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For many people, the transition from buying digital music to maintaining a local library has given way to streaming. But, if you want to enjoy the highest quality digital music, it’s always worth using a high-resolution music player instead. These devices can play high resolution digital music (better than CD quality) without compression. They have a headphone jack, so you won’t need an adapter to use high-end cans, but they also support Bluetooth if you’d rather go wireless.
If you haven’t used a dedicated digital music player since the Click Wheel iPod, you’ll be happy to know that it’s been updated with modern conveniences like a touchscreen. Some also support streaming from services offering music in high resolution, like TIDAL, without applying compression thanks to their DAC (digital to analog converter). This best of both worlds approach lets you natively play files purchased from sites like HD Tracks, Quboz, and Acoustic Sounds alongside songs from massive streaming libraries.
While the main attraction of these music players is the support for high-resolution audio, they can also play MP3, AAC, and other compressed audio formats. If you always maintain a local digital audio collection, don’t want to take up space on your phone or listen to high-resolution music often, then it’s a good idea to get a dedicated high-resolution music player.
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 today.
Storage room: All of our picks have a fairly modest amount of internal storage space, corn you can add more by inserting a MicroSD card. This upgrade allows you to continue using your high-resolution music player as your music library grows.
Diffusion: As we mentioned before, some of our recommendations can play both local music files and high resolution audio available on premium services.
Compatibility: The music players we have chosen work with both Windows and MacOS, so you can transfer music to them regardless of your machine’s operating system.
1. BEST OVERALL: FiiO M9
FiiO is one of the biggest names in the high-resolution digital audio player space, and its M9 offers all the features you need.
The one that stands out the most is its ability to play digital music from any source. It can play lossy files (MP3 AAC), high resolution files (FLAC, DFF, DSD) 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 a 3.5mm headphone jack if you prefer to use a wired pair.
Technically, the FiiO M9 is doing pretty well. You should get around 10 hours of music playback per charge, and the device charges via USB-C, a universal standard for many modern technologies. It only has 2GB (gigabytes) of storage, which is its weakest link, but you can upgrade it up to 2TB (terabytes) with a MicroSD card.
We recommend the FiiO M9 as a standalone high-resolution digital music player, but can also be used as a DAC for your computer. Once connected via USB, you can output audio from your Mac or PC through the M9 and output from its headphone jack. If your computer’s DAC is not 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 especially good if you’re looking for a standalone DAC.
2. ENTRY LEVEL: Sony Walkman NW-A55
Sony’s original Walkman was one of the most important portable audio technologies ever released, and the NW-A55 helps carry on that tradition.
It can play all popular lossless and lossless audio formats and output them through headphone jack or bluetooth. Like FiiO’s M9, the NW-A55 supports SBC, LDAC and aptX-HD, giving you a better wireless experience. However, it does not support Wi-Fi, so you can only play music from your local music library. The outstanding feature of the NW-A55 is its support for 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 is doing pretty well technically. It has 16 GB of storage, with the possibility of increasing it with a MicroSD card. Sony says this audio player gets up to 45 hours of music playback per charge and charges using a proprietary connector.
If you don’t mind its lack of support for music streaming services, the Sony NW-A55 is a great choice.
3. PREMIUM CHOICE: Astell & Kern SR25
If you primarily listen to high-resolution digital audio files, you’ll appreciate the technical specifications of the Astell & Kern SR25.
On the audio side, the SR25 supports everything from MP3 files 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 are listening to and optimize its sound. Astell & Kern went so far as to design the SR25’s PCB to regulate its output power and send the audio from its DAC to your headphones in the shortest possible time. This level of precision helps reduce small pockets of distortion deemed acceptable by other players.
The technical specifications of the SR25 match its impressive audio features. It has 64GB of built-in storage – the most of any drive in this guide – and you can add up to 1TB more using a MicroSD card. It gets up to 21 hours of music playback per charge and charges via USB-C, which is pretty solid.
The Astell & Kern SR25 is a great choice if you primarily listen to high-resolution digital audio and want to get the most out of it.