Hisoundaudio STUDIO-V Review
Thanks to Advanced Headphones www.advancedheadphones.co.uk for the samples (AMP3’s sister site)
First impressions: Oh hell this thing is pretty, looking at the box I feel like there should be a watch in there rather than a DAP. The Studio too looks so much better in the flesh than is pic’s, the feel of too, holy crap it’s lush! It feels like a solid little slab of aluminium. I wish it wasn’t in black actually, that would be even cooler. It just feels so hard and unyielding and I can’t help but think it’s really not a device that’s going to play nice with other stuff in your pockets, oh god there is no way this thing is coming near my phone screen. The little OLED screen is beautiful too, pretty, pretty, pretty.
First listening impressions are pretty good too, it’s got a light clean sound and if I’m honest I’m really hoping I don’t have to send this back. Do you think I could get away saying I lost it or had it stolen? I’m a frail and delicate flower you know so I think that’s totally believable, isn’t it?
Screen: Its small, its monochrome so you might be thinking its crap but you’d be wrong. If you’ve ever seen OLED stuff before you will know they are beautiful and the little screen here is just that. Yes it’s not going to display video or pages of song info but it’s an audio player, you buy this for sound not for watching.
Battery Life: The quoted time for its is 100 hours and I have no clue if that’s right but it seems very plausible to me if not more. It’s incredible. You really could get away with charging this thing once a week rather than once a day (HM-601 I’m looking at you here) it just goes on forever. I have no clue how it does it, not the faintest clue, I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s spectacularly good.
UI: Erm if it has a failing this might be it. I’m really still not sure just how this thing works particularly the shuffle option as it just seems to play things in song name order but not everything on there. What its doing to pick things I have no idea and its probably easier to just pick out the albums and play them one by one. The Far East may crank out some stonking hardware but UI’s they really don’t get. It’s not like it’s hard to make it play something but if you’re like me and someone who likes to set it to shuffle and just hit next till you get something you like it may pee you off a little. Frankly on paper it should have driven me nuts but I don’t actually seem to care, it’s a small price to pay I think.
Firmware Updates: Not long after being given the Studio I was sent 2 different firmwares. Everything was labelled in Chinese so of course I had no frigging clue wtf was the difference. Seriously Far East companies, you might be used to seeing words from other languages appear and know what the means but in the English speaking world we aren’t. The occasional French word or breakfast item gets in there but the reality is the English speaking world isn’t used to it and doesn’t know what to do with it. Hire a translator that actually speaks English, preferably one who has spent some time in an English speaking country, even one like Singapore or Hong Kong. Anyway, so on google translating the different folders one offered Dynamic and the other Iron Rod or Armature. Writing studio-dt-动圈 or studio-dt-动铁 is just lazy. Here we generally associate Chinglish manuals as belonging with cheap bargain basement products not premium high quality stuff like the Studio.
So anyway, after googling my way to working out the difference I applied one then the other and what I gather is the Armature one has a lower amp level, an attempt at removing the hiss which frankly it doesn’t. The sound felt a little more thick and heavier than it was before and a touch more lifeless. The Dynamic one was the opposite, the volume was cranked up and everything became more alive and dynamic sounding, it's the one I easily prefer it's pretty kick ass. While i think its a nice touch you get the option I see most people picking the one they like and sticking with that, that's basically what I did.
In The Hand: Holding the Studio in your hand is just like holding a little metal brick. It's awesome. It looks super pretty and it feels unspeakably solid and minimalist. The down side of course to this is that the UI could benefit from it having a couple extra buttons and its unyielding solidity makes it a danger for everything around it. The Studio isn’t exactly sharp edged but I can tell you I was terrified of letting my phone anywhere near it and there is no way in hell they would have gone in a pocket together. When I say the Studio feels like a little metal brick I’m really not kidding and if it came down to a battle of the stuff in your pockets, I'm telling you now the Studio is going to be one coming out on top. Think of a room with a Rotweiler and a dozen kittens, maybe nothing will happen and they will all be fine but if not, well you know whose going to survive the encounter don’t you.
