What Is a Digital Audio Player (DAP)?

Learn the ins and outs and common file formats for digital audio.

The term DAP is an acronym for Digital Audio Player and may refer any hardware device that's capable of playing back audio in digital form. DAPs are more commonly known 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.

Mobile phone and earbuds
 Emilija Manevska/Getty Images

This contrasts with PMPs (Portable Media Players) which sport larger display screens and higher resolutions; this is for outputting digital video in the form of photos, video, ebooks, and other visual media.

Audio Formats and Storage

The most common digital audio formats 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 common 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 less common 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 like 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 a growing number of DAP (and PMP) manufacturers are adding to 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 it.

Examples of Different Types of DAP

As well as dedicated portable digital audio players, other consumer electronics devices that you may already own can be used as DAPs. Examples include:

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