HiSound is a company that has been around for a while, but I had never had first hand experience with any of their products. I had heard some good stories and some very bad stories about their equipment, which isn’t too different from most gear around here. The main focus of the company seemed to be low priced earphones and “audiophile” type portable players; neither of which is an area I usually focus on. So I figured I might never try a HiSound product. And I was fine with that.
One day I log on to HeadFi and get a message from Jack Fu of HiSound. He wanted to discuss the possibility of having a review done on a new product. We emailed back and forth, and after some delays (roughly 5 months by now), here I am reviewing the RoCoo D power edition DAP. I’ll do a separate post to cover the Popo IEMs.
By now there has already been much discussion of this product, and a very thorough review by another user. I don’t intend to duplicate efforts, so I’ll mostly be focusing on more subjective bits and giving my opinions. I’ve also got a special plan in mind, but you’ll have to read on to find out.
First off let’s discuss the name. As far as I can tell, the official name of this product is the RoCoo D. This is in contrast to the earlier RoCoo A, B, and C models, which looked totally different from this new model. So we have the RoCoo D, and then it breaks down into two versions – standard and power edition. The two are identical except for the amp section, where the power edition is… more powerful (hence the name). The standard version delivers up to 50mW peak, and the power edition bumps that up to 80mW.
Downsides? The standard edition supposedly has less hiss, so is more appropriate for sensitive IEMs. Note that this info came from Jack at HiSound, from a few months back. Things may have changed since then, so if this is no longer relevant then I apologize for making it even more confusing. I already see people calling this the RoCoo P, and google gives better results when searching for RoCCo or RoCCoo… so I’m not alone in being confused about the naming.
On to the device itself: the RoCoo D is a fairly compact DAP. It’s nearly identical in size to a Sansa Fuze, but is roughly 3 times thicker. Construction is metal and plastic, and feels somewhat upscale if not completely high end. I really like the size of the device and it fits easily into my pocket. I do wish they had made the corners more rounded, as they have potential to really jab you if you aren’t careful. Buttons are well laid out, and the whole thing is simple to figure out.
I had heard some bad things about the prior HiSound models, with people going so far as to say they seemed like beta products due to buggy behavior and crashing. I was surprised to find that the RoCoo D avoids those issues. It feels fast while navigating menus and I didn’t encounter a single error. Maybe I just got lucky. The display is small and somewhat cramped but ultimately good enough to get the job done. Overall I find the device relatively intuitive and easy to use.
In terms of features, it isn’t anything special. The EQ is about as good as the Sansa Clip or Fuze – basically worthless for most applications. I like navigating by folder, but choosing the usual categories like artist or album is also possible. I don’t normally create playlists and I don’t know if that is even possible on this device. Overall I find the device adequate if a little basic. I do have to mention something important: there is an option in the "settings" menu called HDMS. It is off by default, but can be turned on. BE CAREFUL with this! What it does is disable the volume control and output a line level signal. Translation..... it could damage your headphones! Luckily when it happened I had my K701s plugged in and it didn't do any damage. But what if I had a $1,000+ custom IEM plugged in? If I blew out my JH13 or Heir 8.A, I would NOT be pleased. So be careful with this choice.
I haven’t opened up the RoCoo D, because I fear that I will never get it re-assembled properly. So I have to go by what I’ve been told. Jack tells me it uses the Sigmatel 3770 as the main processing chip as well as the DAC. This is not a high end/high priced solution, having been used on many portable devices of average quality. That said, this is the same solution used in the earlier HiSound effort, the $345 Studio V. Just because it doesn't use top level hardware doesn't mean it can't potentially sound great.
HiSound has become somewhat controversial for claiming a class A amp section in their other models, yet providing a long battery life which is inconsistent with that claim. This has been discussed ad nauseam and I don’t know what else I can add. HiSound makes the same claims with the RoCoo D, so make of that what you will. One key aspect missing from the published specs is the output impedance. I suspect it is somewhat on the higher side based on my listening. Battery life is fairly decent, generally lining up with the claimed 10 hours of playback. This seems short compared to mainstream players which last for many dozens of hours, but it’s about double that of my QLS QA-350 player so I’m happy with it.