On the bright side short of you being hit with a train I’m not sure you’d never break the thing so if you’re a bit rough with stuff it could be the one for you.
Format Support: Erm, since I see the words FLAC WAV MP3 and WMA I guess it supports those. WMA and MP3 up to 320k but really if you’re buying this odds are the one you’re really interested is FLAC.
The manual: I wouldn’t normally comment on the manual but it’s just awful. None of it’s really in English bar the occasional word and combined with the lacking UI there is a bunch of stuff I have no clue what they do. Like HDMS, I can enable or disable it but I can find nothing to say wtf it is. Unless it’s some secret master switch for the entire Danish navy that somehow the Chinese have gotten a hold of and stuck in there I’m at a loss. (Actually how cool would that be!) Also the Manual goes on about Radio, I see no radio on it, not that I want it but still.
Sound Quality: Now as you can see I’ve rather moaned a bit about the Studio doesn’t do this, that or the other very well. This is the bit were I tell you none of that really matters because it’s just awesomeness in an a little metal slab. The only real down side to the sound is that it does hiss a bit and usually I hate hiss but honestly it really isn’t bothering, I find I’m quite willing to over look it in this case as everything else is so right. This may be the most musical and dynamic DAP I’ve ever heard and frankly I really, really don’t want to hand it back. I know it would be entirely to everyone’s tastes as I have noticed that things such as the HM-601 and Sony DAP’s with their thicker and warmer sounds have a particular following. However for me I think a DAP should be a little bit more neutral, any colouration I want I’d rather it came from headphones, I think a DAP should be happy to go bright and treble happy with something like the DBA-02 or go warm and heavy with the IE8. With the warmer sounding DAP’s I find they offer a flavour and colouring I personally don’t really want from them. Thus I find the transparent neutrality of the Studio to be just fantastic. Its other outstanding trait is its dynamicism and musicality. Oh hell it sounds so good and everything is just so spectacularly alive and vibrant. Even with the dead inside, soulless UM3x music sounds like an adventure to be undertaken, the sun in the sky and the wind in your hair, it’s all just so alive! That energy too helps to hide that hiss I mentioned earlier. When you do get quiet songs they do still sound wonderful but you can hear that hiss, even on the Armature firmware. Still like I said it’s really not bothering like it should be, I love the sound the Studio makes and I’m far too willing to overlook that hiss. It’s not like you can’t remove all that hiss by adding in the P to S adapter on things without a crossover in them.
Lows are tight, taught and precise. They don’t have the smooth soft expansion some may prefer but you can influence this greatly with the headphone you use but here were talking more about control and clarity than we are soft gentility.
Mids are fantastic, transparent, open and expressive. Okay a touch more liquid might sometimes be wanted and the “armature” firmware can give that but really I can’t find any real faults to pick. Just fantastic.
Highs are like the mids, very transparent. This can be a good or a bad thing as if you have a treble happy headphone and if that treble ist recorded well the Studio is pretty unforgiving. It’s a touch dry and if you don’t watch out bad treble will be pretty unapologetically hurled at you. I don’t really think this is a bad thing on the whole but be warned it means it’s pretty unforgiving to anything with a low bit rate. Not that you will of course be using a low bit rate with it, it’s not an ipod after all is it? I can tell you paired up with the HD600 it is really very unforgiving to crappily mastered treble.
Trying out a few different IEM’s I’ve so for yet to find anything that doesn’t go well with them. The Studio’s lack of distinct flavour means its pretty happy to go with anything and everything which more flavoured DAP’s can’t always say the same. Granted one with flavour can sometimes offer a perfect synergy that I don’t really think the Studio is likely to. However id say all that means in the Studio goes pretty damn well with everything letting the IEM or headphone do whatever it wants to do.
