Portable Bluetooth Receiver Dac/Amps Discussion Thread

Discussion in 'IEMs and Portable Gear' started by shotgunshane, Sep 22, 2019.

  1. shotgunshane

    shotgunshane Floridian Falcon

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    This thread is for open discussion of various portable bluetooth receiver dac/amps from manufacturers like Fiio, Shanling, Radson, Hiby, etc. Feel free to add reviews, impressions, ask questions and provide general discussion about these products.

    To kick off the thread-
    BT TOP.jpeg

    Battle Royale of the tiny Bluetooth DAC/AMPs


    Bluetooth devices have come a long way. Nowadays sound quality is pretty good across the board and untethering your in-ears from your smartphone or other source device is a liberating convenience. Other the last few months I’ve been able to collect a few different makes and models and thought it would be useful to provide a comparison.
    Note: All were purchased at retail by me with the exception fo the UP2; it was provided as a review sample from Shanling.

    First some boring but informative specs about each model:

    Shanling UP2 - $79
    • Bluetooth 5.0: Qualcomm CSR8675
    • Codecs: LDAC, HWA LHDC, apt-X HD, apt-X Low Latency, apt-X, AAC and SBC
    • Chipset: ESS ES9218P Sabre DAC/AMP
    • Casing: Aluminium frame with glass panels on front and back
    • Clip: Removable/slip-on
    • Buttons: Single multifunctional wheel
    • USB DAC: Yes
    • Battery: Up to 11 hours, 200 hours standby
    • Volume: 64 steps
    • Output Impedance: 0.25 ohm
    • Smartphone App: coming soon
    Hiby W5 - $109
    • Bluetooth 5.0: Qualcomm CSR8675
    • Codecs: UAT, LDAC, apt-X HD, apt-X Low Latency, apt-X, AAC and SBC
    • Chipset: ESS ES9218P Sabre DAC/AMP
    • Casing: Plastic and stainless steel
    • Clip: Clip-on
    • Buttons: Single touch
    • USB DAC: No
    • Battery: Up to 5 hours, 20 with charging case, 100 hours standby
    • Volume: None
    • Output Impedance: under 1 ohm
    • Smartphone App: Yes
    Radsone Earstudio ES100 - $99
    • Bluetooth 5.0: Qualcomm CSR8675
    • Codecs: LDAC, aptX-HD, aptX, ACC and SBC
    • Chipset: (2) AKM AK4375a DAC/AMP
    • Casing: Plastic
    • Clip: Built-in; Spring loaded
    • Buttons: 1 volume rocker, 1 track rocker, 1 power button
    • USB DAC: Yes
    • Battery: Up to 14 hours single ended
    • Volume: Analog
    • Output Impedance: 0.5 ohm single ended ~1 ohm balanced
    • Smartphone App: Yes
    Fiio BTR1K - $49
    • Bluetooth 5.0: Qualcomm QCC3005
    • Codecs: aptX, aptX low latency, AAC and SBC
    • Chipset: AKM AK4376a DAC/AMP
    • Casing: Plastic
    • Clip: Built-in; Sprint loaded
    • Buttons: 1 volume/track rocker, 1 power button, 1 multifunction button
    • USB DAC: Yes
    • Battery: Up to 18 hours, 140 hours standby
    • Volume: 32 steps
    • Output Impedance: 0.3 ohm
    • Smartphone App: No
    Note: scoring is only meant to convey the differences in each category. It isn't really meant to combine each for an overall grade.

    BT Clip.jpeg


    Clip: Effectiveness and Quality

    BTR1K: 5
    • Built-in and sprint loaded. Clip is metal and feels robust. Tighter clip action than ES100. Easy to use and operate without looking. It just feels durable and well made. Inspires confidence!
    ES100: 4
    • Built-in and spring loaded. Seems decently built but have seen pictures of broken clips. Fiio clip feels more robust. Easy to use and operate without looking.
    UP2: 2.5
    • Unfortunately it’s not spring loaded, however the end is turned up with a large gap for easy slipping over a belt or jean pocket without looking. Feels slightly thin and not inspiring but hasn’t broken yet Can be removed.
    W5: 1
    • Broke in the first 10 minutes of ownership. The clip clips onto the W5 with two really thin plastic arms. Barely turned up on the end and almost impossible to put on a jean pocket without looking. Will break if it even looks a man’s belt. Worthless. Hiby should get a 0 here; 1 is being very generous.

