A Real High Resolution DAP
- Sound quality.
- Analytical/brilliant tendency profile.
- Very compact size.
- Operating system, handling and level of connectivity.
- Extra functions (pedometer and e-book reader).
- Decodes MQA 8x.
- Remarkable power level.
- There is no case.
- The audio connectors don’t seem very robust.
- Its small size means a small battery. This results in a short battery life.
- It does not comply with the latest version of Bluetooth.
- FM radio is no longer included.
Link to the Store
Hidizs continues to increase its catalogue with high quality. And a clear example of this is the product I now present. This is the DAP AP80 PRO-X, the next version of the famous AP80 PRO. This time, the X version uses a Sabre ESS9219C DUAL DAC, instead of the ESS9218P. It also supports hardware capable of 8x MQA decoding and has lost the FM radio chip along the way – a pity, by the way, because I’m a big fan of listening to football on the radio. It still uses two-way Bluetooth v4.2, supports HiBy UAT, Sony LDAC and CSR APT-X. Of course, it can also be used as a DAC/AMP connected to a smartphone or PC. Among other functions, it can be used as a step counter, to read e-books, as well as a wireless player (HRAW), supporting resolutions up to 24-bit/96kHz. As for the music files it can handle, it natively plays DSD64/128/256 and PCM 384kHz 32bit. Clearly there’s more to this little DAP, but I’ll talk about it all below.
- DAC: Dual ESS9219C
- 2.5mm BAL and 3.5mm SE audio outputs.
- SE output power: 70mW 32Ω.
- BAL output power: 190mW 32Ω.
- Frequency response (±3dB): 20Hz-90kHz.
- THD+N SE: 0.0015
- SE dynamic range: 115dB
- Signal-to-noise ratio SE: 119dB
- SE channel spacing: 110dB
- THD+N BAL: 0.0015
- Dynamic Range BAL: 116dB
- BAL signal-to-noise ratio: 120dB
- BAL channel separation: 117dB
- Recommended headphone impedance range: 8Ω-200Ω.
- Display: Samsung 2.45″ IPS HD touchscreen (480×360)
- Battery: 800mAh 3.7V Li-Polymer.
- Battery life: BAL: 6-8 hours, SE: 8-11 hours, 40 days standby.
- Battery charging time: 1 hour.
- Japanese ALPS volume control.
- CPU: Ingenic x 1000
- DSD: FPGA HBC3000 hardware decodes DSD64/128/256 natively.
- USB Type-C connector.
- Operating system: HiBy OS.
- MQA 8X hardware decoding.
- Bi-directional Bluetooth v4.2
- Sony LDAC
- CSR APT-X
- Hi-Res Audio and Hi-Res Audio Wireless certified.
- Two-way USB DAC.
- Supports MAC OSx10.7, iPad OS, Windows XP, Windows 7/8/10 or newer.
- E-Book support
- Step counter support.
- Dimensions: 61.2×54.5×13.8mm
- Weight: about 72g.
- CNC machined aluminium alloy.
- Available in black, blue and grey.
The small DAP AP80 PRO-X comes in a compact box, whose dimensions are 128x97x47mm. It is dark in colour. On its main side you can see a picture of the DAP in its centre, while in the upper left corner you can read the name of the product and a short description. In the upper right corner are the logos of the supported audio specifications. The ink used is holographic type, with a tendency to copper colour. In the bottom left corner is the brand logo, in gold. The back face is filled with the specifications, in 4 languages, plus the branding and other supported construction certifications. After lifting the cover you can see a dark cardboard, in the centre of which is written a quote from the brand. In the lower right-hand corner is the logo again, all in silver ink. The DAP is encased in dense black foam, inside a protective white pouch. A cloth strap allows it to be removed from its socket, as well as removing this entire layer. Underneath it is another level covered by another black cardboard, under which are the rest of the accessories. They are the following:
- 1 AP80 PRO-X.
- 1 Type-C cable.
- 1 Type-C to Type-C OTG cable.
- 1 warranty card.
- 1 user manual.
