DAPs

Hidizs AP100 DAP

The AP100 DAP (Digital Audio Player) is the initial offering from Chinese new-kid-on-the-block, Hidizs (which I have no idea how to pronounce), officially released at CES in January of this year.
It claims to be a ‘high fidelity audio player’ which are big words at the modest price of around USD300 . Let’s see if it lives up to Hidizs’ lofty ambitions.

I would like to thank Musica Acoustics for lending me this particular unit for review. You can find more information and purchase if from their website.
Tech specs and more information on the AP100 can be found on Hidizs’ website.

Package and Contents

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The AP100 comes nested in a series of stylish but understated cardboard boxes. There is no foam padding inside, but it seems sufficient to protect the player and other contents during transit.

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Hidizs really went all out with the included accessories, which I was pleasantly surprised to see. In addition to the multilingual manual, quick start guide and warranty card, you will receive:

  • A screen protector
  • A cleaning cloth
  • A 3.5mm interconnect cable
  • A  stereo 3.5mm to RCA cable (for use with the player’s coaxial input/output)

Basic earbuds are conspicuously excluded. I suppose Hidizs figured that they would likely be a meaningless inclusion for their target audience.

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My AP100 also came with a brown pleather case with a magnetic latch, which admittedly does feel a little cheap, but does not really intrude on day to day use and provides some degree of protection for the player

Design and Functionality

With the exception of the screen and plastic accents around the front control pad, the AP100’s body is constructed of a well machined and finished aluminium, giving it a very nice premium feel. It weighs in at 156g (according to the manufacturer), which is by no means heavy, but enough to make the player feel solid. Dimensions are 107 x 65.5 x 16.2mm, making it of greater girth than most other commercial DAPs, but it’s still small enough to comfortably fit inside most pockets. Carrying just the AP100 around was much more pleasant and manageable than my typical DAP + Amp setup (see photos below).

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Hidizs quotes the AP100’s battery as providing 10 hours of playback time. However, I feel that this is an absolute best case scenario. Typically listening at less than one quarter of the volume, I got about 8.5 hours out of a single full charge. I suppose this is about what you would expect given all the hardware they’ve jammed in there.

It really is amazing to see how much functionality Hidizs were able to jam into this player. It plays most audio formats (WAV, FLAC, WMA, OFF, AAC, APE and ALAC at bit depth/sample rate of up to 24 bit/192KHz), offers native line out and also has coaxial input/output, allowing you to send digital output to an external decoder or have the player receive digital input. There is 8GB of internal memory (approximately 7GB is actually available for storage) and support for up to 64GB MicroSDHC cards.

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The front panel features navigation/playback buttons, volume up and down buttons and the 2.4″ 320 x 240 resolution TFT screen (of decidedly meh quality).

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Up top, we have 3.5mm headphone out, line out and power/blank screen button.

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Down the bottom, you have 3.5mm coaxial in and out , MicroSD card slot and the USB charging/data transfer port. Unfortunately, the AP100 cannot be used as a USB DAC.

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The left side features buttons to cycle between bit depth/sample rate presets and sound EQ presets (which I found a little useless).

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The right side has a lock switch, which disables all other button presses when turned on.

Interface and Ease of Use

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The AP100’s UI might be described as ‘bare bones’. While I dislike the trend of many manufacturers providing silly and unnecessary features with their players like games and voice recorders, Hidizs appears to have taken the exact opposite approach and cut down the AP100’s software to be as simple as possible. Options are limited, however, navigation is quick and simple and responsive, with no lag or freezes as with my Sony F-series Walkman, using a far more complicated Android OS. I also never experienced any skips or stutters during playback as was occasionally the case with the Walkman.

My qualms with the AP100 really start when it comes to track browsing/navigation and playback display. The player makes no attempt to sort your library (e.g by artist, album, genre etc), relying on you to sort all your tracks appropriately through folder structure (track navigation is essentially done through a glorified file browser). Additionally, the browser does not read the tags of your files: it only displays the file name. I typically use a program like CDex to rip my CDs to FLAC, leave the default file name (usually something like 01- Audio Track 01.flac) and add the tag data and cover art. On the AP100, that left me with my albums looking like this:

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The “now playing” view also appears to be very picky with your files’ tags. For most of my files, it will show me the cover art, file name and sample depth/rate of the file as below.

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Nowhere – and I mean absolutely nowhere – can I check the song title, even in the song properties screen, which to me is just beyond silly.

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The player does actually display metadata for some songs (I’m not exactly sure why – perhaps it was the way they were tagged?) but in this case there is no way for you to view the cover art. You just can’t win with this thing…
The moral of the story is: if you’re going to buy this player, you should be very meticulous in naming the files in your music library.

There is also no way to create or edit playlists on the player, however, you can create a list of favourite songs, which I suppose is a bit similar.

The circular pad of playback buttons on the front of the AP100 double as your D-pad for navigating around the menus. They will only perform their marked function (e.g. play/pause, next track, fast forward etc) when in the “now playing” view. This means that they can’t be used to quickly perform track changes or pause playback etc. (unless of course you always make sure to leave it in “now playing” view) which could prove to be an annoyance to some.

I should note that the player does get a little warm during extended use, but never uncomfortably so.

Sound

I’m happy to say that the AP100 did deliver in the sound department – where it really matters.

Its overall sound is very ‘hi-fi’ – that is to say detailed, transparent and uncoloured. There is no particular emphasis on any frequency range: it all sounds very neutral and balanced. If you want sound that is in any way coloured or ‘augmented’, leave that to your amp or earphones.
Compared to my usual Sony NW-F806 + Tralucent T1 combo, the AP100 (using the 3.5mm headphone output) was able to deliver a more detailed sound with a noticeably wider and better separated soundstage. Colour me impressed!

In addition, the internal amplifier seems to have no problem driving sensitive IEMs like the Ortofon e-Q8s or Unique Melody Miracles and was also able to provide enough juice to drive my AKG K701s to decent volumes at less than half of the maximum setting. I would say that an amp is definitely not necessary to enjoy this DAP.

Closing Comments

When you consider that the AP100:

  • Delivers a clear, reference-style sound
  • Plays most file formats with support for high-res audio
  • Can drive both very sensitive and demanding earphones/headphones  and
  • Look decent

all while costing less than half than players like the Walkman ZX1 or AK100, this DAP is an amazing achievement for Hidizs, especially given that this is their very first offering to the market.

However, for that price, the sacrifices do have to come from somewhere. In the AP100’s case it is the interface and overall user experience, especially when dealing with song metadata.I imagine that if you were very diligent in naming all your music files correctly, you could mitigate this to the point where it is practical, but frankly I am too lazy to go through all that effort 🙂

The AP100 was designed to do one thing and one thing only: play music, of which it does an amazing job. As long as you aren’t expecting it to do any more than that, it won’t let you down.