Until recently HiSoundAudio have been in sleeper mode. I am not sure the reasoning of the hiatus, maybe they needed time to solely concentrate on this product at hand, but they have been gone. While they are definitely looking at being back with a bang releasing both new earphones and a DAP, I think they could have made more of an impact… They are lacking a fully functioning website and importantly the crucial social media buzz that helps hype everything nowadays. Regardless of all this I caught onto their return and made sure I got to toy with their new music player, the Studio S6 or maybe just the Studio6! Back in their heyday both their Studio and Rocoo lines of DAPs were always very well received although personally my only experience was of the just OK Nova line. This in truth is a successor to the ever popular Studio line and I know that alone will be getting some fans mouths watering. It is at first glance a DAP like pretty much any other, taking on some unique features and making so bold claims. At roughly £390 before we factor in import fees, this is a pretty darn competitive player, but will it do enough to stand out from the rest.
Choose a Pill… Red or Blue… A or B
Instead of barking up the usual trees of touting DAC chips used and high quality components, HiSound have stuck to making sure we know what their player can do. Not only do they claim it to be perhaps the only player to be able to drive the Sennheiser HD800 (we will get to that later) and other full sized cans. They also then put a lot of emphasis on their special outputs. When I say special outputs I am not talking the usual voodoo of balanced jacks or optical outputs being integrated into the headphone out, nope, this has something completely unique. The S6 is without a digital output in fact and instead just has two 3.5mm terminals posted on the bottom of the player. one is labelled HP OUT, the other LINE OUT. This is hardly something extraordinary in its own right but when you plug a cable into either you are prompted to pick an output, either A or B. Each jack is connected to two completely different and unique circuits that provide a different experience. Combined with the fact that the line out is also with a volume control and can power lower impedance earphones, you actually have a possibility of four different sounds out of this player! That is their intended coup de grace. With all the tuning options in earphones, it was only a matter of time before we got something similar in a DAP right?!
Other than that it has a lot of the usual features, it does all the normal file formats allegedly including DSD although the current firmware doesn’t support that. Hi-Res is already configured though up to 24/192. The line out obviously can act as a pre amp using volume control which is rather novel and I thought worth mentioning. It contains 32gb on-board storage which can be expanded via a single micro SD slot which isn’t bad but a second one does go a long way! The battery is 3300mah and I have found it to be very satisfactory giving me hours upon hours of playback, perhaps around 30 hours which simply laughs at most competitors.
Now I have been preaching this for a while but it really doesn’t matter what DAC chip your DAP or DAC uses. When we did our recent DAP round up there was clearly common trends in the chipsets used but they hardly effected the sound, showing what is much more important is the implementation and surrounding components. It seems to use a HiSoundAudio OEM’ed DAC chip in the HDA-5 and the difference between the A & B settings is the different SiTime programmable oscillators it has attached, one operating at 22.5792MHz (57.92 is Adam Peaty’s 100m Breastroke world record so must be a good number) and the other at 24.576Mhz.
The feature set is fresh in all areas, it is not just another cheap imitation of an Astell & Kern model, it is not just another Cirrus Logic touting DAP and the most exciting thing about the outputs is not just being balanced for once. HiSound have been out for a while apparently designing this and it is apparent they have worked on something special! It’s always great to see some real innovation!
Play and Hope
The tricky department that is the user interface is an area that a lot of DAP manufactures struggle with, especially the teams based in China. While I have moaned about some UI’s in the past none have left me as simply bamboozled as that of the S6. It is not bad because it is basic, it is bad because the simplest of functions just aren’t easy. It is not even in a manner where you have to learn how it functions and then you know what you’re doing, some things just aren’t possible, there is no learning curve. I currently upgraded to the 1.03 firmware, which pretty much done nothing but disable DSD playback, because before it attempted to play and you just got crackling. Because it still did not touch any of my real concerns I was not even sure if this is a product that could be reviewed yet, maybe I should have waited until things got fixed but maybe that is a fate not set to happen. I have read this already has a better UI than the previous Studio series so maybe this is as good as it will get.
The pixel dotted screen that is all in black and white is controlled by 7 buttons. 5 in a diamond with a centre button and then two just under the screen that are your power and lock buttons. On unlocking of powering up you have the play screen which I am completely ok with even if it doesn’t show artwork. It gives you basic information such as sample rate, play mode, volume and the file name. This doesn’t read metadata so nothing will be separated by artist or album and it won’t filter that information onto the play screen but still the information it gives is not the worst. From there you can access the menu which has 3 sections, settings, which is exactly what you would expect and then Music Browse and Music Manage. Music Browse is simply a list of all the music in either your SD or on local hard drive, you can then shuffle these, you cannot shuffle all music off the player and SD at once though. You can also make a favourites area.
Music Manage is the only way to navigate your music with any sort of reason and once again is separated into local music and SD music. After pressing either of these options you go into them and with a screen that can only show a list of three folders at once. I am still annoyed by the top two options being .Spotlight (?) and .Trashes. When you finally get to the music folders you then have the next issue, playing one. I have found neither of the playback settings (shuffle or order play) have any help in this regard and on any chosen album the problems are different. If you are lucky you will select a song and it will go straight to playback screen and play. Sometimes it will play but you won’t go to playback screen and I can live with that although I have done nothing different. Other times nothing will play, or another song will or you will even go to the playback screen and it will just rapidly shuffle through the album you’re in over and over with no proven way of stopping it, and when you do, not playing the selected track. Sometimes when it doesn’t play you can press right then start play and this could work, or give you one of the other results. Once your chosen song is playing sometimes the next song will be from the album, normally what I want but sometimes it will just random to another album. I am not using this wrong, it just does’t navigate properly and can be really frustrating. You can’t even just play an album in order, that is impossible.
To finish this section on a small positive and while it constantly glitches and causes problems trying to play music in any order, it has never just completed frozen or reset itself, other players I have used can do that so I guess that is a bonus? Seriously though HiSound please fix the navigation!!!
A Little brick
S6 is small and slips nicely into your hand. Its still has some heft to it though being constructed solely out of metal. The looks are quite plain and do nothing to make it stand out from the others, other than the fact it is smaller than most players which certainly could be a big selling point.
It lacks the quantity of ports and jacks than some players so this just leaves less to worry about. The player actually has a flare towards the front and back panels so the jar sit slightly inward from the edge which is nice. On top of the player as well as the USB port you also have the singular micro SD card slot. Weirdly though they have implemented it through a sim card like slot that needs one of those pesky tools to get in and out. It’s secure and perhaps safer if you only plan on using one card ever but if you want to be swapping cards on the fly then this is really going to get in the way of that.
All 7 of the buttons have a nice click to them and the touch of the metal is also satisfying but I can’t help but question the position of the the “on” and “return” button. The return button which pretty much acts as a lock button seems the most out of place, with my finger still brainlessly going to the top right like smart phones have conditioned me to do. Build though does not need a huge deal of talk though, the small screen comes with a protector installed and with everything being metal, scratches will probably be the worst thing going wrong with the HiSound! The output impedance I am not sure on but have not come across issues that are common of one that is too high.
Lets take it for a Spin on the Next Page
Turn to Page 3 for my Look at the HSA-AD1 IEM