- 2 screen protectors.
After removing the DAP from the white pouch you can see how a screen protector protects the main panel. The rear panel is also protected. Paper sheets will allow you to remove the cover over the screen protectors.
The content is simply correct. There is no protective cover, it can be purchased separately. The USB cables are quite simple. That there are a couple of additional screen protectors is a detail. But neither can you say that this is a premium level of content and number of accessories.
Construction and Design
When you see the written size, it can always be difficult to get an idea of the real dimensions. At least, it’s hard for me. That’s why when I saw the AP80 PRO-X I was surprised by its small size. I was expecting a similar size to other DAPs in the range I own. But, really, I find it almost tiny. That limits the screen to be bigger. My eyesight is not what it used to be and the lettering, in its large font (you can choose between 3 sizes), is at the limit of my visibility. I’m getting older…
The DAP is made of CNC machined aluminium alloy. Both the main screen and the back of the display appear to be made of toughened glass. The top edge is flat, the left edge is bevelled and houses the micro-SD card slot. The bottom edge is also flat and houses the balanced 2.5mm audio connections, the USB Type-C female connection and the 3.5mm SE connector. I would have preferred a balanced 4.4mm connection. On the other hand, the connectors look rather plain, they are black and don’t seem to have put much emphasis on improving the edge quality of the audio ports. The right edge is the one with the most complex design. At the top is the small ALPS potentiometer, with a red rim. The face is bevelled like the left side, but there is an X with a horizontal bar that starts from the centre of the volume wheel. Below that control are 3 small buttons: forward, play/pause and rewind.
On the back face is the brand logo at the top, while on the bottom is the model name and some logos of the features it supports. At the bottom of this side is a pattern formed by small four-pointed stars.
The rest of the external and internal data, as well as the chips used, is commented in the specifications, so I don’t see the need to repeat these parameters.
As I said, the DAP is very small. The display is of good quality and visibility. The feel in the hand is dense, which gives a perception of quality and durable construction, although a standard case is missing. On the downside, I would again point out that the audio connectors don’t seem the most durable I’ve seen. I think Hidizs would do well to look at the 4.4mm connector on their DH80S.
The AP80 PRO-X has two audio outputs: 2.5mm BAL and 3.5mm SE. It also has a USB Type-C female input. It supports MAC OSx10.7, iPad OS, Windows XP, Windows 7/8/10 or newer systems. Can be connected to a smartphone to be used as a DAC/AMP. Also to a PC as a two-way DAC. Features two-way Bluetooth v4.2 and Hi-Res Audio Wireless (HRAW). It supports several Bluetooth protocols, including Sony LDAC, AAC, SBC, HiBy UAT and CSR APT-X.
As you can see, the level of connectivity is very high. One could only complain that it does not use the latest Bluetooth specification.
The operating system of the AP80 PRO-X is the HiBy OS, which I love and is one of the most complete DAP systems I know. Personally, as I have a preference for pure, non-Android based DAPs, I think it is one of the most complete OS’s I have tried.
The firmware version used for this review is v1.0.
As soon as the player is turned on, a screen with 4 icons (Player, Step, Bluetooth and Book) is displayed. Swiping to the left brings up a new screen with two more icons (System Settings and About).
From System Settings, the content is as follows (Language, Music Database, Brightness, Backlight time, Colour theme, Font size, USB mode, Button operation, Time setting, Idle timer, sleep timer, Standby, In-line remote, Recording steps, Lock volume knob, Screensaver setting, restore factory settings, Firmware update).
If you click on the Player icon, you will see a screen with 4 icons at the top (Hidizs logo, music note, heart, playback screen). Clicking on the centre icon will start the update of the music database.
By clicking on the Hidizs Logo, you access a side menu that allows the update of the music database, MSEB, Equaliser, Play Settings and Exit.
