A new segment of Digital Audio Players (DAPs) has emerged to address the mass neglect of Hi-Resolution audio support on portable devices. In many regards, this new wave of DAPs are modern versions of Apple’s original iPod with the added boost of superior technologies and functionality, paired with insanely large storage capacities. Two months ago, Onkyo entered the DAP world with the release of its first Hi-Resolution capable device, the DP-X1. Priced at $899 ($799 street), the DP-X1 is a mid-priced player that’s loaded with high-end features (several of which are notably unique, including support of MQA). The DP-X1 delivers refined performance capabilities paired with a slick modernized user experience. Finding faults requires extreme nitpicking, making the DP-X1 easy to recommend to audiophiles looking for a portable Hi-Res player.
The DP-X1 could narrowly pass as a smartphone. Standing at 5-inches high x 3-in wide x .5-in thick (weighing 7.2 ounces), it’s slightly shorter and marginally wider than a standard iPhone 6 (but nearly twice the thickness) and can comfortably fit into a pocket without issue. A gorgeous black matte aluminum frame gives the DP-X1 an elegant look that feels great to the touch. Four buttons (power, next track, play/pause, previous track) and dual micro SD card slots (support for up to 200GB per slot) inhabit the right side of the frame, a microphone and micro USB slot are on the bottom, a 3.5mm headphone jack and 2.5mm balanced headphone jack are on the top, and a knurled 161 step volume knob is on the left. Onkyo’s attention to physical detail shines with small touches such as a curved area on the bottom edge of the frame surrounding the volume knob (making right-handed manipulation of the knob easy and comfortable) and distinguishing features separating the feel of the power button from other functionality buttons on the right side (making blind use simple). Overall fit and finish is impeccable and the device’s construction leaves little concern about long-term durability with semi-careful use.
A curved area in the frame makes for easy one-handed manipulation of the volume knob.
It’s worth noting that the DP-X1’s 4.7-inch (1280 x 720) touch screen display oozes high quality with razor sharp images and balanced colors that pop. Keeping in line with modern smartphones, the capacitive touch screen allows users to tap, swipe, and scroll their way through controls and other functions with exacting accuracy. High marks go to Onkyo for not skimping in this department.
The heart of the device is a 2.2GHz CPU with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of built-in storage. The brain is an Android 5.1.1 operating system that opens-up a world of touch screen usability and app-driven functionality. An intuitive graphical interface delivers access to email, Internet browsing with Chrome, Google Play (movies, TV, games, and books), office software, YouTube, personal contacts, maps, and many other user-friendly applications. In addition, the Android platform provides users with widgets to customize the home screen and a full suite of settings controls.
Other usability features include built-in 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi and aptX enabled Bluetooth functionality for streaming and internet/device connectivity. And with the OnkyoMusic app, owners have direct download access to the OnkyoMusic store.
The Music Engine
The guts of the DP-X1 features two ESS Technology Sabre ES9018K2M DACs and two Sabre 9601K headphone amps. The audio chips and circuitry are separated from the CPU processor board in order to minimize interference and maximize sound performance. Onkyo also separated audio circuitry and switching power on the DAC and amp boards, in addition to giving the DACs and amps their own capacitors, to further reduce noise and produce the cleanest audio signal possible.
Owners have the option to connect headphones via Bluetooth, through the 3.5mm mini-stereo plug, or via the balanced 2.5mm output plug. The balanced output supports both BTL (Bridge Tied Load) and ACG (Active Control Ground) drives. According to Onkyo, the inclusion of ACG gives owners a connection option that provides an increased signal-to-noise ratio and better delineation in lower frequencies. Owners can also use the DP-X1’s micro USB-B digital out to playback files.
The DP-X1 supports up to 384kHz/24-bit audio for WAV, FLAC, ALAC, and AIFF music files, in addition to 11.2MHz DSD support. It’s also one of two DAPs currently available to support native playback of MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) audio files. MQA is relatively new to the scene and represents a big step forward in quality assurance. Essentially, MQA is a standard that captures and delivers original master recordings in their purest form with a file that is small enough to download or stream. In other words, think of MQA as the highest of quality possible for any particular audio file.
The DP-X1 also is able to perform real-time DSD conversion of all audio files with the click of a button.
Usability and Music Transfer
The DP-X1’s interface is streamlined and user friendly. It’s a speed demon with lightning-fast operation. With every swipe, poke, and tap the DP-X1 responds instantaneously without delay; Internet access speed is impressive. Onkyo says the DP-X1 sports a battery with 16 hours of usable life. I was able to coax slightly more than 16 hours of listening on one charge, however using Android apps during listening lowers the amount of usable time (not surprising). Factory settings limit the amount of time the screen stays on during playback, which helps to keep the player pumping-out tunes for hours on end. Charging the DP-X1 is performed by using the USB-B connector (and can be done through connecting to a computer or wall converter, which isn’t included).
