Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Cowon Plenue V vs. Plenue J: Now is the Time to Buy!

By Clay Valarezo




Ok, I am going to keep this one microscopically short! There are very few differences between the Cowon Plenue V and the Plenue J. The reason why I am writing this post is because both these devices are heavily discounted right now on Amazon. Both devices retailed for more than $300 a year ago, now the Cowon Plenue V and the Plenue J, are $150 ($120 with discount) and $160, respectively. Now is a great time to buy, especially the Plenue V!


Difference 1: Form Factor


The Cowon Plenue V looks, well, like a Corvette! It is shaped like a “V,” and even has an edged contour. I have the red version, and it looks pretty f-in sweet.


Cowon Plenue V Pic
Cowon Plenue V


The Plenue J looks like an Astell & Kern made forbidden love to a FiiO. It is an attractive looking device for sure, with its contoured headphone jack input. But the Plenue V is sexier!


Cowon Plenue J Pic
Cowon Plenue J

4 Diverse Budget DAP Roundup: From Most Affordable to Most Expensive for EVERY circumstance

By Clay Valarezo




After coming out of my 19th DAP-a-holics anonymous meeting, I realized something. That I have a problem. I could say that my problem was owning 40 plus budget DAPs that all do the same thing. I could say that my problem was owning nearly a dozen DAC/Amps that I simply don’t need. I could say that my problem was owning more than 20 pairs of headphones. But those wouldn’t be my problems.


My problem was that I wished I had a more comprehensive list of budget DAPs, at least in the beginning of my DAP-a-holic journey. With such a list, maybe I wouldn’t have bought 40 plus budget DAPs, a dozen DAC/Amps, and 20 pairs of headphones—which resulted in an expensive “sound experimentation” period.


So, with this problem in mind, I have come up with a 4 budget DAP roundup of my favorite DAPs in different settings and circumstances. Let’s begin with the most affordable DAP that I recommend.


The FiiO M3 Pro is Great for Running ($80)

FiiO M3 Pro Pic
FiiO M3 Pro


I recently purchased the FiiO M3 Pro with great enthusiasm, and I have been even more enthusiastic about singing its praise. Yes, I have been very vocal about its “near harsh” sonic characteristic, but I do prefer brighter sounds in my listening experience. Having said that, this budget DAP will give you the most for your Benjamin’s (or less than one to be specific: $80).


This device has the most useful implementation of a touch screen in all the budget DAPs that I have, and its tall screen facilitates the browsing of your music. It has zero lag, and it is simple to use. No user manual is needed for this one!


Its light and small form factor make it my personal favorite for exercising, and unlike its little brother, the FiiO M3K, there are no glitches in its firmware.

Shanling Q1: Is It Worth the Upgrade from the M1?

By Clay Valarezo

Shanling Q1
Shanling Q1



I have been a fan of Shanling DAPs since I purchased the Shanling M1, the cutest lil’ device ever! Unlike earlier FiiO DAPs, the user experience has always been superior on these devices.


I think for the earlier Shanling DAPs, Hiby created the operating systems for the UI, though I could be very wrong about this. Yet, the Shanling Q1 has its own proprietary UI that company created in house, and it is lovely!


Below, I have listed some reasons why the Shanling Q1 is a worthy (and more affordable) upgrade to the Shanling M1 (no longer in production).


Touch Screen/ UX


The Q1 has a touch screen interface as opposed to the M1, which operates entirely with buttons. The Q1 does have a volume knob, as well as play/pause, back and forward buttons on the side. For me, this is a welcomed feature set, as it complements the touch screen operations nicely.


There is NO lag on this device, however it does take roughly 15 minutes to load 10,000 songs (AAC format, 16/44.1, 256 kpbs). I view my music in “folder” mode which makes navigation for me a breeze (I manually organize my music in folders while loading music on my card via separate adapter).


One last consideration about its touch screen. There are other devices in this price range with touch screens also, like the Shanling M0, and the FiiO M5. While those are great devices, their smaller size makes touch screen functionality less useful. It is hard to scroll through folders when you can only see 4 of them at a time. This is also the case for the Q1, but with one major difference—the font is larger due to the larger screen. It is easier to navigate on the Q1 compared to the Shanling M0 and the FiiO M5.


