Quick aesthetic impressions aside, it’s now time to discuss what matters the most and the key reason why I bought this player — the sonics. This player indeed sounds very nice and easily destroys an unamped iPod, Sony player or Sansa Clip+. It’s lean, fast, and to my ears teeters just slightly north of neutral, meaning it walks the line between neutral and analytical.
Although lean, the bass sounds nice and full; in other words, it has the authority and punch, but is still tight and detailed. Mids are a bit on the dry side and in my opinion a perfect match for my Sony EX600 and jPhonic K2 SP. I generally like dry mids, so for me the mids were a very nice surprise. As for the highs, they’re bright and full of energy, but not overly splashy, without the harsh sound of someone running their fingernails down a chalkboard. However, people who are a little touchy concerning treble may still want to give this player a second thought before committing their hard earned money to it.
With that being said, though, I personally think it’s far from harsh and would describe it more as possessing forward-sounding highs, as the treble hasn’t been overly smoothed over and doesn’t roll off early like it does on my iPod Touch. I’m also both happy and very relieved to report that the hiss issues reported from users using older generations of the Studio V is almost completely nonexistent for me. When using my Sony MDR-EX600, I can hear a very very soft hiss, but only if I listen very closely. I doubt I would’ve noticed it otherwise.
The most interesting thing about this player is it seems to love all the gear I hook up to it. Believe it or not, the Beyerdynamic DT1350 sounds quite good on it. Originally, I believed that the DT1350’s loaded treble would be way too energetic with this DAP, only to wind up with mud on my face when I actually hooked the two up and realized the treble was more detailed and astonishingly slightly smoother in the upper mid to lower high transition. The effect wasn’t night and day, of course — I still had some sibilance problems with badly recorded music, but overall, I was quite happy with how the DT1350’s treble was presented on the Studio V.
Next up was my V-MODA M-80. I thought the M-80 sound signature would become leaner with this DAP, only to be shocked to find the mids were now more detailed, yet still as warm as before. Unfortunately, the M-80’s highs were still flat, which came as a bit of a disappointment, considering that I was hoping this player would be the one to give the M-80 a little more life up top. Oh well, can’t win them all, I guess. On the plus side, the bass seemed a little less bloated and the slight bleed into the lower mids seemed to have improved.
From there, I decided to hook up my recently acquired V-MODA M-100 headphone, which has a very strong, forward sounding bass. The M-100 sounded very nice on the Studio V; I realized that the bass, while still quite powerful and forward sounding (it has 8 db of boosted bass in its lower frequencies) was now a little more detailed and just a hair quicker, compared to my Leckerton UHA-4 amp. The M-100 highs seemed well-defined, and although the Studio V didn’t really boost them, they did seem very well-extended. Overall, I would have to say that the overall sound signature of the M-100 sounded slightly cleaner on the Studio V. I’d like to add that, and maybe it’s just my ears, while the M-100 has a slight U-shape in its mids, when paired with the Studio V that slight U becomes even more apparent. Even more interesting is when I hooked up gear known for being mid-centric, the mids suddenly seemed to become more prominent as well. Yet, as I started throwing more gear at the Studio V — Grado SR60i, Sony MDR-EX600, Westone 4, j-Phonic K2 SP, Ortofon e-Q7, Heir Audio 4.A — I started to realize that this player really had no real coloration of it’s own but instead preferred to disappear and let the gear it was hooked up to do its thing.
So far, the Studio V, 3rd Anniversary is looking like a really great player, isn’t it? Sonically, I have to admit I’m very happy with it. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, battery life is in the double digits (50 to 80 hours). I thought those numbers sounded farfetched myself until I got the player. Over a span of roughly two weeks from its initial full charge, it was still showing two out of four power bars despite roughly three to five hours of daily use. Two days ago, I decided to plug it in again and let it recharge overnight — so far I’m still seeing full bars of charge on the display.
Another thing I think is worth mentioning is this player’s versatility in driving gear. Most of my stuff is known for being efficient. Probably the most demanding item that I have is the DT1350, which in the big scheme of things isn’t really that demanding, compared to other headphones. To try and test this player’s amp section, I shot by a fellow head-fier’s home and let him have a listen. This gentleman is known around my city for having a wide selection of headphones, one of which is the 600 ohm AKG K240 Sextette. I didn’t expect the Studio V to drive this headphone properly, and neither did he; yet, while it took maxing out the volume meter, the Studio V did drive it to an acceptable volume level with only some minor control and clipping issues in the lower bass region. Although I’ve heard these headphones being driven far better by other more powerful gear, I was nonetheless rather impressed that it was even able to drive it at all.
