Tonality9
Build & Functionality9
Software8.9
Matchability8.5
Value For Money9
8.9
Our Score

Disclaimer: This unit of the HiBy Music R3 is an engineering or prototype sample and contains an early beta firmware that will be upgraded to an international version by the end of the Kickstart Campaign when purchased units are shipped. 

Headfonics and Headfonia were the first chosen to test and review them a number of weeks ago. Thus, there may be some firmware updates between the time of this review and you receiving your production R3. 

The HiBy Music R3 digital media player first showed its little cute head in the Guangzhou Audio Show in November 2017.

At that time the focus was very much on the R6 flagship DAP but I did notice it and did remark on how beautiful it was. I also took a few pics but never got a chance to listen to it.

Well, its now March 2018 and the R3 is limbering up for a Kickstarter Campaign with a price of less than $250 making it, thus far, HiBy Music’s cheapest entry model digital player.

For those that love the HiBy Music OS but did not have the budget for the R6 or missed their original campaign, I would encourage you to look closely at the R3. It has a lot of very interesting features and an above average performance.

What Is The Pitch?

Enhanced Connectivity

HiBy Music is pitching the R3 as their most “connected’ entry level DAP and OS platform to date. The R3 sports not just bidirectional BT from their older platforms but also WiFi, DLNA, Airplay and streaming services integration including TIDAL. It is possible that this is just the tip of the iceberg since this is a beta firmware. That being said, no other HiBy OS powered device can claim to have more connectivity options than the R3 right now.

Touch-Controlled OS

The R3 is the entry-level digital media player in HiBy Music’s growing DAP line-up. It is also the first ever touch capable HiBy Music OS on an Ingenics powered X1000 SOC. That is big news because for years HiBy Music’s own Linux based OS was associated with non-touch though capable 3rd party DAP vendors.

Only on Android was HiBy Music ever a touch-capable OS either as a skin or dedicated app. HiBy Music is pitching the R3 as a lightweight but feature-packed touch version which they feel is a much more elegant solution than what has been previously available.

Top Tier DAC

Another big talking point is the inclusion of the ES9028Q2M DAC chipset in the R3. This is the same DAC as the R6 though only in single mode rather than dual. Still, for sub-$300 this is a first for a digital media player. Until this point, we have mainly seen AK4490 variants or older ES9018K2m chipsets in use. The ES9028Q2M is the mobile low-power version but still a big upgrade on those older versions. I have yet to hear a bad implementation using the new ESS chipsets.

<1Ω

Or more specifically less than 1-ohm output impedance on both balanced and unbalanced outputs. That is a pitch considering the R6, awesome as it is, had a 10Ω output impedance and requires something like an iFi IEMatch cable or a higher than 30Ω headgear to avoid low-z skewing. The R3 is being pitched as requiring none of that. What you plug in will sound exactly as it should.

HiBy Music R3

Build

Form Factor

The build on the R3 is beautiful. This is a small curved slimline DAP measuring 80mm x 26mm x 13mm and weighing in at just 95g. When turned off it reminds me a little of the Shanling M2s form factor though it is slightly shorter and a bit wider with more discreet buttons.

Front

The entire front panel is dominated by a beautiful 2.5D glass protective screen housing an LCD IPS display. The CNC aluminum chassis is contoured much in the same fashion as the R6 though curves at each corner are not quite as pronounced. Just enough for a small recessed panel top and bottom where the inputs and outputs are housed.

The physical controls are slimline and discreetly embedded on each panel with just enough tactile presence to find them but they do not stick out enough to disrupt the smooth cut aluminum panel lines.

HiBy Music R3

Back

The back panel does seem to be made of a glass. It is finished well but has more of a “hollow knock” in it than the M2s which is done in a similar manner. On the front bottom part of the screen bezel, you will find the HiBy moniker as well as on the back right in the middle.

Everything on the R3 feels discreet and well put together. There are zero sharp edges and just enough width and weight to feel very comfortable in the hand during use.