This lack of colouration means the Studio sound so very, very evenly balanced, bass is as the headphone chooses to display it to you. It is a touch on the cleaner, punchier side of things compared to the warm rich sounds you find with some other players. Like I said, how well this goes with your particular IEM or headphone will vary depending of what it does and what you want. The ER4 may suit you better with a bit of warmth and thickness in the low end from a warm and thick DAP. Likewise the opposite may be more apt if you use something like the IE8. Horses for courses and all that.
The other Firmware, the “Armature” one offers you a bit of a different flavour. It dials down the volume, dials down the hiss a bit (still present though) and offers a thicker and warmer flavour. Personally I found the thicker nature to be a little subdued in comparison to the “Dynamic” one and really never found myself enjoying it in the same way. The comment from HiSoundaudio is that “it has two firmware: one is featured with monitor sound charactor, other is featured with the analog sound quality. which will have warm vocal and high resolution sound quality.” So if you want it to have the thicker and warmer tint that does seem popular you can flick the firmware over to it. Personally I think the big deal with the Studio is that you don’t have to have that thickness, I do think DAP’s should be pretty neutral.
Listening to the more analogue one it really does do what it says on the tin. If this was the only firmware it had I’m sure I’d be saying good things about it but the “monitor” one is so much more appealing to me. Still if you want a warmer sound that you can find so often elsewhere but want the Studios looks its a reasonable option. Its warmth isn’t quite as pronounced as with some others so if you want only a little then it might be a good option for you.
Yes it’s still good and detailed, blah blah blah. Frankly it bored me a bit. The dynamic one is just so much more fun.
Value: Hmm, well let’s not beat about the bush. I’ve been told this will go for £249 and that’s rather a lot I’m sure you’ll agree. If you have a look at what else that would get you’ll probably see most will offer a lot and certainly a lot more space, the Studio only comes with 8GB. Trust me once you start putting FLAC stuff on there 8GB goes very, very, very quickly. So if you want more space for your money or you want a big shiny screen or you want to be able to go browse the interweb then you know what, the Studio is crappy value as it offers none of these things. However since your reading this I’m going to assume those things don’t really matter to you. Sure they might be nice to have but what you want and really care about is how it sounds and let me tell you the Studio sounds amazing. While it’s not likely to make me give up my ipod 5G / XM5 set up anytime soon it really is good enough that I think I could and not pine endlessly for what has been lost. Yes really, the Studio - V is that kick ass.
Conclusion: You know I tried to have a read of reviews or the older versions of the Studio and there really didn’t seem to be all that much love for them. The Hiss issue in particular seemed to offend people (HiSound say they have cured it in the Studio – V which is what I have here) I can tell you they haven’t solved the issue completely but I don’t know what it was like before. I can only assume it was far, far worse before as I never really found it to really bother me and hiss usually drives me insane. I really wish I had some old Studios to compare it to. With hiss being a minor gripe the major one has got to be the UI, I really still am never sure what I’m doing with it and it’s something that on paper should be driving me nuts but it isn’t. Maybe it’s that the Studio only has 8GB so there just isn’t that much on it to have go through? Of course you can add in a micro SD card but I don’t have any spare ones I’m willing to wipe for it.
All in all I really like the Studio – V, I like it a lot. I can say without question it’s my favourite sounding DAP and somewhat more arguably, it’s the best one I’ve heard too. Its neutrality and spectacular dynamacism make it easily the most musical DAP I’ve ever heard. I know some prefer that Sony “House Sound” warm, thick etc etc and if that’s your thing the Studio can give you a hint of that with the “armature” firmware but personally I found it to be a little lacking. I think if you want that sort of sound you’ll find more pronounced examples of it elsewhere but I suppose if you just want a little hint then it could be for you. However I dare anyone to try the “dynamic” firmware and not find it better. It’s a spectacular extravaganza of music and I just love it. I know it’s a little pricy for an 8GB DAP but honestly, I think if I’m made to return it (very much hoping I’m not) I may seriously have to think about buying one. I’m not sure if you can get much higher praise than that.