Reviews by PDC3


Pros: Sound quality is near-desktop level when paired with Oppo PM-3
Cons: No phone capabilities. Jury out as to whether it will pair with other 'phones as well.
I set out to do a very unfair comparison:  my new Oppo HA-2 from iPhone vs my Desktop of the Schiit Asgard 2 from Optical Modi from iMac 2011.  Both systems driving my fairly new Oppo PM-3, which I love, but didn’t find well-served by my SoundBlaster e5 unless I tinkered quite a bit with its DSP and equalizer.  I found the claimed Oppo goals, and various Head-Fiers enthusiasm, to be well-justified in the Oppo pairing.  Indeed better sound quality than the PM-3 to e5.  So good, I wondered:  how close is this quality in a portable rig to my desktop configuration?
While trying to find this out, I learned some things about my gear, both desktop and portable, that made the trouble I took worthwhile.  But the short and sweet news is that this portable rig happily comes extremely close to my desktop rig.  I’m not going to think twice about the quality I can get in any chair in the house or any walk-about with the portable Oppo rig.  While occasionally there’s a distinction that justifies the existence of the desktop, there’s plenty of emotional satisfaction from the quality of the portable rig.
But only if I get all the settings right. 
In the first three comparisons below, the Oppo portable rig actually outperformed my Desktop rig.  That didn’t seem right.  Now, when I take the test of 6 tracks in the NPR test of “Can you hear a difference between file formats?” I only score 3 or 4 of 6.  I usually avoid the 128 kbps  file, but have trouble between WAV and 320 kbps.  I don’t consider my hearing “file sensitive” past the current Apple streaming at 256 kbps, and my plan is to shift my budget of music acquisition to streaming Apple Music. turns out that some of my favorite tracks, being favorites, were ripped early and consequently at 192 kbps mp3.  So the first accidentally happy news is that my gear now allows me to distinguish qualities that I had, to date, overlooked or could not detect at all.  My gear has caught up with my ears!
OK, after some re-encoding (much more to go!) the comparisons are now truly unfair, but “real world.”  Portable rig at 256 kbps AAC streaming (via home network) vs Desktop rig at Apple Lossless quality. One more caveat:  because the Oppo HA-2 “releases” the iPhone after a certain time, volume level-matching by ear has to occur at almost every comparison.  This really dilutes the scientific method, folks.  When I’ve felt I was hearing something different, I often tried again at slightly different volume to see if the distinction persisted.
So, here’s the question of the day:  If, for “serious listening," I take my portable to the living “comfy chair” instead of at the home office Desktop, what kind of quality am I giving up, if any?  Time to compare tracks.
Telarc’s all-digital recording of "In The Mood," Glenn Miller Orchestra
     Desktop: Excellent bite to the brass.  The bass is a bit undefined, as I’ve always heard it on my speakers.  Sax trade-off section is produced to be very L-R, but later the centered trumpet adds a sense of soundstage rather than old-timey “stereo” (a la early Beatles).  The trumpet solo shifts from pealing to growling are well-displayed.
     iPhone:  A bit more spaciousness; the bass definition is more clean but perhaps not as deep;  No difference in L-R placement of saxes.   The cymbals perhaps a bit less crisp.
Pat Metheny & Lyle Mays, “Ozark”.
     - iPhone:  Lyle Mays’ piano urgency in the upper treble is authoritative and compelling, as if your father had just urged you to do a better job, live up to your potential.  The incessant clicking of percussion marks time raggedly, breathlessly.
     - Desktop:  Conveys more of the beauty of Mays’ playing, as though the edge of the treble notes were not quite as harsh.  None of the urgency is lost.  
Manhattan Transfer “To You"
     iPhone:  Wonderful melding of voices who nonetheless maintain individual characters.  Beautiful climb in the piano, etched.  Wonderful lingering to the voices.  Bass swoop not overly defined. Alan’s solo handsomely modulated.
     Desktop: The comparison is so close I had to go back to play one particular passage near the opening.  Perhaps the desktop renders the soprano’s peak of “very” in the line “my very heart and soul,” with a bit more verve, but hearing this is so dependent on a match in overall volume level that I can’t be sure.  
Timothy Nolan, “Sorry-Grateful” on Sondheim 2-disc (out of print0  
     - iPhone:  Captures every modulation of the male voice, presents it all beautifully.
     - Desktop:  Difference too subtle to rule out volume imbalance.
Ahmad Jamal, “Poinciana” on Digital Works. 
     - Desktop:  In the heyday of the CD, I’d bring Digital Works as one of my “test albums” when hunting for an upgrade to my speakers.  Every shop’s manager would ask me to show them the album for their own acquisition.  Surely the playing excellent, the recording superbly intimate in detail yet with enough sonic “room” around each of the trio instruments to make you feel in the room. Tellingly the bass dives deep just as the cymbals ting delicately while Jamal’s piano zooms from subtle to sparkling to thundering.  Few better tests of your system and my desktop system does it justice.
     - iPhone:  Surprisingly and happily close to the desktop:  captures the interplay of cymbal, bass at subterranean levels and crystal-clear close-miked piano.  Exciting on any system, but the Oppo combo stopped me from all else to listen carefully once again. 
The Who, “Slip Kid"
     - iPhone:  After the big bass drum thunders, the count is down, the Townsend guitar must slash, my friends, just slash.  “I’ve got my KIT bag, my HEAVY boots, gonna run ‘till my feet are raw” from Daltrey must have the proper grit and inflection.  This is my anger song and it has to be right.  Hmm, on the portable rig not quite right, on the first try. 
HERE’s the 2nd LESSON:  I changed the setting on the HA-2 to “high” and re-matched the volume levels.  Much better, IMO and to my surprise.  Seems the “low” setting affects more than simply volume.  (The HA-2 volume knob is analog-driven when the phone is set to max volume, as mine was.)  The relationship of treble clarity to midrange changes also, and on High it is closer to my desktop reference - wonderful clarity to the slash without sacrificing the bass drum thump.  Now I truly had difficulty distinguishing the systems. 
So I went back to listen to “Ozark” once again, and can report that Mays’ piano trilled closer to its truth as I know it from desktop and speaker system.
     - As my gear has improved, I’m better able to appreciate the distinctions between higher vs lower kbps files.  Perhaps you’d benefit from re-visting your older file rips, too.
     - The “high” setting on an amp can be a bit more of a pain in that its harder to make fine volume adjustments, but for the HA-2 (at least), the better sound may be at the High setting.
     - With the right settings and file types, the Oppo HA-2 & Oppo PM-3 combo can deliver a sound quality experience so close to Desktop (at my level), that I will find listening anywhere fully satisfying.  If you’re young, you may take that for granted.  I’ve lived through 8-tracks, mid-fi vinyl rigs, and cassette decks that were increasingly better but not near ‘nuff.  I can tell you:  this is a wonderful time to be a walk-about audiophile.  Enjoy!
ADDENDUM - Other HA-2 considerations
Before you rush out to acquire the Oppo HA-2 based on my effusing here, check out other reviews.  The HA-2 isn’t that helpful when you get a phone call on your iPhone.  As far as I can tell, it needs to be unplugged from the lightning jack so you can take the call “normally”.  The Sound Blaster e5 has it beat in that regard.
Also, the HA-2 is a wonderful pairing with the Oppo PM-3 (as we’d hope) but I’m not yet sure it is the go-to amp for other headphones.  My first quick listens on my Grado RS-1 and Momentum On-ear on the HA-2 were not pairings that immediately seemed “right”.  If I learn more about that later I’ll post it on the HA-2 thread.
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THANKS for your research on this pairing of the PM3 and the HA2. informative about the gain setting making a big difference!
Revised my opinion regarding  Senn Momentum On-ear pairing.  HA-2 provides a bit more robustness to the sound.  However, not the "from heaven" pairing that it is with the Oppo PM-3 (on either Hi or Low settings).


