Apple Alternatives for a High Resolution Audio Portable Player
While an Apple product still does not exist, there are many excellent portable digital music players like the old Apple i-Pod that can deliver high resolution audio sound. So, yes, the digital music library of 24 bit music that you downloaded from HD Tracks and other web stores is portable.
Apple devices still cannot support high resolution audio formats. While they can play back some 24-bit audio file formats, the i-devises down sample the output so you are not really hearing the music you purchased. Besides, without attaching an external DAC like a Hugo to your i-devise, the sound that comes out of an Apple product is inferior.
However, while the world waits for Apple to catch up to the growing popularity of high resolution audio, there are a number of portable “iPod-like” digital music players available to play the quality of music that iTunes cannot play, and they are available at different price points.
The undisputed king of the portable digital music player market is Astell & Kearn. They were, perhaps, the first company to produce a high end portable player for high resolution audio. They now have a range of transports starting at $500 and raising in price and capability up to $3500.
The Astell & Kern AK240 Music Player is the first to provide native DSD (Direct Stream Digital) playback without having to convert it into PCM (Pulse Code Modulation). According to the company, the new technology allows the player to deliver the sound “exactly as the artist had intended” for us to hear. It also features a Dual DAC setup to create better left and right channel separation with clearer sound quality. The sound is impressive, but do you really need to spend $2500 to listen to high res audio on the go?
As Sound & Vision reviewer Mark Fleischmann wrote: “Is Astell & Kern’s AK240 worth 10 iPod classics? For most readers, the question is academic (and probably irritating). But this is the best portable audio player I’ve enjoyed to date, with unassailable build quality, sweet aesthetics, not-half-bad ergonomics, and stupendous sound, including the special attraction of uncompromised DSD playback.”
Several companies now compete with Astell & Kern offering excellent portable players. Sony, HiFi Man, and Questyle all produce excellent portable players at various price points. Perhaps the most interesting shape and feel of any of the portable players is a Pono Player.
Selling for less than $400, the Pono player is probably the best bargain of the group. The Pono, which is the brain child of musician Neil Young, supports playback of high-fidelity audio of up to 192kHz/24 bit resolution including DSD. Like the AK240, users can listen via headphones or through a home audio system.
As the reviewer at Ars Technica wrote, “If you’re gonna buy a dedicated music player that costs as much as a TV, at least this one’s only in the Vizio range.” While hi-res fans may no longer be satisfied with their iPhones or iPads, unless you have money to burn on a top-of-the-line portable player, the Pono is more than suitable.