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Is it possible to use a DAP as an audio source for a hi-fi system?

Test Onkyo DP-X1

Released at the beginning of the month, the Nintendo Switch console, although exclusively dedicated to video games, confirms the growing trend observed in the world of hi-fi–notably illustrated by DAPs–of functioning both at home and on-the-go. Used as a handheld device, the Nintendo Switch is entirely portable thanks to an integrated LCD display. In the living room, a docking station allows the user to connect the console to a television and thus play video games with a large HD image (even UHD).

Such versatility is becoming a common feature of portable audio devices. In fact, while the primary function of these devices is to listen to music with a pair of headphones or in-ear headphones while on the move, new DAPs are equipped with a line level output. This output benefits from a second amplifier (different from the one which powers the headphone output) with an impedance adapted to the line level inputs of an integrated amplifier or compact hi-fi system.

The DAP: a source to use with speakers?

Given the quality of the digital-to-analog converter integrated into DAPs, fitting them with a line level output is not a bad idea. In addition, the DAP’s battery is a high-quality linear power supply which guarantees detailed audio restitution and a precise soundstage. The absence of fluctuations and electronic interference also contributes to making DAPs perfect candidates for hi-fi listening with a pair of speakers. It goes without saying that using a quality analog cable is necessary.

Audioquest Cinnamon

The Audioquest Cinnamon mini-jack RCA cable.

Most DAP manufacturers equip their products with digital audio outputs, either in S/PDIF format (optical or coaxial connection) or via a USB port. In these conditions, a DAP is in no way inferior to a standard digital source (CD player, Blu-ray player, network player, computer, etc.). When a digital connection is implemented, the DAP’s DAC is bypassed and the quality of the listening experience depends essentially on that of the external DAC.

The DAP: better than a smartphone for wireless listening?

We were surprised by the number of comments we found on the Internet suggesting that a DAP would be a superior source for wireless listening. When playing audio tracks via WiFi or Bluetooth, a DAP uses neither its DAC nor its analog output. As such, it doesn’t offer a higher-quality listening experience than a smartphone or tablet.

The DAP: an audio server for your home?

The possibility of adding one or several high-capacity microSD cards (256 or 512 Go) leads us to wonder if a DAP may be enough on its own for storing and sharing music files. Can a DAP stand in for a NAS? The answer is yes, but only if the DAP is equipped with a network controller (WiFi for example) and its OS makes its storage device available for sharing. The arrival of new Android DAPs makes the case for using a DAP as a NAS.

Simply installing an app such as UPnP Server to make all audio files from one or several folders accessible is all that’s required.

When using a DAP in this way, it is important to activate its WiFi mode and position it relatively close to a set-top box. As a result, streaming will be facilitated, especially when using a DAP simultaneously with several players (home cinema receiver, wireless speaker, etc.).

The DAP: for watching movies?

Android DAPs are perfectly capable of playing movies or TV series, as long as the proper app is installed: BSPlayer, MXPlayer or VLC, for example. It is important to be aware that for the first two apps, an additional ZIP file must be downloaded in order for Dolby and DTS formats to be handled. An Android DAP thus transforms itself into a convenient portable viewing device, the sound played through its headphone output being its key advantage.

The DAP: for gaming?

It’s possible, once again with an Android model. Most often equipped with an SoC ARM and 1 Go of RAM, an Android DAP can be used to play 90% of video games available via Play Store without any disruptive slowdowns.

This post is also available in: French

About the author

Tristan Jacquel

Tristan est rédacteur chez Son-Vidéo.com. Passionné de musique, d'acoustique et de high-tech, il réalise notamment les tests matériels pour notre blog.

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