· Pre-Introduction (you may want to skip this)
· Package & Built Quality
· Battery Life & User Interface
· Sound Quality
· Brief Comparisons with the Walkman NW-Z1070 & Ibasso DX100
The Walkman NW-Z1000 series has surprisingly been my benchmark for DAPs in the mid priced bracket surpassing the likes of the many mainstream portables out there. The truth is that I have been eyeing on the Studio V way before I gotten the Sony. However, a couple of feedbacks on its buggy UI, hissing issues with BAs and lack of indepth reviews have deterred me from splashing $379(USD) on this player. I was about to end my journey with portable audios before I came across Noisymotel (in recent partnership with HiSoundAudio) who offered me a 50% discount in exchange for a review on the Studio V so I was like DAAAMN. Special thanks to you guys for letting me qualify for this fantastic offer!
My take on this review will be slightly different from what you have read of this player. I will be reviewing from both my personal and consumer point of view so potential buyers will know what to expect.
Do take it with a pinch of salt though as I am judging with my my own pair of ears, not yours =)
Earphone amplifier grade: Hisound's proprietory HiFi amplifier
Memory capacity: 4Gb＋expanding SD card slot.
Card Compliance : Micro SD, SDHC,
Battery capacity: 2000Ma rechargeable Li-io. battery
Battery continually playing time: > 85hours （ volume set at 3 degree）
Supported formats：MP3, WMA, WAV,Flac, AAC, OGG
Screen: 1 inch OLED
UI Operation: Mechanical key button operation ( one-hand and blind operation capability)
USB type: mini USB 2.0
Dimension：81.85mm L x 50mm W x 20.65 (MM)
(I have only included the main specifications, rest can be found at http://www.hisoundaudio.com/products/players/2012/0508/10.html)
There are 3 HiSoundAudio DAPs up to date: the Studio V, it's little brother Rocoo P and the recently released Rocoo BA (for BA IEMs, we'll get more on it later). If I'm not mistaken, there was a previous version of Studio V (8 gb version) released 1-2 years ago but has been phased out. HiSoundAudio has also manufactured IEMs particular the 'POPO series' which have garnered good reviews despite its cheesy name.
Package & Built Quality
I was indeed surprised by how much effort was put into the packaging. The box is of premium quality (leather made) and included accessories are the stock earphones, wall charger, usb cable, manuals and a discount card for future purchases.
The built is fantastic! The player feels as solid as a brick (literally), the 'studio' is engraved, buttons are really sturdy and the brushed effect complements the design well.
The back panel seems to be made of aluminum and is fairly reflective making it susceptible to fingerprints, user marks and even scratches! It totally reminds me of the back panel of an ipod touch.
Bottom and Top Views Respectively
I decided to create a section for this as the battery life is the main feature of the studio V compared to the Rocoo P/BA and even other DAPs in the market. Based on specifications, this portable is expected to last 85hours @ vol 3 degree on mp3 format. I'm assuming the 'degree' equates to each steps of the vol markers (total = 31). Vol 14-18 commands the average listening experience I had with the various IEMs tested.
The first test was conducted after a full battery charge on top of what was left when I first received the studio V. The unit was allowed to left running in a 30mins break/hr interval with the playback of FLAC files @ vol 16. Each battery bar (4 in total) drained after approximately 12 hours and the total running time accumulated was 50 hours.
The second test was conducted at the same conditions except that the unit was allowed continuously to run (no intervals). Sadly it only lasted for a day.
50 hours is indeed impressive for a DAP with a built in amplifier and I expect the studio V to last even longer with a lesser continuous running time.
User Interface / Software
Operation of the studio V is indeed idiot proof. It mainly involves the 4 small directional buttons (for selections/rewind/skipping tracks and etc) with the middle button acting as the play/pause/back to menu/on/off function with either a single tap or a 2 second hold. It works similarly to the Sansa clip. No complains here.
