Expensive or Inexpensive Portable Audio for You and Me?

Several years ago, I was in the middle of a multi-leg travel jaunt when I realized I had left my in-ears in the previous airplane's seat crevice. Faced with a future of a five-hour flight without music or any way to keep sane I opted to purchase a replacement pair in one of the airline shops that specialize in earphones and portable gadgets. The pair I had lost were Shure 500-series in-ears. To replace them cost me full boat, list price, which was somewhere around $500+. So, in essence I had just burned up half a grand making myself whole again... 

AR-expen1aa.jpgThe experience got me thinking about what I considered "affordable" when it came to portable audio. Depending on the publication I'm writing for, "affordable" can have a wide range of numerics attached. For The Absolute Sound, anything under $1000 seems to qualify as affordable. Conversely, one of the Facebooks groups I frequent "Cheap Earphones" would consider anything over $100 too expensive. But where do I stand on affordability? 

For me, it's personal. 

By this I mean that "affordability" has a sliding scale depending on where and when I plan to use a "portable" product. I have completely different personal affordability levels for gear that I will use primarily out in the world verses gear that never leaves my listening room. Why? Because the gear I take out into the street has a far greater probability of being lost, stolen, or broken than anything that never goes out the front door. 

AR-expen3aa.jpgI have reviewed several portable players that, given my attitude, have rarely, if ever, left my home. The first one was the Astell & Kern AK240. Although I did take it to the gym once, to make sure its AK connect Wi-Fi feature would work and deliver Tidal via a regular-speed public Wi-Fi network as opposed to my Fiber-optic high-speed one. It did. Another player that I reviewed, the Astell & Kern KANN, which I loved, I would never take on a long trip, Why? Because it would cost slightly under $1000 to replace, fairly large, and it's a heavy player, weight-wise. 

In my world a primarily portable player must be light, small and inexpensive - so the Kann struck out on three swings. But wait, that's not my most extreme case. I would never, unless death was immanent, ever consider taking the Sony NW -WM1Z out into the world. It weighs over a pound and costs more than my first car. It is the most strictly home-bound portable player I've seen, bar none. But boy, does it sound fabulous... 

AR-expens9aa.pngWhat do I use as my primary portable device? My current 1st-call portable player is the HIDIZ AP-60 II along with its slightly beefier brother, the HIDIZ AP-60 Pro. I carry both on long trips and even at the gym, I take two because, after all, they are small. Also, it's nice to have a back-up so if I'm remiss on my recharging regimen I still have tunes available from player #2. Together the two players cost less than ¼ the price of the Astell & Kern KANN. Are they as powerful, flexible, or ergonomically elegant as the KANN? Nope. But the HIDIZ players are good enough to connect to Bluetooth earphones via aptX, can take a 256G micro-card, and with their "pricey" $15 genuine leather case with armband makes a great package for an inexpensive work-out player. If the big weightlifter guy next to me accidently drops his weights onto my AP-60 II, I wouldn't even ask him for cash... 

I use the same yardstick for portable earphones as for portable players. Some of my headphones never leave my home, such as the HiFiMan HE-1000 V2, or the Sony MDR-Z1. Others, such as the NuForce EDC-3Periodic Audio BE, and One More Triple Drivers, have all served time in work-out land. Again, ease of replaceability is important. I can easily take a hit if one of these work-out in-ears died or disappeared mysteriously. I would not be so zen-like if the earphones that vanished were my Ultimate Ear RR CIEMs or Empire Ears Zeus CIEM

AR-expen5aa.jpgSo, in the end I think that affordability will always be a personal rather than universal yardstick. Elon Musk could probably, if he wanted, go out for a walk with a pair of those $120,000 bejeweled Focal Utopia's, while I would be too nervous to have them in my domicile for even one day...but I'm comfortable with using the Sonoma Model One headphone system at home, sometimes in preference to a room-based transducer. On the street I prefer to carry more easily-replaceable gear. 

So, what is your personal affordability comfort level? For me the good news is that there are inexpensive portable audio options that work well and if they are lost, stolen, or damaged, easily replaced. Yeseree...inexpensive audio gear has an important place in my world...

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