I started my comparison of AP80 Pro with its AP80 “siblings”, so please pay close attention in a description below where I refer to SE (3.5mm), BAL (2.5mm), and default AP80 being Aluminum, as well as references to SS (stainless steel AP80) and CU (copper version of AP80).
AP80 Pro (SE) vs AP80 Pro (BAL) – I hear a wider soundstage in BAL with treble having a little more sparkle.
AP80 (SE) vs AP80 Pro (BAL) – Pro has a wider soundstage and its treble has a little more sparkle, everything else sounds the same; Pro has blacker background.
AP80 (SE) vs AP80 Pro (SE) – Identical soundstage and tonality; Pro has blacker background.
AP80 SS (SE) vs AP80 Pro (BAL) – Identical tonality, with Pro having just a touch wider soundstage expansion; Pro has blacker background.
AP80 CU (SE) vs AP80 Pro (BAL) – Pro has just a touch wider soundstage and leaner more transparent mids while CU has stronger mid-bass punch and fuller body more organic mids; Pro has blacker background.
Here is how it stacks up against other portable DAPs.
AP80 Pro (BAL) vs M0 – Pro soundstage is wider. M0 tonality is closer to CU, so M0 sounds warmer in comparison to Pro due to its fuller smoother body of mids/vocals, and also M0 bass hits a little stronger. Pro bass is tighter and faster, mids are more transparent and more revealing, and treble has more sparkle. Pro has a blacker background. M0 has ES9218P vs Pro having dual ES9218P.
AP80 Pro (BAL) vs R3 Pro (BAL) – Well, here you can’t even tell them apart. They even have the same volume level setting. The only difference here is if you want to do Tidal/Qobuz streaming, R3 Pro has the advantage, but the gap in sound is very close now, even so R3 Pro has dual CS43131 and Pro has dual ES9018P; also, power outputs are the same as well. Another difference, R3 Pro BT performance is not as strong as AP80 Pro, the wireless coverage distance extends further with AP80 Pro and you get less interruptions when AP is in your pocket vs R3 Pro.
AP80 Pro (BAL) vs DX120 (BAL) – in my comparison of original AP80 vs DX120, I was comparing 3.5mm SE output, using U18t. Here, I was able to compare BAL outputs and decided to check the performance with Elysium to see how well these can drive its DD mids and EST treble. Right away I hear a wider soundstage with Pro vs more out of your head depth with DX120. And while both have a similar bass impact, Pro brings mids more forward and has more natural treble tonality while DX120 mids pushed slightly back and treble sounds splashy. In this comparison I definitely preferred AP80 Pro, especially since DX120 has more hissing with sensitive iems.
In the following pair up examples everything was tested with AP80 Pro in high gain.
Beyerdynamic T5p 2nd – BAL output of Pro improves the tonality of mids/vocals in this pair up. For some reason, SE output tonality with T5p2 sounded off, lacking body, and in general something was missing. BAL output made it sound more natural and less artificial, also improving the bass with deeper sub-bass extension.
Meze Audio Empyrean – When using AP80 (SE), I noticed that Empyrean wasn’t driven to its full potential because bass sounded thin and punchy, lacking the heft and making mids a bit thinner. The BAL output of AP80 Pro improves the bass response of Empyrean, adding more sub-bass rumble and giving mids more body. No, it won’t drive Empyrean like as well as high end Class A source, but I definitely heard an improvement in AP80 Pro performance over AP80.
Vision Ears VE Elysium – The unique design of Ely is what made me curious how either one of AP80/pro can drive this BA/DD/EST tribryd. Aside from an obvious difference in soundstage width where Pro has a definitive advantage, there were a few other differences in tonality. From BAL output of AP80Pro, the bass was tighter and had a stronger punch, mids/vocals in Pro sounded more natural and a little smoother, and the treble in Pro sounds more natural and less splashy, while SE AP80 wasn’t able to drive EST as efficiently.
Campfire Audio Andromeda ’20 – First of all, totally hiss-free performance. The tonality of Andro is similar between AP80 and AP80 Pro, you still have a balanced signature with a more layered sound and revealing tonality with a little lift in lower treble. But the technical performance of Andro is better from Pro output, giving you wider soundstage and a more dynamic sound. Mids/vocals are more transparent in Pro while a little thicker and more colored in regular AP80.
Venture Electronics VE Sun Copper – I thought this pair up comparison with 180ohm Sun earbuds would be interesting, but instead found both AP80 (SE) and AP80 Pro (BAL) driving Sun on the same level, having a similar natural balanced tonality with very organic mids/vocals.