Review - Hiby R5 Saber

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Also available on YouTube in Spanish: Acho Reviews YouTube 


The Hiby R5 Sabre has been loaned to me as part of a tour organized by Zococity in the ReproductorMP3.net forum. There have been no requests other than to post impressions, good or bad, in the relative thread on the forum, therefore this review is, as always as sincere and unbiased as possible.

Although they have not requested that I leave any kind of links to their store, I think it is only fair as they have been kind enough to organise this tour.

You can visit their store here: https://zococity.es/

And you can find the Hiby R5 Sabre here: https://zococity.es/hiby-r5-saber

Intro…

First I would like to mention a couple of things so that we are clear about my review of this device. I am not someone who uses a DAP a lot nor do I have a lot of experience with them. I have tried various DAPs briefly but the only ones that I have spent a lot of time with are the Shanling M0 and the M2X. I really only use them on occasions when I want to be mobile and disconnected from my phone at the same time, if not, I will opt for a desktop solution or a USB dongle connected to either my phone or tablet.

I am also not going to compare the R5S (as I will call it from now on) to any other DAP as I currently only have the Shanling M0 in my possession (a completely different and non relevant device). My usual DAP is the M2X, which would have been a nice comparison in my eyes (even though the M2X is not Android), however, the M2X has been in China for repair for a few months now and it is not the first time I have had to send it in. So, I will be judging the R5S solely on its own merits.

One final thing to take into consideration is that I haven't spent a huge amount of time with this DAP. As this is part of a tour, the time for each participant is limited to 7 days. If we factor in that there were issues with the delivery (courier services keep getting worse!), that I need to actually do some work during the day and that I needed to record and write this review, I haven't really had enough time to be able to say how it would be to live with this device but I have had enough to give me a coherent impression of it (if my impressions are ever coherent!).



Presentation...

The unit was obviously pre opened but I believe that it has been packed with all the accessories and as though it is factory delivered. Inside the black box, which shows an image of the DAP on the cover, we find the R5S itself with the screen protectors, front and back, already installed but, in the case of the front one, it has a lot of air bubbles which interferes with the responsiveness, so I have removed it for this review. We also get a nice (imitation?) leather protection cover and a fabric covered USB to USB-C cable for charging and data transfer, along with the usual warranty and user documents and a couple of Hi-Res stickers.

Build and aesthetics…

I like the build and aesthetics of the R5S. WIth dimensions that are similar to the M2X (ok, I know, I said no comparisons!), with rounded edges, it is of a size that I find to be perfect. It is small enough to hold in the hand, with the edges making it comfortable to do so, but without it being so small as to make things feel cramped. Personally, this is the size of DAP that I prefer, even with the leather cover installed it does not feel bulky.

The build quality seems to be decent, it has already been through the hands of various people and been shipped multiple times without it showing any kind of wear. The front and back glass panels are slightly raised from the bezels, meaning that they could be at risk if using the player without the cover, but once the cover is placed, the device is well protected from the usual day to day use.

One thing that I have noticed is a large build up of heat when the screen is on. While this could also be discussed under functionality, I think it is good to place it in the build section. When I received the unit, it was a little low on battery so I connected it to charge while I was doing the initial setup and scanning my SD card. At this point, the R5S did get hot enough to be uncomfortable to hold. When I had completed the initial setup and scan, I turned the screen off and it did seem to cool down considerably although it was still charging. During my use of the device, I have noticed it getting warm when the screen is on for extended periods but not to the same point that it did with the screen, charging and setup all happening at once.



Layout of device…

On the R5S, there are controls and connections located on the left, right and bottom of the device.

On the left we get the vol+ and vol- buttons, with the micro SD card slot located below. 

On the bottom of the device we have a 3.5mm TRS socket on the left for single ended headphones and line out, in the center we have the USB-C port for charging and data, then on the right we have a balanced 4.4mm Pentaconn output for headphones and balanced line out.

Finally, on the right side, We have the power button located at the top, followed by next track, play and last track buttons below.

