You might not think it while reading about the four- and occasional five-figure monsters on the site, but we absolutely love cheap here. If a piece of audio kit mixes low cost with decent components, we start getting very interested. And why not? This is a hobby that is getting more and more expensive every month, and so seeing things get cheaper is always good. So when we were sent the $45 Dodocool DA106 digital audio player, we got quite excited. In this review, we break down the DA106’s design, sound, packaging and accessories, specs and more, as well as how it compares to other models. You can also check out our video review.
 

Design:

But of course, simply because something is cheap, and purports to offer high quality components, does not mean it automatically going to be good. Unfortunately, the Dodocool DA106 falls squarely into that category.

The design and build quality of the DA106 are...yeesh | The Master Switch
The design and build quality of the DA106 are...yeesh | The Master Switch

Here’s the thing about cheap gear. It’s absolutely fine as long as it doesn’t actually feel cheap to use. You should never leave the customer feeling like they’ve been played for a sucker, or have indulged in false economy. That’s not a very good method for repeat business. And it’s a sin that the DA106 commits again, and again, and again. What initially feels solid is revealed to be unbelievably cheap. What looks robust turns out to be as flimsy as a kite in a high wind.

On the surface, the digital audio player in question actually looks and feels okay. It’s made of metal, is relatively lightweight, and has a simple if nicely eye-catching design. While there might be a few too many buttons, the jog wheel – recalling old iPod design – is pleasingly retro, and it helps that the screen is a decent size (320 × 240 pixels) even if there is a little bit of a letterbox bezel around it. So far so good. But when you start using the thing, there are a few flaws that become readily apparent.

The real kicker for us came when, innocently spinning the wheel to scroll through our list of songs, the center button just popped out. Clean came away from its bracket. Believe it or not, it’s actually very rare for audio equipment that we get sent to actively break; the only one we can really remember was a pair of earbuds that snapped on us when we were a little bit too forceful in changing the tips. For something as seemingly robust as the DA106 to break in this way was disconcerting – even if the button could be easily reattached.

And when you start delving into the actual operation of the player, it starts becoming even more apparent that corners have been cut. Firstly, the operating system is clunky as hell. It might look OK, with some decent graphics, but it’s very laggy, and sometimes freezes before taking you back to the main screen. The file explorer manages to read and display the meta data for artist and album names, but when it comes to the tracks, it’s completely unable to realise that 01 Track Name.MP3 should simply be known as Track Name. Again: that feeling of cheapness, of using something that was put together with the absolute minimum amount of effort.

"Recore"? | The Master Switch
"Recore"? | The Master Switch

Dodocool is a company based in Hong Kong, and the DA106 was (presumably) designed by people for whom English is not the first language. No problems there, of course – Asia has long been a huge player in the global audio market, and long may it continue. But if you’re going to market your product to English-speaking audiences, then it might be worth investing in a little bit of localization. Instead of, you know, giving the job to the office intern and hoping for the best. See, the player includes a microphone and voice recording software, which is nice, but being invited to “Creat” a “Recore File” is just annoying.

Believe it or not, this isn’t the lead up to a joke. This is simply saying: it’s 2017. We live in an age when you can hire translators for five bucks. Errors like this should not be creeping into the finished product. And before you upbraid us for being too pedantic here: this stuff matters. Experience matters. Small stuff matters. If we simply approached this site by throwing up a bunch of clickbait nonsense and saying “That’ll do”, no one would visit it – quite rightly. It doesn’t matter what you’re charging – if it’s got your name on it, you should give a damn.

There are other annoyances, too. One of the big ones is that when the screen is off, so is everything else. Want to pause the music? Change the volume? Switch track? Tough – you’ll have to pull the player your pocket or bag, key the power button, and navigate through the menu. We don’t know why players insist on doing this. The buttons are robust enough that they almost certainly aren’t going to be triggered by accident, and really, would being able to change the volume by dipping your hand into your pocket be too much to ask?

