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Portable Source Components item created by AnakChan, Jan 4, 2015
Pros - Sound Quality, Resolution, Transparency, Depth, Powerful, Parametric EQ, Stable & Reliable UI
Cons - Average Stage Width, Sound Can Get Aggressive, Price, Case Not Included
Paw Gold is a high resolution music player from the brand Lotoo, owned by, Beijing Infomedia Electronic Technology Co. Ltd.. The device sports an industrial looking design, with a focus on functionality. The gold accents suggest the premium stature of the product. Given the fact that, the device has been around for 2 years, and quite a lot of information on the device can be found on the internet (LPG Thread, Head-Fi Reviews, Manufacturer’s Website), let me take the liberty, to jump straight into the sound impressions of the device.
LPG has a dynamic and full-bodied sound. Lotoo calls the Paw Gold a Reference Player. While it has many qualities to be a reference player, it is not one in the strictest sense, because it’s not completely neutral in its tone and presentation. While shooting for an honest rendering of music, it leans towards excitement and precision of individual notes, with its neutral-bright tone and a forward presentation.
The bass on the LPG is neutral in quantity, but is powerful in impact. The device is able to render layers in the bass, while keeping it quick and clean, resulting in a clean stage. If the bass is not sufficient to the listener’s preference, the EQ helps add ample of bass. Despite being neutral in quantity, it still provides the necessary body and warmth to the lower midrange.
The lower midrange is neutral, in line with the lower frequencies. But there is a lift in the center midrange, which brings the stage position slightly forward than neutral. This also helps retain the body of the notes throughout the midrange band. In the upper midrange, the sound is a bit energetic. Although this adds vigor to the music, it can tend to sibilance/fatigue. The midrange in general is very resolving and transparent with excellent instrument and vocal timbre.
The treble is slightly above neutral with a lot of sparkle and has very good extension. The energetic upper midrange and the tuned-up treble, bring the brightness to the tone, making the sound quite exciting. It also improves the sense of precision and technicality. Despite the brightness, the overall tone isn't affected much, due to the balance maintained by the adequate lower frequencies and the full body mids.
The stage on the LPG is not too wide, but is very deep and tall, resulting in a box like 3-dimensional soundstage. The forward sound, combined with the average width, makes the presentation, quite intimate. This makes the listening experience engaging, but can also get aggressive with music or headphones with a similar nature. Despite the small stage, the instrument separation, layering and imaging is quite impressive due to the depth and resolution.
The level of transparency and detail retrieval is very high in the presentation. It brings out every nuance in the recording, but at the same time it can be very revealing, putting the device in the unforgiving category. One of LPG's outstanding qualities, is its note articulation and PRaT (Pace Rhythm and Timing). The notes are full bodied and effortless in its progression. In terms of speed, it is able to handle fast paced music and complex passages with ease. Despite the technical flair, the device offers an immersive musical experience, when paired with the right headphone and music.
LOTOO PAW GOLD vs CHORD MOJO:
At the time of this review, LPG retails for, almost 4 times the price of the Mojo. So it may be an unfair comparison. But I want to compare these 2 devices, because they share a few similarities. Both the devices are quite small in dimensions, but pack quite some driving power. LPG can deliver 500 mW into a 32 Ohm load, and the Mojo can deliver 600 mW into the same. Also, unlike most of the competing portable audio devices, which are moving towards the TRRS quasi-balanced ports, these 2 devices deliver their best performance out of the regular 3.5 mm stereo ports.
But their similarities don’t stop there. Both create full bodied notes in a stage, that is averagely wide and the presentation on both the devices is quite engaging. While the note structure and attack is similar on both (at least in the mid-range), LPG has better note releases. LPG overall has better resolution and transparency. It retrieves more details and is more revealing. But Mojo is more forgiving than the LPG and is less fatiguing. Although the stage width is about the same on both the devices, LPG has the edge in terms of depth and height. LPG also has an advantage in terms of separation, layering, imaging and precision.
Bass quantity is similar on both the devices, but LPG’s bass has more authority and dynamism. Mojo’s low end can be made to do that, but only using a source or DAP with a good EQ. Moving on to the mid-range, Mojo’s lower mid-range is slightly thicker and creates a warmer atmosphere and LPG’s lower mid-range is neutral. In the center midrange, both have a slight lift that gives the forward presentation, but LPG has a truer tone and, creates cleaner notes. In the upper mid-range, both the devices are energetic. The forward presentation and the energetic mid-range make both the devices, create an engaging listening experience. Above the upper midrange, the devices depart ways once again, with the LPG taking a slightly brighter approach on the treble and the Mojo taking a softer approach.
Overall, both the devices share a similar music presentation, with the LPG being brighter and, slightly ahead of the Mojo in terms of technical capabilities. But Mojo is warmer, smoother and easy to listen to.
DRIVING POWER AND BACKGROUND HISS:
LPG has a powerful class-A amp under the hood, which is able to output an analog signal of power 500 mW per channel into a 32 Ohm load. As I do not own full-size headphones, I am not able to test how well it drives demanding full-size headphones. But many have reported, that it does drive full-size headphones like HD800 and HE1000 really well.
Based on the specifications, the device should be capable of driving even the low-sensitive and inefficient IEMs. My two IEMs (Sennheiser IE80 and Empire Ears Zeus XIV-ADEL) are very efficient and sensitive. So the LPG drives them both with no problem. On the flip side, there is a noticeable hiss on the Zeus. The hiss is noticeable only when no music is playing or, during silent passages in tracks. But Zeus may not be the ideal IEM, to gauge a source's hiss level, as Zeus is one of the most sensitive IEMs in the market, and it hisses with many high power sources.
IE80 is a sensitive single Dynamic Driver IEM, that is a good tool to test for hiss, as it can pick up hiss with noisy sources (for example: Sony NWZ-A15). On the LPG, IE80 exhibits a very minimal hiss.
Given the fact that LPG is slightly bright and has a forward presentation, it pairs quite well with warm and laid back IEMs such as my Sennheiser IE80. Another popular IEM I could think of that would pair well with the LPG is the U12. The brightness in the device’s tone, helps the separation and articulation of notes on the IE80. It also helps tighten up the bass and adds definition in the mids. It does not necessarily transform the IE80 into a superior IEM, but improves the IEM's SQ on all fronts.
Zeus is a forward sounding, mid-centric IEM. When paired with a warm source like an iPhone or the Mojo, it sounds smooth. But pairing it with LPG reveals its open tone in the treble region. While the Zeus+LPG combo can be quite powerful and engaging, it can get quite aggressive with fast paced music. But it brings the best out of the Zeus. The stage, is not exactly holographic, but is quite expansive and instruments have very good separation and placement. It helps add some punch to Zeus’s bass and lifts the treble response. The mids are very transparent and quite upfront.
LPG handles most of the music with suave. It has the transparency that works well with acoustic instruments based music such as Rock and Classical. And due to its exciting presentation, it also works great for Pop, Electronic and Trance.
But there are a few exceptions, for which LPG may not be an ideal player. It may not work best for live or symphony based music, which require a very spanned out soundstage and airiness. Because of LPG's fast and engaging presentation, fast paced music like hard rock and heavy metal can get quite tiring if you are a sensitive listener.
Also, the device is not quite forgiving with poorly recorded/mastered material. It is quite revealing of sibilance, noise and other artifacts, which can affect the overall listening experience. While I have not tested or compared DSD and Hi-Res content, it shows improvement when played RedBook lossless format (16/44.1) over the MP3 counterparts.
Lotoo Paw Gold -> Effect Audio Leonidas -> Empire Ears Zeus XIV-ADEL OTHER COMMENDABLE QUALITIES/FEATURES OF THE PLAYER:
- The build quality of the player is very sturdy. The material of the panel protecting the screen is made from scratch resistant sapphire crystal.
- The Parametric EQ on the player can come in quite handy if you’d like to tweak the sound to your preference. If you already own the LPG or planning to buy, I highly recommend reading the article linked in this post. It clearly explains how the EQ on the device works.
- The player takes in a full size SD card and can support upto 2TB. Although, the largest capacity currently available in the market is 512GB.
