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  1. B9Scrambler
    ZiShan DSD: Old Look, Modern Sound
    Written by B9Scrambler
    Published Apr 8, 2019
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Fantastic sound quality - Excellent EQ, among other features - Lots of power for driving demanding headphones
    Cons - 5 button layout doesn't cut it for navigation - Big, bulky housing - Average battery life
    Greetings,

    Today we're checking out the ZiShan DSD, a budget friendly and very capable DAP.

    ZiShan is a Chinese manufacturer known for inexpensive, no frills, high performance amps and daps, including the DSD we're checking out today. With an old school look and quality components like the venerable AK4497 chip, the DSD makes for a compelling purchase to those who value performance over style.

    Let's check it out.

    Disclaimer:

    Thanks to Lillian with DD Audio for sending over a sample of the DSD for review. The impressions here are my subjective opinions based on three months of regular use and do not represent DD Audio, ZiShan, or any other entity. At the time of writing it was retailing for 139.99 USD and could be picked up here on AliExpress: https://www.aliexpress.com/store/pr...ml?spm=2114.12010615.8148356.2.207779a2KieGHa

    What I'm looking for:

    When it comes to portable amps and DAPs I take a pretty casual approach. If you're looking for an in-depth look at this thing with measurement graphs going over THD, sinewaves, etc. you'll want to look elsewhere. All I really care about is how easy is it to use? Is it well built and will it be durable long term? How's the driving power and overall sound quality? Are the batteries going to run dry part way through a listening session? Is this the kind of player I'm going to take with me everywhere, or it is better suited to listening in the privacy of my home?

    Specifications:

    As always, take these specifications with a grain of salt. They vary depending on the site and much of it seems to make little sense.
    • Battery: Lithium
    • WIFI: No
    • Audio Format Support: ALAC,AAC,APE, FLAC,DSD,MP3, WMA, ASF, WAV
    • Battery Life: < 10 hours
    • Body Material: Aluminum
    • Balanced Out: Yes, 2.5mm
    • Storage Type: SD flash
    • DSP: STM32F7
    • External Memory: Yes
    • Ebook Support: No
    • Signal Noise Ratio: ≥96dB
    • DAC: AK4497EQ
    • Dimensions (WxHxD): 58mm*80mm*24mm
    • Bluetooth: No
    • FM Radio: No
    • Built in Speakers: No
    • Built-in Audio Recorder: No
    • Screen: Yes
    P1020063.JPG P1020069.JPG P1020073.JPG

    Packaging and Accessories:

    The DSD doesn't have any formal packaging from ZiShan, or so is my understanding. Mine arrived in a simple, durable, Linsoul branded cardboard box. Lifting off the lid you find the DSD set within a foam insert, a basic microUSB cable neatly wrapped and set atop it. And that's it. No case, no instructions, nothing else. Those of you out there that have a vendetta against inefficient, unnecessarily flashy packaging will love this!

    Build and UI:

    In the style of previous ZiShan products, the DSD has a boxy aluminum shell with little in the way of frills or style going on. The black paint is neatly applied, as is the plastic cover for the LED screen beneath. Fit and finish everywhere else is simply functional. Cutouts are present for the microUSB input, charge LED indicator, and line out on the bottom. 3.5mm + 2.5mm balanced outs, a reset button, and a microSD slot cutouts are present on the top. The cutouts are slightly larger than the hardware leaving uneven gaps. This is only an issue because there is a fair bit of air between the screen and the protective plastic plate above it and as a result it is not uncommon for dust to work it's way inside. Removing it is just as easy since the DSD can be disassembled in about 30 seconds, so while annoying and inconvenient, it's far from a deal breaker. With products like this you have to go in with relaxed expectations. ZiShan is a small company in a niche market and I doubt they have the capital available to develop a player made with advanced tooling techniques. Along with the screen, the front of the unit contains five physical hardware buttons arranged in a diamond pattern with a button in the middle. They are placed intelligently and fall under the thumb without any awkward positioning required. They are all made of metal too so they feel good and depress with a satisfying click.

    While the DSD isn't going to win any awards for the build, and you're unlikely to be showing it off to your buddies since it looks like it is straight out of the 70s, like other similar players I've used it really doesn't matter. It's tough and functional and that's what matters. It'll last a long time, and for someone that is building a budget portable setup on a tight budget, durability is more important than having something flashy and tech laden yet delicate.

