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ZiShan T1 HiFi Player

Rating:
4.5/5,
Tags:
  1. IcedFrosty
    All About DAC Module
    Written by IcedFrosty
    Published Sep 11, 2019
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Interchangeable DAC module
    + Great, detailed sound
    + Touchscreen
    + USB-C port
    + 2.5mm balance output
    + Sound filter option
    + Playback modes
    + Small size
    Cons - Average battery life
    - Player gets warm pretty fast
    - Not much space for modding
    - Loose USB port
    - Can't be used as USB DAC to date
    ZiShan T1 Review


    Shalom,
    Hello Head-Fi! I finally got time to make a review after roughly a month of waiting and couple of days struggling with custom. I bought Zishan T1 dual AK4493EQ version with my own money and therefore, I wrote this review as honest as possible. So, here is my honest review of the Zishan T1.
    Note: This review is about the stock, unmodified, and unopened T1 (FW 0.2b)


    Introduction

    About T1
    ZiShan T1 is ZiShan's first model in their T lineage. This model has it's own uniqueness, and it's the modular DAC module. You can change the DAC module into 3 different modules that currently available on sale, T1 with single AK4490, dual AK4493 and T1 with single AK4497. All version used 2 PDIP8 op-amps as Low-Pass Filter. The modules alone doesn't yet available for sale on AE, but in the future, they will. Also, the T1 is ZiShan's first model that utilizes both resistive touchscreen and USB-C port.


    Packaging And Delivery


    I ordered T1 on August 1st, and it arrived at the custom on August 27th. After some process with Ngurah Rai custom, I can finally get my hands on the parcel.

    IMG_20190902_155722.jpg

    The Zishan T1 comes with a simple packaging. A cardboard box wrapped around with bubble wraps, packaged inside of a gray plastic parcel and some writings on top of the plastic wrap.

    What I got from the purchasement:

    1. ZiShan T1
    2. Braided USB-C cable (length is about 40cm)


    Product Quality

    Let’s discuss about the product quality first. The T1 is a small player (at 75x50x20). The design is okay, but I didn’t really like it, because I think it’s too small (also still prefer the old Z series since it has a volume knob). Zishan’s black color is pretty cool, however. The design is boxy yet it has smooth corners. Also it has a smooth aluminum case texture (different with their previous products in Z series, which have a bit of “sandy” texture) and thick acrylic parts for both top and bottom.

    At the front side, it has a 2.2 inch resistive touchscreen (yes, resistive and not capacitive) at the middle-front of the product. There’s “ZiShan T1 Modules” writing wrote down vertically at bottom-right corner of the front body.

    IMG_20190910_182341.jpg

    Tilt it to the right side, there’s 3 physical buttons. “+”, “” and “P” (my explanation of these buttons are at the Usage & Navigation section).

    IMG_20190910_182255.jpg

    There’s nothing on the back and the left side, except there’s some kind of a “Warranty seal” on the left side.

    IMG_20190910_182223.jpg
    IMG_20190910_183054.jpg

    On the bottom side, there’s the presence of USB Type-C interface, LED charging indicator and Reset emergency button that the two are more or less in the same spot, as well as one of the most important thing, the TF Card slot (SD card slot). 4 screws placed down here to open the T1 and change the DAC module, change caps, etc.

    IMG_20190910_182511.jpg

    Last but not least, the top side. There are 2 output ports here, the 3.5mm unbalance output (PO) and 2.5mm balance output (BL). 4 other screws are located here.

    IMG_20190910_182530.jpg


    Specification:

    - Dual AK4493EQ DAC
    - PCM playback up to: 32bit/768kHz
    - DSD playback up to: DSD256 (natively)
    - 2.2” resistive touchscreen
    - 2850mAh battery
    - Allwinner F1C100s CPU (up to 900MHz)
    - Altera Max II CPLD

    (Visit here for more detail: https://www.head-fi.org/threads/zishan-t1-hi-fi-player-thread.911795/)


    Usage & Navigation

    The Zishan T1 is, to be honest, quite confusing at first and I need to figure out a way to use it properly. But after getting used to it, it’s easy. In fact, in my opinion the T1 is so far the easiest Zishan player to use. Yes, easy if you know the mechanism of resistive screens and how they work. Let’s make things simple about the screen. All you need to do is to use your finger nail (I used my right thumbnail to navigate the screen) and apply a little bit of pressure ‘till you feel that the outer part of the screen is “flexing" in, unlike usual capacitive touchscreen that feels solid. Seriously, if you got in the right way to navigate it, the resistive screen becomes soft, and since it felt that way, you know whether you’re using it the right way or not. Don’t use too much pressure and avoid using fingers, especially with a lot of pressure. Just use your nail and feel it. You’ll understand what I wrote here if you got your hands on it.

