Tuesday, April 24, 2018

I recently received the Rose Technics North Forest, it's fit is easy and light, insertion and isolation help get the bass to where it's good and rumbly, comfort is nice as well, feels like I can wear this for hours.

Out of the box and plugged into the Hiby R6, there's a nice bass rumble and impact that's that's nicely thumpy and relatively fast and resolving (Nine Inch Nails - The Day the World Went Away), it's bass becomes more apparent and full when playing something that's gonna hammer the bass (Daft Punk - Get Lucky).

The mids are a bit forward which is always something good for me, there is some warmth in the vocals played in both male and female that makes them sound bodied but not very thick, this helps with it's vocal clarity though there is some bass bleed that will likely clear up with some burn in (Adele - Send My Love to Your New Lover, Ed Sheeran - Photograph).

The highs are neutrally tuned with good reach and ok clarity, the music up there sounds almost crisp, sparkly and isn't sibilant or piercing (AC/DC - A Long Way to the Top, Shuta Hasunuma - Discover Tokyo).

Detail retrieval sounds good, and separation sounds a bit congested but isn't overlapping as far as I can tell. Soundstage at this juncture, feels a bit narrow to closely intimate. positioning sounds alright (Michael Jackson - Billie Jean, Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody).

So far it reminds me of a little Ibasso IT01 in that this little IEM is very fun to listen to (No Doubt - Sunday Morning, Avenged Sevenfold - St James, Earth Wind and Fire - September, Pearl Jam - Alive, Bob Marley - Is This Love) and has good bass with nice highs. But something I particularly like is the more forward mids, which makes this for me something I can easily enjoy.

After around 100 hours I'll visit this for a more detailed review.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Yes, that's not the stock cable, I just tried cable rolling
So I bought an off the shelf Ibasso IT01 from our local poison dispenser Urban Audiophile because I really wanted to hear for myself what the fuss was all about.

Price: Typical
Packaging: Excellent
Accessories: Incredible
Quality (materials/build): Remarkable
Looks: Good
Fit: Excellent
(Ok enough of the Marvel Superheroes power ranks, but a gauge might be a good thing, lets see.)

So going through the box, attaching the stock copper cables and plugging it in my ever reliable WM1a, the first random song (Lisa Loeb - When All the Stars Were Falling) played and the initial strikes of Lisa's blunt nails on the steel strings and subsequent reverberating strings made me think, "quite impressive" as the bass and mids meld into a meaty beautiful sound. There's a good amount of sub bass that's a bit rounded (vs sharp attacks), bass decay speed is a bit slow.

The mids (vocals) sounded a little bit recessed (more on male than female) but still a good listen (I have a preference for neutral to a bit forward mids, that's just me) and clear with warmth. Clarity here is ok (and maybe the weakest part of the IT01), the upper mids and treble help form a natural, lightly airy and crisp sounding acoustic sound with string strums compounded with sparkly moments and good reach without sibilance or spikes.

It sounds engaging, though not as energetic as some iems (a bit relaxed maybe), separation is good, detail retrieval is good, soundstage is a moderately sized room wide, but not as deep, positioning seemed a bit off at first but settled in correctly after a few songs.

So far I am starting to understand why people like this, it sounds good and will likely improve with more usage time.

I'll visit this for a full review after around 100 (and/or 200 hours.)

Friday, April 20, 2018

Whether you're a firm believer in cables making a difference in your audio chain or you just need to change your old/broken/missing cable, audiophiles will always look for good and affordable cables to use with their gear. Enter Kabléon Audio, a relatively new (they're on Facebook as early as July 19, 2017) startup cable maker company from Cebu, Philippines, they make cables for IEMs as well as interconnect cables.

The cable I bought from them (for the purpose of having a decent 2pin balanced cable, priced at ₱2,900 or around $55.55 USD (₱2500 or $47.89 USD for the cable, ₱200 or $3.83 USD for balanced plug and ₱200 or $3.83 USD for shipping locally) is the 4-Core Silver Plated Copper (SPC) cable with 2-pin connectors and a 2.5mm plug. Please note there are specific details I lack (and thus guessed on it) as I have not received any specific information from Kabléon Audio about the make and materials of the cable. They do ship abroad, so it's best to contact them directly for that possibility.

The cable arrived after a week of ordering inside a plastic resealable pouch backed by a stiff paper info board bearing the Kabléon Audio logo and some social media sites of the company. Inside is the cable held together by a nice leather clasp.

