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My 2020 in Audio Gear

My 2020 in Audio Gear

Hi everyone,

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.

FiiO M5

FiiO M5

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

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.

Shanling Q1

Shanling Q1

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.

IFI Hip-Dac

IFI Hip-Dac

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

Geekuy 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.

Bluetooth receivers

In this category, I got the FiiO UTWS1 (My favorites!), the Shanling UP4, the Qudelix 5K, and the new TRN BT20S Pro.

FiiO UTWS1

FiiO UTWS1

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.

Shanling UP4

Shanling UP4

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.

Qudelix 5K

Qudelix 5K

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

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.

Bluetooth transmitters

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.

Headphones

Last year, the only headphone acquired was the KZ ZAX.

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.

Headphone tips

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

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.

AZLA SednaEarFitLight

AZLA SednaEarFitLight

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!

Unboxing the KZ AS16 In-Ear Monitor

Unboxing the KZ AS16 In-Ear Monitor

Hi everyone,

Today, I’m sharing my unboxing video of the KZ AS16 In-Ear Monitor. This IEM has 8 balanced armatures per side, for a total of 16. In the video, I compare the size of it with the KZ ZS10 Pro, which is also another of their newer IEM.

I’m currently listening to the KZ AS16 and will soon give my impressions of it. In the meantime, here’s the unboxing video:

Unboxing the KZ ZS7 IEM

Unboxing the KZ ZS7 IEM

Hi everyone,

Today, I’m sharing my Unboxing video of the KZ ZS7 IEM. These have become my new favorite IEM to use to listen to music. They have a really good sound reproduction. Watch the video below:

Do you have these IEMs? What do you think?

The KZ ZS7 first impressions

The KZ ZS7 first impressions

Hi everyone,

Today, I’m sharing my first impressions of the new KZ ZS7 IEM:

The KZ ZS7 first impressions 1

I just received these today and I’m enjoying the balanced sound it provides. It’s not too warm, but it’s also not too bright. The mids shine, the treble is there, and the bass feels real.

Previously, I’ve been using the Samsung AKG-Tuned earbuds which I also enjoy the sound, but these feels an improvement because they retrieve more detail of the song.

These are also my first KZ IEMs, and I’ve been wanting to try them since the past generation, but decided against because of some troubles I’ve heard of. Now that I got to listen to these, they really sound wonderful.

Powered by 1 Dynamic Driver + 4 Balanced Armatures, you can hear everything without any distortions, a problem I’ve faced with other buds, where they would emphasize the bass, or have a v-shaped profile. These aren’t v-shaped nor emphasize the bass over other frequencies. Yes, they have plenty of bass, but you can hear everything without any frequency being overpowered.

I’m currently using these with my Hidizs DH1000 DAC/AMP:

The KZ ZS7 first impressions 2

I’m still experimenting and listening to different albums. So far, everything sounds nice. I do have a complaint here, and is that sometimes the presence of some instruments may seem to be reduced, but you still enjoy everything in the track. They have a great sound separation and clarity. Awesome!

Unboxing of the Cave UC3 3D Surround Earbuds

Unboxing of the Cave UC3 3D Surround Earbuds

Hi everyone,

Today, I’d like to show you the Cave UC3 3D Surround Earbuds, which I got as part of their Kickstarter campaign.

These are a USB-C or Apple Lightning Earbuds, depending on the version you get, and is compatible with USB-C devices that support USB Audio and of course, Apple devices if you chose the Lightning version. It has an in-line control and microphone. The in-line control allows you to change the audio sound profile, enabling their virtual surround function.

Let’s get started with the photos!

Here’s the box:

Cave UC3 1
Box Front
Box Back
Box Back

You can see the details of it in the back.

Now, unwraping it:

Box Front Unwrapped
Box Front Unwrapped
Box  Back Unwrapped
Box Back Unwrapped

Let’s open it!

The earbuds inside the box
The earbuds inside the box

You can see the Cave UC3 earbuds. They look well built. The cable continues on the back:

The earbuds cable inside the box
The earbuds cable inside the box

Finally, here’s the earbuds taken out of the box:

Cave UC3 Earbud
Cave UC3 Earbud

Now, some notes:

  1. When I connected these earbuds to my Windows laptop via it’s USB-C port, it worked, but the volume doesn’t work. If it’s between 1 to 99%, the volume will be very low. When it’s at 100%, it will be very loud. There’s no way to control this except from the music app itself. This is unconvenient.
  2. When I used this with my Hiby R3, it worked. However, it only worked with 16-bit/48Khz audio. This is because the earbuds doesn’t have a 16-bit/44Khz mode. My best guess is that the Hiby R3 changes the USB mode to match the audio bit depth and sample rate. When I played back 44Khz FLAC files, It was showing a playback error. When I played back Opus files, it worked, but Opus files are 48Khz, which is why I think it worked.
  3. They worked great with my smartphone. However, they note that the microphone may not work with all smartphones. Keep this in mind.