Now let's begin on the positive side of the UI. It is indeed minimalist, convenient and practical. Again the Studio V UI is very similar to the Sansa clip. There is also a 'resource manager' option where you are able to browse your files in a file explorer format. Play mode includes 'repeat once, repeat all and random formats. The OLED screen is indeed gorgeous and works well against glaring conditions. The studio V also uses MSC mode (drag and drop).
What you need to know begins here (*holds breath*). I will list down all the bothersome quirks and my thoughts on them.
- The Studio V takes an average 1min 30 seconds to load 40gb worth of files during startup. A particular user on head-fi told me that the rocoo players are extremely buggy with ID3v2 tags. Another guy claimed that after converting his tags to ID3v1, his startup reduced to ~10seconds. So once I'm out, I will never switch this thing off and thank god for the battery life.
- You will rather be using the Resource Manager (file explorer format) to browse your files rather tha. the standard Artist/Music layout. With the default layout, there is about 1.5 seconds lag time when scrolling from page to page so it will take ages to browse 64gb worth of files in the small screen. However, the resource manager operates really quick with no lags in between.
- You'll need to format your 64gb microSD to FAT32 before using. I think this very typical for many of the DAPs out there.
- No playlist. You can only add songs to a 'favourites' list where it will be saved and serve your only form of playlist (very similar to the cowon).
- Problems playing FLAC files compression >lvl 5 onwards and sometimes it couldn't detect them. Level 4 and below works best for me.
- During song playback, you are unable to go back to the current folder with a click of a button which means you have to cycle through the previous folders again. This is perhaps the biggest flaw of this player from my point of view.
The UI is indeed buggy but no4 to the extend that it will affect your listening experience or cause you several wave of frustrations. Thankfully there are workarounds to the quirks listed but it is ultimately up to you to decide whether it is worth the effort and time.
IEMs tested with
Heir Audio 8.A customs
Shure SE535 Red
UE TF 10
A proper listening test was done after approximately 100 hours of burn-in. I have chose the following IEMs as I am really familiar with how they supposed to sound like and some of them were also involved in my audio journey with various portables.
The Studio V is equipped with a built in amplifier just like many of the high end DAPs out there. But I was told that the studio's DAC component is made by Sigmatel, a chip found in many low end $40-$50 mp3 players/PC mobos and based on specifications alone it even pales in comparison to a galaxy s3 cell phone which uses a wolfson chip. So does the Studio V sound inferior for the matter?
Wrong wrong wrong! The sound quality is truly remarkable and I am starting to wonder how hisoundaudio does it with a so called inferior DAC. There are also no EQs to mess around and there are only two sound signatures (dynamic & balance armature) you can play with by changing the firmware of this player. I have decided to stick with dynamic as the BA firmware is not neutral to my liking.
Two things that gives this small guy a big name: soundstage and imaging. It is simply airy, wide and places you at the 'right spot' depending on the type of music being played. Even with a pair of cheap sennheisser buds, you are still able to feel your head turning into a live auditorium and the imaging even gets better as you go up the chain.
There is also plenty of 'power' / 'slam' in this player which makes your music really lively: plucking of strings and the dyn!mics on the piano keys have never felt so alive. This strong musicality trait of the Studio V makes vocals a joy to listen to as if you were at a live setting. The lows are pretty much concentrated in the sub regions. You can certainly hear the bass but to my ears, it really runs deep until it sort of feels as if the mid-bass (think of cowon's mach3bass) is lacking.
There is no distinctive 'flavour' in this player. It is the most neutral player/uncoloured player I have heard which might give a 'dry' presentation to some. Thankfully the Studio V's soundstage imaging and 'power' complements really well with its neutral presentation. The player is also susceptible to poor recordings so do feed it right and it will reward you accordingly.
