We’re back with our second DAP review of the fall! Today, we have a strong contender for your audio dollars with the HiBy R5 Gen 2. Coming in at $449, it’s a mid-range player that over delivers on battery life, sound quality, and features. DAPs aren’t for everyone, but if they’re for you and you can’t stomach the idea of spending more than $500 on one, this is definitely a player to consider!
- Current Price: $449 (Linsoul)
Why Choose a DAP?
Let’s state the obvious. In 2022, no one really needs a dedicated DAP anymore. This is a known fact and isn’t going to surprise or offend anybody, including brands like HiBy who continue to make excellent Digital Audio Players. But just because you don’t need a DAP doesn’t mean that it’s not a very nice thing to have that can absolutely elevate your listening experience, including acting as an external sound card when you connect it to your PC. Because of this, there’s still a dedicated audience of audio enthusiasts who carry DAPs with them every day.
It makes sense if you’re participating in the audio hobby. Audiophiles crave the best listening experience no matter where they are. Stepping down from a great setup at home to a paltry built-in headphone jack when you leave the house is irritating. In cases like this, many people turn to dongles, but what if you need more power? Then you’re looking at a bigger dongle, sometimes even as big as a DAP itself.
But then, there’s something to be said for having a dedicated device just for listening. It’s the same reason the iPod Touch was popular for so many years: no distractions, no notifications, just your favorite music in the highest quality possible. It’s a specific craving, something you have to be a big music fan to really understand, I think. But if you know, you know.
Dedicated DAPs like the HiBy R5 Gen 2 have other benefits. Because they have one job, their components inside are all selected based upon audio delivery. The circuitry is designed around delivering the best sound quality with the least possible noise and distortion and the highest dynamic range. DAPs also usually provide more power than you’ll find on a simple dongle and often feature balanced connections for quick compatibility with more headphones.
These days, the best DAPs also feature Android operating systems, so you have access to your favorite streaming services. Of course, local file support is also a given, including all of the popular lossless file formats. There’s built-in storage, but you can also use a microSD card to expand storage up to 2TB.
So, DAPs may not be items for everyone but they certainly still have a dedicated audience that finds value in them. If you’re an audio enthusiast, having a dedicated device for listening is gratifying and can elevate the listening experience in noticeable ways. If you enjoyed an iPod back in the day, a modern-day DAP evolves that same experience in big ways.
HiBy R5 Gen 2 - Build Quality, Specs, and Features
The HiBy R5 Gen 2 is a very well-made product. My first impression upon getting it in my hand is that it reminded me very much of the Fiio M11 Plus I reviewed back in March. That DAP costs $699 so that the HiBy creates such a great first impression is very impressive. Even though it’s a bit smaller than the M11, it features a full glass front and back with a metal chassis that’s solid and chunky in the hand. The screen is also 4.7 inches and 720p with decent brightness. There’s nothing that feels cheap or mid-range about the build quality other than the screen not bumping to 1080p (which doesn’t really matter at this screen size and on a DAP).
That premium design extends to the internals, too — for the most part. The HiBy R5 Gen 2 features a Class A amplification circuit with a discrete output stage. For non-techies, that means that the player is able to output continuous high power with low distortion. This mode is power hungry, but it can also be run in Economy Mode which drops power output.
The specifications above break down the differences between the two modes, but for now, let’s stay on power. In Economy Mode, the R5 is able to output 110mW and 1.9VRMS from its single-ended connection and 320mW and 3.2VRMS when running in balanced. Turn on Class A amplification and that jumps to 150mW and 2.2VRMS single-ended and 475mW and 3.9VRMS when running balanced. There are some minor differences to THD and SNR, but both are inaudible if you’re a mere human.
There’s a big difference in battery life, however. In Economy Mode, the R5 can last up to 35 hours (!!!). That’s ridiculously long and a huge selling point if you don’t like to recharge often. In Class A mode that drops down to 10 hours. It’s a major difference, but I found the nightly recharges worth it for the sound that Class A provides. More on that later.
The power output is decent but not mind-blowing. The iBasso DX170 offered substantially more, for example. There’s enough power here to drive a wide range of earphones and headphones, especially if you run on Class A amplification and through a balanced connection.
This amplification technology is flanked by a dual DAC design and circuitry utilizing high-end, audio-considerate components. HiBy has opted for the ESS ES9219C chip, which has native support for DSD256 and PCM audio at 32-bits/768kHz. The R5 also supports full 16x MQA decoding to take advantage of Tidal’s highest quality Master tracks.