Screen

This is the physical star of the show. It dominates everything else and rightly so considering the big pitch is a touch-sensitive HiBy OS. They could have gone cheap but they didn’t with a 3.2″ IPS TFT  display sitting in nicely behind a 2.5D glass screen protector. I remarked before on the M2s review how eye-catching 2.5D glass is and it is the same effect on the R3.

The reduction in bezel width is similar to the R6 and does enhance the attractiveness of the R3 display. It is not totally borderless, there is some more depth of bezel at the bottom compared to the top.

HiBy Music R3

2.5D Benefits

If you look closely at the screen design you will notice a smooth curvature on the edge of the glass display known as a contoured edge. Basically, this bucks the old school design of a slightly raised bezel design with the glass sitting on top of the body creating a more seamless edge.

This is quite a high-profile design edge used now by a number of smartphone manufacturers such as Google and even Apple. Samsung’s curved glass is technically “3D” glass because of their bendable substrates and electronics whereas the R3 screen has none of that.

Legibility

Though the pixel resolution is not quite as good as the M2s version at 480 x 360px compared to 800 x 480px it does seem to be marginally closer to the 2.5G glass overlay than the 3″ M2s screen.

This is a bigger screen and it does seem to have better background lighting, color saturation, and even better viewing angles. There is a massive difference in legibility from similar distances between the two of them. IPS displays are so much superior right now to regular TFT panels.

Memory

Physical

The R3 has no onboard memory which is fairly close to the norm for a lot of budget to mid-fi DAPs. My guess is that in order to accommodate the ES9028Q2M and IPS  screen price tags something had to be cut and it was the onboard memory.

Instead, you get a single microSD card slot that should hold up to 256GB or perhaps even more. Theoretically up to 2TB or beyond but since no cards exist of that size it remains a technical possibility only at this stage. I am unable to test 256GB cards as I simply do not have anything higher than my 64GB Sansdisk cards in exFAT which do work fine.

Virtual

Of course, this is 2018 and HiBy have mitigated the physical storage options with plenty of virtual storage routes including OTG (via USB-C) for flash drives, bi-directional BT to tap into other storage sources such as smartphones, DLNA (WiFi) for network servers and Airplay for Mac equivalent. Combined the virtual storage access could be unlimited, it depends on you.

As an example, my own tested setup included a USB flash drive at 64GB, a DLNA server streaming with capacity up to 4TB in audio and BT switched on tapping into my smartphone for an additional 128GB of audio. That setup gave me 4.192TB of additional storage options. That is not including any further cloud streaming services such as TIDAL.

HiBy Music R3

Battery

Ratings

The R3 battery is rated at up to 11 hours using the single-ended output, 9 hours using balanced and up to 60 days standby time. I was supplied with no battery specs in terms of size but the numbers are slightly above average for a player of this size, particularly with touchscreen and balanced output. My presumption at this stage is a 1800mAh – 2000mAh 3.7v Li-Polymer Lithium battery given the size of the R3.

Performance Factors

The numbers are close, I got a max 10 hours with single-ended but that dropped a bit with the use of hi-res DSD files or streaming in WiFi/BT. It will drop similarly below 9 hours if you use the balanced output. I cannot comment on the 60-day standby, sitting there watching it drain for 2 months would be akin to watching the fridge defrost over and over again.

Other environmental factors that can lower the battery such as keeping the screen on, high brightness and usage as well as any built-in DSP such as the 8-ball, high gain or EQ on. Overall, it is not up there with the Sony A35’s amazing 20 plus hours but certainly slightly better than the Shanling M2s and on par with the Cayin N3.

Inputs & Outputs

Jacks

The R3 has a pretty clean I/O interface with jacks on the top panel and a single USB-C port and microSD slot on the bottom panel. The jacks include both 3.5mm single ended and 2.5mm TRRS balanced and both have a rated output impedance of less than 1Ω – hurrah! The R3 will allow a fixed 1.1V LO from the 3.5mm output but it is not a true line-out as it will run through the R3’s internal amp.