Based on the pictures, it looks like the RoCoo D might be fragile and prone to scratching. That isn’t really the case. I subjected it to some fairly rough use and it has held up well for the most part. All of the pictures in this post are “raw” – I deliberately took them after real world use, without stopping to clean off the player. Yes, there is some smudging and such, and dust/debris settles easily into the small area between the buttons. Yet overall I’m pleased with how well it holds up. All of the smudges and such will easily wipe clean. I did pick up a few light scratches, but no worse than the rear of an iPod.
The sound? That's complicated. A its best, the Rocoo D sounds pretty good. It has a somewhat forward midrange, with good tonality overall. Bass is tight but somewhat rolled off in the lowest regions. Highs too have a bit of roll off in the upper regions, which ends up sounding pleasant in many instances. The extra power on tap here is welcome in some situations, driving most full sized headphones better than an iPod would. I still don’t think is capable of maxing out most of my full sized headphones. But it does an admirable job for such a tiny device.
Notice how I keep qualifying everything by saying things like “at its best”. The issue I have with the RoCoo D is inconsistency. My biggest gripe is something that seems to have plagued HiSound from the start – hiss. The last time I heard hiss this bad was with an old Sansa E130 from about 7 years ago. It doesn’t show up with every headphone, but I’d say 70% of the time (or more), it is present and obvious. It isn’t the type that goes away when the actual music starts either. I notice it gets worse when scrolling through albums or artists – every time the screen changes, there is a clear increase in noise. To be fair, once the music is playing at a reasonable level, it helps mask the hiss to some degree. And certain headphones bring it out more than others. If it was limited to strictly ultra-sensitive IEMs, I wouldn’t blame the player, but it shows up rather loudly with my full sized Denons and my V-Moda M80s too.
I mentioned earlier that I thought the output impedance was high. I came to that conclusion by listening to various custom IEMs, and hearing different results compared to my reference gear. In some cases it could be pleasing: my Earproof Atoms became punchier in the bass, and my Westone AC2 got a welcome buttery smoothness in the upper mids/highs. Unfortunately this also goes the other direction: my Heir Audio 8.A sounds great except for the added midbass, which is an area where it doesn’t need any boosting. And the Ultrasone Edition 8 sounds thin and lifeless, which is the opposite of its normal character. I felt like each headphone I plugged in to the RoCoo D was a new adventure, and I’d never know if the results would be pleasing or disappointing until I tried each one. Eventually I found that the variability was more prominent with low impedance headphones; my 300 ohm Sennheisers and 600 ohm AKGs didn’t necessarily sound perfect, but that didn’t seem caused by impedance interactions so much as general DAC and amp limitations.
Unfortunately I have to move on. I was impressed with some of the sound produced by the RoCoo D, but it was very headphone specific. Factor in the hiss and I’d say the device sounds bad more often than good. It made an exceptional pairing with my Earproof and Westone custom IEMs, making those sound better than any portable I’ve tried… so the potential is there for this to be a good match. But can also be a very bad match - it really depends on your headphones.
If there is so much variability here, how is one to know if this device is a good match for them? That was the issue I wanted to solve. The solution I came up with is this: I’ll send the RoCoo D around to the community, to anyone with reasonable feedback/postcount, and let you folks try it yourselves. I’ve done this with my Matrix Quattro DAC and amp and that seems to be working well. Since this is such a small device, it should be even more simple in terms of shipping.
So anyone interested in trying out the device, please respond here. I want to be somewhat “hands off” on this one – I’ll pick a worthy first participant with good feedback, and they are then responsible for picking the next participant, etc. Each person is asked to simply post their thoughts, for better or worse. It doesn’t have to be a novel but I’d ask for specifics like which headphones worked well and which did not (and why). The goal here is to build something like a consensus as to what matches up well, and how bad this hissing/noise issue really is. Maybe I’m just extra sensitive to it and making it sound worse than it really is.
I do have to thank Jack at HiSound for providing the review sample. Despite all the controversy about prior HiSound products and design choices, I do think they mean well, and I really do see evidence of improvement. Things aren’t perfect but progress is always a good thing.
I've updated my firmware, and the RoCoo D seems improved now. I have to spend more time with it, but right from the start I'm hearing less hiss. Not completely silent, but significantly better. I'll need more time before I start sending the device around for audition.
Edited by project86 - 1/22/12 at 11:22am