The cable is made from SPC of unknown purity and width but is thicker than the Campfire Audio Litz Cable (Center) which is again thicker than the Fiio RC-78B (Top). The length of (effective) wire on the Kabléon is 43.5" (from plug end to connector end) with the plug body at 1" and plug at 0.45". In comparison, the Fiio RC-78B is 46" of effective cable while the Litz has 48" of effective cable. This is probably why I felt the Kabléon cable was a bit short as I was used to those extra inches with normal use of my DAPs, still putting them in my back pocket still leaves some space for the cable to move freely.

The plug seems to be made of Rhodium as the carbon fiber center trimmed plug feels smooth to the touch and has a certain heft that's heavier than a gold plated copper plug but lighter than a stainless one. There's a short train relief at the end that should help prevent damage from accidental pulls on the cable. The plug is case friendly, so if you own a phone or use a jacket for your DAPs, it'll plug right in fine. The Y splitter is made of stainless (or really hard chromed plastic/alloy steel) caps and the same central carbon fiber motif found on the plug, it is lighter than the plug though it's wider than it. The connectors bodies are likely aluminum or some alloy steel mix that holds a moderately raised (by a mount so IEMs with recessed sockets can use them) 2 gold (plated?) pin connectors. Note that the connector jacket is sheathed in semi rigid plastic, likely to preserve the material from corrosion and prevent the color markings (blue for left and red for right) to wear out with constant handling, the same sheath extends along a short length, covering the rather effective memory it has. Do note that on my cable, there is no chin lock.)

Overall, the cable is nice to look at and feels sturdy, the wire is not slippery smooth but also not sticky or gummy to the touch, it's also soft enough not to memorize it's previous position and feels comfortable and light in usage.

Now I used these on all my 2-pin IEM's (Seed and OS V3, yes, not a lot yet) and the most substantial changes can be heard on the V3, so I'll focus on that and the stock cable and Fiio cable.

On Bass, the Kabléon exhibited less bass impact and sub-bass extension vs the stock cable but had more bass impact and extension than the Fiio. In this section, the bass difference can be readily felt and heard vs the Fiio and the Kabléon, still, what ever bass is there, the Kabléon was able to render fast and clear.

On Mids, there was a small increase in overall tone that raised the vocals and instruments a tiny bit forward, there was a little bit more clarity vs the Fiio and even a little more than the stock cable. The note thickness was generally the same with all 3 cables but the stock V3 cable was thickest of the bunch. In this section, the Kabléon helped raise and clarify the mids for a more midcentric presentation of the music, good for acoustic songs.

On Highs, the Kabléon extended the reach of the rendered notes by a small amount, not very noticeable unless you really focus on the high frequency notes. It beats both the stock and Fiio in this regard, and as I would like to believe I heard, helped make the notes more crisp and a little bit more airy.

On soundstage expansion, the Kabléon helped expand it by a little bit on width but not much on depth, this applies to both the Fiio and stock cable.

Putting them all together, the Kabléon 4-core SPC cable is a good upgrade cable for those in need of a little more expansion in their music and help lighten things up a bit with more clarity and presentation, pairs well with warm sources and warm/bassy IEMs. In my experience, most 2 pin cables try to dislodge themselves from my right ear, the stock V3 cable isn't one of them but it tries 😅 and in most case scenarios, memory wire is an annoyance to me, but on the Kabléon, the memory wire is actually alright (probably because of the shorter length inside, as well as the fact that it's not as rigid as some of the memory wires out there) the plastic sheath helps in the regard for an overall comfortable and capable cable to use everyday.

Pros: Good looking overall construction, plug material looks and feels exceptional, is supple and seems to hold well to strain and pressure, helps increase the mid and treble areas of the plugged IEM, the wire clasp is of simple construction and looks but feels good and will likely last a long time. Relatively well priced for an upgrade cable.

Cons: Reduction in sub-bass extension and impact may turn some off (but may be a pro if you intentionally want less bass on your IEM, which fits my case scenario), no chin lock, mere presence of the memory wire can turn people off, but since this is a custom cable, you can (ideally, since I haven't really asked) request for it not to placed in the final product.

