The Hi-Fi + Hi-Res Audiophiles' Bluetooth Headphone Adapter Thread - [17.Oct.21] iFi GO Blu impression added
May 13, 2019 at 3:00 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 1,153

ClieOS

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I has always been interested in wireless headphone audio, more specifically BT adapter for headphone. Recently we have seen major advancement on BT codec as we moved from SBC/AAC to aptX (plus aptX LL and HD), then Sony's LDAC, Huawei backed SaviAudio's HWA (LHDC), and Hiby's UAT. This means BT transmission is moving from lossy Red Book CD 16bit / 48kHz compression to almost lossless 24bit / 96kHz (and soon perhaps 24bit / 192kHz) Hi-Res standard. We also see more BT5.0 implementation with newer BT chipsets, pairing with independent DAC / codec chip for improved SQ. Given the trend, I think it is about time for a general discussion thread dedicated to these small but high quality BT adapters. To set the ground rule and scope of discussion, we will keep it to BT adapters that are:

(1) Relatively small, near or smaller than a Zippo lighter or at least designed to be able to put into a shirt's front pocket / clip to collar / hang onto the neck, etc without too much effort..
(2) Supports at least one Hi-Res / HD codec, meaning at minimum of 24bit, i.e. aptx-HD, LDAC, LHDC or UAT.
(3) Support on-board mic / voice input so it can take phone call.
(4) Above average, if not really good SQ.

[Important] A note to all Apple user - your devices only support AAC and SBC. So all the above hi-res codec shouldn't be a prime concern to you but AAC support is a must.


So far the short list is (*in no particular order):

  1. Radsone EarStudio ES100 | 3.5mm SE + 2.5mm Bal | Qualcomm CSR8675 + Dual AKM AK4375a | app enhanced | firmware upgradable | LDAC, aptX-HD, AAC, aptX, SBC | USB DAC | BT5.0 | Type-C | MSRP: $99
  2. FiiO BTR3 | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm CSR8675 + AKM AK4376a | app enhanced | firmware upgradable | LDAC, LHDC, aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | USB DAC | BT4.2 | Type-C | MSRP: $70 (Discontinued)
  3. Astell&Kern AK XB10 | 3.5mm SE + 2.5mm Bal | Qualcomm CSR8675 + Cirrus Logic CS4350 | aptX-HD, aptX, AAC, SBC | microUSB | MSRP: $180 ($85)
  4. Auris Amplify | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm CSR8675 + AKM AK4377 | LDAC, aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | Type-C | MSRP: $89
  5. TempoTec Blue | 3.5mm SE | Savitech SA9910 + Cirrus Logic WM8904 | LHDC, SBC | microUSB | MSRP: $42
  6. Bluewave Audio GET | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm CSR8675 | aptX-HD, aptX, AAC, MP3, SBC | USB DAC | BT5.0 | microUSB | MSRP: $130 ($99)
  7. Audio Technica AT-PHA55BT | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm + ESS ES9118 | LDAC, aptX, AAC, SBC | BT4.2 | microUSB | MSRP: $130 ($140)
  8. Ampio M1 VS-1880 | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm | LDAC, aptX-HD, AAC, aptX, SBC | USB DAC | BT5.0 | microUSB | MSRP: $190 (n/a)
  9. Ampio P1 VS-1480 | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm | LDAC, aptX-HD, AAC, aptX, SBC | Qualcomm | USB DAC | BT5.0 | microUSB | MSRP: $140 (n/a)
  10. ArtExtreme R3 | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm CSR8675 | aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | BT5.0 | Type-C | MSRP: $87
  11. F. Audio BT03 | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm CSR8675 + TI PCM5102A | aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | USB DAC | Type-C | MSRP: $42
  12. Levn BTI-031 | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm CSR8675 | aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | BT5.0 | Tx + Rx | microUSB | MSRP: $28
  13. NF HiFi NFA-L1 | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm CSR8675 + ES9038Q2M | aptX-HD, aptX, SBC | BT5.0 | MSRP: $145
  14. Hiby W5 | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm CSR8675 + ESS ES9218P | app enhanced | firmware upgradable | UAT, LDAC, aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | BT5.0 | Type-C | MSRP: $109
  15. Shanling UP2 | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm CSR8675 + ESS ES9218P | app enhanced | firmware upgradable | LDAC, LHDC, aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | USB DAC | BT5.0 | Type-C | MSRP: $79
  16. ArtExtreme R7 | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm CSR8675 | aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | BT5.0 | MSRP: $115
  17. FiiO M5 | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm CSR8675 + AKM4377 | firmware upgradable | LDAC, LHDC, aptX-HD, AAC, aptX, SBC | USB DAC | Tx + Rx | Type-C | MSRP: $110
  18. Hagibis X3 | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm CSR8675 | aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | BT5.0 | Tx + Rx | multi-points | microUSB | MSRP: $30
  19. Hiby W3 | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm CSR8675 + AKM AK4377 | app enhanced | firmware upgradable | UAT, LDAC, aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | BT5.0 | Type-C | MSRP: $43 ($59)
  20. Oriolus 1795 | 4.4mm Bal + 3.5mm SE or 2.5mm Bal + 3.5mm Bal + 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm CSR8675 + TI PCM1795 | LDAC, aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | BT5.0 | Wireless Charging | USB DAC | Type-C | MSRP: $235
  21. FiiO BTR5 | 3.5mm SE + 2.5mm Bal | Qualcomm CSR8675 + dual ESS ES9218P | app enhanced | firmware upgradable | LDAC, aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | Inline mic+remote supported | USB DAC | Type-C | MSRP: $140
  22. Shanling UP4 | 3.5mm SE + 2.5mm Bal | Qualcomm CSR8675 + dual ESS ES9218P | app enhanced | firmware upgradable | LDAC, LHDC, aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | USB DAC | BT5.0 | Type-C | MSRP: $99
  23. Whooshi | | 3.5mm SE l | Qualcomm CSR8675 + Cirrus Logic CS43131 | firmware upgradable | aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | USB DAC | BT5.0 | Type-C | MSRP: $65
  24. FiiO BTR3K | 3.5mm SE+ 2.5mm Bal | Qualcomm CSR8675 + dual AKM AK4377A | app enhanced | firmware upgradable | LDAC, aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | USB DAC | BT5.0 | Type-C | MSRP: $70
  25. Qudelix-5K | 3.5mm SE + 2.5mm Bal | Qualcomm QCC5124 + dual ESS ES9218P | app enhanced | firmware upgradable | LDAC, aptX Adaptive, aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | Inline mic+remote supported | USB DAC | BT5.0 | Type-C | MSRP: $109
  26. TUNAI Square LDAC | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm + Cirrus Logic | LDAC, AAC, SBC | BT5.0 | microUSB | MSRP: $33
  27. YLM B2 | 3.5mm SE + 4.4mm Bal | Qualcomm CSR8675 + AKM AK4497EQ | LDAC, aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | USB DAC | BT5.0 | Type-C | MSRP: $272
  28. Xduoo XP-2 Pro | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm CSR8675 + AKM AK4452 | LDAC, aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | USB DAC | BT5.0 | Type-C | MSRP: $143
  29. 1MORE DH3001B | 3.5mm SE | LDAC, AAC, SBC | BT5.0 | Type-C | MSRP: $30
  30. Hiby W3S (Saber) | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm QCC5121+ AKM AK4377 | app enhanced | firmware upgradable | UAT, LDAC, aptX-HD, AAC, aptX, SBC | BT5.0 | Type-C | MSRP: $45
  31. Hidizs H2 | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm CSR8675 | firmware upgradable | UAT, LDAC, aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | USB DAC | BT5.0 | Type-C | MSRP: $62
  32. Shanling UP5 | 3.5mm SE + 2.5mm Bal + 4.4mm Bal | Qualcomm QCC5120 + dual ESS9219C | app enhanced | firmware upgradable | LDAC, LHDC, aptX-Adaptive, aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | USB DAC | BT5.0 | Type-C | MSRP: $179
  33. Audirect Beam 3 Plus | 3.5mm SE + 4.4mm Bal | Qualcomm + ESS9281C | LDAC, aptX-HD, SBC | USB DAC | BT5.0 | Type-C | MSRP: $185
  34. FiiO BTR5 2021 | 3.5mm SE + 2.5mm Bal | Qualcomm CSR8675 + dual ESS ES9219C | app enhanced | firmware upgradable | LDAC, aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | Inline mic+remote supported | USB DAC | Type-C | MSRP: $140
  35. iFi Audio GO Blu | 3.5mm SE + 4.4mm Bal | Qualcomm QCC51xx + Cirrus Logic CS43131 | firmware upgradable | LDAC, LHDC, aptX-Adaptive, aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | USB DAC | BT5.1 | Type-C | MSRP: $199
  36. UGREEN CM402 | 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm QCC3040 + DAC | aptX-HD, AAC, aptX, SBC | BT5.0 | Type-C | MSRP: $32
  37. Oriolus 1795S | 2.5mm Bal + 3.5mm SE | Qualcomm CSR8675 + dual Cirrus Logic CS43131 | LDAC, aptX-HD, aptX-LL, AAC, aptX, SBC | BT5.0 | Wireless Charging | USB DAC | Type-C | MSRP: $110