Xduoo TA-22 balanced hybrid tube DAC/Amp/Preamp provides desktop love
Pros: Feature set
Sound quality meets or exceeds asking price
Cons: Menu takes some getting used to
Simultaneous preamp and headphone amp output won't work for every set up


A quality all-in-one desktop unit that arguably delivers beyond its sub-$500 (US) asking price. Gives solid evidence of how tube listening can differ from solid state listening, without over-the-top "tubey" sound effect. Easily recommended.

Brief Overview​

The Xduoo site is worth your attention when you want all the details. In brief, the TA-22 sports RCA analog and XLR analog inputs, plus DAC inputs for USB (B receptacle), coaxial, optical and major Bluetooth codecs including LDAC. The TA-22 uses these to feed its back-side preamp RCA out (controlled by volume knob), another RCA line-out (volume unaffected), and front-side headphone jacks that are standard single-ended 6.35 mm (what every receiver calls its "headphone out"), a pentaconn 4.4 mm balanced output and a 4-pin XLR balanced out.

The "hybrid" part of the TA-22 name refers to the fact that its two 12AU7 tubes are supported by "transistors for a Class A buffer," so not "OTL" as other tube amps are. The benefit of using solid state transistors coupled to the tubes ought to be driving a wider range of headphone impedances. The 22 claims up to 3 watts output via balanced outs.

Works Well Once You Know...​

I bought my unit on the strength of Josh Valour and other reviews, where the many headphone out options won me over versus the $200+ more expensive Lyr+ by Schiit. I'm quite pleased.

The dashing red volume knob works as expected, with a gentle clicking I don't notice any imbalance at low volumes although Xduoo doesn't boast of a "relay ladder volume control" the way the (louder clicking) Lyr+ does.

Pressing the red knob leads to the menu system. There is a quirk to the menu system, which makes ergonomic sense once the unit is set to your preferences. A quick press changes inputs. In fact, it changes inputs at the very first press, before the screen even registers that you've entered input options. A LONG press leads to other menu functions. Why this way? Well, I'm guessing that once you have "Long" features like filter type and gain set to your preference, what you'd want to do fastest and simplest is change inputs.

I don't see any control for outputs. In fact, the hp out and preamp RCA out worked simultaneously, as did hp and RCA line-outs. Some of you will have setups where that's a bother. (Contrariwise, I personally look forward to a future set-up where I pull out of storage an outboard sub and run it simultaneously with my Grado RS-1 VERY OPEN headphones. THAT should prove interesting.)

I set gain to "Medium" of the three levels, which means for most of my headphones: quiet listening at a setting of 20 (of 100), casual listening at 37-40, rocking out at 60, ear-ringing at 70.