Nitpick: Carbon fiber trimmings, not exactly my style. Plugs well on most things I own, from amps to adapters but on my R6, it feels like it's missing a micro centimeter for it to fully seat into the balanced plug, this could be more of a sample variance issue than an actual problem though. Could be a little cheaper *cough* *cough* 😁

People can visit their Facebook page for more information as well as their pricing or general inquiries. Their cabling services as a company are pretty good with the amount of quality placed in the braid and general construction and materials of the cable, so it might be worth you time to support a local company and check them out. Also note that since these cables are hand made, it may take some time for them to be completed.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

iFi Audio is a company that doesn't need a lot in terms of introduction as they are well known for their various amp solutions and multitude of accessories that aim to help different levels of audiophiles to hear audio nirvana. This relatively new product, the iFi IEMatch was released sometime last year and comes in two flavors. What I have here is the 2.5mm version, which I bought for the purpose of using with my DAP, this has some differences with the 3.5mm version and I'll discuss it along the review. On the box, it promises lower noise and increased dynamics and is considered a headphone audio optimiser (yes, it's spelled that way, see below) but does it?

The package is one small cardboard box sealed in vacuum plastic.

With lots of information on the back about what it does and what's it's made of.

Ultra (-24dB) & High-Gain (-12dB) sensitivity adjustment
6N silver/copper matrix wiring with FINAL6063-T5 aluminium-magnesium alloy shell
Gold-plated printed circuit board with audiophile components (eg MELF resistors)
Gold-plated 2.5mm male/female connectors   
Input Impedance: 16 Ohm
Output Impedance: < 2.5 Ohms (High-Sensitivity)
                                < 1.0 Ohms (Ultra-Sensitivity)
Weight: 12.2g
Total Length : 116mm

Inside is an information leaflet, a black velvety pouch, ear plugs in a cutesy case and the iEMatch itself.

Under the ear plugs you can see a nice little "Thank you!" sticker, that is if you actually took it out or have x-ray vision.

The pouch when un-rolled is big enough to hold your iem, cable and the iEMatch in one go. It's not the most luxurious of pouches but it has a nice soft feel to it.

Now if you notice, the 2.5mm male plug has that black oblong covered space which one could mistake for an aesthetic touch. It is actually a vestige of the 3.5mm version, it is where the switch for single and balanced output was placed. So aside from that and the actual plug types used, everything else is the same as the 3.5mm version including the aircraft aluminum body and all the high end pretty cables it comes with.

The whole reason for this add-on to exist of course is it's ability to lower his and output impedance and thereby return the lost dynamics from noise and high impedance devices. In this case scenario, the iEMatch does work, and there are may citations of hiss reduction from devices like the Questyle QP2r and CEntrance Hifi-M8 around the net so I won't bother with that part. What I will focus on is it's ability to reduce output impedance.

There are 2 modes for this:
High: reduces Output Impedaance to less than 2.5Ω (-12db in volume)
Ultra: reduces OI to less than 1Ω (-24db in volume)

As most of you probably know, the Hiby R6 has an output impedance of 10Ω and that causes some frequency responses to shift around, most notably on low impedance Balanced Armature driven IEMs. This I have experience on my Campfire Andromeda (12Ω thereabouts) wherein there was a shift forward in the frequency response with less bass, a bit more forward mids and highs had near sibilance.

Using the iEMatch on the Hiby R6 with the Andromeda on High settings was enough to restore the sound to what I was familiar with, though some may argue it's not enough (citing the x8 OI 'rule' like the ten commandments - ex. high (2.4Ω) x 8 = 19.2Ω is what impedance the head gear 'should' be at for that setting) and that Ultra should be used (ultra (0.9Ω) x 8 = 7.2Ω which is below the impedance of the Andromeda.)

In either switch, the Andro did exhibit more dynamic range than it did without the iEMatch on the R6 and has effectively restored it's original frequency response slash sound signature, which is proof (for me) of the claims it promises.

So why would someone want the iEMatch (both versions) for themselves? If you have ear gear that hiss/gain noise with your source or you have sources with high output impedance (like certain DAPs and Amps) then this is something you would appreciate having for your listening pleasure.

The iEMatch 2.5mm version was bought at 3,060 pesos (or around $60 US) and is more expensive than it's 3.5mm counterpart* by a few hundred pesos at the local Egghead Audio store.

Pros: It reduces hiss/noise, it reduces output impedance, restores lost dynamics

Cons: Volume loss could be less, can lead to a long chain of adapters

Nitpick: Volume loss could be less, but I realize that's just part of how it works. Did we really need the ear plugs?

