To me, one of the biggest benefits of using an open Android DAP is the ability to customise almost anything in software to my liking. While this isn’t essential, and most people would be satisfied with the stock functionality, if you’re like me and prefer to tweak your smart devices to look, feel and perform differently, with RS8 you can do just that.
Here’s a quick video showing just how easy it is to jump into Play Store, find and install the apps I need to customise RS8:
Customising the interface
It’s clear that HiBy has put some thought into the UI design and experience of RS8. Similar to how they themed the RS6 UI, the RS8 home and lock screens follow the distinctive Darwin theme, complete with matching icons and wallpaper. Other than enabling Android 12’s Dark Mode by default, however, that’s about as deep as the standard customisations go.
I’ve long been a proponent of customising the UI and making every element look and behave more consistently on my devices, and to that end I use Nova Launcher – one of the most popular, feature-rich and configurable Android ‘launchers’ available. You can download a free advertising-supported version from the Google Play Store, although I strongly recommend paying the modest cost of the app to support the developers.
Nova allows me to control almost every element of the interface, from how the icons look, to how they’re arranged and where they do or don’t appear. I can add or remove wallpapers, add other elements like interactive widgets, control how and where notifications appear, and even add more gestures that automate different device actions.
The most useful of these, in my opinion, is the double tap to screen lock gesture (essentially the reverse of the built-in double tap to wake feature), which means I never need to fiddle for the power button to lock or wake the screen.
Another benefit of Nova is its compatibility with the dozens of custom icon packs available on the Play Store. I personally like using the Lines icon pack on my devices, which helps me keep icons looking neat, simple and minimalistic. Lines also gives you a large selection of widgets and wallpapers to choose from, and since it integrates seamlessly with Nova, any changes made through Lines appears on the Nova interface.
With a few clicks, you can see just how I’ve transformed RS8’s interface with my own wallpaper designs, icons and app drawer.
If you’re wondering where all the default apps have gone, Nova lets you easily hide unused apps so they don’t clutter the interface. For any apps you know you’re not going to use (like Clock, Calculator or the default browser, in my case), go to Settings – Apps, find the apps on the list, and disable them. Not only will this free up system resources, it will also help declutter the interface. You can’t uninstall the stock apps, however, so disabling them is the next best step.
Helpful hint: making your own wallpaper is super easy. RS8’s screen resolution is 1920 x 1080, so if you know your way around an image editor, you can create any image you like using those dimensions, export them in JPEG format, copy them into the Pictures directory on RS8, and apply them using Nova.
If you want to create a more intricate design based on certain RS8 screen elements, like the date and time on the lock screen, you can use a screenshot of the screen and create your design to fit around it, as shown in the screenshot below.
Customising the music apps
While HiBy Music is a feature-rich and easy-to-use music player, I prefer to use USB Audio Player Pro (UAPP) as my main music app, at least for local and networked files.
UAPP has established itself as one of the most functional, versatile and stable music players for Android, and I use it consistently across all my Android smart devices. It helps that the app creator, Davy Wetzler, is both easy to contact and very responsive, and within days of my first receiving RS8 from HiBy, he already had a version of UAPP ready with native hi-res support for RS8’s R2R DAC.
From a sound quality perspective, I find UAPP to be every bit as good as HiBy Music, which is to say it doesn’t suffer from any incompatibility or performance issues with HiBy’s hardware. The UI is slick and snappy, and I personally find it cleaner and easier to use than any other music player app I’ve tested. UAPP’s native RS8 support is also its most important feature, because it allows for bitperfect playback, including RS8’s built-in hardware MQA decoder (requires a separate in-app purchase).
Other UAPP features I find useful include the ability to stream bitperfect music files from my Plex DLNA server – including DSDs – through the same interface, complete with alphabetical indexing. And speaking of streaming, UAPP features its own Tidal (and Qobuz) interface, which allows me to play Tidal tracks using UAPP’s native driver which, to my ear, sound better than they do through the native Tidal app. Lastly, UAPP also includes sophisticated DSP plugins, like Toneboosters’ pro-grade parametric equalizer, that can be applied to any music files, including Tidal streams (although only when bitperfect playback is disabled).
Aside from UAPP, I use two other music apps with RS8: Tidal and Plex. Tidal needs no introduction, it’s one of the premium music streaming services and the one I use, primarily because of its support for lossless and hi-res streaming. The Tidal app works with HiBy’s DTA Android bypass feature, meaning it will play lossless and hi-res files in their native format. MQA files are also supported, up-sampled to the maximum possible sample rate using RS8’s 16x MQA decoding engine.
Plex, like UAPP, is another app that requires open Android with full Google Play Store support to work properly (for payment and registration). I use Plex because my personal music library is hosted on a Plex server on my home network, even though the Plex app is one of the few that doesn’t support DTA. That said, the app allows me to access any of my music files even when I’m not connected to my home network, which means when I’m travelling, as long as I have Internet access I can access and play lossless-quality files from my personal library at home with RS8.
Customising file management
This might seem a strange one to mention in a DAP review, but again, the ability to use open Android apps on a WiFi-capable smart device like RS8 is one of the things that, to me, make it far more versatile than non-Android DAPs.
RS8 comes pre-installed with two basic Android file managers, neither of which I find particularly useful. Instead, I use Solid Explorer to not only manage local files on the DAP, but also connect to other devices on my network and in the Cloud.
How is this useful? For one, it means I don’t ever have to remove the storage card, or to physically connect RS8 to a computer. Instead, I can manage files stored on the card and move them between card and local storage, and also use RS8’s fast 5Ghz WiFi connection to add music files from my music server or external devices wirelessly, as shown in the screen recording below.
Solid Explorer also allows me to complete many other file management tasks we take for granted with computers and smart devices, but which RS8 is equally adept at performing. For example, I was able to transfer all the screenshots and recordings for this review from RS8 to my MacBook with a few quick clicks. I was also able to install some assets I keep stored in my Dropbox to RS8 via Solid Explorer, since it connects directly to Dropbox like any other remote server.
Being able to quickly copy or move files to or from RS8 is one of the biggest usability benefits of using Solid Explorer, and using a fast, modern open Android device in the first place. It means you never need worry about where your music files are stored, and I can even use RS8 to copy local or network files across to my non-Android DAPs and devices, which appear as external storage devices when connected to RS8.
With the above customisations I consider RS8 to be feature-complete. I’ve simplified and decluttered the interface, replaced the stock applications with those I prefer to use, and for all intents and purposes it is now a self-contained, fully-functional smart music player. While
While I replaced the preloaded Via web browser with Chrome, I don’t consider a web browser essential on a music player, but it’s there if I need it. I also haven’t installed other media streaming or playback apps, like YouTube, Netflix or VLC, even though RS8 is a very capable media player, especially with its high-end audio output. Still, I prefer to use my smartphone or tablet for media consumption.
I also don’t feel the need to de-Android RS8, like many users tend to do with their Android DAPs. For me, Google services and third-party apps add to the appeal and functionality of the DAP, and the idea that they consume unnecessary resources or negatively impact sound quality are nothing more than old wives’ tales, especially on a powerfully-specced DAP like RS8.
Continue to sound impressions…