The USB-B connector is also used to transfer files to the DP-X1 from a home computer. Here’s where the player hits a slight hiccup, in my opinion. If you’re a PC user, file transfer can be performed by Onkyo’s free X-DAP Link software (compatible with Windows 10, 8, and 7). I found X-DAP to be a tad bit clunky, but learnable and usable once I became comfortable with its operation. Using X-DAP, owners can designate where music files will reside on the DP-X1 (internal memory or SD cards).
Onkyo’s music transfer software is Windows-only for the time being.
X-DAP isn’t available for Mac computers, yet, but Onkyo is working on a Mac solution that’s currently pegged for a summer release. For now, Mac users can download a free Android File Transfer app. This allows for simple drag and drop of music files from any Mac using the USB-B cord. Alternatively, owners can drop files on a micro SD card and plug them into the player.
An alternative to syncing the DP-X1 with a home computer comes in the form of the OnkyoMusic app. The app is placed directly on the device and allows for instant download of Hi-Res (including MQA) music files from the OnkyoMusic store. Pricing of albums ranges from $18.00 for Hi-Res to $24.00 for MQA (individual songs range from just over a buck to more than $2.00). Those are generalized estimates, but give you an idea of the kind of pricing you’ll see.
Getting to playback requires a few clicks through the included Music app. There are quite a few ways to sort music with simple left-and-right swipes of the finger. Categories of organization include: Artists, Albums, Songs, Genres, Compilations, Composers, and Format (or file type). Selecting a song immediately begins playback and changes the screen’s wallpaper to reflect the artist being played. You can easily select shuffle and repeat options on this screen, skip or go back to other songs, and gain access to the player’s various EQ functions. Once playing, a song is graphically represented as a circle on the screen and users can swipe around the circle to move forward and back within a song with relative precision.
What’s in the Box?
Before we get to performance, lets glance over the DP-X1’s packaging. High quality boxing consists of a foldout container within an outer box sleeve. The DP-X1 is safely nestled on one side of the foldout while the other side houses the USB-B chord, advertising leaflets, and several quick-start guides printed in multiple languages.
Absolutely zero issues in this department.
Set-up out of the box was easy and straightforward. The DP-X1 took several minutes to boot upon first power up, and easily performed a firmware update available through Wi-Fi. The time from boot until first listening was relatively quick and painless.
It’s time to take the DP-X1 for a musical test drive down Hi-Res Highway. For this part of the review, I used Oppo’s stellar PM-2 Planar Magnetic Headphones (for corded stereo considerations) and XTZ’s Headphone Divine (for Bluetooth listening).
Arriving at a one-word listening session synopsis is no easy task, but after lengthy consideration I’ve settled on the word “smooth.” If you were to give me two words, I’d take that description directly to “super smooth.” No question about it. The DP-X1 is an outright delight on so many levels, so sit back and let me open the tank…here comes a gush session.
Image: Columbia/Sony Records
Let’s kick this off with John Mayer’s stellar Paradise Valley album (FLAC 96kHz). The DP-X1 delivered Mayer in a way that made the music feel alive and textured…buttery smooth. For example, the catchy opening track “Wildfire” pulsed with well-rounded bass that extended gently beyond its punch with soothing warmth. Mayer’s voice sounded incredibly natural and real, framed by guitar chords coasting with effortless control. The song felt life-like and comfortable from start to finish. These qualities lived for the duration of the album and every track presented itself with tonal perfection. The lightness presented by the album’s Hi-Res bones was an absolute delight to absorb.
Next, I explored a favorite demo album: The Persuasions Sing U2 (AIFF 96kHz). It’s a soulful album that puts the Persuasions’ a cappella brilliance on full display as they grace U2’s hits catalog with a range of voices that’s pure class. One of my favorite tracks “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” kicks-off with a bass line that showed depth and clarity. Soon there after, a voice chimes in with “welcome to the congregation” and the elegance of the soundstage, complete with luxurious richness, was on full display. Room echoes and voice dynamics were treated with white gloves, setting the stage for a velvety presentation full of nuanced sonics. Much like Mayer’s presentation, the DP-X1 delivered the Persuasions with such a classy airiness…total ear candy.
The DP-X1 has seven preset EQ functions for on-the-fly sound adjustment.
Moving on, I logged onto OnkyoMusic and found a dozen or so MQA albums ripe and ready for download. I chose to court Engegard Quartet’s String Quartets vol IV: Schubert-Ratkje-Britten-Haydn (FLAC 44.1kHz). Details abound, the album’s string instruments sounded masterfully raw, right down to squeaks and real world sonic delicacies. Again, balance was on full display. Did I hear a revelatory difference in sonic characteristics between this album and other Hi-Res albums? No, but overall quality was layered with clarity and an airy weight that gave the music revealing life and a stunning quality.