*Tx + Rx = can work as both transmitter and receiver.
*SE = Single-Ended Output
*Bal = Balanced Output
*($) = Street Price
*(n/a) = Not Available / Hard To Find

Any other you guy think should also make the list?


----

Extra Note
For those of you who use BT headphone adapter, here is one accessory that I strongly recommend - it is called ReadeREST on Amazon but you can find similar products on Aliexpress if you search "magnetic glasses holder". Instead of clipping your BT adapter on an uncomfortable / awkward position on your shirt, this allows you to place your BT adapter with far less restriction.

51pxdft0RQL._SX355_.jpg


Please note that the above ReadeREST or similar glass holder will not work on Qudelix 5K due to 5K's extra wide shirt clip. I'll instead recommend 'magnetic name tag holder' for 5K user, like the one in picture below. The metal plate will be glued to the 5K itself while the magnetic holder go under your shirt. Also note that these kind of holder comes in various length and it is recommended to find one that is short enough for 5K.

Magnetic-Name-Badge-Holder--Black-800x800.jpg
 
Last edited:
May 13, 2019 at 3:01 AM Post #2 of 1,153

ClieOS

IEM Reviewer Extraordinaire
Joined
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Location
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DSC_0084.JPG

From upper left: Shanling UP5. UP4, UP2, Hiby W5, W3, W3 Saber, TempoTec Blue
From lower left: EarStudio ES100, Qudelix 5K, iFi GO Blu FiiO BTR3K, BTR3, BTR5


[Impression]
UPDATE: July 6th, 2021.