    About the physical buttons, they’re also easy to use. The first one is “+”, used to increase volume and also works as “Next” if you toggle the “Button for next” option. The “” is used to decrease volume/previous. If you toggle the “Button for next” option, click once on one of the two buttons to skip/previous song, hold to increase/decrease volume. Last, there’s the “P” button. It is functioned as “Power” (IMO) button. Hold this button to turn on/off the player. Click once to unlock/lock screen if the player is turned on. You can also double tap (“resistive way” of course) the screen to unlock the player’s screen.

    However, about volume control on T1, isn’t as easy and satisfying as Z1 or Z2, since T1 using a button instead of using volume knob. But that doesn’t mean that volume on T1 is bad. It’s still accurate and reliable. I’m just saying that volume knob has it’s own uniqueness, IMO.

    ∆ Menu:

    IMG_20190911_215605.jpg

    Control:
    1. Swipe right or left on the vinyl image to change song

    2. Swipe right on the song title for file manager (here, you can delete a song by press and hold the file that you want to delete for a few second)

    3. Bottom left corner is the EQ option: "On" is to use the selected EQ and return home. "Off" to turn off EQ and return to home. Last one is "Def", used to reset EQ into a flat preset

    4. Next to the EQ, is the play/pause button

    5. Next to the play/pause button, is the playback mode button. There are 5 playback modes that you can use; Sequential (normal playback), Shuffle (shuffles all song on the SD card), One (repeat current song), Folder All (repeat the current folder or directory after all songs is already finished) and Folder Shuffle (this will shuffle songs on the current album). FYI, I often use this mode and it's good, suitable for my needs.

    IMG_20190910_185016.jpg
    IMG_20190910_185105.jpg

    About Car mode, it is present here on the T1. It’s basically an automatic power detector through the USB-C port. As somebody already explain this feature on Zishan DSD’s forum (read here: https://www.head-fi.org/threads/the-zishan-dsds-corner.826185/page-6#post-13030943). Simply, when you have this feature turned on, connect it to a power source to turn it on. And disconnect the cable from the power source to shut it down. So, when you have a power source near you, this can be a simple way to use T1. Also, when using this feature, a modern powerbank is recommended since they have some sort of built in auto cut charging feature if the charging device already has full power, so hopefully, the battery isn’t damaged quickly.
    But, I won’t recommend using this feature frequently. Just use it when you need it.

    Double click bl on, means double tap the screen to unlock screen.

    Brightness. Surprisingly, the screen on T1 is really bright. When using the T1 during outdoor, 70% of brightness is all I need. In fact, I never use full brightness on the T1. For indoor usage, minimum brightness is more than enough for me.

    Sleep time is quite useful for me. You can set the T1 to automatically shut down for 10 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour or 2 hours.

    Language, based on it's name, is to set language that you need to use on your T1. There are currently 6 languages on the T1, Traditioanal Chinese, Simplified Chinese, English, Korean, Russian and Japanese.


    Sound Quality

    Disclaimer: I am not a professional. Everything that I wrote here are “IMHO” and as is. I did not get paid for saying something good or bad. This is just my experience on the T1. And also, I am not really into the sound for DAP reviews. I’m gonna say the big lines only for this section,

    Gear(s) that I used: KZ ES4, Zishan Z1 (as comparison), Pocophone F1 (as comparison)

    Music genre(s): Metalcore, deathcore, metal, EDM, trap, anime (I know…), and acoustic.

    Song(s) for test:

    - As I Lay Dying – A Greater Foundation (MP3 16/44)
    - Avenged Sevenfold – A Little Piece of Heaven (MP3 16/44)
    - Avenged Sevenfold – Turn the Other Way (MP3 16/44)
    - Bring Me The Horizon – Pray For Plague (FLAC 16/44)
    - Bring Me The Horizon – It Never Ends (FLAC 16/44)
    - Bullet For My Valentine – The Poison (FLAC 16/44)
    - Slipknot – Psychosocial (FLAC 16/44)
    - Trivium – The Heart From Your Hate (AAC 16/44)
    - Skillet – Hero (FLAC 16/44)
    - Breaking Benjamin – Evil Angel (FLAC 16/44)
    - Feed Me – Rat Trap (AAC 16/44)
    - Yellowcard – Sing For Me (AAC 16/44)
    - CHiCO with HoneyWorks – Ai no Scenario (FLAC 16/44)
    - CHiCO with HoneyWorks –Tsunoru Kimochi (FLAC 24/96)
    - Nao Tomoya – Tsuki ga Kirei (FLAC 24/48)
    - Celine Dion – My Heart Will Go On (WAV 24/48)
    - The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey – Closer (FLAC 24/192)
    - TrondheimSolistene – REFLECTIONS (DSD 2.8MHz)
    - Nidarosdomens jentekor & TrondheimSolistene – MAGNIFICAT (DSD 11.2MHz)

