Hisound have finally released their much-anticipated NOVA series of players. Comprising of the N1 and N3 this is the newest line of players in the Hisound line up and the first in many years. By my understanding, they are here to replace the very popular Rocco players (which are apparently discontinued now but I may be incorrect). Meaning the Nova series has some big shoes to fill.
This series has a huge physical difference to the existing Hisound players, as they look completely different. The Rocco and Studio series are known to have a very sturdy and bulky finish. This time, they have gone for a completely different look. The Nova is thin and extremely sleek looking, especially taking into consideration the power output of the players. They also look slightly more modern than their predecessors and whilst I am sure many will say they look ipod-esque, it must be acknowledged that this is now a universal look.
Before I go into the review of the N1 please note that both the N1 and N3 share the same body (they only differentiate by colour) and UI so those sections can be taken as a universal review of the NOVA series.
The Nova N1 took 7 days to reach London from ShenZhen in China, for which I paid an additional £15 for the shipping. Coupled with the fact that everything was delayed around the time due to the snow, this is fast. It came packaged inside a bright yellow box that has become synonymous with Hisound for me. Inside the box was my shiny new N1. Please note that as this unit is from the pre-sale it has generic packaging. I know this has changed to a much nicer design. I will comment on this when the N3 arrives. It will also come with an English manual.
In the package there is:
- NOVA N1 DAP
- Pair of PAA-1 PRO earbuds (Without a doubt the best stock earbuds I have ever used. Will give them a full review at a later date)
- USB cable
- Warranty card
- Manual (English unless bought in the favourite price promotion.)
The player itself has 4gb of internal memory and can be expanded by microSD up to 64gb extra (specs say 32gb but when used with a 64gb card formatted to FAT32 it works flawlessly.)
I must say that I have been excited to get the N1 for a long time, and the look of it really impressed me. The first thing you notice is the build quality. For something so ridiculously, thin it really feels well built. This isn’t a player that is going to smash in your pocket or if you drop it off a desk. What impresses me most, design wise, is that it also looks and feels like it is a premium piece of kit. I know that the N1 is Hisound’s venture into a more “normal” consumer market. With it, they are trying to not nly impress the audiophiles that are around, but get people less interested in audio to give it a try. I feel that this new design, which Hisound have implemented, will improve the player’s likeability.
The Nova N1 is Hisound’s first player without a 1-inch screen. This has given them a lot of extra space to heavily update the UI. For those who are familiar with Hisoundaudio’s old players you are really in for a surprise with this new look. Now, this isn’t exactly an iPod in terms of usability, however, I really have no complaints. The bigger screen allows for all sorts of little things you didn’t know you missed until you have them. For example full song names on the screen. Other than the larger screen, the player is also very intuitive. This is really highlighted by the fact that there are no markings at all on its touchpad and whilst it is by no means normal, it is still easy to use without instruction. The touch pad consists of 7 red lights. The theme of the whole player is this red on black look and personally, I like it a lot.
The player uses a standard file tree system like most of the players before it. It’s easy to use. Using a drag and drop system for transferring files to the player, everything must use ID3 tags or be organised on a PC in a folder tree for files to show up properly on the player. If this is not done, files will be displayed in an “unknown” folder, which makes navigating your files a nightmare. I wouldn’t say this a bad thing as such because ID3 tags are standard for most files. The only other complaint I have is when scrolling through music it scrolls one file at a time. This can make finding particular files slow. It would be much easier if it scrolled by page. Perhaps this is something that can be changed in a future firmware update.
Overall the UI is easy to use and understand. It is simple and looks great. At no point does it seem that the UI takes away from the user experience of the player.
For the first time Hisound is offering a truly customisable experience. In the past they have given a few pre-set EQ which where rarely used. This time they have taken a different approach, giving a user EQ setting as well as earphone specific settings. (The engineers at Hisound believe these EQs best compliments their own line of earphones.)
One other issue that Hisound have addressed is the hiss in the background. The biggest complaint about the Rocco p and the Studio v was that there is a hiss in the background. In the N1 the hiss is significantly reduced to only when the screen is on and even then it is practically inaudible at most times. This is a great improvement to what was considered a big flaw with the previous generation of players.
The player has been tested with the Wooduo2 and audeo PFE 232, as well as the PAA1-PRO earbuds that where bundled with it. This is my take on the player and is, of course, just a personal opinion. I have used different earbuds to get a well-rounded view of the player as a whole.
The highs on the Nova N1 are very crisp. The player keeps great time with the higher end of the spectrum as everything sounds like it starts and ends when it was intended to. This is one of the few players I have used where even in the most bass heavy tracks, the highs do not feel over powered. The N1 sounds particularly good with fast paced music, when many instruments are going at once. It is here that the N1 really shines and where the immaculate separation can really be appreciated. In rock music cymbals are really clear, to a level I haven’t experienced on a player of this size. In classical music the highs add to the separation of instruments more than anything. Being able to pick out different strings from one another and knowing where each instrument would be positioned in a concert hall is always a good sign. I have always found that the highs are where amping is most benefited and the fact that this player does not need any external amping speaks volumes for its quality.
Overall the Highs are very well done on this player; with the correct amount of separation and speed to them, there is really nothing to complain about. It is also worth adding that the highs are probably the most improved area sound wise over the Rocco P (the N1’s predecessor).
