Echobox Explorer

Rating:
4.25/5,
  1. ExpatinJapan
    Beauty inside and out
    Written by ExpatinJapan
    Published Feb 2, 2018
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Original design, android UI, fast UI, great sound, beautiful looking.
    Cons - some noise with wifi
    Echobox Explorer Review
    - Expatinjapan



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    Echobox Explorer review
    -expatinjapan

    https://echoboxaudio.com/

    Website blurb:
    `Move over iPod, the Explorer is a revolutionary new portable HiFi audio player that puts the feeling back into listening on-the-go.
    Using state-of-the-art digital audio conversion technology, along with a powerful 300mw amplifier, the Explorer enables you to experience your favorite music in the way the artist intended you to hear it. Crystal clear highs, robust mids and silky smooth bass derived from the world-renowned "Burr Brown" DAC chip, combined with enough power to drive even the most demanding of headphones, and run entirely on an open Android 6.0 platform, the Explorer is designed to meet the exacting criteria of modern audiophiles.
    And to complete the package, we have partnered with TIDAL, the world’s premier HiFi music streaming platform, to offer a free 3 month trial subscription with your purchase, enabling you instant access to over 48.5 million songs in lossless quality.
    Oh, and did we mention it is made from solid hand-crafted hardwood available in four unique styles?`

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    The conception and birth of the Echobox Explorer is a long tale and one I will briefly touch upon.

    I first met the Echobox team way back at a Fujiya Avic show in Tokyo, Japan (??/????, perhaps I can local some photos). They were off in on of the side rooms where I usually pop my head in ever so briefly as usually it is high end gear for home systems and I am more of a portable gear type.
    I may have been by myself or with the Head-fi team, I forget in the haze of history, but they were quite friendly and showed me their dap, which I wasn`t too keen to try but was interested in holding it as it was a bit different. But I couldn't help but think 'why this stupid flask design?'. Surely If one wants to make it in this business sticking to the tried and true black box or rectangle was the way to go. And I wrote them off as enthusiastic dreamers aiming for a niche market of the smallest proportions.

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    Fujiya Avic headphone Show, May 2015. Tokyo.
    Perhaps my first look at the Echobox Explorer.

    Over time and a few audio shows I would see them again (mainly Gilly and their Japan representative at the time) and their politeness coupled with friendliness kept me coming back to say hello.
    Eventually the reluctant reviewing site Head pie blog began and some how it was arranged to send samples of their Finder X1 earphones which were reviewed in the early rustic days of this site.

    I hadn't tried the dap at shows for sometime as I was on a photo essay craze for shows around that time and wouldn't really listen to too much gear except that I was really interested in. Shows would make me fatigued and the rushing around snapping shots to keep the blog punters happy didn't help either.

    Eventually around early 2017 I ran into Sam in the flesh for the first time at a local show and we rustled off for a coffee, and I had a chance to show him a great local cafe and to also properly listen to the Echobox Explorer. I was quite impressed as I had not listened to it for sometime.

    I was not unaware of the various delays of the Echobox Explorer indiegogo campaign at the time, whilst not as delayed as other campaigns it was nevertheless delayed as are many crowdfunding campaigns. I followed the story on Head-fi and by reading the indiegogo updates and comments.
    I was not a backer. I had enough daps and already experienced the thrill of a backing campaign earlier on with another company. So my emotional investment was minimal at best. I do like to follow various companies progress though.
    As I had earlier met Gilly (who departed the campaign in due course) and later engaged in some online dialogue with Sam I had high hopes for the eventual completion of the campaign.

    In the end the campaign was completed, there were a few build issues which the company addressed, and an early software/firmware update addressed other issues promptly.

    In the end my earlier doubts about design were proved wrong and conservative and the general doubts I had about the eventual sonic quality of the player were dispersed.

    As it stands my present view of the Echobox Explorer is a positive one, they set out and achieved their initial goal, which was to produce a uniquely designed dap with excellent sound.

    An earlier interview with George Gill, previously with Echobox in late 2015

    https://headpie.blogspot.jp/2015/11/echobox-interview-with-george-gill.html

    Echobox Finders X1 earphones review from 1/2016
    https://headpie.blogspot.jp/2016/01/echobox-finder-x1-in-ears-review.html


    Unboxing and build


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    Echobox Explorer with the supplied UAPP app suggested to be used as stock player.

