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!
Using the KZ aptX HD Bluetooth Cable and the TRN BT20 with the Hidizs Mermaid MS1/MS4
Today, I recorded a video showing the new KZ aptX HD Bluetooth Cable and the TRN BT20 Bluetooth adapter with the Hidizs Mermaid MS1/MS4.
The reason of doing this video is to show how the KZ cable fits the Hidizs MS1/MS4 as the KZ cables comes in different pin flavors. And as for the TRN BT20, I just wanted to show how they look with it attached.
It’s nice to have a variety of Bluetooth adapters to use with these new IEMs which have an incredible sound.
You can watch the video below:
You can get these Bluetooth items as well as the IEMs using the following links:
The Hidizs Mermaid MS1 and MS4 IEMs with their cables and accessories
Yesterday, I received the brand-new Hidizs Mermaid MS1 and MS4 In-Ear Monitors Absolute Kits.
The Hidizs Mermaid MS1 is an IEM with 1 Dynamic Driver, while the Hidizs Mermaid MS4 is an IEM with 1 Dynamic Driver and 3 Knowles Balanced Armatures.
My initial impressions are excellent. These IEMs do a lot to reproduce the music. I found that the MS1, with just the Dynamic Driver, produces a warm sound with great mids and smooth bass and treble. The MS4, on the other hand, improves the bass and treble while having great mids. Since the MS4 uses 3 balanced armatures for the mids and treble, they do a great job, and since the Dynamic Driver is focused on the bass, it also does a great job. The MS1, on the other hand, produces a warmer sound since the Dynamic Driver needs to reproduce the entire frequency spectrum.
The Hidizs Absolute Kits come with a choice of a 2.5mm or 4.4mm balanced cable, USB-C 2-pin cable and an aptX Bluetooth Cable using a CSR8645 chipset. They are also compatible with other 2-pin 0.78mm IEMs and you can also use other aftermarket cables due to their 2-pin connectors.
The IEMs can be driven easily since the MS1 only has an impedance of just 15Ω while the MS4 has an impedance of just 12Ω. However, you can use your favorite DAC like the Hidizs DH1000/Tempotec Sonata iDSD Plus and use the balanced output to enjoy an even better sound. You can also use them with the 3.5mm cable with the Hidizs AP80.
Now, here’s my unboxing video I recorded yesterday where I unbox both kits, their cables and accessories:
I personally like the MS4 due to their more punchier bass and their extended treble. The MS1 have more forward vocals, so if you’re looking for that, the MS1 is for you, but if you want the treble and a bit more bass, go for the MS4.
Here’s the review video I also recorded with my thoughts on the IEMs and the cables:
Overall, Hidizs did a great job with these new In-Ear Monitors.
You can purchase these 2 Hidizs IEMs at Amazon using the following links:
Yesterday, I received the Tempotec Sonata iDSD Plus:
This is a DAC and AMP all in one device. It has Dual ES9018K2M, Dual ES9601K amplifiers, as well as a Balanced 2.5mm headphone jack as well as the regular 3.5mm jack.
The device is very similar to the Hidizs DH1000. In fact, it is a rebranded Tempotec product. Today, I’ll take a look at a newer Tempotec Sonata iDSD Plus revision.
The Tempotec unit I received should have some problems that the Hidizs DH1000 had. In particular, this unit should have the Blue LED problem fixed, where it would be permanently turned on at some point of the Hidizs DH1000 lifetime. I’ll also be comparing this version to the Hidizs DAC.
As seen in the picture above, the box look very similar. Let’s take the wrapping off:
Now, it’s time to open the box:
We find the Tempotec Sonata iDSD Plus inside the box. It is the first thing we see. Below the box, we find some more items:
We find a USB-A to Micro USB, a Micro USB to Micro USB OTG cable, and a USB-C to Micro USB cable. We also have the manual and other stuff.
Let’s take a look at the Sonata iDSD Plus:
It came well protected. The bag keeps the iDSD free from scratches, since it uses glass on both sides.
Not a single scratch in the bag. That’s great. Now, let’s take out our Sonata iDSD Plus:
This is the front. While we can’t see the charging LED, it is in the bottom left corner. It is blue, just like the Hidizs DH1000, and will turn on while charging. Also, on the upper left, we can see the volume buttons. We’ll see them later in details.
The back has the Tempotec branding, just like the Hidizs DH1000 also had the Hidizs branding.
The Tempotec Sonata iDSD Plus has 3 USB ports. The USB-A is the so called “Private” port. This allows you to connect your compatible DAPs like the Hidizs AP80 and HiBy R3 when the USB mode is set to “Dock”. It also should work on Android and iOS devices when using the HibyMusic app.