Battery Life


If you are familiar with my posts, you must be tired by now that I keep praising the “battery life” of a device. And that is understandable. Battery life is not as sexy as “sound quality,” that’s fo’ shizzle. But in this case, the Q1 has a noticeably larger battery life than the M1—about 5 hours more life. This is a boon, really.




The Q1 is also noticeably more powerful than the Shanling M1. Much like the M1, the Q1 has low and high gain settings so that the listener can customize their listening experiences. Of course, the high gain setting will eat more into the battery, but the Q1 has a much larger battery life than the M1, so it is not an issue.


Cuteness Factor


Yep, I went there! Both these devices are super cute. In fact, they are downright adorable. When I purchased the Q1 on crowdfunding, I was initially un-impressed with the pictures that Shanling used to display this lil’ cutie. I purchase these budget DAPs because, like many of you, I have a sickness, a sickness called DAP-a-holism. AND it was being sold for $90 at the time. Why the ef wouldn’t I buy it?


When I opened the lovely packaged Shanling box, I was blown away by how friggin’ cute this thing is. It has curvy edges that would make Kim Kardashian jealous. Yep, I went there too. The pictures really don’t do the Q1 justice.


Also, the Q1 is relatively heavy for its size. This is not an issue for me, since I use it when I am studying or writing blog posts.


Conclusion: Should You Buy the Q1?


I love the Shanling M1 with almost all my heart, I really do. That device got me hooked on Shanling products. The Q1 is an amazing piece of kit. I still use the M1, just in a different context (when I am meditating).


If you have the older M1, and if you are wondering whether to buy the Q1, then I would urge you to consider my post. I can’t comment on sound quality, as to me, I can’t tell the difference. But I can say that the Q1 has more power under the hood, so it can power harder to drive headphones more effectively AND has more battery life to justify the music listening experience.


Do you NEED this device? Ef no! Do you WANT this device? Hellz ya! How many DAPs do we really need? Only one. How many pairs of reference quality headphones do we really need? Only one. How many DAC/AMPs do we really need? Not even one.


But as DAP-a-holics, suffering from the greatest disease of all (DAP-a-holism), we need to find a spot in our hearts for that one more DAP; that one more DAP that will make us feel special and invigorated; that one more DAP that will make “normal” people around us question our sanity; that one more DAP that our parents find in our closets and criticize us. We need that “one more” DAP. And this is it!


Until next time, stay listening!

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

3 Great Soundtrack Groups to Check Out on Your Favorite Budget DAP

By Clay Valarezo




You finally have your favorite DAP in hand. Great. You have your favorite pair of kick-ass headphones. Fantastic! So, what next, who do you listen to for a truly unforgettable experience?


Time to go on a journey for this blog post. Are you ready? Let’s start!


Two Steps from Hell


I didn’t start really becoming a DAP-a-holic until I started listening to trailer music. And the good news is that there aren’t too many artists out there for us to discover. Yet, there are maybe a handful of artists who have close to 10 albums or more. So where did I begin?


I began my trailer music listening experience on my old beat up FiiO X1 (second generation) and my first album was Two Steps From Hell’s SkyWorld. I knew that in order to have the best listening experience, I needed a device that could power my headphones effectively, and that the internal components needed to be engineered in a way where music listening could be optimized.


If you aren’t blown away by the first track of this album, then you either need a new DAP, a new set of headphones, or simply new ears. Ha, I only kid! But seriously. The Bass Drop (yes, I capitalized “bass drop”) in the middle of the song is enough to get you on your feet and “spartan-yell” that sh&t.


My second album from this group is album called Battlecry, another EPIC album. Then I discovered Archangel, and finally, the mother-f-er of all EPIC trailer albums, Unleashed. Check these albums out before you continue to with this post. And don’t come back until you do. Ha, just kidding. Let’s press onward my fellow DAP-a-holics!!!

Two Steps From Hell Pic

The Hiby R3 Pro: The ONE Main reason to buy it!

By Clay Valarezo

Hiby R3 Pro
Hiby R3 Pro



So, I was lucky enough to get the Hiby R3 Pro when Hiby was doing trial runs on Amazon back in December of last year (2019). I already owned the R3, which was an amazing player.


