In this test, I was using Meze Audio Empyrean and EE Odin to listen/compare DAPs. Each of these DAPs, besides a difference in tonality and pair up synergy, has their own Pros/Cons when it comes to features, all of which should be taken into consideration depending on your priorities if you need streaming or not, which balanced termination you prefer, how much output power do you need, battery, etc.
R8 vs iBasso MAX – I recently compared these two in my MAX review, but afterwards I put another 50+ hrs of playback time on R8 while running battery tests, thus any changes between these impressions are due to additional burn in time. R8 has a wide/deep soundstage expansion, but MAX is still a little wider. Bass response is very similar, once the turbo mode of R8 is enabled, perhaps with MAX being just a little faster in attack. Mids tonality is very similar too, though MAX has just a touch fuller body while R8 is a little more transparent and slightly more revealing. I hear treble to be similar as well. The vertical sound dynamics is close too, with MAX being a little more expanded in comparison to R8. If you are going to focus on sound performance alone, these are close enough in sound tonality with MAX having some advantage in technical performance. MAX also handles “quieter” very sensitive IEMs. But the gap widens by a lot when you compare Android performance where R8 is ahead by a noticeable margin (OS speed and Wifi/BT performance). Also, another advantage is R8 having dedicated hw playback buttons.
R8 vs Lotoo PAW Gold Touch (LPGT) – In this comparison soundstage expansion is very similar, with both width and depth being close. Also, vertical dynamics expansion is close enough, thus both share a similar technical performance. But I do hear difference in tonality. The bass response of LPGT is softer, especially in mid-bass when compared to R8 which has a faster punch with IEMs/headphones I used in this comparison. Mids are very similar, being more transparent and closer to reference (more revealing) quality. With treble, again, I hear the difference where LPGT has a little brighter sparkle while R8 “sparkle” is a little smoother and more natural. So, for example, Odin mids with LPGT sounds more forward while with R8 the overall sound is more balanced. Of course, have to keep in mind, R8 is an open Android DAP while LPGT is audio playback only device.
R8 vs Sony WM1Z – A lot of similarities in this comparison. Both have a very similar soundstage expansion, perhaps with R8 being just a touch wider. And overall technical performance is very similar when it comes to dynamics and layering of the sounds. Bass rendering is slightly different in this comparison where 1Z has additional sub-bass weight with a slower mids-bass, while R8 bass has faster and more articulate punch. Mids/vocals presentation and tonality are similar when A/B comparing with the same pair of IEMs/headphones. Treble is similar as well; I just hear a little more sparkle/air in R8. And again, keep in mind that R8 is an open Android DAP while WM1Z is audio playback only. One interesting observation, after handling R8 and MAX, WM1Z no longer feels heavy.
R8 vs A&K SP2000 SS – Relative to IEMs/headphones used in comparison, I hear a very similar soundstage expansion, maybe with SP2k being just a little bit wider. Also, similar to MAX, the technical performance is close enough, but SP2k still has an edge when it comes to vertical dynamics and sound layering. They are close, but SP2k is a little better. With lows, both have a fast and articulate bass response, though R8 has a little stronger punch and a bit more sub-bass rumble. Mids are very similar, being closer to natural reference quality, with SP2k being a little brighter and dryer. I also hear similarities in treble, perhaps with SP2k being a touch brighter while R8 being a little more natural and smoother. Relative to their OS performance, R8 pulls ahead with a fully open and faster Android OS where you don’t have any limitation which app you can install.
R8 vs R6 Pro – Last, but not least, I had a few people asking me how does R8 compares to its little brother R6 Pro. Of course, they are in a different category, but I’m sure some would like to know while considering the upgrade. Relative to full size headphones and IEMs, when going from R6 Pro to R8 (turbo on) I do hear a wider more expanded holographic soundstage and improvement in vertical dynamics where you can hear more air between the layers of the sound in R8. The extra voltage boost does make a difference in improvement of technical performance, while tonality difference is not exactly night and day. There are other subtle differences, for example, with R8 bass sounds more textured with dynamic drivers, noticeable in full size headphones and hybrid IEMs with DD bass. Also, a much faster Android performance (R8 has AnTuTu score 3x higher than R6Pro), more premium build quality, balanced Line Out, etc.