I must say that all of the buttons are of a nice size and are easily located and used without having to look at the device. There is a nice spacing between them which makes it much easier to identify each button even though they don’t have any specific way of identifying by touch.



Functionality…

Now, this part can be very simple or I could go on forever, as the R5S is an Android based DAP, which basically means you can customize it much the same way as you can customize any Android device, with some limitations which are usual on this kind of device. Running Android 8.1, it comes with the Play Store already installed so you can load your player of choice from there. It also, obviously, comes with Hiby Music installed.

Personally, and this is a very personal preference, I am not a fan of Android based DAPs. There are a few things that I find nice on Android DAPs, which are usually missing from proprietary OS devices, such as the possibility to install Spotify and a couple of other apps, but other than that, I am a fan of a music player being just that, a music player, I don't need access to thousands of apps that I already have on my phone.

However, biases aside, the R5S is pretty fluid, at least with the basic apps that I decided to try out on it. No, it is not an octacore 8gb RAM cell phone, things do take a little more patience, but again, this is an audio player, not a pocket computer.

First, the scanning of my test SD card, which contains 120gb of FLAC files, took around 10 minutes to complete (in Hiby Music, in UAPP it was much faster, around 3 minutes, but the system had already scanned the SD card for Hiby, so I think that could help with the speed). This is not spectacular but it is a lot faster than many other Android alternatives. Once they had completed the original scan, both the Hiby Music app and other apps I have tried, accessed the files instantly without issue.

The response is quick when touched, although, as I said, when opening a new app, it can take a few seconds for it to be ready to use. Again, it doesn't take long enough to be irritating but I suppose that will depend on the patience level of each individual (and I am not really patient with technology ;) ).

I am not going to go into depth about the functionality of the Hiby Music app, if anyone wants to try it out they can download it to any Android device from the Play Store. 

I will say that Hiby Music is not my music player app of choice but it is not a bad player, also, as this is an Android device, you can install and use whichever app you prefer. On my Android devices I usually use UAPP (not the best user interface but allows me to bypass Android audio stacks), Bubble UPNP (I use this to stream to other devices, so it is not really relevant here) and the Spotify app, which is my app of choice when moving around, driving etc. Both UAPP and Spotify worked without issues, although they did seem a little clunky at first coming from a much more powerful Android telephone.

The side buttons responded well with all the apps I tried (I did try a couple of other audio apps) and the react was quick even when the device had been in standby for quite a while. The R5S is also very quick when swapping apps. For example, listening to something on Spotify and without closing the app (or stopping playback), opening Hiby Music and pressing play, the device would instantly switch apps without any kind of silence or delay.

I tried streaming from the R5S to various bluetooth headphones and also the MW200 with no issues, LDAC was quick to connect and was just as stable as it is on my other Android devices (which is to say that the range is not great but that is one of the drawbacks of LDAC and not necessarily the devices that use it). The R5S also incorporates a codec that is listed as being superior to LDAC called UAT. As this is a codec that is proprietary to Hiby (as far as I know), I didn’t get to check the functionality of it.

The R5S also decodes MQA without issue, if that is something that is important to you. I have a few local MQA tracks for testing and also have streamed MQA via Tidal all without issues.

I could go much deeper into functionality but I don’t want this review to turn into an essay, so let’s just say that I have had no real complaints about the functionality of the R5S, everything I have tried has been satisfactory and, although I am not an Android DAP fan, it hasn’t driven me crazy (as has been the case with some other android bases units I have tried that had all kinds of lags).



Power…

This small device does have quite a good amount of power in it. Stated at 1040mW per channel @ 16 Ohms, when running balanced, a watt of power is good for most headphones and IEMs that can be considered portable, at least “portable” by normal terms.

As far as IEMs, I have used the Blessing 2: Dusk, Aria, iSine LX and a few others, with absolutely no issue in terms of power. As an example, using the Dusk in SE mode, 40 to 50 out of 100, on low gain, is more than enough for my usual listening levels. 

