HiBy RS2 Pocket R2R Digital Audio Player Review: R2R Magic In A Compact Package??
HiBy has got a good name in the audiophile industry. What started as a Music Player application(HiBy Music), has grown into a well-established brand that masters in designing and marketing HiFi gears in different categories including Digital Audio Players, Portable USB DAC/AMPs, In-Ear Monitors, etc. Today, I am here with my impressions of their newly-launched R2R Based Digital Audio Player, the HiBy RS2. RS2 with its 480$ price tag has to be one of the most affordable R2R-based audio players in the market. The closest digital audio players with R2R tech I can see would be the Hifiman R2R 2000 Red at 1000$, HiBy’s own RS6 at 1399$, etc. There’s an R2R-based portable DAC/AMP though from Cayin, the RU6 at around 249$ but that’s a different category IMO. So, RS2 has to be the most affordable DAP you can get today that brings the traditional R2R Ladder Array-based DAC arrangement to your hands. Well, that’s all the talk about the price point as per R2R standards, now let’s see how it sounds and how’s the user interface. So without wasting any more time, let’s begin with today’s blog.
A short disclaimer before I begin:-
I bought this unit of HiBy RS2 from HiFiGo at a discounted price in exchange for my opinion on the device. Be assured, I won’t be biased for HiBy or HiFiGo in this blog, all the impressions and points in this blog are completely my own based on my own understanding of the audiophile terms. You can check out more information, and more details, and purchase the RS2 from the HiFiGo website from the link below or by clicking here(It’s a non-affiliated link).
I got the RS2 without its retail package to save a little on the customs duty tax in my country. So I will be skipping over the unboxing part and begin directly with the build quality section. Also at the time of this write-up, I have used the RS2 for about 120-140 hours(including the burn-in).
Things That I Received:-
>Green Leather Case.
>USB Type-C charging cable.
>Coaxial connector cable.
>Extra Screen protector.
>Darwin branded metallic pin(some accessory of some sort).
Design & Build Quality:-
RS2 is quite a handy device. It’s small, compact, and lightweight. In fact, compared to my Shanling M7, it’s ultra-compact. Half the device covers the screen, the rest half is empty with just Darwin Inside logo printed onto it. RS2 actually has a glass panel on the front and backside. Its compact size makes it an ideal choice for all portable use case scenarios. I found it to be handy for my Gym usage. Personally, M7 is a little big for day-to-day carry. RS2 fits perfectly in my pocket, although during my initial days with the set I found the screen to be too small for my hands. If you can notice in the images below the screen size is smaller than my thumb lol.
Although after spending some time with the device, I can operate it easily while still, a little issue persists in navigating through my library thanks to my huge thumbs and small display hehe. BTW I found a way to get along with this by organizing my library in a different manner, I will discuss this in the User Interface section below. About the build, HiBy RS2 has got a solid build. It’s not bulky or heavy by any means. You can carry it around in your jeans pocket and won’t even feel it most of the time. A super good player for use while workout and cycling. At the top, it has got a 4.4mm balanced headphone output, a 3.5mm single-ended output that also serves you with coaxial output, and a separate 3.5mm line-out port. There’s also a slider for turning the device on/off. This on/off slider also allows the user to choose not to take power from the source device while using the RS2 as a USB DAC by sliding it to the left side. This saves you from battery drainage on the connected source device(smartphone or anything) while using RS2 as a USB DAC.
We have the volume wheel with a beautiful glass-finished Darwin Logo on the right side. There’s also a small LED that glows into different colors based on the active music bitrate. Right underneath the LED are three media keys allowing us to easily adjust the playback. At the bottom, we have two microSD card slots and a USB Type-C charging port. According to the brand both of these slots support 2TB cards each, I didn’t have such huge capacity cards but I have tried my two 512GB cards on the device and they worked perfectly side by side.
RS2 has got a metallic frame with a brushed metal finish. The device on its own looks quite premium. I am actually impressed by the handy form factor of the RS2. It’s a perfect device that I actually wanted for my Gym sessions.
