HiBy brand from Hong Kong has been around for over 10 years, mainly doing R&D for portable audio technologies with other brands and products. Its HiBy Music app is found in many audio products like Shanling, FiiO, Cayin and Hidizs. The HiBy R6 is the first in-house digital audio player (DAP) and their proud flagship. In Singapore, HiBy partners with Zeppelin & Co., Singapore’s first audio cafe, to bring this successful crowdfunded project to local audiophiles and to enjoy warranty support. Thanks to Zeppelin for offering a loan unit for my review.
HiBy presents several unique features for premium DAP owners:
Direct Transport Audio (DTA) Architecture
The HiBy R6 bypasses Android’s internal audio processor and uses the premium ESS Sabre DAC, ESS9028Q2M. This means the R6 is sending bit-perfect audio playback through any local or streaming music app, a first for an Android-based DAP. Regardless of whether your ears can hear the difference, the audio is technically unaltered from the source.
Most DAP only has 1 DAC, but the HiBy R6 has two – one for each channel. It’s like having two separate car engines, one controlling each front tyre. The purpose in layman terms is to achieve greater audio details. The DAC itself can support lossless format including native DSD256, PCM 32-bit 384KHz sampling rate, as well as multi-channel file formats.
The HiBy R6 runs on almost-stock Android 6.0.1, Snapdragon 425 SoC 1.4GHz, 3GB RAM, 32GB Internal Storage, 4.2-inch 1280×768 LCD display, 4000 mAh battery that supports QC 3.0. It has dual-band WiFi 2.4GHz and 5GHz, Bluetooth 4.0 up to aptX codec, microSD card slot supporting 2TB, USB Type-C. Google Play Store lets you install any app imaginable. The R6 is so Android, probably the only thing un-Android is the lack of a speaker.
As an audio player, the processor speed is adequate to handle the performance, and miles ahead of most other DAPs in the price range. Updating the device firmware is via a Wireless Update app on the app drawer.
You can enjoy audio over standard 3.5mm cable or 2.5mm balanced cable, or output via 3.5mm line-out or coaxial cable, as well as via USB audio to external DAC (like Chord Mojo), and of course via wireless Bluetooth. You can also stream audio over your favourite apps (DLNA, Spotify, TIDAL, YouTube, etc.) thanks to Android OS. If you don’t fancy HiBy Music app, by all means use other apps, just make sure they support bit-perfect hardware output, like Neutron app.
Now that I have covered all the technical stuff, let’s go into the real experience of using the HiBy R6. Running over a normal Android OS, the HiBy R6 offers expanded user experience compared to a player with proprietary OS. I can stream music through my favourite apps, not limited to the app that the DAP pre-installs. I can install non-audio apps like Facebook and Instagram, which contains video content to be enjoyed as well. I can browse the web, send messages, even play games.
But let’s not distract ourselves on the real purpose of the HiBy R6 – a Digital Audio Player.
Design and Display
HiBy R6 is very comfortable to handle, thanks to its rounded corners all over, so much better than the A&futura SE100 I reviewed a few weeks back. There are generous-sized hardware buttons to control the audio quickly – the volume buttons are on the left, while the power and playback controls are on the right.
Micro SD card access is via a pin ejector, just like smartphone. Audio jacks are on the top, well-spaced, while USB Type-C is right at the bottom, on its own.
The LED indicator on the power button doubles as a audio-resolution indicator, similar to what Chord Electronics did on their DAC. Overall, a very well-balanced design.
The 4.2-inch screen display is good for a DAP, good enough to watch YouTube videos. Touch experience is smooth, just like a smartphone does. All touch actions are accurately executed.
HiBy Music App
The HiBy Music app should be familiar to those who have used it before in other players. It is also a downloadable free app on Google Play Store for those who wants to try it out on their Android smartphones. Operation is intuitive, with clear on-screen indicators and the usual UI interactions no different from most other touch-based music apps.
