Disclaimer: the Onkyo DP-X1 featured in this post was lent me by Ongaku Shuppansha, a magazine client of mine whose yearly half-yearly publications and events I shoot. I had the DP-X1 for about a day. I shot it, RMAA'd it but never plugged in a headphone for personal listening.
Update: Sqaurespace bugged out 5x during the publishing of the original article. It was 0:00 or so before I got all the picks up along with text. I was tired. I was hopped up on too much wine. I let through more mistakes than usual. I've attempted to correct most grammatical mistakes as well as clear up a few impressions.
Why didn't I listen to the DP-X1? It's the hottest thing on the headfier mind? Simple: I don't care. For me, the DP-X1 is too big, too awkward, and too slaved to an unfathomly music-unfriendly and ugly interface that I would never consider owning it. And this is not a review. It is a basic RMAA thread with a bit of commentary. And what I choose to comment on is first impressions and in-hand-feel.
While the DP-X1 looks nice, it is large, and it too simply co-opts the basic Android interface into an audiophile device. And that basic Android GUI is all glitz. It doesn't provide simple, always-on, direct music controls that should be the norm for a high-end music player. And getting music to register to it was even more difficult than for the Astell&Kern AK380 (RMAA'd here - reviewed here), primarily because ID3 tags support isn't great. I expect that to change as its software is updated.
I don't belong in sales. Nor do I care about new entries or underdogs. User experience is the glue that should bind important elements such as audio performance and perceived sound quality. It is my strong opinion that almost all late-gen audiophile DAPs ignore important user-oriented aspects such as comfort, simple navigation, reduction of glitz, and hardware controls. Astell & Kern's AK380 almost nails the custom Android GUI: everything from hardware control to playback is both accessible and adheres to logical hierarchal design. Its singular exception is its horrible overriding of hardware volume input with instant touch-control. But let's get back to the DP-X1.
As I had less than an hour with the device between photo edits, I'd like to stick to testable observations. Enter RMAA. Amateur it is, but it does a good job of illustrating key performance metrics. Simple RMAA testing is the least anyone 'reviewing' or even subjectively talking about 'sound quality' should do.
The DP-X1 is really quite a split: while its single-ended output boasts best-of-breed results for loaded dynamic range, noise level, and stereo image; its distortion figures are just okay. Screw in a balanced signal and the story changes. Marginally cleaner unloaded THD figures than the AK380 couple with massively improved loaded THD and IMD results (2/3 AK380 loaded THD and 1/5 AK380 IMD under Earsonics SM2 load), show the DP-X1 in fabulous light. FR stability anomalies are low, but bettered by Fiio's X3ii. Still they should be inaudible. Still, balanced output in portable DAPs is obviously still taking baby steps. I'd not rely on it in the same way you can rely on good desktop balanced audio.
While I can't put a full stop behind professional audio testing of the DP-X1, I can say this: RMAA proves that in certain, important areas, it performs. For its price, and especially when driving balanced headphones, it shames the AK380. But the AK380 is a more full-featured and easier to use DAP. It packs in way more storage and offers a much smoother user interface. Onkyo were sorely lazy in designing anything but the audio circuit. (Oh, and the way the volume pot falls under the index finger is great.) And while that audio circuit is fab, the rest is generic, android smartphone flab. Pick up any large Huwei and you've picked up the XP-D1.
A marketing team designed the volume scale, which tops out at 160. 160? Yes, 160. Why not 98,5, you say? Why not 300216? Because piss off, that's why. 160 isn't recognisable on any human scale. It is idiotic, and market driven. The AK380 goes to 150. The DP-X1 goes to 160. Win? Both output roughly similar voltage into both loadless and loaded signals, but the AK380's volume scale is marginally easier to parse into real fractions. The extra 10 ticks are just for show. And they are a stupid, shameless, waste of brain power. Shame on Astell&Kern for not setting the AK380 to 100, but shame +1 on Onkyo for stupidifying the volume scale further.
The good news is that that flab is way way less painful in the hand than the stupid angle-for-angle's-sake AK380 hardware design. For ridiculously small gains against stupid design ethics, let's hear a yay!.
The following Rightmark Audio Analyzer tests were conducted through this equipment.
Source: Onkyo DP-X1
ADC: Lynx Studio HILO LT-TB
Computer: 2012 27" iMac
Cables: 1,5m Hosa Pro 3,5mm stereo to dual 3-pin XLR (around 8$); bespoke y-split 2,5 TRRS to dual 3-pin XLR made by Musashi Sound Technology.
NL - no load
SM2 - Earsonics SM2
ES7 - Audio Technica ES7
DT880 - Beyerdynamic DT880/600
SE - single ended
BAL - balanced
Note: The DP-X1 was set to optimal voltage output and, as with every test I perform, volume matched with every device I test.
24-bit SE results
24-bit SE summary
24-bit BAL results VS AK380: NL & SM2
24-bit BAL summary
For its expected price (less than 900$), the DP-X1 is a formidable performer. If balanced is your target, forget the AK380 unless you want better navigation and player experience, way more storage, far more thoughtful UI design, and the worst hand-holding ergonomics this side of a blowfish.
I'm happy to have an iPod nano 7G.