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Review: HiBy R6 III

Specs and features 

A quick glance at the R6 III spec sheet shows how far midrange DAPs have come, even when compared to higher-end DAPs from only a few years ago:

  • Dual ESS Sabre 9038-QM (mobile) DACs
  • Class A/AB switchable amplification 
  • Snapdragon 665 CPU with 4GB RAM and 64GB internal storage
  • 5-inch 720P IPS screen
  • 4500mAh battery (up to 12+ hours in Class AB balanced mode)
  • Open Android 12 OS with system-wide EQ (MSEB) and bit-perfect playback (DTA)
  • HiByCast remote control support
  • MQA 16x native decoder support
  • Dual band 2,4GHz/5GHz Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0 (transmit/receive + LDAC and UAT)

Diving deeper into the specs, the rated power output has been lowered quite significantly from the previous-generation R6, 125mW/405mW per channel for the R6 III compared to 245mW/750mW for the R6 2020. This will be alarming for some, but unless you’re going to be using the player with extra power-hungry IEMs or full-size headphones (which I don’t recommend doing with any but the most powerful DAPs), power will not be a limiting factor. 

The flipside of lower power output is, generally-speaking less heat and less noise, and R6 III is definitely leaner in both departments. Battery power has also improved over the R6 2020, with a full charge getting you 12 hours or more (I managed 13.5h with the screen mostly off and WiFi limited to streaming), compared to the 10-hour stamina of the R6 2020 and sub-10-hour battery life of the RS6. With a PD 2.0-enabled charger, you can go from zero to full in two hours, so keep that in mind if you still think battery life is on the low side. 

HiBy’s Class A implementation is an interesting one. It’s not a discrete amplification circuit, fronted instead by a pair of Texas Instruments OPA1652 op-amps and 16 hand-picked transistors (for lower distortion), along with four premium ELNA capacitors. In practice the difference between Class AB and Class A is subtle at best, although transients definitely sound smoother, with fuller note weight, and less efficient IEMs do feel like they reach their performance peak sooner too. Class AB, in contrast, sounds a bit nimbler, slightly thinner and crisper, and would therefore benefit faster music like EDM and other electronic genres. 

In the case of R6 III, I’m not sure Class A will do much for larger headphones, even current-hungry ones, given the relatively modest power output. I’ll let others be the judge of that, however, as I no longer have or use headphones.

That HiBy stuck with the same Sabre DAC foundation for digital conversion is a good move. Not only are these DACs proven, mature, and easier to implement and tune than other counterparts (like AKM’s new higher-end chips), they’re also fairly economical and a ‘known quantity’ that tick all the boxes spec-wise. 

I haven’t been a huge fan of Sabre DACs in the past, feeling that most implementations have a digital edge to their sound signature, but as you’ll soon see, HiBy has done really well keeping to their neutral-with-warmth house sound without too much of the ‘Sabre glare’ that I’ve heard to many times to mention.   

Overall, R6 III is a very solid package, and signals a new bar for sub-$500 DAPs in that regard. Sporting the fastest current SoC for Android DAPs – and subsequently scoring some of the highest benchmark scores of any DAP at any price to date – should be given the credit it deserves. 

Software

It seems the transition to Android 12 is in full swing, with R6 III the second of HiBy’s recent DAPs to feature the new open Android platform (after RS8). While Android 12 is not the most current Android version, it still provides more peace of mind and longevity for running newer applications for longer, at least compared to DAPs using older the Android 9 or 8.1 OS. 

That said, Android 12 does bring with it some new challenges for software developers (and therefore end-users). For one, Scoped Storage, introduced with Android 11 to ‘protect user privacy’, effectively sandboxes applications and their files, which in practice can slow down access to some folders and restrict access to others. If you insert a storage card formatted with an older version of Android, you might find access or your music files on the card restricted or blocked. In other cases, accessing a folder full of large music files might feel slow compared to doing the same with older DAPs. 

I mention these issues here because it’s not strictly a HiBy or R6 III issue, and is common to other DAPs running Android 11+, like Sony’s WM1XM2 and iBasso’s DX300, DX320 and 300MAX with the Android 11 update. HiBy is the only DAP maker currently using Android 12 as its open Android platform, so time will tell if any new issues or benefits crop up with further use.

