What seems like forever ago, in Hi-Fi years, Echobox lit up Indiegogo with their campaign for a new, interesting looking portable music player called the Explorer.
The final product only just recently arrived at my door and they were also gracious enough to send me the awesome USB/Charging-Dock for the unit. How cool!
I had a blast with this product, so let’s just jump right into the review.
The Explorer – Build and Design
This DAP (originally $699 and now listed at $599) comes in a variety of 4 wood exterior versions: Maple, Zebra, Mahogany, and Ebony. Naturally, I am giddy with glee over this because, well I like wood. Yep. I like wood and I am proud of it. I have an affinity for wood audio products and this one is actually gorgeous and a bit of a dream come true with regard to build and aesthetics.
I do think the shape of the player is very odd. It is flask-shaped and that is very unique, no doubt. But personally, I’d rather this just be a rectangular design that is more pocket-friendly. But, a minor gripe.
Build quality is fantastic, I’ve opted for Zebrawood on my unit because it is among my favorite woodcuts out there. The top plates are stainless steel and the exterior is a full cut of the wood with the LCD and internals mounted in the center area. The volume knob is a 100+ step rotatory-type and doubles as a power button. It feels great in the hand.
The USB-Docking station is also made of solid wood and looks stunning, which is using a standard micro USB lead. Thank God, I’m so happy it wasn’t the newer USB-C types that are getting more popular.
Boy, I’ll tell you what, if you are in an office setting and have that Explorer sitting on your desk, looking all fancy and gorgeous then best keep an eye on it or at least set up a hidden cam to make sure nobody thieves it from you. It really is that great looking as a duo. A woody duo. You can buy the Dock separate for an extra $45usd. Yum.
Ignore the stock music apps. Get onto Wifi immediately and do a Google search for the latest Hiby APP download. It will install one of the best, if not the best free music app on the Android market. For some reason, The Play Store doesn’t come on this player, so I had to download direct APK’s for any apps I wanted to install. Doesn’t bother me, less bloatware and memory saved, in my opinion.
Get Hiby and don’t look back, it functions wonderfully smoothly on this DAP. My 7000+ track listing on my micro-sd card takes a few minutes to scan and will actually scan all the media into the library. The stock music apps on my unit simply did not. Even search function for a specific song lead me nowhere. Hiby loaded everything on the card without a problem.
The system comes with 64gb on board, a 300mw amp circuit, TIDAL free for 3 months, a 3.5mm and optical output and lastly, Wifi and Bluetooth functions. All that on Android 6.0. Not bad, I approve.
The Power (300mW)
If you are running heavy Planar’s or inefficient products, this isn’t the DAP for you. Now, that isn’t to say 300mW isn’t just fine for use with most headphones. It certainly is. Just be careful with voltage matching and make sure you are sticking to headphones that aren’t power hungry or that benefit from a lot of juice.
I am able to run most of my gear to acceptable volume levels, but those headphones rated above 300ohm really do need more than what this Explorer has to offer in terms of power behind it. You’ll get by just fine though if you aren’t a snob like me. More on this subject matter in a sec.
Ouch. I was hoping the player would be highly musical and capable of responding to a lot of EQ on the low end. It really isn’t anything special in that regard and that likely is due to the Burr Brown 1792 chip selection inside, which I am not fond of subjectively. Objectively, it is very nice at this price point.
Quantity is the problem for me, not quality. Overall fidelity on the bass purity factor is just great for $599. In fact, I think it sounds very nice with the likes of my ZMF Auteur and even my Audeze MX4. True, it doesn’t do them justice. But for getting by on the go, it will suit you just fine if you are a purist.
This becomes an issue only when trying to EQ the player with various apps for music. It simply doesn’t register very much of an audible increase when boosting the bass end, you can also go overboard fast and warp the bass a little too much too fast. Definitely not for those who want a lot more bass, but just fine for those who will likely never touch EQ in the first place to notice the lack of response to boosting.
The physical locale of the presentation’s midrange is moderately forward. A middle ground, I’ve heard DAP’s much more forward and far more recessive in tendency, such as my Xduoo X20 for example which sounds like a bit of a cavern with a tendency to recess at times. I would not call this well set up for vocals, but more of a tailored sound for all-purpose listening. Which again, seems to be the general idea of the player: to appeal to the widest range possible of listener types.
