Yesterday, I wrote about how my 2020 was in terms of audio gear. Today, I’ll be talking about my initial purchases and what’s to come over the next few days and weeks.
I’m always looking to try new digital audio players and DACs mainly, followed by some headphones, usually from KZ. This year, I’m starting it with new products from Hiby, Hidizs, and Fiio. Let’s see the products below.
The Hiby R2 is Hiby’s newest ultra-portable player, which has most of the features of the R3, but in a smaller body. It is able to decode and render MQA, and can stream music from Tidal via Wifi. I’m a huge user of the Hiby R3 Pro Saber, so I’m really exited to give the R2 a try!
The Hidizs H1 is a neckband Bluetooth cable that comes with the Hidizs MS1 Rainbow. For the price, it is a real bargain, considering you get both items and also considering that most people will already have 2-pin 2.5mm or 3.5mm cables. Since I already own the Hidizs MS1 and MS4 which I backed on Kickstarter, the MS1 Rainbow is the only one I still don’t own. I also already have Hidizs’ 2.5mm and 3.5mm cables, as well as their BT01 Bluetooth cable. This means that this cable will be new in my collection. The Hidizs H1 is also compatible with the Hiby Blue app. It supports the SBC, AAC, aptX and aptX Low Latency codecs.
The Hidizs H2 is Hidizs newest Bluetooth receiver adapter. It shares a few design details from Hiby’s own W3 adapter, having physical buttons as well as the LED which will be green or blue depending on the audio sample rate. It supports the main Bluetooth codecs, while also having support for LDAC and Hiby’s UAT codec. The Hidizs AP80 and AP80 Pro, as well as Hiby’s products already support UAT, so it is guaranteed we will have the best audio quality when listening on those products with the Hidizs H2. It also supports the Hiby Blue app and can also be used as a USB DAC.
The Hidizs S9 is Hidizs newest DAC, sporting an AKM AK4493EQ DAC. It has both 2.5mm and 3.5mm outputs and supports up to 32bit/768Khz.
The FiiO BTA30 is a Bluetooth receiver and transmitter. It claims to transmit audio using LDAC when using an optical or coax cable. My main purpose of this product is to attach it to my TV and see how much the audio quality improves and to try LDAC with it.
And that’s my initial purchased for products I should be receiving in the next couple of days. The Hidizs S9 is the product with the most far date, presumably due to AKM DACs shortage due to their factory fire. I’ll patiently wait, and I’m really looking forward to try all of these new products.
Last year was a great one when it came to acquiring new Audio Gear. In this post, I’ll talk about my acquisitions with a bit of overview for each product.
Digital Audio Players
In 2020, I got the FiiO M5, the Shanling Q1, the Hiby R3 Pro Saber, and the Hidizs AP80 Pro. These 4 companies do great products, so I went ahead and ordered their newest products. I had the Shanling Q1 already preordered on Kickstarter.
The FiiO M5 is a hybrid DAP. I say it’s hybrid because it also has a Qualcomm Bluetooth chip inside that makes it work as a Bluetooth receiver and transmitter separately. While products like Hiby and Hidizs DAPs also have Bluetooth receive/transmit functions, these work entirely using their Ingenic X1000E CPU and their Bluetooth chip, while the FiiO M5 uses its CSR8675 chip for this purpose.
The sound quality of the M5 is musical, using an AKM AK4377 with Velvet Sound, which seems to focus on mid details. The only downside is that a USB DAC cannot be used when using it in Bluetooth receive mode, and that it does not supports Opus files.
Hiby R3 Pro Saber
The Hiby R3 Pro Saber is a derivative product from the Hiby R3 Pro. Its main difference is that it uses 2x ESS 9218p DACs as opposed to the dual Cirrus Logic DACs found in the Hiby R3 Pro. Hiby claims the R3 Pro Saber offers a more analytical sound, and I can describe the sound as being more airy and open than the R3 Pro. This has been my favorite DAP to this date.
