Pros: Great Sound, Transparent, Grat Battery life
Cons: The UI Sucks
I recently decided to take a bit of a chance and buy blind into a new DAP. Over time I've slowly become more and more tired of the mainstream Apple/Sony/insert company name here MP3 players on the market and their lack of audio capabilities. Nowadays my player of choice is the iPod Touch and although I very much like my iPod's UI interface I've gravitated towards using a mobile amp to bring the players sonic signature up to speed. Although results have been very good I'm now finding myself becoming more and more tired lugging a two piece brick around so much so I've decided to give the so called boutique audiophile DAP market a shot. After a little nosing around on head-fi and some discussion with a trusted friend from head-fi, lee730, I took the plunge and got the HiSound Studio V 3rd Anniversary Edition. This player is rather pricey, a little to pricey in my opinion, but I was lucky enough to hear about HiSound running a half price Studio V promotion in exchange for an honest review and feedback on their player. I was a little unsure about this purchase due to certain rumblings I had read about it. Buggy UI, loud hiss, limited file support, player freeze ups, seemed to be the main complaints from various users concerning this player. Even so I decided to take a big chance and purchase it anyways due to the vast majority of people, both fans and detractors alike, seeming to agree that this player even with all it's short comings still sounded pretty nice.
I placed the order and got busy encoding my key test tracks from ALAC to FLAC. Roughly a week or so goes by and one day a package from China arrives on my doorstep with my new player. Inside the beat up shipping box is my player and it's accessories safely stored in a leather display box. The presentation of this product I must admit is quite nice. By nature I'm a pretty simple guy and for me it's not about presentation and fancy packaging it's more about getting to the heart of the matter and how the product actually performs but even so I still had to admit the presentation was well done. The first thing that struck me about the Studio V 3rd Anniversary Edition was how freaking tiny it was and how perfectly sized it felt in my hand. It's roughly about twice the size of a box of matches and in my opinion the perfect size for mobile use. The next thing I noticed was how solid the form factor felt in my hand. No cheap plastic on this player the whole thing was brushed aluminum right down to the buttons. I'm very happy with this players physical form factor and my opinion is don't change a thing.
Quick aesthetic impressions aside it's now time to get to the sonics of this player which is the key reason I bought it. This player sounds very nice and easily destroys a straight up unamped iPod, Sony player or Clip+. The sound characteristics, it's lean sounding and fast and to my ears teeters just slightly north of neutral. The bass sounds nice and full, in other words it has authority, but it's still tight and has punch and detail. Mids, a bit on the dry side which in my opinion is a perfect match for my Sony EX600 and jPhonic K2 sp. I generally like dry mids so for me the mids were a nice surprise. As for the highs, it's bright and full of energy but not overly splashy meaning it doesn't sound like that crazy harsh sound of someone running their fingernails down a chalk board. People who are a little touchy concerning their treble may want to give this player a second thought before committing their hard earned bones towards it. That being said I personally think it's far from harsh and would describe it more as forward sounding highs meaning the treble hasn't been overly smoothed over and doesn't roll off so early like say my iPod Touch does. I'm also both happy and very relieved to report the hiss issues reported from users using other generations of the Studio V for me is almost completely non existent. When using my Sony MDR EX 600 IEM if I listen closely I can hear a very very soft hiss. I only noticed it because I was looking for it but if I hadn't been looking for it I doubt I would have noticed it.
The interesting thing about this player is it seems to love all the gear I hook up to it. Believe it or not the DT1350 sounds quite good on it. Originally when I heard this player the first thing to come to mind was my DT1350's loaded treble would be way to energetic with this DAP. In the end I wound up with mud on my face when I hooked it up only to realize the treble now sounded a little more detailed and slightly smoother in the upper mid to lower high transition. It wasn't night and day of coarse and I still had some sibilance problems with badly recorded music of coarse but overall I was quite happy with my DT1350 treble on the Studio V. Next up was my V-MODA M-80. I thought the M-80 sound signature would become more lean with this DAP only to be shocked to find the mids were now more detailed while still sounding as warm as before. The M-80 highs, still flat which was a bit of a disappointment considering I was hoping this player would give the M-80 a little more life up top. Oh well can't win them all I guess. On the plus side the bass seemed a little less bloated and the slight bleed into the lower mids seems to have improved a bit. From there I decided to hook up my recently acquired V-MODA M-100 headphone which has a forward sounding bass. The M-100 sounded very nice on the Studio V and I realized the bass although still quite forward sounding (it has 8 db of boosted bass) was now a little more detailed and seemed just a hair quicker on my Studio V when compared to my UHA-4 amp. The M-100 highs seemed well defined and although the Studio V didn't really boost them they did seem very well extended. Overall I would have to say the whole sound signature of the M-100 sounded slightly cleaner on the Studio V. Something interesting I would like to add, maybe it's just my ears but the M-100 has a slight U shape in it's mids and when paired with the Studio V that slight U became even more apparent. Even more interesting is when I hooked up gear which is known for being mid centric at it the mids suddenly seemed to become more prominent then I was used to.
