Hisoundaudio Studio V 3rd Anniversary Edition Review
Thanks to Hisoundaudio for the sample.
First Impressions: I now have to cast my mind back as I seem to have misplaced the written at the time one. In short though there a bit of a mixture, I was unquestionably looking forward to the Studio coming and when it did was a little saddened by it being in silver and no more hyper brutal edges. Okay so the edges thing is probably sensible and silver is fine too. Honestly it could be edged with razor blades, be neon pink and covered in bedazzle beads, I’m not sure I’d care. The original sounded quite amazing. This as best I can tell, since I haven’t an original to AB, is even better. Right now I hurt my ear a bit so I’ve been told no sticking things in my ears for a few days so I’m sitting with the HD600’s and the Studio is driving them. Think about that for a bit.
I have a 64gb SD card on its way to me and when it gets here it could be the end of the line for my Ipod and amp set up, this thing is just amazing.
Btw you may want to read my original Studio V review if you haven’t already.
Screen: It’s the same as the original. Its tiny, it’s OLED, its monochrome, it is shall we say very functional. No colour and video watching here. It will tell you what track your listening to but not a huge amount else, it’s a DAP not a PMP.
Battery Life: Life its predecessor it’s stupendous. They quote 80 hours and I have no reason to think for a second they are exaggerating. It is epic. I don’t know how they do it or what is going on but you can get away with charging this thing like once a week!!!! That depends on how much you use it and stuff but my god, I know nothing else that just last so long. Oh and I’m not exactly listening to things at whisper quiet level either in case that’s what you’re thinking.
UI: If you are familiar with the UI as found on the other Hisoundaudio DAP’s its, erm, well it’s not the best. It’s not the worst either but more than once I have turned it off instead of getting into the menu. Honestly though I tend to just stick my DAP’s on shuffle and hit next a lot. I don’t want to ever have to look at the screen when I’m using it. So for me it was pretty much fine, it did what I wanted but if you want to constantly pick songs or albums, erm it might get annoying.
In The Hand: The new Studio is rather similar to the old one. The primary difference is the new one has a somewhat rounded edges but make no mistake, it’s still quite the metal brick. It’s flat, rectangular and in no way one of these new “oooh let’s make everything curved” things. Nope it’s very 80’s angular and functional and I rather like that. It’s still not a device I would like to share pocket space with say my phone. My phone would lose that encounter I fear and so it’s one I’m going to make sure doesn’t happen. It’s funny but despite its still brick like nature I find myself missing the brutal savagery of the old studio and its razor like edges. Yes I’m aware that’s silly but it’s still true. Not that of course my head thinks they should come back, this is somewhat more practical. On the whole it’s a nice, weighty object that your never quite going to ever mistake for something Appley and delicate.
Format Support: Well, I realise I should have checked this but I haven’t. The manual says the same as the last Studio, it well also says a lot of rubbish too. It seems to be a manual for several models of things and its mostly in Chinese anyway. It does mention AAC but not bit rates so I’m going to assume 320k but not ALAC levels, urgh no I’m not I think that I’ll have to test. Okay I have just tested, AAC (.m4a) it will do fine but ALAC files it won’t, shame but no big deal. The format you’re going to use is FLAC. If you’re thinking about buying this product it’s because you care about sound quality.
I’m not sure if it should come under format support but the Studio can support 64GB cd cards if you format it to Fat32. This means exFat will not work so if you’re running windows you shall have to use a partition editor of some kind to allow you to do this. It’s not hard.
The Manual: Erm I’m pretty sure it’s the exact same manual as the old Studio. The manual is rubbish. That said I’m not sure what you really need the manual for, it’s not a rocket ship you have before you. Don’t worry, push some buttons and you’ll figure it out.
Sound Quality: To say I rather liked the original Studio would be like saying the Titanic had a small mishap. Now I don’t have the original Studio here to AB them and that’s a real shame because I can’t tell exactly what’s different, my memory says the new one is better but I can’t quantify just how much better. The result though is that the Studio 3rd Anniversary edition is probably the best DAP I’ve ever come into contact with. It is simply amazingly good sounding.
The Studio 3rd just makes everything sound better, even things that I’ve never really looked at and thought they need more power behind them. This is especially noticeable in the upper registers, treble is just tremendously detailed and everything. I realise everything isn’t a terrible descriptive term so let me clarify, everything good, delicate, crisp, clean, shimmery, extended etc etc. Yes this does it all. I’m sitting with the Senn IE8’s just now and in my opinion it has some of the very best treble on an IEM despite it being more known for its bass. The treble feels near endlessly extended and is so effortlessly detailed. The Senn is in many ways an extravaganza yet here it seems so relaxed in how it goes about it. Thunderous bass, the very sweetest soaring highs and so casually offered up. Now you may think that makes for a very relaxed or lazy sound but no. There is still ungodly levels of drama and thrills it’s just that it all somehow seems nothing is being taxed.
