PORTABLE MEDIA PLAYER REVIEWS

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Steve Guttenberg  |  Mar 07, 2017  |  1 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $2,200

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Solid as a brick build quality
Handles ultra-high resolution 768-kHz/32-bit PCM, and DSD native (up to 22.4 MHz) files
Variety of single-ended and balanced headphone outputs
Minus
Not the most transparent sounding headphone amp

THE VERDICT
The Sony TA-ZH1ES is beautifully designed and built, though it doesn’t quite bring the MDR-Z1R headphone to its full potential.

Not content with just launching a new flagship headphone in the MDR-Z1R, Sony simultaneously launched the TA-ZH1ES headphone amplifier/DAC; like the MDR-Z1R, it’s intended to be a statement of Sony’s best technology.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Feb 08, 2017  |  0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $399

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Balanced and unbalanced output
Drives moderately demanding headphones
Hi-res capable, including DSD
Minus
No album art
No fancy DAC chip
No user-accessible internal RAM

THE VERDICT
The HiFiMan SuperMini combines the sonics of a gentle top end and luscious mids with light weight, long battery life, and enough power to drive slightly less efficient headphones.

HiFiMan was founded in New York by Dr. Fang Bian. The company now operates from China but does not outsource either manufacturing or design. Headphones come from a factory in Dongguan. Music players come from another factory in Kunshan. R&D runs in Shanghai, software is developed in Shenzhen, and headquarters are in Tianjin. Unlike so many storied audio brands that have cut loose from their original motivation, 11-year-old HiFiMan continues to reflect the vision of Dr. Fang.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Nov 23, 2016  |  0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $700

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Built-in noise cancellation for supplied earbuds
Selectable DSD rolloff filter
Up to 70 hours per charge
Minus
No MQA
Challenging headphones will need more power

THE VERDICT
The Sony Walkman NW-ZX100HN delivers beautifully balanced and transparent sound in a not-too-bulky form factor with excellent ergonomics and the unique plus of built-in noise cancellation, but only for its proprietary earbuds.

With the iPod classic gone, smartphones in almost universal use, and streams elbowing out downloads, is the dedicated music player obsolete? Or could it possibly be a retro survivor that mocks its replacement, the way the resurging turntable mocks the CD player? With emerging specialists like Astell & Kern, FiiO, and Questyle being joined in the market by old-school manufacturers like Onkyo and Sony, there seems to be growing interest in building high-quality players that do a better job of delivering highresolution audio than a phone does.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jul 19, 2016  |  0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $899

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Three gain settings
Heavy build and discrete components
Clickwheel nostalgia
Minus
No touchscreen or apps
No input for DAC use
No Bluetooth

THE VERDICT
Although short on some bells and whistles, the Questyle QP1R is a dedicated music player that offers four-figure sound and build quality at a three-figure price.

If you had chucked me into a time machine a decade ago, freed me today, then handed me the Questyle QP1R, naturally I’d mistake it for an iPod on steroids. With that clickwheel, it’s got to be an iPod, right? You’d have to explain to me that what Questyle calls the steering wheel isn’t identical to Apple’s clickwheel; here, the functions are divided differently among the wheel, its big central button, and the four vibrating touch-sensitive buttons around it.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Apr 18, 2016  |  0 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $499

AT A GLANCE
Plus
A&K’s most affordable player
Same Wolfson DAC as in classic models
Flatter form factor
Minus
DSD converted to PCM
Less than intuitive GUI

THE VERDICT
The Astell & Kern AK Jr is the least expensive music player from the company that has defined the state of the art in pocketable audio.

Visit the Apple Website and scan the banner across the top: Mac, iPad, iPhone, Watch, TV, Music, Support. Where’s the iPod? You’ll have to hit Music and scroll down a bit for the link to the iPod page. There you’ll find the surviving touch, nano, and shuffle players, but no high-capacity hard-drive-based models or even the iconic click wheel. Apple (and to be fair, Apple isn’t alone) recognizes that most people now use phones for onthe-go listening.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jan 28, 2016  |  1 comments
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $3,499

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Compatible with DSD and 32-bit PCM
Streams to and from other devices
Extraordinary build quality
Minus
Breathtakingly high priced
32-bit capability is irrelevant to non-professionals

THE VERDICT
Astell & Kern’s AK380 offers copious network audio features and the unique plus of native 32-bit playback—but is it worth the high price to consumers?

Shock lead of the year: Astell & Kern’s AK380 music player retails for $3,499. That’s an awful lot to pay for a pocketful of music. But it seems unjust to start a review of such a product by carping over its price before evaluating its merits. After all, not many people muster moral outrage over the price tags on Porsches, Patek Philippe watches, or 99-point offerings in Wine Spectator. Why should high-end audio units—including the Pono, a comparative bargain at $400— be the only perfectionist products to face puritan scorn? No, as a consumer, I wouldn’t pay $3,499 for a music player. But as a critic, I’m willing to consider cost-noobject items on their own terms.