Hidizs AP80 Pro
The Hidizs AP80 Pro is the successor of the original Hidizs AP80 (pictured on the left). Its main difference is that it now offers dual ESS 9218p DACS and the Hiby HBC3000 FPGA. These same DACs and FPGA are found in the Hiby R3 Pro Saber, but they sound completely different. I would describe the sound of the AP80 Pro as being more warmer, especially in the bass, while the sound of the Hiby R3 Pro Saber is more open and fuller. I think that the AP80 Pro would fit those who seek deep bass while the Hiby R3 Pro Saber fits those looking for a more musical and open sound.
The Shanling Q1 (Pictured in the bottom center) was launched in Kickstarter. This player didn’t had Wifi until a later update added it with the DLNA feature. It also uses an ESS 9218p, but sounds different than the Hiby R3 Pro Saber and Hidizs AP80 Pro. The sound seems to be centered around mids. It sounds good, but different at the same time. The only downside is that the headphone jack is right in the middle and it is slippery. The buttons are also sensitive, but otherwise it’s a good DAP.
DACs and Dongles
Moving to the DACs and Dongles category, last year I got the new Tempotec BHD, the IFI Hip-Dac, and an off-brand very cheap DAC that’s surprisingly good.
The IFI Hip-Dac is an affordable DAC with a Burr-Brown DAC. It also renders MQA. Its sound is warm. On the back, it has a USB-C port which is only for charging, while a USB-A Male port is used for data. I rarely use this DAC because of the weird ports and I’d rather prefer it having 2 USB-C ports rather than its USB-A port. On the good side, the analog volume potentiometer works great, but be careful with sensitive IEMs as the volume gets extremely loud!
Tempotec Sonata BHD
The Tempotec Sonata BHD can be considered a “successor” to the Tempotec Sonata HD Pro. This one has dual Cirrus Logic CS43131 and has a 2.5mm output. It also shares the independent volume controls as the HD Pro. On the downsides, this one doesn’t have a detachable cable, and like the HD Pro, it has few volume steps. On the good side, it shares the same sound signature as the Tempotec Sonata HD Pro and doesn’t get warm.
Geekuy USB DAC
This one was a surprise find on Amazon. It is very cheap, considering it has an XMOS controller and an ESS DAC. It also features a 3.5mm output. For the price, I was surprised at how good it sounds. It also doesn’t generate heat, is USB Audio Class 2.0, and works great with the PC. However, it had compatibility issues with my DAPs.
In this category, I got the FiiO UTWS1 (My favorites!), the Shanling UP4, the Qudelix 5K, and the new TRN BT20S Pro.
The FiiO UTWS1 seems to be a rebranded TRN BT20S with a different button configuration and better volume control. Its advantages are a more functional button configuration that includes raising and lowering the volume. This is the most warm Bluetooth adapter I have, which would satisfy bass lovers.
The Shanling UP4 is yet another product using dual ESS 9218p DACs. It, again, sounds differently than other products with the ES9218p. This time, it is warmer yet musical at the same time. When compared to the similar FiiO BTR5, which also uses the same dual ES9218p DACs, the sound of that one is more analytical, working best for treble and more analytical detail retrieval, while the Shanling UP4 works best for concert-like music and to be immersed into the music experience. It has a volume knob and supports major Bluetooth formats, which is standard in this kind of products nowadays. It also supports USB DAC functionality up to 16bit/48khz due to it its Qualcomm CSR8675 SoC.
The Qudelix 5K is made by a team of people who, according to sources, are the same ones who did the original EarStudio ES100 Bluetooth adapter. The Quidelix 5K is unique in that it uses the newer Qualcomm QCC5124 SoC versus the usual CSR8675 that others use. It also supports USB DAC mode up to 96Khz due to the improvements of the chip. It, again, uses dual ES9218p DACs, but sounds different due to the implementation used as well as their DSP processing. It sounds clean and not harsh. My only complaint is the button learning curve.