When using headphones rather than IEMs, I tested with a few different models also, such as the Ananda, HE400se (which I am currently testing), HD6XX, HE1000se (which I very happily still have in my possession) and the Arya.

In the case of these headphones, the R5S did struggle a little more. I found that I had no option but to use the balanced output. Using the SE output, admittedly in low gain mode, the HE400se could be maxed out without it quite reaching my usual listening levels (which are not loud). Using the Ananda, which are not difficult to drive as far as planar magnetic headphones (although they do benefit from having a nice supply of constant power available when dealing with complex stuff), I again found that SE would not cut it and in Balanced mode I was hitting around 60 to 70 on low gain (depending on track) and 50 to 60 to reach my normal listening levels on high gain.

Even with the HE1000se, which are incredibly easy headphones to drive, as far as Hifiman Planars go, I was hitting 70/100 on low (or 55 in high gain) in balanced mode to reach my normal listening levels on albums like “The Wall” by Pink Floyd.



Sound…

Well, I think most people already know how I feel about trying to describe sounds of DACs and amplifiers. If this is the first review that you read by me, then let me just briefly say that I find it difficult to explain differences in sound between good amplifiers and even more so with good DACs. I struggle to try and separate the differences between what I am really hearing and what my brain says I am hearing. To be honest, it doesn’t really matter because all I need is to like what I think I am hearing, regardless of whether it exists in the DAC or in my brain.

In the case of the R5S, I hear a lot of clarity, especially in balanced mode and with good IEMs. I am someone who thinks that if a DAC/Amp is not noticeable, then it is doing a good job. This doesn’t mean that I don’t like specific baked in tones of certain amplifiers but I cannot complain if an amplifier (and DAC) is clean enough for me to not notice changes in sound.

I would liken the sound signature of the R5S to something like a THX789 (which I do use as a reference), something that is not coloured in any noticeable way. The R5S also is good at speed, seeming to have no issues with fast moving tempos when using IEMs that are capable of keeping up of course. When powering planar headphones, or even the HD6XX, it does suffer more and doesn’t come across as quite as impressive. To be honest, planar headphones do need a lot of power on tap when they are pushed and even many desktop amplifiers struggle in this regard. They may have enough power to deafen you but are not quite capable of the speed at which planars demand power. 

There is no real noticeable tone to the R5S overall, except maybe a little thin in the bass,  and it feels sharp and transparent, with no loss of details that I can notice. There is a built in graphic EQ in the Hiby Music player but I usually use the Parametric EQ built into UAPP, which the R5S runs without issues even when adjusting 10 bands. This means that you could easily tweak the sound of the R5S to your taste if you did feel that you wanted to make it slightly warmer.



Conclusion…

The Hiby R5 Saber is a DAP that fulfills everything I need personally from a DAP. I do not use this kind of device for stationary listening, rather I use it when moving around and when travelling etc. I am also not overly interested in having an Android OS on a DAP, I just want to have a music player. However, I must say that the R5S has implemented Android well enough for it to be smooth and to not irritate me with things I don’t need and only end up slowing down the functionality.

There are a couple of quirks, things like double screen locks when using certain apps, so you have to swipe up and then right. Or the fact that hitting to close all apps seemingly closes the Hiby app but it doesn’t really, it still continues to play or be open in the background. But, again, none of these were enough for me to find them annoying, at least in my brief time with the product.

The sound is clear and good, with power being plenty for IEMs or headphones that are not too power hungry. It’s true that it doesn’t bring out the best in some of the more power hungry options but the line out option works well to feed an external amplifier if needed, both SE and Balanced. The USB output, allowing it to connect directly into my system digitally also works without any issues I have found, making it a nice compact source. 

In fact, if you had the R5S as your main portable device, and then either a desktop amplifier or a DAC/Amp solution for your more demanding headphones (if you have them), it is a great little device, allowing you to have all your music and streaming options in one very portable place.

SenyorC