The other ports are Micro USB. The middle port is for data transmission while the right port is for charging. The Tempotec Sonata iDSD Plus charges at 5V/1A, usually drawing 800 mA but it can draw 940 mA if it is also turned on while listening to music and it is charging.
On the other side, we can see the standard 3.5mm audio jack on the left, the 2.5mm balanced jack in the middle, and the power button on the right. Between the power button and 2.5mm audio jack, we see the power LED, which will be green if it’s turned on, and will turn red when the battery is low.
Next, we’ll take a look at the cables:
Above, we have the USB-A to Micro USB cable. This is the cable that you’ll be using to use the Tempotec Sonata iDSD Plus in your computer, unless yours have a USB-C port, in which case you can use the included USB-C to Micro USB cable:
The USB-C to Micro USB cable also works with compatible Android devices. It works really well in my Samsung Galaxy S9+.
If your device has a Micro USB port, you’ll probably need this OTG cable, which is also included:
However, not all Micro USB phones support the OTG connection, so please be sure to check if your phone is compatible with USB Audio Class 2 audio devices.
The Tempotec Sonata iDSD Plus manual comes in 2 languages:
And in English.
It also came with the Hi-Res Audio stickers:
Here’s how it looks when it has both USB ports plugged in:
Comparison with the Hidizs DH1000
Let’s compare the device with the Hidizs DH1000. Please note that due to hardware problems, I tried to repair the Hidizs DH1000, and while it works, I have it covered differently than how it used to look.
We can see they look similar.
The back also look similar. However, here is where we’ll see the main difference:
The Hidizs DH1000 has the volume buttons marked with paint, while the Tempotec iDSD Plus has the actual marks deep in the buttons.
Finally, both the USB ports and audio jacks look the same:
The device is detected on Windows a USB HD AUDIO as soon as it is plugged in.
The sound quality of the Tempotec Sonata iDSD Plus is the same as the Hidizs DH1000. I seem to find it more pleasant, but I tried switching between the Hidizs and Tempotec to see if I could find any difference. I may prefer the Tempotec sound, but the Hidizs one sounds quite similar, if not, identical. They both use the same ES9018K2M chips and ES9601K amplifiers. Theoretically, even the printed circuit board should be the same, or almost identical, except for the charging circuit, where it should be different to prevent possible charging issues.
I’m using the KZ ZS7 IEMs with a 2.5mm balanced cable. The bass feels powerful. This is especially true when listening to Twenty One Pilots “Trench” album. The mids are balanced, vocals are very well presented, and the treble, that’s the part where this DAC shines. The frequency response, I would say, is neutral. Other DACs would prefer to focus on providing forward vocals, and other instruments would sound recessed, but this is not the case with this DAC. Instrument separation is also pretty good. The sound feels open and wide, and the overal sound presentation is just as good and even relaxing. I can confortably listen to music in Tidal and enjoy every note in the song.
For around $130, this DAC does not dissapoint. The Hidizs DH1000 was my favorite, but now I have this Tempotec which will be with me at all times, and I’ll be attaching it to my HiBy R3 and Hidizs AP80 DAPs. Really, I haven’t found a DAC that outperforms this one.
This is a cable (or dongle) that allows you to connect your 3.5mm headphones to your devices that have a USB-C connector, or to a USB-A connector by using a USB-C to USB-A adapter. It features a sample rate of up to 24-bit and 192khz, but you’ll need to update the firmware to be able to use it. We’ll see more about the firmware update process later. First, let’s proceed with the unboxing.
Opening the box reveals a carrying case:
Taking it out we can clearly see the Hidizs logo in it:
The back is just plain:
Inside, we can see the Sonata HD Cable and a USB-C to USB-A adapter:
A closer look at the cable and adapter inside the carrying case:
A closer look at the DAC We can see the Hidizs Logo at the USB-C connector side:
We can also see the Hi-Res Audio logo on the other side at the USB-C connector:
Side by Side comparon with the Google and Apple DACs:
Now, let’s see the USB-C to USB-A adapter closer:
I connected the cable to the adapter and to my USB Hub which is connected to my desktop PC:
Sonata HD A: Prioritizes the Call. When I tested this firmware, it allows simultaneous voice and music. This is the firmware you’ll want to use if you’re going to stream on YouTube, Twitch, etc.
Sonata HD C: Prioritizes the Audio. When I tested this firmware, it was similar to the Sonata HD A firmware but I could no longer use the microphone as soon as the system produced audio. This firmware has a sample rate of 24-bit/192khz
Sonata HD D: Pure Music. This firmware will also provide 24-bit/192khz but it will disable the adapter input function. You’ll still be able to use earphone inline remote control.
