The AP60 is internally identical to the Shanling M1 (though I can’t personally vouch for any similarities in their sound) promising high-fidelity audio through the adoption of imported Japanese components and the implementation of the AK4452VN DAC and MAX97220A Amp chips. The player support files up to 192kHz at 24bits in a plethora of codecs: FLAC, APE, WMA, WAV, ALAC, AAC, OGG, MP3, AIFF, DSF, DIFF, very diverse given the cost of the device. It also has a very low quoted output impedance of 0.1 ohms, theoretically making it perfect for sensitive, multi-armature iems.
In real world usage, the player isn’t quite so flawless. Users of higher quality sources will notice a prevalent hiss and some issues with sub-bass extension though the player does compare well to similarly priced sources in both regards. The overall tonality of the AP60 is what I would describe as balanced but slightly full-bodied. It is one of the more neutral budget players I have heard, sitting in-between the warmer Fiio M3 and brighter iPod Nano 7G. This makes it the most natural sounding player of the bunch, especially noticeable with transparent iems such as the Hifiman RE-600. I can also confirm that the player has a low output impedance, sounding tonally similar to my Oppo HA-2 when paired with hybrid/multi-driver earphones. Listening through the very source sensitive Sony XBA-40’s (8-ohm impedance, 4BA with no electronic crossover), my HTC 10 tended to roll off the extremities of the sound and lean out the bass response while the AP60, Oppo HA-2 and iPod Nano all provided a fuller low-end and more even midrange and treble responses.
In my experiences and, as previously stated in a few of my other source reviews, I delineate great sources from good sources through their presentation of space. The AP60 definitely falls into the good category with both a nice sense of space and accurate if not pinpoint imaging. Starting with some more conventional comparison, I utilised the newly enabled USB-DAC feature to play some lossless files in Foobar through the AP60 and compare with the integrated Realtek sound card. Immediately, the AP60 was miles ahead, the vast majority of Windows laptops just don’t sound good even through sensitive earphones and portable headphones. The AP60 sounded far more dynamic and vastly more separated, making my laptop sound quite muddy by comparison. High-end details, in particular, were much better illuminated by the AP60 and general resolution was increased throughout the frequency range. Sub-bass roll-off and hiss were also experienced to a lesser extent than on my laptop’s stock setup. In addition, the AP60 was clearly superior sounding to the more sonically mediocre phones I had on hand at the time of review, the Nexus 5X and 6P. The 6P was immediately quite noisy and a little more compressed while the 5X sounded clean but with slight compression and notably lower driving power.
On the flipside, my more proficient sources had no difficulty edging out the AP60 in overall performance. My HTC 10 for instance, was more spacious with similar imaging performance and a more dynamic sound overall while my Oppo HA-2 expanded the soundstage even further in addition to adding more hyper-realistic instrument placement. My Sennheiser ie800’s did most notably pick up the sub-bass roll-off and though I didn’t find it to be immediately noticeable, the lack of thump was apparent in stark comparison to these higher-priced sources. Sub-bass still has plenty of rumble and definition and most buyers interested in a compact $90 player probably won’t have gear capable of clearly resolving these shortcomings. That being said, and when not using a source sensitive earphone, my HTC 10 did produce better sub-bass extension with noticeably more slam and rumble in addition to a generally smoother sound. By comparison, the AP60 sounded a little more aggressive, especially in the high-end, but avoided sounding granular throughout its midrange, something that the brighter Nano is particularly susceptible to. The 10 also had a little more resolution and texture though the AP60 is still very good in this regard.
Finally, moving along to more even comparison, I found the AP60 to be very competitive with the other hyper-portable sources I had on hand. The iPod Nano 7G, in particular, is one of the most popular in its class, providing a very clean sound, but also one that is overall inferior to the AP60. Listening to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” though the Fiio EX1 Gen2 revealed slightly more soundstage space on the AP60 in addition to more accurate placement, especially noticeable during the song’s intro. The AP60 was also the more realistic sounding player when compared to the slightly warmer and less transparent M3. The AP60 was perceptibly more separated and detailed than the Nano throughout its midrange, especially upper midrange and treble. Micro-details were more noticeable on the AP60 and details were generally clearer with improved resolution, no doubt helped by its superior sound-staging performance. I also found the AP60 to sound more composed than the Nano, which tends to falter with more complex passages.
The actual output power of the player is also quite impressive for its size and price, with enough volume in high-gain to amply drive my 150ohm Sennheiser HD700’s (though loss of dynamics and space were clearly evident). It provided a considerably higher maximum volume than my Nano and subjectively more current in addition to a cleaner output than the Fiio M3. The AP60 is best suited towards portable headphones and less sensitive iems due to an ever-present background hiss though it is of the less obtrusive kind. In high-gain, hiss does slightly increase but I experience no coil whine or other interference when charging or listening with Bluetooth-enabled (as experienced with the Sony NW-A25). The Nano does have the upper hand here with an essentially silent background though this does come at the cost of driving power and the M3 is similarly noisy if not slightly worse.
Of course, these widely varied comparisons simply provide some perspective of the AP60’s performance and, once again, I found it to be one of the better performers amongst similarly priced gear. So while dedicated sources and audio-focussed smartphones will best the AP60, the average smartphone or iPod user will likely find more quality in the AP60’s sound than their current source.
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