    Battery:

    The DSD routinely got around 9 hours of use at my typically low volumes (~4-8 out of 31 steps in the DSD's menus) and with mainly FLAC and 320 kbps tracks. Charging takes around 2 hours. It was used with a wide variety of headphones over the last few months, from easy to drive iems like the BGVP DM6 to harder to drive headphones like the HiFiMAN Sundara. Considering how much headroom the DSD has in terms of power and volume output, I think these numbers are perfectly fine. Obviously, a longer battery life would be better but I never found the DSD lacking. It would easily last through a day or two of regular use before needing a charge.

    P1020064.JPG P1020065.JPG P1020068.JPG

    GUI and Features:

    The DSD starts up VERY quickly. Hold the centre button for a second and it's on. No time is wasted with a laggy, annoying boot animation as seems to be the case with 90% of players out there. Once the DSD is booted, you find yourself in a very simple, clean home menu with a battery bar and play/pause indication in the top right corner. Your options are: Play Now, Explorer, EQ, DAC, System, and About which puts some basic system info in the bottom right corner in teeny, tiny font. Overall the home menu is simple and self explanatory. Play now brings you to the track last played or that is currently playing. Explorer contains all your music folders. EQ contains a ten band EQ with tons of flexibility. Frequencies that can be adjusted range from 60Hz to 16kHz in 1dB increments, + or – 24dB each direction. It's a fantastic EQ. Under DAC you can swap between five different digital filters, flip between default and high sound quality modes, adjust the cut off point for the filter, set up the DSD to act as a DAC when plugged in via USB, change the graphic that plays on the Now Playing screen from either a spectrograph, FFT, or album art. Lastly, there is a slow boot option. Not sure why that is there, outside of being handy in preventing the device from turning on accidentally when in your pocket. Under system you can set the DSD to car mode, adjust the sleep timer, the back light timer, brightness, system language, and speed. Not sure what speed does, nor a lot of the other features for that matter, mind you I probably wouldn't use them anyway. From this you probably get that the DSD has a lot of options catered to the audiophile crowd as well as those that like to tailor their sound, and that is great. Navigating through the menus, however, is not.

    On the plus side, the buttons and GUI are responsive. It's all very snappy and quick with no delays switching tracks, entering and exiting menus or changing settings. It's especially noticeable coming from something like the HiFiMAN MegaMini which is laggy at the best of times. The DSD has a more logical menu layout too though I couldn't find any playlist support or way to build a playlist within the device itself. Instead you can just make individual folders with the tracks you want on the playlist, name them, and transfer them to the device. Takes up more space, but it works. The problems I have with the DSD are the lack of a dedicated back button, and button functions that change depending on the menu you happen to be in. Navigating through the DSD is not consistent so you have to rely on trial and error to find out what button serves which purpose in each menu and menu item, and eventually your muscle memory will kick in so you can navigate smoothly.

    From the Now Playing screen you can do a number of things. The centre button acts as a play/pause option. Hold it and the device turns off. If you press the top button you're brought to a four way menu. Up and Down adjusts volume. Left turns your EQ settings on or off while right adjusts shuffle options. Back on the Now Playing screen, a tap of the left button goes back to the beginning of the song. Follow that immediately by another tap and you go back a track. A longer press sends you to the home menu. A tap of the right button skips to the next track while holding it scans forward through the song. As far as I can tell, there is no way to scan back through a track since a longer press takes you to the home screen. Pressing down brings you to the album subfolder for the current track.

    Running through other menus can get confusion since you select an option with the centre button which sends you back to the home screen. You can also hold the left button to also take you back, though the setting you changed won't save. On other menu options with a slider, such as brightness, you can hold down the right button to move the slider, but try that with the left and you return to the main menu. Instead you need to tap the button a multitude of times, then hit the centre button to save the changes. It may not seem like a big deal, but this gets annoying and even after using the device for months I still press the wrong button at times since the functions change slightly from menu to menu, option to option. One more button dedicated to reversing through menus would have made the DSD much more user friendly to navigate.

