Hisound Audio Studio V 3rd Anniversary Edition - A “Jekyll and Hyde” experience (at first) - but you can fix :)

A Review On: Studio V Anniversary Edition

Studio V Anniversary Edition

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Review Details:
Audio Quality
Battery Life
Design
User Interface
Value
Purchased on:
Price paid: $450.00
Brooko
Posted · Updated · 3243 Views · 5 Comments

Pros: Size, Build, Battery Life, Sound Quality (stellar!)

Cons: UI, Boot Time, Lag (scroll / software) - only with pre-installed firmware

EDITED AGAIN 4th DEC - FOLLOWING FIRMWARE ADJUSTMENT

Introducing HiSound Audio’s TOTL DAP – The Studio V 3rd Anniversary Edition

 

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Studio V3 A.E. Sonic Joy - V3 A.E. + RS1

 

After reviewing many of HSA’s earbuds and IEMs lately, my thoughts turned toward buying a new DAP.  My iPod Touch G4 (32 GB) had been getting pretty full, and I’d been tossing up between simply getting the iPod Touch G5 (64 GB) + an add on amp (probably an Arrow) so I could drive my higher impedance full cans, or buying a DAP that could do an all-in-one job.  I asked Jack from HSA for his opinion, and he steered me toward the Studio V3 A.E.  We struck a deal where I would pay for the device, review it, and if not happy, could return for a full refund.  In this review, I’ve listed the Studio V3 A.E. for its normal list price.  I paid a little under this – but I did pay for the DAP.

 

Disclaimer

I was provided the Studio V3 A.E. as a paid (but discounted) review sample.  I am in no way affiliated with HiSound Audio - and this review is my honest opinion of the Studio V3 A.E.  I would like to thank Jack and the HiSound Audio team for making this opportunity available.

 

Preamble - 'about me'.   (This is to give any readers a baseline for interpreting the review).

I'm a 46 year old music lover.  I don't say audiophile - just love my music.  Over the last couple of years, I have slowly changed from cheaper listening set-ups to my current mid-fi set-up.  I vary my listening from portable (iDevices) to my desk-top's set-up (PC > coax > NFB-12 > LD MKIV > HP).  My main headphones at the time of writing are the Senn HD600, Grado RS1, Shure SE535 Ltd Ed. IEMs, and HSA’s BA-100, Crystal and Living earbuds/IEMs.  I've also just received the Dunu DN1000 Hybrid IEM this week.

 

I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety from classical/opera and jazz to grunge and hard-rock.   I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, indie, classic rock, and alternative rock.  I am particularly fond of female vocals.  I tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced - with a slight emphasis on the mid-range.  I am neither a bass or treble head (you could argue that I do like clarity though).  Current amps = NFB12 and LD MKIV.  I also formerly owned several portable amps - the most notable being an Arrow 4G and GoVibe PortaTube.

 

My experience with DAPs in the past have been initially with very cheap Sony offerings, then step-ups to the Cowon iAudio7, and lately to my iPhone4 and iPod Touch G4 – which are both very good sounding and have excellent interfaces.  I've also listened to various other devices along the way - including Cowon's J3.

 

I have extensively tested myself (abx) and I find aac256 or higher completely transparent.  For my portable listening – it is my preferred format (space vs quality).  All of my music is legally purchased (mostly CD – the rest FLAC purchased on-line).

 

I tend to be sceptical about audiophile ‘claims’, don’t generally believe in burn-in, and would rather test myself blind on perceived differences.  I am not a ‘golden eared listener’

 

What I Was Looking For In A DAP

I thought I’d list (before I start with the review) what I was really looking for in a new DAP.

  • Great (neutral) sounding

  • Good build quality

  • Reasonable battery life

  • Easy to use interface

  • Able to drive both low impedance and (within reason) higher impedance cans

Did I get all of this with the Studio V3 A.E?  That’s a definite no.  Well - mostly (following some tweaking).  And for me, the two biggest ‘must haves’ were going to be sonic quality and usability.  Do I still have the Studio V3 A.E?  Yes.  No intention of returning.  Read on, and discover with me why I regard this DAP as having a ‘Jekyll & Hyde complex’, but why (for me) it’s remained a keeper.

