fairly subjective assessment of sound quality, in principle it is all the testers really like it. All noted the “stark contrast” in comparison with, in General, good sound tract of smartphones premium. The average price of players by mid-November 2015 is in the range from 7 000 rubles (X1) up to 21,000 (X5 II).

How to sell iPod for a million

Everyone who ever bought the audio player that should be famous iRiver brand. Ten years ago, under this brand were relatively inexpensive and good (relative to other brands, that is) music players: as with good software support and hardware perspective. Then iRiver started producing e-books, but somehow didn’t go.

Now the company has returned to the bosom of portable audio players, but the class above: created a brand Astell&Kern and began to promote it in the segment of luxury. And in what segment will make the players price in the quarter of a million rubles?

But in addition to these fantastic projects, iRiver promotes the former and less pretentious model. For example, AK Jr for 32,000 rubles — which, in turn, is a Junior version of the model AC II.

Note that even for the money it will obviously be more costly than the most expensive Fiio X5 II, and dare to assume that plays a signicant role in pseudography name. Is this true?

There are differences, actually: for example, the display in the “Junior” already touch, 240×400 pixels, inbuilt memory 64 GB (and supports MicroSDXC cards up to 64 GB). Of course, there is support for “audiophile” formats include WAV, FLAC, WMA, MP3, OGG, APE, AAC, ALAC, AIFF, DFF and DSF resolution PCM formats up to 192 kHz / 24 bit and DSD 1 bit / 2.8 MHz. Output impedance is 2 Ohm, use a well-known DAC Wolfson WM8740. Among other differences is the Bluetooth 4.0 in addition to the standard minigenome output, and analog ring volume control and Fiio. Interestingly, Astell&Kern AK Jr has already managed to receive the prestigious European award Reddot Award 2015 for minimalistic design.

It is also interesting to look at one of the flagships of the company: model AC for $2500 or 140 000 rubles at the minimum in the stores.

As befits a premium product, it has a designer body with different angles from a single piece of metal. Then touch screen on AMOLED-matrix. Well and further without boundaries: the model is here a Wolfson WM8740 DAC Cirrus Logic CS4398 in two copies, one for each channel. Plus there is the XMOS chip is occupied by the processing of superdense DSD audio stream and the balanced amplifier for suppressing noise and increasing amplitude of the audio signal. There are many — 256 GB — internal SSD memory with MicroSDXC-card reader (+128GB). In the presence of Bluetooth (for wireless headphones) and Wi-Fi module for streaming audio streaming.

But, again, so much money for High End not only pay for the letters and names, but also for the sound. Of course, the testers praised for its high sound quality — subjective, for smooth frequency response — objectively (it can be seen in the screenshots).

Is it worth the money? Probably, for those who are willing to buy without compromise for maximum performance — Yes. For others, a compromise solution would be something more down to earth.

“Hifairy” man

For example, the audiophile player from HiFiMAN. The current line of this Chinese manufacturer includes 4 models and price categories have about the same as that of the Fiio models. Marche marks this year 10 years, and, in addition to the players, HiFiMAN Electronics manufactures headphones and amplifiers. The company’s products have won numerous awards in recent years, including awards of the famous exhibition CES.

Interestingly, a feature of all models of iPods except HiFiMAN HM-700 (one of the most inexpensive in the line: its price starts from 9,000 rubles) is a replacement amplifier module. Standard cost can be replaced by balanced, specially designed for compact IEM headsets or amplified “MINIBOX” compatible with the most demanding headphones. And you can choose the amplifier with the purchase, and you can then replace it yourself.

A set of file formats all supported approximately the same: WAV, MP3, APE, FLAC, ALAC, AAC, AIFF with parameters up to 24 bit and 192 kHz. Top models, for example, HM-802 and HM-901, it can play DSD converted to PCM. Junior (HM-700 and below) only support WAV, MP3, APE, FLAC with parameters 24 bit and 44.1/48 kHz. She, the younger, almost the only one in the line, there is a built-in memory for 16 or 32 GB. The other, higher class, offer to store music only on SD cards (not MicroSD!) up to 128 GB. The average operation time players — 9-10 hours of continuous music playback at maximum settings.

The sound quality of the HiFiMAN players, the testers also describe in superlatives, even for younger models HM-700 or HM-601; therefore, the players of this company can also be considered as candidates for purchase if you want to buy a portable music player lossless formats. Of course, they lose even their direct competitors Fiio (especially in the number of supported formats), so watch stands as those, and others.

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