Portable Audio Players/'phones

I find myself in unfamiliar territory. I have a recent need for some kind of portable audio system due to periods away from hone with hours, even days, to kill (e.g. hospital).

The products available are not that well known to me and my situation does not allow attending dealers for dems.

The cost of what looks appropriate is now way beyond what may have been around years ago and, frankly, spending 3 grand on IEMs just on spec seems unrealistic to me. However though I do not have a budget in mind it may be limited to, say, a couple of thousand though that is really only a notional figure.

I have currently an Astell & Kern SR35 ( Norma) and various earphones. Favourite but not completely satisfactory, is Shure Aonic 4. With this and others ( Etymotic, Sennheiser) I have tried all of the ear tips provided which also altered the sound more than anticipated.

So, where do I go from here? Overall the combination is fine but as a classical music listener string timbre is a bit thin.

Have any of you much knowledge on this subject? I have read many online reviews and comments but have come away thinking that that the review sounds fine for a 20 something playing rock ( all those “big bass” remarks) but what would fit an old fart like me?

BTW, large over ear cans are out of the picture as impractical.

Your advice welcome.

Sorry to hear about hospital Pete, hope everything is OK.

For portable listening I just use my iPhone/AirPods. Works fine and the SQ streaming from the Qobuz app is excellent, but it is an embuggerance to need to charge them all the time. I need aftermarket tips for the AirPods otherwise I just can’t get them to stay in, I guess my ears are malformed. I found these which are made of memory foam which stay put as though they were glued in. Comfortable as well. I swear by them.

I also have a pair of old Audio-Technica ESW-9s (small, light on-ears) for portable use. They are long out of production but I expect there is something similar currently available. They cost around £300 iirc. A bit old fashioned maybe and you need a dongle to connect them to the iPhone these days but at least they don’t need charging!

I had a pair of expensive Ultimate Ears IEMs custom molded to my ears and ended up using them very little as I could just never get used to the feel. They weren’t uncomfortable per se, but I could never just forget about them and after a few hours my lugholes started to hurt, especially if I was lying on my side on a pillow (long flights were my main use case). When I last checked Jerry Harveys were all the rage but that was a few years now. I have had various non-molded Etymotics etc and they were more comfortable, but not on the same SQ level as the ATs (or the AirPods).

1 Like

I do not have as much listening experience as you do but if you get a chance, please try Apogee Groove, Pete.

Pete, I hope the hospital stay goes smoothly and is not for something serious.

Have you looked into the Chord Mojo 2? It’s good and can power a lot of phones and IEMS. I dislike IEMs and use only headphones.

But in the end I simply use my iPhone and AirPod Pros or Max. I do this for commuting and travel. It’s just easier, simpler, and frankly sounds fine.

But for a hospital stay I can imagine something better could help pass the time more comfortably.

1 Like

Andrew, thank you so much for writing outside of the forum.

The health issue is ongoing and I expect may continue. My last hospital inmate experience was three weeks ago when the portable audio was a major boon. This time it was only a short stay for an invasive test. A trip to the King’s College Hospital Brain Laboratory which makes me feel like an extra in The Man With Two Brains :grinning:. BTW a catheter was fed from my groin to my brain so that a dye could be introduced Ito allow viewing of blood vessels. I remained awake the whole time as the surgeon needs to communicate as he works. Very interesting and thankfully painless.

Anyway they haven’t contacted me with some sort of emergency recall so in this case no news is good news. However I anticipate that a difficult conversation is to come.

The Chord device is interesting but perhaps not quite what I am looking for as it has no storage and requires storage/[playing software on another device. I am Android rather than iOS ( at least for the moment) . The airpods really need to be used with an iOS device to exploit their utilities.My current Samsung Galaxy is mid-range and has insufficient storage for serious music replay IMO.

I was using a dongle DAC ( Dragonfly Red) plus USB Pro app. However the Dragonfly was nicked during my long hospital stay in 2022. So I recently purchased the bottom of the range Astell & Kern. Aside from my other remarks, the difference was a move from mid-fi to true high end. The tiny box works like a full size high end system and is amazing with the possibility of over 1tb storage. I have just found that my main issue concerning SQ was solved by the IEM ear tips. Re-seating them has taken me back to very good sound.

However having only the A&K entry level model I am wondering what an up market one would be like. Watch this space. I have my eyes on a SE300 which looks like it may offer what I want without going for the top ( and very costly) models. As for headphones I am still rather taken a some Chinese ones that I got from Amazon five years ago for £35 !! Now I have the ear tip solution above the Shure ones are also good ( but again, what about the top models?).

So I think that this may all be an ongoing story. Let’s see.

Best Wishes,



I wish you all the best, Pete.
I can empathise, as I’m also dealing with an ongoing medical condition.

1 Like

Im not certain that i understand exactly what you are looking for. It sound like a combination of better sq on receiving end ie ear phones and storage that satisfies quality and quantity. We had a discussion a few year back about a “free” software that i use called plex. It was developed and mostly used for video but quite easily adapted for music library. With one time membership of less than 100$ you can stream hq most anywhere and have access to most anything you put onto an attached hard drive. I have about 12 tb of music all flac (my choice) and i use it quite often when i travel. I even stream it to my car. You access it through a phone app remotely among about any other electronic means you have at your disposal. Hope that helps. Be well pal

Here’s my current travel rig. I mix and match depending on the trip and my mood.

  1. Sony WM1AM2 DAP
  2. T+A Solitaire T wireless headphones
  3. Fokus Mystique wireless IEM
  4. Campfire Audio Andromeda wired IEM
  5. B&O Beosound A1 2nd Gen - For hotel room. If you are either checking luggage or have a willing partner to bring a second, they can be paired for stereo.

Godspeed with your recovery.

Thanks to everyone. I have investigated all recommendations and appreciate your thoughts. However, having found the cause of the reduction in SQ that I was encountering I am sticking with the Astell & Kern SR35/Shure Aonic 4 combination. Now working as it should this has kept me listening to the early hours of the morning! Importantly, the move from my Vivaldi/EAR Yoshini/ATC actives comes without any “if only” thoughts. Obviously the portable kit is not really comparable to the full sized system but for something I can carry in a trouser pocket is astonishing technically and sonically and provides access to my high res PCM or DSD files as well as Qobuz. Radio is missing but may become available in future software updates.

I have learned a few things that I can pass on especially for IEM users ( full size cans are not really practical in this context):

  1. Eartips, both type and size, are essential to optimise. Try all you are supplied with.

  2. Choosing the right size to ensure a proper seal between IEM and ear can be counter intuitive. Having previous experience of custom foam ones and being a small guy, I expected to be using S or M foam types. With these particular earphones the large silicone ones produced a major sonic improvement for me (but don’t assume that it will be the same for you).

  3. Repeated insertions can slightly move the eartip location on the nozzle with a resulting loss of SQ. This needs to be kept in mind.


A&K devices are very good, I have a SP2000 and FYR audio Krypton in ear monitors, very nice.

1 Like

Having sold my SP1000 during the lockdown, I’m embarking on a journey to see how far these units have come in the last four years… it feels like I’m opening Pandora’s box all over again!

The SP2000 and SP3000 are on the list, which is likely to be the easy bit. Figuring out head or earphones is likely to be more complicated. IEMs can sound amazing, but the sound is very much inside your head, whereas over-ear headphones leak a lot of noise.

Decisions, decisions…

Sony original WM1Z w/ Focal Utopia headphones
Simply magical