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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.