For $449, you can expect full access to your favorite streaming apps. The R5 runs Android 8.0, which feels ancient by now, but runs well and works perfectly for Amazon Music, Tidal, Spotify, and any other music app you could name. The Google Play Store comes pre-installed. HiBy has its own HiBy OS layer running on top, which seems to help performance compared to a stock Android installation like the iBasso DX170.
For $449, you can also expect middling computer hardware. It’s running a Snapdragon 425 and has only 2GB of memory. It’s not cutting edge but doesn’t really need to be with Android 8.0 and HiBy’s own HiBy OS running. You obviously won’t be able to do any gaming with the device, and web pages will sometimes stutter, but for listening to music and basic browsing, it works quite well.
Tap around in the menus and you’ll find a dedicated audio settings tab. In this menu, you’ll be able to enable Class A mode, change the current filter setting, adjust gain, and tweak a handful of other settings. HiBy also makes several plugins available to increase the soundstage, lock the sample rate, and more.
Most interesting is the MSEB menu, which when tapped opens up one of the most unique equalizers you’ll find on an audio device. Instead of breaking the EQ down into bands, HiBy instead uses audio descriptors that are much easier to understand. Want faster bass response? Adjust that slider. Like vocals a little more forward? Tap the tab a bit to the right. Want more air? “Intoxicating” female vocals? (Okay, that one is still a little confusing). You guessed it. Adjust the slider. It’s novel but feels uniquely approachable for audio newcomers.
HiBy R5 Gen 2 - Performance and Listening Impressions
I’ve had the HiBy in-house for several weeks now and have spent a lot of time with it. I’ve also been lucky enough to have its biggest competitor, the iBasso DX170 in hand at the exact same time. Even though that DAP was good, the R5 Gen 2 is great and the one I would choose every time, even if it has lower power output.
The reasons are simple. It sounds better. It feels better made. It runs better. The DX170 does a lot of things right, but the HiBy nails the fundamentals in a way I like much more.
Starting with sound, you really have two choices. Economy Mode is brighter and leans into clarity. Turn on Class A amplification and the entire sound warms up. There’s more weight and body to music. Vocals come forward a bit. Soundstage expands slightly. I don’t know what intoxicating female vocals are, but I know what intoxicating sound is and this is it. But, if you’re more into treble and crystalline dynamics, the Economy Mode will suit you well. It’s all about taste.
Well… not exactly all. Economy Mode also has that incredible battery life. 10 hours in Class A mode is worth it, in my opinion, but with 35 hours of listening (28 hours over balanced), recharges will be few and far between. That’s some seriously impressive playtime.
I also expected performance to be slower than it was. The R5 runs noticeably snappier than the DX170. Both are easily usable, but the R5 is faster, which is a testament to the optimizations HiBy has performed. Don't go loading up any British tabloid websites or else you'll experience some lag, but navigating music apps is easy and fast.
The system-wide EQ is another high point. Even my Fiio M11 Plus didn’t come with that. They’re readily available on the Google Play Store, but it’s nice that you don’t have to spend the extra few dollars to pick one up after buying such an expensive device.
The R5 just feels better to use. There’s no volume wheel, like the DX170, but the buttons work well and exactly as you would expect. There’s no weird acceleration like that DAP had. The thickness of the body is just about perfect for medium-sized hands too. I’m 5’8” with an average-sized build, so I don’t have gorilla paws, and if you do, it may feel a bit cramped. I think most people will be just fine.
My biggest complaints over my few weeks of using it are that it tends to get warm in Class A mode, especially if it’s in a pocket. It doesn’t get hot but it’s warm enough to notice. That massive drop in battery life is pretty monumental too. It’s the trade-off for that power and coloration to the sound, but it’s a big one that could leave you scraping the bottom of the battery meter if you’re not careful.
Overall Impressions and Final Thoughts
The truth is, there’s not a lot to complain about with the HiBy R5 Gen 2. It is genuinely a very well-done DAP that sounds great and feels good to use. The build quality and feature set punch up, which is a surprising thing to say on a product that’s just shy of five hundred dollars. But in its space, it delivers a lot for its cost of entry. I’ve enjoyed my time with it and love its sound. HiBy has over-delivered with this one.
The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.