 

This is a purely subjective review - my gear, my ears, and my experience.  Please take it all with a grain of salt - especially if it does not match your own experience.

 

THE REVIEW

 

Packaging and Accessories

When the Studio V3 A.E. package arrived – before I opened the parcel, my initial thought was that Jack must have sent me something along with it.  The box is big considering the size of the DAP – but I have to admit it does give an impression of something “just a little bit special” being inside.

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The Studio V3 box

 

 

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Size comparison (iPhone) Tiny DAP - big box!

 

On opening the V3 box, the initial impression was “wow this thing is tiny”, and also – it does look very solid and classy.

 

With the V3 you also get:

  • An HSA VIP card

  • Warranty (in Chinese)

  • The Studio V3 manual (in English and Chinese)

 

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Paperwork in the box English page from manual


The manual itself is fairly basic – but also pretty easy to follow.

 

Underneath the display tray is a second compartment with 3 very nicely presented boxes which hold the USB plug and cable, and also a pair of PAA-1 earbuds (which despite their budget appearance actually sound not too bad).

 

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Second compartment The Studio V3

 

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2nd Compartment Accessories PAA-1 Earbuds

 

Technical Specifications

There wasn’t a lot of information (technical anyway) on the web – so I’m relying on what was published in the manual.  Relevant details include:

 

Dimension : 

 76 x 49 x 20mm

Weight :

 140g

Screen :

 1 inch matrix (128x64) OLED

PC connection :

 USB2 – standard mini-plug

Internal memory :

 4 Gb flash

Battery :

 Lithium-ion (more on battery life later in review)

Supported Formats :

 MP1-3, WMA, WAV, FLAC, AAC, OGG

Supported OS :

 Windows 98/SE/ME/2K/XP/Vista/Win7 (also works on 8), MAC OS10, Linux 2.4.2

Languages :

 Chinese, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian

Maximum output :

 10mW-80mW per channel (32 ohm load)

Frequency response : 

 17Hz to 23 KHz

SNR :

 >=96dB

Distortion :

 <=0.1%

 

Build

Four words – solid, classy, high quality.

 

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Side view with iPhone 4 in background Rear of Studio V3

 

The body is a solid piece of machined aluminium with a brushed exterior.  The colour is silvery with a light golden hued tint.  The body has slightly bevelled edges – but it is comfortable to hold.  The buttons are solid, and appear built to last.  The OLED display – while small is relatively easy to read, and can be viewed reasonably easily (dark and light).  It does suffer a little in direct sunlight - but easy enough to shade with a cupped palm.  The USB cable fits snugly, and headphone socket is tight and feels well put together.  On the bottom of the player – next to the USB port – is a micro SD expansion slot.  For this review I’m using a Sansa Ultra microSDXC class 10 card.  The card is easy to fit and is solid once input.  One note here – you’ll need to format the card to FAT32.

 

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Top view next to iPhone 4 Bottom view next to iPhone 4

 

On the top of the unit is the headphone out, and also another plug so that the Studio V3 A.E. can also be used as an amplifier for another source.  I have tried this feature – and while it works, I can’t say that it’s a feature I would ever see myself using.

 

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Micro SD Card Top Ports - Headphone Out and Source In

 

The only issue I have with the build is that I’m always worried about scratching it because it looks so classy.  It’s already received a lot of comments from my work mates – and has been instantly a topic of conversation when I’ve had it out.  Quick thought for Jack – it would be nice to include some type of soft cover (or pouch) as an added accessory for the future.

 

UI (Universal Interface) / Usability

 

With pre-loaded firmware DT-DYNAMIC 2013.01.15

Ok – here is where we meet Dr Hyde.  So far my initial impressions were very good.  First I charged the battery for the initial recommended 8 hours, and then began loading some music.  The USB interface is really good.  On plugging I got two Windows Explorer windows – the first the 4 GB internal memory, and the second had access to the 64 GB card.  Putting music on the player was simply a matter of drag and drop.  So far, so good.  When I had the card loaded with about 45 GB of HQ aac files (around 4000 tracks), I unplugged and turned the unit on.