To update the firmware, you’ll want to launch the respective executable. You’ll be presented with the firmware flashing utility:
We should write in the Vendor ID: 22e1, and on the Product ID: e202. You can check these values by going to the Device Manager and selecting the Sonata HD Cable under the Sound, video and Game Controllers section:
We can press the Write EEPROM button on the firmware flashing utility and we’ll be shown with this message:
We’ll simply disconnect the DAC, connect it again, and press OK. The firmware flashing will begin:
If it finishes successful, you’ll see a successful message:
That’s it! We now need to unplug it and connect it again and then we can go to the sound settings and check that we can choose a sample rate of 24-bit/192khz:
We click on Sound Control Panel and double click on the Sonata HD:
Now, we can go to the Advanced tab and select 24-bit/192khz:
We can also use Tidal’s WASAPI mode with this adapter. Just be sure to turn the volume very low. This DAC is very loud!!!
Just select the Exclusive Mode button and that should be it. Now, you can enjoy your music!
Listening to this DAC the sound is detailed, but the vocals seems to be more forward. It has a good sound separation, and it is very loud, which is why I have my DAC at just 2%. My headphones (KZ ZS7) are high sensitivity, low impedance IEM’s, so they will sound loud at low volume levels. The Bass is great, and so is the treble. No complains here. I also own the Hidizs DH1000 and their AP80 player and they all sound excellent. The Hidizs DH1000 provides a more neutral sound and the AP80 just shines at all of the frequencies, altough the DH1000 is still a more neutral and extended treble option.
I hope you liked this post. Do you own the Sonata HD Cable? Let me know in the comments.
If you don’t yet have this dongle, you can get it on Amazon using the following link:
The Hidizs DH1000 is a DAC/Amp that uses a balanced circuit, featuring Dual ESS ES9018K2M and Dual ESS amps, it provides balanced audio as each DAC decodes each channel. You also benefit from the Balanced 2.5mm audio jack to get the best, balanced audio quality, or you can use your current 3.5mm headphones or cables with it.
The Hidizs DH1000 supports a sample rate of up to 24-bit/192khz.
Awesome, balanced sound.
Excellent channel separation.
Compatible with USB Audio Class 2 devices like Android and PC.
ASIO Driver is available.
2.5mm balanced and 3.5mm audio jacks
Some units suffer from the Blue LED being on at all time, even when not charging the unit.
Together, with these 2 items, I’m able to charge my Hidizs DH1000 3.8v battery and use the 3.7v as a spare while that charge happens. The problem with my Hidizs DH1000 is that it charges extremely slow, at a painful slow speed of between 60 to 80mA, which is very slow for its 2000mAh battery. With the SparkFun basic LiPo charger, I can charge it at up to 500mA, reducing the amount of hours needed to use my currently favorite DAC/Amp.
Today morning, it came to my attention that there was a new firmware update for the Hidizs AP80 Digital Audio player. I downloaded and installed it, and surprise! We have LDAC support now! This means that it can be used as an LDAC bluetooth receiver and should also work as a transmitted, altough I haven’t tested this mode yet.
To test the Hidizs AP80 LDAC functionality, I tried using my phone but for some reason it doesn’t work on either the HiBy R3 nor on the AP80. This may be a bug on the Samsung Android Pie beta software, or some sort of incompatibility in HiBy OS. Since this didn’t worked, I then proceeded to use my HiBy R3 as a transmitter and the Hidizs AP80 as as receiver. I logged in into Tidal in the R3 and tested the LDAC codec. It worked! Not only it worked, but the Sample Rate was also adjusted accordingly, meaning that standard 44.1Khz Tidal tracks will be transmitted and received at that very same sample rate. I also tested playing back one of a few Tidal albums that the R3 seems to decode in MQA and the sample rate again was adjusted to 88.2Khz
Here, you can see the HiBy R3 streaming a standard album and transmitting it via LDAC to the Hidizs AP80:
I now have the perfect LDAC transmitter and receiver. There’s little delay, but the sound quality is better than using the standard SBC codec. Also it’s worth noting that when I used the HiBy R3 as a USB DAC and LDAC bluetooth transmitter in WASAPI mode, the sample rate was adjusted not only in the R3 but also in the Hidizs AP80, meaning if I’m using a sample rate of 44.1Khz in the PC, the same sample rate will be used in the Hiby R3 and Hidizs AP80. This is very convenient because there will be no downsampling performed. Also, the fact that the Hidizs AP80 also supports bidirectional USB, I could attach another DAC or Amp like the Hidizs DH1000 and enjoy high quality bluetooth sound.
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