HiBy R2 Review: The Next-Level /Entry-Level Portable Audio Player

HiBy R2, a new entry-level HiFi digital audio player is “jet black and stacked, stacked, stacked“.

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.

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.

My little HiBy R2 unit is a “bad motivator”(Star Wars Joke) to take on the go.

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)

First Impressions

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 R2’s only design flaw (IMO): is it’s rectangular screen on its appealing square form.

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. Probably my biggest complaint.

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 don’t even want it.

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.

Functionality

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 want the cord at the top it has ‘screen rotation’ function to do that.

The music menu system on the HiBy R2 DAP.

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 in song mode and it will shuffle through the alphabet (rolodex style) but found because of its relatively small screen there were misfires 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 in my library.

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 on your phone or tablet. It’s available for free as the HiByMusic app (available for IOS and Android). Here, I tried it on my old iPhone SE, 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 up a couple songs). The experience is similar but bit more slicker on the phone.

One problem, I have had is connectivity problems sometimes 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 cellphones had no problems). However, the HiBy connected to my newly purchased Wonderboom 2 speaker’s 5.0 bluetooth quickly and flawlessly.

Final Thoughts

The HiBy R2 is a remarkably full-featured entry/level DAP at a good price. Although, this is my first plunge into a player of this type, its hard to imagine wanting much more out of your DAP. It sounds good. Furthermore, 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 a 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?

Pros:

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.

Bluetooth 5.0: means longer range and it can transmit Hi-Res Audio

-2.45” Touchscreen display

DAC capability

Hi-res audio streaming from Tidal. (with Qobuz)

Dual microphone

3.5 mm headphone jack (for those of us who are still plugged in)

Cons:



-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.

PreSonus Eris E3.5 Speakers For A Home DJ Set Up (Review)

A cheap (and cheerful) DJ booth monitor for your home DJ set up, the PreSonus Eris E3.5 Speaker.

Last year I was looking for a speaker monitor solution for my home DJ booth set up. I wanted a pair of small lightweight speaker monitors that offered relative good clarity for a small price. My intention was to hang the speakers over my DJ booth which sits close to a wall. So, I didn’t want huge speakers that jutted out too far (as to be too close to my ears), nor did I want the speakers to obstruct my DJ space. Furthermore, I didn’t want the speakers to be too heavy, as it would be harder to mount and didn’t want big heavy speakers precariously hanging over my gear. (I know, try mounting them properly). I do have a pair of QSC CP8 but even these for their small size seemed like overkill for this purpose, if I am just DJing in my small studio/dj room. Also, I didn’t want to have to dismantle the CP8 speakers every time I needed them for a gig. I was looking for in situ speakers that would be ready anytime I wanted to DJ or listen to records.


More DJ Tech reviews:
REVIEW: QSC CP8 SPEAKER – A DJ’S LIL BEST BUD?
TRACK FREEZE PROBLEM WITH ROLAND DJ-505 & REVIEW


For years, I would practice DJing or listening to records in my headphones almost exclusively. I still do often but you are really limiting your experience by not listening to music or DJing on speakers. There is something magical and sound altering that happens once music is played through the air. So, it is really important to experience both for perspective. Also, I realized that once I wanted to start making DJ mixes on vinyl again (without computers or screens), you need speakers to do “old school” cueing: previewing the next track in your headphones before you drop it into the main mix. This makes only using headphones problematic. So, that is when I decided I needed speakers to make analog DJ mixes.


Listen to Dougie Boom’s All-Vinyl Mixes!


Alternatively, for speakers I looked at the Pioneer DJ DM-40BT DJ Studio Monitors (only RCA inputs), the Mackie CR Series CR3-3-Inch (wow, that’s some green colour) and the KRK Rokit 4 (that’s a lot of bass). However, after much consideration I went with the PreSonus Eris E3.5 Professional Multimedia Reference Monitors. Now, after a year of use I can say that I am happy with the purchase. The Eris E3.5 sound great! Good clarity and flexibility. I was worried that these speakers would not be much better than your conventional computer speakers. However, I was wrong and they have exceeded my expectations.

PreSonus Eris E3.5 Features

First off, these are not a bass heavy type of speaker. For that I would consider the KRK Rokits with its front ports are known to be a bassier speaker. If you are mostly listening to bass heavy music then you may prefer those instead. For me I was looking for something more neutral sounding. I own Yamaha Monitors for my studio and they are extremely flat but clear in their response (what you hear is what you get). That is not to say that the bass on these Eris do not meet my expectations. A smoother more subtle bass is delivered by the E3.5’s 3″ woven composite woofers. A 1″ silk dome tweeter offers clear highs that aren’t too harsh. The speakers are plenty loud at 25 watt/side power amplifier. Its more than enough volume, considering my use and its proximity. The E3.5’s are active (powered) so they don’t require an external mixer or a power amp.

The speakers have a low profile with a width of 5.6″ (141 mm), a depth of 6.4″ (162 mm) and a height 8.3″ (210 mm). The speaker cabinets themselves (I thought were plastic) are actually medium-density fiberboard with vinyl-laminate, so some of the sound is preserved.

