Older DAPs - insanely good AK4490 implementation, great amps, or both?

Today I’ve had a listen to three different DAPs that I feel give equal SQ to the N3 Pro, and better SQ than Hiby/FiiO offerings I know of.

Where they fall down is BT/WiFi/navigating your library.

I don’t know enough about source tech to know, but I’m curious if it’s purely down to using the 4490 chip super well, or the fact they all have decent (and sometimes rollable) amps.

F-Audio SX02 - Rollable Op-amps.

VentureCraft SounDroid Valoq - Heck of an interesting player - rollable op-amps

Aune M2Pro - Class A amp

They all have different characteristics, but I absolutely love all of them, and they kick most of the other DAPs I’ve heard (Android, non-android, Cirrus Logic or ESS usually)

It’s not my first time hearing AK chips, the last time I heard one it didn’t sound anywhere near this good though.

If you can skip interface to play things on shuffle (to be fair the jog wheel makes the Valog fairly viable as an artist/album seeker) I don’t think SQ has really got much better than this recently?

I’m not sure if there’s a question in here, more of a marveling, but if there is, it would be down to how much the amp flavors the sound after the DAC has had its turn? Because each of these have distinct AMP setups that are probably more characterful than a decent number of recent offerings.

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The older AK chips are still pretty great and there’s a reason why mfg still use older chips today (even over newer ak chips outside of other mfg, because they may have more experience implementing them, or may even prefer them to newer ak in their designs), because imo I would say it’s all down to implementation. I’ve actually not heard any of the mentioned daps so I can’t speak to them but they do look pretty interesting, but I’ve heard a lot of daps and dacs that might share the same chips but don’t really sound similar whatsoever.

I think a shared commonality between those players though is that they prioritize quality over convenience and features, and also aren’t really taking a high measuring approach that looks good on paper. This is in contrast to a decent bit of more modern daps from hiby and fiio as mentioned (although imo the higher end hiby are starting to have a stronger sound quality focus again) which are more focused on features and better specs on paper vs these types of players (again though not heard these older players specifically, but I do have experience with older less mainstream daps vs the newer ones, and I’d say my experiences fairly align with yours)

It’s going to be a combination of both amp and dac inside a dap that leads to the sound, for how much that balance is, it’s hard to test being a contained unit, best you can try and do is line out the DAC to another amp but that’s not exactly letting you test which is which as there’s no way to use only the internal amp. But I’d say generally the best daps I’ve heard are probably pretty balanced between both their internal DAC and amp as in they drive things on their own very well and also are pretty high performing as a line out dac. Another consideration is the idea of a digital transport/source that’s built into the dap, as that will influence the sound of a unit as well. In the higher end, I’ve noticed that a lot of my personal favorite daps from a sound perspective are non android more custom implementation units, as some mfg feel as though as using android is a limiting factor for sound quality (but I’d say you see this more often in the higher end)

Really think it mostly just comes down to the makers of those daps having a stronger focus on actual sound quality than features and specs though. A lot of new daps have gotten incredibly boring because of the latter, and I’d like to see it go back to being a more interesting scene to follow outside of the high end lol. Honestly the case with a lot of modern source gear in general, brands are more interested in following trends, making things that only really hold up on paper, and pumping out new products without really putting much effort into sound

Cool that you got to try some older neat players, did you end up picking one of them up if you could, or considering doing so in the future?

Edit: btw I actually prefer older fiio players over the new ones for the most part from a sound perspective lol, they kinda followed the trends too hard imo

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