Much the same is found when swapping over the UE TF10. An IEM that needs some welly behind it to come alive. Drive it poorly and they are just meh in spades, slap these two together and they soar. Vocals become so spectacularly open and the treble moves like lightning. You get the idea! The TF10 is a real bitch to drive and the Studio 3rd does it all without batting an eye. God even the UM3x sound just superb and it’s another real fussy bugger to drive. The Studio 3rd is just making everything sound so astonishingly effortless. Now I know the UM3x is a pain yet this is I think the best I’ve heard, certainly the most well integrated it’s been, and god help, its mid’s are really, really good here too!
Just the other day I had the RE-0 out and while I did at first wish there had been a bass boost button, no failing of the Studio, the 0 isn’t a bassy IEM. The rest though, especially the treble is staggeringly, jaw dropping impressive for the money. They seem to be going for US$80 now and while I grant they may not offer the most exciting listen they are acoustically near perfect. Oh also the Studio has no trouble driving them to louder than anyone would ever want. That was something many people have had issues with in the past.
Given the power they can put out how about at the other end of things? Well I am generally much more an IEM person so things that are going to get special mention are the IE8, IE7, SE530 and the W4. First comment it they all sound superb with the Studio 3rd. Going to the W4 first since it was a special request. I have not traditionally been a huge fan of Westone, they are good but rather expensive on this side of the Atlantic (W4 is circa £400 the IE8 is less than £200 yet they are at a very similar level.) So the W4 isn’t the world’s most exciting IEM and I think it really should have been called the UM4 but with the studio 3rd they really come to life. They have a bit of drama and enthusiasm. They sound alive and they sound impossibly extended in both directions. They keep the flat response but the dynamics they produce are enhanced and it’s all so nuanced. Everything is in there, so effortlessly casual yet so quick. I know that’s all a bit contradictory but sue me, it’s true nevertheless.
Swapping to the SE530 (one of my fav’s btw.) Starting with the negative, there is hiss, not a lot but it’s there. It’s in most recordings anyway so I don’t see any problem myself, it’s not distracting. So, the mid’s of course are just staggeringly beautiful as always and once more the extension at both ends is superb. These aren’t treble monsters but what’s there is wonderfully detailed. The bass too is just about perfect, some people complain about the 530 that its bass rolls off, it does not if driven well and here its stays superbly linear as it goes down. It’s a sensitive IEM and known for its dynamics and with the Studio 3rd it flies. The dynamics are outstanding particularly in vocals. The tiniest inflection to most savage roar is there without a hint of dynamic compression. They currently have me grinning like a Cheshire cat.
On to the IE8, another IEM I’m not a lover of, it’s a big leap coming from the 530 as they are just about opposites. So gone are sumptuous mids, here we get a V shaped dry breathiness. In exchange we get prolific bass that’s got to be just about the very best there is and likewise with the treble. The bass is of course both massive and superb but what truly excels here is the treble. The IE8 has in my opinion had some of the very best and most extended treble around and here it’s given the headroom to run free. It’s essentially as good as treble gets on an IEM. The high end subtlety and detail offered up is outstanding. This hyper extended treble leads me on to the IE7 which is another of my favourites. The 7 lacks the same detail and drama of the 8, it offers instead a beautifully rich sound but maybe doesn’t have the most effortless treble. The Studio 3rd lets the dynamic driver in there stretch its legs and the 2 have a wonderful synergy, so much so I had to give them a mention.
So its powerful and it can go loud, well quite how powerful, how loud can it go? Well I wasn’t about to try to find the limit as to how loud because it’s insane. Having pulled out the big boys, the Sennheiser HD600’s and plugging them, all the while thinking it should be okay as other DAP’s have driven them fine. The Studio though is just superb. Particularly in the low end which requires more oomph to hit in the big open cans. The bass is swift and agile with a very impressive level of impact for such a tiny DAP. The level of detail all around is just all that you could possibly hope for or dream of. This naturally means no crappy bit rates and no crappy mastering as the Studio isn’t going to do any of it any favours unless you use the most forgiving of headphones. Why you would buy a world class DAP and then pair them with rubbish I can’t imagine.
The level of information and the detail, especially up top has a few times made me feel the Studio may be a tiny touch on the brighter side of things. Mostly I’d simple say its utterly neutral but having spent much time with it and the big Senn’s it does make me shudder a little thinking what it may be like with the Grado 325i’s I once had. That’s not really a pairing I think I should like to ever hear. Hell I still find the HD600 a little on the lighter side of what I think I ideally like. Obviously many people like a much brighter sound than I do so maybe this could be the perfect DAP for them with brighter headphones too. It’s really about my only acoustic negative about the Studio 3rd. If you are for whatever reason wedded to the idea of a bright IEM or headphone then the sound signature is not that of the Sony esq like the HM-601. It has a beautiful, rich and enveloping sound. The Studio is not that, it’s hyper open and explicit. Every tiny nuance is there and articulated whether it’s beautiful or not and rich DAP’s cover up those imperfections like a soft focus filter. This is more like slapping up the contrast setting; everything is more apparent and noticeable. It’s not really that either is right or wrong any more than a photo is better or worse than a Van Gogh, they each are about different things a depending on what you want out of it either may be “better.”