 

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Initialising / Start Up Now Playing Menu Option

 

I’d already read a lot of the threads on the V3 A.E. – so I was expecting a slow start-up.  Initial boot took around 5 minutes.   The disconcerting thing was watching the screen initially scroll the boot messages – then seem to freeze.  Don’t panic if this is happening to you – it’s normal for everything to freeze while it’s initialising the card.  Once it starts scrolling again you notice the card is loaded and you’re ready to go.

 

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Selection screen - using tags Selection screen - folder browsing 

 

Here’s where things started to get flaky.  Although the card had loaded – the player was extremely laggy moving from menu to menu.  Scrolling was an absolute chore – and sometimes despite clicking repeatedly, it was not scrolling at all.  For anyone at this stage – patience.  What I found out later - through trial and error – is that this player does not like a big library of tracks, and that it gets more responsive around the 3000 track mark or lower.  I also found that leaving the player for about another minute after it’s initially loaded also speeds up the responsiveness.

 

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Settings screen Bye-bye (often frustrating)

 

Anyway – initially I had ~4000 tracks loaded and the player was extremely laggy.  Not used to the interface, and coming from the excellent UI in all the Apple devices – this made me very impatient, and it was at this point I discovered one of the major flaws in the V3 A.E. UI.  The central button acts as a select option, play/pause, and back option – depending on how long you hold it.  Unfortunately it also acts as the power off button.

 

So imagine if you will – laggy menus, trying to back out of a directory, buttons unresponsive because of the lag – so press the central button either repeatedly or longer (because of the lag) – and you suddenly get the “Bye” notification and the device powers off.   Aaaargh!!!  Wait 5 minutes to power on again.  Repeat process etc.  It was at this point after a further 15-20 minutes that I was ready to just box the whole thing up and return it to Jack.  At this stage I hadn’t even been able to have a decent listening experience.

 

Anyway – fast forward now 3 weeks – and things are much different.  The UI still sucks could be better – but it’s usable.  It’s extremely basic – and Jack’s advice to me (via email) was invaluable.  He advised patience and that eventually I’d get used to working the buttons – the length of time to press etc, and I have.  Like I said earlier – the secret is not to overload the player with files – and to be patient with loading.

 

The menu itself is simple – but effective.  You can either browse by selecting the music option or file browser mode.  Using the music option – your tags need to be correct.  Interesting note here (just another quirky observance) – if you have no music files on the 4 GB internal memory, the player won’t recognise tags on the files on the removable micro SD card.  For me it simply showed ‘no file’.  Once I added files to the internal memory – they reappeared.

 

Main menu options include “Now Playing”, “Music”, “Resource Manager”, and “Settings”.

 

The best part about the UI is that it’s very simple to use once you get accustomed to it.  The worst parts are:

  • Player lag

  • No back button (apart from the central one) and having it double as on/off.

  • Every time you exit a menu you have to relocate that folder again (no memory of where you last were).  This is extremely annoying – especially when browsing by folders, or if you have artists with multiple albums.

  • If you have a lot of folders – you can have a lot of clicking to get to the one you want – there is simply no easy way of getting there in a hurry.

  • No true gapless

  • It has lossless support – but does not work with 24/96 files (have to resample these)

 

One recently discovered fault (could be just my unit) is that sometimes when I power on – the volume either appears to be slightly muted, or louder than it ought to be.  This doesn’t happen very often – and usually just repowering the device of and on again puts things back to normal.  It’s happened only a couple of times in the last 2 weeks – but it is repeatable – so could be an issue just with my unit.


UPDATE 28/11
So in an attempt to get better response from the player - I decided to try removing all of the tags from my files.  I use folder browsing anyway - so no biggie.  I fired up MP3tag - deleted the tags, and tried again.  Still a very slow boot, and still some lag in the UI.   Hmmmm ....