- Battery life for music playback comes close to 12hrs from 100% to 5%. Also the battery monitoring features are quite helpful in the device.
- The UI on the device, although simple, is very reliable and stable. It gets the job done with ease.
- The button layout is again simple and you can get to the Now Playing screen with just 1 or 2 clicks of the same button.
- The device is actually quite smaller than what it appears in the pictures (although it is quite thick and heavy).
CONS & POSSIBLE AREAS OF IMPROVEMENT FOR THE SUCCESSOR:
- The soundstage of the player could be slightly wider.
- The presentation could be less forward.
- Charging method (switch to USB charging in the future).
- Lacking in accessories like screen-protectors and case for the premium price being charged.
LPG is truly a top tier music player and, delivers performance in spades, with its highly resolving DAC section and a powerful Amp section. It is a no compromise player, when you consider just the Sound Quality, Driving Power and the non-streaming music playback capability. And it is for that reason, this player deserves a 5-Star rating, despite the few shortcomings. While it misses the absolute reference mark in terms of the signature, it still qualifies as one in my books, due to its technical prowess. While high in technical abilities, it also makes for a great musical device with exciting signature and an engaging presentation. If you are in the market for a high end music player and your sound preference matches, what I have described above, and you don’t care for music streaming, the Lotoo Paw Gold is all you need.
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Nothing much to say, it's my first player at this level so of course I am satisfied with it. Half points down for the gold plated buttons. Will be 5 points without the gold and 200 dollar cheaper.
Pros - Nice Product Presentation, Superb Build Quality, Stable and Well-Designed UI, Stellar Sound Quality, Neutral Tuning
Cons - Minimal Accessories, Thicker Design, Bare-Bone UI, Noise Floor
Introduction:I first heard the Lotoo PAW Gold (LPG) at RMAF 2015. I exchanged information with XiaoQi of Lotoo and I later contacted him and was given the opportunity to review both the PAW Gold and the 5000. Lotoo sent me both units in a package and I’ve since spend quite a bit of time with them. Actually, I’ve spent a few months with the LPG now, and this review is actually quite a bit overdue. I’d like a give big thank you to Lotoo and XiaoQi for their willingness to send me review units of their products. I’m excited to see Lotoo’s products begin to attract more attention in the west as these are certainly products to keep an eye on.
Packaging and Accessories:The unboxing experience of the LPG was pretty cool to say the least. I would highly suggest looking up an unboxing video of the LPG on YouTube, as it’s quite unique and hard to describe. There is an exterior gray box that opens like you’re opening an expensive gift. Upon opening the first box, you’re greeted with another box – the actual box that holds the LPG and all the goodies that come with it.
The box opens into three layers, and each layer holds different things. The first layer beautifully displays the LPG. The LPG transfers files via a USB 3.0 connection to your computer, and thus, it naturally comes with the appropriate cable. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, my cable doesn’t work and I had to get new one – thank God for Amazon Prime! The LPG also comes with a nice quality microfiber pouch that the LPG fits very nicely into as well as a power cord – since the LPG doesn’t charge via USB. The charger does come with quite a wide variety of adaptors for the charger so anyone planning on traveling a lot should have no problem charging their LPG in a foreign country. Besides those things, the LPG does come with some manuals and guides on how to use the LPG.
Something that I was a little disappointed to find missing was a case for the LPG. Yes, perhaps the microfiber pouch was designed for carrying the LPG, but even companies like Astell & Kern offer some nice leather cases for their products. At its price, I would certainly consider the LPG to be a hi-end DAP and, thus, I wish it came with a bit more hi-end accessories.
Packaging of the Lotoo PAW Gold
Build and Design:In terms of the build quality, the LPG is an absolute monster. The word to describe it is “tank,” as you’re pretty much holding a small brick in the palm of your hands. The chassis is aircraft-grade duralumin, which is a material that seems to be fairly popular with high end DAPs such as some of the offerings from Astell & Kern. The device also has a good bit of heft to it and is perhaps one of the heaviest DAPs I’ve encountered.
The screen is a sapphire crystal glass which also feels very durable. The screen does protrude out of the device a bit, and some have voiced their concerns for such a design increasing the likeliness of the screen breaking if the device is dropped. I’m certainly not about to do a drop test to see whether that’s an issue or not, but a solution would be to get a case for the LPG. Considering the price you’re paying for the LPG, I think it’s certainly a good idea to invest another 50 dollars (or maybe less) for a protective case for it. I’ve purchased a Dignis case for my LPG which not only protects the LPG from scratches, but also eliminates the issue of the screen protruding out of the device. It would have been nice if Lotoo included an actual case with the LPG instead of just a pouch, but it is what it is.
The LPG is a relatively small device in terms of its width and height. It is, however, also a fairly thick DAP. Despite that, I find the LPG to be a very manageable device and actually fits in my pocket more nicely than larger devices that are thinner – such as smartphones. Yes, it does look like you’ve got something weird in your pocket, but it’s comfortable. It reminds of of the days when I still had a Gen. 5 iPod video. I had one of those incredibly ugly, but super protective, plastic cases to go with it. When add the thickness of the iPod video up with the thickness that's about where you're at in terms of how thick the LPG is.
While I love the volume knob on the LPG and appreciate how well protect it is, it also is a point of complaint for me – just a small one though. Because the volume knob does protrude out a bit, it can get in the way of some L-shaped 3.5mm jacks. It’s really not too big of a deal for me, but it does decrease the flexibility of the LPG – especially when you’re thinking about using its line out.
The other slight complaint I have regarding the LPG is that it can get a bit warm during use. It’s certainly not enough to burn you or to cause discomfort when keeping it in your pocket, but it does surprise you with how warm it gets when you do take it out of your pocket.
Overall, the build of the LPG is really just fantastic. Everything feels solid and while some of the buttons are plastic, buttons feel solid and the LPG is certainly a device that I won’t be afraid of carrying around while engaging in my daily activities.
In terms of its looks, I was honestly not the biggest fan of it when I first saw the LPG at RMAF. However, I’ve come to appreciate it quite a bit even if it doesn’t have the edge and sleekness in design that products like the offering from Astell & Kern has. It’s definitely not the cleanest looking DAP, but I do like its purple/grey chassis color and its more retro look.
LPG Without the Dignis Case
Function and User Interface:Taking a tour around the LPG and starting on the left side, there is the USB 3.0 connection and the charging port. The LPG is a bit old-school in the sense that, unlike most DAPs these days, it does not charge via USB. Moving on to the top, you have the phone out, line out, gain (high and low), screen lock, and volume knob. The volume knob is heavily protected and I have had no issues in terms of the volume getting changed while the LPG is in my pocket. The knob feels very solid and turning it is smooth with a very subtle but noticeable click each with each increment of volume change. On the bottom is a SDXC slot. I’m honestly a fan of using the SD slot over a microSD slot. You get the flexibility and possibility of getting a hell lot more memory and I honestly don’t think that the LPG’s size was compromised all that much as a result. The front of the device is a bit more crowded. In terms of look, it’s almost identical to the PAW 5000 – with just a few differences. The large gold “disk” in the front of the LPG may be mistaken for a scroll wheel when, in fact, it actually is not. It has the basic functions of rewind, fast forward, play/pause, and stop. The button at the center of the disk can be set to either play/pause or screen information. I find the play/pause function redundant so I stuck with the screen information. In the front, there are also files, playlists, settings, ATE/PMEQ, and function buttons.
I won’t get into too much detail of how the UI works. Rather, I’ll sort of give my general opinion of it and note anything unusual or interesting I’ve found. I am running the LPG with firmware 184.108.40.206.
First off, powering on and off the LPG is super quick and easy. Hold the power button and it quickly turns on. To turn it off, simply hold the power button and you’ll see a loading bar run across the screen. Once it’s moved across the screen, then it will power off. This is just a way to ensure that the power button wasn’t pressed on accident. Quick and easy – love it.
Searching for music takes some getting used to. Besides searching for music through your files, you have 3 playlists you can create, or to search for music through a playlist with all the songs on it. The issue with searching through all songs is that the songs are listed as file name, not the title of the song, so if you have any sort of number going on with the files, you’re not going to have fun finding the song you want. The lack of a scroll wheel, like the one on the PAW 5000, means that scrolling through a large library can be a bit slow so if you don’t have a well-organized library, it could take some time to get to that album or song you’re really craving at the moment.
