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HiBy R8 II: A Flagship Evolved

Settings and software

If you’re familiar with RS8’s open Android 12 OS platform, you’ll be right at home with R8 II. The two DAPs are virtually identical in their software, with a few tweaks and differences that I’ll cover in this section. For a more detailed walkthrough the various OS options, software and settings, I invite you to revisit the software featuressection of my RS8 review here.

Android 12

Yes, we’re still using Android 12 in 2024, but such is the slower development cycle of boutique digital music players. HiBy recently released the entry-level M300 with Android 13 through its new HiBy Digital consumer brand (reviewed here), but that DAP lacks HiBy’s DTA and other custom software features that are dependent on the HiBy-optimised Android 12 platform on both RS8 and R8 II. 

Here’s hoping HiBy bumps the OS to Android 13, or even Android 14 (which features native bitperfect audio support), on both its flagships in their current lifecycles.

Visually, R8 II looks slightly different than RS8 on bootup. Gone is the green-and-gold theme forced onto RS8 users, replaced with a more vanilla dark mode Android 12 home screen and icons. Gesture navigation is enabled by default, though button navigation is a switchable option for those wanting the legacy Android controls. 

Swiping down from the top of the screen reveals the same intuitive drop-down menu, giving you one-touch access to Audio, Darwin Controller, Amp Mode, Internet, Screen Rotation and other useful (and editable) settings. These and other settings are also directly accessible from the gearwheel Settings icon on the home page, and it’s worth checking out what’s new or different here as well, compared to RS8.   

Audio settings

Not much has changed in the main Audio settings panel in R8 II compared to RS8. There’s no volume direction control, because there’s no wheel, and there’s no Mastermind plugin (a DAC emulator plugin) because, well, I’m not sure why. 

Speaking of Plugins, along with MSEB, these are some of the system-wide sound manipulation tools HiBy makes available to use with any application you’re running, be it a streaming app like Tidal or Spotify, or third-party music playback software. 

The tools also work with non-audio apps, like YouTube, so if you find a plugin (or MSEB setting) that works for your IEMs, you can enjoy the benefits regardless of which app you’re using at any time. The only exception is when playback involves ‘locked’ file formats like MQA and DSD, that generally won’t allow any manipulation of the sound stream.

The details of the available plugins and MSEB settings haven’t changed since my RS8 review, so again I invite you to check that out if you’d like to know more about the specific operation of these tools. 

What is new since that review is the DRX10K Dynamics plugin, created by the brilliant Joseph Yeung, who many of you will know as ‘the HiBy guy’ Joe Bloggs from Head-Fi (he also created MSEB, by the way). This clever tool adjusts the dynamics of your IEMs and headphones by manipulating various frequency metrics, making them more or less punchy as required. 

While the science behind it is well above my pay grade, I find it a fun plugin to play with, especially if I want to see how far I can push the dynamic swings of my most dynamic IEMs. It’ll also help to breathe new life into otherwise ‘flat’ monitors, but just go easy on the controls as the changes can get very dramatic very fast.

One last note while we’re here: you may want to set the Max volume setting to 50, especially if you’re using sensitive IEMs. HiBy insists on popping a very sensitive volume control over the entire display every time hardware volume is activated, and if you’re not careful, an accidental finger swipe can blast your ears off. Take it from someone to whom that happened once – once.  

Darwin controller         

If you’re wondering why you’re missing several options in R8 II’s Darwin controller compared to RS8, it’s because unlike RS8, R8 II lacks true NOS mode. That means NOS and its accompanying Atmosphere Enhanced setting aren’t available here. 

Instead, you can enable a faux-NOS digital filter, oddly called 0th order hold NOS, which you’ll find just above Darwin Ultra as part of the Darwin 2.0 filter set installed by default. 

At the time of writing, you might be wondering why the Customized Presets option occasionally appears in Darwin controller, only to instantly disappear. It’s because HiBy hasn’t made any IEM-specific custom presets available for Darwin MPA yet, and when they do, this setting – and its corresponding options – should be permanently visible. 

Other settings 

Tap to wake. Other than the two audio-related settings panels, there are a few others you might want to visit and tweak. First up, in System > Gestures, make sure you enable the Double click wake up option, which is disabled by default. This lets you wake up the DAP from sleep by double-tapping on the screen, as you would most modern smartphones. Check out the Customisation options section below for a clever way to enable the opposite action, double tap to sleep, too.

