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Topic: Decent portable audio player, that isn't a smart phone? (Read 3862 times) previous topic - next topic
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Decent portable audio player, that isn't a smart phone?

After many years of not using portable audio at all (I'm almost never in a situation where I listen to music while not in a car or the office or at home), things changed, and I kinda want to listen to music while going on a walk, etc.

The obvious "solution" is to use my phone. But honestly, it's not really convenient, mainly because actually putting music on it is kinda a hassle (the SD card is stupidly inaccessible, I have to also remove the SIM card if I wanna do that), with the other options to connect the phone to my computer with USB etc.

I don't like BlueTooth headphones. I prefer the good ol' 3.5mm jack, and most phones don't have this anymore.
Playback apps are meh', and Having to use the touchscreen to control it is also kinda not really ergonomic.
And then there's the battery life.

So, I thought, I might be interested in a portable playback device, that ticks most if not all the boxes:
  • decent battery life (a replaceable battery, preferably)
  • a decent DAC and headphone preamp
  • physical controls
  • playback of a wide variety of formats and codecs
  • decent build quality

I'm not really interested in like a high-res display or anything, all that is kinda secondary.

The new Sony Walkmans are hella overpriced, imo. To the point, where I'm wondering if it's some sort of borderline scammy audiophile crap, etc.

There are devices like the "HIFI WALKER", "SWOFY", and "SURFANS", they all seem to be having the same controls in the same area, leading me to believe, that it's the same product, just labeled with different names.

The price range (100 - 150 USD/EUR) seems fine, if they deliver on what they claim, but I'm not sure I trust them before I shell out the money, to end up with a product that ends up in a parts drawer within a week...

I understand I'm looking for something there's only a very small market for, since smart phones have eaten well into the market for portable music players. But I'm still looking for a dedicated device, with things I've listed above, etc.

Am I looking into the wrong direction here? I like how some of them can stream to bluetooth speakers, but it's not a requirement, and they can act as a bluetooth speaker-device, too, so you can stream to *them* from a device like a Laptop. I could see this turning into a decent enough portable DAC, essentially being a portable headphone preamp for good headphones.

But if I'm honest, I'm not sure I trust those brands. They all seem to be re-brands of the same device, and it might be only my personal bias, but I feel like I'd be buying junk and with that, disappointment.

Is anyone in the same sort of situation and has perhaps solved it in some way, or with some device they might suggest? Are the players I've found "good" or are they kinda junk wrapped nicely and photographed well for a (sorta middle-aged) demographic?



SURFANS: https://www.surfans.net/products/irulu-f20-hifi-mp3-player-lossless-dsd-high-resolution-digital-audio-music-player-with-32gb-memory-card
HIFI WALKER: http://www.hifiwalker.com/H2-show-36.html
(can't find a website for the SWOFY, but they're available on Amazon, etc.)

Re: Decent portable audio player, that isn't a smart phone?

Reply #1
I use my phone and Bluetooth buds, but if I needed a DAP I'd buy the HIDIZS AP80. Need a micro SD card for it.

Re: Decent portable audio player, that isn't a smart phone?

Reply #2
I use my phone and Bluetooth buds, but if I needed a DAP I'd buy the HIDIZS AP80. Need a micro SD card for it.
Do you own this device?

Re: Decent portable audio player, that isn't a smart phone?

Reply #3
Of the players mentioned, I own the Surfans F20. I've had it for a couple of years and it's still working fine. Nothing to complain about, it does its job. Sound (to my ears) can't be faulted, I use it with Shure SE535s. There's a Rockbox port for it, which is how I use it with wired-phones but (unless it's changed recently) Rockbox doesn’t support its Bluetooth feature. The native OS doesn't support as many formats as Rockbox but it does the common ones. Battery-life is decent (Rockbox claims my "top time" is just over 13hrs). Battery is NOT user-replaceable, at least not readily so.

I believe the HIFI Walker is a clone of the Surfans.