Phones I Used on TA-22, Effect Compared to Asgard 2​

Focal -Drop Elex (great)
Dan Clarke Audio -Drop Aeon Closed (slightly different, equally good)
AKG "Quincy Jones" Q701 (very good)
Shure 1540 closed (equally good)
7Hz Timeless iem (great)

I listened to the Focal Elex both single-ended and 4.4 balanced. Not a big difference, if any. That suggests to me, given that I thought both experiences great, the SE headphone out has gotten its fair share of love from the Xduoo team, not playing second fiddle to the balanced outs.

The 7Hz Timeless I normally use on walks driven by the Fiio BTR 7 using 4.4 balanced. Sounds really good then, yet sounded even better out of the TA-22. Wider soundstage, more incisive treble, equally authoritative in the bass.

TA-22 Sound Experience vs Schiit Asgard 2​

The Asgard 2 is the "pure Class A" solid state amp from the Schiit team, before the days of the continuity circuit. It runs hot - significantly hotter than the TA-22 in fact.

Being poetic, the Asgard 2 is a chef's knife serving up the meat while the TA-22 sprinkles garnish over the plate. The Asgard 2 is incisive, the bass is firm, the soundstage is tight and so instruments are not noticeably in their own individual spaces.

The TA-22 offers bass presence and a touch of reverb that seems to fill a larger acoustic space. Instruments in higher registers are more spread out, and inhabit distinct spaces within this broader soundstage. Percussives in treble regions seem to ring a touch longer, or at least more obviously.

What This Means for Matching Phones and Tracks​

The effect of the TA-22 wasn't uniform across my phones. It seemed most noticeable and most welcome on the Focal Elex and the 7Hz Timeless.

These two really delivered on orchestral tracks. Try Osmo Vansk and the Minnesota Orchestra playing Bruckner or Mahler in hi rez. Similarly, big band sounds were fun too, like Christian McBride's big band or Ron Carter's Great Big Band (all puns intended, I'm sure). The TA-22 experience is closer to listening to stereo tracks through a good surround sound home theater, while the Asgard 2 is intimate and authoritative.

BTW, the Ron Carter album is "only" CD quality on Qobuz, and I have it 96/24 on my little HiBy R3, so I used the R3 USB out to the TA-22 to test the functionality of an Android out. Not only did it work well, the audio quality seemed a bit more precise. Now, I didn't carefully level match so maybe not. But if a sub-$500 DAC/Amp can approach distinguishing CD quality from Hi Rez, that's pretty darn fine.

Now, having heard POOR surround sound, I know something about how to mess up a good thing. Too much reverb means muddy bass, smearing cymbals, and a loss of precision in instrument placement. The TA-22 avoids these errors quite nimbly, thank you. Timbre seems realistic from strings to brass to winds. Well done.

Still, there's a rock and roll experience that, to my taste, is not about soundstage. Its about power, clarity and sharply defined edge to each note. The Asgard 2 delivers better in these characteristics.

Things I Didn't Test​

Look elsewhere if you require information on a) effect of rolling tubes b) XLR input c) Sound Quality of preamp/line-out functions, SQ of coax or optical inputs. Haven't assessed those elements.

Where's This Guy Coming From?​

I've always been a skeptic of high-end audio, in part out of envy (I've never had that kind of discretionary cash) and partly because I spent the 1970s frustrated by the ills of vinyl. The hiss during a quiet piano passage, the turntable rumble you can't cast off, the fussiness of cartridge and tone arm balancing. So along comes CD and I'm in heaven. But audiophiles? Oh no, vinyl is superior claimed (some) audiophiles. Bah, humbug to high end, says I.

So I gravitated towards a Ken Rockwell, "if it measures flat coming out of an Apple device then it must be good enough for me" sort of minimalistic point-of-view. Except my audio experiences kept overturning that philosophy. The Schiit Modi/Magni beat out the Apple hp out. The Asgard 2 beat out the original Magni. Nothing subtle about it, the evidence was in both my ears.

Still, I avoided tubes. "Why pay more for more distortion?" was my feeling. Then this last Christmas I visited family who lived within a 90 minute drive of the Schittr, the retail outlet of Schiit. I thought I wanted a Jotunheim. But then I heard the Folkvangr, bristling with tubes, via an AKG K701, close cousin to my Q701. So I knew! Never had my Q701 sounded that good; nor did the K701 sound that good from the Jotunheim on hand at the Schittr. So I dropped my distaste for tubes at that moment. And I ceased to feel superior to people who wanted to drop $1k or more on audio equipment. BUT it was now too late to evaluate the Lyr+ closely. Family called.

So since then I've been contemplating the Lyr+ but a bit unhappy it would obviate my small stash of balanced cables. And while I hadn't long with the Lyr+ I knew it wasn't in Folkvangr range, so was there a point? Along comes the TA-22 and here we are. Smiling, singing, whistling, happy. (Sure, the Lyr+ might yet be better still. Don't tell me just yet, I"m enjoying the high.)

Happy listening, whatever your groove!


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im changed stock tubes (this is TAD 12au7w or same psvane red logos) to rft and telefunken nos. differenr sohnd step up fron stock tubes
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Leo, can you post a photo of the tubes you changed?
@Eseales59 , cannot tell you exactly. I have experience with de Grado, but my testing was with the Elex and HD800S. I think you might enjoy it. I don't find the TA-22 lacking at all in bite and speed with these phones!
And remember, you can always tube roll!


