Updated June 24, 2021
Today we delve into HiBy’s new R2 Digital Audio Player
The popularity of dedicated portable mp3 players is on the rise again, except, now don’t call them mp3 players or your age (and knowledge) will be showing. Geekily, but more accurately, they are referred to as a DAP (or digital audio players) because strictly speaking they do more than play MP3s: FLAC, AAC, OGG, WAV, as well as old faithful, the MP3 file. But more than that, they may have features like: expandable hard drive space via swappable TS/micro SD cards; digital streaming via wifi; Bluetooth to send signal to devices; and like the unit we are looking at today, a DAC (digital audio converter) to turn your player into an audio output for your computer, stereo or TV.
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Yes, portable digital audio players have come along way since my last purchases, the Fiio M3 from 2015 and the Apple iPod Nano 4th Generation from 2009. For many, these types of players offered very little from what the almighty cellphone could accomplish. Now, however, with expandable SD card memory beginning to disappear from cellphones, as well as no analog 3.5mm headphone output, music lovers are beginning to recognize the advantage of a dedicated portable unit for strictly music.
There are many different DAPs to suit everyone’s needs. I wanted an under $200 (CAD) player that had: good sound, expandable memory, Bluetooth, decent battery life, a touch screen, good UI for navigating large libraries, and flexible playback options (e.g. random play, playlists) in that order. I considered the Fiio’s M3 Pro (no Bluetooth), Hidizs AP80 (very close 2nd but more expensive, older Bluetooth and I heard the rotary volume knob can be hard to adjust with one hand), Shanling M0 (lacks physical buttons, only expandable to 512GB and older bluetooth). In the end I decided to go with the HiBy R2 Pro.
The HiBy R2 Pro boasts:
- Expandable TC/Micro SD card memory (up to 2 TB)
- Bluetooth 5.0 (with UAT, LDAC, aptX, AAC and SBC transmission)
- plays mp3, wav, ape, flac, dsf, dff, iso, cue, wma, ogg, aac, opus, aiff and more
- USB DAC (connect it to a computer to use it as an audio output)
- Bluetooth Bi-directional DAC (send sound to or receive sound from devices)
- Dual band WiFi: 2.4/5.0Ghz
- Tidal streaming app
- Sabre es9218 chip that can handle 32-Bit / 384kHz and DSD128
- Built in mic with noise cancelling function
- HiByLink (use your cellphone to navigate the R2)
The box and offerings therein was extremely…minimal with not much to offer but brisk instructions and the smallest usb-c cord known to humanity. However, they did include a plastic protective case for the HiBy.
The R2 unit itself was impressive: dark silver metal edges (more silver than black), black high-gloss backing and glass touch screen. The R2 was a perfect size at 61x61x12mm. Substantial enough with a decent weight at 85g, but small enough to be cradle in your hand.
The screen has ok resolution at 480×360. My only complaint is that the screen doesn’t extend to the full height of the unit, which would have made full use of the R2’s square form and, more precisely, most albums cover’s square format. Instead, the album covers are cut off or appear in their smaller form. With its perfectly square design it would have been nice to see the cover fill the entire front of the device.
Like many have remarked, the plastic film that it comes with (as seen throughout) is cheap and thick, meant mostly for transport. It hinders the look, feel and functionality of the touchscreen and I recommend you get a new thinner one. HiBy should probably just pay whatever the cost is and get better quality screen protector. However, there are so many types of screen protectors (blue light, privacy ones) and maybe they thought the choice was best left with the consumer and perhaps some prefer no screen protector at all.
Also, something to consider there is no on-board memory. For that, you need to get a Micro SD card but the R2 can handle cards up to 2TB! Which is more than enough for most music fans even with larger files.
The buttons for basic player operation are located on the unit and can be easily accessed and identified by feel, especially if the R2 is in your pocket. On the top is the On/Off button that changes with colour depending on the file being played (e.g. Blue for 16-bit, Green for 24-bit…). Probably unnecessary but appealing. On the left side of the HiBy R2 are the up and down volume buttons. I found the volume gets really loud even on low output setting but you can set the ‘max volume’ in the menu (under ‘play settings’). On the right side: the top button is the rewind, the middle is pause, and bottom button is fast forward. The buttons feel pretty solid, some people complained of wiggly buttons but it feels fine to me, perhaps if you are coming down from a more expensive player.
