Comparing two different portable players is not easy. Making sure levels are the same is the first problem; the second is that switching from one player to another takes more than a couple of seconds, making direct comparisons even more difficult. I set up a test to compare the Onkyo DP-X1 against the Astell& Kern AK240. After listening to several of my own recordings via both players I was forced to conclude that at least with the three earphones I used, the Ultimate Ears RR, Jerry Harvey Laylas, and Empire Ears Zeus, I could not identify any differences between the two players when they were both playing back my own DSD5.6 recordings.
I could spend multiple paragraphs detailing the hows and whys of MQA, but it will be far more efficient for you to look at the video links at theabsolutesound.com (“MQA Explained in Short Videos”. For more information read Robert Harley’s technical article about MQA (“Beyond High Resolution”), also on theabsolutesound.com. Finally, if you like questions and answers take a look at this interview with Robert Stuart on the Computer Audiophile site. On the DP-X1 all my MQA files played without any issues. MQA-encoded files also loaded and played just as fast as regular non-MQA versions.
When I compared MQA conversions of my own recordings with the originals, on some headphones I could not discern any sonic differences, but on those headphones and in-ears that I currently use for reference, such as the Ultimate Ears RR and Mr. Speakers Ether C, I could hear the improved resolution. For me the improvements manifested by the MQA-encoded files were in soundstage specificity, image placement, and low-level details. It was easier to listen into the mix, and to differentiate between sounds that were more homogenized on the non-MQA files. On my recording of Bryan Sutton and Chris Eldridge playing “Church Street Blues” at a workshop outdoors, Eldridge’s voice was better isolated from his guitar (whose sound hole was less than eight inches below his mouth). Instead of blending into one sonic entity the guitar and voice were separate and easily differentiated in space. Also some of the subtle variations in Bryan Sutton’s picking were easier to discern on the MQA-encoded file.
Yes, there are plenty of options nowadays for anyone looking to acquire a high-resolution high-performance portable player. But if value-for-dollar and maximum flexibility and functionality are high on your list of must-haves, you can substantially narrow down the list.
Taking it further, if future-proofing is among your most-wanted attributes, I can think of only two players that qualify, and only one of those can provide a true balanced output—that’s the Onkyo DP-X1.
While the DP-X1 may not be quite as disruptive a new technology as MQA, it does raise the question of why, except for aesthetics or ergonomics, anyone would choose another player if his budget maxed out at under $1000 (except perhaps for the Pioneer XDP-100R, if I were absolutely sure I would never, ever, need a balanced output). I predict that Onkyo will sell a lot of DP-X1 players because it is currently the best value out there in flexibility, functionality, and sound. Recommended? Is that even a question? Onkyo has hit a home run that deserves two trips around the bases.
Specs & Pricing
Operating system: Android OS 5.1.1
Total (current) maximum storage: 432GB
Internal storage/RAM: 32GB including Android OS system area (RAM: 2 GB)
Extended storage: 400GB via two 200GB micro-SD card slots
DAC and HP amplifier: Two ESS SABRE DAC ES9018K2M and two headphone AMP SABRE 9601K
Wi-Fi specification: 802.11a/b/g/n or 802.11ac (Wi-Fi direct / WPS)
Bluetooth support: A2DP/ AVRCP/ HSP/ OPP/ HID/ PAN
Codec: SBC/aptX (Transmit only)
Playable audio formats: DSD/DSF/DSD-IFF/FLAC/ALAC/WAV/AIFF/Ogg-Vorbis/MP3/AAC/MQA
Sampling rates & bit rates: 11.2MHz/5.6MHz/2.8MHz 1-bit, 44.1k/48k/88.2k/96k/176.4k/192k/352.8k/384k 16-bit/24-bit (32-bit float/integer can be played down-converted to 24 bit)
Supported video formats: H.263/ H.264 AVC/H.265 HEVC/MPEG-4 SP/VP8/VP9
Balanced output spec: 150mW + 150mW
THD: Less than 0.006 %
S/N Ratio: 115dB
Frequency response: 20Hz–80kHz
Dimensions: 3" x 5" x 0.5"
Weight: 7.16 Ounces