User Interface: Meet the Pure AudioOS from HiBy:-
HiBy RS2 drops streaming and other fancy services for the sake of good audio performance and easy usability. The RS2 comes loaded with their newly-developed Pure AudioOS in a stunning Green-Golden color theme. It’s a Linux-based operating system that provides us with all the functions and functionality for direct music playback. I personally have a library of about 6000 songs, according to HiBy, the RS2 OS will create a library of anything close to 50,000 tracks. If your library is even bigger than that, don’t worry it allows for navigating through the Folders and gives you access to any number of tracks. The best part here is, RS2 Boots in an instant, it doesn’t take it longer than 10 seconds to boot every time. The Operating System here offers plenty of features including MSEB(HiBy’s version of the easy equalizer), Darwin settings(offering you a bunch of Darwin Filters), and standard equalizer and stuff too, let’s understand the OS in a better way now.
Your entire music library is here. “All Songs” has the entire music library arranged alphabetically, “Files” to explore our music through the folders, “Albums” for music arranged album-wise, “Artists” for music arranged by Artist Name, “Genres” for music arranged by different Genres(such as Alternative, Alternative Metal, Rock, Electronic, Experimental, etc), “Format” where the music is arranged by formats such as DSF, FLAC, M4A, MP3, etc.
Your Darwin settings are here. RS2 comes with different Darwin Filters named Darwin Default, Darwin 1, Darwin 2, Darwin 3, up to Darwin 10. Each filter is said to have a different output more like those digital filters in DACs Slow Roll-Off, Fast Roll-off, etc. I have personally explored this setting a lot of time but the difference is negligible, each affecting the softness of instrument notes basically. I usually keep this setting on Darwin Default. Point to be noted here, the difference between these Darwin Filters is negligible. There’s also an option to choose between NOS(Non-OverSampling) and OS(OverSampling). This is a common feature in most R2R-based DACs, Oversampling on the RS2 makes the notes a little soft while NOS has more sharpness(attest for me). Third option here is of Harmonic Controller, where you can choose between 0 to 255. I have tried a bunch of sensitive as well as moderate demanding IEMs with the RS2, Yet to notice any difference with this Harmonic Controller setting.
MSEB is HiBy’s take on Equaliser in an easy-to-use way. Instead of frequencies, MSEB shows different settings such as Cool/Bright, Warm/Dark, Bass Extensions, Bass Texture, Note Thickness, etc. It allows for easy adjustment for the output with no prior knowledge of EQ settings. Super easy to use, super useful. Although I tend to listen to the stock form of my IEMs/HPs, so I don’t use EQ/MSEB much.
This menu has got the standard EQ function, Update Database function(for updating the library when you add new songs), Music Update Mode(allows you to choose automatic/manual update, and MQA decoder detection). You adjust playback settings here such as Play mode(Shuffle, Continuous, Loop, Single-Loop, etc). Also, choose DSD settings and other playback settings here.
Your system settings are here that including Backlight settings, Brightness, Language, Theme, Font, USB mode, Time, Idle Shutdown timer, and a lot more. Basically, system settings are here.
Just about us for the HiBy RS2. SD card capacity and other HiBy RS2 related device information are present here like the current firmware version and all that.
That’s all about the different user interface functions of the RS2. One thing I mentioned earlier is that it’s sometimes hard to navigate through your library if you have huge thumbs like me. To counter this, arrange your library in the folder menu on your microSD card. It easily reads through 3-4 layers(maybe more) of your SD card. I have put my music in 3 folder layers, and it’s super easy to navigate in that manner. Just my two cents if you are facing issues in navigating due to the small screen.
On a separate note, operating the RS2 is quite simple. There’s no complicated structure, one will be able to use it easily straight out of the box.
Driving Force/Output Power:-
HiBy RS2 is low on the numbers for the output power. Don’t expect it to throw a lot of power, but it suffices for most IEMs. Actually, I found it to be solid for IEMs including LETSHUOER Z12 Gold Edition Planar IEMs, Sennheiser IE600, Shanling MG600 single Dynamic IEMs, Empire Ears Legends Evo, CA Solaris OG Hybrid IEMs, Softears RSV multi-BA IEMs, etc. It pairs well with 150Ω Sennheiser HD560S headphones too, but it takes all of its power to drive the HD560s haha I am at high gain and about 75/100 for the HD560S. So, IMO HiBy RS2 will be able to drive most IEMs and some low-power requiring HPs too.