Leslie Shapiro  |  Sep 21, 2015  |  3 comments
For most of the country, summer coming to a close signals that it’s time to put away your outdoor gear and head to the gym. In Florida, it signals the best weather to get outside and play. The temps are cooling off, humidity is dropping, and it’s the best time of year for cycling. When two Bluetooth speakers that are water-resistant and shaped to fit in a bicycle waterbottle cage showed up at my house, I decided a speaker shootout was called for. The JBL Charge 2+ and the Scosche boomBottle+ are both next generation products. Let’s see which one is going to become a permanent feature on my bike ride.

Leslie Shapiro  |  Aug 03, 2015  |  2 comments
Apple has just released the 6th generation version of the iPod touch, with up to 128GB of built-in memory and the same A8 processor as the iPhone 6. It’s a gorgeous device with a 4-inch Retina display, all sleek and shiny and desperately trying to fit in. The question is: in 2015, with nearly 65% of Americans owning a smartphone, who needs it?

Leslie Shapiro  |  Jul 20, 2015  |  0 comments
Face it: life can be hard for our favorite gadgets. I love my gear, but admittedly, I’m not as gentle with it as I should be. The Samsung Galaxy S6 Active was made for people exactly like me. I lead an active life, and my electronics need to be up for the challenge. I ride my bike almost daily, kayak, and hike as often as I can – either along a mountain creek or along the beach. I need my phone (which these days is my camera, music player, and laptop too) to stand up to the rigors of dirt, water, rugged terrain, and less glamorously, sweat. I took the Galaxy S6 Active along this summer to see if it was as active as I needed it to be.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jul 17, 2015  |  2 comments
It is remarkable that people who pay attention to what they feed themselves—fussing about calories, cholesterol, and gluten—can be so cavalier about what they feed their headphones.

True, you can get used to anything, including the flea-sized amplifier in your smartphone and the messy output of your computer’s soundcard. But for those who are willing to step up to a new normal, products that combine a USB digital-to-analog converter with a headphone amp can make good headphones sound better—and allow better headphones to fulfill their destiny, which is to bring listeners to a higher plane of audio existence.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jul 03, 2015  |  1 comments

Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,200

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Deluxe build quality and beautiful design
Plays DSD and files up to 192/24
128 GB plus microSD slot
Minus
Heavy
Pricey

THE VERDICT
Sony’s top-of-the-line Walkman music player is comfortingly overbuilt, loaded with bells and whistles. And it sounds fantastic.

The new top-of-the-line Sony Walkman is not the smallest or lightest dedicated music player out there. But is smaller always better? The smallest music player in my possession is the sixth-generation iPod nano. The tiny touchscreen device has about the footprint of a postage stamp, but that doesn’t make it easier to use. There’s not much room for a fingertip to move. For the seventh and final generation, Apple moved to a larger form factor, similar to early nanos except with the touchscreen replacing the clickwheel. Likewise, Sony went for an old-school nano-like form factor in its Walkman NWZ-A17. But that was a relatively lightweight device in more ways than one. For the top-drawer Walkman NW-ZX2, reviewed here, Sony decided on more substantial build quality—and more of it.

Leslie Shapiro  |  Dec 22, 2014  |  0 comments
It’s getting down to the wire—stockings are hung by the chimney with care, and Santa’s helpers are desperate for an idea for that last-minute gift. The Nyrius Songo is just what Rudolph ordered for that grumpy Scrooge who hasn’t bought all the latest and greatest electronics. The Songo ($25) and Songo HiFi ($50) turn any receiver or dock into a wireless Bluetooth system. Scrooge can even use an iOS dock with an Android phone via Bluetooth, as long as the dock has an AUX input.

Leslie Shapiro  |  Oct 13, 2014  |  0 comments
They say you can’t judge a book by its cover. True that. However, you usually can assume quite a bit by that cover. When I first saw the Harman Kardon Esquire Mini portable Bluetooth speaker ($150), I knew it was something special. Very few speakers can compete with the looks of this one; and on an executive’s desk, looks do matter.

Mike Mettler  |  Aug 19, 2014  |  20 comments
Does Pono deliver on its promise of providing high-res digital music that best reflects how the artist intended you to hear it? I listened to a number of FLAC files at 192/24, 176.4/24, and 96/24 on a yellow PonoPlayer through Sennheiser HD-650 headphones during an exclusive listening session in New York City, and—spoiler alert—the answer is a most emphatic yes.
Leslie Shapiro  |  Aug 11, 2014  |  0 comments
Just when I thought the wireless Bluetooth speaker market had finally run out of new ideas, bēm wireless announces the Speaker Mojo, a 2.5” speaker cube with a nifty charging base. Sure, there are tons of other portable speakers, but the Speaker Mojo features a wireless conductive charging base that houses a 1800-mAh power bank to charge not only the speaker, but also whatever else might need a boost via its USB power port. Neato. Gotta love a device that can multi-task.

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