Top 5 Music Players for Audiophiles

Audiophile Players

Anyone with a smartphone has a portable music player in their pocket, but while that might be okay for the average punter, anyone with a desire to listen to digital music at the best possible quality will likely be left disappointed. If sound quality is the key driver in your next music player purchase, then one of these five models should be on your shopping list depending on your demands and budget.

ColorFly-C4

Colorfly Pocket Hi-Fi C4 Pro 
from Advanced MP3 Players

The C4 Pro is more than just an audiophile’s choice; it’s the professional musician’s choice too, thanks to its high-end DAC and sampling capabilities. The DAC – a single CIRRUS Logic CS4398 chip – is usually found in top-notch hi-fi equipment, and delivers gob-smacking sound that includes every last detail yet manages to be both clear and punchy too when utilised with lossless formats such as FLAC or APE.
There’s a generous 32GB onboard storage and a micro-SD slot to double it to 64GB, 6.4mm and 3.5mm headphone sockets, plus twin SPDIF sockets that support input and output, allowing the C4 Pro to be used as a dedicated DAC or sample converter. Throw in its old-school walnut veneer and yellowed metal fascia, and this is a player that raises the bar for other players to aspire to.

Yours for £549

More on Colorfly

Astell-and-Kern

Astell and Kern AK100

from Advanced MP3 Players

If proof were needed that the audiophile market is a growing one, this new player from iRiver provides it in spades. It sports a Woflson WM8740 DAC, delivering gorgeous sound to rival the Colorfly models, but unlike the C4 Pro, manages to bundle all of this in a pocket-friendly case and with a screen that’s closer to the Cowon’s in terms of colour and functionality, although like its top-notch rivals, the AK100’s UI can feel quite sluggish.
But elsewhere there are some nice touches to accompany the glorious sound quality on offer: the 32GB internal memory is augmented with not one, but two micro-SD slots giving it a theoretical maximum of 96GB. The AK100 also includes a high-quality headphone amp, Bluetooth wireless support and a recent firmware update extended support to Apple-friendly formats, including its own lossless ALAC format.
The obvious question is whether you plump for this over the C4 Pro. With sound quality this good on both devices, you’re left choosing between size – this is far more pocket-friendly, aesthetics and additional capabilities, with the C4 Pro just winning out if you’re a pro musician.

Yours for £569

ColorFly-C3

Colorfly Pocket Hi-Fi C3
from Advanced MP3 Players

The Hi-Fi C3 is aimed at those who can’t justify the huge outlay demanded by the C4 Pro. That’s evident in its choice of DAC (the cheaper TI PCM1770), aluminium-style finish and reduced capacity (8GB plus micro-SD slot). Nevertheless, while the C3 can’t scale the heights of its bigger brother, it’s still a superb-sounding device, with precise, clean and rich tones to leave you in little doubt that Colorfly’s excellent technical knowledge has been put to good use even at this reduced budget.
There are major issues with the interface and awkward navigation controls that could prove troublesome, but this player is all about the superlative sound quality at a price that won’t break the bank.

Yours for £149

More on Colorfly

Cowon-x932

Cowon iAudio X9
from Advanced MP3 Players

While Cowon can’t quite scale the heights of Colorfly and iRiver, the iAudio X9’s JetEffect 5 audio engine ensures it’s still head and shoulders above the likes of the iPhone 5 and iPod touch. And what you lose in top-notch quality you more than gain elsewhere, whether it’s the 110-hour battery life, larger 4.3-inch screen, more intuitive interface and ability to more precisely shape the sound to your personal tastes using the built-in equalizer controls – a staggering 44 presets are supplied, with four customizable slots available.

The iAudio X9 also has some built-in video capabilities, but they’re limited to the point of being a distraction to the unit’s main appeal. The resistive touchscreen can be awkward to use too, but thankfully the iAudio X9 sports all the physical buttons you need for playback so you can limit your exposure to it, leaving you free to enjoy audio bliss without having to reach for the charger.

Yours for £159

More on Cowon

Cowon-E2L

Cowon i10
from Advanced MP3 Players

If your budget is excruciatingly tight, then Cowon’s entry level i10 player is the one to check out. Like the iAudio X9, despite some limited video support the i10 is best thought of purely in audio terms. And you’ll be pleasantly surprised too – despite sporting Cowon’s older, less-advanced JetEffect 3.0 engine, the sound is clearly a cut above most music players out there, and there’s plenty of options for tweaking it to your tastes. While doing so, we were pleased to see that like its peers it’s capable of delivering extra bass without overwhelming the mid and high levels.
The price you do pay is with limited storage – with no expansion slot available, make sure you purchase the largest capacity (8GB-32GB models are available) you can afford. The touchscreen controls on the front can be a little confusing too, but it’s light, feels durable thanks to the rubberised casing, and delivers where it matters: in the sound department.

Yours for £99

More on Cowon