Under the hood.
I usually dedicate this section of the review to go over the internal design of the device. As I already mentioned, trying to preserve the quality of the transmitted wireless encoded signal is very important, but you still need a quality DAC/amp to drive attached headphones, otherwise the sound will be degraded.
Since W5 is very compact, there is not too much room for many electronic components. To solve this problem, Hiby wisely implemented ES9218P DAC which has a high quality low noise sound performance (output w/SNR 118dB) and a built-in amp with 1.6Vrms output, capable of driving 80+80mW into 32 ohm load. In the headphone/earphone Pair Up section of the review, I will have many different examples of how various earphones and headphones sound with W5.
Also, W5 comes with the latest Qualcomm CSR8675 Bluetooth 5.0 chipset which supports LDAC, aptX, aptX HD, aptX LL, SBC, AAC, and will soon Hiby’s own UAT. This is a very advanced CSR chip capable to pair up with Android, iOS, MAC, and Windows sources, and to be upgraded through fw in the future.
Pair-up and Remote control.
The pair up with W5 is very simple, regardless if you are connecting it to your phone or DAP. Once it’s in pair-up mode, I was able to easily find and establish a connection and got voice confirmation from headphones connected to W5. On my Galaxy S9 (Android Pie) phone it showed up connected for call and medio audio, displaying the remaining battery (in 10% increments). Also, I made sure in settings for this connection to have LDAC enabled. Furthermore, whenever I was changing the volume on my phone, Android volume bar had Bluetooth indicator.
While paired up, I verified audio transmission with HibyMusic, Neutron, YouTube, Spotify, Netflix, and a few games (like Beach Buggy Racing). Everything worked OK, the lip syncing delay when watching videos was not bad at all, and when playing audio I was able to play/pause and skip between tracks. Skipping required a little bit of practice, especially with triple click to get the timing right.
In this testing with Galaxy S9 while playing audio, I verified W5 to work almost 40ft away from my phone. Basically, I was able to step away with my headphones connected to W5 about 40ft away from S9 in the open space until audio started to get choppy.
In addition, Hiby also provided GAIA Control app which allows direct connection to CSR chip on W5. Once selected from a list of scanned devices (Hiby W5 will show up there) and then connected, you get access to a handful of very useful tools and settings.
You will be able to get more info about your connected device, control its LED (to turn permanently off), read the exact battery percentage reading down to 1% accuracy, gain Remote access to change volume/mute and control the playback of the audio, access Equalizer menu for general sound setting with Bass boost and 3D expansion and EQ presets for Parametric EQ, and access firmware upgrade by loading a local file.
One thing to note, Equalizer setting in GAIA app is not enabled yet since it didn’t affect the sound when I was changing it. But LED on/off definitely works, and at one point I forgot that I disabled the blue LED and thought W5 broke, until I got back and turned it on. Remote Control option is probably the most useful since it has large clear controls to turn volume up/down, mute, and control playback with separate controls for play, pause, stop, skip next, and prev. This Remote control is very clear and works regardless of which app you are using.
One missing thing is the Gain control. My engineering review sample came set at high gain which is great for hard to drive headphones, but limits the volume range when dealing with higher sensitivity IEMs. Hiby confirmed it will be implemented soon.
Sound analysis and Comparison.
I analyzed W5 sound performance using 64 Audio U18t while paired up to Galaxy S9 phone using LDAC, and playing a variety of my test tracks, such as Agnes Obel “The curse”, Sandro Cavazza “So much better” (Avicii remix), C-Bool “Never go away”, Ed Sheeran “Shape of you”, Galantis “Hunter”, Iggy Azalea “Black widow”, Indila “Boite en argent”, Robin Schultz “Oh child”, David Elias “Vision of her”, and Michael Jackson “Dirty Diana”.
Just like with any DAP, the source can’t be analyzed the same way you describe headphones. You are hearing the sound coming from a specific set of headphones or earphones, and the sound is the result of your source sound sig, your target sound sig, and their synergy.
I think you will be able to get a better idea about the sound of W5 when you read my headphones/earphones Pair up section of the review. But in common across all these pair ups I found W5 to have a natural balanced tonality, with a fuller body yet still transparent sound, a nicely expanded dynamics, and a good low and high end extensions. Using LDAC, the compression level is low and ES9218P DAC takes it from there with its natural tonality and balanced signature.
But one thing truly stood out here, the soundstage expansion. I’m intimately familiar with how U18t sounds across various high end sources, but in this pair up I heard the soundstage to be among the widest. The same was with other earphones and headphones and their soundstage expansion.
I also compared the sound of W5 to Shanling M0 DAP. This is a very important comparison because both have ES9218P DAC with its built-in amp. Both devices are tiny and don’t have room for additional components, making this a perfect A/B comparison. To my surprise in W5 vs M0 I found W5 to have a noticeably wider soundstage, better transparency, and better layering of the sounds. In contrast, M0 sounded a little more colored, warmer, and a little more congested in comparison.
Another test I wanted to run was to see how pair up with different sources with affect the sound. There is an expectation of difference depending on which codec is being used, but how about multiple sources using the same codec?
In this test I was using again 64 Audio U18t connected to W5. As I mentioned before, the engineering review sample I received has only high gain, low gain will be implemented soon. As a result, there was some inconsistency in volume level adjustment, with some devices requiring raising the source volume while others needing to lower it.
Also, regardless of the paired up source, I had no issues controlling each one remotely from W5 to control the playback. Just too bad that volume must be adjusted directly from the source, not W5.
The following summarizes how W5 Bluetooth wireless pair up sounds across different sources:
- Samsung Galaxy S9 (high quality LDAC) – very transparent natural balanced sound (using HibyMusic app).
- Hiby R6 Pro (HD LDAC) – the sound is identical to S9 (using HibyMusic app) pair up.
- Sony WM1Z (LDAC) – the sound is identical to S9 pair up
- Lotoo LPGT (LDAC) – the sound is identical to S9 pair up.
- Shanling M0 (LDAC) – the sound is identical to S9 pair up.
- Cayin N5iiS (no aptX support) – the soundstage is narrower, bass is deeper, the sound is a little warmer.
- A&K SP1000 SS (aptX HD) – very similar soundstage and tonality, but dynamics was not the same, with LDAC connection having a more layered sound with more expanded vertical dynamics. Not exactly a night’n’day difference, but it’s noticeable.
- Hiby R3 (aptX) – wide soundstage, deeper bass, thinner brighter pulled back mids, crisper treble.
- Hiby R3 (LDAC) – the same as R3/aptX, which was a bit surprising since codec is different.