* Even if the 3.5mm has arguably more metal in the plug, a bigger female receptacle, has an additional switch and the package had an airplane plug adapter, yeah, I always wonder why the 2.5mm versions of almost anything are more expensive but that's for another time to discuss

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Hiby R6 has more than a few reviews out there already so I won't bother you, too much with some repeated information. But an intro recap of sorts: The R6 in Indiegogo is Hiby's first step into the Digital Audio Player hardware arena though they have operated with audio software for over 10 years and collaborated in more than a few popular DAPs. The R6 is also a competitively priced DAP ($509 on IGG and $569 at retail) for the hardware specs and audio capabilities it promises, and with all the buzz going around it, lets see what the Hiby R6 has to offer.

Please note that at the time of this writing, the R6 is no longer available for purchase on Indiegogo and impressively ended up being funded 582%.

This Hiby R6 was purchased as a backer on Indiegogo for the purpose of a review, and thus there is no monetary incentive for providing a positive review. My model is the Black Aluminum, has over 250 hours of clocked usage and it's pictures may not look exactly like others due to sample variance (and maybe lighting). More information on the how I arrived at my findings are at the very end.

Specs (the skinny version no pics)
Dual ESS ES9028Q2M DACs
Dual OPA1612  and Dual TPA6120 Amps
32-bit/384kHz format support & Native DSD
Snapdragon 425 Processor (4x1.4gHz)
3GB RAM (DDR3) and 32GB Storage
Expandable for up to 2TB (tested on 400GB)
Dual-Band Wifi (2.4G/5G)
Bluetooth 4.0 with apt-X
Android 6.0 (Marshmallow)
DTA (Direct Transport Architecture)
Bit-perfect output (bypassing Android SRC)
4.2 inch 300dpi 768X1280 Touchscreen
Arc-shaped 316L High-impact Stainless Steel CNC Body
Supports Line out and coaxial digital output
4000Mah Battery (with 12 hour battery life)
3.5mm, 2.5mm and line-out/coax outputs
USB-C with Quick Charge 3.0
USB DAC functionality and transport

The Hiby R6 came in a sealed hard cardboard box where the DAP sits on top of the other contents (from top left to right): Black thin cardboard separator with the micro SD card ejector pin clipped on it, a Quality Control pass card, (bonus) tempered glass cover, plastic screen protector, manual, warranty booklet. (Bottom, left to right) DAP foam Tray, 3 extra Hi-Res audio stickers, the branded Hiby charging cable, 3.5mm to COAX cable and (bonus) silicone case.

The Hiby R6 itself is a solid piece of milled aluminum with no jagged or sharp edges that feels good in hand with enough heft and weight to be significant but not a burden when carried. When you first get it, there's a matte protective sticker on the screen with printed guides for the R6 parts. Note that a screen protector should have been factory installed on the R6 but mine did not have one, this is fine since I would have removed it anyway in deference to the tempered glass installed above (I like the smoother glide on glass than plastic).

So on the right side from top to bottom:
Power - For turning the unit and screen on or off, it has a little LED indicator that shows the status of the R6 (Red blinking is charging, solid white is DSD audio playing, green is 24bit, blue is 16bit and lower) and this light can be turned off if you wish.
Previous - With the screen on, holding it down pauses playing and "rewinds" the time bar till it is released. If pressed once with the time bar at 10 seconds or more, it will go to the start of the song, otherwise it will go to the previous track. With the screen off, pressing it once does the same thing as when the screen is on, but holding it down (no matter how long) will move the time bar around 3 seconds back, you can repeat this to be able to go back through a song.
Play/Pause - is self explanatory and does as advertised with screen open or closed.
Next - With the screen on, holding it down pauses playing and moves the song "fast forward" till you release it. Pressing it once will skip to the next song whether the screen is off or on. When the screen is off, holding it down will move the time bar forward by 3 seconds while the song continues playing. You can repeat this quickly several times to move the time bar forward.
USB C port - For charging, USB output (transport) and DAC (usb input).

From (bottom) left to right:
2.5mm Balanced Output - Plastic rubber ring around the plug is not so pretty but it works.
3.5mm Single Output -  Gold ring makes it look sturdy and pretty.
3.5mm Line-Out/COAX - By default the software is at Line-Out mode for this identical gold ringed plug, which means max ear busting volume, be careful!
Volume Up - Turns the volume up once per press, holding it down moves the volume continuously up but only when the screen is on.
Volume Down - Just the reverse of Volume Up.

The glass back is covered by a plastic screen with 2 stickers, (white sticker) barcode with model number & date of production, (black) is the same info found in English printed under the glass. As much as I like the feel of a glass screen over plastic, I just took the 2 stickers off and kept the plastic to help protect the beautiful glass back as there is no included back protector. The front and back glass panels are 2.5D curved glass, which may make fitting a generic, cut to fit protector fiddly as there is no defined edge and that it may look like a floating square panel (you'll see it here and in subsequent pictures.)