The app contains a lot of features, including cloud-based file access via HiByLink Client-Server function, or import music over WiFi. Music discoverability is good, with first-level tabs (Menu, Music, Playlist, HiByLink, Search) and second-level tabs (Title, Folder, Album, Artist, Favourite, Recent, etc.). The cover art and lyrics can be easily auto-downloaded online seamlessly, and you can change within each song via its auto-results browser.
Tweaking the audio can be via the 10-band equalizer or a more intuitive “MSEB”, a unique DSP mixer by HiBy which stands for MageSound Eight Ball, where you can adjust the slider to make the music warm or cool, deep bass or light bass, crisp sibilance, or more air.
My first impression when listening to HiBy R6 is that it is a clean-sounding player capable of revealing the audio flaws from compressed files. The usual tracks that sound a little crowded or warm in normal DAPs becomes clearer, more roomy, more apparent musical details. The details, as always, are more apparent when listening over the 2.5mm balanced connection, and anyone who buys a DAP with 2.5mm port should listen through this. While the R6 played over standard 3.5mm audio is already better than most consumer players, the 2.5mm delivers even better dynamics and details, imagine that.
When comparing to the LG G7+ ThinQ (using Sennheiser HD 650 over 3.5mm port), the R6 delivers a lot more clarity and precision, the sound staging is slightly more dimensional and open. Even when playing YouTube tracks like Bee Gees “How Deep Is Your Love”, the R6 feels like it remastered the track, yet the treble clarity contains little harshness nor sibilant. Switching back the G7+, it felt warmer, fuller bass with longer decay.
While the R6 mids and bass do not sound as warm, this allows me to enjoy more tonality that are easily hidden beneath the bloom. Because of this, I find it complements neutral headphones like the Sennheiser HD 650 (which tend to sound a little warm) very well.
Many audiophile reviewers highlighted that the 10-ohm output impedance on the R6 could cause some performance inconsistencies when listening to low-ohm earphones. In short, if your headphone collection are consumer-grade, the R6 might not be ideal. In any case, I strongly advise you to head over to Zeppelin & Co. audio café to spend quality time to try the R6 with your gear before deciding. I do find the Klipsch X12i does not deliver optimal audio results, somewhat sounding less focused and lacks clear sound staging. On the other hand, the Creative Aurvana Trio delivers hair-raising clarity, mid-treble fullness with hairline sibilance, and firm bass.
When plugging USB-OTG over Chord Mojo DAC, some Hi-Res tracks exhibit audio impurities, and DSD files keep getting disrupted during playback. Given this issue, I decide not to proceed to conduct detailed comparison.
The R6 delivers 12 hours of play time over 3.5mm audio, or 7 hours over 2.5mm. It supports Quick Charge 3.0, so charging the 4000 mAh battery to 70% takes just 70 minutes. Given its multiple wireless connectivity, the battery life might be lower. Standby time is good, where I can leave the player without powering down for days. The R6 can get slightly warm during operations.
The HiBy R6 is a unique audio player that will be leading the next wave of portable audio, that is, using Direct Transport Audio architecture over Android OS for bit-perfect audio. I like its rounded design, large buttons, and versatility of playing my favourite Android music apps including YouTube videos. It can be picky when it comes to headphones, but when you get it right, the results are gratifying.
HiBy R6 Stainless Steel edition retails at S$1099, while the aluminium edition sells for S$999, from Zeppelin & Co. audio cafe at #02-78 Sim Lim Square.
- Display: 4.2-inch 1280 x 768 touch screen
- Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 425 1.4GHz quad-core
- Operating System: Android 6.0.1
- DAC: 2x ESS ES9028Q2M
- Sampling Rate: up to 384 KHz 32-bit, DSD 256
- Internal Storage: 32GB
- External Storage: MicroSD card up to 2TB (not included)
- Connectivity: WiFi dual-band (2.4GHz/ 5GHz), Bluetooth 4.0 (aptX), USB Type-C (USB 2.0)
- Battery: Life up to 12 hrs (7 hours through 2.5mm balanced cable)
- Battery size: 4000 mAh
- Dimensions: 116 x 66 x 15 mm
- Weight: 275 g