Hope that helps!

Re: Decent portable audio player, that isn't a smart phone?

Reply #4
I confirm what ants already said, Surfans F20 is. Very Good device. For daily use I prefer my Fiio m3k rockboxed too. But is only me

Re: Decent portable audio player, that isn't a smart phone?

Reply #5
I currently use a Rockboxed iPod Video with 512GB SD-card (SD-cards supported in daily builds).

Of the players that support Rockbox, how many support SDCX cards (32 GB to 2 TB)?
(I see that the Fiio MK3 does)
XLD // ALAC // OGG VORBIS

Re: Decent portable audio player, that isn't a smart phone?

Reply #6
I use a generic 'AGPTEK-U3' MP3 player (using standard wired headphones with 3.5mm jack) as it's respectable for the price (if you don't mind the negatives as there are some for sure)...

---Pro's...

-Price (I got mine for $26.49 total cost). bought it March 2021. but looking online it appears it went up about 10 dollars.

-Runs on a single AAA. I use a 800mAh NiMh battery (it's actually that capacity to since I can check with my Powerex C-9000 charger) and battery life is good. I think on a full charge it's runtime is about 10-12hrs (you can't charge the battery from the device itself, but not a big deal as I got a quality Powerex C-9000 charger(but any generic charger will be good enough for the common person)). this is one of the primary reasons I bought it because you will never have to worry about finding quality battery replacements for it since AAA is a common battery and likely will remain so for the foreseeable future given it's been around so long already. so you can use a standard Eneloop AAA and your set for years to come. so while 10-12hrs is not a lot, it's more than sufficient as long as you are not using it for really extended periods of time. but even if you do, you can always carry more spare NiMh AAA with you. even in a emergency you can just pop in a typical Alkaline AAA from a local store. side note: it's a damn shame they don't make players like Sansa e200 and the like run on AA/AAA's as that would be great if they did. but sadly, it seems no one makes AA/AAA powered music devices (which is a no brainer to use if you ask me for long term usage over lithium), especially not at a reasonable price.

-8GB built-in memory. but has a MicroSD slot, which is what I generally use and I think it supports up to at least 32GB MicroSD cards (maybe up to 128GB) which is plenty since I convert my FLAC from FLAC to MP3 @ V5 (130kbps) which I feel is good enough in general, especially for portable usage. even if it only works with 32GB MicroSD cards that's A LOT of music at 130kbps average. I currently use a 16GB MicroSD card in mine as I generally don't use the built-in memory as it will probably put less wear-and-tear on it and it will be easier to replace a MicroSD card vs if internal memory acts up.

-It's light. does not weigh much. the height of it would be, counting when headphones are plugged in, is almost exactly two AA batteries stacked end-to-end. the device it self is less though. even the width is less than two AA's stacked side-by-side.

---Con's...

-Pressing buttons to navigate it's menus... while it pretty much works, I noticed that it can not properly register the button presses as sometimes say you want to press the button to lower volume it might increase volume (or when trying to go forward a track it might go back or vice versa until you hit the button just right). but usually once you learn where to press it, it's pretty much okay (if you have fat fingers it might be more difficult to use). I would say this is it's biggest flaw and may deter some people from using it. but if you can work around this, and assuming there is no obvious hardware failure, it should last for a long time. I would say as long as you don't navigate the menu too often to change songs it's passable but if you are the type who constantly mess around with menus etc, I suspect that might be a problem on this as while it works, it's slower to react to each button press as there is a small learning curve.

-Volume buttons. instead of having a separate knob/button for volume, it uses the main buttons to increase/decrease volume. like say a song is playing, you have to press 'r/v' button then press the left(decrease volume)/right(increase volume) arrows.