For now, R6 III features the same fast, robust open Android OS – slimmed down and customised by HiBy for ease of use in a portable music player – as its flagship RS8. That means Google Play Store is pre-installed (on international versions), and you’re free to install and use any Android 12-compatible application you need, from third-party music players to file managers, video players, web browsers and games. 

While using R6 III as a full-blown media device won’t be as fast or impressive as today’s midrange smartphones, let alone flagships, it’s still more than adequate for the occasional Netflix binge in a pinch. But more importantly, having access to a range of third-party apps and utilities means you can take advantage of the built-in WiFi, Bluetooth, DLNA and AirPlay support to make your portable music life much more comfortable.

For example, you can install a full-featured file manager like Solid Explorer and use its WLAN and FTP support to manage music files across your network devices. I use Solid explorer to manage all my locally-stored files over a wireless network, which is much faster and more convenient than connecting the player to a computer or worse, having to constantly remove and insert the tiny storage card between devices. 

Both HiBy Music, the default music app, and more powerful third-party applications like USB Audio Player Pro or Neutron, support DLNA streaming and (some) streaming services, like Tidal and Qobuz, which means you can either stream music online or stream from your local music library, without needing to use internal or external storage at all. You can also use full-fledged media systems like Plex to access your personal music and video library on the R6 III, both at home and on the road. 

From a UI-perspective, R6 III loads up with a neat, plain vanilla Android 12 front-end comprising a launch bar with basic app icons and a neat, three-toned blue wallpaper. It’s easy to navigate, especially when you tweak the settings to enable gesture navigation. Even though the screen has a lower resolution than previous models, it’s still bright, sharp, sensitive, and includes the now-ubiquitous tap-to-wake feature by default. 

All of the sound-tweaking settings are contained in the Audio Settings sub-folder, either by touching the Settings icon, or through the drop-down navigation menu (one-finger scroll down from the top of the screen). Here you can pick from seven different low-pass antialiasing filters (good luck hearing the differences between them), select amplification mode, gain, and DSD compensation levels. 

Two DSP features, MSEB and Plugins, are also found here. MSEB is HiBy’s unique system-wide EQ that you can use to tweak almost any aspect of the sound output using natural-language sliders like ‘bass extension’, ‘note thickness’ and ‘sibilance’.

With some trial-and-error, MSEB works incredibly well to fine-tune any slight ‘imperfections’ in your sound chain, but can also be used to try out some rather radical sonic effects (download a few MSEB presets, like ‘Hot Monster Out-put’ and ‘Ultra Hifi’, to see just how far you can push your playback). Note that playing MQA files automatically disables MSEB effects, so if you’re hearing differences in DSP effects during playback, that could be why.  

Plugins is also a system-wide feature that lets you download DSP effects, from minor balance adjustments to significant tone-altering. The most interesting of these, Convolution, was developed by HiBy guru Joseph Yeung, and lets you make IEM-specific changes using nothing more than a small WAV file that applies a new sonic profile to whatever you’re playing. 

Another relatively new software feature, HiByCast (not to be confused with HiByLink) is a remote-control app that gives you complete access to the R6 III UI from your smartphone or tablet. It literally mirrors the R6 III screen on your smart device, so you can control it remotely without having to physically control the player. The software has some quirks – it requires a shared Wi-Fi network, though you can use your smart device’s hotspot for that purpose – and isn’t as fast as using the player directly. But, depending on your use case, the convenience far outweighs the niggles, and it’s certainly a unique feature among DAPs. 

Overall, the software platform for the R6 III is every bit as complete and advanced as any other Android DAP currently available. Because its Android 12 implementation is fully open, it means you don’t have to settle for the basic complement of apps, or even the neat but nondescript UI. Install a feature-rich Android launcher like Nova and you can literally create any interface you want with just a few clicks.  

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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One Response

  1. Another most excellent review – lucid, readable and relevant!
    Most enjoyable, keep ’em coming.

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