At the bottom is 3.5mm headphone out jack, the Micro SD card slot and the USB-C input. Another design consideration, the USB-C input is slightly off kilter, so if you put it on a Usb stand it is little more to the left (not a big deal). If you prefer your cords were coming out of the top of the unit, it has ‘screen rotation’ function to do that.
The HiBy uses a propriety-Linux based system that is mostly thought out, although I did find at first I would get lost swiping through menus sometimes. I found the software to be a little sluggish at first but I found the update did help (store.hiby.com/apps/help-center#hc-r2-firmware-v11-update) . As others have mentioned, navigating songs (and in some cases albums) is a little bit cumbersome. You can scroll down the right side of the screen in song mode and it will shuffle through the alphabet (rolodex style) but I found, because of its relatively small screen, there were misfires (e.g. opening up other functions on the screen). This may be a deal breaker depending on your playing habits. Usually, I prefer to listen to my entire library at random, unless I am in a mood for something specific.
So, for the sole purpose of this review, I thought I would try the HiBy Link feature, which allows you to control most of the functionality of your HiBy from your phone or tablet. It’s available for free as the HiByMusic app (available for IOS and Android). For this test, I tried it on my old iPhone SE and unbelievably it worked! And more than that it was actually quite enjoyable using it. Which opens up lots of different possibilities (e.g. you could plug your HiBy directly to a speaker through the 3.5 mm port, then use your phone to skip tracks or create a cue of with a couple songs). The experience is similar but is a bit more slicker on the phone.
Another problem, I have with the Hiby is the Bluetooth isn’t as strong as I hoped. Although it boasts a Bluetooth 5.0 and many different codecs, I found that the Hiby’s Bluetooth had weak connectivity with its range being only about 25-30 feet (whereas my iPhone could go a 100 or more feet with the same Bluetooth speaker). Furthermore, It had problems sometimes connecting with older Bluetooth devices. These things are hard to gauge when it comes to who the real culprit is, but sometimes I found it difficult to get a good connection to my gf’s Toyoto Yaris 2018 with speed ups and drops (where again cellphones had no problems).
The HiBy R2 is a remarkably full-featured entry/level DAP at a good price with my only big gripes being the weak-ish Bluetooth and its short screen. But it sound great and because of its up to 2TB expandability makes it a little more future proof.
Paired with free music library software, MusicBee, I have been really happy with the results and it has worked out better than any Apple set up I have had previously. I think in the long term a dedicated audio unit like the HiBy R2 will workout better than any cellphone dedicated to a music library that will eventually (by fate or design) become a brick (I find my old cellphones barely turn on or function).
Again, I am constantly amazed by the sound. I was listening to Aphex Twin’s “Phloam” from Classics, which is a combination hard techno beats, distorted high-hats and lush synth pads. It was amazing how not-harsh the high hats were despite the heavy distortion. Every element fitting in the right place sonically. Likewise, switching over to Doobie Brother’s “Me and The Captain” 24-Bit Flac had lots of detail (e.g. acoustic guitar strings shimmering). The HiBy was able to handle everything and make it sound good (without any EQ changes) and on different headphones (from Bose SoundSport In-Ear Headphones to my Pioneer HDJ-X7-K). Maybe its time for new headphones too?
–Quality DAP with so many features it’s staggering.
–Sounds great with plenty of options to shape the sound (EQ and their to the speaker or headphones.
–Expandable Memory: can use micro SD cards up to 2TB.
-Pretty decent battery life boasting 15 hours (depending on file size), I would say it is a little lower than that (12-13) which is still pretty decent and is on par with better bluetooth speakers.
-2.45” Touchscreen display
–Hi-res audio streaming from Tidal. (with Qobuz)
–3.5 mm headphone jack (for those of us who are still plugged in)
-Bluetooth 5.0 pairing can be spotty sometimes and range is low for a 5.0 device.
-The screen doesn’t extended all the way to the top, making full use of the unit’s surface and making full use of the covers.
-Wish it started with any song in random mode. You have to pick a first song, then after that it’s in random. I want to turn it on, hit play and boom we are playing.
-As many have indicated scrolling through songs and albums is pretty painful and my fingers aren’t that big.
-The telephone style keypad for typing is slow
-Wish it had an album cover swiping mode. They have an album category (of course) but you just scroll alphabetically.
-Some bluetooth connectivity issues to older devices.