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    The Explorer comes stock with four different color options:
    Mahogany - Maple - Zebra Wood and Ebony.

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    Echobox Explorer and ATH-ESW11

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    Specifications and features
    Professional-grade audio hardware
    Open-source Android OS
    Hand-crafted genuine hardwood body
    Wireless connectivity (WiFi, Bluetooth, DLNA)
    1/8" analog & optical outputs
    Free 3-month trial for TIDAL HiFi
    64 GB capacity with microSD slot for additional storage

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    Sound


    A variety of earphones were used to test and review the Echobox Explorer.
    Music tracks were generally in 16/44 FLAC.
    I used the UAPP app exclusively.


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    Echobox Explorer and Campfire Audio Vega




    I am rather a shuffler when it comes to music playing these days. I have narrowed down my preferred artists and albums to a bare minimum and occasionally play a whole album.

    This has resulted somewhat through choice as well as necessity, having started a new job with minimal commuting and cafe opportunities and also having a baby and son at home limits my portable rig time.

    Nonetheless the time I do have is spent well, the choice between grabbing a tried and true dap and a review item at times is fraught with various stresses and XXXXX. The same is similar for earphones.
    So it is always a pleasure when I have a review item I enjoy to use and listen to. such as the Echobox Explorer.

    The DAC isn't the be all and end all, although each brand (AKM, ESS etc) often displays a certain characteristic aside from the influence of the AMP chip.

    The Echobox Explorer uses a Burr Brown chip which usually results in a clean sound, clarity which can be interpreted at times as a slight touch towards the bright side, or more air between the various instruments and sounds. In this particular implementation and in combination with the amp choice it results in enough warmth to please and tame any overly digital signature or to be highs focused.

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    Ideally I look for a player that is true to the earphones used, and doesn't alter or misrepresent their intended signature.
    The Echobox Explorer does this fairly well. generally it has a accurate, clean and natural sound to it.

    The music is well matched and fairly even with the vocals.
    The sound is engaging, rich with resolution and definition.

    The sound stage on the Explorer is much larger on height and width.
    The sound stage is increased in the width, slightly in the height whilst not much more in the depth.

    Instrument separation is distinct and good, layering is quite acceptable.
    The Burr Brown Dac shows its standard signature with clarity, focus, speed and air.

    Vocals are well matched to the music, at times slightly forward of them. The vocals being centered and/or upwards within ones skull.

    The bass hits where required, when a track demands it..

    The signature is a familiar signature neutral with a touch of mid warmth and clear highs, the Burr-Brown dac chip seem to fit in between the AKM dac chips and the Sabre ESS dac chips.

    I found I could happily listen to the Echobox Explorer with my various favorite earphones and be quite satisfied whether on a daily commute, or quietly sitting in a cafe drinking coffee.


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    Echobox Explorer and ibasso IT01

    User interface

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    The stock app of the Echobox Explorer is the UAPP app - USB Audio Player Pro app.
    The UI is quite easy to use, and I little problem navigating my way around once I had grown accustomed to it.
    There is also an Android option, but I recommend the UAPP app as it yields significant sonic improvements over the Android option.

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    Some menus within the UAPP app.

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    Size

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    As can be seen the Echobox Explorer fits nicely into the palm of ones hand.
    The basic foot print is around the same as an ipod touch 6G.
    The Explorer is more Thicc of course.


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    Expatinjapan trying out the Explorer with the Campfire Audio Vega and iBasso CB13 cable and Effect Audio 2.5mm balanced to 3.5mm single ended adapter. Early first look.

    Tidal and wifi

    Each Echobox Explorer comes with a three month TIDAL code.

    I tested the wifi within my house, bearing in mind I survive on blazing fast Japan internet. My router is on the second floor.
    I found I was able to walk all around my house, upstairs and downstairs with the Echobox Explorer with no drop outs or pauses whilst playing youtube music videos.



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    Echobox Explorer and Campfire Audio Lyra ii

    Price

    The Echobox Explorer is US$599.

    It can be ordered from the Echobox website: https://echoboxaudio.com/

    Echobox also has distribution in 15 countries.

    It fits its price in my opinion.

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    Echobox Explorer, Astral Acoustics Taurus Balanced IEM cable and adapter to SE
    and Campfire Audio Andromeda

    Types of wood housing

    The Explorer comes stock with four different color options:
    Mahogany - Maple - Zebra Wood and Ebony.