[ Rating: Highly Recommended > Recommended > Maybe > Cautious > Not Recommended ]


Radsone ES100: Highly Recommended
(+) Clean and transparent sound
(+) Single-ended and balanced output
(+) Great app support with many extra features
(-) Buttons can be hard to press at time
(-) Only average BT transmission speed./ range / stability
(-) Mostly plastic construction

FiiO BTR3: Maybe
(+) Full range of BT codec support
(+) App support
(+) Solid build quality
(-) Only decent driving power
(-) Warmish, slightly congested sound

Hiby W5: Maybe
(+) Special UAT codec support for 24/192 transmission
(+) Lots of power, great dynamic
(+) Futuristic design
(+) Charging pod for extended playtime
(+) Great BT transmission speed / range / stability
(+) App supported with OTA firmware update, but could use more polish
(-) UAT isn't stable enough to be useful and only good for Hiby music app (or Hiby DAP)
(-) Relatively short standalone playtime
(-) Full touch control is finicky / hard to use / no physical lock button to pervert accidental pressing
(-) Plastic shirt clip seems flimsy and not practical
(-) No volume control on the adapter itself
(-) Silicone sleeve for the charging pod doesn't fit very tightly.

Shanling UP2: Recommended
(+) Full range of BT codec support
(+) Slightly warmish sound with good dynamic
(+) Good power output
(+) Solid build quality
(+) app support, but slightly buggy
(-) Shirt clip / jacket is solid but not the most practical
(-) Easily scratch-able front and back plates

Tempotec Blue: Not Recommended
(+) Good neutral sound
(+) Lots of output power
(+) Good battery life
(+) Single-ended and balanced output
(-) Large body and heavy in weight
(-) No shirt clip or lanyard attachment (pocket only)
(-) Only support LHDC (HWA) and SBC
(-) LHDC is not the most stable of codec
(-) Loud powering up / down sound

FiiO BTR5: Highly Recommended
(+) Almost full range of BT codec support
(+) Good app support with lots of setting.
(+) Single-ended and balanced output
(+) Good build quality
(+) Excellent sound on balanced output with good power
(+) Good design on removable shirt clip
(+) OLED screen allows for most setting change without app
(-) Heavy and big for an BT adapter
(-) Single-ended output is slightly bland sounding
(-) EQ not working on LDAC yet
(-) Pricey, at least for some region of the world

Shanling UP4: Recommended
(+) Full range of BT codec support
(+) Single-ended and balanced output
(+) Good power output
(+) Solid build quality, decent weight despite the size
(+) Dedicated button for gain and filter setting
(+) app support, but slightly buggy
(-) Shirt clip / jacket is solid but not the most practical
(-) Easily scratch-able front and back plates
(-) Grainy sound with noticeable distortion and poor RMAA measurement

Hiby W3: Highly Recommended
(+) Almost full range of BT codec support
(+) App support with OTA firmware update
(+) Good build quality with sensible (*normal) design
(+) Good sound with decent output, neutral with a slight tilt toward warmth.
(+) Excellent value / price
(-) UAT isn't stable enough to be useful and only good for Hiby music app (or Hiby DAP)
(-) Volume rocker's steps are too wide apart and have to be manually fine-tuned.

FiiO BTR3K: Highly Recommended
(+) Almost full range of BT codec support
(+) Good app support with decent amount of setting.
(+) Single-ended and balanced output, and both are really good sounding
(+) Good build quality, not much bigger (shirt clip included) than the original BTR3
(+) Same good design on removable shirt clip as BTR5
(+) Same price as BTR3
(-) EQ not working on LDAC yet

Qudelix 5K: Highly Recommended
(+) Almost full range of BT codec support, first to include aptX Adaptive
(+) Good app support, lots of settings and capable of wireless firmware update
(+) Single-ended and balanced output, and both are really good sounding
(+) Good compacted industrial design
(+) Good EQ that works over LDAC and USB DAC
(-) App's UI could use a bit more refinement
(-) Opposite buttons can be mis-pressed, sometime sticky too
(-) Shirt clip is shallow and not the most practical to use.

Hiby W3 Saber: Highly Recommended
(+) Updated version the original W3 with better SoC, and better volume control steps, retains the same SQ
(+) Almost full range of BT codec support
(+) App support with OTA firmware update
(+) Good build quality with sensible (*normal) design
(+) Good sound with decent output, neutral with a slight tilt toward warmth.
(+) Excellent value / price
(-) UAT isn't stable enough to be useful and only good for Hiby music app (or Hiby DAP)

Shanling UP5: Highly Recommended
(+) Full range of BT codec support
(+) Single-ended and balanced output, with both 4.4mm and 2.5mm socket
(+) Excellent SQ for both SE and Bal output with good power
(+) Good build quality,
(+) OLED screen allows for most setting change without app
(+) app support with good selection of options
(+) EQ works over LDAC
(+) Pleather case included, though more of a waist / belt clip-on
(-) Very large size
(-) Slightly buggy firmware and USB-DAC function
(-) Pricy?