It is known that the MSEB is a different EQ, which allows you to change sound properties (Temperature, Bass Extension, Bass texture, Note thickness, Vocals, Female overtones, Sibilance LF, Sibilance HF, Impulse response, Air). I’m not a fan of using this kind of filters, but I must admit that for those who like to play with this kind of things, the possibilities are enormous. Even more, if you activate the 10-band EQ, with 8 presets and the possibility of modifying each band to your personal taste.
Clicking on the music note takes you to the music library, via the Folder, Albums, Artist, Genres and Format icons.
Press the heart icon to access My Favorites, Recents and Playlist (Create new playlist, Save playlist, Load playlist).
Finally, and from the playback screen, if you drag your finger upwards, you can access a menu that allows you to deactivate/activate Bluetooth, choose the gain, USB mode, activate line output, screen brightness control bar, playback buttons (rewind, play/pause, forward), volume control bar.
On the playback screen, the playback controls, playback mode and quick access to other functions (List now playing, Add to playlist, Equalizer, View album, Properties, Delete) are shown below.
Swiping to the left takes you to the main playback menu.
It is worth noting that the volume is reported at the top left, the time at the top centre and the battery control at the top right.
The AP80 PRO-X has three physical buttons (forward, play/pause, rewind) and a volume wheel, which is also a button to turn the device off/on, as well as activating the display. Each step/click of the volume wheel corresponds to a jump of 1 point on the volume scale, all the way up to 100.
As you can see, the number of controls is very large and I think the system does not miss any option.
As the only drawback, as the screen is small, even with the large font you have to have a good view.
On the other hand, the screen sometimes feels a bit sluggish, I would say it has a good level of sensitivity, but on rare occasions it doesn’t seem to respond on the first try. This is nothing to worry about and can be attributed to the fact that it is more sensitive to the fingertips than to other parts of the screen.
Hidizs is usually exemplary in its measurements. And the AP80 PRO-X is exemplary for both outputs, assuming what the specifications claim.
Another neat thing is that the output impedance is ultra-low, there is no voltage drop when a load is connected to the SE or BAL audio output. Perfect.
No load SE
At low gain the maximum no-load voltage is 1V and 2V at high gain. Well, it actually goes up to 2.1V.
15 Ω SE
The maximum voltage without visible distortion reached is 1.44V, which is 140mW and a current of 96mA, surpassing the mythical 90mA barrier. Superb.
33 Ω SE
The maximum voltage without visible distortion achieved is 1.65V, which is 83mW and a current of 50mA. This is more than the specified 70mW at 32 Ω.
100 Ω SE
The maximum voltage without visible distortion reached is 2.12V, which is 45mW and a current of 21mA. It is shown that the output impedance tends to zero, because the voltage with no load or at 100 Ω is the same.
No load BAL
At low gain the maximum no-load voltage is 2V and 4.11V at high gain.
15 Ω BAL
Of course, the output voltage for this impedance is the same as for SE, no more than 96mA can be delivered, a figure which, I insist again, is very high for such a small DAP. If we stick to the measurement, on this occasion 1.42V and almost 95mA are reached, being the power 130mW.
33 Ω BAL
According to the specifications, for 32Ω, the power per balanced output is 190mW. That means a voltage of 2.47V and 77mA. I forced a similar voltage for the real 33Ω resistor and arrived at an almost identical value, even higher at some frequencies. A slight distortion can be observed at low frequencies, while for high frequencies it disappears and it is possible to get more power, above 2.5V. This voltage is the one needed to deliver 190mW at 33Ω and you can see that the AP80 PRO-X is at that point. Excellent.
100 Ω BAL
I thought that for this impedance, the little AP80 PRO-X could provide its full output voltage. But it falls a little short, 3.7V. That means 140mW and a current of 37mA. Pretty good.
It can be seen that the frequency range reaches up to 80kHz and that there is no crosstalk. Furthermore, the response is completely flat between 20Hz and 20kHz.
To describe the sound I used the DAP in pure mode, without activating MSEB or EQ.