SPDIF

At the time of writing, there is no dedicated SPDIF output from the jack sockets. Instead, you can use the USB-C output in much the same manner as Cayin DAPs for USB-C to coaxial output and I believe retail packages will come with a converter cable to do that. You cannot use Cayin’s own supplied cable due to differing USB-C pin configurations inside Cayin DAPs.

USB-C

The USB-C, like the Cayin DAC’s, is really the hub of wired connectivity for the R3. Outside of SPDIF, you can also connect to your PC or Mac for charging and microSD card mounting for drag and drop file management.

With a flick of a system setting OS button, you can also change from mounting and charging to USB-DAC and charging mode. In Windows 10 it will load automatically using the universal 2.0 driver. With earlier versions, you will need to wait until HiBy officially rolls out a downloadable USB driver.

HiBy Music R3

Controls

The R3 has two sets of physical controls. The first is the touch screen and it controls pretty much everything outside of volume, power, and playback when the screen is turned off.

Touch

The touchscreen is excellent. It has one of the best capacitive touchscreen response times and accuracy levels I have seen outside of Android and Apple devices. Combined with the 2.5D curved glass it is even easier to use due to the lack of bevel edging breaking your swipe.

Physical

The second set of controls are the more traditional type found on both side panels. On the left side, you have a volume rocker with a 100 half-dB step range much in the same range and manner as the R6. On the right side to the top, you have a dual function power/LED on/off button with a small LED light that exudes a generally light pink color when turned on.

Although not present in this firmware edition HiBy have confirmed that the color coding will change by the end of the campaign to reflect the decoding rate and if it is charging or not. The LED color changes are as follows:

  • Color definitions (to be implemented):
  • On (nothing playing): blue
  • Playing (under 48kHz): blue
  • Playing (48kHz-192kHz): green
  • Playing (192kHz+): orange-yellow
  • Playing (any DSD): white
  • Charging: pulsating red

HiBy Music R3

Accessories & Packaging

Again, since this is an engineering sample our package is not 100% refined but it is fairly close. The R3 box is a little smaller than the R6 and is a mix of cardboard and vinyl finished packaging with cardboard pockets inside a black two-piece box.

HiBy Music R3

The R3 is nestled on the top of a foam protected layering. My sample did not seem to have any wrap which I would like to see added to the final production release to prevent accidental damage and contamination from dust and moisture.

HiBy Music R3

Underneath you will get a fairly robust and lengthy manual on how to operate the R3 including its technical specifications. You will also get a single USB-C to USB-A cable for charging and data transfer duties.

In the retail package, you should also be getting a USB-C to coaxial cable and I presume screen protectors and optional case protection as it really needs that. The USB-C to USB-A cable will also double up as a USB-DAC wired connection.

Click below for Page 2: Hardware and Software Performance

 

44 Responses

  1. Jeff

    Glad to hear that, I really like the sound out of my AP200, but I’m tired of the slow and buggy interface, as well as the continued Beta firmware releases that don’t really seem to improve anything. (to the point I can’t use the newer releases because it makes the DAP not see music on my SD card when in Android mode)

    Gonna sell my AP200 (hopefully) and pick up an R3 when they’re available for retail I think.

    Reply
    • Marcus

      Hi Jeff, welcome to Headfonics. I did not personally experience the AP200, Mike reviewed it long before all the issues piled up. I am not sure what the story is now with the R3 post campaign, I think they are still fulfilling pre-orders from the campaign so yes, the best advice is to wait until that is done and it is in a retail outlet.

      Reply
  2. Hans

    Hi Marcus, you mentioned that 9028 SABRE DAC seems to have less treble glare than some 9018 models you heard. Do you have any examples to share? Thanks :)

    Reply
      • VintageFlanker

        Oppo Sonica has a E9038 PRO inside, not a 9028QC.

      • Marcus

        Correct which is why I wrote 9028/38 devices in the review since it was me who reviewed the Sonica DAC last year. I tend to find both 28/38 to deliver the same style of treble and both smoother than the 18.