NEW! iFi GO Blu: Recommended
(+) Full range of BT codec support
(+) Single-ended and balanced output
(+) Excellent SQ for both SE and Bal output with a lot of power
(+) Exceptional build quality and design
(+) Well implemented EQ
(+) Tiny
(-) No case / shirt-clip
(-) Weak BT range
(-) No app (for enchantment / finetuning)
(-) Outer matte coating can be an issue in time
(-) No separated volume control from the source device
(-) Pricy


Sum-up
Out of all, W5 probably has the best SQ for the 3.5mm single-ended output with just a faint touch of warmth and overall very good dynamic, no doubt thanks to its extra output power - but it also caused it to have the shortest playtime, which is why the need of an charging pod. As good as it sounds, W5 is hard to recommend due to its many shortcomings - while these are mostly just small flaws, they do add up to what I think is a fairly clumsy design. Most people who use BT adapter are those are willing to compromise SQ for a bit more convenience. But in the case of W5, you are compromising more for SQ than convenience. The full touch control is especially a pain to use - sometime it is hard to press correctly, other time it is too easy to mis-press - 'lacking polish' is what comes to my mind after a few days of use. UAT is too unstable to be of any usefulness and limited to HIby's own music app or DAP (thankfully LDAC is great on W5) and the app still need some work. Hiby might have aimed too high with the W5 futuristic design. It could well be a great BT adapter if it just goes for a more conventional design.

ES100 has been well established so I am not going to spend much time talking about it - it has a good clean sound and power output, but what sets it apart is the excellent app and a full range of extra features that you can control. ES100 is what sets the standard of how any future higher-end BT adapter should measure up to. On the other hand, UP2 is a really good alternative for those who wants something that is just a touch more warm and musical sounding than the slightly sterile sounding ES100. The multi-functional scroll wheel is not difficult to use as well. If Shanling can invest more time to make an independent app for UP2, it would be perfect (*it is said to be in development). [UPDATE] Shanling app has arrived, but so far it is somewhat buggy and doesn't really do much extra stuff.

BTR3 in itself is a solid BT adapter and FiiO has been doing a good job adding more features to its app, though unfortunately it is built into the FiiO Music app and not an independent app of its own (*UPDATE April 2020: an independent app has been released and can be found on Play Store) . By all means a good sounding BT adapter when compared to all the other regular BT adapter out there, it does however fall slightly short when compared to the likeness of ES100 / W5 / UP2 as BTR3 sounds more congested in comparison.

Tempotec is a Chinese company that makes mostly DAC and amp, and as such perhaps it is why Blue really designed more like a portable DAC/amp rather than an BT adapter. It is heavy and a bit on the larger size with a fairly limited codec support, but it does offer fairly good SQ with lots of driving power - assuming if you can get a stable LHDC connection in the first place. The powering up and down sound is also overly loud and annoying. All and all, Blue is rough on the edge and not recommended.

BTR5 on first glance is way too big and heavy for an BT adapter, but a sensible design and a removable shirt clip makes it far more usable than Tempotec Blue though it is probably pushing the limit of what is considered portable among many BT adapter users. However, the extra size and weight is offset by the features and SQ it offers - and for those who don't mind a few more grams, the BTR5 does deliver the goods. The addition of the OLED screen allows for many settings to be changed without the need of app, also the standalone app (which is still in beta) also makes BTR5 more of a completed package. The SQ and output power on the balanced 2.5mm socket is also excellent with a slightly warmish presentation that isn't that far of FiiO preferred house sound, better than that of ES100's balanced output and probably the best sound in all the BT adapters reviewed so far, besting even W5 overall. The single-ended 3.5mm is however a little bland sounding - not bad per se and definitely better than BTR3, there is however nothing truly remarkable to speak of. For those who only intended to use the 3.5mm output for music listening, BTR5 might not be the best choice value wise. However, the 3.5mm socket does offer support for inline mic+remote on headset, and that could be very useful - not to mention it also support dual mic cVc noise cancelling (when used with headset), which is something only available on smartphone until now. For the desktop user, BTR5 also offers 32bits / 384kHz support as well as DSD256 decoding on hardware level, something that you won't find any other BT adapter's USB DAC mode. So far, besides the weight/size and not having a great 3.5mm output, the only two downsides are perhaps (1) the lack of EQ on LDAC codec as well as the missing HWA (LHDC) support - the former is said to be in development while the later is actually not a bad thing, since HWA is really unstable and not particularly usable in the first place. (2) BTR5 is pricey, but the good news is that you can find it on cheaper price on some places. Last but not least - while the EQ isn't fully working (*LDAC), the clock and filter setting do make quite a noticeable impact on fine tuning the sound, even more so than what can be found on ES100. The standalone app is definitely the right way to go as well. Overall, BTR5 is an easy recommendation for those who wants the best SQ on-the-go, at least for now.

UP4 is probably Shanling answer to BTR5. Despite having less hardware features, Shanling has done a good job on simplifying the design while keeping all the essential, resulting in a BT adapter that doesn't feel bulky yet is actually not very small. First thing to note is that it has noticeably more driving power than UP2, even on 3.5mm single-ended output. However, unlike the slightly warmish and smooth sounding UP2, UP4 has a colder sound with a noticeable grainy treble

With the original firmware 1.0, UP4 has an uneasy presentation - after almost 2 weeks of listening, it comes clear to me that something is off with UP4 balanced output (with a smaller degree on its single-ended output as well). To make sure this is not purely an imagination / subjective interpretation, I ended up custom built a cable so I can test the UP4 balanced output on my Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 using RMAA - and the result confirms my suspicion that there is indeed significant distortion and abnormalities in UP4. First round of RMAA tests show jagged FR curve with significant treble roll-off (-3dB at 10~11kHz) regardless of digital filter setting. Secondly, distortion is almost over the roof. The result is so poor that I have to run several other USB DAC on the same test to make sure my test equipment isn't broken, yet multiple tests all point to UP4 being the culprit. To ensure my UP4 isn't a lemon, I consulted a third party whom also measured his UP4 and the result is similar to mine..Further testing, including UP4 as in both USB DAC mode as well as BT mode, reveals perhaps UP4 is not as bad as previous first round of RMAA tests suggested, but there is certainly some level of distortion as well as inconsistent issue in performance (which might explain why it was tested so badly before). At this point I can't be 100% sure if this is a hardware or software issue - if it is the later, then perhaps a firmware update will be able to correct the problem. However, without knowing if or when this problem can be fixed or not, I will caution those who want to pick up an UP4 at this moment.