HiBy R3 II provides upgrade as a portable DAP, commands respect as the heart of an entry-level deskt
Pros: Highly portable
4.4 balanced and 3.5 single-ended
Desktop-capable USB DAC/amp
Qobuz, Tidal built-in
Graphic equalizer and MSEB tone balancing mini-apps
Cons: No Android system, audio-focused instead
Album art not always captured
Quick-start guide not too helpful, play around to learn setting capabilities
Some settings, like clock change, occur when you touch and scroll a number but there's no arrows or other indicators that you can do so
TLDR: In every way I find important, the Mark II version of the HiBy R3 is a true upgrade from the prior version, well worth the current asking price (as of 10/2/23) of $179 and even more. You may find it bests a cellphone+dongle DAC combo, as I did. Dan Fogelberg sang "There's a place in this world for a gambler." Let's find out if a DAP can hold its place here, too.

The HiBy R3 II is a lower-mid tier digital audio player (DAP) with muscular sonic ambitions, including offering TIDAL, QOBUZ, Airplay and DLNA connectivity via WiFI; Bluetooth reception OR transmission with a wide range of codecs including LDAC and AAC (and aptx for transmission); and desktop DAC function from your computer or by sending digital out via its USB-C port using USB protocol or (whew) Coax if you can find and acquire the correct USB-C to Coax cable. (Caution, evidently polarities are important for Coax and I've not found enough data from either HiBy or cable providers to be sure of a proper "fit.")

Listed specifications include "Up to 380mW@32Ω drive power via balanced output" and "DSD256 & PCM384kHz/32bit / MQA16X" via dual ES 9219c chips. Many more details available on the HiBy site here

I first listened to it with the 7 Hz Timeless IEMs and immediately thought this quality of experience warranted some stress testing. The R3 II fared well with the Shure 1540 full-size open-backs, and the MSEB equalization system helped tame the bit of boom and spice up the overly tame top-end of these 'phones, but these are easy-to-drive cans. Time for a real test. I disabled MSEB and then I brought out the closed-back planar magnetic Oppo PM-3 headphones. While not terrors to drive, they do require more juice to their single-ended input than most of my cans except the Dan Clarks. Most of the track-by-track discussion below was heard on the Oppo cans with the R3 II on high gain at roughly 60% volume setting. (The R3 II could also drive the Dan Clarks but were puffing uphill it seemed. I decided it was not a logical pairing.)

This player hides within my men's shirt-pocket, yet is somewhat taller than its predecessor and sports a power/volume wheel that feels firm for its size, rather than rocker switches for volume control. The wheel is mostly an upgrade except when it snags in the pocket as one tries to pull out the DAP. A bit of practice minimizes that issue.
HiBy R3 II Shirt Pocker.jpeg

Compared to the prior versions, the Mark II has: superior screen resolution, shows a full album cover in track-specific mode, has large and so easily tapped buttons for MUSIC, SYSTEM, WIRELESS, STREAM MEDIA etc, and of course the volume wheel. This is a distinct improvement over prior versions of the HiBy OS with tough-to-tap small buttons.

While better ergonomically, there are still some puzzling quirks, like setting labels that are truncated and unexplained anywhere else. Fortunately, their use-cases seem unusual for most of us.

Compared to the R3 PRO, the sound is distinctly better - and I thought the PRO sounded just fine for the size and cost of that player. Yet the Mark II brings notably greater clarity, more lower-mid "weight" to the presentation without coloring or overpowering the details of the upper mids and treble frequencies. It was so obvious that if you like the HiBy R3 OS and its features and are considering this for an upgrade, I advise you pull the trigger without regret.

Nowadays, it seems reasonable to question the value of owning any DAP, particularly one that has no Android OS within it, "merely" the (very competent) HiBy OS. Why not just add a dongle DAC/Amp ("dongle") to one's smartphone instead of using the R3 II ("R3" for short)?
Well, I initially justified my purchase based on my love of Qobuz, liking the idea that even if somehow Apple and Qobuz parted ways, I'd still have Qobuz access when on my home network. But for the sake of curiosity, I set out to compare the R3 to the best dongle I own, which is the Fiio BTR-7 ("BTR" for short). The BTR boast a THX AAA amp.

Long ago, I determined that a using the BTR with a cable to my iPhone was somewhat but distinctly superior to using the Bluetooth-AAC capability. And I also realized that for walkabouts, the sonic improvement was essentially lost in the ambient sounds and distractions of walking outside. Still, having the "in the hotel room" capability of using the BTR as a dongle has been a pleasure. Based on sonics alone, the BTR beats out the Apple dongle and the ddHiFi TC44a "barely there dongle." The ddHiFi is still a fine choice for casual listening when being minimalist is top priority.

So why should I bring the R3 instead of the BTR? Because the sonics are superior, no doubt. Here's some details.

"Poinciana" on the album Digital Works by Ahmad Jamal is a wonderfully recorded track of a jazz piano trio. It demonstrates that there's definitely more meat to the lower mid range on the R3. Both systems displayed equally sparkly cymbals. But the R3 displayed more texture to the bass, where the leading edge of the bass note, which slips into the lower mid range, provides the gutsiness, literally, of the bass strings.

