Hidizs AP100 – Beyond The Veil

Speaking of bed…

Crashing the AP100 has been ridiculously easy. I’ve crashed it 5 or 6 times since first firing it up. And since there is no button-mapped way to thaw the thing out, it’s necessary to let the battery drain. That’s the securest way to reset the thing. The Hidizs-prescribed way is to nudge the reset button. 

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Unfortunately, that button is hidden at the bottom of the tiniest aperture. The only way to trip it is to use a sewing needle. A paper clip will not work. A pen will not work. How many audiophiles do you know that carry sewing needles around with them. 

Any?

Hidizs released a new firmware which fixes the AP100’s tendency to freeze after your computer goes to sleep, or if you happen to unplug the USB cable. Things are much, much better than they were just a week ago. But still, the AP100 isn’t what I’d call stable.

So…?

And now we get to the rest. Which, before I start rending the AP100 a new one, I will mention a couple other positive points. 

1. startup time is fast
2. library scan time is fast
3. general navigation is responsive, and, again, fast
4. playback starts and stops when headphones are plugged and unplugged

Part of what makes library scanning so fast is that there is no database for artist, album, genre, etcetera and so on. You can’t just drag and drop from iTunes into an AP100 finder window and expect to listen to things in order. No, you must make folders and tidily keep each and every one of them in a nice structure. 

And, the AP100 lacks gapless playback. Inter-track gaps are wide, there’s a weird amp off/amp on click thing going on, and then there’s the interface. 

It’s not bad. It’s even easy to navigate. It is, however, bare bones. That said, I will take bare bones over faux luxury any day. I will also take bare bones, and hardware controls over crappy touch navigation. In every area possible, I prefer to use the AP100 to the DX50, to the DX90, and even to the iRiver AK100. If proper UI designers cannot be found, forget the bloody touch screen. 

And Hidizs have. Thank god. 

Unfortunately, certain options are opaque. Why are certain settings engaged by pressing the middle play/pause button, and others by pressing the left/right tracking keys? And while we’re at it, why in the hell don’t those track left/right keys also fast forward/rewind? 

And outside of the NOW PLAYING screen, why is there no indication of what track you currently are playing?

And then there’s the getting of files from computer to AP100. It takes ages. Ages I tell you. Not that music-lovers will find the internal 8GB enough, but dear God, what a waste of time it is to transfer files. My advice: invest in a fast 32 or 64 micro SD card and use the internal memory only to upgrade the firmware.

Then there’s the micro SD card chassis… which isn’t as bad as some players. But it is possible to accidentally jab the SD card between chassis elements, and damage either the card or the player.

Presentation

The AP100 is easy to navigate. It is also reasonably solid. And its factory work is keen. No glue splotches, no notched edges, no metal dust. It is a handsome, and easy to use player. Back to back with the DX90, it is a pleasure to use. Adjusting volume won’t cause you to nudge volume controls. Hold, SRC, and EQ buttons are well placed. 

Hidizs did their homework. Haptically, it is a dream to use.

And then there’s the packaging, the literature, the unstable firmware. My unit came in a box whose literature was either upside down, front-down, or snowed under by paper dandruff. The cardboard frame that holds the player in ripped away from its skeleton. And somehow, a passed inspection sticker made it in.

And the case, which looked leather from online ‘photos’, is some sort of rubber sponge. Its magnetic door barely closes over the player. Apertures don’t properly line up with the interface elements they are meant to expose. 

My first impressions were very, very poor. 

This Made-in-China device goes for 200$ – 300$. Not 150$. Not 100$. Hidizs: if you really don’t care about your product (and brand) being judged on sight, just bubble wrap the player, throw an elastic around it, photo-copy a quick “thank you, here’s how to reset the device” note, and pack-mule it to your distributors. Don’t pretend. You didn’t with the GUI. You didn’t with the hardware interface. 

The flip side to the above is that since Hidizs didn’t care, neither do I. I’m totally happy just tossing the player around, not giving a hoot whether or not it gets scratched by keys or even the sharp edges of an iBasso DX90. 

No sock, no rubber glove, no self-opening leather-looking-rubber case. 

Recently, Craig Mod, a publisher, a designer, a man of many nations, said the following, about printed books (emphasis mine):

Reach for a book. The dedication and earnestness of those who made it is revealed immediately in the margins. If the margins feel questionable, be suspicious. Other corners were likely cut. All authors should have a Margin Clause in their contracts. Objection, your honor. Never be fooled by a fancy cover. Always remember: Covers are just there to protect pages with beautiful margins.