Some Good Pairings in my opinion:-
HiBy RS2+Softears RSV:
This pairing is literally a heavenly combination for vocal lovers. RSV with the RS2 delivers some of the best vocals I have heard so far, they sound so rich, so dynamic, and so detailed. During my testing period over the past few weeks, I found myself hooked on to the RSV with the RS2 most of the time. It packs a good punch too while retaining good details.
HiBy RS2+Sennheiser IE600:
IE600 is currently my favorite single dynamic driver IEM. It pairs amazingly well with the RS2. The pairing is sublime, clean, precise, and rich. IE600 delivers a good sub-bass punch and maintains rich vocals and treble performance. I love this combination more so because both the products are ultra-compact, the player disappears in our pocket while the IEM disappears in our ears.
HiBy RS2+Thieaudio Monarch MK2:
RS2 brings life to the midrange of Monarch MK2 with its absolutely brilliant vocal presentation. There are only a few sources with which I personally like the Monarch MK2(Shanling M7, A&K Kann Max), and RS2 joins the league. There’s no noticeable background hiss with this combination, nicely detailed and crisp presentation.
HiBy RS2+Campfire Audio Solaris OG:
Solaris OG is one of the most sensitive sets that I have had the pleasure to own. With the RS2, the pairing is sublime. Even with such high sensitivity, there’s no background noise or hiss. The pairing is pretty good and carries a good punch, lovely midrange, and smooth treble response. Sorry no image with Solaris OG because I sold the unit recently.
That’s about the pairings that I have had with the HiBy RS2 and absolutely loved them. Believe me, the Softears RSV and HiBy RS2 are my go-to set 99% of the time nowadays. Whether it be my gymming session or a simple music session at home, RSV and RS2 are there by my side 🙂
Sound Presentation For HiBy RS2:-
I won’t lie here, during my initial days with the RS2, I was not much impressed. I mean the midrange has always been the beauty of the device for me, but the bass was a little loose and the treble portion was dull, kind of dry. Luckily I had a little bit of experience with other R2R-based DACs in the past(RS6, Musician Pegasus), so I knew that R2R will open up after some burn-in period. Not to my surprise, the player started opening in just 10-15 hours of burn-in, and finally, after the 80-100 hours mark, it felt completely open(My Musician Pegasus took about 100-150 hours too). What initially felt like a messy situation, slowly developed into a love affair for me. Simply putting it ahead, After 80-90 hours of burn-in, RS2 shows tighter bass punch and a livelier treble. The lower-end now complements the midrange with a fast response while the midrange steals the show with its absolutely musical presentation. Treble details have opened up with good energy now, they are not snappy or sharp or fatiguing, in fact, high frequencies now have a smooth, musical tone.
The player here sounds pretty clean and has got a good resolution to the sound image too. Both the vocals and instruments sound precise and rich. For any R2R DAC, people search for an organic tonality, I can assure you RS2 has that rich tone, especially for its vocals. I am someone who craves good vocals, and the RS2 soothes my soul with sheer brilliance. I remember last night while making some notes on the RS2, I was listening to this beautiful track called “Candlelight” by Jack Savoretti, It has layers of Piano and vocals, and RS2 handles the track beautifully presenting rich clarity for vocals. Jack’s voice is a little heavy in this track and the RS2 with the RSV renders the track beautifully. I mean, you can feel the emotion and create a connection with the singer. During the course of the entire track, I had goosebumps on me.
To put it in a few words, HiBy RS2 has the organic, rich tone of an R2R device while presenting you with some of the best vocals in its price range. Sometimes it might sound a little soft on the details, but it would never miss creating a lovely musical experience for me atleast. Now, Let’s discuss the different portions of the frequency segments.