For those who are interested in looking into UP4 updated RMAA's result, you can find it in the following zip file (BTR5 result is included for reference): RMAA result2.zip (fimrware 1.0)

With the new firmware 1.1, most of UP4 issues on firmware 1.0 have been fixed. New RMAA tests show that UP4, while still not picture perfect, is at least decent in most parameters. While the grainy treble has been reduced, the overall sound signature remains mostly the same. It is still a colder sound with an emphasis on detail, with a reduced but still presented graininess over treble. Not quite as cold as before, but still a leaner sound for sure. Overall imaging and positioning has also improved, now with a well presented soundstage. The improvement in the new firmware 1.1 has allowed UP4 to earn my recommendation, though I don't think it is quite there to compete with best of the best yet. [UPDATE] Shanling app has arrived, but so far it is somewhat buggy and doesn't really do much extra stuff.

RMAA result3.zip (firmware 1.1)

W3 comes after W5 and is meant to be its little sibling, but by all means I think it is what W5 should have been. The problem with W5 is its unnecessarily complex, futuristic but also completely unpractical design. W3 on the other hand is conventional in a very good way - because everything just works. To say Hiby has learned from its mistake on the W5 will be an understatement. Another interesting point is that W3 uses the AK4377 chips instead of the newer AK4377A - the later is more optimized for mobile use, but also lesser in performance. Besides the fact that UAT is less than useful, the only real downside I'll say about the W3 is that the volume control on the W3 itself actually control the software volume on your smartphone, and each step can be overally big, resulting in one step being not loud enough yet the next step becomes overly loud. This can somewhat be remedied in the app by adjusting (limiting) the max volume on the smartphone, though I rather see an independent hardware volume control on the W3. As far as sound signature goes, W3 has a fairly neutral sound, if not ever slightly tilting toward a fainted sense of warmth, pleasing and unobtrusive - not quite as full bodied as UP2, but pretty much the same level of performance and thus also make for a good recommendation. However, it is the low price of W3 that really sets it apart as far as overall value goes. If you are on a tight budget while looking for the best bang for bucks, W3 should be on the very top of your list.

BTR3K comes as a slightly surprised replacement / upgraded model for BTR3. The original BTR3 is one of the very first 'Hires' Bluetooth adapter in the market that targeted audiophiles that lost their 3.5mm socket on their new smartphone. It had done a lot of things right but it was always over-shadowed by its main competition, the ES100. FiiO no doubt has taken note of the situation and designed the BTR3K to take on the challenge. First thing to note is that the BTR3K measured very well in RMAA (which FiiO gears usually do). With DAC set to High Performance mode, the result is excellent on both single-ended as well as balanced output. Output impedance are also very low on both, in the perfect sub-1-ohm range. Max power output on the balanced 2.5mm is comparable to, if not just slightly higher than ES100 2.5mm (1x voltage). Max power on 3.5mm is about half of 2.5mm, but it should be more than loud enough for your average headphone. Both BTR3K and ES100 use (*different) AKM DAC/amp codec chips in dual configuration, so overall sound signature is fairly similar. On 2.5mm output, the difference is subtle and hard to say which is better. On the 3.5mm however, BTR3K offers better sound with bigger image / soundstage and grander presentation. In short, ES100 will be able to go louder - but for the same volume, BTR3K sounds at least as good (on 2.5mm) if not better (on 3.5mm). The only real advantage that ES100 still hold are on the more sophisticated app and a working EQ on LDAC. If neither of those are important to you, BTR3K will be a better buy, consider that FiiO's app, while not as good as E100, is still head and shoulders above the rest. Given it is only about $10 more expensive than the already-excellent-in-value Hiby W3, the BTR3K now probably represents the best value and best sounding BT adapter in the sub-$100 price range.

The long anticipated Qudelix 5K has finally reached the market after the long Covid-19 delay, the good news is that it s well worth the wait. Both 5K's balanced and single-ended outputs measured fairly well in RMAA (*high performance mode, low output voltage), almost as good as BTR5 which uses the similar DAC configuration (dual ES9218P setup for balanced and the single ES9218P for single-ended). Output impedance for both outputs are also at a very respectable sub-1-ohm range. Output power is higher than BTR5 for the same load and it can go a little louder if wanted as well, though there is unlikely you will need to be that loud for either BT adapter for most headphones in the market (*if you do, I suspect a full sized portable DAC/amp with BT function is probably a more suitable option). 5K also comes with the newer aptX Adapive codec, though it is not nearly as widely supported as your normal flavor aptX/aptX-HD or LDAC. Besides, it is a codec that isn't meant to give the best possible SQ but rather to achieve better connection stability. Subjectively speaking, 5K is very good sounding - pretty much the same level as BTR5 and BTR3K, just a hair better than ES100 and pretty much one of the best sounding BT adapter in this impression so far. With the same DAC configuration as BTR5, the overall sound signature is about the same - neutral with a slight tilt to warmness, but 5K's 3.5mm does sound slightly less dull than that of BTR5 even though the difference isn't night and day. The 2.5mm output on the other hand is equally as good as that of BTR5. That being said, if you already own a BTR5 or BTR3K, 5K won't likely going to be an upgrade as far as SQ is concerned. The part you will likely going to find as an improvement is 5K's app, and namely its EQ system that works over LDAC as well as USB DAC (*via smartphone app control). However, the app is still in its early days so there could be more functions and settings coming in the future. Certainly the use of the newer and more powerful Qualcomm QCC5124 SoC is going to give 5K a more effortless performance over the older generation of BT adapter that rely on CSR8675. While the SQ is good, there are other minor imperfection to be found on 5K - First, the shirt clip is noticeably more shallow (in both angle of opening as well as insertion depth) and not the easiest to press. The clever design on the placement of 2.5mm and 3.5mm sockets with the incorporation of the shirt clip unavoidable makes the shirt clip less useful and practical than it should. Secondly, the opposite placement of the rocker buttons are prone to mispress, which is an old problem that we have seen on ES100. The less-than-defined rocker action is not helping either, as it is hard to really differentiate one side of the rocker from the other and always feel like both buttons will get pressed at the same time. Both of these issues, while minor, are result of form-over-function where it should have been form-follows-function. All and all, 5K is still an easy recommendation for its excellent SQ and small form factor. However, if you are don't use EQ much and already own a BTR5 or BTR3K (*especially if you don't find BTR3K lacking power), than there is no real need to get a 5K. But if you are using any other Hi-Res BT adapters and think about upgrade, then 5K should be on top of your consideration.