As I started throwing more gear at the Studio V (Grado SR 60i, EX600, Westone 4, K2 sp, e-Q7) I started to realize this damn player had no real coloration of it's own but instead preferred to disappear and let the gear it was hooked up to do it's own thing. Thus far this is sounding like a really great player isn't it? Sonically I have to admit I'm very happy with it. Oh and I almost forgot to mention, battery life is in the double digits as in 50 to 80 hours. I thought it sounded far fetched myself until I got the player. When I got the player I plugged it in and let it charge overnight to guarantee a full charge. In a span of roughly two weeks I was still showing two out of four power bars with roughly 3 to 5 hours a day of use. Two days ago I decided to plug it in again and let it recharge overnight and so far I'm still showing a full charge on the display.
Something else I think is worth mentioning is this players versatility in driving gear. Most of my stuff is known for being efficient. Probably the most demanding I have is the DT1350 which in the big scheme of things isn't really that demanding when compared to other headphones. To try and test this players amp section I shot by a fellow head-fiers home and let him have a listen. This gentleman is known around my city for having a wide selection of headphones one of which being the 600 ohm AKG K240 Sextett. I didn't expect the Studio V to drive this headphone and neither did he and it took maxing out the volume but it did drive it to an acceptable volume level with only some minor control issues in the lower bass. Although I've heard these headphones being driven better by other more powerful gear I was none the less rather impressed how well it was able to drive it.
This player is now really starting to sound like a real winner isn't it? Don't get to excited time to talk about the Studio V's achilles heel, the UI. In short, considering this player retails for a suggested street price of around 500 bones the UI can only be described as completely unacceptable. The good news, even though the UI is flawed it's still stable enough to make the player work for you. Let me try and explain. When you first turn on the player you're greeted with a HiSound logo and from there the player quickly scans your micro SD card. A few seconds later the main music app appears. Now if you hit the music app and navigate any music on it's internal 4GB memory generally you'll be OK. But if you try to navigate your music on your SD card look out boys and girls what you hear will sound like utter crap. What I mean is your music will play but it will clip and pop and if you try navigating around to find other music while there's music playing in the background the music will click pop and cut out with practically every click. I'm not even going to get into the buggy playlists option because no matter what I did I couldn't get it to work.
Thankfully there's a work around for all this silliness. If you completely ignore the music app and navigate to the Resource Manager app after clicking on it you'll then be greeted with 2 options, external memory and internal memory. Click on external memory and navigate your music to your hearts content because the resource manager app unlike the music app works generally not to badly. I did notice the odd little clip or pop once in a blue moon but overall it worked to my satisfaction. Although I'm quite happy the resource manager works well enough to make the player work for me I still can't help but feel a little put out and bummed that such a pricey DAP's UI is buggy and can't help but wonder what was HiSound thinking when they decided to release a DAP with only half of it's UI running smoothly
Final judgement, this is a very nice sounding player that checks off two of the three must haves for a player to receive full praise from me. Sonically, it's a very nice capable player that will make your gear shine. All the gear I own seemed to synergize quite well with it to the point the player became transparent and I could just forget about it and concentrate on my music and what the headphone/IEM I was using could do. Physically it's form factor is the perfect size for mobile use and it feels rugged and solid in your hand. It feels like it will stand up to the test of time. If HiSound could get a firmware update out in the near future and fix or even maybe completely eliminate the buggy Music app section and playlist section on the UI this player would be a great player. As it is the UI is the only thing that's holding this player back right now and if HiSound decides to not further develop this player with a proper firmware update then they'll only be shooting themselves in the foot. This is a very nice sounding player with a premium price tag attached to it and a buggy UI in this price range is unacceptable to the customer who chooses to invest so much on an MP3 player. As it stands now I would rate this player a 3.5 out of 5 stars which can easily become a 4.75 out of five if the UI issues were addressed.