-Output volume. while definitely not bad, as it's still passable, it could be better than it is. as long as you are not in a too noisy of environment it will be 'good enough' as I generally don't have to increase the devices volume to max as I would say, assuming you are not in a quiet environment I usually have the device volume output around 75% (30/40), or at least 50%(20/40) if not a bit higher. call it roughly 25-30 out of 40 max. I am using Sony MDR-NC7 headphones with it. if I am in more of a quiet environment I would probably have volume around 50% (20/40). but some songs have less volume output than others as if you got a lower output volume song, then you probably will have to have volume 75-100%. but usually not too much of a issue in general.

-Menu navigation is a slow. it's like those early MP3 player types from the 2000's (it's screen is small (about the peak width of a nickle) and slower to navigate). so if you are used to say a smart phone with quick navigation and expect that as standard, then you definitely won't like this. so if you are in a hurry or change music tracks all of the time, this might become a legitimate problem.

-Screen size. it's about the peak width of a nickel and in that general size range. so if you have trouble seeing small screens this could be a potential big issue if your eyes are so-so or bad.

-If you are using the devices built-in memory, you have to remove the cap so the USB connector is exposed and then you can connect it to the PC. but I could see how someone could easily lose the cap if they are not careful as while mine does not fall off super easily, it would not take much pressure for it to fall off. but if you carry it in your hand or keep it in your shirt pocket you probably won't have any real problem here. I don't really use the built-in memory as I stick to MicroSD card which you can pop out from the side of device and then I just insert it into my PC's card reader to transfer music. but in regards to inserting the MicroSD card, it works about how you would expect using your finger nail to push in until it clicks into place (it's got decent pressure as I don't expect that to break).

-Music is shown random order on the devices screen. but... one can fix this though as after one transfers MP3 music to the MicroSD card for example, on Linux I just unmount it (umount /dev/sdx) then run 'sudo fatsort -n /dev/sdx'. wait for it to finish then eject it and then the music will be listed how you would expect on the devices screen navigation. note: I would imagine Windows has programs for doing this to but I don't use Windows at this point so I can't really comment much here. but if you want your music in order you will definitely have to find something to sort it so it's properly displayed on the devices screen.


bottom line... I mainly bought it because it had support for large enough MicroSD cards and uses a AAA battery which I think AAA, more specifically rechargeable NiMh, ensures the device won't become useless by not being able to find a decent replacement battery like is typically the case with most modern MP3 players which only have built-in/non-replaceable lithium batteries and once this goes bad, you either can't replace it, or if you can replace it, you will be stuck with cheap/generic ones that don't last as that's pretty much what happened with my Sansa e200 series player (I would consider the Sansa e200 series superior to the AGPTEK-U3 on pretty much everything besides the battery) is that it was a respectable player, but the battery is ultimately what made me dump that device since you can no longer buy quality new ones that have the life that the device is supposed to have when it was new which I think was around 20hrs (like buying a generic/cheap replacement battery for the Sansa e200 series on Ebay for example, I would guess the runtime is less than 10hrs for sure and may be well below that like say 3-5hrs to guesstimate things). it still technically worked when I stopped using it but overall I prefer the NiMh in the AGPTEK-U3 device since that's more consistent/reliable in battery life.
For music I suggest (using Foobar2000)... MP3 (LAME) @ V5 (130kbps). NOTE: using on AGPTEK-U3 as of Mar 18th 2021. I use 'fatsort' (on Linux) so MP3's are listed in proper order on AGPTEK-U3.

Re: Decent portable audio player, that isn't a smart phone?

Reply #7
I currently use a Rockboxed iPod Video with 512GB SD-card (SD-cards supported in daily builds).

Of the players that support Rockbox, how many support SDCX cards (32 GB to 2 TB)?
(I see that the Fiio MK3 does)

Xduuo X3 (1st Gen) have 2 microSD slots and a Powerful headphones output, mine drive AKG K702 without problems, and line out.

Re: Decent portable audio player, that isn't a smart phone?

Reply #8
Are the various Sansa models considered decent players for the price these days? I don't use a portable very often, but occasionally wonder about a replacement when/if my ancient Samsung YP-K5 finally dies.

