Shozy Alien+ ($450): The Alien+ represents the complete opposite of the R6. Its UI is completely archaic with just the bare essentials, especially when compared to the slick, fully-featured Hiby. And though navigation is quick on the Shozy, its very limited file support makes it feel like a DAC/AMP with inbuilt GUI over a DAP; and using the Alien+ as a USB DAC does mitigate most of its functional shortcomings. Physically, the Alien+ is basic and with sharp edges, but there’s a nostalgic beauty in its simplicity. It’s as compact as the R6, but its control scheme requires some practice. The Alien+ has a very short battery life of 6hrs, just half that of the R6. This is because the Alien+ delivers 24V to its audio hardware intended for desktop designs.
As such, it’s in listening that the Alien+ excels. It has a similar signature to the R6 but is a little more subtle in its sculpting, providing greater balance and transparency. The R6 has slightly more sub-bass slam while the Alien+, though still slightly more impactful, is more neutral in its low-end, sounding cleaner as a result. Both DAPs are slightly laid-back in their midrange presentation, the Alien+ less so. I also found the Alien+ to provide a touch more clarity and it’s more neutrally bodied than the R6. The Alien+ is also slightly more aggressive in its lower-treble, but it’s more detailed than the Hiby. Both extend very well, the Alien+ provides a touch more resolution than the R6. The R6 has a larger soundstage, and its more laid-back midrange and high-end contribute to this. I find the Alien+ to image better where the R6 can push vocals too far to the side. The Alien+ has greater separation due to its greater overall balance.
Though not stated on Shozy’s website, I estimate the Alien+ to have a very high output impedance. It actually sounded less balanced than the R6 when listening through the Hyla CE-5 (my most source sensitive IEM). Apart from this, its amplifier is the best I’ve heard from a DAP; with 5 gain levels, zero background hiss and terrific control. The R6 lacks the same power, but surprisingly, it’s actually more consistent between earphones and almost as clean when WiFi is off. So though the Alien+ is undoubtedly a terrific sounding DAP, it’s also fairly inconsistent with multi-driver IEMs and its UI is generations behind the R6. That said, its exceptionally powerful amplifier makes it the clear choice for headphone users.
Echobox Explorer ($599): The Explorer’s very traditional wood flask design is hardly sleek but fits very comfortably in the hand due to its very rounded back. It runs Android 6.0.1 but, despite being considerably thicker than the R6 and similarly sized, it has a much smaller 3.5” display that can feel a little cramped. Still, its touchscreen is responsive as is its UI, though it still doesn’t feel nearly as slick as the R6 despite being functionally gimped with no play store or services. Finally, it has a very tactile top-mounted volume wheel which doubles as a power button in addition to a beefy 4000mah battery. The R6 still manages considerably better battery life at 12hrs as opposed to 7-8 in my uses.
Like, the Alien+, its sound does a lot to redeem its functional shortcomings. It’s also a more musical sounding source that lies on the slightly fuller, more engaging side. The Explorer has a light bump in its sub-bass, though it produces a touch less impact than the similarly sub-bass emphasized R6. Bass is otherwise slightly more articulate on the Explorer due to its more aggressive lower-treble. Mids are slightly laid-back on the Explorer but more balanced than the darker R6. Its female vocals are a little more forward with slightly greater clarity. The Explorer has a more aggressive lower-treble, it’s very detailed and brings those details to the fore more than most DAPs. The R6 sounds smoother and more refined as a result while the Explorer is more articulate. The Explorer images quite well though its stage is smaller than the R6’s. Both are well separated.
The Explorer is another DAP that I would surmise to be better suited for headphones over IEMs. It has a very powerful amplifier, outputting as much current through its 3.5mm out as the R6 through its balanced output (though the Explorer has no balanced output). However, it also has a high noise floor, with immediately audible hiss on all of my in-ears. It also appears to have a higher output impedance, in fact, it’s very possible that both DAPs are using the TPA6120 (10ohm OI), something that has been confirmed on various Japanese forums online. As a result, both tend to have a considerable impact on low impedance multi-driver in-ears.