Quality for $599 is very, very good. I have Hidizs’s newest DH1000 USB DAC that is meant for smartphones, a dedicated $200 DAC for a phone that doesn’t sound as nice in some areas as this Explorer does by itself, using the same Hiby app. So, that is a testament to quality allotted here. Vocals are just good to me overall and neither lacking nor outstanding. For this price, I get what I expect to pay for. I do not consider it an exceptional vocal value at this price range…and that has a lot to do with coherency issues.
Some players, some headphones rather, as well, have a very well formed and dynamic appeal to them. The physical size of things in the void, the air between, the realism factor, the entire presentation itself on a physical scale can sometimes be oddly set up, or very well set up.
The Explorer has some issue with how the midrange vocals are presented to my ear. By that, I mean, the vocals seem a bit too lacking in dynamics. They seem artificial to me and I desire more density of it at this price range. This is more prevalent in the upper midrange, where sometimes things get a bit nasal.
Don’t confuse that with sibilance. It isn’t harsh sounding. Just artificial sometimes. It may have a lot to do with bass purity being overly pure and the treble response being too nice by comparison. In turn, the upper midrange seems to play victim to the excellent treble above it, being slightly blurred out sometimes when I am listening to my favorite vocalists.
The strongest suit of this player is undoubtedly the top end. If you like sparkle and beautiful tone up top, this is for you. That stunning sparkle appeal is a stark contrast sometimes to the midrange and bass, making it seem very prominent in the treble region, but not in a painful way.
The player is not harsh up top at all, it just has a gentle and beautiful brightness factor to what is there and the density factor as well plays a big role there. Well-formed, responsive, fantastic tone.
This player, naturally, plays very well with Grado headphones and things known for great upper ends. I never felt the need to EQ anything, what was there was just to my liking and how I would prefer it to sound on pretty much all headphones during the testing phase. Quality is very good, as is general tonality and shimmer up top.
I recently acquired Hidizs’s DH1000 DAC, as mentioned, and it outperforms the Explorer audibly in staging properties. At $599, I don’t honestly expect massive staging a’la Calyx M or similar. But, what is there is just fine and not lacking at all.
I am a sound stage lover, it is my most important, subjective favorite piece of the experience. The Explorer’s height and width factor are moderate at best and not made any better by an also moderate amount of stage depth of field. All around, the player is just good at what it does here.
The biggest factor that remains a downfall for me is separation and air between instruments. That factor of the imaging experience needs to be better, it needs to feel more effortless and expansive. Don’t let that sway you though, if you aren’t using a very wide field headphone or a headphone in general known for exceptional staging, you won’t likely notice.
Gripes with Wifi
Okay. What on Earth is up with the Wifi and speed factor here for Internet usage. Holy smokes. That is literally the slowest Wifi I’ve ever seen on any portable device ever. It actually took minutes to download the Hiby app, whereas my iPhone SE on the same WiFi took merely 20 seconds, maybe faster. APK downloading of apps took forever. This is really bad guys, seriously. Please, fix that in the future models.
Beyond that, Wifi destroys the battery life on this Explorer, and also seems to pick up some static from radio transmissions it seems? Eh…not sure how I feel about that, but you can also always just turn it off. You likely bought this for SD card usage and not streaming or Bluetooth, so I can forgive those flaws easily.
This is a great portable player with some issues. But, they are all forgivable for me because the sound quality makes up for it. They really aren’t a hassle unless you are using the player for streaming and WiFi needs. If that is the case, why? Just why? The player is clearly intended for audiophiles using quality tracks on an sd-card and not loaded through Spotify or streaming apps anyway.
The screen is very low quality, but the rest of the build is excellent and stunning. Skip the stock apps and sideload Hiby for a much smoother and less stressful experience for music enjoyment.
The Explorer’s price is fair for what is offered, I have no doubt about that. The bass end could have used a bit more quantity to balance the spectrum out, but otherwise, still sounds very nice overall.
Explorer Technical Specifications
- Hardwood Chassis
- Android Operating System 6.0
- 24-Bit/192kHz DAC:
- WiFi & DLNA:
- Tidal + USB Audio Player Pro Apps:
- Bluetooth 4.1:
- Analog & Digital Outputs:
- 3.5″ LCD