As I would expect from a sound coming from a DUAL DAC ESS, the Hidizs AP80 PRO-X has a very clean profile, eminently neutral and clear, although with a slight tendency towards the analytical side, very well defined, high resolution and neatness. It is true that the use of a full SoC (System on Chip) gives little room for modification of its intrinsic sound, something that can detract from the personality of the DAP itself and the final implementation of the product. For me, it is clear that the choice of a DAP must be based on the DAC used and the particular touch that each brand gives it. The use of a SoC limits that particular implementation part, giving more prominence to the DAC and its factory setting. In this sense, I have nothing against it, because the sound produced is totally to my liking.
It is worth noting that in my measurements, both outputs are very powerful for 16Ω headphones, which is a big surprise. I would say that this is the smallest device with the highest current delivery for this impedance that I have tested. That is something that is noticeable, the power is ample for this output. But the balanced output has a plus in sound quality. The difference between SE and BAL can be noticed quite easily. The level of cleanliness, resolution, breadth, depth, separation and definition is superior with the balanced output. Bass is more textured, descriptive and deeper. The highs are more vivid and stand out with better dynamics, while the midrange gains in neutrality, resulting in a superior level of expression.
The SE bass is a bit dry, even unexciting. Switching to the BAL output improves the texture, but I would never say that this is a specialised bass DAP. Its development is neutral, as well as its representation has a good definition, with a clean, distinguishable and marked layering. Depth is a little limited and its end is perceived, which is good in terms of control, but also duller. The good level of resolution detracts from the analogue feel and a point of naturalness is lost. Thus, the LFOs feel more audible than perceptible, with a certain cool colour that detracts from a more powerful physical sensation, but adds a more marked and profiled sound, with a roughness that is also more noticeable, but less realistic.
The mid-range benefits from the great control and, due to the balanced output, the level of brightness is high. This enhances the detail and cleanness of the sound. It is true that the mids move away from a smooth representation, but they lose neither harmony nor musicality. The clear jump in resolution makes it possible to expose the nuances with greater rigour, obtaining a higher performance, as well as a higher approach to the purest music, although from a more analytical point of view. It seems that the AP80 PRO-X is able to offer a delicate and fine expressiveness of the smallest details, as well as to enhance vocals and instruments by means of a very accurate and delimited representation. There is no room for mixing, for continuity, for an analogue or more liquid feel. The mids are not fluid, but appear concrete and very concise, perfectly delimited and placed within the scene. This, to my mind, is highly enjoyable and the sense of great resolution you get is very rewarding. But you have to bear in mind that there are audiences who prefer a more natural, realistic or analogue feel. For my part, I have long been looking for a sound this clean and pure, effectively defined in the high end, crystalline, sparkling, expressive and crisp. It is true that it can be a little lean and lacks a thicker, more lifted, bodily feel, and the sound is less dense.
The sharp ones do the rest, they show themselves without fear, without fear of making a mistake, of getting it wrong. There is no need to hide them, no need to mask them. The level of resolution in this range reaches its peak and the representation of the high notes is extremely fast, precise and defined. The area is really crisp, vivid, full of sparkle and brilliance, but never feels forced or unnatural. That’s the great virtue, to achieve a sound where the treble can be the star, but without losing naturalness or harmony. The upper range is the culmination of a rich, splashy and widely spaced sound.
It is clear that such a well-defined sound is underpinned by great separation. The stereo representation is stellar, the movement of the elements is very easy to perceive, which means that the dynamics are very high, as is the speed of execution and the level of precision. Nothing is blurred or unfinished. For better or worse, the AP80 PRO-X represents the sound in a very focused and unobscured way. Although such a drawing may not be the most respectful or natural, but it is quite accurate for the price range. So, with such an explicit and abundant sound, the soundstage needs to be large to accommodate so much information. Fortunately, it is, and the balanced output helps to widen the musical space and give it a breadth and height that impresses. The depth is perhaps not as remarkable, but the large amount of air gives a remarkable three-dimensional level, while maintaining a realistic and well-positioned feel. In this way the sound doesn’t escape, it doesn’t feel too vaporous or ethereal, but remains spacious, yet well defined, always focused, very well structured and positioned. The instrumental positioning is very good and the provenance and placement of the elements is also commendable.