    Photos from the e-earphone headphone show in Tokyo, Japan.
    https://headpie.blogspot.jp/2016/07/e-earphone-headphone-show-7162016.html

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    Maple and zebra wood.

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    Mahogany and ebony.

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    Updating

    Firmware and software
    https://echoboxaudio.com/pages/downloads
    How to update
    https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0IrNzgCzLh1U0dBZjczTnpQcjQ/view

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    Echobox Explorer and the Magaosi K3 HD

    Overall

    The Echobox Explorer is an easy to use unique looking Dap.

    I prefer to use the UAPP App that comes packaged with the Explorer and is the recommended player to use and shines over the stock Android app. The UI of the UAPP is fairly easy to use.
    Those familiar with Android devices should feel at home with the Explorer overall..

    Build is solid. Some early units has issues with wood cracking at the base but this has been resolved. Not an easy choice of material to work with, but oh so smexy good.

    The lovely bend of the flask body fits within a hip pocket nicely when compared to traditional flat, squarish, black box dap design.

    The top button is the main only surface control and doubles as on/off switch and volume knob.
    The rest of the functions are accessible via its touchscreen.

    For all intents and purposes I found the Explorer to have enough amplifying power. Although I didn't test it with any super hungry cans admittedly, for the average user the amount of leeway within the volume pot should well suffice.

    The music is well matched and fairly even with the vocals.
    The sound is engaging, rich with resolution and definition.
    The signature is one of clear, controlled clarity.
    The sound stage on the Explorer is fairly expansive, but not extensive, layering is acceptable..
    Instrument separation is distinct and the Burr Brown Dac shows its standard signature with clarity, focus, speed and air.

    It feels fantastic in the hand, especially when not using the cover, although that may lead to scratches, its a hard decision.

    Although it `only` has 1GB RAM, I havent experienced any lag or slowness whilst navigating around the menus, very much like my ipod touch 6G. The Rockchip quadcore contributing to its speed and ease.

    The campaign took its time to completion and had a few teething problems as already mentioned, but I am not here to critique the company but to review the Explorer. Although in my opening comments and elsewhere I have made statements that I am not oblivious to the history. Such are the perils of crowdfunding. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and deliver the product they did.

    I found I could happily listen to the Echobox Explorer with my various favorite earphones and be quite satisfied whether on a daily commute, or quietly sitting in a cafe drinking coffee.

    The Echobox Explorer nary faults in the sonic department ultilising a Burr Brown Dac chip when paired with the excellent UAPP player app, the styling of the flask is more an individual taste and one I have become accustomed to and now appreciate.

    The Echobox Explorer, a stylish looking, great sounding mid tier dap that dared to be different.

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    The Echobox Explorer with Astral Acoustics IEM cable.


    Thank you to Echobox for sending Head pie the Explorer X1 for review

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  2. cleg
    Swimming against the tide
    Written by cleg
    Published Feb 2, 2018
    4.5/5,
    Pros - real wood, smooth finish, enjoyable signature, plenty of power, familiar player software
    Cons - screen mount, non universal signature, background noise with wifi
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    Well, waiting for this DAP's release gave experience, similar to watching good drama TV series (BTW, am I the only one who thinks that the best drama ever is "BoJack Horseman"?) — full of twists, emotions and waiting. Announced in 2015, Explorer was re-worked, participated in crowdfunding and finally made it's way to customers.

    First of all, I'd like to thank Echobox for providing me a review sample in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion.
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    Currently, Explorer seems to be getting quite extreme opinions varying from love to almost loathing. I think it's pretty expectable because this DAP is built entirely in the way creators wanted it to be without looking too modern marketing tendencies. I guess I can call these ideas "vision," and if you share it with creators, you'll like this DAP, if not — just skip it, luckily we have tons of mainstream players appearing every day.

    I'll briefly skip the package part, it's typical for modern DAPs, besides the player itself, you'll get USB Cable, an excellent case made of thin leather for player's protection. I don't know who will buy a wooden player and will use this jacket with it, but maybe I'm just missing a thing. Also, do not rush to throw away papers from the box, among them you'll get 90 days promo-code for Tidal. Echobox also makes nice wooden docks for the player, but they're selling separately.
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    So, about the design. The main idea of creators was to make a DAP of real hardwood, and they don't follow coward's path "let's make it from metal and glue some veneer," but decided to use a solid piece of wood instead. That's why Explorer is relatively thick: a wooden case should be pretty thick to avoid cracking. Company's designers decided to use the best and most ergonomic shape which has been with us for many years: flask. It's stylish, it's ergonomic, and it's always trendy.