The speaker with all the connections is powered and feeds to the other through speaker wire.

On the back it includes a stereo RCA input (unbalanced) but the real kicker is the inclusion of 1/4″ balanced inputs! A little bit unusual for a speaker of its size, most would use 1/8″ or RCA, but the choice to include them is so appreciated. I would say 60-70% of the DJ mixers or controllers out there have a 1/4″ outputs (for the booth outputs or otherwise), so hooking a DJ mixer with a stereo 1/4″ cable sounds great and is seamless. It includes two EQ controls on the back for highs and lows (-6dbs to + 6dbs). The AC port is a female C7 2-Pin style port, which is easily replaceable and non-proprietary.

On the front, we have the volume and power switch conveniently placed, making it easy to access. Most monitors usually have these controls on the back, but this works especially for our purpose of being wall-mounted. Also on the front there is the inclusion of a 1/8″ headphone jack and aux in jack, which both sound pretty good as well. The ‘on’ light, although not adjustable in brightness, is a soft blue and will not burn holes in your eyes.

Your all I need to get by…..The Eris speakers more than o-blige for your DJ room set up.

Presonus Eris E3.5 Conclusion

The Presonus Eris E3.5 have become more useful to me than expected! I use them now all the time: listening to my DJ blends, previewing finished mixes and songs, preparing for gigs, and listening and grading 45 records. Yes the Eris E3.5 are that discriminating in sound! You will hear vinyl records with pops and all. But most importantly I hear great balanced sound coming from my Pioneer S9’s booth outs. Once you get the eq-ing right (from its controls on the back), taking in consideration the room and how far they are placed from the wall, just as you would normal studio monitors.

I was worried that the speakers would not be able to take the signal from my mixer without overloading or sounding terrible, but I was and still am really happy with them. Some critiques complained that the rear ports allow the bass to be absorbed by nearby walls. However, mounting them away from the wall with speaker mounts, gave them adequate space from the wall and eliminated that problem for me.

For mounting them, I used Primecables Speaker Wall Mounts, which are another bargain and are easy to set up. Plus they are Canadian company. You can tilt them to almost any specification and they hold up to 55 lbs, easy for the Eris’ 3.5 lbs each.

Lastly, it should be noted I would never consider the PreSonus Eris E3.5 as “gig” worthy speakers. These are more so for home/personal use, as inexpensive but great sounding studio monitors. However, they make a great powered speaker solution for your home DJ set up. It should be noted these do not have bluetooth, which keeps these lower in cost. Instead, you get great sounding speaker for your money and, alternatively, you could easily attach a bluetooth receiver instead, and let’s face it, wireless technology will always get better.

PreSonus Eris E3.5 – Pros

  • Powered small speaker solution, which will work for most home DJ set ups.
  • Excellent sound (no glaring highs and nice smooth bass)
  • Great value at $150 CAD price well worth it.
  • Proper 1/4″ inputs (which suits most DJ mixer’s booth outputs) but also has 1/8″ and RCA inputs as well.
  • Speakers this good could ultimately be used somewhere else if you upgrade (e.g. portable studio monitors).

PreSonus Eris E3.5 – Cons

  • The supplied stereo speaker wire to connect between speakers could be longer (depending on your set up). I had to get a longer one.
  • EQ controls (pots) on the back feel cheap.
  • Not an overtly bass-y pair of speakers, if you are going for a more club-heavy feel. Possible these could be paired with a subwoofer. However, it should be noted there are NO Subwoofer out ports.

dougieboom.com

TBT: Rosalie And Trevor’s Wedding @ Toronto Reference Library

More than words: Rosalie and Trevor looking lovely on their wedding I had the pleasure of DJing. photo by BKH Photo.

Throwing back to one of my favourite weddings I had the pleasure of playing in last year 2019. My longtime friend Trevor, who was a big early supporter of my DJ career, and his beloved Rosalie asked me to play their wedding and I was so humbled I had to say yes (“I dooooooo!”) The whole event was covered in Toronto Life and (your truly, Dougie Boom) was mentioned in the credits.

Trevor and Rosalie’s wedding was “real” fun. Read about it at TorontoLife.com.
Looking up to see the bride you got an appreciation of the size of the space.

It was a glamorous affair, Rosalie looked lovely in her dress and Trevor (not being totally outdone) looked sharp as well. What was great and unusual was the space, the wedding took place at the Bloor and Yonge Toronto Reference Library. It was my first time playing there and I was very impressed. The ceremony took place on the ground floor foyer and the bride made her dramatic entrance by taking the glass elevator down to her eagerly awaiting husband to be. The entrance music, a string version of Toto’s “Africa” by Vyne String Quartet, and the elevator were perfectly timed, giving the couple ample time to collect their thoughts before the proceedings got underway.

Trevor & Rosalie making memories with friends on the dance floor. Photo by BKH Photo from TorontoLife.com .

