HiBy R8 II: A Flagship Evolved

Select pairings

The say it’s all about synergy when it comes to DAP and IEM pairings, and that’s true, but like everything else that’s subjective in this hobby, so is synergy. That said, having used R8 II with just about every IEM at my disposal, I can confidently say it’s the most ‘synergistic’ DAP I’ve tested to date.

Whether it’s the even, neutral tone, its hint of musical warmth, or its transparently technical performance, R8 II just seems to sound great with almost every IEM. 

That’s not to say every IEM will be the best version of itself with R8 II, whatever ‘best’ means to you in this context. For example, I prefer RS8’s meatier midrange with IEMs like Rn6, Z1R and IE900 with some music, even though all these IEMs sound fantastic with my entire library on R8 II. 

I also find R8 II ekes out more energy from brighter-leaning IEMs like Bonneville (first look review here) and FIR’s E12 (review coming soon), so I might be tempted to tone things down with a warmer, smoother DAP like Sony’s WM1Z with those IEMs, depending on my mood.  

R8 II is the DAP I’d pick up if I wanted to hear exactly what an IEM sounds like with the least amount of colour or garnish. It’s not absolutely colourless – that would be horrible in my opinion – but the colour it brings is subtle, and mostly in the aid of making IEMs sound more musical and less sterile. 

For example, from the sound impressions above, you’ve probably gathered the FIR’s Rn6 (reviewed here) is an excellent pairing. R8 II keeps the occasional treble zing muted just enough to balance out Radon’s tonality, and somehow finds a way to make it sound more technically proficient than it might otherwise seem. 

The same neutral character and tighter midbass/lower midrange tone is also an advantage for Radon’s big brother, Xenon 6 (reviewed here). This is probably my favourite Xe6 pairing so far, surpassing my previous favourite RS8, because of how it helps rein in Xe6’s somewhat strident midbass, while opening up its abundant midrange and surprisingly detailed upper treble too. 

While I tend to pair Campfire Audio’s divisively bombastic Trifecta (reviewed here) with warmer sources, R8 II once again proves its versatility with this excellent IEM. As with Xe6, Trifecta’s boisterous midbass is quelled just enough without clipping its wings, which gets Trifecta sounding tighter and I daresay faster too. Some of Trifecta’s notorious upper midrange and mid-treble peaks are also tamed to some degree, with R8 II’s smoother treble transients more agreeable here. 

If there is an IEM I’m in two minds about right now, it’s FatFreq’s Maestro SE (reviewed here). I’ve made peace with the fact that the treble zing inherent to this IEM is more a factor of insertion depth than any specific DAP pairing, so I’ll give this discovery, rather than R8 II, the credit for making it sound so good. 

Select comparisons 

HiBy RS8 ($3,299, reviewed here). The most obvious comparison to R8 II, other than the original R8 (which I sadly no longer have), is HiBy’s RS8. As discussed earlier in the review, this is still HiBy’s flagship, if the highest-priced product in the line-up gets that title by default. Based on performance and specs, however, I consider R8 II to be RS8’s equal. 

If you’ve read through the sound impressions, you’ll already have a very good idea where these DAPs intersect and where they’re different, both technically and tonally. From a usability perspective, they’re both based on the same SoC, have very similar internals, and the UI and software is virtually identical (especially once I’ve loaded my Nova Launcher configuration file on both). 

Ergonomically, R8 II is easier to hold and manipulate, with its curved design, soft Alcantara, and larger screen. RS8 is also heavier, but the extra weight is negligible, and something I actually prefer rather than avoid in a DAP. So, the main difference really comes down to sound – and price. 

You’ll pay $1,300 more for RS8 than R8 II at retail, which in itself will be a dealbreaker for many. If money isn’t an issue, though, then it comes down to sound, and whether or not you prefer the warmer, weightier, thicker sound of the RS8 (again, comparatively speaking), or the more neutral, transparent and ‘correct’ sound of R8 II. Both are musical in their own way, but R8 II is probably more adaptable, so those with larger IEM collections might want to keep that in mind. 

Better yet, buy both – I can’t think of a more complementary pair of equally-specked high-end DAPs on the market right now, not unless you’re ready to break the bank for devices that cost more than the HiBy pair combined. 

HiBy R6 Pro II ($750, reviewed here). With dual flagship AK4499EX DACs operating in full 8-channel mode, HiBy’s R6 Pro II was the first DAP that pointed to the company’s new and aggressive price-performance strategy. At $750, R6 Pro II was and remains an absolute bargain for the horsepower, at least in terms of DAC performance, since amplification and battery life were the main corners cut to make it happen. 

Ergonomically, R6 Pro II was the first HiBy DAP to break the mould of HiBy’s previous angular ‘masculine’ design language, opting for a more oblong, curvy profile with an oddly different thickness top to bottom. 

You can see some of these design cues in R8 II, especially where the Alcantara back wraps around the sides, and also the size and proportion of the screens – which, if not identical, are at least very similar between both DAPs. With its aluminium frame and less robust build quality, R6 Pro II is also significantly lighter than R8 II, so if weight is a factor for you, it’s no contest.   

The biggest difference between the two DAPs, however, is the sound quality and technical performance. In my opinion, R8 II is a wholesale upgrade across the board, both tonally and technically. Its sound quality is more refined, and technically it’s superior in almost every metric, especially stage size, layering, separation and dynamics. That’s not to say R6 Pro II is poor, not by any means, but comparatively it’s a step or two below what R8 II brings to the table.

Of course, this doesn’t discount preference and synergy, and I’ve spoken to one or two people that actually prefer the R6 Pro II’s more aggressive treble transients and bass-boosted, almost V-shaped sound profile. It’s still a neutral sounding DAP to my ears, as I mentioned in my review, but not quite as polished as I hear the R8 II, especially in the upper midrange and lower treble. 

The amp section in the R6 Pro II is also not quite as robust as R8 II, with half the rated output power, at least from its headphone jacks. The R6 Pro II has the advantage of variable line-out volume (which I believe R8 II will shortly inherit in a firmware update), which makes it a better fit with powerful external amps. 

You could argue that an R6 Pro II with an external amp matches and possibly even exceeds the quality difference of an un-amped R8 II, but that’s a whole different rabbit hole that I personally have no interest in exploring. 

Overall, if you want a great standalone midrange DAP for less than $1,000, there’s little to challenge the R6 Pro II, and so I don’t see it as direct competition to R8 II, but rather a very viable, lower-cost alternative for those on a tighter budget.        

Continue to closing thoughts…



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.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent posts