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“.

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.


More music tech reviews:

PRESONUS ERIS E3.5 SPEAKERS FOR A HOME DJ SET UP (REVIEW)
REVIEW: QSC CP8 SPEAKER – A DJ’S LIL BEST BUD?
REVIEW: THE SONY PS-HX500 THE USB RIPPING TURNTABLE


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.

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.

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 prefer your cords were coming out of the top of the unit, 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 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.

The HiBy Link allows you to control your HiBy through your phone or tablet. It will make you wish the Hiby itself was more like this.

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).

Final Thoughts

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?

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.

-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:


-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.

Your Vinyl Records Are Filthy. Review of The Record Doctor VI 20th Anniversary Vacuum Record Cleaner

For cleaning your dirty records is the Panagea Record Doctor IV 20the Anniversary Edition what the doctor ordered?

A record cleaning machine has always been on my wantlist, but (like many) because of the price and lack of surface space for a dedicated unit I put it off. Ok, it may have also been because I was buying records instead. Now that I am trying to record my records digitally, having clean records is paramount. With the Record Doctor VI, I feel I was able to get the best sound out of my records possible at an affordable price. Cleaner records = better recordings.


More DJ / Stereo equipment reviews:
PRESONUS ERIS E3.5 SPEAKERS FOR A HOME DJ SET UP (REVIEW)
REVIEW: QSC CP8 SPEAKER – A DJ’S LIL BEST BUD?
REVIEW: IS THE SONY PS-HX500 THE USB RIPPING TURNTABLE WE HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR?


Personally, I have been in the process of ripping my records to digital copies for listening and DJing. During the process I have purchased a turntable specifically for this, changed its needle to something a little more respectable, and have tried various mats with varying degrees of success. However, the crackle created by deeply embedded dust always bothered me. Even records that seemingly looked brand new would have that intro / outro crackle and also intermittently throughout, especially in quite parts. Obviously this is the life you choose if you play records. It is not a CD, mp3, flac or wav file.

So, I did a little research and found that Panagea had recently released an updated version of their Record Doctor series. The previous version Record Doctor V had received a lot of good reviews, but the newest Record Doctor VI boasted notable improvements:

  • New sturdier aluminum chasis that is easier to clean.
  • New mold-injected turning knob, which is bigger than the Doctor V. Easier to grip and covers the whole label, protecting it from solution.
  • New fan and venting to keep it quieter and cooler during operation (now also on the V)

However, in Canada it was not so readily available during the summer, probably due to Covid. However, it has finally become available in Canada again, after a hiccup in production and distribution. Finally, I received the new Record Doctor VI, purchased at PC Audio from London, Ontario for $439.95 CAD.

Manual Cleaning on The Record Doctor IV “First Hand”

Like the monolith from Kubrick’s 2001.

My first impressions were good! There are two different versions, the ‘Carbon Fibre’ and the ‘Gloss Black’ (which I chose) has a sleek look, that would be easy to clean (with solution mishaps) and dust. The sides are a glossy black but the top is a black brushed aluminum (nice texture). It has good solid weight to it and was a good size.


All-vinyl mixes by Dougie Boom:
NEW JACK SCHWWWWWING (A NEW JACK SWING 45 MIX)
THE BEST OF WAX TRAX! ON WAX – A LABEL TRIBUTE MIX


Now, first hand, the process of manually cleaning records on the Doctor VI, is not that tasking in the slightest. You simply take your LP or 45 record, place it on the machine on the spindle (at first, the side up that you want to clean), put on the turning clasp. You put a couple of drops of cleaning solution on the record surface. Then, using your application brush you spread the solution on your record (running circular in the direction of the groove). You may be tempted to spin the record and hold the brush but Record Doctor warns not to spin records without solution. So, taking in consideration for the bottom side of the record, that is close to the vacuum strip, instead I do a 12-6 o’clock spreading of the solution followed by a light rotation of the record and another 12 to 6 to spread the solution to the other side. Being careful not to add too much solution, but maybe more for dirtier records.

“Let’s go crazy, let’s get dust…” on this Prince 45 using the Record Doctor VI.

The Record Doctor V includes Panagea’s own Record Doctor Clean Sweep Brush to apply the solution. I have always been weary of these types of micro fiber brushes, preferring the 70s-style velvet brushes. However, the Clean Sweep Brush with its 260,000 ultra-fine nylon bristles when used in conjunction with the solution feels more more like a squeegee, smoothly going over the surface of records and gets all that gunk in the grooves. Very effective and feels smooth.

