As portable speakers and wireless earbuds continue to gain prominence, one section of audio gadgets that have become increasingly difficult to justify are portable music players. While pretty much every dedicated player today offers high resolution audio, some stand out for their lifestyle quotient, while others overwhelm you with pristine audio accuracy, and some others simply fit in unassumingly into your gadgets arsenal. The HiBy R3, going by what we’ve seen, is one of the latter.
The R3 is a diminutive player, but don’t let the looks fool you. Gone are the days when music players were assigned to only play mp3 files by the bulk, and the HiBy R3 stands testament to how far high resolution players have come along. What you get here is a wirelessly connected high fidelity music player that can read files from microSD cards, as well as connect to Wi-Fi networks to stream from online high res service, Tidal. You can also read e-books on it, and connect wireless headsets too.
Inside, the R3 features an ESS DAC, and a DSD256-capable audio controller. It is Hi-Res Audio certified, and the interface includes a multi-channel audio tuner that lets you adjust aspects such as audio temperature, bass intensity, response times, overtones and more. The certifications include LDAC, DLNA and AptX, which means you can stream wireless hi-fi audio even if you don’t own a pair of Bluetooth 5 headphones.
For the user, the R3 offers a pleasant, uncluttered interface. The small screen has surprisingly fast touch response, but this isn’t the most accurate. As a result, you do end up missing a few taps. The micro-control of the equaliser, which offers both frequency wise adjustment of the audio spectrum, as well as micro-control of timbre, spectrum-wise tones and more, will please discerning users with a fair knowledge of exactly how they like their sound. However, what I particularly like is how even novice users with beginner-level hobby in audio can also fidget around with the settings, which in return can really help them get a grasp of how audio delivery works.
The R3 features a three-screen interface, with all the settings and menus to the left, the list of songs and artists in the middle, and the music player to the right. Each of these can be accessed by swiping either way. These have further sub-sections, from which you can access other features such as the PDF reader, Tidal, the eight-way equaliser and so on. Most settings are well represented on the screen, and you won’t be spending too much time trying to make sense of a cluttered interface, as is the case with many budget audio players. This makes it apt for first-time users as well. Interestingly, the slide-out menus from the top and bottom are copied directly from iOS, but no complaints about their functionality or ease of use.
Coming to audio playback, the HiBy R3 quotes signal-noise ratio of 117dB, and total harmonic distortion of less than 0.002 percent, which fits the basic ethos of a device that is serious about its audio credentials. What makes this player notable is that you can actually hear the difference between a 256kbps AAC+ file, and a high resolution FLAC file. Playback is not deterred by performance hiccups, and the overall usage was smooth during our two months with it. Making things better is the balanced 2.5mm audio port, which lets you plug in audiophile-quality earphones, too. What somewhat marred the party was that the entire package felt a bit unremarkable, and the HiBy R3 does miss out on the aura that more expensive players from brands such as Astell&Kern come with. Rich audio playback, after all, is always accompanied by drama and theatrics.
We used the R3 with a Whizzer Kylin A-HE03 — a commendable pair of earphones. For comparison, our everyday music experience came from a Samsung Galaxy S9+ and the Kylin, which gave a fairly decent ground for comparison since the Galaxy S9+ also offers a decent range of audio tweaks. During this, we could clearly hear the audio fidelity difference between the smartphone’s audio, and the R3’s. Track textures are richer, with more details and in-track elements. Fine notes and reverbs sound clear, there’s more micro control on the sound, and the R3 does really well to keep the sound true to its source, or play according to what the on-screen EQ shows.
To sum up, the HiBy R3 is a great starter product for your audiophile ambitions. It even comes with a USB-C port, and brilliant battery life as well. There are certain areas where it lacks in refinement — the screen and the rear can get easily scratched, there are comical typos on the interface, and the lack of accuracy with the touchscreen that you will make compromises once you live with it in the long term. But, at Rs 15,999 on Headphone Zone, the HiBy R3 makes for a pretty good dedicated hi-res audio player if you are interested in good sound, but don’t wish to spend a lot.