    Casing: Aesthetics, Look and Feel

    UP2: 4.5
    • Feels great and looks great. Certainly looks premium next to the others. Feels like it will survive many falls, although the glass may scratch up.
    BTR1K: 4
    • Looks way better than you’d think a plastic casing would. Actually it almost looks like it’s metal and feels really durable. Fiio proves just because something is cheap in cost, it doesn’t have to look and feel cheap.
    ES100: 3
    • Looks cheap and feels cheap. Matte plastic is screaming 1982. At least it doesn’t look like an adult toy. While nothing to write home about, it does feel like it will last through average handling.
    W5: 2.5
    • From the Hiby Kickstarter campaign: “Embracing new technology inside and outside. HiBy W5 hops in the futuristic spaceship design, symbolizing the bold and innovative guiding philosophy of HiBy”. Uh, let’s not pretend, this thing looks like an adult toy. -Insert crude joke here- The stainless steel bottom is a nice aesthetic feature, as is the glossy black plastic top but the shape is off putting. Not sure I’d want to leave out on my desk for coworkers to see.

    BT buttons.jpeg

    Usage: Buttons and Operation


    UP2: 5
    • Unbelievably simple. One multifunction wheel for all operations. Long press for on/off; rotate for volume that is incredibly granular (64 steps!); double click to skip; single click to pause. You get the idea. This is my benchmark for easy to use. So easy a caveman could do it. Really, nothing more needs to be said. It just works and works well.
    BTR1K: 4.5
    • This was my previous benchmark on practical usability until the UP2 arrived. 1 large on/off button on the front; 1 small pause/play button on the side and 1 volume rocker on that same side, that also changes tracks with long presses. Could be simpler by consolidating the 2 buttons into 1. Otherwise very easy to operate blindly.
    ES100: 3
    • This is the only one with 2 headphone jacks. 1 for single ended (3.5mm) and 1 for balanced (2.5mm). Bizarrely they put these headphone jacks on the side; one on each side. So now your straight plugs will stick out from the side of the device. Lovely. And if you use a right angle plug, you either have to rotate it up, so the cable comes towards you from the top or otherwise it will cover the separate volume or track rockers on the sides. Come on man. When looking at the unit, the volume rocker is on the left side and track skip rocker is on the right side. Once you clip it your pocket or belt, the volume rocker is… hold on, let me figure this out. Here I’ll just feel for it. Wait the rockers are nearly flush, I can’t really feel what’s what. Dammit, let me take this thing off my belt and see what I need to press. Oh and there’s a little on/off/pause/play button on the balanced side, which is on the… sigh, I need to look again. The analog volume granularity is really good though. Lots of granular volume steps.
    W5: 1
    • There are no buttons and rockers where Hiby comes from. Apparently no user acceptance testing either. This is a touch interface. A very poor touch interface. Good luck turning it on. Supposedly a single tap for 2 seconds turns it on. I usually have to tap half a dozen or more times to turn it on. I’ve been tempted to see if a giant smash against the floor will work better. Once it’s on, it seems to be better responsive to taps. Single taps for pause/play and multiple taps for track selection. There is no volume control; you will need to use your phone to control volume, which is disappointing because I hate the volume increments on my iPhone (fix this already Apple!)

    Sound: Tone and Quality
    Note: I'm an Apple user, so all SQ thoughts are based on the AAC codec to my iPhone XS

