The tonality of the AP100 is warm to neutral with a tilt to sounding more natural than analytical. It possesses an easy going flow to the sound yet keeps a certain but very welcome fullness that prevents it from ever sounding too thin or brittle. I adore the fullness in the sound of the AP100 and combined with its laid back feel it evokes thoughts of the older X3 Gen 1 or the E17 DAC from FiiO but quite a bit more resolving and less colored on every level. It feels like a Wolfson chip has gone in there somehow with its organic tones but somehow modernized, souped up and sounding so much more confident and less mushy. It has impeccable manners for a DAP at this level with a better than average level of transparency and despite it not having the most dynamic of presentations it does suck you in. Most times I have used it I find myself listening for a good 3 to 4 hours without even batting an eyelid.
What you will find most noticeable about the response of the Ap100 is the rather even and balanced presentation it throws back at you. Bass is therefore more supportive and adding to that beautiful full sound rather than being a dominant force and overpowering the senses. It is even paced, reasonably tight with decent extension though not ground shattering and a slightly warm tilt to keep it pretty smooth. The detail is there just not the forcefulness so whilst it sounds suitably weighted it won’t be for the bass head. The level of neutrality and transparency though did play a few tricks on me when reviewing so depending on your IEM or headphone you might be able to extract a bit more slam or extension. My T10i indeed slammed with plenty of satisfaction when in use yet with the Westone 4 it sounded even paced and coherent and just how I like it in the low end. Bit of a chameleon in that respect.
Mids & Treble
Mids on the AP100 are pretty faithful to the core presentation being largely neutral with decent space and width. That fullness is present especially in the lower mids and whilst the vocal presence is not too far back in the mix and sounds well controlled it doesn’t have a huge level of texture compared to say the DX90 but definitely more natural sounding than the X3 Gen 1 and Gen 2. The AP100 has a really nice timbre on the upper mids especially with precise or exacting vocal work such as Enya and Buika which can often drop a huge dollop of sibilance, sound harsh or recessed with the wrong DAP. The X5 Gen 1 is not a vocalist DAP, especially with female vocals, but the AP100 rose to the challenge nicely.
Treble is smooth, clean and lacking in any harshness or glare. It does have a slight peak at the lower treble but really minor, just enough to elevate percussion and cymbal work when required and without spiking excessively to achieve that. This is not a tizzy or harsh treble response and it has decent articulation but not a huge amount of sparkle or zip and lacks a little upper extension compared to the DX90’s superior dynamic range or the FiiO X5 Gen 2 which sounds more confident at the top end. So whilst the detail is there this one is for relaxed long listening sessions.
The AP100 soundstage has excellent width and depth but not the most dynamic in terms of height or sub-bass extension with that neutral bass and a treble response that just calms down a little right at the top. Imaging and instrument separation is actually very good with the AP100 and it presents a very convincing ambience especially for acoustical tracks offering plenty of space and barebones percussion.
The slight weakness of an otherwise excellent value DAP was the level of noise with certain IEMs and headphones. Don’t go there with a Shure SE846, that 9 ohm hyper sensitive little fellow might just be too noisy for long term enjoyment. Sure you can avoid it with loud passages of play but say goodbye to your long term hearing in the process. Some IEMs up to around 30 ohms basically run the risk of background noise or hiss during silent passages of audio playback or in-between tracks. That is not a barrier to enjoying the AP100, far from it, I stand by my assessment as above, however it might be worth checking out how your earphone matches with it before buying the AP100.
I had slight levels of noise also with the 16 ohm/ 102db Dita The Answer (Truth edition) though lower than the Fidue A83 in truth. It truth though it would not have mattered much as the Dita was one of my least favorite matches out with the AP100 outside of the Noble 4 Classic with a tizzy top end and a far to edgy and metallic flavor from the upper mids onwards . The Noble 4 classic didn’t have huge levels of noise either but it just seemed way too flat with the AP100’s own neutral balanced signature. I didn’t have an issue with the detail and sibilance control was excellent with the Noble 4, just that it tipped it more from a musical experience to a thinned out analytical experience with none of that fullness seeping in. The Fidue A83 on the other hand coming in at 11 ohms was a bit more sensitive and by contrast felt like a veritable bag of angry snakes at all levels with the AP100. That is a shame but it is not unusual and very similar to the same problem Cypher Labs have/had with the Theorem 720 which is one heck of a reference amp for anything over 30 ohms also at low gain.
The Good Guys
Frustratingly I would love to be able to say this lower ohm, higher hiss analysis is a hard and fast rule for all earphones under 30 ohms but the 16 ohm IE800 was quite a solid performer with the AP100. This was actually one of my favorite pairings with the AP100 especially with vocals and acoustics such as Ambar Rubarth and the noise was nowhere to be seen. Even the 18 ohm Ultrasone Tio, a love hate relationship at the best of times, sounded very good indeed with the AP100 without any noticeable hiss at any SRC resolution or comfortable volume levels. The Sony XBA-H3 at 40 ohms was also a really nice match with excellent clarity and balance but just came off a little more metallic in the treble response than the IE800 which edged it out in terms of control and definition with the AP100. If you want to try and crank it up to bass heads levels then a quick switch to the RHA T10i brought an elevation in bass presence but with a minor level of noise though hardly noticeable. IEMs such as the Westone 4 at 31 ohms and the Custom Art Harmony 8 with a mighty 50 ohms did just fine and suffered very little from background noise with both sounding very smooth and detailed when paired with the AP100.
