Well, first thing first, I can't claim I am an expert at this stuff, nor that I have THAT many gear for comparison to check to synergy. What I can provide however was a view on someone transitioning from stuff like Ipods, android players, into this world of audiophile player. I would be comparing the hisound nova n1 that I have used for around a month, to other DAP and DAC in my posession, that would be a Govibe Magnum plugged into a laptop, a Fiio e17 used as an amp hooked to the Ipod touch, and Samsung Galaxy note 2. My test headphones and IEM would be , Beyer DT 1350, hisound audio wooduo 2, JVC Fxd80. Now that the intro is over lets have a look on the player.
The Nova I actually received was a part of the promo of the favourite price, people have told me that the packaging is more luxurious now that it have gone into retail. I received it in one of those plastic display case that you usually sees on bluetooth headset, or well cheap Mp3 player that you get from china. But eh who cares the packaging weathered shipping to INDONESIA, I am sure it is adequate to protect the content
Accessories and add on
You get a pretty minimal package , just enough to start listening to the nova n1. You get a mini USB cable, and of course Hisounds PAA-1 that I never use because its too large for my ears for some reason. Nothing much here, no fancy stuff, you can just plug it in and it will get read as a mass transfer device.Not much to write on besides that I get packaged with chinesse manual that I can't read.
Build quality and design
Well the first part I can completely compliment the N1, the device is extremely well build, most of the outer shell is made out of either ABS or Metal(I haven't checked at all , if its really metal, certainly feels like one), other part were made out of your standard plastic , embossed writings is everywhere on the player showing hisound logos, capacity, serial numbers , stuff like that. The player is shaped like an actual candy bar , the shape reminds me of the old 2 bar kitkat packages, its around the size of an Ipod nano 4th gen I think? (the one that is after the square shaped video playing one). The LED is red in my model , I have been told that the actual models would be white instead, I don't really like red menus and coloring since it actually hurts my eye if I stare at it for too long. on one sides of the player you have the Hold/on-off/play-stop button you hold the switch up to hold , you long press down to switch the unit on and off, short press down to play/pause your current playing music. On the other side , is both microphone and the recording button/A-B button, i was surprised that the player actually would give you A-B capability inside of a switch instead of a menu, feels like a useless feature to put in there, I never used both the A-B button or the record button, but its there anyway
the UI is pretty simple after you switched it to english, you get a grid menu starting from top left is the Music menu where you can allegedly tag browse, it doesn't work at least not with my file (that work in everywhere else, that I have)every single files I got were tagged as "others", it contains the usual stuffs in the end were breakpoint player that you can't even click. I don't know about you guys that have dabbled in this audiophile world stuff for so long, but for me the player music menu feels inadequate and -excuse me- useless, it also only detects the stuff on your internal memory and not your SD card.
The next menu would be the menu you will browse alot, the folder menu is a browser for you to manually select your files, this is better than your music folder because you can just make album folders, stuff everything in your SD card and play them by album. So your file browser is actually better than your music menu, at least in my newbish opinion , dunno if people actually thought that the music menu is better and more useful.
The next menu would be setting, it is where you set up your langguage, screen brightness , stuff like that. Interesting to note is that , inside of the Music setting sub menu there is the "MS playFX set" in here you can set on what kind of sound enhancement you are going to use between the two options( 3D headphone and Purebass), I tried both and find the default (3dheadphone) actually better in giving you a bigger soundstage and an overall better sound that the pure bass function. There is also a 5 band EQ setting in the same music menu
I never use the REC menu , FM radio feature and the Video menu. the REC menu saves file in wav into the internal storage, the FM radio lags and is rather hard to use, the Video..... I don't have a clue on what specialized codec it uses, or if it does play videos at all. The HSA is to choose the default EQ setting(seems to be useless as it reverts back to HSA as a default on mine).
We have to come to the player menu of the hisound N1, the Player menu shows: Gigantic VU meter that covers 1/2 of the screen, no album art/Artist/Album(prolly because it can't read tags), song length , song name with its format, and the bitrate of the song. as for additional information, you get the repeat,shuffle icon, volume meter and the EQ you are using. You can change the EQ to another by pressing the top right button, but only presets and one setting of the user EQ, if you want to change the user EQ you have to go back into the EQ setting to poke around the 5 bands (Luckily the music doesn't stop), to do this you have to press the top left button and then hold it to get back to the main menu.You also can't change the shuffle repeat setting in the music playing screen.
Now coming from someone used to device that is famed for its ease of use(Ipods, PowerAmp, Rockbox in Open Pandora), I feel that the UI is lacking, its way to standard , e.g it can play musics by browsing the folder structure and thats about it , no tag browsing, no shuffle/repeat control on the music screen (then again as I remember this, clickwhell ipod have no shuffle /repeat control either). So if you are a new adopter to this style of player as I am , keep that in mind. I am not saying that the UI is not functional , it is, I am just saying that its less user friendly than that of an Ipod. I also won't list drag and drop as an advantage, you can sync this with media monkey or simmiliar programs anyway
Now come to the section you all want to hear, If I were to describe the sound of the N1 using the Wooduo 2 and using the Wooduo EQ, I will use the word "Aggressive", "Forward", "Clear bass" and "Loud", the sound will keep engaging you, it is a certainly a fun kind if sound signature , the highs were well done overall, the vocals can be heard clearly, the bass is sharp, clean and well rounded. IMO this kind of SQ doesn't suit someone who like analysis of its song with a flat sound signature, or that of an immense basshead , but to someone who just moved from an ios device, this is a great improvement , showing you that at least in the sound department this have the IOS device beaten.
