Hidizs AP200

Rating:
2/5,
  1. Grimbles
    Promises a lots, struggles to deliver at all
    Written by Grimbles
    Published Jan 2, 2018
    2.0/5,
    Pros - Good battery life
    Solidly built
    Cons - Buggy
    Poorly implemented
    Poor to average sound quality
    Quick Read Conclusion

    An unbelievably versatile piece of kit that promises far more than it can competently and consistently deliver. The numerous fundamental glitches and so-so sound quality make it impossible to recommend at its price point. If Hidizs can get the firmware right, this moves from unusable to average, but for now I have to warn people to stay clear as I feel my money has been wasted.

    Introductions and General Bumf

    I was a subscriber to the IndieGoGo campaign for the Hidizs AP200, and paid my US$269 for a Hidizs AP200 ("AP200") with a leather case included. For clarity, I am in no way associated with Hidizs and have received no inducement to write my review.

    Further, Hidizs have a very thorough description of internals on their website so I point you (for a full set of specs) to:

    http://www.hidizs.com/product_ap200.php

    Test Kit: I have tested the AP200 with Shure SE215, SE425, Sennheiser HD600, Ultimate Ears UE900s and KEF M500 headphones/IEMs. I have also tested it as a USB DAC with a Samsung Note 8 and Galaxy S8 (using both Hiby music and UBS audio player pro), Dell E7270 running Windows 7 and an 11" Macbook Air (2012 vintage). I have also used it as a USB transport for the Schiit Modi 2 Uber and iFi Audio nano iDSD Black Label ("Nano BL") and finally I ran it through a Schiit Vali 2 to compare against the Nano BL.

    with vali.jpg

    Preparation: I have given the AP200 a shade over 50 hours of burn-in (unsure if I believe in burn in, but figured this should help for people who do) and I did not start any critical listening without giving it at least an hour to warm up (I think warm up of DACs does help, and have read a couple of papers on this, but given this is a "mobile" device I don’t think real world use will involve having had this thing plugged in for 24 hours before listening).

    Me as a listener: I am not a pro by any stretch of the imagination. I have always enjoyed my music, and my tastes are pretty broad. I go to live music ranging from rock and pop concerts to orchestra and opera. I would not describe myself as having a trained ear, but I am attentive and my ears are in pretty good nick for a 34 year old (my hearing cuts off around 17.5 kHz per my frequency generator).

    My tastes: neutral to warm, but I do like good punchy bass and I love to hear decent instrument separation.

    Test tracks: I've tried to keep it broad and I have cited my music sources below, so (where possible) people can download the tracks themselves.

    1) Wiz Kalifah – On My Level (320k MP3, Google Store)

    2) Norah Jones – Turn Me On (24/192 FLAC, Qobuz)

    3) John Williams – Throne Room from Star Wars performed by Prague Philharmonic Orchestra (16/44.1 FLAC, Qobuz)

    4) The Verve – The Drugs Don’t Work (16/44.1 self ripped FLAC)

    5) Ed Sheeran – Castle on the Hill (320k MP3, Google Store)

    6) Grieg – In the Hall of the Mountain King (from the Peer Gynt Suite) performed by the Zech National Symphony Orchestra (24/48, Musopen Kickstarter Project)

    7) Otis Redding – Dock of the Bay (24/192, HD Tracks)

    8) 30 Seconds to Mars – Stronger (Radio 1 Live Lounge Cover) (16/44.1, self-ripped FLAC)

    9) Pearl Jam – Yellow Ledbetter (320k MP3, Google Store)

    10) Rage Against the Machine – Wake Up (292k m4a, iTunes)

    So, on to the main event. [/General Bumf]

    Unboxing

    I have to say that this was a premium experience, and leave the photos below for you to make up your own minds. The solid card box, well-engineered packaging and classily understated product packaging all contribute to making this a special experience. In the box are the AP200 (with anti-scratch film fitted in factory front and rear), a usb a-c cable, usbmicro-c cable, clear plastic shell case, serial number card and quality control card and a spare set of anti-scratch films. I particularly liked the little bit of ribbon underneath the device which made the "pop" out a tactile experience.