    Oh, and you can lock the device by holding the centre and left buttons at the same time for a few seconds. I found that by accident while looking for a way to scan backwards through a track. It's a useful feature that in my opinion would be better addressed with a physical switch somewhere on the device.

    Overall I find the DSD annoying to navigate. The lack of a dedicated back button means ZiShan had to program in workarounds which are inconsistent menu to menu, option to option. A sixth button would solve that problem. Regardless, navigating the DSD is at least bearable thanks to the responsive processor that responds rapidly to presses, and the logical layout of each menu.

    P1020067.JPG P1020070.JPG P1020071.JPG

    Sound:

    The DSD has a very bold, powerful presentation with a warm, coloured sound. Clarity and detail are quite impressive despite it's warm demeanour and it easily outpaces similarly priced DAPs like the Shanling M0 and HiFiMAN MegaMini. Note separation and spacing is also above average letting earphones with large sound stages shine. The Havi B3 Pro I is known for a great stage and that is really apparent with the DSD. The DSD also offers excellent extension that won't hold back your headphones and earphones, unlike the uber budget Ruizu X02 which rolls off well before hitting any truly deep notes. The DSD's mid-bass warmth on default settings does tend to exaggerate mid-bassy qualities, but you can easily address that with the inbuilt EQ. So in general, pairing the DSD with a wide variety of products was quite satisfactory.

    With the exception of overly mid-bassy earphones, I found the DSD to work well with nearly every signature I have on hand, be it the bright Echobox Nomad which gains more note weight through the DSD, or the near bass cannon Campfire Audio Cascade which becomes even more authoritative and powerful sounding. More neutral-leaning products like the Tin Audio T2 benefit as well thanks to the DSD's low end confidence which compensates for the T2's somewhat weedy bass. If I were to pick a certain signature to pair with the DSD, I would stick with something slightly v-shaped with a treble skew. The TFZ King Experience or Alpha & Delta D6 are good examples. That said, you do have that impressive EQ to fall back on if you find your headphone doesn't line up 1:1 with the DSD's signature.

    Overall the DSD is quite an enjoyable sounding DAP. It makes everything you plug into it sound more grande and spectacular that it does otherwise, all without sacrificing detail and clarity. This is the sort of sound I would expect from a more expensive DAP, as experienced comparing to my HiFi E.T. MA8, but crammed into a more budget friendly player.

    Final Thoughts:

    The DSD is a pretty impressive DAP. In order to keep the price down it forgoes a lithe and sleek design for something straight out of the 70s. It is bulky and durable with some impressive power to back it up. Most headphones and earphones will be a cinch to get up to volume with tons of headroom to spare. This does mean more sensitive gear will hiss, but this is a device billed for pairing with harder to drive headphones anyway so that is to be expected. With the DSD, you don't need to tack on an amp, something that makes the DSD's bulk more understandable. Add to this an outstandingly capable, but coloured signature that is a joy to experience with most headphones and the listening experience with the DSD is top notch.

    The DSD's hardware is plenty powerful enough for the software inside leading to a very snappy interface that is smartly laid out. However, I would love to see them update the device with a sixth button dedicated to moving back through menus. The current five button setup works, but the constant function changes from menu to menu are irritating and lead to lots of mispresses and repeat actions. Another button would resolve all navigation issues and make the DSD's menus quicker and more intuitive to move through.

    Overall I'm quite pleased with the DSD and have no issues recommending it over more mainstream devices. Just keep in mind that the DSD is bulky and not particularly attractive and navigating the menus is an annoying endeavour. You might also notice spelling mistakes such as “Floder” instead of “Folder” in some menus. Since that is par for the course with products from a number of these obscure Chinese brands, it adds to the charm. Or maybe you care and that will ruin the entire experience. Either way, it doesn't bother me. The device is durable, sounds good, can power pretty much anything you toss it's way, and the battery life doesn't suck (though it's not amazing either). I like the DSD and it will continue to accompany my on my journeys beyond this review.

    Thanks for reading.