Dvorak's "Wild Dove" as conducted by Charles Mackeras leading the Czech Philharmonic, was also instructive. I started on the BTR, and the violins and violas were so silky smooth I felt I could rest my head on the sound. Switching to the R3, I heard that those strings actually have a woody overtone that is highly realistic. Further, there is greater hall resonance presented by the R3, so some notes more noticeably hang in the air. In comparison (and only then) the BTR seems flat. During a crescendo, the shifting dynamics were more etched in their rise and fall with the R3.

Then came a hidden ergonomic treat. I realized that the space limitations on my phone had caused me to omit a slew of albums that my complete 512 Gb card in the R3 was dutifully holding.

Looking for a female vocal, I found Tori Amos singing "Trouble" on a Chesky sampler album. Again, the R3 provided more authority in low mids and a broader, more compelling soundstage. Her voice was equally well rendered by both systems. The clincher was that the ping of a mini cymbal was more sonorous when rendered by the R3.

My Hi Rez file of Al Jarreau with Kelly Price singing "No Rhyme or Reason" again showcased how the R3 offered a more realistic-seeming soundstage in breadth and depth, and the plosives in Jarreau's mouth were more evident at matched volume levels.

Then I crafted a test that should have put an entry level DAP to shame. I ran the R3 single-ended out to the RCA inputs on my Xduoo TA-22 amp and contrasted it with the same file played from my iMac into the TA's DAC section. Any benefits of the tubes would be the same for both signals. The TA DAC edged out the R3 by providing even deeper bass but in the treble of "Moon Tune" by Bob James and David Sanborn, I couldn't detect much difference. And tonally, both provided the same sensations. Then on "Since I Fell" from the same album, again with Jarreau vocals, I output from the R3 USB-C to the DAC input on the TA. A direct A-B comparison is not possible for my setup in quick enough time, but I'm confident the R3 was not a disappointment compared to the iMac output.

The HiBy R3 II is a remarkable device, particularly for its size and price. If your interest is strictly on the audio side of things, as distinct from Android capabilities (like gaming, YouTube or movie playback), then I can confidently recommend it. Certainly if you're an audiophile looking to introduce someone to quality sound, this makes a wonderful start on the hobby. Its flexibility, features and sonic quality make the quality-to-price value almost ridiculously favorable. Features, yes. I forgot to mention the 10-band equalizer and the (whaaat?) e-book reader.

Before you call its bit of struggle with very hard-to-drive cans a drawback, I'll ask if you already have a desktop headphone amp with or without associated DAC, because the R3 II can provide content to your desktop setup either way. (I have a cable with balanced pentaconn male to a pair of XLR male somewhere, which could only be better than the RCA interface I described above. I'll be on the hunt for that cable cable, cable, cable....)

Back to ergonomics: the dongles that have been praised by reviewers recently have been fairly large compared to the Apple dongle. Yes, the R3 II is bigger still, but in terms of "pocket bulge" the walk-about experiences may not be that different. The Moonriver 2 Ti is 57mm x 19.6mm x 13.4mm compared to R3 II at 86.9*60.6*14.5mm. Note the thickness of each: 13.4 vs 14.5 mm. That's the "bulge" difference. And here's a picture of the R3 II in red versus the BTR 7.
Thickness R3II v BTR7.jpeg

Further, the R3 II means you are NOT draining your smartphone's battery; the R3 II can handle all your files most likely, leaving room on your phone for other important apps and storage; and it will receive Bluetooth at LDAC quality from your phone - or even Airplay from your phone if you create a phone-specific WiFi network for travel purposes. So Apple Lossless or Spotify lossless (uh coming soon?), can be sent to the R3 II from your phone.

When a Digital Audio Player is a three-way satisfier as the Hiby R3 II is: highly portable, desktop flexible and fairly low-cost, then I say there's still room in this world for a DAP.
Great review! Can spotify or pandora play through this too?
claud W
claud W
This little DAP can handle any operations as the big DAPs and is actually portable. For reviewers without DAP, you can increase your credbility for $117 @ MT.


Pros: Folding portability
Cheery frequency response yet accurate tone
Mini-XLR detachable cable
Easy to drive
High value for the money
Replacement pads available (round 100mm)
Cons: Slender sub-bass with only fair bass impact
Included pads seal poorly with glasses (but well without)
The AKG K275 will cheerfully perform in more use-cases than AKG will suggest.

Early comments on this AKG K275 were largely welcoming to this 50 mm dynamic closed-back headphone, featuring folding hinges for relative portability given the big circumaural pads. As a fan of my AKG Q701 that uses the same mini-XLR connector, I bought a set of the K275, hoping to maximize cable flexibility.

The K275 is billed as a “Studio” HP which fits its included, long (5m), coiled cable. But I have a shorter cable from the Q701 and I’ve acquired an adaptor that attached to the mini-XLR and accepts a 3.5 mm plug (the mini-plug typical for portable devices). Both options work great.

To try to give y’all a sense of these headphones (HP), I’m going to compare them to German Maestro DMP 8.35 D (GM) closed-back dynamic HP at the same list price ~$200 US; and my Oppo PM-3 closed-back planar magnetic HP, once at $400, since discontinued. The PM-3 (PM) is the closest I have to an acknowledged (by ears more professional than mine) “neutral” frequency response with excellent sub-bass extension, and a deliberate notch down in the treble at 5kHz to alleviate listening fatigue.