The first thing you'll see is the Hiby logo till boot up is finished, and if you've inserted a micro SD card, a setup screen appears. Choosing "Internal Storage" will make card the default storage and encrypt the whole card so that it isn't readable outside the DAP, good for security and if you want a bigger internal storage. "Portable Storage" is simply making the micro SD card a removable, storage space usable/readable by any device, so unless you  have security needs, I would suggest to use this option.

Once the screen guide/protector is taken off, you'll be exposed to a truly awesome display, nice saturated colors and resolution that compared to a lot of DAPs in the market, pale in comparison to the R6's display. Sunlight legibility with the tempered glass installed is nice (it was kinda cloudy when I shot this) though it can look washed out with distance and certain angles. Since the screen is of high resolution, old album art with smaller resolutions can look unpretty, this may mean you'll need to update them. The (free) tempered glass isn't exactly the same size as the available area on the screen, but does cover the LCD's viewable areas enough for protection.

The micro SD card tray is similar to some mobile phones and is a very secure design (it can never accidentally fall out) though changing cards will be hard as you need the pin (or a paperclip/push pin/etc) to eject the tray.

Bluetooth is very good with pairing and is stable with the devices I've used it with, audio quality is great with apt-X feeding more bits into the headset and speaker. Unlike my experience with mobile phones though, my Bluetooth devices (Sony WH-1000xMkII and SRS-XB20) do not fully sync with the R6's volume (sync, meaning the volume changes are the same whether it's done on the phone or Bluetooth device) so you may need to max out the volume on your device and control the volume from the R6 to get maximum control on one device.

With it's Wi-Fi antenna using dual bands, the speed and reliability is at par with most modern mobile phones though strength over distance is a bit less in comparison, this was likely done to reduce power consumption. Overall, the R6 allows you to stream and download music and apps at really good speeds reliably.

UI & User Experience:
If you've ever used a mid to high end Android phone in the last year or so, you'll feel at home with the R6 and it's impressive system. The R6's Android 6.0 operating system is stable and bloat free with only a handful of stock apps and the 2 Hiby apps: Hiby Music and Wireless Update. The user interface is very smooth, fast and responsive (Note that adding a screen protector/tempered glass may reduce screen sensitivity and responsiveness) with most of the options and menu system streamlined for DAP use and only one part (that I know now) needs to be removed since it doesn't work, is the Snapdragon sound adjustment menu that shows up when using the EQ or sound adjustment on 3rd party apps like Deezer and Spotify. There are some vestiges of mobile phone stuff that have yet to be removed, like Wi-Fi hotspot, but I won't mention them beyond this as it does not add nor detract from the experience unless you intentionally go down that rabbit hole. Hopefully in the next update (that Hiby makes easy to do with Wireless Update,) the above little things will have been addressed.

Quick charge 3.0 actually works, which is a welcome feature when you need it powered up fast or need a bit of a top-up before a trip. This feature works in tandem with the battery life of the R6 where various files from dsd, mqa, flac being played continuously on single end lasted 11 hours and 18 minutes with 7% power left. On balanced, it lasted a modest 7 hours and 46 minutes with 8% power left though to be fair, I did open the screen a lot while on balanced and fiddled with different songs while doing this review.

As a transport, the R6 does well and provides a clean and seamless stream of data for an external DAC/Amp to process. Compatibility seems good as my Sony PHA-1a and XDuuo XD-05 had no issues receiving the sound data provided by the R6, I'd safely bet the popular Mojo and other current DAC/Amps would have no issues as well.

As a DAC/Amp for other devices like my Lenovo IdeaPad 100 laptop, Huawei P9 and a few Sony Xperia phones like the XZ Premium, the R6 did exceptionally well in processing the sound data it was provided and made it seem like it was played in the R6 natively.

In both cases, you do not need to do anything on the R6, once you plug it into a source or into a DAC/Amp, it will automatically shift to provide the sound data through USB or process the data it receives.

Note that unlike the AP200, there is no visual indication of the R6 being used as a DAC or as a transport. Hopefully some form of indication on the R6 can be implemented on the next update.

Line-Out just works when I tried it on my home system, there was no noise and the music just flowed lovingly into the system and out of the speakers. Unfortunately, I don't have a device that could use COAXial input so I couldn't test that part of the R6.

