HiBy R3 II


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 https://store.hiby.com/products/hiby-r3-ii

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 soon...here 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.