Hiby W3 Saber (= W3S) is basically the original W3 with an upgrade Bluetooth SoC. Basic function and SQ remain the same, with volume control steps being improved (*no long overly large jump of volume between steps). Price remains almost the same and thus it is just as good a value as the original W3 and thus I have no problem recommending it. If there is any downside to speak of, it is the fact that Hiby has chosen to use such a powerful SoC (QCC5121) on the W3s yet doesn't seem to want to implement more functionality (which we know QCC51xx is capable of) as the firmware has never been updated since it was released quite sometime ago. That's a shame.

To be frank, I was a bit disappointed by the Shanling UP4 - it was meant to be Shanling's answer to BTR5, yet it falls short of its promise in many ways. The UP5 however, is a true unpolished gem. Unlike UP4, UP5's measured good (*comparably to BTR5 and 5k in RMAA) and sounds great - in both single-ended as well as balanced output. Output impedance are calculated to be 0.8ohm for all output Subjectively speaking, particularly on balanced output, BTR5 has the best texture (*especially over mid-range), 5K has good balance on all aspects while UP5 excels in soundstage / imaging / position and dynamics. Technically however, I think they are about on par with each other. The one area where UP5 is slightly ahead of BTR5 and 5K is on the single-ended 3.5mm output - it is not quite as good as UP5's balanced output, but really not far off either. In fact, with firmware version 1.5.6., the 3.5mm output sounds (and measured) just as good in single DAC mode as it is in dual DAC mode (*which kinda begs the question of why there are two modes to begin with). The 4.4mm and 2.5mm balanced output also sound (and measured) the same, which isn't that surprising as I had suspected they are internally linked together, The question is, do we really need to have two identical sounding balanced socket? Seems to be a waste of space IMO - one socket plus an adapter could have been just as good a solution, especially since UP5 is not exactly small. Since we are talking about size - it is obvious UP5 is on the larger size of things, making it almost impossible as a clip-on on chest area, nor exactly the most sensible for front pocket when convenience is a must. Like BTR5, the addition of an OLED screen is a good thing, allowing most setting to be changed without the need of an app - that being said, the screen should have automatically wake up during volume change (which it doesn't and you need to press the volume wheel down to manually wake it up). Last but not least, the initial firmware on the UP5 is very unstable, both on basic functionality as well as sound quality. The new firmware (v1.5.6) has mostly address the problem, though still not completely stable. Sometime it wasn't recognized when plugged into a PC, sometime the sound will cut out when used as BT receiver and remains so even after multiple restart, then somehow it will come back all by itself. While these bugs are mostly random and do not occur very frequently, it is nonetheless a sign that UP5's firmware is useable but not quite ready for primetime yet. More work is definitely needed before UP5 can truly shine (*not to mention that the advertised MQA function on USB DAC mode is yet to be implemented, though not a big concern of mine as I don't subscribe much into MQA, or its related service). So does UP5 worth the fairly big jump in price over BTR5 / 5K? Well, not quite just yet, at least not with the current firmware. Like I said before, UP5 is an unpolished gem, and it will need a polished firmware to complete the package. Even with a stable firmware, the large size also makes UP5 less appealing when portability / convenience is a priority. For now, I'll only recommend it with reservation. [UPDATE] UP5 has became much more stable with firmware v1.6.0 and MQA is now functional. All and all a good improvement over older firmware but still required more work. It is however enough to be highly recommended.

