With the music industry moving into high-resolution audio, many manufacturers are now jumping onto the bandwagon. Several digital audio players capable of playing audio files up to 24-bit 192kHz or even 32-bit 384kHz have been released in the past few years. The DP-X1A is an update to the previously released Onkyo DP-X1 which was released in 2016. Compared to MP3s and even CD audio, High-resolution audio (HRA) offers a much higher level of details and dynamic range, which promises to produce more realistic-sounding music close to what the producers hear in the recording studio.
We recently attended Onkyo Singapore’s launch of the DP-X1A (together with the LS7200 3D sound bar and the NCP-302 Wireless Speakers) and now, Onkyo Singapore has graciously sent us a review unit of the DP-X1A.
The Onkyo DP-X1A comes in a box slightly larger than a big paperback book. As with the trend of having minimalist, clean-looking packaging of products nowadays, the outer shell of the box features only a photo of the player set against a white background. It is flanked by the Onkyo logo, a High-Resolution Audio logo as well as the X1A’s logo and nothing else.
Sleeved within this white outer shell is the black box, which folds open like a book. A nice touch is a layer of sponge on the inside cover which protects the player’s screen from damage. For the shot below, I’ve removed the plastic bag and temporary screen protector wrapping the player for a better looking photo. 🙂
The left side of the box contains a user guide and USB cable. The player sits on the right hand side in it’s own slot. Here is a photo of the package contents outside of the box.
Sporting a minimalist design, the DP-X1A is slightly bigger and thicker than an iPhone 6, which makes it very handy to hold in your hands. A 4″ screen with a resolution of 1280×720 adorns the front of the player, while left side of the player features a rotary volume knob.
On the right-hand side is a row of transport buttons, power button power button as well as not one, but TWO microSD card slots, giving you up to 464GB (64GB onboard + 2x200GB in the microSD cards) of music. This is very generous compared to the latest Macbook Pros, which does not even have a single SD slot!
Like a high-end digital audio player worth its salt, the DP-X1A features two types of headphone outputs—3.5mm unbalanced and 2.5mm balanced. The latter offers increased power to drive the headphone drivers, as well as improved isolation from having the left and right channels completely isolated from each other. Unfortunately, I do not have any balanced headphones to test this out. The 3.5mm output can also be converted to a variable or fixed line-level output for connecting to an amplifier or active speakers.
Finally, for charging and file transfer, there is a micro USB port at the bottom of the player. This USB port can also be connected to an external DAC via a USB On-the-Go (OTG) cable if you wish to use the player as just a transport in your high-end stereo system.
|Display||4.7 inch (1280 x 720) capacitive touch screen|
|Expansion slot||microSD (SDXC) slot x 2 (200GB Max per slot)|
|Supported audio formats||DSD (DSF/DSDIFF)/FLAC/ALAC/WAV/AIFF/MQA/Ogg-Vorbis/MP3/AAC|
|Frequency response||20 Hz ‐ 80000 Hz|
The Onkyo DP-X1A is an Android-based player running Android 5.1, powered by a Snapdragon 800 CPU running at 2.2GHz. While this seems underpowered and backdated by today’s standards, bear in mind that this is designed primarily as a digital audio player and many of the bells and whistles of a more modern OS or CPU is probably not needed here.
On the audio side of things, a dual SABRE ES9018K2M DACs and SABRE 9601K amps from ESS Technology are used for the highest possible sound quality and wide sound stage. Custom audio-grade capacitors from Nippon Chemicon (MELODIO) are used for improved audio quality.
In order to isolate the audio circuitry from digital noise, the individual sections of the player are completely separated, with their own independent power supply. One interesting new feature of the player is a “Standalone mode”, something similar to the Airplane Mode found on most smart devices today. This turns off the screen as well as power down all the wireless circuitry to minimise electromagnetic signals from reaching the player to give an improved audio quality.
The Onkyo DP-X1A supports a wide variety of file systems, including Direct Stream Digital (DSD), FLAC, Apple Lossless, WAV/AIFF, MQA and even the lowly MP3. Sampling rates up to 32-bit 384kHz are supported, though 32-bit files will be downsampled to 24-bit for playback.
Running on Android also means that you can get apps such as Spotify and TIDAL for your streaming music needs.
And now, the part that most readers will be most interested in—how does this player sound?
I loaded a selection of high-resolution, standard 16-bit 44.1kHz lossless files and even MP3 files into the DP-X1A via a microSD card for testing. Now in the quieter confines of my home, I was able to better make a judgement of the player’s sound quality (compared to the rather noisy café during the launch.) I am glad to say I wasn’t disappointed.
What I am disappointed with, however, is that the player’s unbalanced output is unable to drive my AKG K501 and K7xx headphones to loud-enough levels. This is despite setting the player’s gain to the “High” setting. I therefore tested the player with my Ultimate Ears UE900 In-Ear Monitors for this review.
First up, I cued up a 24-bit 88.2kHz version Rebecca Pidgeon’s Spanish Harlem. This was featured in Chesky Record’s Ultimate Demonstration Disc for evaluating the detail resolution of a playback system. The DP-X1A played the track very well here, rendering each shake of the shaker in the middle section of the song slightly different from the rest. Just as the introduction to this track in the Ultimate Demonstration Disc has described. Rebecca’s voice is also very nicely played back, though there’s a little more sibilance than I’d like.