  3. Yalcin Inel

    Hello Marcus,

    Thanks for the wonderful review. How would you compare the R3 with an iphone? Or a ZX300?

    Reply
    • Marcus

      Smaller, cheaper, shorter battery life, all touch sensitive, better sound quality than an iPhone, not sure about the ZX300 but then it is more expensive. Better wireless options than a ZX300.

      Reply
  4. Dilpal

    Hi..Nice review. I have very peculiar need. I want to stream Spotify or other Indian music streaming services on my smartphone through LDAC to hiby R3 for my wired earphones. Can hiby R3 do it?

    Reply
    • Marcus

      As per my review currently its TIDAL but it does not mean it “can’t do” Spotify. It is possible HiBy may introduce a Spotify option in a later firmware. You have to remember this is not an Android platform. The BT specs are at the bottom of page 3 by the way for codecs.

      Reply
  5. superuser1

    Hey Marcus!
    Thanks for the review.. good in-depth one. Would you be able to comment on the R3 being used as a transport to a Micro iDSD BL? Thanks

    Reply
  6. Hans

    Hi Marcus, I just stumbled upon similarly-priced (for now) Onkyo DP-S1 and Cowon Plenue D. Do you have any advice on choosing between them?

    I listen to only FLAC through unbalanced DSD, so connectivity, UI, DSD support etc is not important, just sound :)

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Marcus

      I have not heard the Onkyo DP-S1 and been too long since I heard the Cowon to give you any advice on either.

      Reply
  7. Hans

    Hi Marcus, thanks for the great review!

    I was wondering if you can share your thoughts on 3 questions:
    1) Are there gain settings to deal with the slightly lower output power? My V20 drives Pinnacle PX (same as P1) fine as well as HD600 but I’m wondering if the R3 will work out.

    2) Did you notice any difference between the 2 digital filters?

    3) For sound, do you have any favourites at this price range? I’m looking for an all rounder that I can still come back to, even when I upgrade later on. My V20 drives easily, but while detailed and resolving is a little cold. Also, both separation and soundstage aren’t the greatest. For example, would a Shanling M3S work better? Interface and wireless aren’t important to me as I usually listen on the commute using shuffle, so 3.5 unbalanced is what matters for me.

    I listen to anything from classical orchestral works (timbre matters), jazz (bass matters), EDM and Rock (details and congestion), and vocals (separation matters), so I unfortunately need to find a jack of all trades.

    Thanks and cheers!

    Reply
    • Marcus

      Hi Hans

      Thanks for the compliment, appreciate your input and thank you for visiting.

      1. There is high and low gain in the play settings.
      2. Not so much for me to be like an EQ or MSEB, MSEB is really going to be where you will really work the sound signature to your liking on the R3.
      3. M3s I think I already compared to the R3 but at this price range, you start with the Cayin N3, HiBy R3 and the Colorfly C10 (with IEMatch 3.5mm cable) as my own personal choices.

      Let me know what you decide to go for!

      Reply
      • Hans

        Hi Marcus,

        Thanks for the comments! You can delete my duplicate one further down the page if needed :)

        I think I will leave EQ and MSEB off although MSEB sounds very interesting. I saw there is a separate Digital Filter setting: “Slow Descent” or “Sharp Drop”. Are you able to try that out? I think it is similar to the Digital Filters on Shanling models and other DAPs.

        I tried the N3 but didn’t find a big difference from my V20. M3S was maybe slightly better but I didn’t spend a lot of time, and it costs more than the R3. Looks like it will be the R3 (unless you know how the Sony NZ-A35/45 compares)? The C10 looks a little too large though.

        Cheers!

  8. ALBERTO MARTINEZ

    Excellent review Marcus!
    I am looking really for a transport, I mean, a device with wifi and Tidal able to store downloaded Tidal tracks/albums/playlists into the mSD card (as bigger as possible), with a decent 3.5mm jack output to pair with Etymotic ER4PT and with and USB-C or SPDIF or coax aoutput to pair with Mojo.
    Is HiBy R3 the wanted transport?
    If not, which one?
    Thanks

    Reply
      • ALBERTO MARTINEZ

        Thanks for quick answer, but is it sure Tidal downloads will be stored in the mSD card?
        Which USB C OTG cable do you recommend?