I also downloaded a number of other Hi-Res music tracks (REICH Sextet’s Clapping Music [ALAC 44.1kHz], The Gloaming’s The Pilgrim’s Song [FLAC 44.1kHz], etc.), all of which confirmed my impressions. Excellent upper-end clarity and fully fleshed-out low-end dynamics were always present and on full display. In other words, the DP-X1 gets it right across the board.
Here are a few other listening notes:
- Stereo audio sessions produce absolutely exceptional sonic results. My Bluetooth experience was also pleasing (pairing was a snap and sound quality was excellent).
- Headphones with multifunction controls on the cord (testing included XTZ’s Divine and standard Apple Ear Buds) are not able to pause, skip, or adjust volume when attached to the DP-X1.
- The 161-step volume knob is a great feature for subtle changes to volume. Larger changes to volume can be made with a volume drag bar located on the screen.
- Users have instant access to seven pre-set EQ profiles (Flat, 11 Band, Dance, Jazz, Pop, Rock, and Vocal) in addition to user-adjustable EQ. I found “Rock” to give the most pleasing results. EQ adjustments can be made on the fly with nearly instantaneous changes to the audio presentation.
- Finally, Onkyo delivers subtle touches to the listening experience, such as a rapid fade in music volume (rather than an abrupt cut in sound) when skipping (mid-song) to a new track, that polish the DP-X1’s luxurious feel.
I’ve lived with the Onkyo DP-X1 for just about a month and have found myself smitten with its performance. It’s great to see a niche device loaded with usability features that are relevant and in line with functionality offered by other popular handheld smart devices. Frankly, the only feature missing is cellphone connectivity (possibly a camera?). If that were added to the mix, the DP-X1 would elevate from a “highly recommended buy” to a “drop everything and get now” device. Usability aside, the DP-X1 is one sweet sounding machine. When paired with both the Oppo PM-2 and XTZ Headphone Divine (in addition to a Grado Labs SR-60 I used for comparison), the DP-X1 never disappointed. My ears have been thanking me and I’m sure yours will do the same.
- OS: Android OS 5.1.1
- Total Storage: 432 GB
- Internal Storage / RAM: 32 GB Included Android OS system area (RAM: 2 GB)
- Extended Storage: 400 GB Via Two 200 GB Micro SD Card Slots
- DAC & HP Amplifier: Two ESS SABRE DAC ES9018K2M & Two Headphone AMP SABRE 9601K
- Wi-Fi Specification: 802.11a/b/g/n or 802.11ac (Wi-Fi direct / WPS)
- Bluetooth Support: Profile: A2DP/ AVRCP/ HSP/ OPP/ HID/ PAN
- Codec: SBC/apt-X (Transmit only)
- Playable Audio Formats: DSD/ DSF/ DSD-IFF/ FLAC/ ALAC/ WAV/ AIFF/ Ogg-Vorbis/ MP3/ AAC /MQA (MQA requires update)
- Sampling Rates & Bits: 11.2MHz/ 5.6MHz/ 2.8MHz / 1 bit 44.1k/ 48k/ 88.2k/ 96k/ 176.4k/ 192k/ 352.8k/ 384k 16bit/ 24bit
- (*32 bit float/integer can be played down converted to 24 bit)
- Playlist Formats M3U/ PLS/ WPL
- Supported Video Format: H.263/ H.264 AVC/ H.265 HEVC/ MPEG-4 SP/ VP8/ VP9
- Balanced Output: 150 mW + 150 mW (Balanced / 1kHz, THD=1%, 32ω)
- Total Harmonic Distortion: Less than 0.006 %
- S/N Ratio: 115 dB over
- Frequency Response: 20 Hz ∼ 80,000 Hz
- Impedance: Unbalanced: 16 ∼ 300 Ω / Balanced: 32∼ 600 Ω
- I/O Ports: 2.5 mm 4-pole balance headphone output (from tip R-/R+ /L+ L-)
- 3.5 mm 3-pole headphone output (Line out mode)(no microphone support)
- Micro USB /OTG output (for charging and data transfer)
- Gain Low / Normal / High
- Battery Size: 1,630 mAh / 3.8 V
- Battery Life: 16 hours (96kHz/24bit, FLAC, Unbalanced Playback)
- Dimensions (HxWxD): 5 x 3 x .5 Inches
- Weight: 7.16 Ounces
- Language Support: Japanese / English / German / French / Spanish / Italian / Chinese (simplified & traditional)
- Accessories: Micro USB Cable
Image Credits: Todd Anderson/HTS, Onkyo, Columbia/Sony Records