The guest and family were all in good spirits throughout the dinner with speeches that segued into a great evening of dancing. The floor never ceased with one couple telling me that if they hadn’t already been married, they would want me to play their wedding. Well there is always the anniversary party. I will play yours too, Trevor and Rosalie 😉

New Dougie Boom Megamix Names Names…His-self


Recently, I celebrated my birthday and thought it would be a good time to invite all my friends: DMX, Will Smith, Shaggy, etc and make a mix with my name all over it. I also added some classic movie clips with “Doug”: 21 Jump Street, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, The Hangover, etc. Hear the results at here at dougieboom.com .

Dougie Boom MEgamix

John Lee Hooker – “Boom Boom”
Lil’ Will – “My Dougie”
Young Problemz & Mike Jones – “Boi!”
General Degree –  “Boom Boom”
Spice – “So Mi Like It”
DMX feat. Mr. Vegas & Sean Paul – “Top Shotter”
P.O.D. “Boom”
Doug E Fresh & The Get Fresh Crew – “The Show”
LL Cool J – “Mama Said Knock You Out”
Shaquille O’Neal – “Boom!”
Fresh Prince – “Boom! Shake The Room”
Charli XCX – “Boom Clap”
Snoop Dogg feat. T-Pain – “Boom”
L’Trimm – “Cars That Go Boom”
The Egyptian Lover – “And My Beat Goes Boom”
Soundmaster T – “2 Much Booty In The Pants (Boom Shaka Mix)”
The Outhere Brothers x Kastra x Martin Garrix – “Boom Boom Proxy (Kastra Bootleg)”
Paul Lekakis – “Boom Boom (Let’s Go Back To My Room)”
Just A Band & Octa Push – “Boom Boom Boom”
The Boys From The Bottom – “Boom I Got Your Girlfriend”
California Swag District – “Teach Me How To Dougie (Promo Only Clean Edit)”
SBTRKT – “Ready Set Loop”
Addison Groove – “I Go Boom (DJ Rashad Remix)”
Shaggy – “Mr. Boombastic”
Prince – “Musicology”

Battle of The Bags: QSC’s CP8 Tote vs Gator GPA-TOTE8 for the QSC CP8 Speaker

Gator-QSC-CP8ppp
Side by side: The Gator GPA-TOTE8 & the QSC’s CP8 Tote for the CP8 Speaker

After my favourable review of the QSC CP8 speaker, I thought I would go one further and compare two options of tote bags to carry and protect the CP8 speaker. Since, the speaker is made of polypropylene (a hard plastic) and of some considerable weight, it is important to protect your QSC CP8 during transportation. The two most readily available options available to me (there are probably other options outside Canada) were: QSC’s own brand of tote bag, the QSC CP8 Tote (CP8Tote) or Gator’s Heavy Duty Speaker Tote for 8 inch speakers (GPA-TOTE8). So, does it make sense to buy the more expensive $100 (CAD) QSC CP8 Tote bag for your $600 CP8 speaker or will the $75 CAD Gator GPA-TOTE8 suffice?


More DJ Equipment Reviews:
• REVIEW: QSC CP8 SPEAKER – A DJ’S LIL BEST BUD?
• PRESONUS ERIS E3.5 SPEAKERS FOR A HOME DJ SET UP (REVIEW)
•  YOUR VINYL RECORDS ARE FILTHY. REVIEW OF THE RECORD DOCTOR VI 20TH ANNIVERSARY VACUUM RECORD CLEANER


QSC CP8 Tote

When I originally purchased the CP8 speaker, QSC’s own tote bag was my first choice of bag purchased. Functionally, it provided everything I needed in a tote bag. It was modelled for the QSC CP8, so the fit is snug. So snug, in fact, that it takes a little finessing to get it in. The outside of the bag is made of heavy-duty nylon / Cordura, which makes the bag light-weight but durable. The inside of the bag is covered with a soft lined PE foam padding which adds protection and is soft enough that it won’t scratch your speaker. The additional velcro pocket on the side provides enough room for the 9-foot power cable that the CP8 comes with, plus a little additional room (I was able to add an additional 6-foot TRS cable). The stitching is solid with straps that seem to take the weight of CP8, no problem. It has a convenient velcro flap on top to access the CP8’s top handle (as seen above).

QSC-CP8TOTE-side-pocket
The QSC CP8 Tote bag could fit the original 9-foot power cable for the CP8, plus a 6-foot TRS cable.

Gator GPA-TOTE8

Gator-GPATOTE8-side-pocket
The Gator GPA-TOTE8 could only fit the only fit the original power cable.

I was so impressed the CP8 speaker I purchased another. So, this time, I decided to instead purchase the Gator brand of 8 inch speaker bag to compare. The design is much the same as CP8 at a fraction of the cost (at a relative 3/4 the cost). It includes (like the QSC CP9-Tote): two straps, a side pocket, with access to the top handle of the speaker so it can be carried two ways (as a bag or by carrying the handle of the speaker itself). However, they differ slightly. The Gator is bigger in size and offers a little more room for the speaker, arguably this extra space could be to accommodate other models of 8 inch speaker. This extra space could be used to accommodate more chords perhaps, however this means that it’s not fitted specifically to the CP8 speaker, so its a little less secure with about an inch of space around the cabinet. Contrarily, the side pocket on the Gator is smaller. I was only able to fit just the 6 foot power chord (no additional chords).

