Hisoundaudio RoCoo BA Review
Thanks to Hisoundaudio for the sample
First Impressions: The box is nothing special clearly which a touch disappointing for a premium product but its not important. Opening things up and there it is, it’s like the Studio had a baby. They look so similar just smaller, given the Studio was gorgeous this can only be a plus point. The RoCoo BA (hmm I feel an urge to say something about the naming, something ranty and negative) is clearly a pretty, pretty little thing. It’s so pretty looking at it in my hand makes me smile and my parents certainly seem to think it looks great. (have been convalescing at my parents) they have made me show it to every relative that has popped by. My mother seemed particularly pleased by it flashing up “Bye Bye” on turning it off.
Giving it a little listen and its clear to me that this is likely to be a rather positive review. I don’t have the Studio V to compare it to as it was but a loaner but this aurally reminds me of it quite a bit. First thoughts are it sounds as good as it looks.
Screen: It has as best I can tell the exact same screen as was found on the Studio. It is a tiny little OLED screen that while lovely is small and monochromatic. That means no fancy touchscreen controls, no photo viewing, no web browsing and no video watching. It’s functional and pretty but rather basic.
Battery life: The battery life is stated at >10 hours. Which seems an odd way to do it but I’d buy its more like 12. It never came close to not lasting a day but given the Studio had such crazy huge battery life it’s a bit of a shame this didn’t have similar.
UI: If you have had the Studio then you will be familiar with things. The UI is, erm shall we say eccentric? It’s weird and is just plain awkward to use but you sort of get used to it. For me just now it seems to want to play all the songs on it in alphabetical order. I know this can be changed but navigating the menu system feels like navigating a maze. I don’t understand it and have more than once turned it off by accident trying to get into the menu. Ah ha, got it set to random, yey me! Much like on the Studio the UI is rather poor but it doesn’t make me feel frustrated or bring much annoyance. On paper it ought to be but for some reason it’s not.
In The Hand: I love it. However I’m not quite so sure I love it in the pocket quite so much as much like its sibling the thing is so stark and severe I cannot see it playing well with anything else that you may want to put in a pocket. I warn thee now, put this and your fancy touchscreen smartphone in the same pocket and be prepared to be buying a new phone. It’s a slab of steel in both feel, mass and severity. Should you get one in your hand you’ll understand what I mean. This thing is solid, sharp edged and I fear liable to take no prisoners if you introduce any other gadgets to it. It will cut them like a knife wielding crazy person.
The other aspect of this of course is that unless you’re insanely rough with things I cannot see you managing to break it, short of hitting it with a sledge hammer.
Format Support: Hisoundaudio say MP3, WMA, WAV, Flac, AAC, OGG. Since I am lazy I’m not testing them and will take them at their word. What’s most important here I think is FLAC, that’s probably the one you want.
The Manual. It would appear to be a manual for the Studio RoCoo and AMP3 all in one. I say appear because it mentions all three but given I can’t read Chinese I have no clue what most of it’s really about. The odd word here and there is in English but mostly it’s all Chinese. Then at the back there is a section in English but it doesn’t seem to quite match the Chinese bit as there is nothing about firmware that I see photos of in the Chinese bit. Okay so it isn’t that big a deal as how many of us actually ever look at the manual but that’s beside the point.
Sound Quality: This is far and away the most important section of this review and I’m pleased to say it sounds great. It is just beautiful to hear and I think it may be my second favourite DAP I’ve heard (the Studio V is top) but it may not be to everyone’s tastes. I know many like a warm thick sound as can be found on Sony DAP’s and HiFiMAN stuff and if anything this is a touch bright. It did make me wonder as it’s the BA model, it’s specifically intended for use with Balanced Armature IEM’s yet I personally found myself preferring it when paired with warmer things. Most BA IEM’s are bright rather than rich, think DBA-02, ER4, q-JAYS etc etc and when using them I found they could get a little too happy up top. It began to get a little over enthusiastic at hurling treble detail at you in the middleling treble frequencies yet lacked a bit (as BA stuff will) at the very top end. Ironically the few warm BA things, SE530 and Klipsch Custom 3 both sounded fantastic. They are both mid centric with a hearty low end and a relatively tame top. A sound that is far more often found in dynamic IEM’s. Indeed the RoCoo BA paired up extremely well with Hisoundaudio’s own Crystals and the Sennheiser IE7 which are both dynamics. Maybe it’s my own personal preferences shining through but I found the IE7 and the IE8 to be fabulously suited with their prodigious low end skils and delicate shimmery skill up top. When paired with most BA stuff I found the RoCoo BA to be a touch light in the low end and unflatteringly hard in the middle treble.
Lows: Quality over quantity. It felt rather like they had be tuned to be quite BA like in nature. Tight, quick, punchy but lacking a great sense of scale or vigour. In the richest and warmest of songs it just never enveloped with the lusciousness that it really ought to have unless you paired it with a very warm IEM. It’s much more a clean clinical bass than it is expressive or heart felt. Of course if you pair it something very rich and warm then it counterbalances that beautifully. It’s not without reason I loved the IE7 with this.