    ==========================================================================

    Here’s my simple review about the sound quality,

    Okay, start with first impression. My first impression is “Kle" (balinese slang word for "damn". Sorry). That word just came out of my mouth and I didn’t say anything for the next few minutes. The first thing that I feel is the soundstage is wider, then it has a good bass and good depth with higher sound resolution compared to my Z1 and smartphone (using stock music player app).

    Ater listening to it for couple of days, the sound didn’t changed, it stays the same. I thought that the T1 need some “burn-in” process. But turns out, it doesn’t.

    Lows: Lows are great. T1 has a round bass with good texture. T1’s bass is a bit more emphasizing, thus making my ES4 sounded more bassy than when it was on Z1. The T1 doesn’t refined my ES4’s bass to be more impactful, but it surely refined the texture on ‘em . For songs with fast tempos (e.g. metalcore), the bass decay is quite rumbling than my Z1, yet still enjoyable for this kind of genre. But, this is more into the cans itself. I will definitely give it a 4.5/5 for bass

    Mids: The mids here are more into the bassy side, since the bass is a bit dominant. But that doesn’t mean the mids (especially the vocals) are bad, not detailed, etc. For female vocals, in the song Love Letter by CHiCO with HoneyWorks, CHiCO’s voice is pretty beautiful, sweet, enjoyable, and a bit more intimate than Z1 or the F1. For guitars in music such as metal, hardcore, etc., are a bit smooth. So guitar distortions aren’t that great as in Z1. 4.5/5

    Highs: The highs on T1 is a little bit more into the smooth side. But the details are still there. It’s just not as emphasized and forward as Z1. So, when I listen to anime and acoustic music, the highs are enough, not making my ears tired and fatiguing. Thus my listening experience for this kind of genre is really a pleasure. But, when listening to music such as metal, it’s not really enjoyable for me. Since I need more treble than bass. 4/5 from me.

    Soundstage: Wider than my Z1 and smartphone. Height and depth is also a bit better than Z1 or my phone. I can clearly hear and imagine where are the cymbals, crash, etc. But don’t expect more than that. “Good” soundstage overall

    Separation: T1 done a better job here too. It is able to decode digital data into analog signal quite precisely. I can hear that the instruments are well-separated.

    Sound conclusion: In my experience, T1's sound signature is Warm, yet still maintaining the details. Gotta admit, I like T1's sound here.

    ==//==

    This is based on the default setting preferences, i.e Filter mode is Short delay sharp, sound quality is Default. But, when I changed the sound filter into Sharp roll-off, the sound becomes more bright (somewhat sounded like ESS-based, IMO) and thus, making my T1 sounded a bit more to my Z1. Which I think that the Highs deserve a 4.5/5. To my ears, Short delay sharp has a full, warm sound character (as a lot of people refers this to be AKM’s velvet sound). About sound quality setting, unfortunately, I can’t hear much of differences compared with the default sound quality. I just hear the mids and highs are a tad more forward compared to the laid-back mids on default sound quality.

    Talking about the sound filter a bit more. To me, Sharp roll-off has the widest soundstage among the rest of the option, where Low dis short delay has the “narrowest” soundstage. Short delay sharp has a normal and balance soundstage (neither wide nor narrow).

    Lastly, keep in mind that I’m using ES4 for my gear setup. ES4’s sound signature itself is warm. As we all know, cans are the most affecting matter when it comes to sound output. So if you’re using a bright sounding cans, the treble might sound great for metal songs. Sorry, I don’t have much cans to use it with T1 for sound comparison. If I do have, I will surely compare them all.