Gator-GPATOTE8-handle
Getting a handle on what is the better bag for the QSC CP8 Speaker: the QSC CP8 TOTE (on the left) or the Gator GPA-TOTE8 (on the right).

Other physical differences, the flap to access the speaker handle on the Gator is a different design. Instead of a dedicated flap (like the one on the QSC bag), on the Gator, you need to unzip the bag’s main zippers a bit to access the top handle of your speaker. This may be an annoyance to some. As far as the construction, the Gator does not feel as sturdy. The slightly thinner carrying straps combined with the weight of CP8, make it feel not as stable as the QSC bag when you pick it up. Finally, the foam inside feels cheaper and is not as thick and protective as the QSC’s foam.

QSC CP8 Tote vs Gator GPA-TOTE8 – Conclusion

CP8-tote-bag-open
The Gator is more “accommodating” but is an inch of space (front, back and side) around the speaker too much?

So, does it make sense to buy the $100 (CAD) QSC CP8 Tote bag for the $600 CP8 speaker or does the $75 Gator GPA-TOTE8 suffice? In my opinion, I am going with the QSC’s own brand of tote, the CP8Tote, on this one. The Gator does not feel as “heavy duty” as its title proclaims (especially for the CP8 speaker). If maybe you aren’t going to move your speakers all that much and you want to keep them mostly dust free this may be your option. However, if you are like me and want (and plan) to move them often or as much as you like, I would say go with the QSC’s tote bag. It’s emblematic of the QSC which is a little overpriced but indispensable. Furthermore, the price is almost negligible compared to keeping and preserving your investment. Between the Gator and the QSC speaker tote you can feel the difference in cost and it may make the difference. I had high hopes for the Gator as I have one of their other bags (The G-MIXERBAG-0909) and it’s great. This one, however, falls a bit short as a bag for the QSC CP8 speaker.

QSC CP8 Tote

Pros:

  • Made specifically for the QSC CP8 speaker so it’s a perfect fit.
  • Better quality build and materials (zipper, foam, nylon exterior).
  • Bigger side pocket.
  • More sturdy.
  • Better access to top handle of speaker.

CONS:

  • Such a tight fit, it takes a bit of finessing.
  • Side pocket (although bigger than the Gator) could be even bigger
  • More expensive

Gator GPA-TOTE8

Pros

  • Slightly larger interior, will fit more brands of speaker or more cables.
  • Costs less than QSC Tote

Cons

  • Padding is thinner, less protective.
  • CP8 speakers sits more loosely in the bag with about an inch of space on the side, top, and front, less secure.
  • To access handle of your speaker, you more or less open the bag.
  • Construction is cheaper.
  • Materials are cheaper (foam, nylon shell, zippers, velcro)

Review: QSC CP8 Speaker – A DJ’s lil best bud?

Check out my review on tote bags for the QSC CP8

QSC CP8 Speaker Front
The QSC CP8 Speaker: Angelic glow and loud as…

Late last year QSC revealed a new series of speaker, the “CP” series, which touted the same QSC signature sound we would expect, in a more affordable and lighter incarnation. Now, plenty was written in anticipation but not many reviews have surfaced out there. Particularly, for my intended purpose, which is how does it perform as a speaker monitor for DJing (for mobile set ups) and maybe as a secondary solution to a full rig?

Now, I should not have to explain why a speaker monitor for DJing is important, but I find I have to all the time (lol) to: wedding planners, restaurant owners, brides and grooms, my girlfriend, sound-techs, and even other DJs (I thought we were in this together). The answer is simple: DJ’s need to hear what is going on, more than anyone else in the room in order to perform. It is not unlike any other type of musician/performer. Timing, volume, pitch, tempo are all factors that are important to DJs or at least should be. Digital DJing is definitely more forgiving in that respect, you can almost DJ with your eyes now but ultimately we need to hear what we are doing, no interpretation. That is why any DJ mixer worth its salt has at least one “booth out” output. Now, there are some cases, as a DJ, where you are positioned close enough to a speaker where you are, more or less, hearing it the same way your audience is. More often, however, you may not be near a speaker, it may be positioned away from you or perhaps you are isolated from your audience almost altogether. I remember playing an early gig with kQuattro (1/2 of the duo was Egyptrixx, now ACT!) and Crystal Castles (RIP) and I was playing in a closet (pretty much) before the kitchen with the speakers and audience in another room. Every time someone would come out of the kitchen I would get hit with the swinging door: how am I sounding? In a more recent example, I played the Design Exchange in downtown Toronto. Huge space! However, the audio vendor would not provide stage monitors. We are talking $300,000+ worth of equipment, but fair enough. Furthermore, the reality is DJs are often an afterthought to establishments. Their makeshift booths don’t consider the things that DJs need, including an adequate amount of space and a speaker close enough to hear what you are doing. In some cases, you may need to hear the music louder than your audience does to get the mix right, for example in a restaurant or playing a wedding reception.