    - B9Scrambler
      hqssui likes this.
  2. Johnny Mac
    Zishan DSD Pro Realview.
    Written by Johnny Mac
    Published Mar 25, 2019
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Ease of modding, balanced sound signature with a touch of warmth, battery life, fluid and simple UI
    Cons - Bulk and edgy silhouette, gets warm fast, occasional UI hiccups.
    [​IMG]
    Zishan DSD pro and Periodic Audio Beryllium.​
    Customization and personalization is always a deal-breaker when it comes to mass produced products which is why several industries are striving to cater to these specific type of exclusivity oriented businesses.

    This particular approach might not have been the foremost vision of Zishan when they crafted their line of audiophile yet economical set of music players, digital audio converters and amplifiers. Zishan has gathered a lot of loyal fan base all over the world with products such as the Zishan Z1, Z2 and Z3. What we have now to realview though is Zishan’s current cream of the crop music player, the Zishan DSD Pro which features the AKM’s AK4497EQ DAC chip which is their current flagship premium D/A converter and can even be found on the flamboyant $3,299 Cayin N8 music player. The Zishan DSD Pro also features the “world’s fastest micro controller STM32F7+ CPLD+Dual Audio Crystal Oscillator” and is spec’d out with a 3.5mm headphone output and 2.5mm balanced out combo along with a Lineout/Coaxial out port. The Zishan DSD Pro has no built-in memory and relies on a single microSD card slot that supports up to 256 GB and 2 TB in theory. A reset button is also present and uses a micro-USB charging port. The Zishan DSD Pro supports a wide variety of codecs from DSF and DFF up to DSD256 as well as FLAC, APE, WAV up to 64 Bit/384kHz while not leaving behind MP3, AAC and WMA formats. Gapless playback is absent on the Zishan DSD Pro as well as track rewind.

    The Zishan DSD Pro is currently priced at $133 and can sometimes dip down as much as $105 depending on seasonal sales and promotions. You can grab yourself a pair off DD Audio’s Aliexpress site. The Zishan DSD Pro is intriguing enough not only due to its loyal modder fanbase but also with its shared DAC chip with the Cayin N8 music player. Is this shared trait a boon or bane? Let's check it out.

    Specifications and Packaging

    Zishan DSD Pro Spec sheet:
    • Display: 2.2inch QVGA
    • Op Amp: AD797
    • Frequency Response(Multitone), dB : (±0.03-.27dB)
    • Noise Level, dB: -96.0
    • Battery: 3000mAh
    • Charging Time: <5H
    • Estimated Battery life: 8H
    • Weight: ≥200g
    • Size: 80 x 58 x 24mm
    [​IMG]
    Out of the bubble wrap, Zishan DSD Pro DAP and charging cable.​
    The Zishan DSD Pro packaging is as simple as it gets, it comes in a brown cardboard box protected by a bubble wrap with a micro USB charging cable. There is no accessory set to be found on this which is odd, I’d expect at least a warranty card and a screen protector, and it might be that mine is a review unit so it lacks those.

    Build quality, User Interface and Handling
    [​IMG]
    COAXIAL/Lineout port, USB charing port.
    [​IMG]
    2.5mm balanced out, 3.5mm headphone out, reset switch, microSD card slot.​
    The Zishan DSD Pro features an industrial masculine look, it’s an all metal box with only 4 star screws holding it together, 2 on the upper cover and 2 on the lower cover. Everything is fitted nicely with no noticeable rattling sound when shaken. All buttons rest on the front underneath the display with nothing on the left and right portions. Only 5 buttons are present to deal with all the navigating that you would be doing with the Zishan DSD Pro and they feel a little loose at times yet positioned in a standard cross pattern which is easy to navigate given how this just uses our muscle memory gestures for navigating music players. The Connection outputs are situated both on the upper and lower portion. The upper portion features the 3.5mm headphone output and 2.5mm balanced out along with the SD card slot and the reset switch, I love that they placed the usual headphone outputs on top and the lineout/coaxial out on the bottom which usually works well with other portable DAC/AMPs.
    [​IMG]
    Zishan DSD Pro EQ options.​
    The User Interface of the Zishan DSD Pro is easy to understand and navigate, boot time is SSD-like fast as well as shutdown. A long press on the central button will turn on the Zishan DSD Pro and will immediately play the last track it was playing before shutdown or if brand spanking new, to the home screen which shows the 6 categories (Play Now, Explorer, EQ, DAC, System and About). There is minimal learning curve for its UI with only the DAC category having some details necessary to be discussed. I personally tried all the Digital filters offered by the AK4497EQ chip which should have shown 6 filters yet mine only showed 5 as shown below (it lacks the supposed 3rd sound type, “Harmonic” which is named “Low Dispersion Short Delay” and is supposed to create a short echo and still reproduce the original sound.)

