We recently reviewed the Onkyo DP-X1A, their flagship high-resolution audio player sometime ago. Onkyo recently sent us the DP-S1 “Rubato”, their entry level model with a much smaller footprint. Measuring 63 x 94 x 15 mm and weighing 130g, it’s much smaller than the DP-X1A which measures 129.0 × 75.9 × 12.7 mm and weighs 203g. The DP-S1 also offers dual Sabre ES9018C2M DACs for high-quality audio reproduction.
Being a lower cost product, the packaging of the DP-S1 is a lot less eloborate compared to its bigger brother. All you get is a simple cardboard box with the player, manual and micro-USB cable for charging and data transfer.
The DP-S1 has a much smaller, 2.4″ touch-screen LCD compared to the DP-X1A, running at a resolution of only 320×240 pixels. Compared to even the lower-end smart phones out there, the display looks very dated. Text is not as smooth as it should be, and album art doesn’t look great, either. This is quite reminiscent of the older iPods which had a similar display size and resolution.
At the top of the player are two headphone jacks, an unbalanced, 3.5mm one for the regular headphones, and a balanced 2.5mm one for the balanced headphones. This 2.5mm jack options opens up to an interesting selection of high-end IEMs and headphones that can benefit greater from the onboard dual DACs. To the other end, the power button can be found here.
Playback buttons adorn the left side of the player, while a large, rotary volume dial sits on the right. A micro-USB port is located at the bottom for charging and data transfer. Like the DP-X1A, there’s also dual micro SD card slots, giving you a total of up to 416GB (2x200GB SD + 16GB internal) of music storage.
There’s also a leather-like finishing on the back, and an engraving of the Onkyo logo.
The DP-S1 supports MQA, DSD 5.6MHz/2.8 MHz, FLAC, WAV, ALAC, and AIFF up to 192 kHz/32-bit, and plays all popular compressed audio formats like MP3. That said, you’d be wasting the player if all you had was 128Kbps MP3 files though. You need to feed this player with high-quality, high-resolution tracks to maximise its full potential.
Included with the player are streaming services such as Tidal and Deezer, as well as online radio service, TuneIn.
The DP-S1 appears to be running a customised Linux-based Operating System, instead of Android. This meant that there is no Google Play Store, nor ways for you to install your own music apps, e.g. Spotify.
Like the DP-X1A, the DP-S1 also does not seem to have sufficient power to drive larger headphones like my AKG K7xx and K501. This is despite Onkyo stating that it supports headphones with impedances of up to 600 ohm. Even when playing back at full volume, it doesn’t sound loud enough. On my Ultimate Ears TripleFi 100 which I tested the DP-S1 with, the volume level had to be set at around 50 (max is 60) to get a good enough playback volume.
I like to test audio equipment with classical music, as it has lots of dynamics, and there are many layers of sounds going on at once. This makes it ideal for evaluating whether a piece of audio equipment is able to resolve all these individual layers accurately. Lesser audio equipment will tend to mix everything up into audio mush.
One of the pieces I used is Argentinian pianist Martha Argerich’s performance of Rachnmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3. In the climax of the final movement, the entire orchestra is playing together with the piano, yet on the DP-S1 (and X1A as well), I was clearly able to pick up the piano from the orchestra. In the quieter parts, as well as the solo parts, the piano was reproduced very well, whether it’s the deep low notes or the crisp higher notes.
For vocals, I turned to Rebecca Pidgeon’s Spanish Harlem. The playback of the voice is full-bodied and warm, and the rendition of the shakers in the middle of the song were detailed enough to differentiate them from each other. This is a hallmark of an audio system with good resolution.
With the embedded Tidal and TuneIn support. i also got to enjoy a couple of streaming music through this player. Tidal sounded every bit as good on my PC desktop with a Sound Blaster X7. What was more surprising was the improved audio quality with the TuneIn app which made my internet radio listening sessions so enjoyable! This was probably the best TuneIn rendition i have have heard on a mobile device and DAP. Dynamics and clean streams are very much appreciated here!
The UI of the DP-S1 is basic and reasonably easy to use. Like many other such players, however, it suffers from a bit of a lag. This is still not as laggy as the A&K players which I have tried, though. One thing I noticed is that the same bug of not grouping albums correctly, which I experienced on the DP-X1A is also present here.
Connecting to WiFi is a pain as the on-screen keyboard is hard to use. However, Onkyo has a Onkyo DAP Controller app which you can download to improve this. Using Bluetooth Low Engergy (BLE) to communicate with the player, it lets your smartphone act as a remote control to switch tracks, adjust volume, or setup WiFi. I did not test the app when reviewing the DP-S1, though.
The player gets warm to the touch after about 30 mins of use. I don’t remember experiencing this with the DP-X1A. I am used to smart phones stopping the music when you unplug the headphones, but the Onkyo DP-S1 doesn’t seem to do this. The music continues to play, while draining the battery, if you unplug the headphones with the music still playing. If you are not careful, this will eventually drain the battery.
On the issue of power management, there is also no auto power-off by default. You have to go into the settings to enable this. However, this also means that the player will do a SD card scan upon the next power-on, which can take a while if you have a large SD card full of songs.
The competition for the high-resolution audio players seem to be heating up with many companies coming up with new players. Onkyo made the right move to come out with a lower-cost player that does not compromise on sound quality. There are a few UI and other issues as mentioned, and whether it’s acceptable will be up to the individual.
The DP-S1 is a very competent player, but the inability to drive the larger headphones might be a showstopper for some. If you use a pair of high-sensitivity IEMs, or use more sensitive headphones, then this should not be an issue.
The Onkyo DP-S1 Rubato is now available at S$799 from authorised dealers.