So, having a monitor for DJing is invaluable. Personally, I kept holding out for a 8″ to 10″ speaker that was lightweight and could wedge (perfect for the urban DJ to jump in your car service with). You would be surprised how little options there are. For example, the Yamaha DBR10 and Yamaha DXR8 which sound great, albeit a more flatter-true to the sound response, do not set up as a wedge, otherwise they would have been a contender. The JBL EON610 is kind of ugly, if you want to use as a secondary P.A., and JBLs sound (in my experience) is just ok: loud but can get brash (convince me otherwise in comments). There is of course the QSC K8, which is not a bad option but because it is discontinued you may have to go secondhand (i.e. no warranty for an expensive item).  Its newer replacement the K8.2 are a good option, but they are  for many, a rather expensive indulgence for the main purpose of a DJ speaker monitor at almost double the cost of the CP8s. However, even in a city as “world class” as Toronto, being able to hear them in the flesh is tough, no floor models anywhere. So, I decided to take the plunge so you don’t have to.

QSC-CP8-Speaker-Size-Comparison
Compared to the universal DJ ruler (a milkcrate) The QSC CP8 is approximately the same size.

First Impressions

It is of small stature and width but has a good weight to it. That is, enough weight to feel substantial but an easy pick up. There is no side handle but a top handle. Although, it should be relatively easy to take on an and off a speaker pole. The hard plastic (polypropylene) outer shell feels nice and solid. When you hear “plastic” you fear the worst but it feels solid, hopefully it withstands the test of time and doesn’t scratch easily. It is the perfect size for a booth speaker where space is often limited. Being able to set up 5 ways is nice: vertically on a tabletop; horizontally flat on one side or as a wedge on the other side; on a speaker pole (35mm); or they have a yoke / wallmount kit for installing to a wall. For the audio we have 3 inputs: two (x2) mic / line inputs; one (x1) 3.5mm input for a mp3 player and one (x1) xlr output to link the signal (post gain) to additional speakers. That is enough inputs to do smaller demo size setups or perhaps for weddings, small ceremony or a smaller reception room. Is it enough power though?

QSC CP8 Speaker Back with Inputs
The QSC CP8 has lots of inputs: Two (x2) TRS 1/4″/XLR inputs; even a 1/8″ 3.5mm input.

The QSC C9 boasts a 1000 watt Class D Amplifier, the same as its larger version the CP12. It does not have full control of the EQ rather it has six (x6) different EQ presets. On the first power up I would say it definitely met my expectations and surpassed them! This thing is loud with good clarity! As a monitor, placed facing towards me, I put the CP8’s volume at 8 o’clock (2 clicks) and 9 o’clock (2 clicks) on my booth output from the Pioneer S9 mixer and it was comfortable room-level listening and it only went up from there.

As far as the EQ setting I preferred the default setting. I got really good clarity (highs, mid, lows) testing a vinyl record. The more I turned it up, in the confines of my small studio, the more it scared me how loud it got (hello neighbours). The dance setting added more bass but I felt it was a little bit muddled (your audience will probably not know). However, I don’t really see that as its purpose, as full P.A. solution. I think this is best suited as a monitor;  an additional speaker for filling up a room; or as tops with the addition of a sub (there are EQ settings that drop the bass on the CP8 to accommodate a sub). However, if your client is on a smaller budget maybe 2 of these in a small setting would be adequate.

As a speaker wedge on the floor by my feet, it performed well. It has a 90 degrees of sound dispersion, which makes it ideal for this use. I had this placed maybe a foot away from me on the ground and could hear it no problem. The speaker was more or less pointing at my lower torso but could still hear it. I would say ideally at around 2-3 feet away from where you are standing (depending on your height) it would be pointing directly at your ear.

Update: Recently, I used the QSC CP8 as a DJ booth monitor for a wedding (250 people, 30 foot high ceilings, a pretty big room and it did a great job. When I arrived, being unfamiliar with the venue, I had to walk around for a bit to find the room I was playing in but I did not break a sweat or my back carrying it around. May buy another in the future to see how it fairs for a P.A. with a subwoofer.

Pros:

  • A more affordable QSC speaker that does not sacrifice sound.
  • Compact design that will fit most DJ booths.
  • Has a 90 degrees of sound dispersion, which makes it ideal for a wedge by your feet. Even at a foot away I could hear what I was doing.
  • Loud enough for small crowds.

Cons:

  • Very little
  • Warranty is only 3 years compared to their usual 6 for other speakers. *Be sure to register online to qualify, otherwise it’s only one (1) year.

Check out my additional review on tote bags for the QSC CP8

Review: Is the Sony PS-HX500 the USB ripping turntable we have been waiting for?