I “choke” the vacuum strip with my thumb to make up for absent vinyl space when doing 45s.

Then, after the solution is applied, you flip over record, apply the clamp and turn on the vacuum. Next, you rotate the record, turning the clamp, as the vacuum strip sucks the solution off the record and takes all the dirt and grime with it. The speed and direction at which you turn the record is essentially up to you. That is the good thing about manual record cleaners. You can focus on problem areas of records or areas that have a lot of solution. Also, you can go either direction clockwise or counter clockwise, back and forth at will. The vacuuming process shouldn’t take much longer than 30 seconds or so. Remove and inspect the record and if it still looks saturated, repeat on problem areas.

After cleaning: Prince would approve. He could see his own reflection in these.

Although their quick manual does not include the extra step, I give the record a rinse after with some distilled water and then use the Record Doctor again to dry the record.

The REAL dirt on The Record Doctor IV (Verdict)

Hats off to the Record Doctor VI. Highly recommended.

If you have always wanted a cleaning vacuum machine for your records but haven’t because of price, Panagea’s Record Doctor VI may be for you. Because of its price point and functionality it is definitely your entry level cleaner, however I couldn’t see how it can get much better than this. It sucks and that’s a good thing. Sure, automatic record cleaners offer there own conveniences but ones that change the direction of rotation are more expensive. This you can manipulate the record to your heart’s content, much like the Nitty Gritty Record Cleaner but $400-$1200 cheaper.

I was really blown away by how clean the results were. Better than any other cleaning record method or solution than I have ever tried. You could see the individual grooves of the records come to life and appear more defined just by visually inspecting the record. Of course the records sounded better. It is hard to quantify but I would say dirty records were improved 15-25% and records I thought were clean were 10-15% better.

As far as the unit itself, the Record Doctor VI aesthetically looks good, takes up very little space and can be easily placed aside and brought out when needed. It was easy to operate. Panagea boasts since the Doctor V, they have improved the loudness of the vacuum and overheating with the inclusion of a new vent and fan (located at the bottom). This may be so but it is still pretty loud and can get pretty hot. This wasn’t so much of a problem as it changed my workflow of how I cleaned my records. I would clean one side using the Doctor, rinse with distilled water, vacuum the water off, then let the record air dry for a bit. After about 10 records I would stop, as the unit seemed hot to the touch and ready for a cool down. I would then record the newly cleaned records and do the reverse and

One thing that is odd is that I haven’t had to empty it of any liquid from the Record Doctor. It has a plug at the bottom which you remove to let the vacuumed solution and water drain, which they recommend after 20 -25 records. I have done at least a 100. I don’t know whether it is the dry Ontario fall/winter climate or the heat from the machine itself but there is never any access solution / water to empty. hmmmm?

Although, there is included solution you may want to get more solution (if you don’t have any). Panagea also offers concentrated solution, you simply add water to (distilled water over regular tap is probably a good idea). Also, the Record Doctor VI does not come with a cover, which is sold separately. If you have the skills you could probably even sew one with pockets yourself.

I’M A Doctor, Jim, Not A MAGICIAN…

As magical as result can be on the Record Doctor VI (it should be clear) it cannot completely alter what has already been done regarding the condition of your record. That is to say, don’t expect the Doctor to remove deep scratches. As far as I know there is no technique to repair a record. What you will get is the cleanest possible record with the dust and dirt removed. So, set realistic expectations, if your record is trashed you may just have to buy a new copy. And that copy the Doctor will keep as clean as possible for a long time.

REcord Doctor VI – Pros

  • More affordable manual vacuum record cleaner.
  • Sleek look that looks good and feels solid.
  • Comes with brush for application and a small amount of cleaning fluid.

RECORD DOCTOR VI – Cons

  • Despite the newly added vent, it is still pretty loud and hot, so you should moderate use. Think 70s vacuum more than hair dryer loud.

dougieboom.com

How to Replace the Sony PS-HX500 stock cartridge with the Nagaoka MP-110

Replacing the Sony PS-HX500 stock cartridge with the Nagaoka MP-110
Difficulty: Medium
Time duration: 30 minutes to an hour

After my favourable reviews of the Sony PS-HX500 more than a year ago, and with idle time during self-isolation, I decided it was time to replace the factory needle on the Sony PS-HX500. My first decision was which cartridge?



More Audio Tech Reviews:
REVIEW: IS THE SONY PS-HX500 THE USB RIPPING TURNTABLE WE HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR?
PRESONUS ERIS E3.5 SPEAKERS FOR A HOME DJ SET UP (REVIEW)


Which Cart for the Sony PS-HX500?