The lack of an organic, natural, beauty though doesn’t mean for a second that I’ve found anything that the Studio can’t do. Even things like Nora Jones who may like a bit of warmth added are still just mesmerizingly wondrous. The degree of transparency is tremendous. That it’s also so lighting fast means it seem to have zero trouble with the fastest paced music or the slowest, lingering notes. Its pace and energy just seem to be so boundless. The timing just is spot on if you ask me with each and everything I’ve thrown at it.
Lows: They may not rattle your skull with their abundance, unless you’re using a really bass heavy headphone that is. These don’t add any but they do enable things that need some extra power to go down to do just that. The bass on everything was just rock solid, thoughtful and controlled. Depth was stupidly good and really eeked out the best from even the hardest to drive things. Not the warmest and softest bass though if that’s where your tastes are. It’s what it should be, let the headphones introduce any softening or flavour if that’s what you want.
Mids: Unlike many warm DAP’s there is no added thickness or warmth. So as DAP’s go then there would have to be on the cooler, brighter side. It’s more what I’d think of as being neutral. There is nothing added other than possibly openness. These do like to give soooooooo much space and the most open feel to vocals. Guitars though twang with fantastic clarity. The transparency is just flawless.
Highs: Ever so extended and delicate yet positively abounding with detail. There is maybe the slightest emphasis on the treble over the rest but the quality is such that it’s no problem. I just maybe then wouldn’t pair this with anything super bright (Grado) as I could see that combo getting tiring rather quickly. That’s about all I can fault. Its freaking stunning that a little portable DAP sounds like this.
Hiss: This wouldn’t normally get its own little section but it has been touted as one of the more significant differences between it and the original Studio. So as much as I’d like to say there is no hiss that’s not true. There is some but its slight, not that I ever really found it to be a bother on the old one. I find if hiss ever bothers me it’s not the DAP it’s the song that has it recorded in there. Go listen to “Somebody I Used To Know” if you want to hear hiss and want to see how infuriating it can be. Honestly though, that the Studio 3rd did hiss a little was meaningless. It was so low and if I wasn’t deliberately going out of my way to look for it id never have cared or probably noticed on many things.
Value: Erm well, okay this is not a cheap product. Its circa US$450 I did find on ebay too for £265 (note HMRC may want their slice too) and I’m not going to say its quantifiably 10 times better than a Clip+ or something like that. So at this price does value matter, really, you get your money’s worth certainly in my opinion. If you are looking too eek out the best sound quality you can on the go without carrying a bunch of things held together with bits of velcro and big elastic bands then this is it. It sounds amazing, has staggering battery life and you don’t look like a suicide bomber carrying it.
Conclusion: So did I like this product? Hell’s yeah I did! It’s simply a wonder, in every regard it’s just a wonder. I don’t know what’s in the thing but I love how it sounds. The battery life it has is staggering (I’m using that word too much) you could really get away with charging the thing once a week. That it does that yet is so powerful is truly just bewildering. Its rated at 80 hours so that’s like 3 and a bit days solid, clearly if you remember to turn it off that rather extends things which I did find once or twice I thought I had but I had not. Normally that would bother me greatly as coming back to something you left of for a day by mistake would mean its dead, not here, yey!
That seems to be the sum total issues with this DAP. There is a little unpolished aspect here and there, the UI is not the most straight forward. The Dap hasn’t always turned off when it says it has. There just are things not quite perfect but I really didn’t care about any of them. They are just not important to me. Like the not turned off, I actually began to not bother turning it off because I couldn’t be bothered spending 30 seconds turning it back on while it rescans the SD card, then I have to set it back to shuffle. Urgh the trauma! The battery life is so good who cares if you leave it on pause in your pocket for 5 or 6 hours doing nothing. Just how many if any at all DAP’s can you say that about?
In short this DAP is excellent. It has truly tremendous transparency and extension. The amp in it feels like it could power a small city and yet still handles the most sensitive IEM’s. It is to date the best sounding DAP I have encountered and as such have bought a 64GB SD card for it. It has in the time I have been playing with it become my default DAP to pick up in the morning. There is just nothing it really can’t do unless you want a warm DAP. I realise many do want that, Sony does that and they shift plenty and the HM-601 will cater to audiophiles wanting that richness. For those looking for a neutral DAP then I’m not sure you can beat the Studio 3rd, it’s got real buttons, has stupendous battery life and sounds amazeballs good, with everything. The way this thing can drive big cans like the HD600 is lunacy, in days of old people were burned for less as I’m convinced there is some pact with the devil at work.
I love this DAP. Anything it doesn’t quite do perfectly I’m more than willing to forgive. What you get is an immensely great sounding DAP that has the most amazing battery life. If you are looking for new DAP and anything like the same requirements as I do, i.e. sound quality and real buttons rather than a touch screen then for the love of all that’s holy you need to consider the Studio 3rd. It really is the most amazing little thing.