Music Tech

Choosing a new portable digital audio player (DAP) and Lasik Surgery

As people who read my blog know, and who watch my youtube, I’m a semi-audiophile, and I’m a musician. I care alot more about audio than most people do. I don’t care that much about having super high resolutions on my displays, and I think 1080p is fine for me. I still export a lot of my youtube vids in 720p still because of the space requirements of FHD. I can’t fathom making any 4K videos. I’ve always thought the display technology (IPS, IGZO, OLED etc) was more important than the resolution.

Anyways, I’m in the market for a new digital audio player (DAP). Most people just use their phones to play music these days, but I long for the days when I had a Creative Zen Vision M and people had their iPods and stuff to play music… what happened to those days? Those players were dedicated audio players, and they have discrete DACs to play music with. I feel because I play FLACs and lossless files a lot, I am best served getting a stand alone audio player.

Note that I already have a Soundblaster E5 DAC/Amp but thats more for home use… the device is kind of bulky to carry around in my pocket.
I’ve also upgraded to a pair of Denon MM400s over my Sennheiser Momentums for home use, and Fender FXA6 over my Master&Dynamic ME03s for portable use.

I’ve been using my Sony Xperia Z3C as my audio player up until now, and that is actually better than most phones due to high res / flac capabilities, but I’m about to retire that phone soon as its getting some technical issues.

So I’ve been shopping around with DAPs as there is a lot ranging from $100 – $1k+ and I’ve been looking for one around the $500~ mark. Here’s my considerations.

Shure SHA900 – is a portable DAC/Amp, but is not a player in itself. Its probably the best portable Amp out there, but its really expensive ($1k) and I would have to carry an extra device in my pocket.
Astell&Kern – have a strong lineup of dedicated audio players which sound great and are nicely designed, but most of them have a steep price, and I prefer having an Android interface so I can access my music apps. (DAC: Wolfson WM8740)
Onkyo DAP-X1 – is pretty nice, runs Android lollipop and has dual DACs/Amps and a balanced out and 2 microSD slots, but a bit expensive considering I don’t even use balanced headphones. (DAC: 2 ESS Sabre ES9018K2M)
Sony Walkman ZX2 – is now much cheaper online due to its age, but its still a good one to think about. Sony has always been renowned for its products and I am a acknowledged Sony fan, but to nitpick a little here – the Android OS version Jellybean is kind of outdated and it lacks some features the other DAPs have like having a DAC, and for the price, there could be better.
Colorfly C4 – looks hands down the coolest DAP I’ve ever seen, complete with built in RCA inputs and switchable SRC, but is a bit bulky and the controls while very retro, don’t look the easiest to use. Runs its own OS as well. (DAC: Cirrus Logic CS4398 the exact same one as my Soundblaster E5)
Acoustic Research M2 – looks great, slim, runs Android, etc but price point is a bit high, and only available in Europe it seems. There are cheaper players with the same specs. (DAC: Burr-Brown PCM1794A)
Hifiman HM802S – having a balanced out is nice, as well as a retro clickwheel and has a modular amplifier card that can be replaced. However the bulk and lack of Android means this suffers from the same issue as the Colorfly C4. (DAC: Wolfson WM8740)
FiiO x7 – FiiO has always been a brand for good value, affordable yet good quality. And I was really drawn to this player. It’s got everything the expandable storage, good price, slimness, running Android lollipop, and swappable amp modules. (DAC: ESS Sabre ES9018S)
Pioneer XDP-100R – this is basically the Onkyo DAP with one less DAC and amp chip and no balanced out and as a result its slightly cheaper. I like this one a lot too, it runs Android lollipop, slim enough, has a speaker surprisingly, and has 2 microSD slots for expansion. (DAC: ES9018K2M)

In the end, I was deciding between the FiiO x7 and the Pioneer XDP and the Pioneer won by a hair. The speaker and 2 microSD slots made the difference. You never know, I might need to show my friend some youtube videos and the speaker comes in handy. They are both at the perfect price points since I don’t use balanced headphones.

Pioneer XDP-100

Anyways, can’t go wrong with any of these, they all have microSD for expansion, some form of DAC to make the music sound a lot better, and support for high res formats like DSD, DXD, PCM, MQA etc although I really only care about FLAC. I think MQA has a good future but it needs more support and if it was widely available I’d use that more.

