HiBy R8 II: A Flagship Evolved

Sound impressions

I’ve been using R8 II for the past month, getting to understand its tonal balance, technical ability, and most importantly, its synergy with the various IEMs I have at my disposal. 

Generally speaking, a device like R8 II is more suited – or rather, more attainable – for those who already have and enjoy higher-end IEMs, although given how aggressive HiBy has gone with pricing, this high level of performance is becoming more accessible than ever. 

To keep my notes consistent, I used FIR Audio’s Radon 6, which I consider to have a balanced tonality with excellent technical ability, to test and compare R8 II primarily with RS8, but also a couple of other DAPs I have at hand. 


A quickfire summary of R8 II’s overall tonal character is this: neutral with a hint of musical warmth

Compared directly with RS8, for example, R8 II has less specific areas of emphasis across the frequency range, with fewer peaks and dips, although there is still some focus on particular frequencies, as I’ll detail below. 

The sound here is clean, clear, mostly transparent, with exceptional detail and dynamics that prevent it from leaning too analytical or flat. It has a hint of transient roundness, especially in the mids and treble, that takes away any semblance of digital glare

In some ways it’s more reminiscent of RS8’s R2R more organic character than it is of traditionally digital-sounding chip-based Delta Sigma DACs from ESS and AKM (though it still sounds leaner and airier than its R2R sibling). 

Indeed, the chip-based DACs could actually win you over if you love your sound extra crispy and incisive, and are a stickler for distortion measurements. That’s not to suggest R8 II sounds too smooth or, God forbid, hazy – it absolutely is not. But comparatively speaking, there are sharper knives in the box, if you know what I mean.    

Bass is always my first port of call, and I hear R8 II’s lower ranges as relatively neutral with a quality that complements the natural character and speed of an IEM’s bass drivers. There’s some warmth here to be sure, but not the type of warmth you’d hear from a midbass-focused DAP or IEM. 

Instead, there’s a zest to the bass notes that makes them refreshingly clean, with just enough weight to counterbalance the speed. Emphasis is more sub-bass than midbass, with the latter having notably shorter decay than it does with RS8, for instance. 

The opening synth drums in Bjork’s Hunter sound tighter and slightly cleaner on R8 II, with a touch more sub emphasis. RS8 sounds fuller, with a hair more impact, and a notable midbass lift, whereas R8 II is more neutral in the mid and upper bass by comparison.

Switching to Danheim’s Ivar’s Wrath, you’ll hear all manner of Nordic drums and drum effects in the first 1:30 of this epic track. R8 II again shows a nimbleness and tightness that emphasises texture and speed, especially at the 0:47 mark, and when the bigger drums start to hit at 1:17, the sub-bass emphasis is more obvious when compared directly with RS8. 

On the flipside, RS8 has a slightly bloomier bass response, with slower decay and more midbass emphasis, giving the bass an overall warmer, fuller, but slightly looser feel. 

The transition from bass to midrange is a smooth one, and once again R8 II keeps things relatively balanced, with a neutral lower midbass and only a subtle lift in the mid-to-upper midrange compared to RS8’s more obvious upper midrange emphasis. Midrange instruments are clean, clear and transparent, with only the slightest hint of warmth carried over from the midbass notes that gives them their natural tone. 

Female vocal purity is my litmus test for midrange performance and both R8 II and RS8 excel in different ways with Eva Cassidy’s mesmerising Songbird. R8 II sounds more neutral here compared to RS8’s more forward upper midrange, and the vocal harmonics are also cleaner and less coloured by the bass strums which, on RS8, have a distinct warm glow from the midbass emphasis. As such Eva tends to sound more organic and earthy with RS8, sweeter and more revealing with R8 II.

Male vocals follow a similar pattern. From his masterpiece The Jazz SingerHello Again is one of Neil Diamond’s standout tracks, and a great test for how an audio chain renders deep, chesty and emotive male vocals. R8 II’s cleaner and more incisive presentation contrasts with the richness and depth of RS8’s R2R DAC, with the latter better emphasising the chestiness and warmth of Neil’s voice, while R8 II presents it with less weight and more clarity. 

This track is also a great example of instrumental midrange emphasis differences, the accompanying piano keys sounding slightly more rounded and less incisive on R8 II compared to the distinct bite of RS8’s upper midrange and lower treble. 

Speaking of treble, this is where things get interesting again. Both R8 II and RS8 have articulate, well extended treble, but their emphasis is different. R8 II spotlights the upper treble registers more than RS8, and its overall colouration is airier than RS8’s sharper, more sparkly lower treble. 

The delightfully arrangement of mediaeval instruments in Angels of Venice’s Trotto is a smorgasbord for the senses. I use this track to test everything, from bass to upper treble, but in this case, it’s interesting to note the midrange transition and treble differences between the two players. 