A little loose during the early hours, but RS2 gets a hold on the lower-end with just a few hours of burn-in. The bass punch is good, it’s quick and precise. Sub-bass has got a good rumble with a decent mid-bass response. I would say, The player could use more depth in the lower-end though. It’s complementing, fast, and accurate, but needs more slam IMO.
The star of the show, the candy for the ears with the RS2 is its midrange. “Absolutely brilliant” is not enough to complement the midrange of the RS2. It delivers some of the best midrange with the main focus on delivering quality vocals. Both the male and female vocals are blissful here. Instruments also show pretty solid details and resolution in the mid-frequencies. If you love to listen to acoustic tracks or vocal-centric tracks, I can assure you, you will find your soulmate on the RS2.
Treble is smooth, non-fatiguing, and musical with the RS2. HiBy RS2 promotes relaxing listening with its smooth tuning profile. High frequencies are presented beautifully with no signs of sharpness or sibilance. TBH, RS2 reminds me of RS6 with its treble performance, smooth and rich sounding with no harshness.
You are in for an immersive listening experience with the RS2. The stage is not super wide or huge, but it creates a good 3D sound-field image for its listeners. Stage width and depth are pretty good for the RS2.
Instrument Separation, Dynamics:-
RS2 is not something I will pick up for an analytical or technical session, but I would prefer it for its sheer musicality. But nonetheless, RS2 reproduces a good amount of details from our music and presents us with good separation for instruments. Instrument Tones are well-defined and well-presented.
Well, that’s about the sound impressions from me for the HiBy RS2. Let’s move ahead and check if I can put it against some other player of the same budget league. Forgot to mention the battery backup of the device. I mostly used some 16-bit/44.1 kHz flaws or MQA files, I got around 8.5-9 hours on balanced output on high-gain mode. The device charges quickly too. Now, on to the comparison.
HiBy RS2 vs HiBy R5 Gen 2:-
Let’s compare the HiBy siblings haha. A few weeks back I purchased the R5 Gen 2 for myself but later ended up selling it when I upgraded my primary player to Shanling M7. Both the R5 Gen 2 and the RS2 are close siblings with R5 Gen 2 priced at 449$ and the RS2 at 480$. RS2 as we all know very well now uses R2R-based Darwin Architecture while the R5 Gen 2 adopts a Sabre-based dual-DAC arrangement. Let’s move ahead and discuss the sound between them. Do note that I had the R5 Gen 2 about 4-6 weeks back so my sound impressions are based on my memory of the DAP and the image is also from my archives.
>RS2 has a better tonal definition. I mean instruments and vocals, they sound rich with the RS2. R5 Gen 2 was precisely a little more detailed but a little lean too in comparison. Class A amp mode gave a better body to the R5 Gen 2, but still, RS2 has a better body for the sound.
>For vocals, I would choose RS2 over anything else in its price bracket.
>R5 Gen 2 had better bass punch and slams. They went deep and registered more punch.
>Treble used to be a little snappy on the R5 Gen 2, On the RS2 it’s a little smoothened.
>Soundstage width was better on the R5 Gen 2, but RS2 has better immersion and a more 3d presentation to its soundstage.
>R5 Gen 2 has more power, a lot more. RS2 lacks in this department.
Final Words for HiBy RS2:-
TBH while ordering the RS2, I kinda knew what I am putting my money into. Previously, I have had the pleasure to own the RS6 and I used to absolutely love it. RS2 is kinda the same but a little less dynamic. It delivers a midrange that you will crave in your other devices. RS2 actually brings you a taste of organic R2R tonality at a pocket-friendly compact size. Yeah, I admit the RS2 has a few flaws of its own such as lack of output power, lack of bass extensions, etc, but it packs a musical sound in a compact form factor. It synergizes well with most IEMs, not to mention the dual Micro-SD card slots!! In the end, I would just say, If you are someone who wants a DAP for a smooth and relaxing sound with rich vocals, you won’t go wrong with the HiBy RS2!!
Well, that’s all about the HiBy RS2 from my end, hope you guys liked my write-up, please leave me a like if you really like it and ask me questions related to HiBy RS2 in the comments section below.