In conclusion, I’ll keep these safely stored. They will not be my daily use earbuds, but rather I’ll use it for emergency purposes shall my in-ear earbud give me problems.

That moment when your headphones/earphones are getting bad…

That moment when your headphones/earphones are getting bad…

Hi everyone,

Today, I’ll tell you something that happened with my music listening experience.

I am a music fan, and I have lots of Music CDs I get on Amazon and eBay. My music collection is uploaded to Google Music and some of the CDs are stored on Amazon as part of their AutoRip program. I also pay the monthly Amazon Music Unlimited subscription, and when I like an album, I buy it (Support the artists 😁):

Headphones going bad - 1
My music collection

So, for the past few days, I’ve been streaming my music from Amazon like I normally do, but I noticed that the quality had changed. I went to the settings to double check the Best Quality settings was checked, and it indeed was. I then proceeded to Clear Cache, but I didn’t noticed any quality improvement.

Headphones going bad - 2

Ok, so I was using my Avantree Clipper Pro Bluetooth Adapter with my JBL Synchros S200 Earphones, so I plugged it directly to the phone, but the quality improvement was minimal.

Today, I connected my Avantree Leaf USB Bluetooth Adapter to my laptop so that I can listen to music with my Avantree Clipper Pro using the aptX Low Latency Codec and I noticed the same quality issue. I then opened Google Music, to compare the quality of some of the tracks, and while in Google Music, they sounded better, as the files are MP3 320kb compared to Amazon’s 256kb, it wasn’t that much of an improvement.

I did notice something odd, that it seemed the music was being streamed almost in mono instead of stereo, so I came to the least expected step: Test the headphones using the Windows Sound management window:

Headphones going bad - 3

Surprisingly, it wasn’t me, nor the adapters or sound card, but the headphones itself. It seems it’s mixing both channels, as while the sound remained Stereo, it was sounding more on the other channel than it’s supposed to be, like it’s mono and stereo at the same time 😂.

So, it’s the moment to say, R.I.P. JBL Synchros S200, which were my favorite earphones for these years and unfortunately JBL discontinued it:

Headphones going bad - 4

What earphones am I using right now? Well, I still had the earbuds that came bundled with my Samsung Galaxy Note Edge, so I’m using that along with the Avantree Clipper Pro adapter to turn them wireless:

Headphones going bad - 5

These earbuds sounds nice, being honest, and I was keeping them as a backup in case the JBL failed. That was also my second JBL pair as the first also went bad after the year.

So, now I can continue listening to Journey to the PastOnce Upon a December and At The Beginning from the Anastasia Motion Picture Soundtrack 😁:

Headphones going bad - 6

I love Soundtracks!

[4K Videos] Unboxing Dollar Tree $1 Headphones

[4K Videos] Unboxing Dollar Tree $1 Headphones

Hi everyone,

In today’s post, I will be sharing with you some unboxing videos of some of the Headphones available in Dollar Tree for just $1 dollar + tax. How do these extremely cheap headphones sound? Awful. They should only be bought if you really don’t care about sound quality or it is just temporarily while you get higher quality in-ear headphones.

Here are the unboxing videos:

Do you have a cheap in-ear headphone pair that actually sounds good? Let me know in the comments.

[4K Video] JBL J33 In-Ear Headphone Review

[4K Video] JBL J33 In-Ear Headphone Review

Hi everyone,

Before I got the JBL Synchros S200, I got the JBL J33. Basically this was the previous model before the Synchros S200 was released. Take a look at this video where I review the JBL J33. I still have it and it sounds incredible! I currently use these as a backup in case my JBL Synchros S200 break, which has happened once already.

Video Review:

This In-Ear headphone is not Bluetooth, but you can use it with the Avantree Clipper Pro to convert them into Bluetooth.

[4K Videos] JBL Synchros S200 In-Ear Headphone Unboxing and Review videos

[4K Videos] JBL Synchros S200 In-Ear Headphone Unboxing and Review videos

Hi everyone,

In this post, I’m sharing my unboxing video and review video from the JBL Synchros S200, which are by far my favorite In-Ear headphones I’ve used. Enjoy!

Unboxing video

Review video

I’m currently using this in-ear headphone with my Avantree Clipper Pro. Read my review of the Avantree Clipper Pro by Clicking Here!