    A day with T1

    How well does the T1 able to handle a “Daily driver” job? Let me share my short experience here. Start point, it was somewhere around 06:40. That day, I was going to a family event. I was at the car and started to get bored. I plug my ES4, booted up the T1, and the T1 starts to play. I remember the first song played was “Zenzenzense” by RADWIMPS (FLAC 16/44). I closed my eyes and started to imagining and get lost in the music. I placed it in my pocket and blind control on T1 isn’t great compared to my Z1, as I really need a physical buttons for music playback control.
    Arrived at destination at 08:17, T1 still playing. The setting that I used was Short delay sharp and Default sound quality.
    At 08:33 (probably), I turned off my T1, and the battery drained by 1 bar. Turned on the T1, and I continued listening to music.
    At 18:41, we went to a restaurant for dinner. Finished dinner at somewhere around 19:25, still listening to it at the same volume. Then, we leave and went to a cinema after that. I checked and the battery reduced by 1 bar, remaining 3 bars of battery left. After finished watching at somewhere around 21:30, we went home. Turned on my T1 and continue enjoying music.
    Finally, at 22:20, we arrived at home. I pick my T1 and the battery now remained at 2 bar, and also the T1 gets (quite) hot while being put inside my pocket. Pulled the T1 out of my pocket, turned it off, put my ES4 aside and charge my T1. Here, I ended up my "a day with" test.

    Here's some pic while I was using it in my short daily driver test:

    IMG_20190907_165103.jpg

    IMG_20190906_181209.jpg

    IMG_20190906_212737.jpg


    Battery Life

    For travelling (based on my test above):
    The T1 is still reliable and enjoyable. The sound is great, control with the screen is super easy compared to my Z1, yet T1 falls behind on blind control. T1 is my personal moodbuster when it comes to sound quality and touchscreen.

    For home usage:
    I got (approx.) 5-6 hours of battery life playing mixed music formats; DSD64&256 (.dsf), FLAC (16/44, 24/96, 24/192), WAV (16/44), AAC (16/44), MP3 (16/44, 16/48) from full charge ‘till 1 bar left with volume of a36. I don’t want to damage the battery by draining it from 100% to flat out 0%. So, sorry that I can’t tell you the “real” battery draining test.

    Charging it would take 2.5 hours to fully charge it from 1 battery bar. Not bad for a Zishan.

    However, if you are planning to use a high-power consumption DAC module (e.g. AK4497) with flagship op-amps (like MUSES02), you can turn on the Car Mode feature, remove the battery (don’t throw it away, save it), connect it to a power supply (e.g. 10000mAh high quality powerbank) through the USB port, and you can have a really long music playback with a very high quality sound, without worrying about the battery. And make sure you’re using a “stable” power supply while trying this trick.


    Feedback

    My personal positive feedbacks. They are:

    1. When I removed my SD card from T1 and put it into my Z1, it's still remember the second and minute of the last song I was listened to. The same thing occurs when inserting the same SD card from Z1 into T1. T1 still remember the last song that I was listened to before removing the SD card (but it will replay the last song from the beginning). Unlike when using Z2, moving the same SD card into it from Z1, Z2 will start playing from the very first song, and vice versa. This is a small thing, but quite annoying. At least for me. Hope you understand this.

    2. T1 remains cool while charging (power turned off), both charge using a powerbank or phone charger. And, the charging process is faster than Z1 (more or less 2 hours from 2 bar till full), which is a good thing for me

    3. Firmware updating process is easy and friendly. The T1 will update by itself once the firmware (t1app.bin) is detected on the root of the SD card (even if you got tons of files and directory on your SD card). And, after it finished, T1 will turn off automatically by itself.

    4. Resistive screen avoids unwanted touches to the screen. Sometimes, capacitive touchscreen easily detects random touches to it, which led to unwanted response (mis-navigation). On resistive screen, this doesn't occur.

    5. Buttons are clicky, analog output ports are steady and "on-place". SD card slot is also secure, nice and tidy (SD card sticks inside, without a little portion of the part's being outside).

    6. SD card scanning is fast (as all Zishan players are great at this sector). Tested with 32GB Class 10 SD card and it works great without any stutter or issues.

    My personal negative feedbacks. They are:

    1. T1 doesn’t have a lot of space and room for modding and “DIY-ing”. I have some op-amps (SOIC to DIP8) that I’d like to test but there’s no more space on the module.

    2. I’d prefer volume knob over volume buttons. So I can have a dedicated volume and playback control separately. Also, I kinda wish that they put a dedicated Pause physical button so it’s easier to control it when it’s inside my pocket.

    3. Player gets warm easily (but this problem can be cooled down for a moment by placing the T1 onto a floor surface).

    4. The screen sometimes hard to manuver due to the use of resistive screen (especially when using my left hand to control it).


