Under the hood.
As I already mentioned, from outside you won’t find any changes, but inside it is a different story.
Probably the only thing that remained the same is Ingenic X1000E CPU, an ultra-low power consumption processor common to many entry-level DAPs. Now, starting with a DAC, Hiby implemented a dual CS43131, to replace R3’s ES9028Q2M. I’m sure it is one of the contributing factors in increase of the play time using its 1600mAh battery. The overall improvement of playtime was quite noticeable, in SE (3.5mm) going from 11hrs to 20hrs and in BAL (2.5mm) going from 9hrs to 16hrs. Of course, as you switch to high res lossless files, especially DSDs, and depending on the amount of screen time and volume level, the battery life will decrease.
Another noticeable change was Bluetooth 5.0 (from previous 4.2 in R3), and support of all the popular codecs, including UAT, LDAC, aptX, AAC, and SBC. Plus, you have to keep in mind that R3 Pro still support dual (2-way) Bluetooth, both as a transmitter for wireless headphones and speakers and as a receiver for wireless DAC/amp application. When it comes to WiFi, R3 supported only 2.4GHz band, while R3 Pro added 5GHz to help with wireless coverage and connections which includes DLNA, AirPlay, and support of built-in Tidal and Qobuz apps.
As it was already mentioned, both R3 and R3 Pro have 3.5mm SE and 2.5mm BAL headphone outputs. R3 Pro single ended output has a similar level of power as R3. But the balanced output went up from 112mW to 210mW with 32ohm load. I will cover more in sound analysis section, and yes, the higher output power level was noticeable.
As far as playback, R3 Pro supports majority of popular lossy and lossless formats up to a native DSD256 decoding and PCM playback of up to 32bit/384kHz, including FLAC, APE, WMA, WAV, AIFF, DSD IOS, DFF and OGG files. Also, very important to note that R3 Pro supports full hardware decoding of MQA which I confirmed with a few of my MQA FLAC test tracks.
Other features worth mentioning is WebRadio support, though you will have to do your own leg work to find available streaming stations and add it into a txt file to be stored into root directory and accessed from the Playlist. Another feature is E-Books, but it only works with txt files. For active lifestyle, Pedometer is included, though I didn’t find it to be very accurate. Last, but not least, when you are dealing with Hiby OS and Hiby Music app, MSEB sound-shaping effects are definitely worth checking out.
By now you had to be living under a rock if you never heard of HibyMusic app. It’s a free app you can install on your phone or other Android based DAP. In R3 Pro, the app is the main GUI of the DAP, integrated into its OS. I’m sure many are familiar with the interface already, but for those who don’t, here is a recap.
The main interface is organized in a logical way where starting at the top you have icon-menu with Settings, Music file sorting/view, Favorites and Playlists, Tidal/Qobuz, and Main playback.
Settings menu has Update database (to scan for music on your card), Receive songs via Wi-Fi (provides URL to send files from another device connected on the same wi-fi), MSEB (10 sound shaping effects based around Parametric EQ, with a very effective finetuning to change the color of tonality, bass impact and articulation, vocals control and sibilance filtering, and airiness of the sound), EQ (10 band graphic EQ, with 8 genre specific presets, and a custom preset), E-Book (being able to load and to read E-books, though only in txt format), Pedometer (to allow recording your steps), Wireless setting (Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, DLNA, AirPlay, and HibyLink), Play setting (everything from play mode to output selection, DSD mode, resume play, gapless, crossfade, replay gain, balance, digital filter, and play through folders and albums), System setting (button operation, time setting and idle/sleep timer, battery percentage display, standby, in-line remote access, status LED, screen settings, factory reset, and fw update), and About.
Under Music file view, you can see all the tracks, select if you want to view specific folders on micro SD card or external usb-storage, and sort by Albums, Artists, and Genres. In Favorites menu you can view files tagged as favorite. In there, you can also see recently played songs. Then, view Playlist menu where you can create new, or save/load playlist, and access Custom Radio (need to have a separate text file with url links to internet radio stations). And last, but not least, view recently added.
Access to Tidal and Qobuz is definitely a unique feature of R3 Pro which makes it stand out from many other small DAPs. You have to press and hold the corresponding shortcut icon which brings up a choice of accessing Tidal or Qobuz. Please keep in mind, this is a custom app which only allows streaming, and not off-line storage. Since I only have Qobuz service, that’s the one I was testing. After you login once, R3 Pro remembers your login info, so you don’t have to enter it every time. Under Qobuz, you have Discover section with access to New Albums and New Playlists, access your Favorites where you can search by albums, artists, tracks, and playlists, and a separate Search.
In the Main playback screen, you can view the artwork of the song, if one is available. Also, you can see the track and the artist name, file info, “heart” icon to tag is a favorite, playback scroll bar to advance through the song and to check the track time, and at the bottom you have playback mode (loop, single song loop, random, and play all), playback navigation buttons with play/pause and skip, and access to pop-up menu with various options like add to playlist, EQ, view album, song properties, and being able to delete the song.
Also, worth mentioning, Notification bar at the top is visible from every screen, and it has lots of info with volume setting, current playback icon, time, wi-fi indicator, and battery with a percentage display (as enabled in settings). You also have access to shortcuts when you swipe up the screen which brings up BT toggle, WiFi toggle, gain select, replay gain setting, line out, and timer. Below it, you have a swipe bar to adjust brightness, volume, and a small window to control the playback of the song with play/pause/skip buttons and the name of the song.