Overall: I’m getting more than I paid for with the K275 compared to the GM, but it doesn’t reach the capabilities of the PM, as one would expect (and hope) from their prices. There’s three sins of <$200 HP that make me very cross: tubby “in the barrel” bass; screechy treble that makes woodwinds sound like brass and splash cymbals all over my ears; and uncomfortable ergonomics. The K275 avoid all 3 sins and has some pleasant added capabilities besides.

Comfort: I like the Q701 suspension headband (except for the bumps, but that is readily solved). Not everyone does. For me, the K275 uses less expensive material but is easily as comfortable on my head (7.5” hat size with a bit of an odd shape, so no mean feat). Clamping is light.

Bass: There’s a distinct difference between the capable PM in sub-bass delivery, and especially its impact. The PM moves that air with a palpable thump; neither the K275 nor the GM can. Of the latter two, the K275 is better able to depict sub-bass, and EQ will help. Without EQ, the closed-back design of the K275 seals well without glasses, and so there’s a pleasant resonance in the bass that, for non-critical listening, compensates mostly for the lack of sub-bass. I agree with AKG that the bass that is present is well-articulated. The GM hasn’t ever sealed that well. AKG touts its new “slow retention foam” pad design, so kudos…except the new pads don’t touch the head and jawbone with a flat surface, but rather a rounded one. This means the stems on my glasses break the seal enough so that the bass is notably affected, degrading it somewhat. Brainwavz 100 mm round pads have therefore been an improvement when wearing glasses, as they seal better. Unfortunately, neither seal as well as the Dekoni pads I acquired for my AKG Q701, which I was hoping to test on the K275. But the pad attachment process is different for the Q701 versus the K275 which uses a "wrap around and squeeze" elastic band. Ah, well.

Mids: Extremely nice for the K275. Right there with the PM in rendering voice and woodwinds, whereas the GM add a slight metallic edge to woodwinds.

Treble: The K275 (and GM) come off brighter than the PM-3. Sometimes, as with the Q701, the compensation for this brightness is a sense of clarity and being able to “see into the music.” I don’t really get that sense with the K275. Accurate enough, pleasant enough, but not particularly revelatory. Some Head-Fi fans know themselves to be adverse to bright sound signatures, and I think they’d want to avoid the K275, particularly if they don’t like the K7?? series sound signature. However, I’m content.

Soundstage: I’m not particular about this, so take my comments with a grain of salt. I find the K275 soundstage to be quite good for a closed-back. It is certainly wider than the intimate Oppo PM-3. The K275 tracks nicely with the frantic psychedelic panning of Jimi Hendrix on the Cry of Love album, for instance. While the far edges aren’t “way out there” there’s little doubt where the guitar sound is coming from. On Amber Rubarth’s Sessions from the 17th Ward, the binaural nature of the recording is clearly evident. I suspect you’ll have to go to an open-back or a MUCH more expensive closed-back to do better in soundstage depiction.

Dynamics/Congestion: My “test of iron” for HP is Kunzel’s recording of Albeniz’ Fete-Dieu A Seville, wherein a quiet passage of trading woodwinds leads to a crescendo climaxing with ringing bells and seemingly every orchestral instrument known lending voice. Keeping coherence is that passage, so that it sustains a sense of music during the onslaught, is difficult. The Oppo PM-3 handle this very well; the GM gets slurry and overly bright; the K275 is pretty darn good. With repeated listening, I found the PM handles higher volume well, whereas the K275 does itself proud at less-than-truly-orchestral volume.

Studio Use Case: I don’t mix professionally, but I’d nonetheless advise that those of you on a budget could use the K275 for in-studio as AKG contends, although I’d suggest an EQ that boosts 32-64Hz about 3 db so you don’t unintentionally overwhelm with your mix bass level. You may want to EQ down at about 4-8 kHz too.

Walkabout Use Case: Ha! This is what I ACTUALLY bought the K275 for. I have a Fiio BlueTooth “clip on” receiver/amp and it drives the K quite satisfactorily. Of course, I don’t use the included cable, but rather the mini-XLR -> 3.5mm female adaptor, and a Monoprice mini-plug to mini-plug short cable to attach to the Fiio. Obviously, we’re not talking critical listening during walkabout with my dog, and so any minor drawbacks of the K275 recede to nothing, leaving a very enjoyable listening experience for a grand total under $200 (yeah, I’m a bargain shopper). And yes, the isolation is good with included pads (no glasses) considering it has no noise-canceling function. I’d say fairly close in reduction to my IEM using Comply tips. Good enough to satisfy me in my suburban neighborhood, but if you’re boarding a train or plane, you are in another use-case altogether.

Other use cases: Are you thinking about In-workplace (or in room or in bed), where you want to avoid disturbing others? The K275 will be very fine. Otherwise, not enough clamp for exercise; not enough isolation for noisy trains and planes.

Value: As I’ve suggested, I consider the AKG K275 an excellent value. It is a noteworthy improvement over any over-ear sub-$100 HP I’ve heard, well worth saving up. As I’ve described, it bests a competitor at about the same price. Doubling (or more) the cost will (usually) get you better HP, but you know what you can afford. The only folks I’d wave off would be those seeking a fat bass/avoiding a bright signature (say, desiring the Beats models of old or the B&W P5); and those who have use-cases that don’t fit the K275 capabilities. Otherwise, enjoy.
Thx for review, your the first one on internet far as I can tell. I'm looking at these headphones as I bought Beyerdynamic DT770 and send back three pairs of them (two 80 ohm variants, and one 32 ohm). My issue was bass distortion, on all of them in about the same place, but a bit less on 32 ohm variant. I likes sound on them overall, but bass distortion on studio grade headphones are unacceptable.