IMG_4778
The Sony PS-HX500’s all black exterior will have you hearing in colour.

Recording your vinyl records (LPs, 12″s, 45s) to digital files can be a costly, precarious, time consuming task, where the results can often be underwhelming. I am by no means an audiophile, but a DJ who has collected thousands of records over the years, and I know enough that the better the recording sounds, the better it is for DJing and listening. Now that digital DJing has become so much a part of what I do, I still long for digital copies of those records in my collection that are unavailable elsewhere or, in some cases, they are not decent rips (e.g. YouTube rips, illegal sites, 128kb rips of yesteryear). So, my review is going to be looking at what many of the other reviews of the Sony PS-HX500 don’t cover. While focusing on the Sony PS-HX500’s ripping capabilities (not its phono stage or sound replication in a stereo set up, maybe for a latter post), I am going to be asking:

  1. How do “natural” recordings from the Sony PS-HX500 sound?
  2. Does the Sony PS-HX500 rip club records well?
  3. Is the Sony PS-HX500 kind to scratchy records?
  4. Does the Sony PS-HX500 rip 45s / 7″ records well?
  5. How does the Sony PS-HX500 compare to my current DJ set up for ripping records?

  1. How do “natural” recordings from the Sony PS-HX500 sound?

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First, I started with a “natural” recording. That nuance of live instruments seems like a reasonable first approach. For that, I decided to begin with a reissue Alice Coltrane ‎– “Journey In Satchidananda”. Not only does it have live instrumentation but the harp is a very vibrant instrument with sweeping highs and mids (probably hard to capture digitally I figured). For rock and amplified instrumentation, I used another reissue, here Black Sabbath’s Self titled debut.

The results across the board were excellent for the recordings. Alice’s harp rings through with great clarity, the double bass bumps, cymbals glisten. You could hear the reverberation from the room that they were playing, so there was great depth of sound. Black Sabbath sounded great as well. The rainy intro did expose a little surface crackle in my copy but as soon as the thunder kicks in it sounded great. The instruments (bass, guitar, vocals & drums) were allowed to play their respective roles and were easily accessible to my ears.

2. Does the Sony PS-HX500 rip club records well?

In contrast, with the more “natural” sounds of real instruments, I wanted to compare it with more modern recordings with some bump, i.e. some “club” records. For this example I used Jay-Z’s  ‎– “Vol. 3… Life And Times Of S. Carter” .  The results in comparison to a digital copy I had, “Big Pimpin'” sounded remarkably close, taking in consideration the limitations of a 33 1/3 record with 3 songs on the one side. The recording had good low-end with the kicks coming through as they should without detracting from the vocals. The vocals coasted on top with good clarity. The stereo spectrum was a bit more narrow but I think that has more to do with the medium itself more than a fault with the turntable.

3. Is the Sony PS-HX500 kind to scratchy records?

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If your ghettohouse records don’t have the wrong sleeves send them back, “they ain’t ghetto enough”

 

For my scratchy record (which could also arguably double as another “club” record) I used a Dance Mania test of DJ Chip – “Ghettoslide” . The condition of the vinyl is probably VG with lots of scratches. It was a well-loved soldier of the clubs, hence the wrong sleeve. Furthermore, Dance Mania records are NOT world renowned for their quality pressings and I can’t imagine their white labels fair much better. However, the results of the recordings made on the Sony PS-HX500 were relatively kind. Surface noise from the scratches were heard but ultimately the music came through with good balance (lows, mids & highs). One thing that was remarkable, the vocals although maniacally stacked, were more discernible. I could hear all the nasty words clearly. With a little bit of post-production finesse you could definitely get a good usable digital file I think. Something like the Izotope RX7 editor software (which I will do a review of shortly).

4. Does the Sony PS-HX500 rip 45s / 7″ records well?

I am a 45 fanatic. In fact my LP/12″ collecting has more or less subsided. Whereas I still have to look when I see some 45s. However, 45s are often not the greatest in fidelity. When you DJ them they often need a lot of EQ-ing to get them right. However, needless to say, I still wanted to be able to rip those impossible to find cuts. So, I tried various 45s of varying condition: High Rollers – “Place Your Bets” a Canadian disco cut; Fuji – “Revalations” a psych blues funk cut; Errol Scorcher ‎– “Roach In De Corner” a Jamaican pressing (not exactly a quality pressing or condition); Bobby Marchan ‎– “Rockin’ Pneumonia” a rock n roll romp.

Across the board: really good results. A little tinniness you would expect from a 45/7″ and little crackle, but really good clarity, and good lows particularly from the “Roach In De Corner”.