If there is one thing that prevents the Studio V from reigning the king of DAPs would be the lack of 'substance' in the extreme end of the frequency. Strings and keys are pretty much well portrayed but when it comes to cymbals things can get a little messy for the picky ones. I'm no good with charts but I assume it lies in the >5k region where the decay of the instrument doesnt feel right. Light and moderate played cymbals in most pop songs are actually fine but the problem becomes apparent in heavier songs. In this case, the Studio V has a strong attack but dies and fades faster than the blink of an eye. I think drummers will know what I am trying to bring across. I have heard better quality highs but these setups alone are many more times expensive than the Studio V.
Another problem associated with the Studio V is apparently the hiss with high sensitive balance armatures. As a result, hisoundaudio has recently came out Rocoo BA which is a toned down version of the Studio V that deals with the hissing issue. App!rently, the 5 IEMs I tested with showed negligible (practically zero) amount of hiss.
Good news for heir audio users as the Studio V provides an excellent synergy with the 8.As. It complements really well with the 8.As warm sound, soundstage is expanded significantly and the amount of details brought across is simply breathtaking for such a portable unit. I dare to say that this setup is comparable to the Audeze LCD-2 Rev2 + Darkstar / Burson (holy smokes.. who dares to make such bold statements!)
Brief comparisons other DAPs
Walkman NW-Z1070 (my benchmark for mid-priced DAPs)
The Studio V has a slightly cleaner sound than the walkman for a start. I find the walkman to be fairly neutral but the rocoo feels more transparent and dry.
Surprisingly both are relatively equally on par at low listening levels but the Studio V starts to shine when the volume is boosted. The imaging and 'slam' starts to kick in while the walkman somehow reaches a quick dead end with my customs due to the lack of 'juice' for the customs. The walkman gave me only a volume step left for most of my IEMs while I barely used half with the Studio V.
The Walkman Z is still a fantastic player while the Studio V has a only a slight advantage in the sound department, it triumphs the Sony over the power and portability it has to offer. I have read that the Studio has no problems driving headphones while the walkman has barely enough juice with my 35ohms customs.
The Studio's built-in amplifier is indeed an advantage. Sadly I did not resort to an amp for my walkman as I was fairly satisfied with what it has to offer with my customs. I have only heard the Walkman Z with Fiio E11/E17 amp setups but the Studio V still outperforms them in both sound and portability.
Ibasso DX 100 (1.03)
I only had a few hours of listening time with this player but it was long enough for me to make the most out of it. This would be a much fairer comparison than the walkman as both the Studio and Ibasso comes with built-in amplifiers with the latter exhibiting far more features (at a hefty price of course). On acceptable vol levels with my 8.As, the Studio V reached 18/31 while I had more than half left with the DX100.
The default sound signature of the DX100 is indeed similar to the Walkman Z so then again you might actually find the Studio V to be more dry than those two.
With my 8.As, the Ibasso demonstrated smoother tonal qualities in the upper registers. It has slightly better control over the decay preventing some of the harshness you can find in the Studio. However, I do find the imaging to be more impactful and alive on the Studio V (maybe it is just my ears).
I may get flamed by saying that the differences between the both of them are indeed minimal with IEMs and our usual 16bit recordings. The Ibasso will definitely flatter with harder to drive headphones and who knows that it might sound much better with higher resolution recordings (up to 24bit/192KHz) in which the Studio V is unable to support.
I had expected the DX100 to triumph over the Studio V due to its highly rated ES Sabre soundchip. Surprsingly this is not the case and the Studio V is definitely a worthy competitor to the higher end portables.
With its small form factor and sound output, there is no doubt that the Studio V smashes other portable setups in this price range and surprisingly holds a strong ground against the higher end audio setups out there. The Studio V has its own set of issues so do read up more about its UI and most importantly the sensitivity range of your IEMs (the 5 IEMs I tested with works fine with the Studio V). The recently released Rocoo BA has no hissing issues but I do not know if there is a compromise in sound quality.
The Studio V is indeed a fine masterpiece between the lines of sound and portability. I cannot simply think of any other small DAPs with such a big sound.
Edited by underhysteria - 6/30/12 at 6:14pm