The player is now really starting to sound like a real winner isn’t it?
Well, don’t get too excited; it’s now (unfortunately) time to talk about the Studio V’s Achilles heel — the UI. In short, considering this player retails for a suggested street price of around 500 bones, the UI can only be described as completely unacceptable. The only good news is that even though the UI is still stable enough to make the player work for you. Let me try and explain. When you first turn the player on, you’re greeted with a HiSound logo and from there the player quickly scans your microSD card. A few seconds later, the main Music app appears. Now, if you hit the music app and navigate through any music on its internal 4GB memory, generally you’ll be OK. But, if you try to navigate through music on your microSD card, look out boys and girls, what you hear will sound like utter crap. Your music will play, but it will clip and pop and if you simultaneously try navigating around to find other music. Every click of a button will be met with a clip and a pop. I’m not even going to get into the buggy playlist creation option, because no matter what I did, I couldn’t get it to work. To get around that, I eventually just created a folder on my laptop and named it (genre name) playlist and loaded it into my player as just another music folder.
Thankfully, there’s a workaround for all this silliness. If you completely ignore the Music app and navigate to the Resource Manager app, after clicking on it, you’ll then be greeted with two options: ‘external memory’ and ‘internal memory’. Select ‘external memory’ and navigate through your music to your heart’s content because the Resource Manager app, unlike the Music app, works not too poorly. I did notice an odd little clip or pop once in a while, but overall it worked to my satisfaction. Although I’m quite happy that the Resource Manager works well enough to make the player work for me, I still can’t help but feel a little put out and bummed that such a pricey DAP’s UI is buggy in such a way; I can’t help but wonder what was HiSound thinking when they decided to release the Studio V with only half its UI running smoothly.
So, if that wasn’t bad enough, let’s have a quick talk about the load times of the microSD card slot. If you’re coming from iTunes or some other music management software where your music is heavily tagged with metadata like year, album, art, etc. then I suggest that after re-encoding, that you get even busier and start stripping your tags down to the bare minimum. Otherwise, you’ll be sitting there all day for the Studio V to fully populate the music from your microSD card. I personally stripped all my music tags down to only album artist, album title, and genre. With only those tags, a full 32 GB card would load well within a couple of minutes. If I didn’t do that, though, I would find myself waiting triple or quadruple that amount of time.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it — this player, for me, a longtime iPod/iTunes user, required a lot of extra work in the re-encoding, tag stripping, re-tagging, and reordering of my music until I finally got it up to the speed where I could say I could just load up my music and walk out the door (like I would do with my other players). What was particularly frustrating about the process was all the extra work wouldn’t have been necessary if only the UI wasn’t as flawed as it was and actually worked the way it was intended.
Final judgment — the HiSound Studio V, 3rd Anniversary Edition is a very nice-sounding player that checks off two of my three must-haves for a player. Sonically, it’s a very capable player that will make your gear shine. All the gear I owned seemed to synergize quite well with it, to the point where the player was just transparent and I could just forget about it and concentrate on my music as well as whatever headphone/IEM I was using at the time. Physically, its form factor is the perfect size for mobile use. Rugged and solid in the hand, it feels like it will stand up to the test of time. Interface-wise, however, it falls flat on its op amp, as its poor OS and lack of ALAC file support force the user to have to put in a lot of extra work in re-encoding and re-tagging files, as well as forcing the user to figure out various workarounds for its buggy OS. If HiSound releases a firmware update in the near future to fix or maybe even completely eliminate the bugs in its Music app and the playlist section, as well add more file support, this player could be a great player. As it is, however, the poor OS and limited file support holds this player back immensely. If HiSound decides not to further develop this player with a proper firmware update, then they’ll only be shooting themselves in the foot. The Studio V is a very nice-sounding player but has a premium price tag attached to it, so the buggy OS and limited file support in this price range is absolutely unacceptable to any customer who chooses to invest so much on an MP3 player.
TheDigitalFreak is an middle-aged music and (C)IEM enthusiast born two decades before his time. He views being labeled an audiophile by his peers a joke yet loves to mix and match gear in order to attain different types of sonic coloration for his music. Above all, he tries not to lose sight of the joy music provides; it is ultimately what matters, rather than the gear playing it.
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