Something quite unique to the Lotoo products is the ATE/PMEQ function. Now I’m not sure what ATE stands for, but both just seem to be some sort of equalization program that alter either the presentation or the signature of the sound. The PMEQ is your traditional EQ settings like classical, rock, hip-hop, etc. while the ATE settings seem to focus more on changing the presentation of the music. For example, I found the “Style 701” to sound pretty good with acoustic live music, as it provides a more “in front of you” presentation as well as a more open sound for a more live feel. However, the bass basically disappears as a result, so you do have to pick and choose. Overall, I actually found some of these settings to be fairly well-done and usable, unlike a lot of the settings on other devices, but I do still prefer to keep these settings off. Something else to note is that while you’re able to create your own EQs, it seems you need to create it on a computer and import it onto the LPG.
The function setting that Lotoo implemented is also quite unique and overall pretty good. With the function button, you have the ability to select from a variety of uses such as mute, battery info and repeat mode. A lot of these are quite useful. For example, by selecting repeat mode, you are able to change your repeat setting without having to go through play setting. Other functions such as mute or -20dB mute has the potential to be fantastically useful, but fall short. I found that those two would be amazingly useful if someone is trying to talk to you and you can simply lower the volume or completely mute the button temporarily with a push of a button. However, they’re not as useful because in order to access the function button, you need to turn the screen on, in which case, you might as well just pause the device instead. That’s one issue I have with the player. I wish there were some sort of setting where you can select whether you want the buttons to be active when the screen is off. There’s no play/pause button that works when the screen is off, which is something I wish they allowed. It’s not the end of the world, but I would like to see more flexibility here.
The main screen is definitely not your typical main screen. There’s no album art – in its place is a pretty cool right/left channel indicator that shows you the activity of each side. The main screen is also filled with information. Battery life, gain, repeat mode, and file info can all be found there. It looks very retro, which is pretty cool to me and I quite like it despite it looking fairly backward and somewhat primitive by today’s standards. One little issue I did encounter with my unit is that album art doesn’t seem to show. I’ve seen it work on other people’s units, however. I don’t care too much about that so I didn’t dig too deep into where the issue lies.
In terms of battery life, the LPG is above average – which is always nice to see. Lotoo chose to use a 6000mAh 3.7V battery, which seems pretty massive in comparison to the 3-4000mAh 3.7V batteries most manufacturers choose to use. Despite the size of its battery, the LPG doesn’t last as long as one would think. I generally get around 12-13 hours with one charge. It just goes to show how much battery this thing drains. What’s nice about the LPG is that its battery indicator can show you how much percent battery remains, or it can display a countdown to how much time the player has left before the battery drains – a really neat feature I would love to see more manufacturers implement. I would say the countdown is relatively accurate as well.
Overall, the UI is a little clunky in some places, but overall really well-designed. The overall look and feel is very minimalistic, but I enjoy the simplicity of it.
Here are the specs and features listed by Lotoo:
Chasis Material: Aircraft Grade Duralumin
Display: 1.8 inch Color OLED 160x128
Supported Audio Formats: DSD (DFF DSF ISO), FLAC, WAV, AAC, ALAC, MP3, WMA, M4A, CUE, APE, WavePack
Sample Rate: PCM 8kHz~384kHZ / DSD 2.8Mhz, 5.6Mhz
Output Level: +15 dBu (Headphone Output, No Load, High Gain), 0dBu (Headphone Output, No Load, Low Gain), +9 dBu (Line-Output, No Load)
DAC: BB PCM1792
Headphone Driver: Ti LME49600
Core Processor: ADI Blackfin 514 DSP
Input: Super Speed USB 3.0 Micro-B
Outputs: Phone (3.5mm), Line-Output (3.5mm)
Dimensions: 60 x 104 x 25.4 mm (W x H x D)
Battery: 6000mAh 3.7V Li-Polymer Battery
Storage: SDHC / SDXC (Up to 2TB)
Clock Jitter: 5ps (Typ)
Feature Enhancements: Firmware Upgradable
Output Power: 500mW @ 32Ohm per channel
Frequency Response: +/-0.06dB (20~20kHz), +/-1dB (5~50kHz)
THD+N: 0.00058% @ 1kHz (20~20kHz, A-Weight, No Load)
Dynamic Range: 121dB @ 1kHz (20~20kHz, A-Weight)
Signal to Noise Ratio: 120dB (20~20kHz, A-Weight)
Frequency Response: +/-0.06dB (20~20kHz), +/-1dB (5~50kHz)
THD+N: 0.00036% @ 1kHz (20~20kHz, A-Weight, No Load)
Dynamic Range: 121dB @ 1kHz (20~20kHz, A-Weight)
Signal to Noise Ratio: 120dB (20~20kHz, A-Weight)
Output: 2V RMS, +9dBu
Listening Impressions:Noise Floor
Those looking to pair a portable headphone with the LPG should have little to no issues as the LPG has a decent amount of power to it. However, the LPG does tend to hiss a bit with more sensitive IEMs. With my UERM, rated at 112dB sensitivity and 35 ohms, the LPG has a hiss that is barely audible. However, with my Empire Ears Zeus, one of the most sensitive IEMs I’ve ever owned or used, the hiss is pretty distracting for me. I think with most IEMs, the LPG will present a manageable hiss, but for those that are super sensitive to hiss and cannot accept even the slightest bit of it, this may be something to keep in mind.
LPG With Empire Ear Zeus-XIV
Most of my listening of the LPG was done with the LPG running IEMs right out of its headphone out. Most of the time listening was done with the UERM with some time given to the Empire Ear Zeus as well as the ZMF Omni.
The sound of the LPG is fairly flat with just a tad bit of warmth to it. The bass is slightly more prominent than the likes of the Chord Mojo and Hugo, but not as present and thick as that of the Sony NW-ZX2. While the bass isn’t quite as speedy as that of the Hugo, the bass is tight, well-controlled, and exhibit a great sense of texture. Compared to the ZX2, it’s quite obvious that that the LPG is able to produce a noticeably cleaner and more textured sub bass. The LPG, as a whole, exhibits a fantastic sense of dynamics and the bass, in particular, has a great sense of impact and musicality while demonstrating that it’s very capable as well.
The UERM is one of my favorite IEM in terms of midrange and few IEMs I’ve tried have been able to outcompete the sheer enjoyment I get from the midrange of the UERM. No it’s not the most detailed midrange I’ve ever heard, but its presentation makes it a very special IEM to me. The pairing of the UERM and LPG has quickly become a favorite of mine. The LPG doesn’t add too much color to the midrange and has great resolution. I find the timbre to be on point as its sound is detailed without sounding overly sterile and is, in fact, quite smooth and grain-free. The LPG and UERM pairing allows for a sense of naturalness in the midrange that I think is absolutely wonderful. Imaging is incredibly precise, separation is impressive, the background is dark (when there isn’t hiss), and there’s a good sense of three-dimensionality.
I would characterize the treble of the LPG as being just a tad on the more relaxed side. It’s by no means a dark sounding device but it’s not a product that will make something sound particularly open. The lower treble still has a good bit of energy and sparkle with great clarity and detail. Overall treble experience is crisp but fatigue-free.
In terms of portable players, I think the LPG is one of the most neutral and reference-tuned player currently on the market. I find that most portable players and amplifier generally lean towards the warmer side of things, to varying degrees obviously, and the LPG is the same but to a lesser extent. It has less of a bass emphasis especially in comparison to more mid-fi players such as the DX90, N6, or X5ii, with less thickness in the lower midrange and without the extra energy in the treble. In comparison to the Asus Essence III I use at home, it still exhibits a warmer tone but, again, it’s one of the most neutral portable devices that come closest to my personal reference DAC/Amp in terms of performance.
During my visit home to Taiwan, I stopped by JM-Plus, a quaint little audio store with a great selection of goodies. While I was at JM-Plus, I hooked my LPG up with the new Shure KSE 1500 – an amplifier/IEM combo. From listening session there, I would say the LPG gets most of its warmth its amplifier section as its DAC seems to present a pretty flat response.