There are many things to consider when replacing your needle on the Sony PS-HX500. Firstly, it needs to be a moving magnet cartridge. Also, on the Sony PS-HX500 there is no height calibration for the arm, that means the needle needs to be the same height as the stock needle. If it isn’t you will need to get a shorter or taller mat to compensate. Also, most importantly for the Sony PS-HX500, it does not have a removable headshell, instead the wire leads are straight from the tone arm. Only the cartridge is removable. So, there is even more to consider for your needle purchase. Depending on the height of the needle you may have to get a new mat for the difference in height.

So, scouring the internet high and low I narrowed it down to:

  • Ortofon 2M Bronze: pricey but I hear performs well. Maybe the next one. [UPDATE: reader KDV commented below that the Ortofon is too big for the headshell. May want to reconsider]
  • Goldring 1006: I heard it also performs well on the Sony PS-HX500, but a little pricey in Canada compared to its cost in Britain and Europe.
  • Sumiko Pearl: my first choice initially. I worried about replacement needles for the future, as it was not widely available in Canada.

However, everywhere I turned the Nagaoka MP-110 was continually mentioned. Some enjoy the sound, while others think that for its deep bass and crisp highs, it sacrifices the mids. I considered it and thought if my primary use for the Sony is to mostly rip DJ records for digital copies, then good emphasis on the bass is probably a plus. I am not a fan of too much bass reproduction but sometimes you get better results dialing back the bass later, then adding bass to the recording.

I found the cheapest Nagaoka MP-110 in Canada (at the time) at Hifipro.ca and decided to make the purchase. Best case scenario: I like the results. Worst case scenario: I know it is probably going to be better than the stock cartridge that the Sony comes with.

Replacing The Cartridge On The Sony PS-HX500

Disclaimer: replacing the cartridge on the Sony PS-HX500 is notoriously difficult. Again, it doesn’t have a detachable headshell like many turntables you may or may not be familiar with. I thought I was prepared, having replaced cartridges with headshells in the past with ease. The wires however are very thin and very delicate, so proceed with caution. If you have any hesitation you may want to enquire with a stereo repair place to see how much they would charge to do it. Either way I am not responsible, you have been warned.

THings You WIll NEed

  • replacement cartridge (here a Nagaoka MP-110)
  • a clean surface
  • angled needle nose pliers (1 mm)
  • small phillips screwdriver (1 mm)
  • cartridge stylus alignment protractor
  • digital turntable stylus force scale gauge
  1. Place turntable on a clean, flat surface.
  2. Remove the lid from its hinges if attached.
  3. Clamp down the turntable arm, so it doesn’t move.

  4. Keep the cartridge attached, do not remove the screws from the cartridge yet.
  5. Remove the wires from old cartridge first, grabbing only the metal part with your angled needle nose pliers, apply pressure. Do not grip or touch the black rubber insulation nor the coloured wire itself.


  6. With light force pull the wire back off of the needle by the metal clasp. You must be careful not to grip too hard or the metal brackets will be squeezed and grip the pins. But also make sure not to lose grip or pull to hard. Doing so may separate the wire from the metal attachment. I almost broke one wire myself.
  7. Once all the wires are removed then you can detach the old cartridge by unscrewing the tiny screws on top of the headshell.
  8. Take off the cartridge, save all the screws and washers and replace the plastic cover for the needle (hopefully you kept it, always keep the cover).
  9. Remove new Nagaoka cartridge from its package.
  10. To install the The Nagaoka cartridge (in this scenario) it requires you to use the old washers that came with the turntable.
  11. Simply repeat the steps backwards: attach the needle to the headshell with the screws, then attach the wires to their perspective colours. Taking care to be gentle with the wires.
  12. Once the cartridge is attached, use your cartridge stylus alignment protractor to make sure needle is properly aligned outside and inside of the center of the platter.
  13. Finally use your digital turntable stylus force scale gauge to figure how much weight your needle weighs and how much counter weight and tracking you should use.
  14. Adjust cartridge, weight and tracking where needed.

Results / Reviews

So, far the Nagaoka MP-110 has been a great replacement needle for the Sony PS-HX500. Not only is of the relative same height, so I didn’t need to replace my mat, it also sonically sounds great. Delivering nice bass and good highs and much better staging than the previous needle. It should be noted that once your needle is installed you should give it 50 hours or so of listening to get optimal sound out of your new needle.

dougieboom.com