Battery health. Another useful panel is the Battery settings, where you can set the Max battery slider to limit the charge the DAP will accept. Lithium-Ion batteries don’t like to be filled to capacity, so setting the slider to 90% prevents the DAP from charging beyond this point. Keep in mind you need to leave the DAP on while charging for this limiter to work, and even then, it sometimes trickle-charges a few percentage points over your limit. 

Wired and wireless DAC. If you want to use another device, like your smartphone, as a digital source, R8 II has full-featured wireless (Bluetooth) and wired (USB-C) DAC support. Both these modes are accessible via the Bluetooth and USB settings panels respectively. In my testing, LDAC Bluetooth support worked flawlessly, both as an input from an LG smartphone, and as a transmitter for Sony TWS IEMs. Bluetooth support tops out at 96KHz, while USB DAC support is more flexible, accepting ultra-hi-res PCM and DSD files as well. 

Remote control. If you want to remotely control your R8 II from a smartphone or tablet, be sure to enable HiByCast in the Apps settings panel (scroll to the bottom of the panel options). Once enabled, simply download the HiByCast app to your iOS or Android device, fire it up, link R8 II, and away you go. You can set volume levels, open and control any app installed on the DAP, and even double tap to wake or sleep using the HiByCast app.      

Quick access. One last option I like to check is Screen lock, which you’ll find in the Security settings panel. Changing this option to none will load the Home screen every time you boot up the DAP, or resume from Standby, bypassing the Lock screen. While this does leave your DAP vulnerable to unauthorised use if it’s lost or stolen, the flipside is never having to deal with the pesky Lock screen and its endless notifications and alerts, and not having to input a password or swipe gesture every time you want to use your DAP. 

Customisation options

One of the biggest benefits of using an open Android DAP like R8 II is the ability to customise almost everything you can do with it. 

Access to Google Play Store (and importantly, Play Services) is built-in, and unlike other DAPs, there are no restrictions on the apps you can download and use. As such, the DAP is literally your oyster when it comes to tweaking the user experience to your liking. 

As with Settings, I wrote a comprehensive guide to Customisation options for the RS8, which you can read about here, all of which are unchanged with R8 II. But it’s worth repeating some of the basics here.

Interface. Firstly, the UI is literally a blank canvas. Just because the DAP is preconfigured to look and feel a certain way doesn’t mean you have to suffer it. While some manufacturers won’t let you change the Home screen or icons or colours, or worse, lock down the entire OS, with HiBy and an app or two, you can change almost anything about everything. The best part is that it’s really easy, intuitive and safe. 

The most direct way to take over the UI is by installing an Android launcher, and then setting the new app as your default launcher in Apps > Default apps > Home app. My rec is Nova Launcher, which I’ve been using for several years across all my Android devices to give them a consistent look and feel. Check out the screenshots above to see how I’ve simplified and beautified my Home screen and App tray, and how easy that is to do with Nova.

Music playback. The second important customisation is the music player. As mentioned in my RS8 review, I don’t use HiBy Music, and in fact disable the HiBy Music app so it doesn’t even appear as an option. This is not a slight on HiBy Music, which is a very capable and full-featured app in its own right, but I personally prefer the cleaner UI, extensive configuration options, and bitperfect hardware driver of USB Audio Player Pro.     

As with Nova Launcher, I use UAPP across all my Android devices, which makes my user experience far more consistent. It’s now become second nature to me, and I don’t have to think what to do or where to go to find and play an album or music file, regardless of which device I’m using. 

UAPP’s sound quality is very mature, and I find integrated features like PEQ and Crossfeed plugins to be an upgrade over the basic options I have with HiBy Music.  

Wireless file management. There are many different alternatives you can use for managing music and other files on R8 II, but I find Solid Explorer the most robust and intuitive of these. Using this software, I can access any number of remote drives or computers on my wireless LAN, copy files directly, and even move files from R8 II to remote drives (and other DAPs, like RS8). 

I can’t remember the last time I physically connected a DAP to a computer for file management; with today’s super-fast WiFi networks and R8 II’s excellent WiFi support, the DAP is just another computer on the network, and any task you previously needed a computer to do can be done locally, wirelessly, and just as quickly. 

In case you decided to skim past these and other customisation tips in the RS8 review, here’s a short video I made for that review that showcases some of the tweaks I listed above. 

Continue to sound impressions…

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ABOUT AUTHOR

Picture of Guy Lerner

Guy Lerner

An avid photographer and writer 'in real life', Guy's passion for music and technology created the perfect storm for his love of portable audio. When he's not playing with the latest and greatest head-fi gear, he prefers to spend time away from the hobby with his two (almost) grown kids and wife in the breathtaking city of Cape Town, and traveling around his native South Africa.

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