    First thoughts on unboxing are that this is a quality piece of kit. The CNC machined body which Hidizs have banged on about is chunky and has a good weight in the hand. I also like the leather case which it came with, and fits snugly inside – it has a lovely recessed Hidizs logo stamped in, and adds to the overall quality feel of the product.

    Finally, there is a note inside the lid, telling you to update the firmware… more on that later.

    unboxing 1.jpg unboxing 2.jpg unboxing 3.jpg unboxing 4.jpg unboxing 5.jpg unboxing 6.jpg unboxing 7.jpg

    Practicalities

    By my measurements, the unit is 106x60x16mm, add about another 2-3mm each way with the leather case on. It has a decent weight but is definitely pocket friendly. I like the little notch which is recessed for the 3.5mm standard headphone socket, and the recesses at the bottom for the USB (type c) port and micro sd card slot. I find the usb port a little lose with cables other than the one it came with, which is surprising as my other cables (OTG, and some decent quality a-c cables) fit my Samsung phones without issue.

    There is a power button on the top and volume control (which doubles as track skipping) and play/pause buttons on the left hands side (more about these in the niggles section below).

    Battery life is solid – I'm getting about 8-9 hours with the volume at 25 listening to flacs on iems on high gain.

    The screen is high resolution (960x640) and the quality is reasonable, no dead pixels on my unit, although there is light bleed around the edges. On a phone this would not be acceptable, but on this unit I think fine given it is for listening to more than looking at. It is a little dim in bright sunlight, but just about legible and (again) amply sufficient for a DAP.

    The unit is a real "one stop shop" running a slightly customised version of android, and capable of downloading additional apps via the Google Play Store (WiFi File Transfer Pro works fine) as well as being able to:

    1) bluetooth out, works fine;

    2) USB data out to a DAC, sort of works, see niggles below;

    with nanobl.jpg

    3) operate as a USB DAC, subject to the proviso in niggles below re/bit rates, works fine with Windows, Android and MacOs but you need to download the driver to get the full benefit of its output potential.

    In theory, you could download all sorts of additional apps to use on this, but the small screen space coupled with the fact I always have a Note 8 on me, means I haven’t really done much else with it (it is capable of browsing the web, jittery YouTube playback but I haven’t tested this extensively as it is not what I bought the device for).

    There is also sufficient power for my HD600s. On a volume scale of 0-100, 70-80 (high gain) is a nice listening volume and 100 simply loud but not completely ear splitting. I suspect therefore that for most cans this will be sufficiently powerful but doubt the AP200 has the required oomph to push something very hard to drive,

    The Sound

    I have decided to split my review into the standard format of highs, mids, lows and also soundstage and separation, as it is something I enjoy hearing.

    Highs

    I find the highs on this unit a tale of two halves. Played through my M500s, SE425s and SE215s they are prominent and a little more forward than, say, through my Schiit Stack (Modi 2 Uber and Vali 2) or Nano BL, but still pleasant. This is true across the board for certain tracks, where there is an obvious and entertaining "tingle" on the high end.

    On the HD600 and on the UE900s however, there is a noticeable harshness, with a metallic tinge which (emphasized on certain tracks like Ed Sheeran's castle on the hill and anything guitar heavy, especially steel strung acoustic) I find unpleasant. It's an experience I would compare to sitting on the train sitting next to someone whose headphones are bleeding highs; if you concentrate, you can hear the rest of the track, but the ear is a little overwhelmed by the tinny percussion.

    Mids and Lows

    There is not a huge amount for me to say here. Competent, clear, detailed but unremarkable is about the best I can do. There is a little enhancement at the lower end which is noticeable in some of the bassier tracks noted above (Wiz Kalifah for example). I think the sound signature is broadly U shaped then, with an emphasis on the bass and treble, and the mids present but nothing specifically identifiable to my ear.

    Soundstage and Separation

    Soundstage is definitely wider than the outputs on my S8 and Note 8, with (for example) the guitars on the Verve's Drugs Don’t Work placing themselves noticeably to the left and right of centre. I would put it on a par with my Schiit Stack, but there is not the breadth of stage (nor the clarity of instrument separation) that I get with the Nano BL. In some more busy or layered tunes (Ed Sheeran and the Throne Room tracks noted above being good examples) the sound gets a little muddled or blurred, with specific instruments in the orchestra or layers of Sheeran's vocals barely distinguishable.

