1: Sound QualityIt’s often best to start your argument with a heavy hitter and in our case the simple fact that music will often sound considerably better on a dedicated machine should be enough to convince you. It’s all about the physical space you see; a smartphone can only dedicate a small portion of its circuit to realising music (converting, as it must, digital files to an analogue signal) whereas a dedicated player (like a second generation FiiO X3) can use it all. This means that companies like FiiO and Astell & Kern can experiment with higher quality materials (such as DAC chips, amplifier chips and batteries) to tailor the player to your specific tastes. It also means that the user interfaces of these players is specifically music driven meaning powerful EQ tools and endless customisable options not found on many smartphones.
2: Lossless Audio SupportBack in the early days of digital music, the main criticisms laid against it (and the portables that used it) was that .mp3 (a main audio file format) was incapable of realising the true dynamism of sound. In its very nature, they said, .mp3 compressed the sound into a loud, texture-less slab with none of the audio subtleties found on CD (which itself had less than that found on vinyl). They had a point, .mp3 was mathematically designed to ignore the highest and lowest frequencies of a song (which are often imperceptible in human hearing) to create a smaller file size. It became so successful because slower internet speeds and smaller hard-drive capabilities meant that the smaller the file the better. Now, everything is faster and bigger and in the wake of this, lossless files (i.e. files that still retain the highs and lows and remain un-compressed) have gained in popularity. Most modern dedicated music players specifically focus on being able to support these lossless formats so you can listen to your favourite music as it was made to be heard. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="356"] Or at least the slightly updated way it's meant to be heard.[/caption]
3. Vast, Dedicated MemoryThe first and only iPod I ever owned was a light blue, 8GB 3rd Generation model that just about still works 7 years after I bought it. I loved it. I loved how I didn’t have to carry around cases of CD’s with me when I travelled. I loved how I could build playlists and just doze off listening to songs in the order I wanted. Most of all I loved how small it was. But size cuts both ways and the one thing to this day that I never liked was its internal memory. Only 1500 songs? I had at least 7000 in my iTunes at the time (it’s considerably more now). It often meant that I had to sacrifice the pleasure of a full album for only a few hits. Now all that has changed as advances in data storage has allowed many dedicated players to support expandable memory. This means that the amount of songs you can store will grow as the technology continues to advance! As an example, the FiiO X5ii DAP has two microSD ports allowing for a combined memory of 256GB (2x128); that's a lot of memory. Compare it to a current top range iPhone which, though it can have 128GB memory, needs to share this with apps, videos and the operating system itself.
4. Sheer PowerOf course, all of this memory and lossless audio and top quality hardware would be worthless if the unit only had enough juice to power small headphones. I realised fairly late in the day that my lovely iPod sounded worse with expensive, high quality headphones because the inbuilt amp didn’t have the power to support them. Modern dedicated audio players fix this by making the amplifier a key component in the design and using it to help tailor the sound quality. This also means that more electrical power can be dedicated to running the amplifier and therefore higher quality amplifiers can be used without a significant drop in battery life. The FiiO X3ii can happily power headphones between 16 ohms and 300 ohms whereas smartphones may suffer. Of course, smartphones can get round this by using an external amplifier (like the FiiO E11K) but why attach an external unit (and therefore creating a bulky, cumbersome rig to carry around) when you can have all your audio needs in one package? [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="334"] Mmm, portable.[/caption]
5. Cheaper Than You ThinkThe bottom line for many is price. With the most sought after smartphones beginning at around £500, you can understand why many are unwilling to pay more money for a functionality they already have. This sentiment is doubled when you add the worry that bespoke audio equipment is only for those with serious cash to spend in the first place. Well, maybe this was true in the past, but these days many new companies are manufacturing high quality audio players at a surprisingly cheap cost. Chinese company FiiO is leading the charge with its X1 player; providing lossless playback, powerful amp and microSD compatibility (currently allowing for up to 128GB memory) for only £99! It makes it easier than ever to invest in your music for very little cost. If you spend most of your day enjoying the pleasures portable music can bring but feel constrained by the quality and capability of your current audio source. Maybe it’s time you upgraded to something a little more dedicated. The AV Shop stocks a full range of FiiO audio products. Click here to check us out on eBay!