NEW! Even since the beginning of the brand, iFi has been known for their value based approach toward product design that doesn't compromise style or performance. It is kinda a surprise that they will want to release a BT adapter such as the GO Blu as it doesn't quite fit into their usual targeted audience, especially since there are already quite some strong competitions in the same market that offer cheaper option. Basic RMAA measurement shows no obvious issue with GO Blu. It isn't nearly as stellar as BTR5 or 5K, but it isn't bad either. Overall, it seems to be about the same level as UP5, more or less. Output impedance are excellent with both single-ended and balanced output calculated to be under 0.3 ohm. Output power is also no sloth, with some of the highest output found on similar device. Subjectively speaking, GO Blu sounds very good as well. It retains the classic iFi house sound that is just a little more on the smooth and warm side of thing, but still technically proficient. Compared to BTR5, 5K or UP5, the GO Blu might seems missing the very top end of clarity and crispiness. At the same time however, it offer a thicker, more textured and euphonic midrange than the others. One of the specialty of GO Blu is its EQ - XBass and XSpace can both trace their original all the way back to the original iFi Micro series. They works quite well as a hardware implementation and doesn't affect the SQ much as compared to software based EQ , though the fact that they are not adjustable / fine-tunable means they won't always work quite as well on every headphone you pair them with. Sometime they are an good addition, but sometime they can be very minimalistic. Physically the GO Blu is very well designed and built. It is small and light in the hand yet feels like a premium product with its unique clickable copper alloy volume wheel and metal front plate. The matte coating on the plastic is a nice touch, but I have question on its longevity as I have seen every product with this kind of matte coating degrades significant with time, usually result in the coating becoming very sticky and has to be removed / cleaned off with organic solvent, which destroy the matte coating completely. I guess only time will tell how it will go but I really don't like to see any matte coating on plastic surface personally. Another big overlook for iFi is the lack of a case and shirt-clip for the GO Blu. Many BT adapter user like to attach their device to the shirt near the neck / front chest area for convenience, especially with many IEM / headphone these days having removable cable design that allow for a shorter custom cable. The lack of a real way to attach the GO Blu to the chest area really limits the functionality of GO Blu as a BT adapter, especially consider it is supposed to allow the user to pick up call more seamlessly. Another minor thing I don't like about the GO Blu is its volume control implementation - First, it has auto gain control, which I personally would rather prefer an manual switch. Second, the volume wheel controls the source's digital volume directly. I am however much in favor of how other higher end BT adapter implement a separated hardware volume control that function independently from the source's digital control, in which offers finer control at both ends. One last minor thing is the relatively weak BT range, which by far is the weakest of all the nicer BT adapters in my collection. It is still totally useable as in what normal BT device is meant to be used in very close proximity to the source, perhaps in a meter or two. But it will be the first to drop out once the distance is increased, making it not the best of choice for those who like to leave their source stationary while walks around the house with their BT adapter. All and all, GO Blu is a nice product that can compete SQ wise with other ToTL BT adapters in the market - but the high price tag, lack of app enhancement and some of the minor issues mentioned above have really limited its overall value when compared to the competition. It is recommended, though I don't think it is for everyone.

XBass.png

XBass - peak around 20Hz and go up to 200Hz. The early roll off above 16kHz is what gives GO Blu its signature smooth sound.

------------------------
[Battery Test]
As battery test usually take hours and hours to do, this section will only be updated occasionally and not every model will be covered.

Testing condition:
Source: FiiO M6, random selection of music on loop, LDAC SQ prioritized
Devices: No EQ, all extra setting disable and low gain (if applicable), 50mV output (or as close as possible) into a 23.5 ohm dummy load, single-ended 3.5mm output.

Result:
FiiO BTR3 - over 9 hours
EarStudio ES100 - around 12 hours
FiiO BTR5 - over 7.5 hours
Shanling UP2 - over 9 hours
Qudelix 5K - over 13 hours (High Performance, Normal Output)


------------------------
[RSSI Test]
Received Signal Strength Indicator (RSSI) is done via Sony Xperia 5 and Bluetooth Signal Strength Meter app by Edgar Garcia Leyva. Please note that RSSI number change from moment to moment and so the number below are the rough average of several test on each device and not an absolute number. All device are tested at the same environment one by one. with BT adapter being stationary while smartphone being moved around. The three numbers represent the RSSI (dBm) from the two devices when they are (1) about 2 inches away, (2) about 2 meters away, in the same room and (3) about 6 meters away, with wall in between. The least negative the number for a given distance, the cleaner / stronger the signal it is. For example, when Bluetooth device A and B are placed at the same 1 meter away from the smartphone, Device A with a -60dBm RSSI will maintain a better signal than Device B with a -70dBm RSSI. This becomes importance when using a very high compression BT codec such as LDAC 990 as it means Device A will not as easy to drop out as Device B. Last note -120dBm is considered to have minimum / loss of signal.

Qudelix 5K -62 -67 -92
FiiO BTR5 -62 -75 -93
Shanling UP5 -62 -74 -95
iFi Audio Go Blu -72 -90 -106



------------------------

[More Impression]

Hiby W5 and followup by @pstickne
ArtExtreme R3 by @Hal Rockwell
FiiO BTR5 by @sinquito
Qriolus 1795 here and here by @greyforest
 

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May 15, 2019 at 9:47 AM Post #3 of 1,153

cesdag

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Great thread! Do you have any info on when the btr5 will be released? I own the ak xb10, I do like the sound quality, but the Bluetooth connection is not very stable though, I get small interruptions here and there. The build quality is not that great as well. I use mostly the balanced output, so I was looking for other options with balanced output but better Bluetooth connection.
 
May 15, 2019 at 10:00 AM Post #4 of 1,153

ClieOS

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Great thread! Do you have any info on when the btr5 will be released? I own the ak xb10, I do like the sound quality, but the Bluetooth connection is not very stable though, I get small interruptions here and there. The build quality is not that great as well. I use mostly the balanced output, so I was looking for other options with balanced output but better Bluetooth connection.

No other info on BTR5 for now. FiiO is keeping their lips tight, but it probably won't be very far away from actual release as they usually won't start promoting unless they are almost ready to begin production. We will probably going to see the first batch being released in China first as FiiO like to do very small first batch to make sure there won't be any major manufacturing problem down the line and so quantity usually is limited to their native market.