The Lows are where the N1 excels the most. Powerful, but not overpowering, is a good way to describe them. Even in the most bass heavy tracks there is little to complain about. It is not muddy at all, nor does it crackle. Best of all, it is deep and impactful, so much so, that it can be said that the low ends rival that of the Studio v 3rd, which is more than 3 times the price. Amping has always been what sets Hisound apart and with this latest instalment, they have outdone themselves in a price-performance manner. In the area of bass impact and extension the N1 takes some beating.
A special mention must go to the pairing with the Hisound Wooduo2. For the review the EQ setting “HSA V1.0” is the one that was most used. However, there is another setting by the name of “Wooduo”. This pre-set has been specifically made to pair with the wooduo2 IEMs. I have never been a fan of a lot of bass in music and I had always chalked that up to the fact that it’s just “not my thing”. However with this player, and in particular with this pairing, I am genuinely surprised at how versatile the low ends can sound. It has made me quite excited for the N3 as I have a feeling that they may really be offering an amazing experience straight out of the box with that one (the wooduo2 are one of the stock earphones with the N3) which is something I have not come across before.
As aforementioned, the low ends are probably the best feature of this player. While listening, there is nothing that seems to need changing. Does this mean that it cannot be improved or that there is no set up better? Not in the least. All it means is that the N1 makes for some very enjoyable listening.
The midrange is where the Rocco P and N1 are the most similar however the Rocco P is slightly better in this aspect. The difference is how “forward” the mids feel comparatively. In the Rocco P the mids where near perfect where as in this they are a bit recessed. Vocal detail is a little blurred between the ranges. It may look like the midrange is nothing to write home about in the N1 but this is really not true. It is just not as amazing as it was in the Rocco P. It is still exceptionally clear and sounds great, especially with electric guitars where it performs extremely well, adding a bit of power behind each note. It gives a close feeling to the music and the detail is great. It would be perfect if the upper mids didn’t get a little lost in the highs. (High notes on guitars get muddled with the ring cymbal on occasion)
If you enjoyed the sound of the Rocco P’s mids but felt it was somewhat lacking else where you will not go wrong with the N1. With the improvement in the highs the N1 more than makes up for the tiny drop in the mid range.
Soundstage, Transparency & Imaging
The soundstage of the N1 is nice and wide, without sounding too distant. People seem to have different perceptions of what soundstage is and varying preferences. This is how I would explain it; soundstage is the perceived size of the area in which the music is playing. Imaging is distance between instruments and vocals. For some, the wider the soundstage is, the better. For others it is better slightly closer together as it gives less of an arena feeling. Personally I like a wide soundstage. For the N1 I will say that the soundstage is slightly wider than what I have heard on similar priced players. In particular, it adds a great 3D feel to the sound.
The transparency of the N1 is great. As I have said before, and only real issue is on certain tracks in the upper end of the midrange. Here, on occasion, the sounds blur together slightly. Aside from that the transparency is great, there is no overlap where there shouldn’t be. Everything can be picked apart note by note. As Hisound put it, the N1 feels like an “audiophile” experience. The clarity is very hard to fault.
The imaging is really where the N1 comes into its own. One of the best parts of listening is being able to imagine everything is in your surrounding. For this the N1 works very well. It really adds to the detail of a track with some brilliant instrument separation and is one of the best features of the whole player. The sounds overlap when intended and are separate when it is needed; especially with well-mastered live music, this is something to be appreciated.
The Nova N1 has a variety of additional features other than just standard playback. These include FM radio, Mic recorder and Video Playback. They all work the same way they always do in players and are not the focus of this player so I will not be reviewing them right now. If you have any questions about anything let me know and I will answer.
The Nova N1 is really an amazing player for its price. Going for only £95 ($150) it is one of the best value players I have ever come across. Hisound have always strived to keep the price low on their items without compromising on quality. The Nova N1 is no different. The sound is stellar with beautiful highs, an amazing midrange and powerful lows. It has a wide soundstage and the imaging is some of the best I have heard on a portable player since the Studio 3rd, and at less than half the price. The Nova N1 really does tick all the “audiophile” boxes and it does all this while looking great. When I spoke to Hisound they promised to give us a player that follows their “5 S guidelines”. A player that is Strong power wise, Stylish, has a Sweet sound, has an easy to use System and is at a Steal of a price. I feel they have fully delivered on all these. As you can see I have nothing but praise for the N1 and am eager to see what more can be done when the N3 arrives. I’m waiting for the N3 with baited breath, but until it arrives I am more than happy with the performance of the Hisound Nova N1.
The Nova can be bought direct from Hisound (Click to go to their website) and also from their ebay store (click for the ebay store). The ebay store is currently offering 20% off to students bringing the price to $120. Thanks to Hisound for getting the N1 to me so quickly and thanks also for the amazing player.
(For anyone in the UK – I have bought another N1 so I can get pictures of the updated packaging. I already have this one so I wont open it, if anyone wants it you can have it for £76 also shipped once it comes. Also once the N3 comes, anyone is more than welcome to borrow this unit to try it before you buy it. UK ONLY)
Edited by big-man - 2/5/13 at 1:56pm