  9. Hans

    Hi Marcus, thanks for the review.

    I was wondering if you can share your thoughts on 2 questions:
    1) Are there gain settings to deal with the slightly lower output power? My V20 drives Pinnacle PX (same as P1) fine as well as HD600 but I’m wondering if the R3 will work out.

    2) For sound, are there any other DAPs to consider at this price range? I’m looking for an all rounder that I can still come back to, even when I upgrade later on. My V20 drives anything easily, but the SABRE implementation while detailed and resolving is a little cold. Also, both separation and soundstage aren’t the greatest. For example, would going with a X3 III or Shanling M3S work out better? Interface and wireless aren’t important to me as I usually listen on the commute using shuffle, so 3.5 unbalanced is what matters for me.

    I listen to anything from classical orchestral works (timbre matters), jazz (bass matters), EDM and Rock (details and congestion), and vocals (separation matters), so I unfortunately need to find a jack of all trades.

    Thanks and cheers!

    Reply
    • Hans

      Hi Marcus,

      In addition how do you find the 2 digital filters in comparison to each other?

      Thanks!

      Reply
    • Hans

      Hi Marcus, in addition can you share the difference between the 2 digital filters? Thank you :)

      Reply
  10. tashikoma

    Will this device receive other streaming apps like Spotify or Qobuz ?

    Reply
    • Marcus

      As per my review comments, its too early to tell if HiBy Will do that but I do not see why not at a later stage with a firmware upgrade.

      Reply
  11. Ryan

    Would you be able to compare this to the Cowon Plenue D? I am looking for something that is very portable but still sounds good and is musical. I was less than impressed with the Hidizs AP200. Nice clean sound, but poor UI. I listen to most genres but probably listen to rock and classical/movie soundtrack the most. My primary headphones are ThinkSound ms02, Primo8, and HD6XX (don’t expect to use these on portable), and ThinkSound ON2.

    Reply
    • Marcus

      I cannot compare to the D sadly as I do not have on hand to say much about it. That being said it does come packed with a heck of a lot more features than the D and much more fluid and easier to use than the AP200. I don’t see any issues driving your list outside of the HD6XX. Its rated power is fairly small and more suited to IEMs and portable cans.

      Reply
  12. Mitch

    Hi Marcus,

    You did mention testing the R3 with the Andromedas – does it turn the Andros into a warm, soppy mess, like most other sub 1-ohm output DAPs? I still find that the ZX2 pairs best, with the ZX300 and X5iii on high gain close seconds, all on SE.

    Reply
    • Marcus

      I never liked the ZX2 with the Andromeda, to be honest, it is a bit dark sounding with a higher noise floor. That being said I never felt the Andromeda go to mush on the R3. High gain? lol. oh man, the Andromeda on low gain is plenty :)

      Reply
  13. gtj

    Hi Marcus,

    How would you compare it with X5iii soundwise?
    They seem to be comparable from what I read.

    Reply
  14. Juan Luis

    Hi Marcus,

    How does it compare to the cayin n3 that I have? As it describes it, it would seem to share a similar sound signature.

    Reply
  15. Loganaden Balakrishna VEERAPEN

    Big thanks Marcus for the review (reviews which I always very much enjoy btw). In terms of sound quality alone how would you rate the R3 against the iBasso DX50?

    Reply
    • Marcus

      It has been a very long time since I heard the DX50 so take this with a pinch of salt but I would certainly say the R3 is more resolving for a start. The WM8740 chip was a fav of mine but it won’t upsample or natively decode to the same extent as the R3.

      Reply
      • Loganaden Balakrishna VEERAPEN

        Thanks Markus. I am really looking for an upgrade rather than a sidegrade. Plus the R3 brings back memories of my beloved D2 with its form factor and the Mage 8 ball (akin to Jet Effect).

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