Before talking about sound quality from these nice gems, my prior experience with DAPs is with Fiio’s namely the X1, X3, and X5 (first or second-gen if I remember correctly). That was a long time ago and even then, it wasn’t a long term experience since I’ve mostly held them for short-term loans. After that, I’ve owned the LG G6 as my main smartphone for a good 3 years and that phone came with an ES9218P Sabre DAC and a slightly better than average built-in amplifier. It was indeed a pleasurable experience that going back to Samsung sometime last year made me notice the perceived inferior sound quality.
With that out there, my experience with the DP-S1 is very good. It’s not a fair comparison but going from an S10 to the DP-S1 immediately gave me the cleaner sound, lesser bloat in the dynamics, more space, and better overall resolution. The better blackness of background is also noticeable going from one to the other.
Now it’s really going to be hard comparing this with the Fiio’s and the G6 because I’m just basing it off my memory, but I remember not being too impressed with the X1 and X3, and the X5 having some hiss in some of my IEMs during my short testing period. The G6’s amp was almost nonexistent as it didn’t seem to have enough juice for my Hifiman HE400i and DT 880 250 ohms but the DAC did help provide a cleaner output. They did play loud enough but the sound characteristic for those two headphones is almost lifeless relative to when they’re powered sufficiently with an amplifier.
Among all of those, the X5 (again from memory) is the one I find most comparable to the DP-S1 and it probably has something to do with the fact that I used the same earphones in testing both namely the Etymotic ER4P. I did find the X5 providing a slightly higher volume output though than Onkyo’s but sound-wise, I thought they were comparable.
Oh, and before I forget, the sound character of the DP-S1 is neutral-ish as I find it to not add any warmth to bass and low midrange presence. If anything, it can be a touch lean at times but that could be its trade-off for better dynamics and cleaner overall sound. Keep in mind this is me pulling hairs here so don’t read too much into it. Also, there’s a lot of factors that need to be considered here namely the audio tracks being played and the actual headphones or earphones being used.
Other Features of the DP-S1
Custom Sound / Equalizer
It does come with a handy equalizer that has built-in presets as well as a separate 6-level bass booster if you’re the type that likes to fidget your music. I didn’t really bother with the equalizer but I used the bass booster and to my ears, it did a very good job increasing the quantity without distorting or making it bleed in the mids. I have some headphones that are closer towards neutral, or even lean side of neutral and the adjustments done using this certainly helped add more body to the experience
The Onkyo DP-S1 has 3 gain levels which are low, normal, and high. I’m able to drive my Hifiman HE-400i comfortably with the high gain although it can also play moderately loud with normal. Interestingly I find the normal gain to be sufficient for my DT-880 which has an impedance of 250 ohms
I tested my ER4P IEM in high gain thinking it would result in some audible hiss but I didn’t hear any. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that the higher end Etymotic earphones are not as efficient despite their low ohm impedance rating.
Most of the testing was done in the default Sharp filter and I honestly didn’t hear much difference with the Slow and Short filters. As with most things audiophile, your mileage may vary here.
If digital filters sound foreign to you, you can give this article a read. I personally didn’t want to bother too much with this.
Upsampling & Hi-bit filter
The DP-S1 also supports upsampling audio tracks to 96k/88.2k & 192k/176.4k. Hi-Bit 32, on the other hand, is supposed to smooth out digital waveform signals. It’s turned off by default but I did enable it for most of the testing period
Just like with the digital filters, I didn’t do a lot of testing with both and in the short time that I spent with it, I didn’t hear any audible difference with the various options.
As I’ve implied at various points in this article, it would be hard for me to make a recommendation based on price-performance ratio or value since I’m not into DAPs that much especially in the last 3 or 4 years or so. What I can tell you though is my opinion based on my experience with the DP-S1 and whether you should buy it or not purely from my experience.
If money is not a problem and I want a high-quality player but don’t really have time to try out other DAPs or read other reviews, do I buy the DP-S1 having tried it myself? Well, yes! Yes, because of its sound and form factor. It’s small and well-built, it’s got wifi and Bluetooth which aren’t audiophile features but are handy to have and it has more than enough options than I would probably use. But those things are just icing on the cake. I’d buy it just for the sound alone. They are that good and the upgrade from normal smartphone audio is significant.
Realistically though you’re not gonna buy anything without comparing it to the competition and factoring in price-performance ratio. Even without looking at the other products, there are things that I feel should’ve been better for this price such as the screen, the UI, the buttons, and the storage option. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by the smartphones that have been coming out in the last half a decade or so. Basically how everything is beautiful, smooth, and inviting to use. And yes, I’m aware those can be considered as novelty features which disqualify myself as the target for this product
Hope you find the review useful. If you have any questions or have anything you’d like to add or point out, sound off in the comments section below.
Would you buy the Onkyo DP-S1 as an audiophile-quality DAP? What other options would you have at this price point?