What Is a Digital Audio Player (DAP)?

Mobile phone and earbuds

 Emilija Manevska/Getty Images

The term DAP is an acronym for Digital Audio Player and can define any hardware device that is capable of handling audio playback in digital form. In the realms of digital music, we commonly refer to DAPs as MP3 players or portable music players.

A true DAP is usually only capable of processing digital audio; most devices of this type therefore only come with low-resolution display screens good enough for outputting basic text and graphics. However, some DAPs don't come with a screen at all. A player that is only designed for digital audio also commonly has a lower memory capacity than an MP4 player that needs to be able to play video; the type of storage frequently used with DAPs, in this case, is flash memory.

This contrasts with PMPs (Portable Media Players) which sport larger display screens that are of a higher resolution; this is for outputting digital video in the form of photos, movies (including video clips), ebooks, etc.

Audio Formats and Storage

The common types of digital audio formats often supported by audio-only DAP's include:

  • MP3: Undoubtedly the de facto standard digital audio format that all DAPs support.
  • WMA: Probably the second most commonly supported audio format for DAPs after the MP3 standard.
  • WAV: Files come mostly in an uncompressed (and therefore lossless) state normally encoded in the LPCM (Linear Pulse Code Modulation) format. It's uncommon for people to use this format as the files can be quite large. However, DAPs tend to support this for backward compatibility.
  • AAC: Apple's lossy audio compression system that is the default format for products such as the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. Most songs purchased and downloaded from the iTunes Store also come in this format. However, not all DAPs support this.
  • OGG Vorbis: An open format that an increasing number of DAP (and PMP) manufacturers are building into their hardware. Some users who have tested the audio quality of MP3 versus OGG side-by-side claim that audio encoded using OGG (at 192 kbps and lower) is better quality than encoding in the MP3 format.
  • FLAC: this is a lossless audio format that is the least supported type in DAPs. However, it is gaining in popularity and is especially useful for audiophiles who want to listen to their FLAC digital music library without having to first convert.

Examples of Different Types of DAP

As well as dedicated portable digital audio players, other consumer electronic devices that you might already own can be used as a DAP. Among other multimedia devices that support digital audio playback, examples of this include:

  • Cell phones and smartphones
  • Sat navs
  • Digital cameras
  • Internet tablets
  • Digital voice recorders