And.. in other news I got Lasik Surgery in Korea!
My time in Korea is becoming short and I wanted to do surgery here since Korea is world class in experienced surgeons and most Koreans get it done more than other Asians. Maybe 90% of Korean girls wear contacts or did Lasik. Plus, its cheaper, only $1500 for me compared to $3k/$4k/$5k in USA/Canada.
I highly recommend this site Dream Eye Center the staff can speak English, its located in Gangnam, and the doctors and staff are very professional and helpful. Alot of Kpop stars did it there too so you know that have good credentials.

I was a bit nervous at first, but it was ok.. there was no pain, but it was slightly disturbing because I can see the blade come down and cut a flap in my cornea, and theres a suction cup placed on my eye and that was slightly painful for a second. That was about it… and now my vision is a bit blurry especially in my left eye, and I have to use 3 different eye drops a day. But it will get better within a week I heard. Anyways, through the miracle of technology I don’t need glasses anymore after wearing them for 10 years!



Analog vs Digital; gradual replacement of daily devices by digital products

As things become more and more digitized these days, we find more and more of our daily devices being replaced by new digitized mediums. Please note that when I use ‘analog’ I mean the original medium.

Vinyl vs CD:
An example is music players. Back in the old days, we used a device called the record player to listen to music. This device used a medium called vinyl which is an exact copy of the soundwaves pressed into it. What you hear from each LP is the exact reproduction of the music; there are no compressed bits of audio, no 16-bit compression, 320kbps streaming, or whatever. This is as close as music gets to a live performance (which is pure analog because you hear it with your ears at the time it plays). It has since been replaced by CDs and MP3s, which basically takes samples of the sound and compresses them. Whether or not it sounds worse depends on different people. Which would you choose? Vinyl (analog) or CD/MP3 (digital)?

Vinyl and MP3
Vinyl and MP3

Film vs Digital photos:
Back in the old days, we used a film camera to take pictures and record movies. film is available in different mm (35mm, 16mm, 8mm) which represents what kind of film format is used. Similarly, movie projectors depends on the size of the reel and the film its using. Film has been superseded by Digital Cameras, DSLRs, Camcorders, and even phones(!) today. But some still say that old film cannot be replaced. It’s the ‘analog’ medium. There is no sense of megapixels or size of movie in gigabytes of whatever. Light is focused and captured onto photographic films which is developed in a dark room. There is no concept of dark rooms or film negatives in the digital age today. Instead, there is only how many megapixels, what is the storage size, aperture size, lens size, HD quality, etc. In addition, digital photos cannot be physically shared unless they are printed, which may not result in the same feeling as film. Which would you choose? Film Camera (analog) or Digital Camera (digital)?

Film vs Digital
Film vs Digital

Other trends
Although Cameras and Music players are the most prominent, digital products have been replacing almost every product that we produced in the 20th century. Radio has been replaced by Spotify, and Pandora. TV is gradually getting replaced by Netflix, Hulu and Youtube. Ebooks using Amazon’s Kindle and Nook readers have been replacing traditional books. iPhones and Android devices have been replacing landline (old school) telephones. How often do you see pay phones nowadays? What about painting a picture using oil or watercolor? Now you can do that on a tablet! What happened to board games? Now we play Angry Birds on the phone. An entire drawer of documents can now be fit onto a small USB key. Shopping no longer needs to be done at brick and mortar stores, just go to Ebay and Amazon. Who needs Encyclopedia Britannica when you have Wikipedia and Google? Asking friends for reviews has been replaced by Yelp. Nobody uses Maps anymore when you have Google Maps. No need to hire expensive stock advisors when you have Google Finance. Who uses typewriters when you have Google Docs? No need to cut out coupons when you have Groupon. Who reads newspapers when you can just go to CNN? What used to be handwritten letters sent across the world to an eager penpal months later has now been replaced by email, typed in an instant and received in an instant. And face to face contact is gradually being replaced by Skype, texting, instant messaging, and Facebook. Heck, I”m even writing a blog post that only two decades ago would have warranted a small diary! (blogging never existed back then, unless you count newspaper articles).

While I do like how there are new, more convenient ways of living, sometimes I long for the more meaningful ways that life used to be lived. Living without a phone for a few weeks has taught me to enjoy the simpler things in life rather than commenting on someone’s Facebook wall (like for example, actually going up to the person to wish them a happy birthday). And I kind of miss that, now that digital products have replaced everything. What do you think about this topic? please leave your comment.

I also took the opportunity to take some pictures with Instagram. I wonder if Ansel Adams would be proud of me. Would he have thought that one day, a miniature sized phone in my pocket would be able to take a picture of this quality? and share it without actually handing it physically to anyone?

Sunset at SF's Ocean Beach
Sunset at SF's Ocean Beach
Sakura at Golden Gate Park
Sakura at Golden Gate Park