HiBy R3 Pro
I had high hopes for the sound of the R3 Pro when I bought it. It is true that it is a great component and the best DAP in its price range that I had tried so far. But from the very first moment, I knew that its sound was not what I was looking for. A few weeks after buying it, the Saber version came out and that’s when I realised my mistake in buying the normal version. You could say that the Hidizs AP80 PRO-X uses the evolved SoC from the Saber version (2xESS9218P), the same one used in the previous Hidizs AP80 PRO model. Perhaps, the evolution is not so high between the two SoCs, but it is always a step forward, although I have not been able to check it.
In this case, the R3 Pro uses a Dual CS43131 DAC from Cirrus Logic. And that is something that changes the sound in an obvious way.
But first, it should be noted that the R3 Pro is a larger DAP, with a superior screen. I prefer the form factor of the HiBy and the battery life is superior as well. It is clear that size influences a smaller battery for the AP80 PRO-X. In power, though, the two are very similar. Also, I must comment that the audio connectors are better on the R3 Pro, but I must comment that its battery has broken before the two years. I had to send it to HiBy to have it replaced. Luckily, the process and the after-sales service was optimal… Paying, of course.
Turning to the sound, the presentation of the R3 Pro, comparatively speaking to the AP80 PRO-X, is arguably even warm. There is a greater predominance and corporeal feel of the low end. It has a greater impact on the sound and its physical appearance is more prominent. The texture is different in both DAPS, while the AP80 PRO-X presents it in a more defined way, the R3 Pro sounds more realistic, with a more visceral and punchy feel. This makes the mids less clean, as well as the treble. In the AP80 PRO-X, both the mids and the treble are completely free of this impact and are not impaired by the bass. Not that this is true of the R3 Pro, but it is the case that its sound is more fluid, somewhat denser and thicker, not as clear, clean or defined. The edges are rounder on the HiBy and the music is smoother, with a more analogue tendency, but also more muffled. If we talk about timbre, I would dare to say that neither of the two has the best timbre, because each is a prey to its own sonic tendency: one being more veiled and less extended on the one hand, and the other being more resolute and brilliant on the other. The best sound should unite the precision and delicacy of the AP80 PRO-X, along with a more organic and natural feel. The R3 has neither. The AP80 PRO-X has half as much, which for this price range is already a lot.
The more monotonous sound of the R3 Pro generates a more normal, good and more homogeneous three-axis sound stage. The greater physical sensation, higher density and less separation deliver a natural image with good depth. The AP80 PRO-X surpasses it in separation and three-dimensional recreation, offering a purer, more crystalline sound with sharper, more defined, precise, concise and analytical edges. This means more specific and concrete scene, better positioning and more accurate placement.
In terms of handling, both use the same HiBy operating system. But the Hidizs has some options that the R3 Pro does not, such as the step count function, ebook and MQA 8X hardware decoding. Meanwhile, the R3 Pro has a Bluetooth 5.0 specification.
When I try a DAP or a DAC/AMP it is always a surprise for me. Even better than trying new headphones. I am looking for perfection and for that you have to start with the best sound. Perfection should be absolute and we should all have the same concept of it. As this is impossible, everyone equates his concept of perfection to an ideal. My ideal of sound is very close to what the Hidizs AP80 PRO-X offers and I think that for this price there is little or nothing that I have tried that gives me this satisfaction. But I haven’t tried every source under $200, nor is my judgement absolute. But until that happens, the Hidizs AP80 PRO-X will occupy the number 1 spot among the DAPS/sources in this price range that I have been able to test.
Earphones and Sources Used During Analysis
- Hidizs MM2
- Hidizs MS2
- Yanyin Aladdin
- Penon ORB
- Penon Sphere
- Penon PAC
- NiceHCK M5
- Letshuoer S12
- Rose QT9 MK2
- Dunu Falcon Pro
- Rose Martini
- TFZ Tequila Pro
- Reecho SG-01 OVA
- Earbuds Anonymous