5. How does the Sony PS-HX500 compare to my current DJ set up for ripping records?

Compared to my other set ups (and many DJs will have the same equipment): a Technics 1200 mkII; various cartidges (Shure N44-7, Jico N44-7, Ortofon S-120), various mixers (Pioneer S9, Rane TTM-57sl and Roland DJ-505 controller) using the Serato software (Scratch Live & Serato DJ), the recordings of the same records didn’t even compare. I would say 40% better or more. Every single time the Sony PS-HX500 outdid these setups. The clarity was not only apparent to my ears but when I would load the files in Serato (without any tinkering), you didn’t get these “all one colour” waveforms, like with Serato’s all red waveform vinyl rips, suggesting a wider spectrum of sound. The only thing I think would be required to make excellent “ready for the club” rips, would be an ounce of preparation (clean your records) and a bit of post production (gain, EQ). The gain on the Sony recordings were really low, but this could be seen as a positive in the sense that you can add more and it gives you ample wiggle room to do so.

Conclusion

I would highly recommend the Sony PS-HX500 as an USB turntable for ripping records. I got really good results that surpassed all the other popular DJ set ups I have. I think I will definitely change the cartridge it came with (something that I will cover in another review) to hopefully yield even better results. The cartridge it comes with is supposedly an unmarked $50 Audio-technica cartridge and needle. Because of this I am ripping my really scratchy records first before purchasing another cartridge. However, cartridges are not easily swappable on this unit and needs to be installed and wired with a bit of finesse.

Pros:

  • All in one belt-drive turntable with phono stage & USB that doesn’t actually suck.
  • Good price and value.
  • Recordings are excellent and are kind to all genres.
  • 33/45 switch on top means no belt adjustment required to play at different speeds.
  • Comes with recording software that is easy to use, available here.
  • Records 16/24 bit .wav files but can also record using Sony’s propriety DSD format.

Cons:

  • the stock needle it comes with is just ok.
  • Needle replacement may be difficult (I will find out later)
  • No height adjustment for the arm means only particular cartridge of a certain height will work.
  • Legs are not adjustable,
  • Arm is not automatic (I am going to look to see if an automatic lift can be installed).
  • For the best results you will probably need a better audio software editor to do a little bit of post tinkering, but there are free ones (e.g. Audacity).

 

 

Can you teach an old dog new Technics with the new SL-1200MK7?

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The new Technics SL-1200MK7, don’t ask how much…no one knows.

UPDATE: the Technics 1200 will be coincidentally priced at $1200 US dollars.

For many the Technics SL-1200 is synonymous with djing. What made it so appealing to djs was its rock-solid build, allowing it to be dragged out to block parties, installed at clubs; and its pitch control making it possible to mix records together with precision. Not to mention that its direct drive technology allowed for scratching and manipulation of the record. However, for a long period the Technics SL-1200 model was discontinued making it a much coveted (& heavily sold) item on the secondhand market. However, I digress though, because this not a history lesson. What we want to discuss is what does the Technics 1200 mean now with its new incarnation the Technics SL-1200MK7?

I first heard about the news from buddies Skratch Bastid & Pat Drastik (Thugli), both having previewed and contributed input into this new design. Both DJs are insanely good in their own right, so it makes me think that Panasonic (who own Technics) have the best of intentions in mind for djs and the new features included seem to confirm this: detachable rca’s and ac power, as featured on the rival turntables like the Pioneer; 2x speed button allowing you to double the pitch  to +16 / -16. As usual though, there are detractors, people already don’t like that its digital pitching instead of analog pitch; that the classic 1200 torque will not be the same; and most confusingly, that people won’t see it in the club because it is the black model and not the silver model.

However, what most are really concerned about is (always) the price point, something Technics is being candid about. A previous boutique model introduced in 2016 came out at a laughable $4000 US. If its not competitively priced with other models like the Pioneer DJ PLX-1000, I think it will not be considered by most as a viable option . They will either get second-hand 1200s, and since they are practically indestructible and Technics has sold 3.5 million historically they can be found.  Or most will go to a competitor or instead choose an entirely different path.

Its true, that for many years there was no competition in the analog dj turntable market  but ultimately music and djing is about expression. With the advent of dj controllers and midi controllers, I wonder if this generation will find it too limited and this is coming from someone who loves both digital and analog djing (still have my 1200s MK2’s). Its true things like doubling the pitch and allowing reverse play (another new feature) can allow for more expression but is it enough, when other turntable style controllers like the Rane Twelve have midi buttons for cueing or whatever (its midi)? I understand, however, purists would probably see the addition of buttons as a blight on the 1200s. Ultimately, Technics is calling the bluff on those who have longed to have new 1200s. Will those who have always wanted Technics 1200s and those who have older models splurge for this new model remains to be seen and heard.

Update: the Technics 1200 will be coincidentally priced at $1200 US dollars. Which makes me think there is definitely something psychological about making things a little too expensive (I see you Apple & Pioneer).  It is meant to set it apart from other companies. Usually, the outcome is that the company wins and people will splurge. However, I personally would have this way down on my list, since I already own MK2’s. Its true the addition of detachable (replaceable) rca and power is compelling, particularly for being mobile. Businesses, such as bars, restaurants and clubs, should definitely take note however. If you are in the business of having DJs play, who use turntables, this could definitely be what you need: A hopefully more easily maintainable, industry standard turntable with a warranty.