 

Next - wiped the player - got rid of the albums I'm least likely to use - so now I was only loading about 2300 tracks (mostly full albums).  This time all of the albums loaded as FLAC - but after I cleaned up all the tags (deleted any ID3V2 tags, deleted artwork, deleted all other eroneous info except for Artist, Album, Genre and Track (title and #).  Reloaded and an instant improvement.  Load time is now about 3.5 minutes (it's pretty consistently around this time) - but a lot of the lagginess is now gone from the menus.  It;s actually pretty snappy, and a lot easier to use!  Now that I'm not having to fight the player all the time - I can have a look around.  Discovered folder play - works really well, and there is an option in settings to randomise the play (nice).  Genre tags work, as do artist and album - so if you want to create playlists you can - just by arranging desired tracks in a common folder.  The good news is that if tagged properly - you can then use the normal 'tagged playing options' to play by album - and the folder option to arrange playlists if you need to.  Takes a little managing the set-up, but all in all - the more I use the player, the better it's becoming.

 

Would I like the UI fixed - YES!  Biggest one for me would be boot time.  But it's very usable at the moment - and it's not a chore as it was in the beginning.  My Hyde is now more of an annoyance than a raving beast :)


UPDATE 04/12

Following Lee730's advice - I finally bit the bullet and reverted to firmware version DT-DYNAMIC 20111223.  I now consider the UI to still be a little primitive but very usable (no longer the Mr Hyde it once was).  Boot time with a fully loaded internal and external memory is now just a little over a minute (approx 74 seconds), scrolling is dynamic, and most of the lag is gone.  I really don't know why this version is not the default one for the player.  All in all now - this has gone from a good DAP to a great DAP in my estimation.  Sonics (as you'll read further) are outsanding, as is the build.  Now the UI is functional as well.


 

I could go on a lot more about the UI – but it’s time to move on.  The important thing is that I still have, and use this DAP daily.  And that’s simply because of the sound …..

 

Sound

Let me preface this section by making sure you know where I’m coming from.  I like the sound of my iPhone.  It’s linear – sounds great, low distortion, essentially flat frequency response.  I did not expect the Studio V3 to sound superior – yet it does.  I level matched, got my wife to assist with swapping blind, and tried it with a number of different headphones.  The V3 A.E. to my untrained ears sounds phenomenal.

 

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Once the music starts - all else is forgotten Even with cheaper earbuds - excellent sound!

 

It’s essentially pretty colourless – maybe has a very slightly brighter than neutral signature.  It’s either that or most of my other gear has been slightly darker than normal.  I won’t go on about bass, mids or treble – as that won’t get to the heart of the matter.  The V3 A.E. has a very black background.  I’ve noticed no hiss (or other noise) with even my very sensitive SE535 Ltd Eds.  The main difference between the iPhone 4 and Studio V3 A.E. (sonically) is in a greater sense of ‘air’ or ‘space’ with the music.  I know this sounds like stupid audiophile speak – but it’s the best way I can describe it.  Side by side (and volume matched to the best of my ability) – in direct comparison – the iPhone 4 sounds quite flat after listening to the V3 A.E.  If I had to guess – I’d say it was something to do with the crossfeed set-up maybe?  Anyway – the Studio V3 to me simply sounds wonderful – which is why I’m keeping it.

 

Update - spent the evening with Dunu's DN1000 Hybrid and the Studio V3 A.E.  To my ears, these were made for each other.  Crystal clear, gorgeous mid-range, punchy and hard-hitting (dare I say 'magical') bass - and I am definitely not a basshead.

 

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Studio V2 + SE535 LE - wonderful sound Studio V3 + RS1

 

And to those who are maybe scoffing at this point (like I used to with others) – remember that I have every reason to return the player for a full refund.  The UI is not good not as good as I'm used to, I can’t store all of my music (like I wanted), and features are missing that had grown to be 2nd nature on my iDevices.  I’m keeping this because it sounds great – despite everything else.

 

Power

HSA claim (on the rear of the device) that it is Class A inside – and this is one of the reasons I looked at it originally.  I wanted a DAP that I wouldn’t have to carry a separate amplifier with (a truly portable device).  And it doesn’t disappoint.  It’s perfect with my sensitive IEMs, and can still drive (with no issues) my HD600.  It sounds great with the RS1 – and when I had my K702 I even tried it for a while.  Whilst the K702 was lacking a small bit of power (didn’t quite have the bottom end that I was used to from a more powerful set-up), volume and general sonic signature on the K702 was far better than from the iPhone – and was very listenable.