The same sound signature can be heard in my other test headphones Dt1350, using the same EQ(HSA),the N1 would require more volume to drive the dt1350, in HSA eq , my comfortable volume seems to be 20-21(or 25 to get matching loudness with wooduo and wooduo eq) instead , it is at this point I can hear all the song detail , for some reason the song change into a smoother sound signature, no longer as aggresive as it was using the wooduos.I think this is just because the dt1350 actually requires more power than the Wooduo 2 , with these pair you get more uplifting treble, cleared middle and somewhat shorter bass stroke that doesn't pierce as deep as the wooduo 2. to note the Fiio is using 28 as a volume for the beyer dt1350, and would have what I think is a better treble that is more energetic than the hisound, with slightly less clear sound, and clearer bass but flatter bass in general that goes slightly muddy when its played at the same time as another sound frenquency. I would have to say I prefer the sound of the Fiio e17 and Ipod touch with this pairing
To my extremely untrained ear, the sq is about the same as an ipod touch 4th gen amped with fiio e17 being EQed with 8 treble , and 4 bass setting with 0 gain, the difference being on how the Nova 1 is colder, and yet more aggresive in pumping the sound out, and the amped touch more warm and laidback, No contest on raw ipod touch and the N1 though, in SQ terms the N1 would clearly wins in nearly every category.
Comparing the player with Poweramped stock rooted Galaxy note 2 confirms that the player have sharp bass with Wooduo EQ, the note 2 bass in comparison is very deep, very boomy instead of a sharp dip like the N1, the treble is about the same , still very "happy" sounding, and very engaging. I think at this point it depends on the person on what kind of a sound signature they want, I for one am okay with both, they excel on different kind of music, I would carry the ipod and e17 though just based on the UI(I am very lazy).The details however were better on the N1 , maybe due to the headphones compability or the player innards itself , but it just so happen that once you hear the N1 , you loses out details on the note 2.
At last I compared it to the Govibe Magnum connected to my W1000 libretto umpc, In this case I feel that the N1 puts out on a more aggresive sound, yet it is less detailed than with the govibe magnum, I don't hear micro sounds in songs that I have listened to for a very long time , it just doesn't put out at all in terms of detail. Athough i would give the edge to the Magnum in terms of clarity and opening up details, on less than nicely recorded singing (like my own friend singing) I would pick up the N1 since hey , who would want to hear BAD details? Who wants to ruin their enjoyment process by having the player reveals details that is not exactly appealing to our ear.
I have a J3 coming out of ebay in the next couple WEEKS, so I would update it with comparison between the two of them later, I expect that if I keep using the same test headphones , the result would approximately be the same though , but we will see later (I for one am a believer that each dap would have a different kind of signature sound, based on my experience with my limited choices).
I feel that as a person that is transfering from an easy to use players , this players is quite a shock, both in its way better SQ in general and the way it is harder to use to this end. You have to get out of your comfort zone to actually get this kind of sound signature (that or you get stuff for your ipod). I feel that this player is a good choice if you want the sound signature described above without carrying a sandwhich of DAP-Amp, it is ALOT smaller than the usual Ipod + Amp stack that people starts out with. Am I happy of the player ? Well I am, I am rather happy that this is my first venture to the audiophile DAP world , the player doesn't try to kill my wallet or my brain like some other does, the clip series hurts my head to read , and I don't like rockbox, I just don't, when I hear that 800 bucks player like the C4 have the same problem, I am glad that I get to know this player first before players like C4 kills my bank account and wallet (I think my bank account will still get killed later). My tolerance to something I pay 150 bucks and get free iem is so much higher than a 800 dollar product, the N1 gives a good value for money , and I would reccomend anyone wanting to venture outside of their ipod/IOS, androids to take a look at it and get a look on how audiophile device functions and works (not saying that all of them is like this , but majority under 300 bucks will be like this).
Equipment used in this review
Toshiba Libretto w1000+ Govibe Magnum(Media monkey/itunes)
Galaxy note 2 (Poweramp)
Ipod touch ->L9->Fiio e17
-Hisound Wooduo 2
Music files are all in ALAC/FLAC unless I write otherwise , I decided on this music , because these are the song I know, and current have in my library , I can't properly describe the sound unless I listen to something I know right?
Fripside- Decade Album
Two Steps from hell- Invicible Album(this one is in itunes AAC, 256kbps)
****load of lame quality recording ( 256kbps and below)
Hatsune Miku Dust Box album (320 kbps Mp3)
this is my first review, I take all suggestions and questions , if you guys whose in Jakarta, indonesia wants to try out the N1 , you can contact me to discuss where we can meet, you can then audition it using your gear to get a better look
Edited by Retrias - 2/26/13 at 10:22pm