    [​IMG]
    5 Digital filters in the Zishan DSD Pro, lacks 1, the
    Low Dispersion Short Delay digital filter.​
    Cycling through the numerous music files using the forward/backward/next/previous buttons is smooth and presented no lags whatsoever, just make sure that you are a fixed type of a guy since it would need a good deal of clicks, 3 to 4 exactly just to adjust volume and using the previous key would require a 1.5 second press on the left button. The "Play Now" interface is cool though as it allows you to show not only the track title, bitrate, file format, elapsed and total track time but also a choice of a Spectrograph, FFT and Album graphcis which can be set on the DAC category and activated by a press on the central button. The presence of an Equalizer is a nice touch with a choice of adjustments from 6 Hz up to 16 kHz with a ±24 dB range and if you haven’t known yet, I’m not an EQ type of guy so I didn’t really delved into this aspect of the Zishan DSD Pro.
    [​IMG]
    Zishan DSD Pro x BGVP DX3s.​
    I have used the Zishan DSD Pro for a full month as a personal music player and when not in use, I just plug one of the lined up IEM’s I have for realview. The usability aspect of the Zishan DSD Pro disappointed my expectations, the edgy silhouette coupled with its bulky statue resulted in an awkward bump in my jeans when in use and placing it on my bag was almost taboo unless you had nothing there that won’t get scratched like a mobile phone display or a tablet. One hand use was great as it can be spun with one hand and have all necessary controls managed and pressed. Yet after all this, the Zishan DSD Pro just failed to be my choice of a portable music player.

    Stability, Connectivity and “Modability”
    [​IMG]
    Mod by TheMilkman46290 from HeadFi.​
    The Zishan DSD Pro doesn't possess great UI stability as there are occasional hiccups here and there especially during actual track playback regardless of file format used, from MP3’s to DSD’s, yet when this hiccups aren’t happening, the Zishan DSD Pro is smooth and responsive. The current release of the .4i firmware which you can download HERE, has at least aided in minimizing this hiccup as well as the notorious heat dissipation aspect of the Zishan DSD Pro. The head dissipation aspect of the Zishan DSD Pro is one of its biggest drawbacks as storing it on my jeans while in use resulted in a warm, almost hot metal body for the Zishan DSD Pro, the .4i firmware didn't stop this heat dissipation issue yet it delayed the eventual increase of temperature.

    [​IMG]
    Mod by Bryan Belga(PH) owned by Andre Chavez(PH)​
    There’s always this one feature that propels certain products from mediocrity to a full blown must-have consumer item. The feature that propelled the Zishan DSD Pro into a lot of fan bases was its inherent trait of being easy to modify, from the body’s ease of access star screws to the presence of the flagship DAC chip that allows for pairing with a wide variety of LPF’s and OP AMP’s to modifying the stock batteries, the combinations are almost staggering (You can check out THIS 160 and running thread for the Zishan DSD Pro modability potential) which if I would delve my time into this aspect of the Zishan DSD Pro, it would literally be the bottleneck of my realview queue, heck even checking out its digital filters was a fun and time consuming engagement. With the Zishan DSD Pro, tinkerers and modders out there just found another gem to be polished. Check out some of the Zishan DSD Pro’s body mods which I found worth checking out.
    [​IMG]
    Mod by Calico88 from HeadFi.​
    Sporting the 3.5mm and 2.5mm balanced outputs just further pushed the Zishan DSD Pro’s appeal allowing for both the balanced and single ended termination systems to be utilized. Its DAC function as well as lineout/coaxial out was also great and had no issues when paired with my different AMPs while I couldn’t care less that a built-in storage memory is absent as it relies on the usual sd card slot for its storage capacities and have confirmed myself that it supports 256 GB cards formatted as FAT32 or NTFS.