Re: Decent portable audio player, that isn't a smart phone?

Reply #9
Unfortunately I don't think do. The newer (without rockbox) are limited to 2000 songs and have trouble with sdcard bigger than 32GB (that is what i read).

I still enjoy my rockboxed Sansa Zip Clip every day. Which does not have those limitations.The screen is really crappy though. And i have spare one when it dies.
But it's old and probably hard to find.

I would also be interested i  something more recent with a better screen. Rockbox would still be a must for me. Even though it's old it is unmatched.

Re: Decent portable audio player, that isn't a smart phone?

Reply #10
The limit is per storage medium, so you can put up to 2000 songs on the internal memory (8GB) and another 2000 songs on the SD card. Since lossless formats are not supported, 32GB is actually more than you can ever use, unless you're listening to audiobooks, instead of music.

Re: Decent portable audio player, that isn't a smart phone?

Reply #11
Sansa Sport have that 2000 limit, yes but only for tags database (navigating by Artist, album...) If you go between your files and folders, you can put all the 32gb full to the brim of mp3 (actually 29) I have one, not that I love it.

Re: Decent portable audio player, that isn't a smart phone?

Reply #12
Unfortunately I don't think do. The newer (without rockbox) are limited to 2000 songs and have trouble with sdcard bigger than 32GB (that is what i read).

I still enjoy my rockboxed Sansa Zip Clip every day. Which does not have those limitations.The screen is really crappy though. And i have spare one when it dies.
But it's old and probably hard to find.

I would also be interested i  something more recent with a better screen. Rockbox would still be a must for me. Even though it's old it is unmatched.
Thanks for the information. As you can tell from my previous post, I've been out of the market for a while. I'd be unlikely to try and load all 40,000+ of my tracks onto a portable, but then again I'd prefer to load what I want without the time needed for converting lossless formats to lossy.

Re: Decent portable audio player, that isn't a smart phone?

Reply #13
Sounds like an incredibly bad business decision, not to support big sdcards, when your main business is sdcards, lol.

It think flac might be supported by newer firmware though.

Re: Decent portable audio player, that isn't a smart phone?

Reply #14
Sansa Sport play FLAC.

Re: Decent portable audio player, that isn't a smart phone?

Reply #15
The Clip Jam has the 2000 tag limit and the lack of FLAC support, because it uses a cheaper chipset than SanDisk's older models. With so many people using their phones for music these days, it seems SanDisk does not want to spend the money to make more than barebones models now.

Re: Decent portable audio player, that isn't a smart phone?

Reply #16
Okay, it looks like Sandisk are on their way out of this market sector.

What are the good value players that play multiple formats and have decent interfaces straight out of the box (before any user modifications like Rockbox)?

Re: Decent portable audio player, that isn't a smart phone?

Reply #17
It seems like most western brands are kinda leaving the "portable music player" sector. It's one reason I was so confused when trying to get an overview of those things recently.

Re: Decent portable audio player, that isn't a smart phone?

Reply #18
Of the players mentioned, I own the Surfans F20. I've had it for a couple of years and it's still working fine. Nothing to complain about, it does its job. Sound (to my ears) can't be faulted, I use it with Shure SE535s. There's a Rockbox port for it, which is how I use it with wired-phones but (unless it's changed recently) Rockbox doesn’t support its Bluetooth feature. The native OS doesn't support as many formats as Rockbox but it does the common ones. Battery-life is decent (Rockbox claims my "top time" is just over 13hrs). Battery is NOT user-replaceable, at least not readily so.

I believe the HIFI Walker is a clone of the Surfans.

Hope that helps!
Are the buttons still working, etc?
Have you tried taking it apart to perhaps see if you can change the battery, etc?

I kinda wanna use the Bt function so probably I won't be Rockboxing it just yet, until I decide that I have no use for Bt then I might as well...

Re: Decent portable audio player, that isn't a smart phone?