The DAP Off
The AP100’s pricing places it right in the heart of the budget audiophile DAP market so it wouldn’t take a leap of faith to figure out that most people would want to know how it compares to the likes of the X3 Gen 2, the X5 and the Ibasso models before opening their wallets. All of which have had a slight head start in terms of development and branding visibility.
Whilst I personally prefer the tonality of the AP100 to the FiiO Gen 1 X5 and gen 2 X3 form a holistic perspective there are some points to consider. Primarily the X3 gen 1 is the clear looser in this battle being ergonomically outdated and trickier to use and possessing a UI that is a hardware button user’s nightmare. It also has a sound signature that is far more colored and less resolving than the AP100 and thus feels relatively inflexible even it, musically speaking, still a relatively pleasant player to listen to. The Ap100 is also quite a musical little player but its technical superior, has a far more expanded and stable UI and superior amplification.
Things, depending on your preference, even up a bit more with the X3 Gen 2. For one the X3 Gen is smaller than the older X3, a better hardware and UI implementation with a superior level of resolution and codec range. In all the AP100 has its work cut out to beat the X3 Gen 2 on hardware and software maturity with its bulkier chassis, slightly dodgy microSD slot and rather more limited UI and inferior screen quality. The X3 Gen 3 has also a slightly better performing battery life than the AP100. However on sound quality the two are on a more even ground so to speak and this one may come down to a matter of preference. Noise wise the AP100 is second best to the X3 Gen 2 which does much better with sensitive earphones and headphones though the AP100 has a slightly stronger amp. Presentation wise my nod goes to the more natural sounding signature of the AP100 with its wider sound stage and thicker fuller sound which feels more engaging than the X3 Gen 2. I would even say the Gen 1 X5 sound signature is a step down from the AP100. That rather metallic or harsh treble and vocal presence on the X5 Gen 1 doesn’t sound as natural and clean as the AP100.
If it was not for the excellent Gen 2 X5 just released which cures a lot of irks I had with the Gen 1 version I think the AP100 would win against the FiiO DAPs purely on sound. As a user experience though the AP100 still has a bit to go but the rapid addition of features with every new firmware such as gapless playback, DSD software support, USB DAC, 32BIT playback and OTG means the AP100 is rapidly catching up in that respect.
Both the DX50 and DX90 seem to have stood the test of time a bit better than the original X3 and X5 and as of now less prone to endless hardware revisions. Instead they get better and better mainly through firmware updates and home brew versions on the main forums that keep these DAPs alive and kicking well beyond the original FiiO lifecycle of their gen 1 editions. Of course their major advantage over the AP100 is the touchscreen. Of course the DX series touchscreens, much like the AK series, are small and difficult to work with at times, especially if you have large thumbs. Small as the touchscreen maybe the clever edition of huge toy town style triple quick control buttons on the front panel of the DX series is what keeps the DX units fluid and easy to use on the go. It’s a clever blend of hardware and software UI and combined with their single hand friendly size and excellent functionality I rate the DX series as THE midrange series of DAPs to choose from right now.
That doesn’t mean the AP100 is trailing in their dust. The presentation of the AP100 is a bit more natural sounding than the older WM8740 setup of the DX50 with better imaging and separation. The battery life against the DX90 is reasonably competitive also. At times the natural enthusiasm and excellent dynamics of the DX90 can overload gear that is already bass dominant. The AP100’s slightly more laid back neutral approach and less extended highs can make it more amenable to a wider range of matches with headphones and earphones. Noise control though is superior on the DX90 by a wide margin, as is the control particularly in the vocal presence and top end extension. The background is also much blacker. So while both are excellent on detail, the DX90 presents that detail with a lot more spit and polish and less noise. The fussy crowd will want the DX90.
I had an enjoyable time with the AP100 and thanks to Tony and the team at Hifiheadphones for allowing us a lengthy time testing it also. The Hidizs AP100 is a solid release and given the incremental and rapid firmware updates are bringing out some really hardcore features such as DSD, 32BIT and gapless I can’t fault them for giving this a big push. It’s also priced just right to make it competitive among the budget leaders such as Ibasso and FiiO. Whilst it has a somewhat Spartan operating system it remains rock solid and easy to use. I like buttons what can I say.
Those from a touchscreen Gen Y/Z culture might find the AP100 just way too banal in bling and aesthetical impact but the staid looks belay a really nice piece of engineering and a rock sold build quality. It’s competitive in a completive market and it sounds very good indeed. It sounds better than anything FiiO churned for the X series at Gen 1 and a lot of DX50 users might be persuaded otherwise if given a second chance to decide before buying. The DX90 reigns supreme for me and the FiiO X5 Gen 2 is a whole new ball game but of course both are little bit more expensive than the AP100. Watch out for noise levels, matching might be a thing of try and then try again and sorry if you get the wrong match, it’s just one of those things. Now then did someone mention they are bringing out an AP300? Hmmmm…
- Screen size : 2.4 inches Resolution : 320×240
- Screen Material : TFT (26 million colors)
- Chips: CPU: JZ4760B, DAC: CS4398, SRC: CS8422, DSP: OS48L10, LPF: AD823A
- Frequency response range: 20Hz-20kHz
- SNR :108dB
- Total harmonic Distortion: <0.003%
- Headphone jack: 3.5mm
- Line out: 3.5mm
- Digital audio output/input: 3.5mm coaxial
- Built-in battery: 3000mAh
- Power interface: Micro USB
- Built-in memory: 8GB
- Data transmission: USB 2.0 high speed
- External memory: 64GB TF card (Micro SD card)
- Size: 107 x 65.5 x 16.2 (mm) Weight: 156g