Track Freeze Problem with Roland DJ-505 & Review

Roland DJ 505 track freeze

[Updated: Sept 17, 2020]

This past summer I made my first foray into buying a DJ controller. I know its a crazy world: the same year Shure discontinues their needles, including the much loved N44-7, Dougie buys his first controller: these are crazy dj times. After a year of researching, I eventually settled on the Roland DJ-505 from their Aira series of Serato controllers (DJ-808, DJ-505 and the smaller DJ-202). This series of controllers are, coincidentally, Roland’s first foray into making a dj controller.

Why did I choose the Roland DJ-505?

I settled on it, primarily, because of its much toted low-latency platters and its sound card. For the most part it is the same layout and price point as your Pioneer DDJ-SR2. The Roland also comes with a free Serato Tool Kit license (which includes Serato Pitch ‘n Time DJ, Serato Flip, and all Serato DJ FX packs) for free. Which I hadn’t purchased yet, so that was a plus. But its most distinct feature, which makes it stand apart from most controllers, is the addition of the TR-S drum machine (Roland style step-sequencer/drum machine) on top.  When I first saw it last year, to be honest, I thought it was a bit gimmicky. Do I really need an addition of a drum machine? Will it sound monotonous, repetitious or worse shoes in a dryer when I combine the drum machine with the songs from Serato? And to be honest, my initial impressions have been really good. As long as your grids are lined up you can get some really good results. The drum machine features the sounds from Roland’s classic TR-707, 808, or 909 sounds or you can even use your own samples. But what really sold me was the inclusion of a midi out that send midi clock tempo (e.g. send midi out to a 303, Volca, MPC…).


More DJ gear reviews:
PRESONUS ERIS E3.5 SPEAKERS FOR A HOME DJ SET UP (REVIEW)
REVIEW: QSC CP8 SPEAKER – A DJ’S LIL BEST BUD?


Track Freeze Problem (THE BAD)

My first impressions were good….until a couple months into it. While using my DJ-505 with Serato DJ at home, I started getting this reoccurring error. This anomaly usually happened while I was manipulating the left platter (sometimes the right) and sometimes in conjunction with performance pads / play button. The track would “freeze” in Serato. By freeze, I mean the play button in Serato would be engaged (blue / active) but the track would not play. Even on the controller the play button would be engaged (green) but the track itself would not advance. You could hit the cue points or pads and it would respond normally: it would go to the cue point, you would hear the sound and could even hold them down to make the track play normally. But as soon as you release the button it would stop. You could switch to another channel (e.g. 1 to 3) but inevitably the same problem would occur on those channels as well, until both/all channels were stuck. The time frame for such an occurrence could happen from two minutes to three hours into DJing.

The only thing you could do to remedy the situation is to turn off the DJ-505 and turn it back on, which would take about 25 seconds. However, 25 seconds of silence might as well be an hour when you are DJing to a crowd. When the music or sound stops at an event, it feels like the air is being sucked out of the room. There will be booing, there will be chanting of: “turn it on!” Because of this I have been hooking up my laptop’s 3.5mm jack to an external mixer. In case it happens I can segue to something on iTunes. Not a perfect work around, believe me, but the only one I can think of. The only other precaution you can take is to limit the use of the platter altogether, however, a controller you cannot touch is a bit ridiculous.

So, after a bit of research I found out it was not an isolated incident with many owners complaining about this problem with not only the DJ-505, but the 202s and the DJ-808 as well. So, with warranty in hand, I contacted Roland (Canada) and currently, my unit is in the Roland shop being fixed for a SECOND time. The repairs people at Roland have been courteous and helpful. Its not their fault that Roland released this half-baked “concept”. But I am beginning to lose faith.

UPDATE: After having received my DJ-505 back twice from Roland it appeared to be working for about a year, then the problem returned. As it stands I would NOT recommend the Roland DJ-505. I highly enjoying using the DJ-505 features. Its light weight, platter response, soundcard, drum machine and midi output are all desirable features and a lot of fun to use. My recommendation: if you buy one make sure you hold your receipt tightly for warranty, in case you got a bad one. This defect (which I assume is due to the platter contacts) affects some of the units, however what percentage is defective is unclear. There is no remedy for this but I have found that lowering the sensitivity of the platter, has made it happen less frequently. Also, it tends to “snap out of it” with a spin of the platter and pressing play on and off. Keep in mind however the freeze problem still happens unpredictably and ever so often (not a complete fix).

Roland DJ-505 Review

Pros

  • Great soundcard (for Serato DJ) for an under $1000 CAD.
  • Low-latency platter (very responsive *when it works)
  • Roland TRS-808/909 style Drum machine/step sequencer
  • Midi Out (sends midi clock out)
  • Light-weight
  • Comes with free Serato Tool Kit license

Cons

  • Some units have a defect, that freezes Serato tracks.
  • Phono inputs do not sound good (might not be ideal for the centre of your set up)
  • Some tracking problems with certain needles when used with a turntable
  • No onboard effects (all in Serato)

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