Posted by Michael Bazzell
This post turned out WAY longer than intended. If desired, skip to the review of my current setup of a Hiby M300 paired with FiiO FH3.
After returning from extensive travel, several people asked me about the gadgets I take. The usual list applies: Laptop, mobile device, etc. However, the most used item in my travel bag is a Digital Audio Player (DAP). I have never talked about these much, but they are a huge part of every day for me. I do not expect this post to resonate with a large portion of my audience, but I want to share the many lessons I have learned over the years trying to chase audio perfection. I also just want to document my progress. I will relate this to privacy and security eventually, please stick with me.
Some might equate a DAP with an iPod, but I hope to change that thinking by the end of this post. DAPs are much more than an MP3 player or a fitness device clipped onto your waist which holds a few albums. They offer a superior audio listening experience without the constant connection to (and distraction from) the internet and communication apps. My first DAP was a Creative Zen which contained a 60 GB 2.5" hard drive. At the time (2002), it almost held my entire music collection. It was heavy and bulky with an awful LCD screen, but it was magical. I later moved on to the Zune and iPod, but neither scratched the itch. The storage space was always a limitation. Android phones with micro SD slots allowed me much more space, but the sound quality was lacking. The Sony Xperia line had decent audio, and I relied on those to possess my entire music collection until 2019.
In 2019, I discovered the FiiO M7. This tiny $100 DAP with micro SD slot was designed to provide better audio quality than a cell phone. It sounded amazing when paired with advanced In-Ear Monitors (IEMs) and I started to hear things in the music which I had never noticed before. I would later test the FiiO M11S, Hiby R6 III, and iBasso 170x. I was constantly chasing audio bliss and fell hard for various marketing tricks, which will be debunked in a moment.