The player is made from aluminium and glass. It has a reassuring weight to it which give the impression of a well made quality product. It came with a basic screen protector already fitted when I have decided to keep on for the time being. The player doesn’t have any physical buttons for playback - only for volume and power. The touch controls are sensitive and responsive and you can scroll through long lists fairly quickly. Obviously this isn’t as quick as using a scroll wheel or scrolling through lists using a touch-screen but it’s reasonably responsive nonetheless. The headphone jack doesn’t appear to be anything special but does offer a smooth and tight fit. The Micro SD card is slightly recessed when fitted which is good as you’re less likely to lose the card when you’re out and about. The IMP player is smaller than a deck of cards - about the size of a pack of Swan matches. The finish is pretty good but the top and bottom edges and corners are very sharp. I don’t think this would present a problem except perhaps if you was to lay on it at night. In all fairness though, you’re not likely to break the player if you did lay on it.
The OLED display is quite striking. Although the text is quite small it’s easy enough to read and the Now Playing screen offers a surprising amount of information for such a small screen. Track title, track position - both digitally and with graphical indicator, bitrate, frequency, number of tracks in folder, track length, playback mode indicator, EQ setting, file type and volume setting. I think that’s more than what you would see on the Now Playing screen on a standard iPod. Another potential advantage in using a screen like this is that there is less strain on the battery - definitely needed on a basic music player. Who needs colour anyway when the player is unable to display things like album art.
As with many things LCD, the viewability outdoors leaves something to be desired - especially with the screen protector in place. When the screen protector eventually becomes too scratched to use, I shall update this review if there’s a difference.
To me this is what this player is all about. An inexpensive way of being able to listen to high resolution audio without spending hundreds of pounds. Well the good news is that this player delivers. Plenty of clean volume when using in ear monitors with a reasonably wide soundstage and deep controlled bass. The player can play a far wider range of formats than the Apple iPod can play and lossless files do sound noticeably better. The player supports folder browsing and I tend to use this all the time as it’s far less hassle than trying to maintain meaningful id tags. I’m not sure if there’s a limit to the number of tracks when searching by Artists, Albums, etc but I don’t think this limitation would apply when browsing folders anyway.
I used the player with a number of different headphones including the Ultimate Ears Triplefi 10, Sony XBA-H1, Apple Earpods and Audio Technica ath-m50x. The IMP pairs really nicely with the ultimate ears and offers a wonderful amount of detail and volume. I find that the Triple Fi’s don’t need any additional EQ (except perhaps if you’re listening to music at very low volume levels) and I can listen for many hours without fatigue. Interestingly the player really tames the bass on the Sony XBA’s and has enough output to drive them to pretty high levels - note that the Sony’s are fairly hard to drive when used with a mobile phone for example. Although the player is clearly more powerful than say the Apple iPod, it’s still not really powerful enough to drive the Audio Technica’s really loud - it’s sufficient for casual listening but you can’t really go to headbanging levels without additional amplification. The unit really does pair well with the excellent Topping NX2 amp/dac (in basic amp mode of course) and then there is more than enough power to drive the ATH M50’s and it sounds wonderful.
Another thing I noticed regarding the sound is that the player offers a pretty solid consistent 3D audio image. This helps you to mentally picture where the instruments are in your ‘headspace’ and it doesn’t waver about. This, I suspect, is thanks to both the chipset used, decent soldering on the signal parth and the extra bit of amplification the player offers over conventional MP3 players. Transients are nicely dynamic and the player doesn’t run out of steam when listening at moderate volumes. Even conventional high-bitrate MP3’s show subtle details which are missed or diminished when listening on my phone. The volume has 50-steps - perhaps not as good as players from Astell and Kern but then again, this player is a 50th of the price of their top-end units. Certainly there is finer control over the volume than what you find on the Galaxy Note 2.