It was during this time, however, that I noticed an issue with the line out that I’ve never encountered before. Be default, the LPG line out is fixed at maximum volume but the LPG does have the nice feature of also having an adjustable line out. With the fixed line out, however, there’s a whole lot of distortion and clipping going on. I had to lower the line out volume in order to remove that issue. It’s a bit on in that I’ve never encountered this before with a line out. I’m not sure if this problem is unique to my LPG unit, but I will try the LPG with other amplifiers to see if this issue persists.
Lotoo PAW Gold > Shure KSE 1500
Ending Thoughts:In my RMAF 2015 overview, I stated that “as much as I love the sound, I can't see myself owning a Lotoo PAW Gold.” Well … … I’ll have to retract that statement. The LPG has become a must for whenever I’m out of the house as I find it both portable and wonderful sounding. It’s UI, while basic and perhaps somewhat primitive, is stable, easy to use, and well thought out. On top of that, I absolutely love the sound of it. The only big downside is that it can hiss a good bit when paired with more sensitive IEMs and that it’s a bit of the heavy side of things.
In the US, the LPG’s price currently ranges anywhere from 1600 to around 2400. The 1600 price is pretty consistent and a lot of dealers carry it at that price so I would just honestly ignore anyone selling it for more than that. 1600 dollars is, of course, still quite a bit to swallow. Most people won’t need a device as hi-end as this for portable use, but for those with the luxury of being able to dish out that kind of money, I think the PAW Gold is truly a wonderful TOTL product.
Pros - high level of transparency and resolution, bulletproof build quality, Parametric EQ and pro DSP effects, full size SD card, high power output.
Cons - price, AC/DC power adapter (not a traditional micro-usb), a little on a heavy side, not as much accessories.
Before I start my review, I would like to Thank Lotoo for providing me with a review sample of PAW Gold in exchange for my honest opinion.
Manufacturer product link: http://www.lotoo.cn/page/default_en.asp?pageID=97
In my recent review of Lotoo PAW 5000 (PAW5k), I made quite a few references to its price relative to their flagship Lotoo PAW Gold (LPG). As part of our human nature, we often look at the price trying to justify if it’s worth it. For many, justification is based on the comparison to other products in the same category to see how they stack up against each other. Just like in all of my reviews, I will definitely get to that before I reach my conclusion, but I have to warn you ahead of time with absolutely zero hype – LPG is the most neutral and the most detailed DAP I had a chance to listen to so far. Regardless of how much I enjoy and hold in high regards other DAPs (I have quite a few favorites), to my ears LPG is in a class of its own. Is it worth $2k asking price? I would be able to answer this question if I would have another DAP that cost less and sounds the same. Is it justified to be called “reference” quality? Absolutely, because in my opinion it reached the perfection of neutral sound quality, a benchmark reference for other DAPs comparison. I usually don’t start my review with so many praises, but I decided to go ahead here in order to set a tone for my write up. Now, let’s take a closer look at Lotoo PAW Gold.
Unboxing and Accessories.
When so many budget DAPs get a treatment of a unique premium packaging, where does this leave a real premium DAP? The bar has been raised, and Lotoo answered the "packaging" challenge with a rather original solution. From outside, you have a shiny silver box, very minimalistic in looks and with a basic outline print of LPG. The surprise comes when you unwrap this fortune cookie to discover inside of it a sturdy thick gift box with an "open here" invitation. When you flip open the magnetic thick cardboard cover with a nice soft protection foam lining, you reveal the jewelry of this gift box - LPG inside of a form fitted top tray, shinning with its gold-plated treasure wheel.
At this point, after taking LPG out of the box (its aluminum housing and 280g of heft felt very solid in my hand), I was a bit puzzled what to do next since the box had plenty of height to it and I've only "scratched" the surface when revealed a top shallow tray with LPG. Like a caveman I was shaking it, pulling on the sides, and even tried "open sesame" which didn't help, until I pulled the front of the box out toward me to reveal a three tier box design with two additional trays underneath of the top one. They swung open revealing included accessories and documentation. I was glad I exercised my patience which paid off with a rewarding unboxing experience.
Inside of these trays, I found a high quality flat USB3.0 cable (with an extended micro-usb connector, though LPG is also backward compatible to use a regular 2.0 micro-usb cable), a draw-string felt pouch (nice soft quality), a very detailed quick start and user guide (among the most comprehensive English manuals I've ever seen), and AC adapter with a selection of international power plugs. I was a little disappointed to see a dedicated AC adapter instead of a typical usb connector. LPG design requires 12V/1A charging, and you will need to carry with you a separate AC adapter when away on a trip, though the good news this is not a proprietary charger. It uses a common DC tip, and I would recommend getting a spare charger (from eBay or Amazon) to keep one at home and another one when away. I did confirm that USB3.0 connector is for data transfer only, not charging.
Also I was a bit surprised a screen protector was not included, until I touched the glass of the display to realize how thick and solid it felt, and later learned Lotoo used a hardened sapphire glass! Another comment is about draw string pouch. It's great for scratch protection, but not a substitute for a real case. At the price of LPG, I would have expected Lotoo to provide a form fitted leather case and maybe even a carry case. The design of LPG is not slippery and has fantastic ergonomics to fit comfortably in your hand, not too mention that cold aluminum feels damn good! But I do have some expectations when looking at a premium product and felt that LPG falls a bit short in this regard [of accessories].
I already brought up a reference to PAW5k, and want to mention it again in relationship to LPG design. A lot of manufacturers recently introduced a scaled down versions of their popular flagship DAPs, often noticeably smaller in size. When I received PAW5k, I was very surprised by its compact footprint, but didn't expect LPG to be just a little bigger. Measuring 104mm x 60mm x 25.4mm, LPG is a little bit wider and taller (especially due to a volume knob) and about 1/3 thicker, and of course weight difference is noticeable, but overall it felt very similar in my hand, even down to controls layout relative to the display. I actually find this to be very impressive considering LPG has a more advanced amp section with more discrete filtering components, as well as stepping up from uSD to full size SD card support.
According to Lotoo website, the chassis of LPG is machined from a solid piece of aircraft grade duralumin, which is an alloy of aluminum and copper with magnesium to improve the strength of the metal. You can definitely feel the quality of the material in your hand, no flex what so ever. Non-slippery sandblasted finish with appropriate side grooves also makes a handling of LPG feel secure, though I would still prefer a leather case for an extra enhancement of the grip due to its weight.
The front of the DAP has 1.8" Color OLED display at the top half (under a sapphire glass panel), 5 plastic control buttons (high quality solid material, no rattling, and a nice tactile response), a gold plated power button with optional "glow" light ring around it, and the centerpiece of the front panel - a gold plated D-Pad control with another control button in the center. Unlike PAW5k where the control is a plastic scroll wheel, here it's a directional control pad with Plays/Pause at the top, Stop at the bottom, and Skip Next/Prev and fast forward/back on the right/left. The middle button is Enter/Select key (in the Setup menu) while in the main Playback screen can be customized to function as either Play/Pause or Screen mode switch.
The right side has a reset pinhole at the bottom, the left side has USB3.0 connector for high speed data transfer (not charging), also backward compatible with any regular micro-usb cable. Below that is 12V/1A DC port for a power adapter to charge LPG. At the bottom you will find a full size SD card with a tight plastic dust cover - excellent idea since it allows access to a higher capacity and cheaper full size SD cards. The top of the DAP features a separate Headphone and Line Out ports, and from what I gathered there is no SPDIF or optical outputs. Coincidentally, due to a lower quality DAC/amp section, PAW5k offers both SPDIF and optical output for a connection to an external DAC/amp. With LPG, Lotoo had enough confidence to omit that.
