That was fast.
This summer was the first time portable music players finally went really high end, thanks to Astell&Kern, a South Korean audio outfit.
The AK 100 and it's big brother AK 120, which came out in time for a hi-def Fourth of July, make iPods and Android devices sound, in comparison, downright primitive -- like an AM car radio in a '55 Chevy. The only problem has been price. Hold your breath: The two A&K models are, respectively, $699 and $1,299.
The means there really is a better alternative to the
It does only one thing, which is play music. It requires decent headphones or ear buds, but it has a built-in amplifier, which means you can use pretty much any headphones, not just those designed for portable players. Memory is not a problem, as it is on iPods, since the X3 will accept a 64 GB micro SD card (the same as used for digital cameras and on Android phones). It can also be connected to a stereo.
The main thing, though, is that such sound has simply never been available at anything close to this price on any kind of player, let alone a portable one. Make of it what you will that this kind of audio innovation is coming from Asian upstarts like A&K and Fiio, and not from Silicon Valley.