The sound of a DAP is based on pair up synergy with different headphones. Afterall, you are hearing the sound of headphones connected to the Source. In this section of my review I will go over how various earphones and headphones pair up with P6. With an exception of ATH-R70x, all IEMs and headphones were used from BAL output, and I didn’t detect any hissing.
w/64 Audio U18t – nearly holographic soundstage expansion with a close to 3D imaging. Sound sig is more balanced because bass is stronger with more impact and deeper sub-bass extension which makes mids not as forward and also makes mids/vocals smoother and more natural. And the same with treble, more controlled tia sparkle with subdued peaks.
w/EE Odin – this pair up is a perfect example of pushing Odin soundstage and imaging to the max, being holographic and 3D. It is also a perfect example of how a revealing tuned IEM can scale up and benefit with P6. First of all, bass here comes alive with more impact and deeper sub-bass rumble. Don’t expect to turn Odin into L-shaped iems like LX, but this pair up definitely gives Odin bass some authority. The same with mids and vocals, you still have a layered micro-detailed sound, but there is more body and more natural tonality now. The same with treble, it is still airy and extended, but its quad EST is a little smoother now.
w/VE Elysium – this is probably one of the few pair ups which I didn’t enjoy as much. Have no idea why, but here the soundstage actually narrowed down. There is an improvement in bass, definitely sounds more like DD rather than BA, not in terms of quantity, but quality. But mids, which is my favorite part in Ely, got pushed a little back and sound a bit too smooth for my taste. Plus, treble lost a bit of airiness here. It’s all about the synergy, and I didn’t feel it as well in this pair up.
w/DUNU Luna – nearly holographic soundstage expansion in this pair up, and a very good imaging, though not exactly 3D. The overall sound sig is balanced and tonality is smooth and laidback. Bass goes deep with more rumble in this pair up, mids/vocals are very smooth, laidback, soulful, and treble is smooth as well, well defined but not super airy.
w/CFA Solaris ’20 – in this pair up I hear a wide soundstage but also sounds like there is more depth/height than width. The overall signature in here is more W-shaped where the bass has a nice deeper impact, mids/vocals are natural, layered, and detailed, and treble is crisp and airy, but not harsh. Treble is a bit on a brighter side, and that was surprise to me, but it is not harsh. And, absolutely no hissing. The only thing here, due to Solaris sensitivity, I had to stay at a rather low volume in this pair up from balanced output. Probably makes more sense to use sensitive IEMs with single ended output.
w/64 Audio Nio – this pair up is probably one of the best I heard with Nio. The soundstage is fully holographic and imaging is 3D (using PS PPH8 cable), despite smoother denser tonality of Nio. The signature is W-shaped with a deep powerful bass impact and deep textured sub-bass extension, smooth natural mids that surprisingly still have a rather good retrieval of details, and a natural well-defined treble with a controlled sparkle and airiness. This pair up was just too addictive.
w/MEZE Audio Empyrean – in this pair I did have to switch to high gain and push volume higher, and that was exactly what Empyrean needed to give this pair up more punch in low end, bringing vocals more forward, and giving treble a little more sparkle. The sound was open and expanded, very smooth, natural, laidback, not as fast or more detailed like when I’m driving Empyrean from a proper amp, but still it was very enjoyable in this portable setup.
w/Beyerdynamic T5p 2nd gen – in this pair up the soundstage is wide, but the depth/height is even bigger. The overall sound is nicely balanced with a smoother natural detailed tonality, but one thing that stood out was the bass punch, very articulate and with a good control without spilling into lower mids. Mids/vocals were smooth and detailed, and treble has just enough sparkle and airiness to give the sound a good definition. Bass was definitely the highlight of this pair up.
w/Audio Technica ATH-R70x – I don’t have a balanced cable for these headphones so had to use SE P6 output, giving me a perfect opportunity to push volume output (in high gain) closer to 55. This was probably the best pair up I heard with R70x as well. Besides an open holographic sound with 3D imaging, the sound signature was perfectly balanced, actually more W-shaped. This is probably the strongest and the most articulate bass punch I heard from R70x with a DAP, the bass was strong, fast, extended, and well controlled. Mids/vocals were natural, smooth, and yet very detailed and layered. Treble also picked up a little extra sparkle and airiness.
In this section of the review I will go over various wired and wireless connections I tested and verified with P6.
This was tested with SPDIF (3.5mm) output where you need to use 4-ring 3.5mm to coax cable. The sound from P6 vs P6 + Micro iDSD: with iDSD the sound is a little warmer, smoother, a little less resolving, while directly from P6 it is more transparent and with a blacker background. The sound difference was expected, and this just demonstrates that you can use P6 as a transport to drive external DAC/amp with coax input.
Using P6 vs P6 + Romi Audio BX2 amp, I found P6 direct output to be nearly identical in tonality when using P6 LO + BX2. BX2 is a very transparent amp, which also suggests that internal P6 amplifier is very transparent and doesn’t color the sound.
When LO is selected in settings and you connect the cable, you will get a warning to make sure headphone is not plugged in and when you OK it, the volume is raised to 60 and shown in red in notification bar, but you can still adjust it using volume wheel, sort of like as pre-amp gain. Especially with a high-power amp like BX2, this is very convenient when using sensitive IEMs.
P6 was recognized in Win10 on my aging T480s Thinkpad right away, and I was able to control volume from P6, but not laptop. The sound tonality is nearly the same from P6 vs laptop + P6, but I still hear a blacker background directly from P6.
Pair up was easy and fast, just enable BT on P6 and search for it from your phone to pair up. I tested BT Rx with my aging Galaxy S9 phone, and found it being able to control the volume from the phone and P6. Correct codec (LDAC) was shown on P6, and I was able to enjoy the music wireless almost 25ft away across open space. To my pleasant surprise, the sound was nearly identical when listening to the same song directly from P6 vs wireless through P6 from my phone with an exception of direct P6 playback having just a little more bass punch.
While I always considered L&P to be a boutique DAP manufacturer with a minimalistic design, simplified OS, and the focus on audio playback only, their P6 model follows a sort of yin and yang philosophy. You still have a classic non-touch screen simplified interface and nostalgic all discrete analog implementation of R-2R resistor ladder DAC. But it is complemented with a modern exterior design, powerful 4.4mm BAL output, LDAC Bluetooth Rx to stream audio from your smartphone, variable output Line Out from 4.4mm and 3.5mm, and SPDIF output to use P6 as a digital transport.
Audio playback is still the main focus of the design where you hear a very natural and resolving analog tonality, and they do take into account both sensitive IEMs and harder to drive headphones to please all users. Lack of touch screen controls will be noticeable considering how much we are used to our smartphones and other DAPs, but then I still run into audiophiles who are looking for non-Android audio players and others who don’t even care about touch screen. Plus, some might use P6 as a hi-res (LDAC) wireless DAC/amp paired and controlled from a smartphone so touch screen will be irrelevant in that case.
And last, but not least, switching to R-2R discrete resistor DAC design was a bold move. Going all discrete has its challenges, but at the same time you no longer have to worry about sourcing more expensive new R-2R DAC chips or looking for the remaining classic R-2R PCM chips which are in short supply. Not to mention the recent fire at AKM semiconductor factory in Japan which going to affect supply of those specific DACs and drive up prices of their competition. So, using R-2R discrete resistor DAC in a portable DAP doesn’t just make you stand out from competition, but also gives you some level of freedom.