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Review: HiBy Digital M300

Software and functionality

If you’ve ever used an Android smartphone (or even an iPhone) you’ll be right at home with M300’s open Android software platform. It’s a modified ‘HiBy OS’ system, which means HiBy’s tweaked the OS with their own apps and settings, but that makes it even easier to navigate and use in my opinion.

On bootup, you’re greeted with a setup screen that lets you choose language and date/time options, after which the player loads the home screen for the first time. Unlike HiBy’s recent full-size DAPs, there’s no theming going on, just plain vanilla Android, with a few select app icons on a launcher, and an app tray a side-swipe away.

Naturally I’ve done away with the stock Android and loaded Nova Launcher on the M300, using the same settings to configure the look and feel of the UI that I’ve used for all my other players. This is one of the key benefits of open Android, and immediately gives M300 a usability advantage over other players without it.

Configuration and settings

Like most modern Android devices, M300 has rich settings options to configure and tweak the player to your liking. From WiFi to Bluetooth pairings, appearance and security settings, everything you need is a few clicks away in the Settings panel.

Unlike HiBy’s more advanced DAPs, however, audio settings are fairly limited. In this regard, M300 is more like a typical smart device, with volume sliders for different alerts and notifications.

Take note: if you hit play and find the volume level way too low, chances are you haven’t maxed out the Media volume slider in the Sound & vibration panel. Make sure this is set to 15, not the default 7, and then control the main volume up and down with the volume rocker.

Aside from Media volume, there’s not much else to fiddle with here. You can set the function of the configurable slider button (I’ve set it to Lock keys), and set System navigation to Gestures if you don’t like the default button navigation on Android. Also, make sure you have the latest firmware installed by checking the System tab.

Music Playback

Music duties are handled by the bundled HiBy Music app. It features everything you need to get started, including full Tidal integration, although it’s probably better to download the native Tidal (or other streaming services) app to get full access to your saved playlists and preferences. 

But there’s a catch. As I mentioned earlier in the review, M300 does not avoid Android SRC (Sample Rate Conversion). This means all audio is automatically resampled to 48KHz, so bitperfect and therefore hi-res output is, at least on paper, unsupported. This is true for the HiBy Music app, along with any streaming and most other music playback apps as well. 

But not all playback apps. Since I’ve standardised on the excellent USB Audio Player Pro for music playback on all my Android devices, that’s the first app I downloaded and configured.  While it currently doesn’t seem to recognise the M300’s DAC by default, it can still be set to use the app’s built-in hi-res USB driver. 

In my experience, this does provide full hi-res file playback for both local files and the integrated Tidal service. I also use UAPP to access my entire music library, stored on a Plex server, wirelessly via DLNA, and hi-res files are likewise seemingly played back in bitperfect mode this way. Still, I can’t be 100 per-cent sure whether or not this is the case, even if UAPP’s on-screen bitrate display indicates it is.

I have to stress that, given the target audience, features like bitperfect and hi-res playback are likely never going to appear on the radars of potential buyers, but if you’re an audiophile looking to add an ultraportable hi-res player to your gadget bag, this might give you pause.  

Multimedia 

While a 4-inch screen may not be optimal for video watching, the ease with which you can stream YouTube and other video sources on the M300, combined with the outstanding screen quality and graphics responsiveness, makes it a compelling way to squeeze in a TV show or movie on the go. 

I tested M300 with both wired and wireless IEMs to make sure the voice syncing is on point – often a drawback to these music-first devices – and I’m glad to report they all worked perfectly. I could also play hi-res content, which looked bold and fluid, and even used the tiny speaker as a makeshift when I didn’t feel like plugging up my ears. Being able to load and run the Plex app gives me instant access to my entire movie, documentary and TV show library on the go, not to mention my music library too.  

No doubt most people would rather use their larger smartphones and tablets for movie watching, but the fact that M300 can play multimedia content just as competently makes it a compelling use case nonetheless. 

Radio and voice recordings

M300 ships with two left-field app options as standard: FM radio and voice notes. Both seem superfluous on a dedicated music player, and for many people they will be, but they also give users two less reasons to use their phones, and two more reasons to take advantage of the M300’s versatility. 

FM radio only works if you have a decently strong FM signal at your location. It requires a wired earphone to work, using the cable as a makeshift antenna, and as such is prone to interference from moving around too much with your earphones. I also found it necessary to physically touch the cable – using my hand as an extended antenna – otherwise radio channels weren’t picked up perfectly. Still, when it works, it works well, and you also get a handy recording function if you want to record radio shows or music for future playback.    

Voice notes is another curious addition, but I can see the benefit for people on the go who just want to make quick notes about something without having to type them out or pull out their phones. The twin microphones are fairly sensitive – just don’t expect pro-grade recordings and you’ll be fine. The speaker is a bit weak, though, and I found myself having to put it up to my ear to hear my voice notes. 

I’ve grown to appreciate the radio function in particular, and the option to listen to music or catch a local sports broadcast when I’m out of WiFi range is actually quite clever, and quite unique, for this type of device.

File management and other goodies

Last but not least, as an open Android devoice with full WiFi and Bluetooth support, just about any file management task can be done wirelessly. M300 comes pre-loaded with Cx File Manager, but I find the equally-good Solid Explorer more to my liking. 

If you have a wireless LAN at home, you can copy any files to the M300’s internal storage or SD card without using a cable. You can also manage the files on the device directly from Solid Explorer, and also copy files to and from other Android devices on the same network or via Bluetooth. The only time you need to connect a USB cable is for charging.  

Beyond these software options there are dozens of apps to explore, although to be fair I’ve limited myself mainly to what the M300 sets out to do as an ultraportable music player. As such, let’s take a closer at how well it performs at this task, and if indeed it’s worth using a device like this in place of what your phone is already very capable of doing. 

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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