When HiBy released its new R-series flagship, the R8, in 2020, it set a new benchmark for most Android DAP developers.
Gone were the days of slow processors and outdated Android versions. The R8 introduced a relatively modern (by DAP standards) Snapdragon chipset and a rock-solid OS optimised for audio playback.
The original R8 also boasted some innovative features, like a 10,000mAh battery that, for the first time in an Android DAP, pushed battery life well beyond a typical workday.
The Evolution of the R-Series
Two years after the R8, the R-platform flagship evolved again with the RS8. This time, it featured an all-new R2R-based architecture called Darwin, which allowed HiBy to refine the sound profile using a dedicated FPGA controller. The RS8 also saw the introduction of HiBy’s first in-house developed discrete DAC.
R8 II: Pushing the boundaries, again
With the official release of the R8 II in late December 2023, the R-series flagship is once again evolving, and the changes are no less significant. HiBy has refined or updated nearly every aspect of the R8 II, building upon the foundation laid in the R8 and further enhanced in the RS8.
Like its predecessors, the R8 II introduces some industry-first technology for a flagship DAP. One of the most notable features is the all-new discrete PWM-based DAC architecture called Darwin MPA. The R8 II is also the first DAP to use genuine Alcantara, the same luxurious material found in high-end cars, as part of its curvy design.
In all other respects, the R8 II is everything you’d expect from a high-end DAP that’s been three years in the making. It runs a speedy optimised open Android 12 OS on the now fine-tuned Snapdragon 665 SoC, and with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of onboard storage, the R8 II joins the ranks of other modern flagships as the fastest and most full-featured Android DAP in its class.
A surprisingly competitive price
But what really sets the R8 II apart is its price. At $1,999, it’s certainly not cheap, but is significantly more affordable than most other flagship DAPs, many of which are priced at or above $3,000. This competitive pricing makes the R8 II a compelling option for audiophiles looking for a top-of-the-line DAP without breaking the bank.
Packaging and accessories
Just as I was saying how hard it is to find where HiBy cut corners with R8 II, there is one rather obvious deviation from the previous flagships: the packaging.
Both R8, with its elaborate (and, yes, OTT ‘briefcase’), and RS8, with its woven leather box, made a real statement with their packaging, which made for an unboxing experience second to none.
R8 II, well, doesn’t quite make the same splash. There no sign of leather anywhere – unless you consider Alcantara a type of leather (it’s synthetic, by the way). The box, while still very stylish, is relegated to the same sort of neat but inconspicuous silkscreened carboard affair we’ve seen in HiBy’s recent midrange and entry-level releases, like R6 Pro II and R3 II.
It’s a bigger box than those two, and to be fair, has a more elegant stippled foiling pattern on the box itself – which, to HiBy’s credit, opens up like a concertina to make the unboxing at least somewhat different.
Inside, a foam cover protects the DAP itself, which is seated in a separate, thicker foam cutout shelf. Lifting the DAP (and its shelf) reveals a third layer of foam, with cutouts for the carry case, a single USB-C to C cable, and a folder with extra screen and bottom panel protectors.
That’s basically all you get. No USB-C to coaxial cable that was supplied with both R8 and RS8. No CR-08 dock that was initially supplied as a gift with RS8, but with which R8 II is still compatible, if you have one. There are also no extra adapters of any kind, so if for some reason you still need to use a USB-A port, you’ll need to buy a separate adapter for the cable.
Other than the case, this is a really basic, barebones package for a flagship, so I guess if you want to know which line item saved you money at the till, packaging would be it.
Even the case, which is very solid, made of thick medical-grade TPU, and features side strips made of Alcantara, doesn’t exactly scream premium. Yes, it’s well-made, reassuringly protective, and has clever grooves and cutouts in the Alcantara sides for where the underlying hardware buttons are positioned. But it’s also bulky, the TPU is oddly smoky, and it seems to trap moisture and discolour where plastic meets stainless steel.
Stranger still is the use of Alcantara on the sides. I mean, I get it, if you’re going to use genuine Alcantara in your design – it even carries the Alcantara branding embossed on the case – you may as well showcase it. And while it does make holding the case feel quite luxurious, I have to wonder how long the material will stay pristine, given hands tend to get dirty, and oily, and the fabric is – er – absorbent.
I’ll give HiBy (and Alcantara) the benefit of the doubt though. Mine is still quite pristine, even though I’ve been extra careful to keep it that way (and following the Alcantara care instructions in the box). I certainly wouldn’t chance using R8 II un-cased, with that fingerprint-magnet chrome-finished steel and fluffy Alcantara back.
If the case still looks this good in a year or two, consider it an experimental success, though more likely by then we’ll see at least some full leather (or full TPU) third-party options replacing it.
Continue to design and build…