    Sound Conclusions

    Outside of this community, most people these days listen to average quality MP3 music on their phones. The AP200 is undeniably a step up from that experience across the board – the sound more refined and clearer, the "veil" lifted, especially with higher quality files. The problem for me though, is that I have heard, at similar (and lower) prices a hell of a lot better for the same money. In terms of portable solutions, my old dragonfly v1.2 and my Nano BL both leave the AP200 in their dust. In short, I was underwhelmed and disappointed, especially given the hype… 2 gold shielded DACs must make it sound amazing, right? Erm… nope.

    Niggles and Solutions

    My biggest issue with the AP200 though, is it feels rushed to market and exceptionally poorly implemented – indeed, spend 5 minutes in the forums and you will find a snag list as long as your arm. Before I give my list, I confirm I am running the most current firmware (as at 2 January 2018) and that all of these issues remain on that version of firmware. Some of these issues are fundamental to the experience, and so I tried to organise in running order of serious to incidental.

    1. problems in sound during playback – on top of the harsh treble I have already described, the AP200 randomly pops and clicks when playing (it's the sound you sometimes hear from a DAC when it is changing from PCM to DSD and/or bit rates/frequencies) but it happens mid playback and substantially detracts from the enjoyment of music;

    2. stops playing randomly – mid track, the AP200 (reasonably regularly) clicks, pops then stops playing completely. Sometimes these resolve and playback starts again, sometimes you have to fish it out of your pocket, and press play/reboot to bring it back to life;

    3. volume/track selection – this is ridiculous and horrendously implemented. By making the next/previous track a double click on the volume button, I often randomly turn up/down when I am trying to skip and skip when I am trying to turn up/down;

    4. USB out is buggy – I can only get the AP200 to play nicely as data transport to my Modi 2 Uber/Nano BL intermittently. I don’t know why it doesn’t always work/how to resolve this;

    5. screen presses inexact – the AP200 regularly misses button presses on the screen meaning you have to jab a few times around the relevant button, at which point it registers multiple inputs (and doesn’t do what you wanted it to);

    6. screen use is difficult - small text on a small screen, along with a lot of options at the screen extremities lead to a lot of frustrating missed inputs, exacerbated with the leather case on;

    7. slow response to button presses – especially using next/previous track or pause during playback on the screen, you can have 3-5 second waits before the AP200 does what you asked it to;

    8. firmware updates – despite the claims that you could, I could not get the AP200 to update firmware from an SD card (landing on an android green screen with text input). It did work fine from the internal storage however but I did think I'd bricked the thing;

    9. output rates not shown properly – when operating as a DAC and in normal playback, the output bit depth does not match the source (when native, it says everything is 32 bit, when a USB DAC, 24 bit);

    10. SD card write speeds are slow despite onscreen claims; and

    writeread.jpg

    11. volume controls backwards – the onscreen volume controls are the wrong way around, with the plus on the left… why oh why oh why?

    volcon.jpg

    Conclusion

    As currently implemented, I cannot recommend this device to anyone. The so-so sound quality means I would probably use it alongside the Nano BL as a playback device if it could play nicely. However, with the numerous fundamental bugs (most annoyingly the intermittent but frequent random stopping during playback) the average sound quality means this little box will be consigned to a drawer for the foreseeable future. I think my $269 would have been better spent elsewhere and this is a clear lesson to me that a "too good to be true" stats list for the price is just that, too good to be true.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. HiFiChris
      @Grimbles

      Doing some quick calculations - nope, even though the HD 600 doesn't have a flat impedance response either (it's a common thing for open-back dynamic driver headphones and has to do with their resonance frequency), the Hidizs' output impedance is still low enough for it so that the deviation would be clearly below 0.1 dB.
      HiFiChris, Jan 12, 2018
      Grimbles likes this.
    3. HiFiChris
      [Continuing here because the editor doesn't allow more characters] I really don't have an explanation for where this impression with the HD 600 that you have compared to the Sennheiser playing from different gear comes from (apart from the HD 600's mild lower treble lift itself of course).
      HiFiChris, Jan 12, 2018
      Grimbles likes this.
    4. Grimbles
      Thanks - understood. I think I tested with the ue900s before the hd600s. It might well have been my own confirmation bias.
      Grimbles, Jan 12, 2018
      HiFiChris likes this.