    Sound Quality and Battery Life
    [​IMG]
    Zishan DSD Pro x xDuoo XD-05 x Periodic Audio Beryllium.​
    The Zishan DSD Pro features a 3000mAh battery but without quick charge capability, and having loaded a 128 GB card on the Zishan DSD Pro with a mixture of MP3, FLAC and DSD, the playtime reached around 8-10 hours at 15-18/31 volume with full toggle brightness and BL Time of 30s. The Zishan DSD Pro can last me a full week with 2-3 hours intermittent listening before it calls on a charge however there is a big elephant in the room for this bulky but powerful DAP, it’s the timeframe that it gets warm to hold. Like only 2-3 DSD tracks and the Zishan DSD Pro is uncomfortably warm to the hand, I do get this with other DAPs too but not at just 2-3 DSD tracks, the FLAC heat output is more forgiving with it starting to heat uncomfortably around 8-9 tracks. I can’t put this in my denims or hold it and finish an album, I tried, and the heat was just uncomfortable. All these temperature and heat issue however was addressed when the newly released .4i FW was flashed, both the resulted heat from DSD and FLAC usage on the Zishan DSD Pro was lowered. DSD tracks now would start heating up at more than 10 songs while FLAC would see me through a full 16-track album and some 4 tracks. The peak warmth is still the same but at least the length of comfortable usage was increased.
    [​IMG]
    Zishan DSD Pro x iFi xDSD x Periodic Audio Beryllium.​
    We are finally here, the ultimate category, sound quality. I rotated IEMs such as the BGVP DM6, Whizzer Kylin and the Magaosi K5 V2 as well as earbuds such as the Shozy BK Stardust and BGVP DX3s and while all exhibited good synergy, with the DM6 and Whizzer Kylin and the BGVP DX3s being the least engaging, I opted to use the Periodic Audio Beryllium for the duration of the realview at 16/31 volume toggle, Slow Roll-off digital filter, High Quality Sound Mode and 76kHz Cut-off Freq DSD Filter. The Zishan DSD Pro’s tonality is balanced with a subtle lean on the warm sound signature (not the warm temperature it outputs after a 35-minute use). The AK4497EQ on the Zishan DSD Pro was implemented near the expectations it was made for, by AKM standards at least. It may not have exhibited an entirely neutral and flat signature but the fact that it was able to let all the frequencies blend coherently is good. The low end of the Zishan DSD Pro exhibited a soft sounding impact lacking of power and authority at best, it diffuses and decays slow as well creating a lingering bass and sub bass. The midrange sound was presented cleanly and flatly which allowed for the respective IEM/Earbud to do its job. The highs were also rendered with clarity and has a well-defined treble presence and presentation. The Zishan DSD Pro won’t be fatiguing to the ears unless one is sensitive to the lingering low-end decay that the Zishan DSD Pro exhibits making it lean towards the warm sound. I had it paired via lineout to the xDuoo xd-05 and the iFi Audio xDSD and man was the output clean and mean. The xDSD and xd-05 sound signatures highlighted themselves and fixed the lingering low-end decay issue of the Zishan DSD Pro, the iFi Audio xDSD was the better pairing once the 3D+ and XBass+ comes into play. The Zishan DSD Pro’s clean output synergized well with the Periodic Audio’s Beryllium dynamic driver which didn’t showcase an off-timbre tonal ability as compared to when using the DM6 and K5 V2’s. This player could be my next realview DAP but owing to its poor driver versatility ability, it would be staying on my shelf and would only be pulled out once in a while when some dynamic driver IEM/Earbuds hits my queue.

    Conclusion
    [​IMG]
    Zishan DSD Pro and Shozy BK​
    I’m always a fan of being able to control every aspect of your gadget especially with products that requires a build-up hierarchy system like PC’s and music players but also lazy enough not to delve deep and get caught up with one product leaving other notable products worthy of being checked out.

    The Zishan DSD Pro showcases this high level of control towards the final outcome of its looks, sound and build quality with its great modability potential and with that aspect, can I dare say it has flaws? We could mod it to have any damn flaw it has be removed unless it’s the lack of features like 4.4 pentaconn connection, LDAC or even aptx BT support to being an Android streaming capable device which isn’t really what the Zishan DSD Pro was made for. It was made solely as a music player with great sound and a price that would allow individuals to have the extra cash for mods and a bottle of beer to boot.