Have You tried DT770? Can You somewhat compare?
Which mini-XLR -> 3.5mm female adaptor are you using, if you don't mind me asking?


Pros: e5 for features, tinkering; Oppo HA-2 for sound quality with Oppo PM-3
Cons: HA-2 has no Bluetooth or phone-talk capabilities; Soundblaster e5 without its DSP is sonically congested by comparison to HA-2.
My recent audio hunt has been about getting the best possible sound out of my iPhone 5s (or 3s for 30 pin use).  Being very much in the Mac world with all kinds of devices, I’m eager to use my iPhone(s) as transports for music, rather than buy a dedicated player.
I’m rushing to post these impressions because Massdrop is featuring the portable DAC/amp/bluetooth-capable Soundblaster e5 on a drop as of today’s email (6/8/16). The Oppo HA-2 is similarly Apple MFi certified, portable DAC/amp.  The iPure-20 is a (now old) desktop DAC/pre-amp providing 30-pin Apple to line-out.  The e5 and HA-2 can optical out the iPhone’s digital, so you could choose to use any of them on the desktop as simply the “chain” from iPhone to your own desktop DAC/amp setup (since the iPure has coaxial digital out).  All have other features, the e5 a ton, but let’s focus on sound.
Topline:  There’s no losers among the three options.  On the desktop as line-out, the iPure-20 offers the most spacious, uncongested sound, followed closely by the HA-2, more distantly by the e5.  As a portable rig, the HA-2 clearly bests the e5 when the e5 DSP is not engaged.  
The HA-2 is my most recent, month-old acquisition.  The other two DAC/amps I’ve owned for many months.  The e5 has been my walk-about portable and, based on mood and need, I’ve used its Bluetooth (too flabby in the bass for reference but better than lower-cost portable bluetooth DAC/amps I’ve owned) and its iPhone-lightning-e5 configurations. 
DESKTOP USE:  I was considering letting go of the iPure-20-Schiit Magni-2 desktop setup in favor of using the line-out capability of the e5.  I tested all three DAC/amp/line-out capabilities with Al Jarreau’s Churchyheart (Backyard Ritual) (feat. Marcus Miller) because the soundstage ought to be huge, the Miller bass runs deep, there’s a low woodwind and tinkling cymbals all at once.  For this line-out to Adam Audio Artist 3 & Velodyne subwoofer setup, all three DACs sent their line-out to the Schiit Magni acting as preamp.  If time were not of the essence I’d listen to more tunes back-to-back, but I wouldn’t expect my impressions to change much.  The iPure-20 earns its keep with a wide, spacious and precise soundstage while clearly distinguishing among the bass rumbles of a variety of bass-heavy instruments.  Without DSP help, the e5 could not keep up.  (Dang!  So much for down-sizing.)  Interestingly, the HA-2 was close to the iPure but its “line out” was much lower in volume and I had to compensate by ear as best I could.
OK, since my goal was to justify letting go of the iPure/iphone 3s combo, could I “cheat” with the e5 DSP engaged in order to increase the sense of spaciousness?  Mostly, yes.  The equalizer and “spaciousness” sliders really do work and have a pleasing range from subtle to bold, so finding a sweet spot is possible.  In the time I had, I didn’t find a “match” to the iPure, but the early indication is that I should try more.
PORTABLE USE:  I bought the HA-2 because I 99% love my fairly new Oppo PM-3 planar headphones, but to achieve the sound I like I often want to boost the treble at about 4k Hz a couple of decibels.  Yet people here on Head-Fi and over a InnerFidelity owning the PM-3 and HA-2 didn’t seem to need such a boost.  
Well, I was immediately impressed and pleased with the HA-2 & PM-3 combo out of my iPhone 5s.  The treble’s “presence” was now in appropriate proportion, without becoming sibilant or harsh.  (I tried going immediately to HA-2 & Grado RS-1 and it was a mistaken pairing.  The Grado tends towards brightness and sounded harsh, rather than my more usual impression, which is one of clarity and detail.  I’ll have to try again without such a direct comparison, and by engaging the bass boost on the HA-2 when using the Grado.)
With the PM-3, the HA-2 to unvarnished e5 is no contest, the HA-2 wins.  It provides more authority up and down the frequency spectrum, all sounds in their place, properly proportioned and uncongested.  
RECCOMENDATIONS:  If your budget-conscious side sees the difference between the $199 e5 (and even better MassDrop pricing) and the $299 HA-2 as huge, then the Soundblaster e5 provides worthy improvement over an unadorned iPhone even before you tinker with EQ and sound space settings.  If you enjoy tinkering with such settings, the e5 will please you.  If you worry that the next generation of iPhones will dispense with a headphone jack, the e5 MFi certification and state-of-the-art Bluetooth connectivity will do right by you, allowing any of your headphones and earphones to be future-proofed.
However, if you’re a purist/minimalist and/or you are exacting in sound quality requirements, I’d recommend the Oppo HA-2 above the e5, even if, like me, it required waiting to save up.  Like the alternative, the HA-2 future-proofs all your current headphones against a next generation iPhone which may have no headphone out, since the HA-2 will take directly from the lighting connector (but not Bluetooth).  The sound the HA-2 provides my Oppo PM-3 takes me from gold card to platinum card level of sonic luxury.  
There’s more to learn about the features of both these portable DAC/amps, so read other Head-fi reviews, which have been very helpful to me.  Happy listening!  
Creative SoundBlaster e5 vs Schiit Asgard 2 + Modi Optical

Topline:  the e5 is distinguishable from the desktop system but is emotionally satisfying, delivering great value for its intended purposes.