Other Wired/Wireless connections.
In this section of the review I will go over various wired and wireless connections I tested and verified with R8.
Digital usb-c out
Here, it is an easy plug’n’play functionality with everything working as is. First, I used Lotoo S1 and it was recognized without a problem. I was able to control the volume from S1 and R8. The sound was a typical S1 signature with a fuller body more natural tonality. Then, I connected micro iDSD BL which got recognized without a problem using a cheap USB-C OTG adapter. Volume can be controlled both from iDSD and R8. The sound is a typical iDSD sig with a more natural musical tonality.
With a provided micro USB to coax cable, you just plug it in, connect, and it works as is. I was using micro iDSD BL and everything was recognized without a problem. Actually, the sound was much better with Coax vs Digital out, having a wider soundstage, better dynamics, and even improved retrieval of details.
This connection was tested with Romi Audio BX2 amplifier. Looks like Line Out output of R8 is not fixed, and you do need to adjust R8 volume to raise the “pre-gain” input level going into BX2. BX2 tonality is super transparent, and as I result, I can hear R8 DAC output (LO) being a little more revealing and a touch brighter in tonality. This suggests that R8 own internal amp adds a little more body to the sound, but still not a lot of coloring. Also, with R8 + BX2 the output has a super black background, even with ultra-sensitive IEMs. This is an ULTIMATE desktop quality setup which can drive even my most demanding oBravo HAM Signature headphones (full size hybrid 40mm AMT + 57mm DD) to its full potential.
Using my ThinkPad T480s w/Win10Pro, I didn’t have to install any drivers, R8 was recognized right away. If you are still on Win7/XP, Hiby will provides drivers to support it. While connected, volume can be adjusted either from my laptop or from R8. Also, USB DAC screen on R8 has shortcut to access Audio Settings so you can change the digital filter, turbo mode on/off, gain change, and enable MSEB dsp effects while using R8 as USB DAC. Also, you have shortcut to Bluetooth to pair up with R8 wireless while it is connected as USB DAC. This can give your laptop the ability to use high res wireless codecs through R8, such as aptX, LDAC, or UAT. Regarding the sound quality, as USB DAC or directly from R8, it sounds very similar when playing the same song with the same pair of IEMs or headphones.
I was able to connect easily with any wireless pair of earphones and headphones I have access to. Highest supported codec was always selected by default. The connection was good over 50ft away from R8 in open area, and I was able to control playback from wireless earphones/headphones. This was also a great opportunity to test Hiby latest WH3 TWS earphones. Solid connection at 55ft away from R8, remote playback control is effortless, and I was using HibyBlue app loaded on R8 to adjust crossover in order to fine tune the WH3 sound.
I mentioned a few times in the intro of the review about R8 being able to tick all the boxes. Of course, we all have different requirements with different set of “boxes” to “tick”. Some want the best audio performance, while others willing to compromise in favor of faster system performance. Some want a source optimized for IEMs, while others desire power for full size more demanding headphones. Some want a bigger display, while others prefer optimized WiFi/BT performance. Some care about local files audio playback, while others need reliable streaming and Google Play support out of the box. It is hard to make everybody happy, to have one device to satisfy all the needs, but Hiby did push the envelope with R8 to get closer without cutting too many corners.
Hiby R8 is super-fast, and not just per my subjective option, but based on benchmark scores of being the fastest Android DAP at the current moment. It can handle not just IEMs but also some demanding headphones using its turbo-charged (literally) balanced output which can deliver up to 1W of power. It runs optimized Android 9 OS, has system wide MSEB dsp effects, supports DSD512, future proofed with MQA 16x, has a solid WiFi and hi-res BT. It is designed with high quality audio components, has a big display, solid build, and very unique packaging and accessories. In my opinion, R8 did not earn its flagship status just because it is the most expensive DAP in Hiby’s lineup. I see it as a flagship because it can challenge other big-name summit-fi audio players.