Above HO and LO, you can find a Gain (high/low) switch and a hold (to prevent accidental button push) switch. Switches itself are not easy to slide which is good to prevent an accidental gain change, but also when headphone jack is in - it makes access to a gain switch a bit harder due to a close proximity to the headphone port. It wasn't a show stopper for me because I kept it permanently in low gain even with my most demanding headphones - LPG got a lot of power. Analog Volume knob is gold platted and protected from the left/right/top sides, leaving it only exposed on the front and the back for a quick access to adjust volume with a thumb only (or index finger from the back). Volume knob has an acceptable resistance, not too loose or too tight, and you can feel adjustment with a very subtle click as you turn it. Also, as part of a custom configuration, you can change volume adjustment to be either clockwise or counter-clockwise. I ended up selecting a volume knob adjustment direction to align visually with a horizontal on-screen adjustment - counter-clockwise to increase the volume.
Overall, the design is a bit minimalistic but also straight forward and efficient for one handed operation. I don't have big hands, thus the ergonomics of using a DAP by only moving my thumb without readjusting the hand is very important to me. The layout of controls is efficient and works perfectly for either left or right hand operation where my thumb can easily reach D-pad control and other buttons surrounding it, while my index finger has a clear access to volume knob from the back. I'm sure a lot of people might have a question which control is better, the wheel of PAW5k or the D-pad of LPG? It might come as a surprise, but I actually found D-pad to give me a better control of using just a thumb without moving to other buttons. LPG D-pad has a nice tactile response with a good feedback and a large round surface for a thumb to comfortably glide around. One thing to keep in mind, if you are dealing with a big list of songs or folders, scrolling wheel has an advantage. I personally don't have a large organized library of songs, thus usually deal with a smaller list of test tracks partitioned in directories.
At the same time, 280g of weight packed in a small brick is not going to be exactly pocket friendly for everybody. YMMV, but I would probably prefer to use it at home or in the office at work rather than carrying it with me in the pocket while walking or using public transportation or while exercising (though you can exercise with it as an add-on weight ). Don't get me wrong, despite its extra weight - LPG compact size is very easy to grip. Also, you can probably get one of these compact camera cases you clip on your belt if you choose to carry it with you on the go.
The only gripe I have is the same one as with PAW5k, where with a screen off there is no way to control playback until you turn the screen back on. Actually, with PAW5k you are able to skip tracks by holding down volume up/down buttons, but play/pause wasn't available either. Here, LPG has no way to skip or play/pause when screen is off. To preserve a battery life, even considering a phenomenal 11+ hrs of endurance I was getting with such a powerful DAP, you still want to keep your screen off. Volume control is already easily accessible, but in order to Skip to the next/prev track or simply to pause playback you have to turn the unit on first (power button is also screen on/off with a short press) and then proceed to playback control. If there is a concern about pressing buttons accidentally while in your pocket, you already have Hold button to prevent this. I really hope that Lotoo in their future fw updates will consider allowing the use of D-pad or maybe combination of other buttons to enable playback control with a screen off.
Under the hood.
Similar to PAW5k, the heart of LPG is a powerful ADI Blackfin 514 DSP which handles different audio formats and processes digital audio to condition it for DAC input. Here you get a support of most lossy and lossless formats, including native DSD and SACD ISO support, covering everything from ISO, DFF, DSF, FLAC, WAV, MP3, ALAC, OGG, CUE, APE and M4A, and sample rates 8kHz-384kHz (PCM) and 2.8MHz/5.6MHz (DSD).
With so many manufacturers jumping on the latest DAC bandwagon, here we find a good old PCM1792 DAC paired up with a powerful LME49600 headphones amp driver, not necessary the latest but still highly regarded. In reality it doesn't matter what's inside of the "black box", and this is another example which demonstrates that it all comes down to how you implement the design and not necessary the latest "buzz" component selection. It's all about design architecture, proper layout, isolation of digital and analog domains, and power filtering. At the end, I only care about the sound, regardless of what's inside of the box. Here, sound results speak louder (500mW @ 32ohm per channel loud!) than any marketing hype.
What's "under the hood" can definitely give you a performance boost, but not necessary guarantee to make your ride as enjoyable. So, let's take a closer look at the GUI, Setup, and the whole Interface.
GUI and Setup.
From the moment you power LPG up (very fast start up, thanks to a custom optimized OS) you are greeted by an efficient all-in-one color display layout with everything on a single screen. Starting with a status bar, you get a repeat mode icon in the left corner and battery icon in the right corner with either % or the remaining time indicator (customized in the setup). Bellow that you can see which DSP effect or PMEQ preset is being applied and a horizontal bar graph with L/R channel level, assuming it's calibrated by Red Book standards from -50dB to 0dB. You also get song’s time duration and current play position, a file info with a file number within a folder, and a file format with an exact sampling rate.
Below that you can see a scrolling file name. While playing you can fast forward or skip the song with corresponding D-pad click, and you can do the same in Pause or Stop. I'm so used to Play/Pause only, it was refreshing to see a Stop button (the bottom of D-pad). The center button of D-pad could be customized to either function as Play/Pause (always easy to access it), or to switch between display views to show a dynamic Spectrum Analyzer of currently played track and with another click to show an album art. Not every album artwork was displayed, so I assume the firmware is a little picky about embedded artwork, and the one it did display was rather pixilated. With low 160x128 resolution of the display, I had no high expectation for it, and for me personally artwork display is not the highest priority anyway, just a bonus.
Above the D-pad, you have File and List buttons to help you view, select, and manage your songs. Pressing File button brings up a folder view of your files on a flash card. This is usually my preferred way of browsing since I have a few album folders and the rest are various tracks in the root directory. Keep in mind, when you have a lot of albums and files - partitioning into folders will be the best way to speed up browsing since you don't have a scrolling wheel for a faster navigation. Pressing and holding up/down D-pad will enable a faster scrolling through the list. And speaking of the List, the button next to File, in there you will find a Play List selection that will list all the files within a current folder or if you are in the root. Next, you have 3 custom List1/2/3 playlists where you can easily add files by tagging any song when browsing (click the D-pad right and select which custom playlist you want to add the song to). The last choice in the List is "ALL" which lists every single song on your flash card, probably the best place to scroll through when you are tagging files for custom playlists.
Setup button is in the corner, and provides you the access to Play settings, System settings, and Custom settings. Play settings allows you to select Repeat mode (sequence, single repeat, repeat all, and random), Time display (current playback back time or the remaining song time), DSD gain (in increments of 6dB from -12dB to +12dB), Lineout level switch (to adjust or keep fixed LO level, think of it as an adjustable pre-amp gain), and Channel Balance (L/R balance adjustment). Custom setting is a unique way to customize some of the settings. You get a chance to assign a specific functionality to FN key (a button located above Power), I usually assign it to Mute. Also, customize Center key (inside of D-pad) for either Plays/Pause or screen change, as I mentioned before. Furthermore, you can change Volume knob direction between CW and CCW, and Lock volume enable when "hold" is activated.
In System setting under Setup you get Power off time (w/timer switch and power off timer), Auto power off (time), Language selection, Display extinction (timeout), Breathing LED (light ring around power button, enable/disable to save power), Battery display (choice between remaining time or percent indicator), Brightness level (low, mid, high), Battery info (battery level in % and remaining time), Database update (refreshing song list), SD info (showing total capacity, and free and used space), SD speed test (pass/fail to make sure flash card meets 3Mbps requirement), Format (for Fat32 format of flash card), Factory settings (to reset to factory defaults), System info (fw, hw, loader, and boot version, and S/N), and Firmware update option.
Just like with PAW5k, before I get into sound analysis of LPG, there are two more important features I would like to discuss - Parametric EQ (PMEQ) and Acoustic Timbre Embellisher (ATE), accessible from a dedicated ATE/PMEQ button located between Setup and FN.
I have tested a lot of DAPs, some without any EQ and others with Graphic EQ where you have certain amount of bands each at a fixed center frequency and fixed bandwidth. With a graphic EQ you get a nice "graphic" representation with a visual feedback of which band you are adjusting and the amount of the adjustment, but you have no control over selection of a specific frequency or the bandwidth of that frequency. Parametric EQ gives you all these controls where you can customize F0 (center frequency), Gain (level adjustment), Type (Low Shelf, High Shelf, or Band Pass filter), and Q (bandwidth of the filter band). I'm glad that Lotoo recognized importance of PMEQ where you get 8 quality presets covering different music styles and 6 Custom User presets where you can dial in your own settings. Each custom setting gives you an access to modify F0, Gain, Type, and Q, and you can also export and import PMEQ presets to share with others.