Fiio X7 MKII ($650): The R6 is considerably smaller despite having a larger battery and screen. It’s more rounded design is more comfortable to hold but also a little slippery. The R6’s UI is much faster and its screen looks a lot better, it’s also running Android 6.0 as opposed to 5.1.1. I appreciate the move to USB Type-C on the Hiby and it offer 50% longer runtimes on each charge. The main advantage of the X7 MKII is its dual micro-sd card slots and some may prefer its volume wheel over separate volume buttons. The X7 II also has swappable amp modules which enable more flexible driving power and noise though at an additional cost.
Sonically, the DAPs are more quite matched. The R6 has greater sub-bass impact while the X7 II is a hair fuller in its mid-bass. As such, the R6 sounds a bit cleaner and more defined within its low-end despite being more impactful. The R6 has a darker midrange with a more laid-back presentation while the X7 II has greater clarity and transparency. The X7 II and R6 most diverge in their higher frequencies, the X7 II has greater air and sparkle while the R6 is a little more aggressively detailed before gently sloping off. As such, the R6 sounds cleaner but also less immediately revealing. Still, both extend well, producing similarly high levels of resolution. The R6 actually has a slightly larger stage which is compounded upon by its more laid-back presentation. The R6 has a more separated low-end due to its cleaner mid-bass and its high-end sounds more composed. It images better than the X7 MKII.
The R6 produces less background hiss than the X7 II but produces slightly less volume through its unbalanced output. On the contrary, the R6 suffers from some interference when WiFi is active while the X7 MKII has none. Of course, the X7 II is a lot more consistent due to its vastly lower output impedance.
iBasso DX200 ($870): On a hardware level, the R6 feels appreciably more refined. Though both have the same screen size, the R6 occupies a far smaller footprint. And, despite the DX200 using an octa-core processor and a stripped down version of Android 6.0.1 with no play store or services, the R6 feels more responsive; possibly due to the rather insensitive digitizer on the iBasso. The R6 also has a far better screen and its battery life is slightly longer. I appreciate the move to USB-C on both, interestingly, the DX200 has a top facing port. The DX200 has fairly tactile controls and a nice clicky volume wheel that some may prefer.
The DX200 uses 2 ES9028 Pro chips as opposed to the Q2M variant on the Hiby. Despite this, the difference in sound quality between the two isn’t enormous though the DX200 is more akin to the X7 MKII in signature than the musical R6. The DX200 has a more linear low-end, the R6 producing slightly more sub-bass by comparison. It sound has a hair more texture and definition but isn’t quite as separated. The DX200 has a fairly neutral midrange too, with just a slight bump in lower-mids using the AMP5 module. By comparison, the R6 is more laid-back. The DX200 is slightly more detailed though its treble has slightly less attack than the Hiby. The DX200 is also more balanced within its high-end, producing more air, though it also doesn’t sound as clean as the R6. In terms of soundstage, the DX200 has more space and images slightly better with greater detail in its outer layers. That said, the R6 does sound more separated and its cleaner background is easy to appreciate.
Like the X7 MKII, the DX200 has swappable amp modules, providing more flexible driving power with different gear. It produces impressive output power for a DAP; though it should be noted that my unit came equipped with the AMP5, not the stock AMP1 module. Neither produce much background noise, though the DX200 doesn’t have any interference with WiFi activity.
This isn’t an issue specific to the R6, Hiby have just been transparent about it; though that still doesn’t exempt the R6 when similarly priced DAPs like Fiio’s X7 MKII offer a far more versatile 1ohm output impedance. Of course, it doesn’t affect all gear, and not all changes are necessarily negative; OI issues are also easily alleviated using iFi’s IEMatch or Earbuddy. Still, this is a blemish on an otherwise fairly immaculate canvas. Because, beyond its polarising synergy, the R6 is musical, natural in timbre and spacious. At the end of the day, it doesn’t change the fact that Hiby have created something wonderful; a surprisingly uncompromised convergence between smart tech and traditional audio, all at a modest midrange price.