Reply #19
Of the players mentioned, I own the Surfans F20. I've had it for a couple of years and it's still working fine. Nothing to complain about, it does its job. Sound (to my ears) can't be faulted, I use it with Shure SE535s. There's a Rockbox port for it, which is how I use it with wired-phones but (unless it's changed recently) Rockbox doesn’t support its Bluetooth feature. The native OS doesn't support as many formats as Rockbox but it does the common ones. Battery-life is decent (Rockbox claims my "top time" is just over 13hrs). Battery is NOT user-replaceable, at least not readily so.

I believe the HIFI Walker is a clone of the Surfans.

Hope that helps!
Are the buttons still working, etc?
Have you tried taking it apart to perhaps see if you can change the battery, etc?

I kinda wanna use the Bt function so probably I won't be Rockboxing it just yet, until I decide that I have no use for Bt then I might as well...
Rockbox have dual boot, is not One OR the other....

Re: Decent portable audio player, that isn't a smart phone?

Reply #20
@polemon
Have you pulled the trigger on your DAP yet? If not, I highly recommend an older Sony Walkman NW-A55. It's the model right before the Android models came out, so it has the tried and true Sony player software. I have a 512GB micro SD card installed in mine. It does all of the hi-res codecs and the lower res ones too, including Apple and DSD. It does the better bluetooth codecs, just not the very newest ones. I mainly use it in my car, but I do use it as a portable with a set of IEMs. Since it's mainly a car player, I always create high level AACs or MP3s for it. As you can see, I've barely made a dent in the SD card, even with almost 23000 songs loaded on it. I know the newer Walkmans have more features but I just didn't want to carry around another Android device, and deal with those hassles. Here are a few photos of mine. Good luck.
Watch out were the huskies go and don't you eat that yellow snow! - F. Zappa

Re: Decent portable audio player, that isn't a smart phone?

Reply #21
Of the players mentioned, I own the Surfans F20. I've had it for a couple of years and it's still working fine. Nothing to complain about, it does its job. Sound (to my ears) can't be faulted, I use it with Shure SE535s. There's a Rockbox port for it, which is how I use it with wired-phones but (unless it's changed recently) Rockbox doesn’t support its Bluetooth feature. The native OS doesn't support as many formats as Rockbox but it does the common ones. Battery-life is decent (Rockbox claims my "top time" is just over 13hrs). Battery is NOT user-replaceable, at least not readily so.

I believe the HIFI Walker is a clone of the Surfans.

Hope that helps!
Are the buttons still working, etc?
Have you tried taking it apart to perhaps see if you can change the battery, etc?

I kinda wanna use the Bt function so probably I won't be Rockboxing it just yet, until I decide that I have no use for Bt then I might as well...

Apologies for the late reply. Everything still works on it! I haven't tried taking it apart, it looks as though the back is glued on so I won't be attempting anything until the battery no longer holds useful charge.

As pointed out above, Rockbox is dual-boot so the BT functions are still accessible via original o/s. I use mine mostly with wired Shures mentioned above but also a BT-speaker sometimes.

Re: Decent portable audio player, that isn't a smart phone?

Reply #22
Sansa Sport have that 2000 limit, yes but only for tags database (navigating by Artist, album...) If you go between your files and folders, you can put all the 32gb full to the brim of mp3 (actually 29) I have one, not that I love it.

the latest SanDisk Clip Sport Go can handle 8000 songs: https://www.westerndigital.com/en-gb/products/mp3-players/sandisk-clip-sport-go#SDMX30-032G-E46K


Re: Decent portable audio player, that isn't a smart phone?