Also under the same menu selection, in addition to PMEQ you have ATE digital effects giving you a selection of 7 distinct DSP effects to customize your sound. I actually found some of these ATE effects to be quite usable, especially "Brighter" which works great with warm/dark headphones and "Sweet" to warm up a sound of bright headphones. One thing to note, you can only select one specific ATE effect or one PMEQ preset, but not both at the same time. Depending on your ATE or PMEQ selection, the main playback screen will display the choice right below status bar.
I started my review with a very bold statement of LPG being the most neutral and detailed DAP I heard so far, and this is an honest truth. LPG has a very neutral and transparent sound with a high resolution where you get an excellent retrieval of details and smoother reference tonality (very revealing but not harsh or grainy). The sound has a great layering effect with an excellent separation of instruments. Also, it has a great soundstage with nearly holographic effect with above the average width, depth, and height expansion.
In more details, Low end performance brings up the best in bass with a nicely layered sub-bass texture and fast mid-bass punch where low end is tight and well controlled. Lower mids are clean and on a leaner side, still with plenty of body but not as much warmth. Upper mids are very detailed, revealing, more of analytical quality but not grainy. Vocals sound great, but missing a little bit of the natural organic smoothness. Treble is crisp, extended, well defined, and airy, but not harsh or fatigue.
Lotoo calls it a Reference Audio Player, and that's exactly how I hear it with a perfect combination of digital reference quality and analog smoothness. Though LPG is among the most neutral DAPs I heard to date, it could go both ways when it comes to headphones pair up. It pairs up great with warmer and neutral sig headphones, allowing them to improve in detail retrieval without making sound bright or harsh, and even with some bright headphones it pushes detail retrieval and analytical quality to the next level. But it could also raise the energy of upper mids and treble to the level where it's overwhelming and crosses sibilance threshold, thus making headphones not as enjoyable during extended listening period.
Here how it pairs up with some of my headphones.
ES60 - very transparent expanded sound, with a great low end punch and a nice sub-bass layer extension, clear detailed smooth mids, and crisp airy treble. Excellent 3D soundstage.
W60 - smooth lush sound with a deep sub-bass and punchy mids-bass, thicker warm lower mids, and detailed smooth upper mids, smooth well defined treble.
UM Pro 50 - great punchy sound, excellent balance of sub-bass and fast mid-bass, smooth detailed mids which also have plenty of brightness to balance out smoothness, treble has a nice sparkle and airiness. Soundstage has above average width, almost on a level of W60/ES60, and a more intimate average depth.
Savant - amazing pair up, sound is very transparent, fast and detailed, closer to analytical quality, yet still smooth enough without crossing sibilance threshold. Bass is tight and punchy, sub-bass quantity is lagging just a bit, but quality is on high level. Mids are lean, detailed, a little more on a brighter side, but without any harshness. Treble is airy, crisp, and with a nice extension.
ZEN - plenty of power to drive these 320 ohm earbuds with authority, though closer to max level of low gain. Sound is very tight, transparent, but I felt like it lost a little bit of musicality, though gained a whole new level if detail retrieval. Low end is tight and well controlled, mids are clean, detailed, with a perfect mix of brightness and smoothness, treble is bright, well defined, with a little bit of airiness.
PM-3 - drives them with super authority! Punchy bass with a nice sub-bass crunch, bass is well controlled, no spillage into lower mids, lower mids have a nice tight body, upper mids are detailed and smooth, the best retrieval of details from PM-3 I heard so far, treble is crisp, airy, detailed, but not sibilant or harsh. PM-3 is more on a warmer smoother side and can get congested with some sources, but not here. Pair up with LPG is Epic!
EL-8C - great pair up, sound is bright and transparent, nice tight bass, lean bright analytical quality mids, but absolutely no metallic sheen or grainy texture, crisp/airy bright treble without a hint of sibilance. EL-8C is sensitive to bright sources, while here sound sig is still bright but well controlled.
R70x - drives these 470 ohm open back cans with authority but closer to max level of volume in low gain, very transparent and detailed sound, never heard these with so much details before. Nice tight textured bass, smooth detailed musical mids, crisp airy treble, and 3D soundstage.
With plenty of power to drive even demanding headphones, I don't see a need for any external amp (unless you want to change the tonality), though I did try it with a few of my portable amps connected to LO. I found DAC output to be very clean and to pair up nicely with E12A and C5 portable amps. But it also demonstrated a more analytical reference quality of LPG internal amp, since with other amps sound lost some of the details and became a little smoother. In my opinion, if you want to warm up the sound, instead of using external amp, try ATE effects or Parametric EQ presets.
Comparison to other DAPs.
Considering a summit-fi status of LPG, I was curious to see how it stacks up against other higher end DAPs I have in my review collection (LP5 Gold, L5 Pro, AK120ii, and QA360).
LPG vs LP5G - very similar tonality with LPG being slightly more transparent and neutral, while LP5G being a little smoother and having slightly more body, LPG has a little more staging width while LP5G has a little more depth, but overall soundstage expansion is very similar. Low end has a similar extension with a very similar sub-bass texture, and mid-bass quantity, though LPG is a little tighter. LPG lower mids have slightly leaner more neutral body, upper mids are very similar, and the same with treble.
LPG vs L5Pro - same as with LP5G, LPG tonality is more transparent and neutral, while L5Pro is smoother and a little warmer, similar retrieval of details, soundstage of LPG is slightly wider, while the depth/height is similar, LPG low end is tighter and has a little more control. L5Pro mids are a little smoother and warmer, while LPG mids have a slightly better retrieval of details and upper mids are a touch brighter. Treble is very similar, but LPG has a little more airiness.
LPG vs AK120ii - similar tonality with a similar transparency, but a slightly different retrieval of details (LPG advantage), also AK is smoother while LPG is a little crispier. LPG low end is a little tighter and sub-bass texture is more layered. Lower mids have a similar body, and upper mids in LPG have a slightly better retrieval of details while AK is a little smoother. Treble in LPG has a little more airiness.
LPG vs QA360 - LPG has a more neutral tonality with more transparency and a little crispier sound in comparison to smooth and warmer QA. Both have a similar sub-bass texture and similar mid-bass punch, but LPG bass feels tighter. LPG lower mids are a little leaner and upper mids are more analytical, while QA mids are smoother and more musical. LPG treble has more airiness and a little more crispy, while QA is smoother.
Next, comparison of PAW Gold vs PAW 5000 is just for the reference to see how they stack up against each other.
Gold vs 5k - 5k has a warmer tonality with a sound being flatter in comparison to a more neutral, transparent, and dynamic sound of Gold. Gold soundstage is wider while 5k is a little deeper. Gold bass is tighter and better controlled, while 5k is looser. Gold lower mids are leaner and upper mids have a better retrieval of details while 5k lower mids are thicker and upper mids are smoother. Also, Gold has more airiness and better definition in treble where 5k is smoother while still having a decent definition.
In my opinion, any evaluation of a sound is based heavily on a relative comparison. What we hear as a warm, bright, or neutral should be relative to some baseline sound. But how do we know for sure the headphones sound warm and it's not the boosted lows of your source, or the other way around where headphones have too much treble energy which could be contributed by a thin bright source? Lotoo PAW Gold takes all this uncertainty out of the equation by providing what I hear as a perfect neutral reference quality source with a high level of transparency and resolution and enough power to drive even demanding headphones. So is this the end-game TOTL DAP? I'm sure it could be for a lot of people, but not for everybody. If you have a collection of bright analytical headphones, the revealing "truth" of LPG can push it over the limit, or if you take a pride in a large collection of songs and albums accumulated over the years - scrolling through a sizeable list of songs could be frustrating where you might prefer a touch screen or some other mechanical scrolling interface. And of course, if you have a large collection of your songs stored in the cloud or a frequent user of streaming services - this won't cut it for you either. But if you fancy the reference quality neutral sound with the top notch transparency and retrieval of details, with an efficient minimalistic all in one display, with top quality DSP effects and access to professional Parametric EQ, a very impressive 11+ hrs battery performance even with high power output, customizable keys, and the bulletproof build quality (aircraft grade duralumin, sapphire glass, gold plated components) - this DAP is definitely Golden and in my opinion worth every penny!
