My 2020 in Audio Gear
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!