The OS is laggy and frustrating | The Master Switch
The OS is laggy and frustrating | The Master Switch

In fairness to the player, it does give you quite a few options for your money. You get 8GB of on-board storage, with the ability to add a TF card for additional memory. You get, as we mentioned, the microphone. There’s even a line-out port, which is a nice touch, and battery life is solid: 28 hours of listening at moderate volume from a single charge. But really, none of it is enough to save the basic design here.

When something is cheap, there are certain things you expect. Limited options, basic packaging, simple functionality. You don’t expect the earth. What you do expect – and certainly what we expect – is for parts of the equipment to stay on the equipment, and for basic menu options to be spelt right. This is the kind of thing that you expect at any price range, from $10 to $10,000. Take another player, like the SanDisk Clip Sport. It costs even less than the DA106, at $34, and yet manages to provide a much better experience. It never overreached itself, has a solid design, and the menus aren’t spelt wrong.

The fact that the DA106 fails these basic tests indicates some serious corner cutting, and some serious cynicism towards the actual user experience. That’s a big black mark from us.

OK, seriously, stop it Dodocool | The Master Switch
OK, seriously, stop it Dodocool | The Master Switch

Sound:

This is one area where the DA106 manages to redeem itself, if only a little.

It takes FLAC, ALAC, WAV and MP3 formats up to 24-bit/192kHz (here’s an explainer if none of that makes sense), as well as DSD files, which is enough of a rarity in the sub-$100 category that it made our ears prick up. And the player does indeed handle all these file types quite happily, including our very large DSD256 audio files, which made us quite happy. If you’re going to listen to high resolution audio on the go, this may well be the cheapest method available. That, it must be said, is a big plus point in favor of the DA106.

Talking generally about the sound, it’s fine. It’s perfectly acceptable. It’s not the kind of audio quality that is going to blow your head off your shoulders, but it definitely doesn’t leave you wanting more. Couple this with a decent pair of headphones or earbuds, you’ll have yourself a very acceptable listening experience – in sound terms, anyway. The overall impression is one of balance and neutrality, with the sound very subtly enriched, and the tones sharpened up a little. Although much of the quality will come down to the actual audio file you listen to, there is a sense that the DA106 is presenting the music in the best possible light – or as much of the best possible light as $45 will get you, anyway.

The expandable memory is a nice touch | The Master Switch
The expandable memory is a nice touch | The Master Switch

The model’s sound stage was solid, with a decent level of spread, each instrument carefully positioned. Nothing spectacular, once again, but definitely evidence of some fairly high-quality internal chips, even if they’re almost certainly off-the-shelf, rather than bespoke-built. We don’t mean that particular comment as a criticism – plenty of other players do this. And it must be said that if you stack this up against the competition, in terms of sound, it more than holds its own. Against something like the slightly-more-expensive Bassplay P3000, the sound quality is more than matched, and even if you start talking about more expensive models, like the Cowon M2, you certainly won’t feel left out. Not for this price. You get the aforementioned sound recording, too, as well as a built-in AM/FM radio. Nothing special, but it’s good to see the options here.

Given the issues we had with the design of the player, it was pleasantly surprising to find that the sound, at least, performed as advertised. And DSD functionality for under $50 really is quite a good deal. While we’re not sure, at this point, that people who use DSD are likely to be the target market of this device – if you’re listening to DSD audio, chances are you have a much more expensive rig already – it’s good to see that the option is available. So the DA106 claws back a little bit of lost ground here.

The DA106 has simple and effective packaging | The Master Switch
The DA106 has simple and effective packaging | The Master Switch

Accessories & Packaging:

Nothing too special. The packaging is actually quite cool, scratch that: a black cardboard box with a stylised image of the player embossed in silver on the top, and a nicely-designed list of its features on the side. Where were these people when the actual player itself was being designed? Who did the localisation here? Give them more work please!