Output Technicalities:
So let me address the best known specification of the Hiby R6, it's 10Ω output impedance and the reason there's an IFI IEMatch between the R6 and the Andromeda by giving you a link to Output Impedance (Explained) which is easier to understand then most I've seen online. TLDR, R6's 10Ω output impedance will affect the Frequency Response of ear gear depending on it's own impedance, its impedance at different frequencies and whether it is prone to large impedance swings like Balanced Armatures. In the case of the CA Andromeda with 5 BAs and 12.8Ω impedance, it shifts the frequency forward, significantly reducing the bass, raising the mids forward and the highs to near sibilance, tonally making it brighter and shifts the positioning a bit higher spatially. Now this is why an IFI IEMatch comes in handy as it reduces the impedance to 1-2Ω (and the volume output by 11 steps on high sensitivity) and in effect, returns the old Andromeda sound to my ears.

Now some may hate this shift and some may like it and it all depends on how it may affect your gear or not at all and if yes, are you willing to buy an impedance reducer like the IEMatch for the R6. As it stands, sensitive IEMs (from what I've read, 17Ω and below is affected, where the lower the sensitivity the more the of an FR shift you'll notice) with BAs may need an IEMatch to return it to it's original FR. On the other hand, low impedance IEMs using dynamic drivers like the CA Dorado (15Ω) and hybrids like the FLC8 (11Ω) that I tried with the R6, didn't exhibit any great tonal changes (there is likely some but I didn't go deep into them since I don't own them) and other ear gear higher than 17Ω don't seem to shift much (if any) with the higher output impedance.

I've heard the word reference tossed around among DAPs for a long time and (confession time) I don't enjoy them as much as other people. Which is why after trying the R6 with different IEMs, headphones and even earbuds, I can happily say that this baby, though close, is definitely NOT reference, there is a an emotion, body in the music it plays that makes it enjoyable to listen even while using the most flat sounding headphones I have. Voices are adequately filled in but not meaty, resolution is presented with clarity and detail, bass is not enhanced but there is a touch of warmth that lends the bass with impact and life while the highs are expanded though it feels a bit more neutrally placed than the rest of the frequency. So if I'd put a label on it, it's a neutral signature with a hint of warmth and musicality.

The way the R6 processes sound, it provides a very quiet and black background, it's so silent that the IEMatch which helps reduce noise doesn't improve anything in that aspect. Sound is expanded and does not sound congested or compressed which allows ear gear like the Andromeda to stretch out it's wide soundstage as well as provide a soundscape that is clear and revealing, with a reach of the highs that sound natural, clean but not very airy.

Given the base signature of the R6 and the fact that any Android app (thanks to DTA) have full access to every bit and power provided by the R6 architecture, there's still something it can offer to change and/or improve tonality with MageSound 8-Ball which currently only appears with the Hiby Music app (which hopefully, may change and be extended to other apps like Spotify, Deezer and Tidal among other players). I'd like to think of it as an advance but EQ noob friendly sound modifier. You want more warmth? More bass impact? More sparkly notes? MageSound can do it without mystery (effects are easily understandable) and easily with just a few swipes and taps.

Even if the R6 is the first ever DAP Hiby has made, it's definitely an amazing DAP with well thought out features and hardware that ticks a lot of boxes on the get go. It looks good, is solidly built, sounds great especially if you like the more neutral or near reference level of sound, it can easily be a transport for your music as well as be the DAC/Amp for other sound devices, is well priced, provides a very enjoyable musical experience on and offline, it's an amazing value compared to the currently available Android DAPs out there and something I'll keep and use for a very very long time.

Pros: Great build quality, ergonomic buttons and placement, multiple outputs, USB-C/QuickCharge, beautiful and functional screen, neutral tuning, Direct Transport Audio technology, amazing sound and user experience.

Cons: Output impedance could have been lower

Personal nitpicks/wish list: DAC/Transport indication, 2.5mm plug could have been made of metal for durability, Line-out/COAX could have been made/marked differently (like it having the black rubber ring instead of the 2.5mm) or moved further away to avoid plug confusion, distance between volume up/down could be smaller (for faster location and easy volume adjustment), single micro SD card slot on a 32GB DAP -  dual slots would've made the R6 more expansion friendly and a hand strap slot (but that's just me is seems.)