TRN BT20S Pro
The TRN BT20S Pro is the successor of the TRN BT20S. They now include their own charging case which replaces the Micro USB port on the units. The hooks are also replaceable shall they go bad or you’d like to switch from 2-pin to MMCX. Unfortunately, it doesn’t play well with my phone as the volume is too loud. They also still have some hissing noise that’s also noticeable in their previous versions.
The only Bluetooth transmitter I purchased last year was the Avantree DG80.
The Avantree DG80 supports aptX Low Latency, as seen on the FiiO BTR5 on the right. It is a small dongle that transmits audio from a PC or other devices supporting USB Audio Class 1 products. I’ve been an Avantree customer for some time due to their excellent transmitter and receiver devices, and their excellent support.
Last year, the only headphone acquired was the KZ ZAX.
The KZ ZAX uses 8 drivers per side, consisting of 1 dynamic driver and 7 Balanced Armatures. The sound profile is V-shaped. It sounds somewhat similar to the KZ ZS10 Pro, yet more refined and doesn’t have a metallic sound that the ZS10 Pro suffered from. The sound is clean too and I sometimes listen to this over the Hidizs MS4, which are the ones I use the most. They retrieve a lot of detail in the music despite their V-shaped signature. On the downside, they do not isolate sound as well.
Late in 2019, I ordered the NiceHCK Spiral tips, which I received early in 2020. Later in the year I ordered some tips from AZLA.
NiceHCK Spiral Tips
The NiceHCK Spiral tips have a spiral form in them. I ordered them after comparing them to other tips and making the nozzle close to the ears. The sound isolation is very good and improves bass in most cases.
I brought these tips accidentally, because it resembled the bass tips of the Hidizs MS4. Turns out the nozzle stays far from the ear, but they did improve the sound stage.
AZLA SednaEarFit Xelastec
Made from a different material than silicone, these have a sticky feeling. I wrote a more detailed review of these that you can find here.
And that was my 2020 in music gear. In my next post, I’ll talk about my acquisitions for 2021 that I will be reviewing as I receive them.
I haven’t received most of the products above, so keep looking forward to my reviews over the year too along with my new 2021 gear!
This is a Bluetooth adapter that works as a PC audio card. It transmits audio via Bluetooth using the SBC, FastStream, aptX, or aptX Low Latency codec, depending on which codecc your headphone or adapter supports. Having the aptX codec provides us with a better audio experience.
The aptX Low Latency codec allows us to watch movies and videos without any audio delay. Most Bluetooth receivers today support this codec and having a transmitter with it makes us take advantage of this.
The DG80 packaging is small and simple.
We can see the adapter along with its manual and documentation behind.
We can see the transmitter is really small.
Finally, we have the included documentation.
Using the transmitter
Using this transmitter is as simple as plugging it into a USB port and going into pairing mode.
We can see Windows detects it as Avantree DG80.
The transmitter has a bit depth and sample rate of 16bit/48khz, which is common with these adapters.
I paired it with my Fiio BTR5 and we can see it is using the aptX Low Latency codec.
Here’s a video of the pairing process of the adapter:
Becuase this transmitter uses a Qualcomm chipset, the sound quality is realy great, thanks to its support of the aptX and aptX Low Latency codecs.
Avantree claims the adapter will work up to 30 meters or 100 feet. This may be true unless there are some obstacles in the way. In my tests with the Whooshi adapter, known to have signal issues, I was able to listen to music while I was in the same room. However, going away I could hear the audio getting cut. If you’re looking for the best signal range, the Avantree DG60 is a better choice.
If you still do not have a USB Bluetooth audio transmitter, the Avantree DG80 is a good start. It’s small, portable, and cheap. It also supports the aptX and aptX Low Latency codecs to provide excellent audio quality.