The player is nestled inside a foam insert, which is easily removed from the box itself. Underneath is the lone accessory: a simple micro-USB cable, which doubles as both a charging cable and one for data transfer. Charging, by the way, took about three hours from start to finish, which is perfectly acceptable.

Nothing wrong here. And to be honest, we would have been surprised if more accessories were included. This is one area where manufacturers usually leave stuff out to help keep costs down – something that was done very successfully in the otherwise excellent Monoprice Monolith M1060 headphones (full review here) – and this, at least, is something we can applaud Dodocool for.

A line-out is an unexpected bonus here | The Master Switch
A line-out is an unexpected bonus here | The Master Switch

Verdict:

This is not a product that engenders goodwill in our offices. We know, you’re completely shocked.

It’s the kind of thing that is bought as a last-minute Christmas gift, something swept up in a desperate Amazon spree on December 18th, when you’ve got relatives to shop for. It’s the sort of thing you see for sale at airports, being looked over by jetlagged tourists en route to Dubai. It is the kind of thing that you know – just know – will not quite work as advertized, and you won’t even be remotely surprised when it does just that.

When we review things here on the site, we always try to answer three questions: what was the manufacturers aim, did they achieve it, and was it actually all worthwhile? The aim here was to produce a cheap, capable high-resolution audio player, and it’s pretty clear that Dodocool only got about halfway there. As for whether it was all worthwhile, we’re not sure. The kind of people who listen to DSD are already way beyond anything this player has to offer, and if you’re trying to get someone addicted to the world of good quality audio, this is not going to be a very effective way of doing it. It’s a mess, a clumsy stab at a player that should, by all rights, be quite a bit better than it is.

We are all in favour of equipment being cheaper, and we don’t mind corners being cut, as long as they are corners that don't cheapen the overall experience. When you get down to it, that’s the problem here. The DA106 is cheap, in every sense of the word, and that’s not a good thing.
 

What We Like:

  • Solid sound at a very good price.
  • DSD functionality.
  • Decent range of options.
  • Expandable memory.

What We Don’t:

  • Horrible interface.
  • Misspellings.
  • Terrible build quality.

See the Dodocool DA106

Not worth the time, frankly | The Master Switch
Not worth the time, frankly | The Master Switch

Alternatives:

Cowon M2

Cowon M2

You need a ton of battery life? Are you not particularly interested in ultra-high-resolution audio quality? Do you want good design and build quality, and do you want it all for under $150? This should be your first port of call.

While it’s three times the price of the Dodocool, it’s also light years ahead in terms of design and functionality – the kind of thing you’ll be proud to own. It’s not going to beat the audio quality of more expensive players, but it’s perfectly acceptable for the price.
 

Bassplay P3000 

Bassplay P3000 

This is $10 more expensive than the DA106, which only beats it in one important aspect: the expandable memory. But while this doesn’t have a card slot, it packs double the on-board space of the DA106, at 16GB, and is a far better experience all round.

The design, build, and interface are light years ahead of anything Dodocool could put together. If it comes down to a choice between their player and this one, it’s not even a contest.
 

SanDisk Clip Sport

SanDisk Clip Sport

Admittedly, this is more of a gym tool than one that you use on the daily, but it’s still very good. A simple, effective interface and solid build quality mean that it’s more than worth the $35.

Be warned: it doesn’t take audio bigger than 16-bit/48kHz, but if all you’re looking for is a cheap and cheerful way to play music, this is still a much better deal than the more expensive DA106.
 

Comparison Table:

DAP Price Storage Max Sampling WiFi/B'Tooth
Dodocool DA106 $45 8 GB (Exp. to 256GB) 24-bit/192kHz No/No
Cowon M2 $140 16GB (Exp. to 48GB) 16-bit/48kHz No/No
Bassplay P3000 $60 16GB 24-bit/192kHz No/No
SanDisk Clip Sport $34 8GB (Expandable) 16-bit/48kHz No/No

Video Review:

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