Portable Hi-Fi

When You Want Your Hi-Fi to Go

by Venoth Nair


The current trend of portable devices has led to a slew of new cutting edge transportable tech to help enhance and improve our personal audio listening experience. These amazing little wonders, though in some cases they aren’t really that small, come from pretty much every end of the spectrum when it comes to audio brands. Your typical box brands like Sony and JVC all the way up to big wigs of high end audio like McIntosh and Chord are all in on the new craze when it comes to how audiophiles experience Hi-Fi on the go.

The Chord Hugo 2 DAC /Headphone Amplifier is a fantastic performer with sound quality thats really a cut above but is a little large and has an equally large price tag
The Chord Hugo 2 DAC /Headphone Amplifier is a fantastic performer with sound quality thats really a cut above but is a little large and has an equally large price tag


Being that this is the new thing on the block, it’s good to have a little bit of knowledge on what goes where and how each part functions so that when you decide to invest in these components you’d know exactly what you need and your actual budget requirements. There are a number of different approaches to portable audio which differs based on preference in sound, functionality and the degree of portability that you desire.


The first part to the puzzle is obviously the source which can come from two different means. The common option would be to use your existing mobile device. Most smartphones are pretty well equipped to function as a music source with its large internal storage and even streaming abilities. Some are even designed with an affinity to premium audio with upgraded internals that help it output a better signal for your greater listening pleasure.

Ibasso's DX200
Ibasso’s DX200 is a superb all in one player that utilises the latest ESS Sabre ES9028PRO DAC


A more serious route would be to use a dedicated music player which is a purpose-built device designed to deliver nothing but the absolute best listening experience possible. Some examples of popular portable devices are the range from Astell & Kern as well as other popular brands like Sony, Fiio and many other audiophile manufacturers. These players are built with powerful internal amplification to allow for sufficient drive for the headphones which are connected to it. They also feature purpose built designs which utilise specific audio chips or DAC’s which in some cases are similar to those used on high end table top, home equipment. These premium devices allow for a superbly rich and detailed delivery which can come close, and in some cases, exceed similarly priced home equipment.

Fiio's A5
Fiio’s A5 is a straight up headphone amplifier that helps to give headphones the power it needs to deliver the goods confidently


The major downside to these standalone players however is their size and weight in some models which can be a little bit impractical for those who need a daily tool that is preferably transportable.  Aside from this, some premium models can also cost a pretty sizeable sum of money which if required must be spent in a lump sum. The solution to this is to use your mobile smartphone as the source and improve its performance by utilizing add on components that help to improve specific sections of your source for a more superior output. These components can either be a combination of features or just have a single specific strength which allows user to customise their sound output characteristic for a personalised audio experience.


The benefit to this methodology is there is a degree of flexibility in your setup allowing you to switch back and forth on components to make subtle differences which can improve the overall sound. Additionally, some of these little upgrades are small and don’t really deter from the overall portability of your mobile device keeping the portability chapter in check. These components can function either by employing a DAC upgrade or improvements in amplification as a good amplifier improves the overall control and delivery of a headphone just like a full-size amplifier does with speakers. There are even some little devices that combine the two abilities in a small package. These little add-ons function similarly to how separate components work. As separating the different stages in signal handling, allows the respective components to deliver a superior end result as their work loads are streamlined.


The key thing when it comes to portable audio is to understand the gains each individual route gives you as you take them. It’s also beneficial to experiment with various combinations to find a proverbial sweet spot before you start assembling your little kit. Also consider the various upgrades that could come along in future which may or may not work with your existing setup. All these factors are important considerations when building your little portable slice of audio cake which, if done with care, can end in a satisfying result.

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