Gears Used:
To arrive at my own assessment of how the R6 sounds, I have at my disposal, gear used as benchmarks, points of comparison and reference (note some are not shown in the pictures above). A Sony WM1a, Hidizs AP200, Xduoo XD-05, Sony PHA-1a, CA Andromeda, Hifi Boy OS V3, Kinera Seed, Kinera Earbud, Kinera BD005, Tennmak Trio, Hifiman HE400i, AKG K553 Pro, Sony WH-1000xMkII, An SPL meter, several adapters including an IFI IEMatch 2.5mm, cables and a myriad of tips.

Tracks Used:
A Different Way - Lauv
A Foggy Day - Van Morrison
A Question of Lust - Depeche Mode (Live 1988)
Alive - Pearl Jam
Billie Jean - Michael Jackson
Cheap Thrills - Sia
Come Away With Me - Norah Jones
Come Round Soon - Sara Bareilles
Country Road - James Taylor
Deeply Disturbed - Infected Mushroom
Discover Tokyo - Shuta Hasunuma
Do what you have to do - Sarah McLachlan
Dream a Little Dream of Me - Ella Fitzgerald
Get Lucky - Daft Punk
Hail to the King - Avenged Sevenfold
Ignorance - Paramore
Is This Love - Bob Marley
It's a Long Way To the Top - AC/DC
Lithium - Nirvana
Marian Hill - Breathe Into Me
My Curse - Killswitch Engage
One Day - Matishyahu
Photograph - Ed Sheeran
Pull Me Under - Dream Factory
Send My Love - Adele
September - Earth Wind and Fire
So Far Away - Martin Garrix
Staying Alive - Bee Gees
Sugar - Maroon 5
Sunday Morning - No Doubt
The Day The World Went Away - Nine Inch Nails
Way Down Deep - Jennifer Warnes

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The HiFi Boy OS V3 was brought to my attention thanks to a friend who knew what I liked in an IEM and I was surprised that his recommendation is for a company that's new to the world of audio, "HiFi boy is a high-end hifi audio brand launched by China Chengdu Fallante Technology Co., Ltd." from the About page on their website with the OS V3 as their first shot at making a mark in the audio world. Barring any superhero insignia references, lets see if this is HiFi Boy's Symbol of Hope.

My HiFi Boy OS V3 was bought from the Penon website ($159 USD or Php 8,276) and is the Blue and Red version (there is a Black one available too.) There was a nice little Penon velcro cable wrap added to the package, a nice little touch (considering, you'll read why later on) while the vacuum sealed box taunted me with the goodies held inside.

The cardboard sleeves have some branding and images of the stuff inside. Sliding the sleeve off reveals a hard matte box with the HiFi Boy branding and a sticker stating the specs of the IEM.

Specs (from Penon):
Drivers: 2 Balanced Armature & 1 Dynamic Driver
(Ultra-high frequency Balanced Armature + high frequency Balanced Armature + 7mm strong magnetic composite diaphragm Dynamic Driver )
Impedance: 19 Ohm
Sensitivity: 109 dB
Frequency response 20Hz-20KHz
Cable Length: 1.2 m
Plug: 3.5mm rhodium-plated
Wire: 5N OFC silver-plated cable
Connector: 2pin 0.78mm

Inner box contains an airplane audio plug, a 3.5mm to 6.5mm adapter and the branded semi-hard pouch which olds the OS V3. Let me just say that the airline plug isn't on the top of my list of accessories while the adapter was alright and the case is similar to most China audio cases included in cheaper products.

As advertised on Penon (but not in the packaging), the case contains a generous amount of tips! 3 pairs of red and blue cored silicone tips (s/m/l), 1 pair of small wide bore white tips, 1 pair medium wide bore blue tips, 2 pairs of white/ and blue double flanged tips (m/l) and lastly 2 pairs of foam tips (s/m). It also has a user guide (that I didn't read through, I'm a rebel like that) and of course, the precious ones.

As I mentioned earlier, that Penon wire wrap is going to be useful coz that yellow one doesn't do the cable or the IEM any justice, it's there for the sole purpose of holding the wires till you can rip it off and forget about it. Another is that the plug is supposed to be Rhodium, but looks like it's Gold to me. Not really a big thing for me, it just needs to be straightened out.

The IEM is made of semi clear resin and hand made, shaped into a universal custom shell that fits extremely well in my ears (and the few other ears I've since lent this to) that looks like it took cues from Ibasso. These are some beautifully crafted shells, I cannot feel the seams and they feel solid in my hand and ears. At the back, there is one vent hole for each IEM to aid in (I'm assuming) creating bass and avoid that in-ear pressure problem on some designs.