His article at Medium is a perfect analogue to the state of an alarming number of Chinese DAPs. Shoddy accessories and packing and other ‘value addeds’ are baubles. The use of clean-looking 3D renders tricks the customer, masks reality. Both are cheats. Poorly designed value adds and sly renderings are covers, poor and failing. They dilute a brand’s image, fail to suggest quality, taste, or a manufacturer’s sense of pride.

If money is the deciding factor, cut the crap. Opt for a simple and sturdy cardboard insert. Let a 3rd-party design a case. Make to your strengths, not your weaknesses.

Conclusion

While this review is pointed by as many ‘WTF?’ notes as it is by points of praise, by and large, I am impressed by the AP100. In fact, I am ecstatic. The AP100 sounds great. It sounds so good for the price that I’m debating selling my heavily modded AK100. Outside of its settings menu, it is easy, and natural to navigate. It is a pleasure to use. 

It feels good in the hand. If only it had a 100% stable firmware and a more concise control layout. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel.

Finally, I’m sure that certain people would love if it could be used as a USB DAC. 

But it is what it is, and for the most part, that is is very good. It is so good that I can’t wait to see what Hidizs come up with next. I just hope they take their time. I hope they do things right. And I hope they kick tail.

EDIT: I would like to add that though I am hard on the AP100, it is because I feel that it as a platform is the best out there in its price category. It is a platform that I hope Hidizs build out. It is a platform that could be worth the effort. And when you love someone or something, you hope for better for them. 

Hidizs AP100 – Beyond The Veil
3.8 (75%) 16 vote[s]

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Back before he became the main photographer for bunches of audio magazines and stuff, Nathan was fiddling with pretty cool audio gear all day long at TouchMyApps. He loves Depeche Mode, trance, colonial hip-hop, and raisins. Sometimes, he gets to listening. Sometimes, he gets to shooting. Usually he's got a smile on his face. Always, he's got a whisky in his prehensile grip.

30 Comments

  • Reply September 4, 2014

    corvid

    Thanks; fun read. I`ve been looking at this player for a couple of months or so. Hidizs emailed me that the silver version they show on their website is coming this fall.

    • Reply September 5, 2014

      ohm image

      It will be interesting to see the silver version. The black one really has a good finish, but I suppose that silver would handle scrapes better. It might, however, look worse. Naked, aluminium isn’t a great looking metal.

  • Reply September 4, 2014

    Kristian Lindecrantz

    Great reda, as always, quick questions does this accept .cue files?

    • Reply September 5, 2014

      ohm image

      I don’t have any single-file FLAC files with .cue forms. I will generate one and see.

      • Reply September 5, 2014

        Kristian Lindecrantz

        That would be awsome!

    • Reply September 15, 2014

      Arnold Pangilinan

      It does.

  • Reply September 5, 2014

    arethosereal

    I’m glad you’re hard on them. It’s what gets them to be better designers. Value is necessary in this growing market, but there are some interesting players on the horizon, like the Sony NWZ-A17, PONO, and Geek Wave that might get people to be a little more critical in overall product evaluation. I’m looking forward to the trend progression. Good stuff, Nathan. Thanks.

    • Reply September 5, 2014

      ohm image

      I’m so confused about Geek Wave. At first it was supposed to be a DAC. Is it really to be a DAP? If so, I may order one for the team! The Pono doesn’t interest me, but only because of its shape. I want something that stays flat in a pocket. The A17, if it isn’t typically Sony-sized, may be nice, too. The NWZ is a decent-sounding player. It is too large for me.

      The thing that Chinese companies don’t get is that for just a _bit_ more you can purchase a Sony that is both built better, supported far better, comes with better software, similar capabilities, and sound quality, not to mention attention to detail, and arguably, more attention to respecting customers as humans not just holes through which a quick buck can be made…

      That is my primary concern with a Chinese-made, Chinese-designed player like the AP100 that costs so damn much.

      • Reply September 5, 2014

        arethosereal

        Yeah, I think Sony may be in a good spot with the A17, and it’s microsd expansion and FLAC support, to grab a big share of the $300(?) market. We’ll see. The Wave should be good, but the Geek natives are getting restless.

        • Reply September 5, 2014

          ohm image

          Until then, the AP100 is a good choice. It isn’t, however _the_ choice. I love its DAC capabilities. Sony will have that nerfed. And they’ll stick to their awful proprietary cable.

          I’d love if the AP100 was much smaller.

          • Reply September 5, 2014

            arethosereal

            Right. I think someone’s gonna get that killer package with high performance/value and design sooner than I thought a few months ago. In the meantime, I need a 3D printer to make a mold for my android phone/OTG USB DAC/amp combo. The Velcro only goes so far. The stack looks like a burger. If I can just get LG, Stoner Acoustics, and Portaphile to get together. Hmm.

          • Reply September 5, 2014

            George Lai

            Sony’s proprietary WM port cable can be nearly US$50 yet many Chinese websites have clones for one-tenth the cost.