Pros - Build Quality, Sound Quality, Transparency, Resolving power, Output power.
Cons - Value
Me: I am a 21 year old Engineering student living in a small town in India. I would like to call myself a music enthusiast, rather than an audiophile. I was inspired by music since childhood, and as the time passed, the passion of music grew in me, and that subsequently led me to join Head-Fi. Eventually, I found the pleasure of listening to music mainly by the HD600 and recently, by the seductive LCD2 headphones, and realized the true components of recorded music. I usually like to listen to Indian Classical Music along with Bollywood songs. My main listening genres include classical, vocal, instrumental, jazz and sometimes pop.
Intro: Lotoo, is a sub-brand of Infomedia and is headquartered in Beijing. The brand was established in 1999 as a broadcasting systems manufacturer; it has evolved since then to manufacture high end audio recorders, and more recently, its first audio player. The PAW Gold is the flagship (and lone) DAP offering from Lotoo.
Specifications of PAW Gold as per Lotoo:
Headphone Output: 500mW@ 32 Ohms.
+15dB on High gain 0dB on Low gain (without load)
Headphone Driver: TI LME49600
Line Output: 2V RMS +9dB (without load)
Processor: Blackfin 514 DSP
DAC: Burr Brown PCM 1792
Sample Rate: 8KHz-384KHz
Clock Jitter: 5ps
Formats: ISO, DSD, DFF, DSF, FLAC, WAV, ALAC, OGG, CUE, APE, MP3, M4A
Interface: USB 3.0 upto 90 MB/S
Display: 1.8” OLED 160*128 resolution
Storage: SDHC/SDXC upto 2 Tera Bytes
Battery: 22Watt hour 6000mAH 3.7V
Chassis: Aircraft grade Duralumin
Let us see what the PAW Gold has got for us,
Packaging and Accessories: The PAW Gold unit arrives packed inside a outer cardboard sheet, in which a strong plain black cardboard box is contained. The box has magnetic locks everywhere, and can be lifted off to reveal the multiple storage compartments, in which all the included accessories are present. Necessary amounts of accessories included in the package, and again are made up of good quality. I can confidently say that Lotoo has done packaging in a very premium and extravagant fashion.
List of accessories in the box, which include the following:
Charger: 5 V 2A universal charger for charging the PAW Gold. This charger is the sole mode of charging it.
USB 3.0 Cable: Short length cable for high speed data transfer. A disc is also included for drivers installation.
Pouch: Velvet type with strings, provided to store the player.
User Manual & Warranty card: Contains instructions to operate the PAW Gold and other warranty information. (In Chinese, meh)
Design and Build: The PAW Gold has an excellent build quality.
The entire shell is made up of high quality duralumin metal. Duralumin is a very hard and tough type of aluminium used to build aircrafts. The DAP is painted with matt grey colour, which ensures PAW Gold is not a fingerprint magnet. The PAW Gold Is heavy in weight owing to its robust build, but still it can be comfortably operated using one hand itself, since the PAW Gold is actually a small DAP, it just appears large in pictures.
On the front side, four navigation buttons (Up/down Left/Right) are present, along with a central select key. The navigation buttons are used to navigate songs, or forward/backward operations depending upon the situation. A select key is present in the middle of navigation keys, and is used to select or play/pause the songs. Buttons are well designed, and operates flawlessly. PAW Gold has a very ergonomic build, which means everything is placed at right places and is comfortable to operate.
Volume knob, navigation and power keys are 24 karat gold plated. Hence comes the name ‘Gold’
Volume controlling is extremely fine, and works very well with IEM’s and headphones. One can achieve even minute attenuations in volumes without any issues. Volume switching is silky smooth and very gradual, which is a big plus especially sensitive IEM’s. Display screen is good enough, though screen clarity or screen resolution is not impressive, but still it does the job just fine. (This is expected almost of all DAP’s)
File button has the function of browsing the folders on the SD card. Setup button takes us to the settings option for this DAP. List button leads the user to the song playlists. APE/PMEQ button takes us to the hardware coloration and equalizing options. The button named as ‘Fn’ is a key for which we can define the function of our choice. Power button (Press and hold type) is present, with a white coloured breathing light around the button itself. This button is used to power on/off the DAP.
On the left side, a charging port is present, to which charging jack of the given charger has to be connected to recharge the battery of the PAW Gold. High speed USB 3.0 port is also present just above the charging port. This port only handles data, and charging cannot be done with this port via USB.
On the right side, there are no controls present.
On the top side, Outputs jacks are located. Headphone output, Line output both are present in 3.5mm format. These jacks are well built and implemented, and have a good feel to them. A sliding lock button is present, whose function is to lock down all the keys once lock button is activated. A sliding gain switch with Low/High gain setting is also to be seen.
On the bottom side, a full size SDHC/SDXC card slot is present. The slot operates smoothly without any hitches. Insertion and removal of card is fairly easy, with just a simple push. Rubber flap is present to cover up the slot from any foreign material.
User Interface: The current firmware version is V220.127.116.11, and is upgradeable as new versions are released by Lotoo. Startup and shut down happens within just 3 seconds, which makes PAW Gold quite fast in operation. The firmware itself is fast, responsive to browsing and switching operations. No hanging or slowing down whatsoever. I sometimes wish there should be improvement in screen resolution, because as of now the fonts appear pixelized.
Setup key opens up the settings and other options. This DAP is DSD capable, along with one can change many advanced settings like layouts, key speed, DSD settings, playing settings. Volume controlling is available even on Line output, and custom gain can be selected.
The battery indicator accurately calculates the actual amount of battery power remaining, and has stable readings. One undesirable thing I notice about PAW Gold is that, it gets fairly warm during playback. But during battery charging, there is no such issue noticed. Battery life is fairly good. As for me, the battery lasts for about 7 hours, which is quite good. The battery capacity of PAW gold is of 6000mAH. The battery has to be charged by a 5V 2A adapter, and is included in the package. Charging time using this adapter is around 2 hours.
Overall, the firmware is simple, is fairly fast to flip around, is customizable and is quite reliable and stable. But there is room for improvements.
Sound: As for the most important part, the PAW Gold is highly resolving, transparent, Neutral and Detailed sounding with excellent spacious & expansive yet accurate sound stage. Another thing to mention about this DAP is that, there is absolutely no ‘lag’ and sound response is ‘quick’ and ‘fast’
Dynamics are superb, giving a circular spacious sound. Soundstage is airy and spacious, but in a natural and realistic way. I am clearly able to differentiate between FLAC and 320kbps MP3 for the same song. Instruments separation is great, and there is a lot of room and air between the instruments, which again contributes for an immersive experience.
The PAW Gold has hardware controlled equalizers and preset colourations. These are called as ATE/PMEQ, which upon selected, perform their tasks very well. But I feel, to enjoy the ultimate transparency and neutrality of the source, one should always turn off colorations/equalizers.
Considering its neutral sound quality, it can match up with any genre and any headphone without sounding bad in particular. The transparency is really appreciable. PAW Gold is very resolving, transparent. Due to its resolving nature, it is unforgiving towards poor recordings. But feed it with good recordings, it can churn amazing sound quality.
Output power at headphone jack is very good and is sufficient to drive any and all IEM’s and also to drive most of the headphones, to extremely loud listening levels, I always listen to volumes below 60 on IEM’s and below 110 on headphones. Noise floor is audibly dead silent and pitch black. I could not detect any audible disturbance in any form from the PAW Gold. EMI pickup is completely nil, along with no pop sounds on startup or shutdown, which is really appreciable.
Comparing the PAW Gold with HiFiMAN’s HM901, I feel the competition is head-to-head in terms of sound quality as well as build quality. The HM901 is relatively warmer and intimate (depending upon card used), otherwise as detailed. Whereas the PAW Gold is very transparent, neutral, and relaxed. (Of course, we have to remember that PAW Gold costs about 800$ more than the HM901)
However, PAW Gold wins hands down in ergonomics, portability factor and output power. The PAW Gold is way smaller than the HM901, more comfortable to hold and operate, along with support for high speed USB 3.0 connectivity. It also has a more ‘simple and user friendly’ firmware than the HM901. Battery life is also marginally better in PAW Gold.