Reply #23
@polemon
Have you pulled the trigger on your DAP yet? If not, I highly recommend an older Sony Walkman NW-A55. It's the model right before the Android models came out, so it has the tried and true Sony player software. I have a 512GB micro SD card installed in mine. It does all of the hi-res codecs and the lower res ones too, including Apple and DSD. It does the better bluetooth codecs, just not the very newest ones. I mainly use it in my car, but I do use it as a portable with a set of IEMs. Since it's mainly a car player, I always create high level AACs or MP3s for it. As you can see, I've barely made a dent in the SD card, even with almost 23000 songs loaded on it. I know the newer Walkmans have more features but I just didn't want to carry around another Android device, and deal with those hassles. Here are a few photos of mine. Good luck.
I haven't bought anything yet, because I still can't decide ¦D
Also, I keep catching myself looking for player that are way outside the price class I was originally looking at. Like the Fiio M11, which is like 700 USD.
And that is exactly NOT what I want, actually. I want a relatively cheap player, just not the barrel of the bottom, and want good quality for the buck.
The Walkmans, are kinda expensive, iirc. hence I haven't really looked at them, but I guess, I'll do a little research on them.

Re: Decent portable audio player, that isn't a smart phone?

Reply #24
@polemon
Have you pulled the trigger on your DAP yet? If not, I highly recommend an older Sony Walkman NW-A55. It's the model right before the Android models came out, so it has the tried and true Sony player software. I have a 512GB micro SD card installed in mine. It does all of the hi-res codecs and the lower res ones too, including Apple and DSD. It does the better bluetooth codecs, just not the very newest ones. I mainly use it in my car, but I do use it as a portable with a set of IEMs. Since it's mainly a car player, I always create high level AACs or MP3s for it. As you can see, I've barely made a dent in the SD card, even with almost 23000 songs loaded on it. I know the newer Walkmans have more features but I just didn't want to carry around another Android device, and deal with those hassles. Here are a few photos of mine. Good luck.
I haven't bought anything yet, because I still can't decide ¦D
Also, I keep catching myself looking for player that are way outside the price class I was originally looking at. Like the Fiio M11, which is like 700 USD.
And that is exactly NOT what I want, actually. I want a relatively cheap player, just not the barrel of the bottom, and want good quality for the buck.
The Walkmans, are kinda expensive, iirc. hence I haven't really looked at them, but I guess, I'll do a little research on them.
Feel free to choose whichever here.


Take note, lower-end DAPs(and to some extent the higher-end DAPs), use some pretty barebones SOC. So you will feel that sluggishness of their UI if it's paired with an Android OS. I've previously owned DX160 before and there are times when it would lag when I scroll too fast on the screen or do any slight multitask, and yes, I have crashed the Player app multiple times. Other DAPs remedy this by simply having their own OS to work with the DAP seamlessly. The older walkmans prior to Android walkmans have their own OS for that reason. The higher-end DAPs would use some "flagship" SOCs from a few years back or mid-level SOCs to counter this. Others would have custom Android OS like A&K.

The reason for this is primarily because most of these companies spend more on the DACs and internal Amps than the SOCs. So you know, typical audiophile grab. Although to be fair, some of the DAPs have enough juice to power some hungry headphones.

If you don't mind buying the higher-end DAPs as used, I can link the other images. DAPs are pretty much the same as phones in terms of depreciation. So you can even find $3000 DAPs drop down to $1000 or less. So expect those mid-end $500 ones drop down to $200 or less. My DX160 was used for $180.

Those walkmans, the previous semi-flagship WM1A you can find sometimes under $400 - $500. Although compared to other companies, the Sony's are the most resilient to depreciation so they're relatively more expensive in terms of depreciation due to also them not releasing new models every year(eg. Fiio releases a new model of their products every year).

I keep catching myself looking for player that are way outside the price class I was originally looking at. Like the Fiio M11, which is like 700 USD.
If you're talking about the original M11, that's discontinued. You can buy used of those fairly cheap for under $300 most of the time or even less. The main issue of that however is the volume knob can get finnicky at times to the point it's unusable, so you'll have to rely on the on-sceen volume control. The M11S and M11 Plus remedies that with a touch sensitive volume control touchpad at the side of the DAP.