    Bugs

    After using it for about a week (FW 0.2b), these are the bugs that I can enlist so far:

    1. Unlike Z1 and Z2, once turned off, T1 doesn't "remember" the second of where the last song is played. It’ll start the last song from the beginning (@cqtek reported this first on the T1 thread and same thing occurs on mine). Hopefully, this get fixed in future updates.

    2. Japanese translation has a lot of bugs to be fixed, especially when it comes to katakana and hiragana (noticed this too after @hees55 reported this on the T1 thread thread)

    3. Sometimes, when I double tap the screen, the screen unlocked, but it got freezed by itself after I swipe the screen trying to change the song into another directory. But this can be solved by simply lock the screen and unlock it again. I don’t know if this happen to other unit, but mine definitely is. I had encountered this bug twice now. Maybe it’ll be fixed in future updates


    Issues

    This section is about the problems I encountered that I think it’s more into the hardware itself instead of software (and firmware). They are:

    1. There's noise on PO whether the song is playing or paused. I don't know if this happens to all T1 dual 4493 version or just mine. However, it’s not audible once a song is started (maybe gain setting would help?).

    2. The USB-C port on my unit is loose. It’s really hard to charge it without the original USB cable that comes with it. This is serious problem to me. I need the USB port to be solid so charging and data transfer won’t get disturbed easily.

    3. Screen’s viewing angle is not that great. But who cares anyway? I look straight at the screen while operating it and not from the side. To me, this is nothing actually, I just write this review as is.

    4. When playing with EQ, tweaking 1-3dB is fine. But more than 3 decibels, noise pops up and the sound gets distorted badly. So, be careful with EQ. For me honestly, I don’t use EQ on Zishan. I like how it play music “as is” and Zishan also doesn’t resample music files (credit goes to @Merlin-PT) which doesn't add noise nor jitter to the sound. So, I don’t need EQ or anything here.


    Suggestions

    These are my suggestions only for the T1. I really hope that ZiShan see and read these:

    1. Pressing previous playback on the "" button once after 5 seconds of music playback would replay current song from the beginning. Pressing twice will change the song into the previous song (just like Z1 and Z2)

    2. Gain option for low or high gain setting. So hopefully T1 is more friendly to high sensitivity IEMs (I got noise on PO. Maybe this setting can help?).

    3. Can the “P” button act as a pause button when the screen is locked?


    Compared with Z1

    IMG_20190908_071819.jpg
    (Left is Z1 and right is T1)

    I’ve put my Z1 against the new T1. Here are the things that I can tell so far:

    1. Z1 has a lighter sound (airy) than T1. T1 sounds warmer (and fuller too).

    2. Z1 has a longer battery life compared with T1

    3. Z1 has more room and more economically for op-amp rolling (since I only need to buy 1 piece of op-amp instead of 2 pieces like on the T1)

    4. Z1 in my opinion is more compact than T1

    5. Z1 is more “blind-control” friendly and volume knob is just amazing

    6. Z1 has 3.5mm LO which is easier to use an external amplifier to be paired with it and can even act as a standalone AMP (but don't expect much here)

    Overall, to be honest, I like the Z1 a little bit more than the T1 itself. Of course, this is just my personal preference and music taste. Can be differ from yours.

    ∆ More photo:

    IMG_20190911_231147.jpg
    (Left: Z1, middle: T1 and right: Z2)

    IMG_20190908_071925.jpg
    (Left: Z1, right: T1)


    IMG_20190902_165353.jpg
    (Top: Z1, middle: Z2, bottom: T1)


    Updates
    Long term review will be posted here. Currently, still using the T1 and it still works fine. Will report here after a month of usage


    Conclusion

    So, is this the best DAP under $100? No. Can the T1 outperform the DSD? Definitely not. Can this DAP beat a $100 (or more) DAP? Not even close. But for $69, the T1 can surely compete with DAPs within it’s price range. Not only because of it’s changeable DAC module, but also it’s price-to-performance capability. In fact, all Zishan players are all about price-to-performance. If you want something that’s sound good, big power, “DIY-friendly”, with reachable price, then every Zishan players are worth considering, especially the 799 DSD.

    That’s all I can share with you about my honest review on the ZiShan T1. I hope this can help you decide whether to buy it or not. Also, if you have any questions, quick impression, doubts, etc., please head over the T1 thread and post it all there (thread: https://www.head-fi.org/threads/zishan-t1-hi-fi-player-thread.911795/)

    ==/==

    Thank you very much for reading my simple review!

    God bless us all.