            • Reply September 5, 2014

              ohm image

              At least in Sony’s older models, the line out was by far inferior to the headphone out. I hope that’s been addressed. But to be honest, I would rather pay for the real thing. I hate promoting the proliferation of crap and cheap.

              I live in a country that once was beautiful but has been flooded with nasty, garish, cheap plastic and neon. I won’t go with knock-offs.

              • Reply September 5, 2014

                George Lai

                I wouldn’t go with knock offs if originals weren’t so expensive. Honestly I believe Sony’s margin percentages are far higher on the cable than the actual DAP.

      • Reply September 5, 2014

        George Lai

        The Geek Wave campaign was rebooted and it is now going to be a DAP that can also stream from a server, like their own Geek Station.

        • Reply September 5, 2014

          ohm image

          That’s the clarity I needed.

          • Reply September 5, 2014

            George Lai

            And you can spec it to compete with this Hidizs and all the way to a AK240 Gold.

      • Reply September 6, 2014

        rob

        Amen – i get that it sounds good- so does my SanDisk Sanza and it cost $40.00 + mSD Card. Not $300.00. What got me is that part about the output noise and the glaring software instability. To me thats unacceptable.
        I bought one of the second wave of iBasso DX50s and it never had such issues – and cost $50.00 less.

  • Reply September 12, 2014

    Jenny Watson

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  • Reply September 24, 2014

    riodgarp

    hi, sorry to asking this question again from facebook, I want to know if hidizs ap100 has more stable upgraded fw this year?

    • Reply September 25, 2014

      ohm image

      I hope so. Currently it is pretty good. The first version was the pits, and had to be reset every time my computer went into sleep mode, or when a file couldn’t be read. Now it only freezes if a file can’t be read.

      • Reply September 25, 2014

        riodgarp

        and how to use it as dac? an extension cable from 3,5 mm to coaxial input is just enough?

        • Reply September 25, 2014

          ohm image

          You use it as a DAC the same as any DAC: merely connect its digital input (3,5mm coax) to the coax output of another device.

  • Reply November 15, 2014

    hansi91

    Hey Nathan, I am searching for a decent DAP and the more you read about it the more confused you get. so there is the iBasso DX50 which is not as good as the X3 but more expensive which excludes it from any ranking somehow. then there is only the X3, the DX90 the X5 left (excluding the A&Ks). Now you say the AP100 is THE new thing and sounds better than all of them or would you still distinguish for which use? Its quite hard to get a clear image and i am a bit afraid of doing the “ordering all of them and retour” story… but maybe thats the only way

    • Reply December 5, 2014

      ohm image

      I am sorry to be late here, hansi91, but I don’t have a good Disqus mailbox. The AP100 is a VERY good sounding player, but it is hissy. It is not THE player, but it is one of the best-sounding players out there as long as hiss doesn’t bother you. It really bothers me.

      Personally, I prefer using the AK100 because it is lighter, smaller, and a bit more polished. But without modding it, the AK100 is in no way the AP100’s equal in sound. NO need to tour DAPs out there. Generally, I stick with one for a long time. I think that is a great idea. It saves money. If you have a broken player, or are really in need of a good one and don’t care about polish, and only about sound quality (sans hiss), AP100 is amazing.

      • Reply March 5, 2015

        James Fong

        So in terms of sound ap100 us better than dx90 and x5 despite cheaper? Wow sounds like a great machine

        • Reply March 5, 2015

          James Fong

          And yeah the hiss is when u are not playing any music? Or is it always there no matter whether you are playing music or not?

          • Reply March 5, 2015

            ohm image

            Amp-borne hiss never disappears. You may or may not notice it when you are playing music, but it always is there, just masked. It’s not horrible, but it is more than I expected. Very good sounding player. Very simple, but very logical and good-sounding.

  • Reply May 21, 2015

    Boogie6301

    Hi Nathan,

    Thanks for another good review pointing out clearly the pros and cons.

    I’m more interested in the pros of the AP100. I’m looking for a DAP mainly to be used as a transport for my JH3A. I don’t care about the internal DAC and amp coz I’ll be using the coax out and let the JH3 work it’s magic. I’m assuming by using the coax out the internal DAC and amp is bypassed and I still get the 24/192 specs to match that of the JH3A.

    I initially considered the X5 but thought it’ll be quite expensive just to use as a transport. The X3 also has a dual function analog/digital out but it’s form factor doesn’t match the JH3A. Before discovering the A100 I didn’t have too many choices other than the X3 and X5 that have coaxial out capable of 24/192.

    Other than the A100 do you have a recommendation for another DAP with a 24/192 coax out to be used purely as a transport with the JH3A?

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