Mids: Wonderfully smooth and detailed. Some of the most neutral mids I think I’ve heard. I really cannot call them liquid but I can’t really call the dry either, very much finely balanced in the middle. I would that they were a touch more open as they were with the Studio which is of course rather more expensive. They add so little in the way of colouration in the mids that it really depends on what you pair them with. Go for something cold and dry and that’s what you’ll get, something thick and warm and they’ll give you that too. Lol I find myself lacking much to say about them while at the same time getting lost in Adels voice. I don’t seem to be quite able to put my finger on it yet there is something about the sound of these that defies description. On paper my head can’t come up with anything other than these are middleing and non flavoured yet I find myself repeatedly getting lost in the music. Perhaps it’s that they are just allowing the IE7’s mids to just shine right through on their own? Either way it’s working.
Highs: I did comment earlier that they have a bit of a spike in the middle of the treble that doesn’t always play so well with brighter BA stuff. It’s not exactly offensive but when paired with its lack of abundance down low it can feel that this is a slightly bright DAP and when mated to bright IEM like the q-JAYS or DBA-02 I found it rather much. My ears are fairly treble sensitive and I yearned for something more gentle. The SE530 was sufficiently so and made for a beautiful sound but where I though it really began to shine was with the top end Senns. Both the IE7 and IE8 are notoriously warm and have a thick bottom end. The 7 has a quite subdued treble and the 8 has among the best, shimmery and shiny treble around. They both sounded fabulous with the RoCoo BA allowing it to really show off what it could do up top and its extension that I’ve found only dynamics can really do. The extension was just great and the detail with which it could convey things was beautiful.
Overall the sound to some extend wanted to defy description as it was generally pretty flavourless and toneless. Aside from the light low end and a bit of over exuberance up top it didn’t do much in the way of adding to the flavour of things. It would happily let your chosen headphone do that though and so I did. I found that the BA is tuned to sound like a BA and so pairing it with the same pushed things too much in the same direction for me. I did however love it with warmer things and indeed has been one of the most enjoyable DAP’s to listen to.
What if anything it was adding was a grand dash of alacrity to all of its actions. Music felt faster, more enthusiastic, more bouncy and more WAAAAA!!!! It’s really not the most laid back DAP that ever there was such as you find on the Sony and HiFiMAN DAP’s. Tonally its much more akin the Cowon “house sound” just taken up a few levels.
Value: At present I can see it on ebay for £165 (I’m sure more places will add it soon though) and that places it pretty much bang in the middle between the Cowon i10 I just reviewed and its sibling the Studio V. Its sound quality is pretty much in the middle too. I really wish I had the Studio here still so I could compare it as I can’t help feeling if it was my money I’d say screw it and spend the extra to get it. I loved that thing while the RoCoo is beautiful and I’d be happy to live with it long term I don’t find myself being terribly enthused by it. It’s something I could see me using every day and being very happy with it but it isn’t stirring the soul in the same way the studio did. Basically I’m thinking if you can, take the Studio V, that’s what I’d do but if you can’t you won’t be disappointed with this.
Conclusion: This is a middling product. I don’t mean that in a its meh, only so good, I mean that it isn’t the top of the range and when you have already heard arguably the best then it makes it had to not compare the two and one inevitably falls short. If it was my own hard earned cash at stake I would find the extra pennies and get the Studio V. It was just better in every way, not by much but enough. That said the RoCoo BA is fantastic and I have greatly enjoyed playing with it. I may have fond it works better with more dynamics rather that BA things as it’s a touch brightish but it’s such a minor quibble. The BA makes noise thats so positive and abundant with enormous enthusiasm. It has such an alive sound to it! Give it a little bash with something like Owl City “Tidal Wave” and it positively explodes at you. The rhythm, bounce and energy is the acoustic equivalent of a Red Bull. It takes the music and just adds such pace that, okay maybe doesn’t best suit slow Jazz but I couldn’t care. It’s so much fun to hear.
For me this is the second Hisoundaudio DAP I’ve heard and I really like what they are doing. I’m even willing to forgive the UI which is somewhat quirky. I can ignore the “chinglish” manual. What I cant though is the P version, I haven’t heard it so I’m not prepared to say this is the bee’s knees when it may be even better and its main competition, the Studio V. The Studio is just better and baring needing the smaller RoCoo I’m not sure I’d ever pick it over the stunning Studio V. This gets you a lot of the way there and I could live very happily with it but the Studio isn’t a million miles away in price, you do get what you pay for with these two. That said I really love the little RoCoo BA, it super pretty, and sounds fab. It’s a wonderfully fun and playful DAP that so long as you don’t pair it with bright and crispy IEM’s will serve up a grand old time.
Edited by mark2410 - 6/10/12 at 8:01am