Going Pro, adding More!
PROS: a compact design with a very small footprint, balanced output, responsive touch screen, dedicated playback buttons, bi-directional BT w/LDAC, USB DAC and Digital Out, impressive sound performance, FM radio and step counter.
CONS: higher price of pro version.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
Seems like every manufacturer today releases a Pro version of their popular DAPs, regardless if it is an entry or higher end model. In the past “Pro” used to have a different meaning, sometimes referring to a modified design targeting a different group of users. Now, it is just an update or an enhancement, quite often giving a second wind to a product, making it more competitive in today’s audio market where even a popular model can become obsolete overnight. But regardless, one thing I did notice with many Pro releases, they try to keep exterior design close to original while updating internal components, often beefing up the spec.
It is usually not a problem when dealing with bigger size DAPs where you have plenty of space to update the internal design and components. But when you announce a Pro version of a mini size DAP, not much room left to play around with. That is exactly the reason why AP80 Pro announcement got my attention when I heard the preliminary spec of doubling the DAC, adding 2.5mm balanced headphone jack, and a new dedicated FPGA for higher rate DSD decoding. I was more curious what is going to happen to original AP80 size after going Pro. So, let’s find out about this and more in my review of the latest Hidizs release.
Unboxing and Accessories.
Similar to original AP80, Pro arrived in a small sturdy black box with a typical foam cutout tray to keep AP80 secure inside during the shipment. This was a straightforward basic small packaging for a small device. Top of the box had a silver logo of the company and the model name, while the back of the box had a detailed spec in 4 different languages, including English.
Inside you will find a selection of accessories, identical to the original player, which include Type-C usb charging/data cable, silicone skin protective case, Type C to micro-USB cable (maybe to connect to older devices), user manual, and a set of screen protectors with one already applied.
Silicone case is a nice addition since it doesn’t add too much bulk, easy to take off, and enhances the DAP grip. In theory, the DAP is small enough to have a secure grip in your hand even without a case. But if you need extra protection, this silicone skin case is actually not bad, though it is a lint collector. Hidizs also offers an optional leather case with arm-band for AP80 Pro, the same design as they had for AP80, but the case is not available for sale yet, should be soon. Please keep in mind, due to a small difference in size, AP80 cases are not compatible with AP80 Pro.
Similar to what I said in my original AP80 review, the small footprint of Pro is what makes it unique. Of course, it’s hard to beat the size of the original M0 micro DAP by Shanling, but after many months of using M0, I got a little frustrated with a small display and touch-only interface. At the same time, something like Hiby R3/Pro or Cayin N3 was a little bigger for my mini-dap preference. AP80 Pro, similar in size to the original M1, hits the bull’s-eye for me in terms of the size, touch screen display, hardware playback buttons, and a physical volume wheel.
Please note that, with an exception of a slightly bigger footprint and additional headphone port, AP80 Pro exterior design is nearly identical to AP80. If you look closer, Pro version is a little bit taller and a little bit wider with addition of a small beveled area on the left side and in the lower right corner. But the difference is measured in a few millimeters, and you have to look closer when they are side by side to spot it.
The main focus of AP80 Pro is edge to edge front facing Samsung 2.45” HD IPS touch screen with a reasonable 480×360 resolution. The back of AP80 Pro is glass as well, and the chassis around the sides are aluminum in the model I received. I also saw Copper version of AP80 Pro being teased by Hidizs, so expect that as well. The DAP is very small, measuring 61x56x13.8 mm and weight of 70g, in comparison to original AP80 aluminum which is 58x49x13.5mm and 66g.
Nothing is at the top, left side has spring loaded micro SD card slot (capable to support the latest high capacity flash cards), and at the bottom you have USB-C port, 2.5mm TRRS balanced port and 3.5mm TRS single ended port. USB-C can be used to connect AP80 Pro as usb DAC, used as a Digital out transport, and can transfer data as well as charge the device (type-C fast charge). The single-ended 3.5mm output can also accommodate headphones with in-line remote (needs to be enabled in settings) and could be also configured as Line Out (with a fixed max volume output).
The right side is where you have a volume knob at the top, Japanese ALPS. The volume knob has a nice click action as you turn in and some resistance for a better control which requires two fingers for a proper use. Volume knob also functions as a power button, long press to turn on/off, short press to turn display on/off. Due to a smaller wheel and dual volume/power functionality, on some occasions I was turning the display off as I was changing the volume. Thus, I preferred to use touch screen volume adjustment instead which pops up as soon as I start turning the wheel.
Below volume knob, you have 3 identical hw playback control buttons with Play/Pause in the middle and skip/forward/back above and below it. The buttons have a marking right next to them. All 3 buttons had a nice tactile click response, and nothing rattled as you shake the DAP. Also, these buttons don’t just skip forward/back with a single click, they also fast forward/back when you press and hold them.