Product Reviews

Onkyo DP-X1A Digital Audio Player

The humble MP3 player may well be considered dead in the consumer world, but among audiophiles there is still a use for a great music player. Why? Well, it turns out the audio converters on your phone aren’t always that great.

That begs the question, if you’re looking for an MP3 player, which one should you get? There are a few choices on the market, and they’re not all created equal. Onkyo, however, is here to make your search easier with its flagship music player, the DP-X1A, a brand-new digital audio player that’s built for portability without doing away with great performance.

When you think MP3 players, the first device that might come to mind is iPod. But this, folks, is no iPod. 

The DP-X1A not only looks great, it’s an absolute beast in performance world. But it doesn’t come cheap – the $799 (£559, AU$649) price tag may be enough to put off even the seasoned audiophile. 

Is it worth the cash? We put it to the test to find out.

Design

The first thing you’ll notice about the Onkyo DP-X1A is its spectacular, eye-catching design – by all accounts it’s a pretty good-looking device. 

Upon first taking it out of the box, we were struck at how large it was – a little shorter and wider than your average 2017 smartphone, but a whole lot thicker, coming in at a cool 0.5-inches. That’s not necessarily a bad thing considering it’s still a very portable device, and that extra space was needed to fit all the under-the-hood components, but it’s size still something to consider when buying. 

On the left of the player is where you’ll find the volume wheel – a wheel that can be accessed from both the front and the back, while on the right you’ll find a power button and three playback control buttons: rewind, play/pause, and fast-forward. On the right, you’ll also find two microSD card slots, which are sure to come in handy for those with large hi-res audio libraries.

On the bottom of the player, you’ll find the microUSB port, while on the top you’ll find two headphone jacks: one 3.5mm jack, and a second 2.5mm jack. 

As you would find on a smartphone, the majority of the front of the device is a touch-sensitive display – which is good news for those used to a smartphone. In fact, the software on the device is a full version of Android 5.1 Lollipop. It’s somewhat clear that the device was designed with right-handed use in mind, but lefties should still be able to make their way around it.

It’s a pretty good look, for sure, and while some will be a little put off by the heft of the thing, it’s easy to get used to.

Software

If you’ve used an Android phone before, you already know how to use the DP-X1A – it runs on a full version of Android 5.1, complete with the Google Play Store and the full set of Google’s apps. That’s a pretty nice feature considering not too many audiophile MP3 players put this much focus on software. 

We can only assume that Onkyo went with Android to offer an excellent software experience without having to focus too much on developing its own operating system. That means you can download streaming apps for your favorite services.

That doesn’t mean Onkyo didn’t have a hand in software-development. In fact, it looks like it did. For starters, alongside the Google Play Store you’ll find a shortcut called “Useful Apps,” which takes you to certain apps on the store that are best-suited to the player. Apps include the Onkyo-developed Onkyo Music, which is aimed at allowing users to download hi-res audio and offers both new releases and a large back-catalog of great music. This isn’t a streaming service, however. Instead it’s simply a store for hi-res downloads.

The Music app, however, is where Onkyo’s software development really comes into play. The app is built for taking advantage of all the features this player has to offer. It’ll let you browse through the music on the player and on your SD cards, browse by artist, album, or song, and so on. Then, once you start playing you’ll be able to toggle between different preset EQ settings, or create your own. 

In general, using the Onkyo DP-X1A is a breeze, and we loved the idea of using Google’s Android, even if the version of Android is now outdated considering we’re three versions on.

Performance

Of course, none of this matters if the player doesn’t sound good – but it does. It sounds awesome. 

The player is built for audiophiles, and as such it’s super transparent, and while you could make the case that there seems to be an ever-so-slight bump in the higher end, we really liked that bump. If you’re someone who likes more control over the sound of your music, you can easily set the EQ using the Music app.

The bass response on the player is perfectly placed, and while the overall sound will largely depend on the headphones you choose, the player won’t be the weak link in your signal chain here. The player is capable of pumping out some pretty low frequencies, but it does so nice and naturally. Some might call the bass response a little unfocused, and that’s something that bleeds over a little into the low-mids – but not overly so, and it’s certainly not a deal-breaker here.

As mentioned, the low-mids could be tightened up slightly, but in general the mid-range is still very well-tuned. The high mids really start to open up the mix, and by the time you hit the highs, you’ll get excellent clarity and crispness. The high-end is probably the high-point of the player’s sound, but don’t take that to mean that the low-end is sloppy – it’s not. If you experience a problem with the bass response, it’s probably the fault of your headphones.

The frequency response, however, is just the beginning of why this player is so great. The DP-X1A offers twin Sabre DACs and amplifiers under-the-hood, and our only complaint there is that some super high-impedance headphones may need an extra push to get enough volume. For headphones that don’t, however, the result is an excellently wide soundstage with a ton of room to breathe. We loved that. Instruments were defined and clear, and assuming a decent song mix, you’ll love the sonic depth achieved here.

Final verdict

There’s no getting around it – the Onkyo DP-X1A is an excellent music player. Nothing’s perfect, to be sure, but this player comes pretty close. While it’s a little large, and some might want a slightly tighter low-end, the fact is that this player can go head to head with some much more expensive competition – so much so that we’ve awarded it the top spot on our guide to the best MP3 players.


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