One of the main problem with these hi-res BT codec is bandwidth, and namely interference from WiFi. Unfortunately it doesn't seem like there is an quick solution over this issue - the nosier the wireless environment, the worst any hi-res adapter will performs.
 
May 15, 2019 at 4:49 PM Post #6 of 1,153

abirdie4me

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I use the es100 in my car, has been very solid and reliable upgrade over my previous generic Bluetooth adapter. Always on the look out for an upgrade though..
 
May 15, 2019 at 5:30 PM Post #7 of 1,153

subtec

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Reminder that Bluetooth 5 has no effect on sound quality, range, or battery life for headphones or BT audio adapters. The changes in BT 5 only apply to Bluetooth Low Energy mode, which is not currently used for audio transmission.


*****

As a suggestion, it might be useful to add battery size and/or runtime to the specs.


Here's a list of some different adapters I compiled a while back:

Shanling M0 (DAP)
80mW in 32ohm, 630mAh 15hr, AAC/aptX/LDAC

Radsone Earstudio
40mW in 32ohm, 350mAh 14hr, aptX HD/LDAC (CSR8675)

Bluewave Get
125mW in 32ohm, 200mAh 6hr, aptX HD (CSR8675)

Podo Labs Jack
2Vrms in 600ohm, 300mAh 12hr, aptX (CSR8670)

Fiio Q5
400mW in 32ohm (2.5mm bal)/150mW in 32ohm (3.5mm SE), 3800mAh 10hr, aptX (CSR8670)

Fiio BTR1
15mW in 32ohm, 205mAh 8hr, aptX (CSR8670)

Fiio BTR3
300mAh 11hr, AAC/aptX/aptX-LL/aptX-HD/LDAC

Artextreme/Jates R3
450mAh 30hr, AAC/aptX/aptX-LL/aptX-HD, <200ohm



*****

Personally, I'm hoping to see some aptX Adaptive adapters in the next year. That's about the only thing that could get me to upgrade from my current ES100 (as well as better battery life).
 
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May 15, 2019 at 10:17 PM Post #8 of 1,153

ClieOS

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I use the es100 in my car, has been very solid and reliable upgrade over my previous generic Bluetooth adapter. Always on the look out for an upgrade though..

Car do act somewhat like a Faraday cage and actually help to reduce outside interference.


As said on the first post, it has to support minimum 24bit (aptX-HD, LDAC, LHDC, UAT) otherwise it can't be considered hi-res / HD. Also the ability to take call otherwise it is more of a Bluetooth DAC/amp and not a headphone adapter.

Standalone, battery size / life + runtime is less than useful information since it has to be interpreted with actual usage / load / output power and testing condition. Power output is troublesome as testing with THD+N @ 1% (*a common international practice) or @ 10% (*Japanese standard) will give dramatical different result. Testing with different codec also plays major role in runtime as SBC vs. LDAC is going to have very different runtime even on the same device. Unless these devices are tested all in relatively similar condition, spec like battery size/life and output power really don't make for good comparative reference, thus I do not include them in the list.
 
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May 22, 2019 at 12:40 AM Post #9 of 1,153

ClieOS

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Short list update: F. Audio BT03 and Levn BTI-031.
 
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May 24, 2019 at 1:27 PM Post #10 of 1,153

CKS0923

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I have been searching for a pair of BT headphones that sounds like my NAD HP-50. I had my mind set on the HP-70s but keep reading that they can sound edgy at times, which hasn't been the case for the HP-50. Then one day I came across an article introducing a BT receiver and later found this thread. This could have been the perfect solution for my need! Converting the HP-50 to wireless! One question I have is, how does these (< $150 ones) generally sound when compared to, say headphones wired to a Sansa Clip+?
 
May 24, 2019 at 10:11 PM Post #12 of 1,153

ClieOS

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I have been searching for a pair of BT headphones that sounds like my NAD HP-50. I had my mind set on the HP-70s but keep reading that they can sound edgy at times, which hasn't been the case for the HP-50. Then one day I came across an article introducing a BT receiver and later found this thread. This could have been the perfect solution for my need! Converting the HP-50 to wireless! One question I have is, how does these (< $150 ones) generally sound when compared to, say headphones wired to a Sansa Clip+?

I have not listened to my Clip+ for a long time, but I'll say at least the really good BT adapter, such as FiiO BTR3 and EarStudio ES100 can compete with that level of SQ easily.

There is also the Audio Labs M-DAC nano, I think its the only bluetooth dac/amp with wireless charging. But overall its a too tiny battery and too expensive in my opinion.

http://audiolab.co.uk/product-detail.php?pid=26

Didn't see a mention of mic. By the look of it, indeed it is more of a BT amp/DAC rather than an adapter.
 
May 27, 2019 at 2:27 PM Post #13 of 1,153

Costia

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Could you add price or price range to the list?

mW to 32ohm would be nice as well, since personally i am looking for an adapter for fullsized headphones with a regular 3.5 connector.
 
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May 27, 2019 at 2:32 PM Post #14 of 1,153

ClieOS

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Could you add price or price range to the list?

Sure, I'll add them later - but price does change a bit when you have big discount from Amazon / Aliexpress / Taobao alike. Some of them are also limited to a certain location of sale so shipping could also be a factor. Listing just MSRP might not be the most helpful for some of them.
 
May 29, 2019 at 12:53 AM Post #15 of 1,153

ClieOS

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Short list updated with MSRP and street price.

Also we got an ETA for FiiO BTR5: July.
 

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