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Best Portable Audio Player <$500
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Cayin N5 houses a single Asahi Kasei's AKM4490Eq DAC, the same DAC equipped (as a dual DAC formation) in AK380. With 3.5mm headphone out, Line out, singled out coax out, and 2.5mm balanced out, as well as USB DAC capable, this is probably by far the best DAP I've seen thus far for this price range.
Not to mention the dual microUSB capability, its vast amount of power capable of driving immensely high impedance headphones at Hi gain, and supports up to DSD128 NATIVE playback, I cannot think of any other player that equips all this and surpasses all the features the N5 has to offer at just above $400.
It does observe some hiccups though such as a "unique" UI, and a dismissable but noticeable hiss when music is not playing from a 2.5mm balanced out setup, this just adds to the taste of the player itself.
Last but not least, customer support from Cayin is impeccable. Andy Kong of Cayin is constantly on the lookout for user feedback on Head-Fi forums, and if users discuss a common bug, Andy is quick to the scene, takes it to the firmware/tech development team, and does what it takes to resolve it, thus reflected on the recent firmware updates of the N5.
Either that or Cowon's Plenue D. Size of a cigarette box, capable of up to 24/192 playback with a monstrous battery life of up to 100hours at mp3 continuous playback, or 50hours 24/192 continuous playback.
Of course, we cannot dismiss Cowon's very JetEffect equalizer, and Plenue D is equipped with it as well. In fact you wouldn't be able to take full advantage of the DAP without the JetEffect.
This for $200? It's a steal in my opinion.