R8 II’s slightly rounder upper midrange and lower treble transients are clearly audible here, with the metal clanging in the opening sequence sounding less metallic than it does with RS8. There’s also a sweeter, airier upper treble tone to the high-pitched flute from 1:27 on R8 II, compared to RS8’s sharper lower treble emphasis. You could argue this gives RS8 more contrast in the upper registers, whereas R8 II comes across as more spacious and slightly relaxed by comparison.  

You need only listen to the 45-second electric guitar and drum intro of Guns ‘N Roses iconic anthem, Sweet Child of Mine, to glean all you need to know about treble emphasis and focus. There’s no lack of bite or grit to the electric guitars from either R8 II or RS8 here, but the former has smoother transients and a slightly softer edge in the lower treble whereas RS8 has more edge emphasis. 

R8 II pushes its emphasis further up into the air regions, widening and enlarging the stage overall, where RS8 narrows it in a touch while balancing the bite with some midbass warmth. R8 II is more neutral, revealing and admittedly less emotive, whereas RS8 sounds fuller, with more contrast and has a richness of tone from its R2R colouration that’s missing from R8 II’s more transparent presentation.  


Like tone, a DAP’s technical performance is mostly dictated by the IEM, with the best DAPs able to unleash, and often improve, the technicalities of the IEMs they pair with. This is certainly the case with R8 II, which doesn’t hold back the technical acuity of any of the IEMs I’ve used with it, and in some cases, helps to improve some technical aspects that would otherwise be less prominent with certain IEMs. 

Stage is the first and most obvious technical metric to consider, and the effect a DAP has on the tonal balance of an IEM either supports or detracts from its staging ability. With R8 II, it’s definitely the former. 

Ottmar Lieber & Luna Negra’s La Luna is a great test of spaciousness, and clearly shows how R8 II’s clean, transparent and generally neutral tone helps showcase its ability to cast a wide, deep stage. This binaural recording feels even more holographic here, with an out-of-head sound that really pushes Rn6’s already-excellent width and adds a decent dose of depth for good measure. 

With RS8 the stage is still spacious, but the focus narrows slightly, the instruments on the extreme moving slightly inward, and the drums in the foreground edging closer. It’s a warmer sound too, whereas there’s more air between the elements with R8 II. 

The same traits are evident in one of the classic test tracks for stage, Yosi Horikawa’s Bubbles. This is also my go-to test for imagingseparation and layering, all of which get a thorough workout from those famous, ahem, ball drops. 

R8 II definitively pulls ahead from RS8 in staging performance with this track. Its cleaner, more neutral tone helps to better delineate the stage, which is as wide and deep as I’ve ever heard it. With RS8, while everything is still distinct and clear, it feels as if the sounds emanate from a smaller space, whereas R8 II pushes the boundaries almost infinitely, creating an out of head experience where every ‘bubble’ is perfectly rendered. 

Even in the busiest parts of the track I can make out every detail, so give bonus points to R8 II’s resolving ability here as well. It just goes to show how closely resolution is tied to imaging, separation and the sense of space, and R8 II is about as good as it gets, at least in the context of this IEM and this track.   

Electronic music is ideal for zeroing-in on technical performance, and along with Bubbles, CloZee’s Brave is an excellent track for demonstrating stage size, proportions, imaging, dynamics and resolution. 

R8 II is on point again, with its wide, deep stage on show from the very first notes. RS8 in comparison is taller, but not quite as wide or deep. The warmth and fullness of RS8’s tone adds a weight that shrinks down the stage with an earthier sound that has more resonance and echo, while R8 II is airy, expansive and more precise by comparison. 

Judging dynamics is more subjective, but I hear R8 II to have excellent range, while RS8 has more contrast and sounds maybe a hair more compressed as a result.  

Sound shaping

I’d be remiss not to mention the inherent ability of R8 II’s system-wide digital filters and software tools to shapethe sound of the DAP to your liking. 

Since there’s no quality hit when selecting digital filters, and only the slightest hit when using MSEB or plugins (mostly to do with gain levels, extra processing and clipping), everything I wrote above should be taken at face value only. 

Should you want to change anything about the sound profile, be it bass emphasis, midrange forwardness or treble crispness, it can be done in seconds with a few select sliders. This is not EQ in the traditional sense, but rather sound manipulation. Want a wider stage? Check out the Sound Field plugin. IEM sounding too flat in the bass? Tweak the Dynamics plugin, or play around with some of the bass settings in MSEB. 

Often when I’m comparing two devices or IEMs side by side, subtle difference can be blown out of proportion. As such, very subtle sound manipulation using HiBy’s plugins and MSEB sliders is generally good enough to restore or remove anything you might be missing or want more of from your music. 

Don’t underestimate how useful this can be, especially when comparing similarly-priced DAPs that may be lacking some of HiBy’s standard, and very powerful, system-wide software features.    

Continue to select pairings…



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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