Next, I tried Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra played by the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Stern. This is a 24-bit 88.2kHz recording with great dynamic range and the DP-X1A played it with finesse. The last movement of the piece is a fugue, where the piccolo players the themed, then joined by the woodwinds, strings, brass and percussion in turn. At the climax when the whole orchestra is playing together, I can still clearly identify each section’s motif as they are played. The DP-X1A also handled the dynamics very well, without sounding distorted at the loud sections.
Another test track I like to use is Julsang from the album Cantate Domino. This features a choir accompanied by a pipe organ in the Oscarskyrkan church in Stockholm in 1976. The version I have here is the plain 16-bit 44.1kHz one which I had ripped from the CD that I have. On this track, each voice is rendered very clearly, and is still coherent when the whole choir sings at once, just like with the orchestral track previously. There’s a good sense of space around the vocalists, and the ambience of the large church is clearly audible. The magnificent organ is also awesome here, with it starting with a mellow tone to unleashing almost all its full power at the end. The DP-X1A has no problems reproducing all of that, as well as the deep notes that the organist has played.
I played several other tracks on the DP-X1A and is pleased with the sound quality so far. Only quibble I have is that it’s slightly on the bright side of things, so pairing with suitable headphones is important. If you pair this with a pair of bright-sounding headphones, like some B&O or Audio Technica ones for example, it might sound overly bright.
The User Interface (UI) is an area which many manufacturers can’t seem to get right. I’ve tested a few Digital Audio Players (DAP) which, while they do sound good, has a horrible UI. Price of the player does not seem to be a factor here, as even the expensive Astell&Kern players have laggy and non-intuitive UIs. The more budget FiiO players also seem to have less-than-friendly UIs. The Sony players that I’ve tried, from the low end (and discontinued) NW-A25 to the top-of-the-line NW-WM1Z fared better on this regard, but nothing seems to match the ease of use of the Apple iPods or even some of Creative’s ZEN series of players.
The default player which the DP-X1A is fortunately, not too bad. It features several tabs which you can swipe around, to have your music listed by folder, album, artiste, genre, etc. I usually use the “Album” mode.
There seems to be some bugs in the player’s sorting/grouping algorithm, so certain albums are not grouped together here. The same files are grouped correctly on my Sony NW-A25 as well as my iPhone 6, so it probably has to do with how the player app reads and interprets the file’s metadata and subsequently groups them.
One plus point is that, unlike my NW-A25, the DP-X1A handles multi-disc albums much better. While the A25 seems to prefer to sort alphabetically, the DP-X1A correctly sorts them by disc, then by track.
There are two presentations of the playback screen which you can choose, one featuring a circle with a spectrum analyser indicating the current playback position, and another featuring a prominently-displayed album art. I much preferred the latter.
One nice touch that Onkyo has put in is that the album art is persistently shown as the wallpaper of the home screen in monochrome, reminding you of what’s the current album being played. You can also swipe left on the home screen to access the mini player.
Rotating the volume control knob on the player shows the current volume level, as well as a yellow/green line which you can drag to change the volume. The knob is engineered with 161-steps for precise volume control, but it’s too slow if you want to quickly decrease the volume of a loud track. In this case, dragging the on-screen control is much faster.
With the player locked, you can access the play/pause, skip and previous track functions via the controls on the right side of the player. This is useful when the player is in your pocket and you want to skip tracks without having to fish it out, unlock it and then tap on the appropriate on-screen button.
Music can be transferred to the player either using drag and drop on Windows, or using the Android File Transfer App on macOS. No iTunes needed here. There’s also the option of using Onkyo’s X-DAP Link app, available on both Windows and macOS, but I find that app to be unintuitive. There is also no album art display here.
The Onkyo DP-X1A has support for Bluetooth with aptX for high-quality audio streaming. However, I did not test this out as I am more interested in how the player performs when playing back audio files to headphones. Bluetooth speakers are also generally not as good sounding as wired headphones when it comes to audio reproduction.
Not having other Onkyo devices, I am also unable to test the DP-X1A’s connectivity to other Onkyo devices, such as streaming to the NCP-302 wireless speakers.
As mentioned before, this being an Android device, one can download audio apps such as Spotify and TIDAL for accessing your streaming music. I tested the DP-X1A with Spotify Premium and the streaming quality set to “Extreme” and it sounded excellent. Obviously, you can only access Spotify while on a WiFi network, or have pre-downloaded the tracks you want to listen to, since the DP-X1A does not have cellular connectivity.
This is an excellent digital audio player, but it’s not without some issues. The sound quality is excellent across all the songs that I have tested, albeit a little on the bright side of things. This is not necessarily a bad thing with some people who might prefer a brighter frequency response in order to hear the details better. Personally, I’d prefer a warmer presentation. There are details in spades in the music that I’ve tested that I didn’t originally notice on the iPhone. This shouldn’t be a surprise as the DP-X1A is a purpose-built DAP, unlike the iPhone which primary function isn’t to playback high quality audio files.
The inability to drive full-sized headphones comes as a surprise to me, though. Perhaps Onkyo has targetted the DP-X1A to users favour the portability of In-Ear Monitors or earphones (this is after all a portable player), rather than users who might want to use these full-sized but low-sensitivity headphones. This is a bummer, as the Sony NW-WM1A, though costing 50% more, are able to drive such headphones.
If you primarily listen on IEMs and want a high quality DAP though, this should be in your list of contenders.
The Onkyo DP-X1A is now available at S$999 from authorised dealers.