    So yes, we've got a wooden case with aluminum sides and volume dial instead of cork. As a few subjective impressions, I admire Explorer's view, and I like the feel of this wood in hand. The only thing I'm sorry about is that there is no space left inside DAPs body to fit at least few ounces of good brandy (Serbian "Rubinov Vinjak" is an excellent addition to this player's sound).
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    On the bottom side, you'll find Micro USB socket for charging and MicroSD slot for cards (micro to micro). Also, some grills are located here, I think they're done for cooling, but it's just my guess. Player already has 64 Gb of built-in memory, but you can even further extend it via MicroSD cards. As for battery life, I've got about 8 hours with MEEAudio's P1 as a load, playing 44.1/16 FLACs (without screen usage), charging took about 4.5 hours, not fast, but I'm just leaving Explorer to charge over the night.

    On the top panel, you'll find (besides the volume knob) two 3.5mm sockets, one for headphones, second works as a line out and optical output. As for volume knob, it rotates with well-defined clicks and with a precise reading of every step. Also, this knob works as the power switch, and you need just press it as a button.
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    Most of DAP's control is done via the sensor screen. Of course, plastic frame, holding the display in place doesn't look in style with other design elements, but it's the only reasonable way of mounting the screen, so for me, it's more than OK. The screen is decent concerning resolution and color depth, but it lacks a bit of brightness under the direct sunlight.

    As for OS, I don't see any reason to describe it in details, as it's almost vanilla Android 6.0 with UAPP and Tidal client preinstalled. Google play services aren't available, but you can install and update software via downloaded APKs. In general, I think Echobox implemented the wisest possible solution — minimal intrusion to OS itself plus usage of popular player software gives pretty reliable and functional solution. Also, if you're familiar with UAPP on your smartphone (which is entirely possible), you'll find Explorer's UI familiar.
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    Tidal works OK too, I've seen complaints about the low speed of player's WiFi, but my domestic internet is slow, so I can't re-check that. Also, during Tidal listening, the protective relay inside player's body sometimes clicks between tracks, but personally for me, it's entirely not an issue.

    But enough of those annoying talks, let's move to the sound.

    The sound signature of the player is also non-mainstream. It offers a bit smoothed representation with a hint of added warmth, pleasantly decorating many songs.

    Lows are moderately accented, due to a bit added "mass." This accent gives the sense of imposing lows, but they aren't muffled or slow, texturing is nice. Maybe DAP lacks a bit of sharpness in the lower domain, but it's the price of added mass. Bass goes deep but always stays in its place due to proper control by the player.
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    Mids also have a bit of coloration: a bit of smoothness and a hint of added emotions fits well to the general signature of Explorer. Of course, connoisseurs of micro-details and fans of neutral sound will be displeased, but no device can please everyone. Explorer offers solid and integral mids with a reasonable level of details and engaging emotions. The imaginary stage is a bit above average in width and about average in depth, but layers separation is excellent.

    Treble is also done in general "relaxed" style, they have good resolution, and aren't recessed to create typical "comfort sounding," but attacks aren't super-fast, and that gives this sense of comfort that compliments overall player's signature. Anyway, treble quality is good, and it provides enough air to sound and recreates all instruments decays appropriately.
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    Player has enough power to drive even power-hungry cans, including efficient planar-magnetic models. Moreover, it was ZMF Ori and the old HiFiMan HE-400 that I liked most with it. IEMs are good too (I can suggest trying some good single-driver dynamic drive models), but because of player's AMP has noise with sensitive IEMs (especially when WiFi is on), I'd suggest you avoid low impedance models with high sensitivity.

    Speaking of music styles, Explorer is pretty universal if you like such representation, it's engaging with classical jazz, old rock and hard-n-heavy, good recorder pop music and many other genres.
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    I was thinking, how should I finish this review. Echobox Explorer isn't for everyone. It's not an attempt to please anybody and sell as many units as possible. It's an attempt to implement a very personal vision of both design and sound, and personally, I like it. Even owning A&K SP1000 and Lotoo's Paw Gold, I'll keep Explorer in my collection, just to have an opportunity to experience its organic nature from time to time.