Listening to rock tracks like King of the Mountain by Kate Bush and Sting’s Brand New Day the Imp takes it all in its stride offering excellent dynamics and enough power to produce a very satisfying sound which is slightly better than the sound quality produced on the Samsung Galaxy Note 2. There is more significant timbre on the instruments - appearing to have more ‘shape’ Quiet classical music like Haydn violin and cello concertos sound simply sublime thanks to the extremely quiet noise floor from the amplifier electronics. I think this can only be sensibly achieved by excellent design and manufacturing techniques.
The noise floor on the player is virtually non-existent - basically if you hear any hiss - it’s going to be on the original recording. If you’re using very sensitive IEM’s when you switch the unit on, there is a very slight (and I mean really slight) ‘thump’ and then complete silence until the music starts playing. Although both the iMPtek and the Galaxy Note 2 use the Wolfston chipset for audio, the Imp offers a little more detail and texture to the sound. Using really good iem’s like the Ultimate Ears, it’s very easy to be able to concentrate on just one specific instrument and follow it through the track. The player is very neutral in its presentation - not offering any particular sound shaping until you use the EQ function. Another really nice touch is the five band manual EQ settings which allow you finer control over the sound shaping. Any small changes you make are fairly subtle which is nice - I tend to avoid using EQ most of the time because on many players the changes are too extreme but with this player I may actually use it from time to time.
User Interface and Experience
Although primitive compared to the likes of the Apple Ipod, iPod Touch and other high-end music players, the IMP pretty much offers everything you need to get to and play your music. There’s no album art or wifi/bluetooth/network playback - just music - plain and simple. With careful file management you should be able to access whatever track you’re after fairly quickly - although perhaps not as elegantly as you could with Apple’s iPod or iPod Touch.
The IMP connects to your computer via standard USB - this is definitely preferable to Sony’s latest high res players which use proprietary connectors (very bad move Sony) and when connected to your desktop acts basically as an additional hard disc - or two if you’re using a memory card. Although the player doesn’t combine the two memory areas into one, it’s not really too difficult to navigate between them. The nice thing about this type of PC connection is that the player will play nice with pretty much any desktop or laptop computer - no matter what operating system it’s running. Chances are if you’re using high resolution music you will have your files stored in folders on your desktop machine - you can simply drag and drop these across - this makes navigating your music so much easier on the player.
If you tend to browse your music by Genre, care will need to be taken to ensure your tags are done correctly - there are a number of utilities available for Mac and PC which can help you do this - although it can be a bit of a pain in the neck.
Although I have yet to run the players power down completely, I can tell you that the battery life compares well with something like the Apple iPod Nano or iPod Touch. Obviously when you connect the Imp to your desktop machine for file transfer it’s also charging. The player can be used whilst it's being charged but not whilst it's connected to a computer.
In case you haven’t guessed, I really like this player. It appeals to the purist in me that’s looking for uncompromising sound quality. It appeals to the miser in me that’s always looking for a bargain and it appeals to the gadget lover in me because it’s both cool looking and genuinely functional. Whilst it cannot compete with the iPod Nano when it comes to size and perhaps the user interface, it definitely competes when it comes to sound quality and value for money. I wholeheartedly recommend this player for anyone looking for top sound quality in a budget package.
I strongly suspect that Rockbox will never be an option with the IMP - probably due to the size of the available memory allocated for firmware (although in all fairness I am no expert so don't quote me on that). The good news is that as far as I know it doesn't have any pitch problems playing back 44khz encoded files - unlike the Xduoo X3. Although the options available are primitive compared to a Rockbox device, it's basic flat-Earth approach actually appeals to me. I was kindly sent a unit free of charge for an unbiased review - and boy I'm glad they did.
I’ve yet to try the Xduoo player (the idea of dual SD Card slots does appeal to me a lot though) but this little player is definitely filling a gap for me regarding high quality music playback. I would be definitely interested in comparing it to some of the other high-res players on the market such as the Sony NWZ Series and the Fiio X1 an X3 mk II. I strongly suspect that I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between them. That’s a strong recommendation considering the retail cost of this unit is a fraction of those mentioned.
Edited by Peddler - 4/24/16 at 10:47am