Today, I’ll be reviewing the TRN BT20 Bluetooth adapter for 2-pin In-Ear Monitors (IEM):
The TRN BT20 is a Bluetooth 5.0 adapter that is available in 3 different versions:
The version I purchased is the 2-pin 0.78mm for my KZ ZS7 IEM’s.
The adapter syncs together to bring you stereo sound. It uses a Realtek Bluetooth 5.0 SoC that while it is not specified which specific chipset it’s being used, I suspect it may be using the Realtek RTL8763B.
Because of it using a Realtek chipset, it doesn’t support the aptX audio codec, but it does support AAC along with SBC. This means that when paired with an iPhone or Android device, it should use AAC instead of SBC, and for backward compatibility, the SBC codec will be chosen if a device lacks the AAC codec.
The packaging is very simple, as can be seen in the following images:
Here, you can see the sides:
And here you can see the back:
To open it, you have to slide the box outside:
Opening the box, both pieces of the TRN BT20 are revealed:
As you can see, they are very well protected and can be easily taken out:
Continuing unboxing the box, we need to take out the cable and manuals which are after taking out the following:
There’s a Micro USB Y-Cable that allows us to charge both Bluetooth pieces at the same time:
Finally, we have the manual, warranty card, and the card that says it passed quality checks:
Using the TRN BT20 with the KZ ZS7
I was using my KZ ZS7 IEMs with a Revonext 3.5mm 3-button cable before using this TRN BT20 Bluetooth adapter.
I removed the IEM from the cable so that I can plug them in the adapters:
Plugging them was straightforward and they are tightly attached:
This is a part where these don’t work well with my ears and the KZ ZS7.
This adapter is supposed to be hanged behind the ears:
Unfortunately, My KZ ZS7 doesn’t get sealed in my ear and the TRN BT20 pushes them out, so I’m using them without hanging them behind my ears:
They are not heavy and now my KZ ZS7 seals fine in my ears. I think if TRN releases a version of the BT20 with a larger ear hook, then they may fit better. Otherwise, I don’t have a problem using them this way.
Pairing the TRN BT20 with my phone was extremely easy. You just turn it on and it will enter in pairing mode automatically. From there, you can choose it in your phone and it will pair:
I haven’t yet discharged the TRN BT20 battery entirely, as I don’t listen to music at loud volumes. My Android phone reports 50% of battery left after about 3 hours of continuous usage. The volume is set around 1/4 of the slider and that produces a comfortable audio level to my liking. Past it, and it’s too loud. As mentioned above, the TRN BT20 supports the AAC audio codec which my phone is using. Because of this, charging normally takes around 45 minutes (Remember I have not discharged this completely). I’m not using the supplied cable to charge them. Rather, I’m using the UGREEN Micro USB Y cable:
There’s one side that will always charge faster because one side acts as a receiver while the other is receiving and transmitting the audio to the other BT20 side. I have paired the left adapter to my phone so that one takes a couple of more minutes to finish charging.
I’m actually surprised by the quality of these. I think, personally, that the TRN BT20 has an advantage given that it uses a Realtek SoC on both sides. This means each side is decoding its own audio channel. This is similar to how balanced DACs work, in that each DAC decodes a specific channel. This has the advantage of improving the sound stage and channel separation. That’s exactly what I’m experiencing with the TRN BT20. The tonality is just awesome.
Because each side is decoding their own corresponding audio channel, I feel this improves the sound separation much like how balanced DACs work, except that there are no cables around.
It’s true that the TRN BT20 doesn’t support aptX nor LDAC, but given its ability to decode AAC, the audio quality is of very good quality. Even using the SBC codec, I find the quality to be amazing.
There’s a bit of a hiss when used with sensitive IEM’s, but it’s way less than other Bluetooth adapters, especially those that are not using dedicated audio DAC’s in their implementations. The sound quality is not degraded because of this, but I’m sure some may not like the hissing.
