R2 Sound Analysis.
I prefer to describe DAP sound based on the comparison to other DAPs and pair ups with different IEMs since the DAP by itself doesn’t have a “sound”. What we hear is how it sounds through IEMs connected to it or the difference relative to other sources using the same pair of IEMs for monitoring the sound. As a result, this section of the review usually summarizes what I find in the Comparison.
In a summary, I found R2 to have a neutral sound signature with a slightly warmer and natural tonality. It’s not super detailed technical audio player, but it is on par with many other similar mini-DAPs with above average soundstage expansion and average imaging, as well as having average layering and separation of the sounds. Basically, the sound is smooth and natural, not lacking any details, and it actually stands out with a little extra impact in the bass, more organic mids/vocals, and clear non-fatigue treble response.
When compared to other similar DAPs, using EE Odin for monitoring, volume matched in every comparison I found the following:
R2 vs Shanling M0 – very similar soundstage expansion and imaging, and the overall technical performance between these two is not too far off. Tonality has a slight variation where I hear R2 being a little smoother and more organic in mids, you can hear it especially in vocals, while M0 is a little more neutral and a touch brighter in comparison. The bigger difference here is in usability and functionality where you have a bigger display for easier navigation and dedicated playback and volume buttons, plus Tidal/Qobuz streaming, MQA, MSEB, and audio recording.
R2 vs Shanling Q1 – in this comparison Q1 soundstage is actually a little wider, while both have a similar soundstage depth/height, and imaging is similar as well. Similar to M0, tonality has the same difference with R2 being smoother and more natural with some additional warmth, while Q1 being more transparent and brighter in comparison. With both having a bigger display, the navigation and usability is a lot more pleasant, but I still find R2 to have the advantage of being lighter and a little smaller, more compact, and with improved functionality since it covers Tidal/Qobuz, audio recording, MSEB, and MQA.
R2 vs Hidizs AP80 Pro (AL) – SE: very similar soundstage expansion and imaging, and the overall technical performance between these two from single ended 3.5mm output is not too far off. As expected, tonality has a slight variation with R2 being smoother and more organic while AP80 Pro being a little brighter, thinner, more transparent. BAL: while AP80 Pro 2.5mm output widens the soundstage and has improved imaging (when compared to its SE port), with a help of FD1 dac/amp you can match this performance when you use R2 + 2.5mm FD1 output which also expands the soundstage and improves the imaging, though tonality of R2 in mids is a little bit smoother with fuller body. R2+FD1 cost the same as AP80 Pro, so it is not only the match in audio performance but also in price. Overall, AP80Pro is similar in size as R2, though has a portrait orientation of its rectangular display, while R2 display orientation is panoramic. Plus, R2 has Tidal/Qobuz access, MQA, and audio recording. But keep in mind, while their 3.5mm SE performance is nearly the same, to match AP80Pro BAL output you will need FD1 stack up.
R2 vs Hiby R3 Pro – Difference here is very similar to AP80 Pro comparison above. SE: very similar soundstage expansion and imaging, and the overall technical performance between these two from single ended 3.5mm output is not too far off. As expected, tonality has a slight variation with R2 being smoother and more organic while R3 Pro being a little brighter, thinner, more transparent. BAL: while R3 Pro 2.5mm output widens the soundstage and has improvement in imaging (when compared to its SE port), with a help of FD1 dac/amp you can match this performance when you use R2 + 2.5mm FD1 output which also expands the soundstage, even a little bit wider, and improves the imaging, though tonality of R2 in mids is still a little bit smoother and has a fuller body. R2+FD1 cost less than R3 Pro. Overall, R3 Pro is a little bigger than R2 and also has a bigger display. Functionally, they are identical except R2 also adds audio recording. But keep in mind, while their 3.5mm SE performance is nearly the same, to match R3 Pro BAL output you will need FD1 stack up.
R2 vs FiiO M5 – I can’t compare the sound quality since I don’t have any experience with M5, but with a little bigger display for better visibility (2.45” vs 1.54”), dedicated volume, playback, power buttons instead of shared volume/power button, better battery (15hrs vs 10.5hrs), and ability to stream Tidal/Qobuz all for the same price, on paper R2 looks like a better value.
R3 Pro, Q1, R2, AP80 Pro, M0
When it comes to budget entry-level audio gear, many people buy on impulse because it is cheap and worth taking a risk, and often it ends up being a hit or a miss. In case of R2 and FD1, both end up being a hit in my book, learning from other “hits” in corresponding categories and adding more features to make them stand out. And even with Beans IEMs, while I don’t have any other $69 pair of earphones as a reference for comparison, their build quality, 2pin removable durable cable, and consumer friendly tuning are all impressive.
As an entry level $99 mini-DAP, R2 is not exactly groundbreaking because this space is already occupied by half a dozen of other little guys packed with lots of features. But Hiby did pick the display with the most practical size/performance ratio, small yet comfortable for touch screen operation. You have separate volume and transport controls, Tx/Rx Bluetooth with all the codecs, and can use it as a transport or USB DAC. And to make it stand out, they added audio recording and Wifi with built-in Tidal/Qobuz streaming app. While R3 Pro already has Wifi with Tidal/Qobuz, R2 is much smaller, making it the smallest and the cheapest DAP with Wifi and built-in streaming apps since a similar size AP80/Pro doesn’t have it.
When it comes to $59 FD1, the market of pigtail usb DAC/amps and usb-stick DAC/amps is already oversaturated. Some of the basic pigtail designs with DAC/amp chip built into the usb plug housing don’t even offer a significant sound improvement, just a convenience using with phones without headphone jack. Others try to push the envelope with higher end DACs, more powerful amps, and balanced output options. FD1 gives you both 3.5mm and 2.5mm. But its biggest advantage, as far as I can tell, is being the only product in this category with playback and volume controls where you no longer need to turn on your smartphone display to play, pause, or skip. Plus, its flat square shape integrates clean with any source when attached.
I can see that Hiby did their homework instead of rushing in to add another audio gadget to their existing catalog. And in my opinion, it paid off because these new Hiby entry level products offer something unique to make them stand out in a crowded market space occupied by other similar devices.