Though I haven't seen any bubbles in the shell itself, on the nozzle which has 2 channels, there are a few small ones. Being normally covered by ear tips, I don't think it's a deal breaker. The tip lip is good sized enough to keep most tips I've used to stay in place, And that cable is definitely one of the better one's I've used at least in wearing them as they do not try to unroll off my right ear (which is why I like mmcx connectors) which aside from looking good, it feels sturdy and yet soft.

You can see the workmanship that went into this as well as the parts used, the semi clear case makes it look all the more interesting. The logo on the face is embeded in clear plastic (or acrylic) which protects it from being rubbed off.

I tested the OS V3 after 185 hours of use with different DAPs and a phone, volume matched to 80db using a 1khz sound file and a sound meter. (Songs used will be listed below.)

Bass, when I first tried it on the WM1a, the sub-bass hit me like a truck! It was strong if a bit sloppy/splashy, with a lot of bass quantity that drove me from mild mannered balanced audiophile to raging basshead. After being burned in, the bass hits deep and more precise though that feeling of a wide slam is not as strong as before, it gives a nice satisfying rumble with detail and faster decay. On a more neutral DAP (I borrowed FACE Review's R6) the bass hits, well and good, just not as strongly felt vs my warmer Sony. No matter what DAP you use, the bass will be very fun, and ever present in any track that has a hint of bass that flows into the mids very well.

Mids, are on a more balanced profile vs the bass, it presents good clarity and detail retrieval. Vocals aren't thick but there is a touch of warmth that adds to the liveliness of the voices you hear, with females like Sarah McLachlan and Norah Jones taking your attention away from day to day life. Male vocals aren't in last place with the OS V3, as the lower mids help guys like Ed Sheeran and M. Shadows sing to you with a smile or gritted teeth (whatever floats your boat).

Highs, though not the crispiest, it has a good amount of sparkle and air with smoothness and detail you can jive to. The highs extend a fair bit but you wont hear any harsh crashes or sibilance. Music like AC/DC (A Long Way to the Top) will show you how much dad's music still rocks on these IEMs.

Soundstage and clarity on the OS V3 is pretty good, as the separation of instruments, voices and sounds lead to a more spacious experience with moderate depth. Positioning is accurate via the virtual haircut app and the songs I've played through it.

It's been awhile since I felt this excited about an IEM (or headgear for that matter), as this made me realize I haven't really outgrown my love for good bass. Almost any song I played through it felt good to listen to, and listen I did, for hours on end as I tried to find any glaring problem with it, to date, I can't really say anything bad about it. 80's music felt right at home, rock makes me want to bang my head, jazz soothes my nerves, pop and dance makes me want to sway, heck even classical music sounds good here (may lack the air and brightness some fans desire for it though).

Overall, the box is a bit average, the accessories are well and good, but these IEMs are the biggest surprise as I feel that it's great value for money, great sound and great looks. In my opinion, this is best paired with a neutral sounding player to lend a more organic feel to the music. This is definitely a great start for HiFi Boy.

Great Bass, good mids and highs, good detail, clarity and soundstage, and can be used to listen to a variety of genres.

Can definitely benefit from better packaging (The Kinera Seed packaging looks good in this regard) specially at this price range.

PS - I may add more thoughts on the OS V3 in the coming days, provided my new upgrade balanced cables arrive.


Test Tracks:
A Different Way - Lauv
A Foggy Day - Van Morrison
A Question of Lust - Depeche Mode (Live 1988)
Alive - Pearl Jam
Billie Jean - Michael Jackson
Cheap Thrills - Sia
Come Away With Me - Norah Jones
Come Round Soon - Sara Bareilles
Country Road - James Taylor
Deeply Disturbed - Infected Mushroom
Discover Tokyo - Shuta Hasunuma
Do what you have to do - Sarah McLachlan
Dream a Little Dream of Me - Ella Fitzgerald
Get Lucky - Daft Punk
Hail to the King - Avenged Sevenfold
Ignorance - Paramore
Is This Love - Bob Marley
It's a Long Way To the Top - AC/DC
Lithium - Nirvana
My Curse - Killswitch Engage
One Day - Matishyahu
Photograph - Ed Sheeran
Pull Me Under - Dream Factory
Send My Love - Adele
September - Earth Wind and Fire
So Far Away - Martin Garrix
Staying Alive - Bee Gees 
Sugar - Maroon 5
Sunday Morning - No Doubt
The Day The World Went Away - Nine Inch Nails
Way Down Deep - Jennifer Warnes

*For this I also tried classical music playlists on Spotify.


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