But one cannot deny the HM901 simply carries a sheer value aspect with it, and if right amp card is matched up, then the sonic quality & value aspect of HM901 will be preferable for many.
Conclusion: Although Lotoo is an unfamiliar brand in the audiophile world, The PAW Gold is an amazing and stellar DAP. It offers top-tier transparency, resolving power along with a greatly neutral sound quality. The sound quality is phenomenal and Build quality is supreme. The sole drawback I find is, it offers lesser price/performance ratio compared to the HM901, which is priced around 1200$. As you go higher up, Law of diminishing returns applies.
1) Build Quality: The PAW Gold has a top notch and extremely good build quality. absolutely no compromise to be seen anywhere. Battery life & UI too are pretty decent and reliable.
2) Sound quality: Top-tier sound quality and is very neutral, detailed, and expansive. Ideal sonic qualities for a DAP, and one of the best I have ever heard.
3) Transparency & resolving power: These deserve a special mention. Transparency and resolving power in the PAW Gold is simply one of the finest available in sub 2000$ category.
1) Heating: The PAW Gold’s chassis warms up little bit during song playback. I did check up with other members, it seems like the warming up is not really an issue. Even the HM901 warms up to this level.
2) Value: The PAW Gold is priced around 2000$ and considering the pricing of many of its rivals, I feel this one might posses a little lower price/performance ratio.
Pros - Neutral signature with an expansive sound, fast intuitive UI, feels solid in the hand, and a practical battery life
Cons - Price - in Japan, more expensive than the iRIver AK240, visually loud...gold gold gold, no ExFAT support
IntroductionChina & Korea have been churning out DAPs that it's gotten to a point it's difficult to keep track of. A lot of these DAPs also have a rather idiosyncratic and non-intuitive user interface, and/or slow to react to user interaction, coupled with poor battery life. They may have good sound however their poor user interface and impractical battery longevity is almost a deterrent to take them out for use. Therefore when @audionewbi encouraged me to give the Lotoo Paw Gold a shot, I felt I was doing him more a favour than for the product as I had little interest a gaudy looking DAP from China.
I managed to borrow a Lotoo Paw Gold from the local Japan distributor, Top Wing Tokyo, for 3 weeks and as I'll divulge in greater detail later that I'm extremely thankful that @audionewbi had brought this product to my attention as it turns out to be quite a wonderful DAP. To me it's a demonstration that brands from China are capable of producing something that not only sounds good but also has a decent interface that rivals some of the premium and more popular DAPs. Finally some focus has been paid to the user interaction to the device with an acceptable speedy response, rather than just focused entirely one sound.
I won't get into the specs of the device as the information is easily found elsewhere, nor will I delve into Lotoo except to say that Lotoo OEMs for Nagra (which seems to be better known).
Specifications Highlights & User InteractionI know, I mentioned I won't get into the details of this DAP but feel compelled to write a few words. The DAP uses a Burr Brown/Texas Instruments PCM1792 DAC & LME49600 OpAmp. It also has a 6000mAh battery that charges via a 12V/1A DC charger - therefore not USB charging. The battery is claimed to last 11 hours however I've not tested it that far. It has lasted a whole day for me so it seems it does come close to the advertised duration. During burn-in, the DAP does run rather uncomfortably hot therefore it's not recommended to have it in the pocket for Aextended duration.
The DAP is 60x104x25.4mm in dimension and weighs 280g. It fits in quite nicely in my hand and feels very solid :-
What grabbed me the most about the DAP is the interface is fast especially when it comes to playing large files (DSD, 24/192 FLAC, etc.). This is unlike some (more like most) other DAPs where there's a delay in hitting "play" and the track actually starting. Scrolling is fast too and overall the interface is quite intuitive. The LCD screen is a little daunting with all the colourful feedback it provides (probably an overkill) however it's not unattractive. Overall user interaction to me though is a surprise blessing as I didn't expect it to operate so smoothly and quickly. This to me is probably one of the major features of this DAP.
Before I started the review, I let the Paw Gold burn in for approx 100-150 hours listening to it every now and then. To me, the sonics did change during that time but very little. The treble smoothed out a little more but didn't change the overall signature of the DAP. During the time of listening, I compared it mostly against my Hifiman HM-901 with the yellow discrete Amp board, courtesy of @Mimouille who helped me buy one from China a few months back. Earlier this afternoon I also did compare it to my trusty Sony NW-ZX1. Unfortunately I didn't have my AK240 therefore was not able to provide a comparison against the iRIver DAP.
My primary earphone was the Noble Kaiser 10 (K10's) with a Dita Truth cable, FitEar MH335DW-SR with Tralucent Silver/Gold v2.0, and rather briefly Dita's Truth.
Most of the time I was listening to Alan Parson's Project Eye in the Sky, Earth Wind & Fire's Let's Groove, Shelby Lynne's You Don't Have To Say You Love Me & I Only Want To Be With You, Toto's I'll Be Over You, Sarah Morgann's Through The Eyes Of Love, & Alison Krauss' It Wouldn't Have Made A Difference - therefore mostly vocal jazz and some 80's pop/rock.
As an overall especially in comparison to the HM-901 & NW-ZX1, I found the Lotoo Paw Gold to sit right in between the two in terms of tonal signature. The Paw Gold felt neutral after going back 'n forth between the other DAPs. Compared to the HM-901, it feels somewhat more sterile but by no means no less musical. The HM-901 has a more warmer, mature and meatier sense of grasp of the music tracks but lacks the clarity and transparency in the trebles of the Paw Gold. As such the Paw Gold also feels somewhat fresh with a sense snap crispness giving it more air and spaciousness over the HM-901. The HM-901 felt more intimate with greater sense of depth due to it's warmer bass but the Paw Gold seems to have the edge of headroom. The combination that worked well for me was the Paw Gold with K10's and Dita Truth cables since the K10s are somewhat warm in the midbass to midrange and neutral trebles especially with vocals.
Switching to the FitEar MH335DW-SR however, which has copious amount of sub bass, the HM-901's warmer signature seems to take advantage of that by giving the overall signature a little more "thump" and authority. As such with the MH335DW-SR, I do have a tendency to pair it to the HM-901 instead however only marginally so. The Paw Gold still pairs well with the MH335DW-SR but just a tad dry compared to the HM-901.
With regards to the Dita Truth IEMs, I feel the Paw Gold emphasises a little too much on the trebles and on some tracks can sound somewhat brittle.
Meanwhile, I did get an opportunity to compare the Paw Gold to the NW-ZX1 too. This is where the Paw Gold demonstrates its neutrality. The NW-ZX1 has a more treble focus and across all the 3 IEMs could sound somewhat "rough" and a little harsh by comparison to the Paw Gold. Vocals are more emphasised on the NW-ZX1 too (but that doesn't mean the Paw Gold is mid recessed).
The Paw Gold performed rather well against these two other DAPs however when compared to dedicated components such as the Aurender Flow, the Flow does have the edge especially from the perspective of soundstage, depth and microdetail smoothness. However the Flow is a large component that requires an external player and is not so easily pouchable.
ConclusionThis DAP has actually great potential. Sonically it's up there with the rest of the premium DAPs and practically in terms of battery longevity and ease of use it's a blessing compared to some of the other DAPs around. I actually don't mind the aesthetics after a few days especially coupled with my flashy red with gold flakes Noble K10's (heck, this is Tokyo afterall...a land where walking out in your PJs is considered as fashion), and if one doesn't mind that, the only horrific pricing. In Japan the AK240 is ¥248,000 whilst the Lotoo Paw Gold is ¥285,000. It doesn't feature the balance headphone out the AK240 or the HM-901 has (with the balanced amp module), but at least with respect to the HM-901, I feel the Paw Gold doesn't really need to have balanced out. It's also a pity it doesn't support ExFAT but that's possibly why there's a USB 3.0 interface instead of USB 2.0.