Overall, I’m pleased with the sound quality, and I’m using this Bluetooth adapter rather than my USB DACs with their cables.
I’ve been using the TRN BT20 with my Samsung Galaxy S9+, where it uses the AAC audio codec. The sound quality is excellent.
I also tested this with my HiBy R3 and Hidizs AP80 which I use as a DAC and Bluetooth transmitter to transmit my PC audio to the BT20. In this case, the SBC codec is used, as Hiby OS does not support transmitting AAC audio yet, although HiBy replied to a comment saying they may add this in a future firmware.
I normally set the volume between 7 to 13. Going up, it is too loud.
The only problem I found is that when using some Qualcomm transmitters with Windows, the volume will be extremely loud.
At around $33-34 on Amazon, you can’t go wrong with the TRN BT20. They do not have aptX, but their ability to decode AAC means the audio quality is not compromised.
The use of Realtek on both sides means each side decodes their own channel audio, which can improve the sound separation and sound stage.
There’s a bit of hissing which could be distracting for some, but it’s not very noticeable compared to other adapters.
The battery life is great and will last some hours. Charging should take at maximum 2 hours, but it charges in way less than that, having a 70mAh battery on each side, and charging at about 50mAh, it should take about an hour and a few minutes.
Unfortunately, it’s the fitting that didn’t work for me, but this part is one that depends on the IEM’s being used and your ears.
I’d rate this 4 out of 5, that last star being because of it not playing nice with my ears.
You can get the TRN BT20 on Amazon. Select the version that is compatible with your IEMs:
Unboxing and overview of PLUB: Bluetooth Headphone Adapter
In this post, I’ll show you a video of me unboxing the PLUB, which is a Bluetooth Headphone Adapter.
The Bluetooth adapter features Qualcomm aptX audio codec, so the audio quality is really good compared to the plain old SBC. The way you use this is simply by connecting a headphone/earphone to it.
The adapter also features no buttons except for the Reset one and that’s it. No power up, volume, or multi-function buttons are there. So you may wonder, how does it turn on?
The PLUB works entirely by using your headphone buttons. Just plug it in, and it will power on. Once it’s powered on, you use the headphone buttons to control your device. For example, to change the volume, you just press the headphone volume buttons as you normally would do. To play music, you just press the function button of the headphones. The PLUB effectively recognizes these signals and sends the commands to your devices.
There’s also no USB connection. Then, how do you charge it? Using the same 3.5mm jack! Yup, the PLUB comes with a USB to 3.5mm similar to how the iPod Shuffle would charge. Just plug the 3.5mm into the PLUB and connect the USB cable and let it charge. You can track the progress by checking the LED color.
Yesterday, I received the PLUB in the mail, and you guess what I first did: The Unboxing video.
You can watch it here:
Overall, I’m very satisfied with this device.
I’ll see if I make another video demonstrating how it works because it’s really a simple device and I really like it due to its simplicity.
Hope you enjoyed this video!
The new and improved Avantree Clipper Pro (Batch 17F1)
Today, I’ll talk about the new batch of the Avantree Clipper Pro:
The Avantree Clipper Pro is an aptX Low Latency-enabled Bluetooth adapter that turns wired headphones into wireless bluetooth.
As a tester of Avantree, I get products from the company to evaluate and give feedback, and this time, they kindly sent me this revision, 17F1.
New to this batch is new voice notifications, replacing the power on, pairing, and power off beeps and the volume buttons no longer have any delay (the previous revisions had a 1-second delay when pressing the buttons). Yay!
The Avantree Clipper Pro is a Bluetooth adapter where you connect your headphones to it to turn them into Bluetooth. It is an amazing adapter because there are still some really good headphones that are only available wired, or they also have Bluetooth connectivity but lacks the aptX audio codec which this Bluetooth adapter has. It has aptX and aptX Low Latency codecs, so when watching videos, as long as the device you’re using also supports the aptX Low Latency codec, you will not notice lip-syncing issues. Otherwise, the adapter will work only in aptX mode or in SBC mode. This adapter is also Bluetooth v4.2!