The Studio V3 has 31 different settings in its volume scale – and so far I’d never had any issues with headroom.  On the HD600’s I sit close to 20.  With my IEMs – around 8-10.  There are no issues with channel imbalance.

 

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Even powers the K702 Outclasses the iPhone 4 sonically

 

Battery Life

HSA claim up to 100 hours playing lower bitrate MP3 files in saver mode (ie screen turned off).  I’m guessing from a full initial charge – that could be achieved.  But as far as real world usage goes – I’m probably using the player around 6 hours a day (playing music), and sometimes longer if I leave it in stand-by.  I have no problems getting at least 2-3 days, so I’d say minimum 30 hours with higher resolution files and normal use – probably longer – is achievable.  Anyway – given that it powers all my headphones (portable and full sized) and has very long life – no amp required – I’m very happy with its battery life so far.

 

Summary

So there we have the Studio V3 A.E.  A real Jekyll and Hyde dilemma for prospective buyers.  On the positive side:

  • Truly excellent sonically

  • Wonderful build

  • Powerful enough to use without an additional amplifier

  • Very good battery life

 

On the negative side:

  • A crude and frustrating UI (until you learn it's oddities, and get your library tweaked to overcome the issues)

  • Laggy if used with too many files (becomes snappier with fewer files + also correct tagging)

  • Significant start-up delays (hope they fix this with firmware eventually) - unless you revert back to the older stable firmware.

 

Is it worth the full retail price (USD 450)? – I’ll leave that up to the individual.  For the discounted price I paid – it is my favourite player sonically, and I use it in preference to my iPhone 4 now.  It wouldn’t take much to make the Studio V3 A.E. an absolutely excellent DAP.  Here are a few ideas …..

 

Suggestions for HSA

  • Separate on/off button (absolutely necessary IMO)

  • When back button used – it needs to go back one step only

  • Keep expansion slot – but increase onboard memory.  If the memory was even 32 GB onboard (64Gb would be ideal) – this should significantly increase the responsiveness (I’d forgo the expansion card altogether), and negate the lag from having too many files.

  • Think about adding a lock button/switch.  I had it in my pocket yesterday (jeans) and I seemed to drain the battery quite quickly.  Assume that the buttons may have been inadvertently being pushed (in my pocket) which led to screen being on almost all the time - and resulting in a big battery drain.

  • Revert back to original firmware DT-DYNAMIC 20111223 or at least make the most current firmware as stable and with the same shorter boot time.

 

Thanks again Jack for the opportunity to purchase and review this unit.  I won’t be sending it back – it sounds too good to part with.

5 Comments:

That was an excellently written review thanks!
Well said indeed!
 
And yes, I find it to pair very nicely with Grados.
 
I wonder about the noise floor wtih your SE535s though - I found it quite noticeable on my Shure SE425s, and distractingly noticeable on my Heir 4.Ais.  This 'black' background you speak of seems to be a little hit or miss with these players - some claim invisible noise floor, others not.  I ended up pairing mine with a portable amp just to clip off some of that hiss.
 
Very thorough review!  Gave me something to do at work today :)
Thanks Gignac.  I might have to update the review again once I've revisited my tagging again as well.  I just redid the whole library (FLAC only) and I'm already down to about two and a half minutes loading now.  Hopefully cleaning the tags might help even more (fingers crossed). 
I liked your review. I have had my player since the early summer myself. I also have a problem with the volume level, it is very annoying. I usually just power down the player and the volume is loud again when I power it back on. Another annoyance is how the player does not remember the last track it was playing when shut off. Of course it remembers where the volume was set, but that's it. It would be nice if they rectified some of these with a working firmware update.
Agree - there are a lot of things that I' love them to fix - but I have to admit that after reverting back to the old firmware - well let's just say I rarely use my iPhone any more (mostly just the car).  The Studio remains my favourite DAP, and I don't mind it's little UI flaws so much any more.
 
I just wonder how amazing this little thing could be - if they:
 - added more onboard flash memory
 - fixed the UI ecentricities
 
Anyway - thanks for the comments on the review.  BTW - my loading time is now around 1m 7 seconds (approx 2100 tracks - all flac)