It had a Bluetooth function, which I never used. It had an amazing EQ platform, Mage, which I never used. It had a great user experience, set with a touch screen, and was perfectly sized to handle the operations effectively.


The Main Benefit


So then why buy the R3 Pro? It has plenty of noticeable upgrades, like Dual Cirrus Logic DAC Chips. It has balanced output in 2.5mm. Finally, it has streaming capabilities with its built in WIFI. These seem like worthy upgrades for keeping the price the same (at $200), but the most useful upgrade, for me, was the battery.


Its battery life is almost doubled it predecessor (nearly 20 hours in single ended mode). As you all know by now, I am a functionality/battery zealot. This are the most critical priorities for me when I buy and enjoy a new DAP.




Is the R3 Pro a worthy update? Yes. But not for the super cool “techie” reasons that seem to draw in the hardcore DAP-a-holics. Battery life just doesn’t sound as sexy as “dual DAC chips,” or “balanced output.”


Lastly, do you NEED this DAP. You already know. YOU ALREADY KNOWWW! No, you don’t. But you can’t be a true DAP-a-holic if you don’t have many DAPs in your arsenal of DAPs. Oh, but I have a top of the line Flagship DAP, I don’t need a budget player.


That may be true, but you WANT that budget DAP, because it makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Don’t be a tool, buy that budget DAP! Until you do, stay listening!

Three of my Favorite Budget DAPs for Exercising (One of Them Might Surprise You)

By Clay Valarezo


I like to exercise. It allows me to think strategically about my future development and growth. My current goals include two more master’s degree, an MBA from a top 15 school, and a book publication about business strategy research. Loft goals indeed.


When I exercise, I am able to verbalize, internally as well as externally, where I see myself in the next two years, five years, ten years. It also gives me the opportunity to listen to my favorite music, and new artists that I discover during the week.


I typically go on walks, and sometimes, jog/walks that can last up to four hours. As someone who is not employed, I have such luxuries. As you can imagine my favorite companion during these walks is a high-resolution DAP.


I have three DAPs that I rotate between when I am exercising. All three have different form factors and slightly varied user experiences. Why not just use one DAP, and ONLY ONE DAP? I believe that DAPs have differing personalities portrayed by the differentiated user experiences. A DAP that operates with a touch screen will feel different than a DAP that doesn’t. Thus, giving me a different user experience completely. Variety is the key!


So which ones do I use for exercise?


The Shanling M0: The Mini Touch Screen Monster

The Shanling M0 has a touch screen operation, has Bluetooth capabilities, a fast UI, and enough power to push mobile headphones—all while having a ten-hour battery life!


Further, the device is tiny as hell and uses VERY LITTLE space in your pocket. Currently, it is selling for $110 on Amazon.

Shanling M0 Pic
Shanling M0

Monday, June 8, 2020

FiiO M3 Pro VS. Cowon iAudio DAP: Superior Functionality Pitted Against Superior Sonics, Who Will Triumph?

By Clay Valarezo

Chief DAP-a-holic Officer (CDO)




Where do I begin with this post? I have written maybe a dozen DAP reviews on Amazon, where I get on my soap box about how sound is NOT the feature that users should be prioritizing when purchasing a DAP. So, I feel a bit weird for posting about sound quality in the following few words.


There is just something about Cowon devices that sound good to my ears. The Plenue D, Plenue R, and the Plenue J (my favorite sounding device PERIOD) all sound so good to me, and I don’t know why. So, I figured that I would give the Cowon iAudio 32 GB a shot. I mean why not?


From a sound perspective, like all of its Cowon relatives, the Cowon iAudio sounds great to my ears. I know, shocking! I can’t say this is because they all utilize the same electronics, as the guts of all the devices that I have listed, rely on different DAC/AMP chips. So, maybe it is just the way the device is designed by Cowon engineers? I will never know, I fear.


The FiiO M3 Pro, on the other hand, at least to my ears has a harsher sound. In that case, why do I keep writing about it? I feel that this device offers the best in class features for the price, and its EQ CAN be adjusted… just not the extent of the Cowon iAudio.


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