You thought the era of the good old portable media players was over? And that once the iPod sales dwindled, with it went the entire category as a whole? You might be correct, for the most part, since smartphones have taken over that responsibility for most users. However, Chinese audio company HiBy Audio wants to take another stab at trying to sell you a portable media player even though you may have a very capable smartphone or tablet within easy reach, that can also do the music playback seamlessly. But that is where the HiBy R3 media player does become a slightly complex purchase decision, considering its price tag of Rs 15,990 on headphonezone.in in India. But that is only till you don’t realize that this player can also handle high resolution audio very well.
You will surely be captivated by the compact design of the HiBy R3. This measures just 3.2-inches x 2.4-inches x 0.5-inches) and considering how we have become used to large smartphones, holding this up is a bit of a unique experience initially. The compact design holds a 3.2-inch IPS display, with the 480 x 360 resolution. Though this may seem very small, at least on the spec sheet, it’s a breeze to get used to it. It never feels too small, or cramped and at no point does text look too small or unreadable.
On the top spine of the HiBy R3 IS one 3.5mm port that is a headphone jack and a combination line out as well as a 2.5mm balanced output jack. The bottom spine has the USB-C port for charging the internal battery of the media player, and this port can also connect with optical audio receivers as long as you have the Type-C to optical cable. Then there is the micro SD card slot, which becomes critical since there isn’t internal storage to store music on—this can go up to 2TB of storage. You can choose between the grey and black color options—we can say from experience that the black finish is slightly on the glossier side.
Switch this on, and what greets you is the Linux based HiBy OS. It is with the usual trepidation that we approached the usability and the features available on the HiBy R3, but it is good to note that most things are in place. The interface does have some influences from the slightly older iterations of Apple’s iOS software for iPhone, iPad and iPod—including the controls that you access by the swipe up from the bottom of the screen gesture. All said and done, this is a fairly well laid out operating system, an even bigger achievement considering the rather compact screen size.
Under the hood is an Ingenic X1000E chip and an ES9028Q2M DAC (you would probably also know this as a digital-to-analog converter). The latter can be put to use to the fullest if you wish to use the HiBy R3 has a USB DAC, since this piece of hardware will do a significantly better job than the audio processing hardware inside most phones, for instance. To get this to play music, you really don’t have to struggle. The wireless options are galore too. This supports Apple AirPlay, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and DLNA. By default, the sound signature of the R3 is balanced, and what you get additionally is the 10-band sound equalizer. It is critical that you pair this with a really high quality pair of headphones, earphones or speaker to actually be able to enjoy the finest of details this can pull out from the music that you play. There is good reason for that—the HiBy R3 can play DSD256, PCM up to 384Khz/32bit, FLAC, WMA, DSD IOS, APE, DFF, WAV, AIFF and OGG audio formats. That pretty much all the bases covered. Anything that you hear on this, will sound significantly better than what your phone or PC can manage, with the same headphone or speakers connected.
Battery life is a strong point. The 1,400mAh battery lasts about 12 hours on a single charge for continuous music playback, with the display brightness set at 20 percent and volume set at 50 percent. That is a rather strong aspect.
At a time when the entire genre is feeling quite ignored, HiBy hasn’t made the R3 feel unloved. This is in many ways a pocket sized rocket, which doesn’t compromise on specs, the software and the overall experience. Yes, it does cost a lot of money though and that is the problem—can you really justify spending money on this when you may have a fantastic smartphone already? Can your ears really enjoy the extra details the R3 can reproduce? Do you really have a fantastic set of speakers at home that could do with some magic that a DAC can inject into the experience? Whether you buy this or not, will depend on how you answer these questions.