I use this adapter with my JBL Synchros S200, which are by far my favorite in-ear headphones, having tried other headphone brands and me not satisfied with the sound, I decided to get this Bluetooth adapter to turn the S200 into Bluetooth.
Before I got the Avantree Clipper Pro, I previously owned the Jabees IS901 both the v3.0 and the v4.1 versions. Of those 2, the v3.0 sounded a little better than the v4.1. Unfortunately, I lost it at the airport. I think I left it in the airplane while I was picking up my carry-on baggage, so I decided to buy the newest model, the Jabees IS901 v4.1. It has to be noted that the v3.0 model was accidentally dropped into a cup filled with Sprite/7up and it survived XD. I really liked that model, but it was replaced with the v4.1 version… So the Jabees v4.1 arrived and it was an “improvement” from the v3.0. Now the Jabees IS901 v4.1 talks, saying “Power On”, “Pairing”, “Maximum Volume” and lots of more messages, but unfortunately, it didn’t last long. First, the 3.5mm headphone jack became bad, so I dismounted the adapter attempting to fix it, and I did! The audio was fixed, but a few days later, the battery suddenly died. It would only work when the Jabees IS901 v4.1 was connected to the micro-USB cable, so I got rid of the now non-functional Jabees IS901. (Jabees, if you’re reading this, I still like your products 🙂 Don’t take it personally)
After looking up on Amazon for other Bluetooth Adapters, that’s where I noticed the Avantree Clipper Pro, and the aptX Low Latency codec, along with the Usable when Charging feature were the factors that made me get this, as the Jabees IS901 would disconnect and turn off when I plugged in the charger. The Avantree Clipper Pro doesn’t have this issue. Yay! The battery should last up to 6 hours but I’ve still haven’t got the low battery warning after continuously listening to music.
Pairing the adapter was as simple as pressing the MFB button for a few seconds, and I paired it with my 2 phones, a Samsung Galaxy Note Edge, which should have the aptX codec, and the Blu R1 HD, which doesn’t mention the aptX codec anywhere and is unlikely that it has the codec. In both cases, the sound came beautifully, almost like if I were listening to the music completely wired, with no noticeable quality loss. I then paired this with my Windows 10 computer (which, according to Microsoft, has the aptX codec) and started listening to Music CD (yes, I still buy Music CD and have a beautiful Music CD collection 🙂 ). Wow!!! I must say, I’m really impressed with this adapter! The sound was also excellent with no noticeable quality loss.
Oh, and did I mention that when you plug this adapter into your PC by using a Micro USB cable that passes data (the Micro USB cable that comes with this Bluetooth Adapter is just a charging cable) you can use this as a wired USB audio device? Yes! You read that well! Basically this is a 2-in-1 product. It works as a Bluetooth adapter or you can plug this in your PC and it will work as a USB Audio Output device. Nice bonus!
Here you can see the Avantree Clipper Pro when connected in Bluetooth and with USB. When you connect the Clipper Pro with a Micro USB cable, it will show as CSRA64215 USB Headset and you can disable the Bluetooth in your PC and continue to listen to music or watching movies just using a USB cable.
So, my thoughts on this adapter in a few words: Get it! This is a very simple adapter that delivers CD-like quality thanks to its aptX and aptX Low Latency codec, is usable while charging, and works as a USB Audio Adapter as well. If you have a pair of headphones you like so much and you haven’t found a Bluetooth equivalent for them, give this adapter a try and you’ll not be disappointed.
You can get this adapter on the following link:
Here is my Unboxing video of this adapter. Hope you like it!
NOTE: This is my honest review and I wasn’t paid nor was sent this adapter for free to write this review. I usually buy new stuff on Amazon to make unboxing videos and write reviews.
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