Wednesday, June 10, 2020

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.

The Shanling Q1 is a Great Companion for Those Long Library Study Sessions ($120)

Shanling Q1 Pic
Shanling Q1

The Shanling Q1 is perfect for study sessions. And while nearly ALL budget DAPs can be used for this purpose, I really do feel that the Q1 excels as a study partner because of its size and heaviness. Let me explain.


The device is heavy, so you wouldn’t use it to exercise with; you would most likely use a lighter device, like the FiiO M3 Pro, or Cowon Plenue J. Because of its heft, you don’t have to worry about it breaking easily if you drop it by accident. I once dropped my Shanling M0, a much smaller and lighter device, and it broke (don’t worry, I was able to put it back together). I have yet to drop my Q1, so I can’t say how accurate or inaccurate my observations are, but I can feel how durable it is in my hands.  


The Q1 is also very powerful. I am able to drive my Fostex headphones without an issue and still have plenty of a volume ceiling for blasting my music (though you wouldn’t want to blast your music in the library; that would be rude). The low and high gain setting of the Q1 allow you to tailor your needs as a listener. It’s all about those low gain sound study sessions, ya know?


The Cowon Plenue J is the Gym-Goers Dream for Sound Drown ($160)

Cowon Plenue J Pic
Cowon Plenue J


I know what you are going to say! That this device is severely limited for NOT having a blue tooth function. This is what I say to that, “F-that!” The JefEffects Equalizer makes the Cowon Plenue J completely worth it. If you need to use old-fashion wired headphones, then do it. There are some good options for wired headphones for gym use, but I recommend the Audiotechnica M50x’s. These are studio reference headphones that are affordable enough for you to get the best possible sound for your money.


In this case, these two items, the Cowon Plenue J and the Audio technica M50x’s, are the perfect complement to each other. The Plenue J has no issue powering the M50x’s (they are not hard to drive anyway), and with the JetEffects EQ, you have a wealth of useable, and frankly, AMAZING sounds at your disposal.


The Plenue J is SUPER lightweight, and you can even take them along for a run (the J won’t bother you while it jogs along with you in your shorts pocket).


Lastly the Plenue J is heavily discounted on Amazon, thanks to a review written by yours truly. My complain on an Amazon review was that the battery life isn’t as advertised, but I can get about 9 hours of playtime on it using AAC files (256 kpbs). I don’t have 9-hour workouts, even on my best day, so for me, a 9-hour battery life is acceptable for a device that offers the best in sound for its class.


The Hiby R3 Pro is the Perfect All-A-Rounder ($200)

Hiby R3 Pro Pic
Hiby R3 Pro


The Hiby R3 Pro, and even its little brother the R3, can be used in ANY setting. It is powerful enough to drive any mobile set of headphones, and it even has balanced output for all of you “balanced junkies.”


The R3 Pro also has blue tooth capability, so you could use it while ridding your bike for those longer bike rides, in which wearing a wired set of headphones would be annoying. However, I prefer using this player while doing homework, reading, and walking around my alma mater’s campus; it has a super long battery life to simplify those longer activity sessions.




All of these devices are good in pretty much every circumstance you can imagine. I am just being picky! Some devices due to a longer battery, heavier weight, or even a blue tooth function (or lack thereof) will be better in differing circumstances. Also devices like the Cowon Plenue J, and all of the budget level devices in the Plenue line, have limited functionality; they are designed specifically for those who pay for, and store their music, and lastly, don’t have blue tooth. The Cowon devices are for the “real” audio enthusiasts.


This is the list that I wish I had when starting out. Do you need a flagship level DAP to get the best experience possible? No, you don’t. Especially if your circumstances are dynamic and forever changing. You will not use a flagship level DAP when you are on the bus or train commuting. I argue that you will not use a flagship level DAP even when you are exercising in the gym.

That is really the value of this list that I have made. This list encapsulates all the instances where you would use a budget level DAP—exercising outdoors, gym-going, studying at the library, and even planning for world domination.


Can you make do with only one device on this list? YES, YOU CAN! But as a DAP-a-holic, you won’t want but one DAP on this list. You will want, or might even have, ALL the DAPs on this list. Let’s face it, if you are still reading my posts on this blog, YOU HAVE A PROBLEM.


DAP-a-holism is a real issue people. If you don’t believe me, type in “high-resolution audio player” in the Amazon search engine. There are about 50 “budget level” DAPs, and even more on AliExpress.


The only way to satisfy this urge, this disease, we MUST buy more DAPs. Until I can find an alternate solution to this problem, keep buying, and stay listening!

1 comment

  1. An interesting dialogue is price comment. I feel that it is best to write more on this matter, it may not be a taboo topic however usually individuals are not enough to talk on such topics. To the next. Cheers. best studio headphones under 100


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