Having recently acquired the Creative SoundBlaster e6 portable dac/amp/eq/effects processor, I wanted to see whether & how much I'd be giving up versus my desktop Schist Asgard 2 coupled to the Schiit Modi optical dac (from an iMac 2008).  I jumped on a Massdrop deal on the e5 instead of continuing to save towards the Oppo HA-2.  Should I be restless or content with that impulsive buy?

The e5 analog line-in would allow me to compare amp to amp, but that's not my goal.  I'm interested in one system versus another.

I used my AKG Quincy Jones 701 over-ear headphones because of all my 'phones they are the hardest to drive (although not truly "hard" at 62 ohms) and also the most neutral - and consequently, I tend to turn up the juice to get the full effect of my tunes.  (Whereas my Grado RS-1 and, in a different way, my Sennheiser Momentum On-ear both tend to lend their own distinctive sparkle & rumble even at lower gain.) 

The good part of this test is that I could level match, because the optical out to the Modi is fixed, with volume controlled solely by the Asgard 2.  So by ear I could level-match to the USB-volume-controlled e5.  Admittedly, "by ear" assumes a lot but I did my best, folks.

I kept all the "fancy" Soundblaster EQ/processing software off (but will affirm that it is capable of very subtle adjustments that have helped my NAD Viso HP50 respond in just the way I would like in portable use).


Treble "sparkle" - The e5 offered a bit more snap to percussive stings compared to a smoother presentation from the Schiit system.  The opening phrases of Jazz Crusaders/Joe Sample's "Soul Shadows" and the horns in the Telarc recording of Joe Williams "Alright, OK, You Win" suggested this.  But the slightly lower tone of the metallic item (a key?) dropped on the floor at the start of The Who's "Music Must Change" with its accompanying mid-treble guitar strum seems livelier on the Schiit system, perhaps due to a more true presentation of the slight echo surrounding the drop's bouncing waveform..  

Bass rumble and thump - On Stanley Clarke's growling opening to "I Wanna Tell You 'Bout That" the difference is subtle, but a sense of depth and, for lack of a better term, "authority" definitely went to the Schiit system. Ditto on Ahmad Jamal's "Poinciana" from "Digital Works" where Larry Ball's bass goes crazy low.  But the Frederic Fennel hi-rez of Movement 3 of "Suite for Military Band #1 in E-flat" features a bass drum window-rattler with an immediate follow-up low rumble that thumps and murmurs more convincingly on the e5.  So I feel I'm hearing very subtle shifts from one system to another in frequency presentation and hang time between the systems.

Vocals, Male - Couldn't tell any difference on Bill Withers soul, Joe Walsh's whine, Joe Williams' growl.

Vocals, Female - Mike Manieri produced Carly Simon's "Torch" with a great deal of echo on "I've Got it Bad..." and when she levitates her voice that treble snap on the e5 gives it more presence than the Schiit system - not to its advantage, IMHO.  Diana Krall's voice on "Willow Weep for Me" is produced to be more forward and intimate, and the differences between the systems fade.

Clarity vs Congestion & Soundstage - To me, this was the most telling distinction.  The Schiit system effortlessly maintained a clear presentation of all instruments/vocals when the electric guitars layered over drums/bass and background "oooh" vocals on Joe Walsh/Barnstorm's "I'll Tell the World About You"; and again at the 30-second mark on Chicago's "Question 67 & 68" when guitar rips over horns that are already blaring.  Most tellingly, the Eric Kunzel/Telarc recording of Albeniz's "Fete Dieu A Seville" goes from sleepy streets to riotous celebration starting at 1:06, and it seems every orchestral instrument ever played is weighing in. The e5 wasn't jarring or disappointing, just a bit less able to keep every tone clear and in its place.  The soundstage seemed wider with the Schiit system as well.


Soundblaster Creative has nothing to apologize for in its e5, but I wouldn't call it a "reference" system.  I'm happy to own it for exactly my intended purposes - a nighttime EQ-able companion to my NAD that, IMHO, needs a bit more treble; and as a very portable, high-quality dac/amp.

At under $200, the e5 was compared to my roughly $350 Schiit desktop system and, unsurprisingly, does not match it.  But 200/350 = 57% the budget and the Soundblaster Creative e5 surely gets the budget-conscious consumer more than three-quarters of the way up my best-yet personal audio ladder. 
Furthermore, in terms of convenience, space-saving, sonic flexibility, combined line-out pre-amp and more, the e5 is probably an ideal for many a listener.  I sure as heck would have loved it in my dorm room back in the day (not that we knew what an "audio file" was back then).  Here's a clue:  listening to "Poinciana" again as I'm focused on writing this, and I had to glance down to remember which system was producing this pleasing sound - the e5. 

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