    UP2: 4.5
    • The UP2 is the warmest of the four but the warmth is subtle and pleasing. The UP2 also has the strongest bass rumble, which helps deliver a more macro-dynamic presentation that is equally satisfying at lower and higher volumes. The UP2 also has very good treble sparkle and presence without ever being fatiguing. While ultimately I’d prefer a tonality without the warmth, the UP2 remains my all round favorite due to the more dynamic, richer and exciting presentation regardless of volume.
    ES100: 4.5
    • The ES100 is probably the most neutral in tonality of the four, however it also has the meatiest midrange of the bunch as well. Notes are thicker and richer than the W5 and BTR1K by a noticeable difference and it just sounds more realistic than those two. While it has similar note richness to the UP2, the Shanling does portray a bigger low end. While the ES100 doesn’t strike me as having a sparkly top end compared to the UP2 and W5, it’s certainly not lacking in treble presence; it just sounds a hair more subdued next to it’s meaty midrange.
    W5: 4.0
    • The W5 sounds relatively bright next to the UP2 and ES100. While brighter, it’s a very well done treble presentation that is exciting and realistic. While I never found it fatiguing, its note weight is thinner overall and can sound too thin with some IEM signatures. It has deep bass that nearly matches the UP2 with less warmth. When the W5 synergizes with an IEM like the Tanchjim Oxygen, the SQ appeal is undeniably good, but a the end of the day, it’s just not as all round friendly like the UP2 and ES100.
    BTR1K: 3.75
    • The BTR1K also has a thin midrange, which contributes to thinner note weight. Overall the BTR1K is fairly mild mannered and never offends, if a bit boring at times. It pairs better with thicker signatures like the Final Audio E1000. Occasionally the synergy with an IEM’s midrange will come across with uncanny clarity and resolution, like the Massdrop Plus, but ultimately I still find myself craving an more realistic note weight and richness.

    Wrap Up: Parting Thoughts

    At the end of the day, all these bluetooth dac/amps are very good performers and most can be had a very favorable price points. It’s not that one performs significantly better in sonics than the others but the slight tonal differences do add to perceived timbre realism and overall listening satisfaction. In fact I’d say the difference are so small, that the overall operation of the device will heavily influence my desire to use a given device. As good as the W5 can sound at times, it’s user experience is one of the worst I’ve ever encountered. It’s just not good functioning device and I have no desire to ever reach for it. The UP2’s ease of use makes it edge out the ES100 as my go to device. The UP2’s simplicity is an absolute joy to operate and simplicity matters to me, particularly on the go. That being said, I’d certainly not argue with anyone that finds the ES100 more sonically pleasing and therefore their preferred choice in a small bluetooth device. If you’re on a shoestring budget, there’s really nothing to complain about on the Fiio.
     
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2019
  2. Ksaurav402

    Ksaurav402 Friend

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    I see some devices have smartphone App. Can we change sound profile with those app?
    Also did you get a chance to check the input lag in case we want to use them while watching YouTube videos or pair them with firestick or something.
     
  3. shotgunshane

    shotgunshane Floridian Falcon

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    I’ve used the app for the ES100. It’s very well done. There are several filter options, as well as EQ.

    The app for the Hiby is not available in iOS as far as I know.

    The Shanling app isn’t out yet to my knowledge. Hopefully it will be as tweakable as the Radaone app.

    I’ve only listened to music videos on YouTube and didn’t really pay attention to any sync lag. I’ll have to get back to you on that.
     
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  4. jexby

    jexby Posole Prince

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    @shotgunshane would you like a loaner of my iFi xDSD? been using it’s bluetooth connectivity with iPhone X, CA Polaris 1 and Andro, plus the Drop JVC thingys. quality could best the units in post 1?
     
  5. Impulse

    Impulse Friend

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    That usage section is somewhat subjective IMO, I actually prefer separate buttons to all the 2x-3x clicks and I wear these things on my shirt close to my collar so the side jacks end up being a plus for me... Either way, I love the overall form factor of these things, specially paired with a short 1.5"-ish cable. I've got the ES100 + the original BTR1, and used a Sony MW600 for years before those FWIW.

    I think the Fiio uBTR might be the best deal for those on a shoestring budget, doesn't have LDAC or AptX-HD but it's even cheaper than the BTR1K... AptX-LL on the latter and some of the other models can be useful to minimize sync/lag issues when gaming or watching videos. I really like the customizations available on the ES100 app and how well they responded to user feedback thru a year's worth of firmware updates.

    Edit: The higher power output on the ES100's balanced out does open a few extra usage cases for harder to drive stuff... It's the priciest of the bunch tho, goes on sale for $75 every once in a while FWIW. The wheel on the Shanling looks cool, is it clicky or dampened at all? There was an older model with a similar wheel (Bluewave GET or something?) but it had a high noise floor IIRC and some other issues.
     
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2019
  6. Bina

    Bina MOT - Shanling

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    In our app, you will be able to change digital filters of ESS DAC. Or are you more looking for EQ profiles?

    For lag is ideal aptX-LL if you have it available on your device. Especially for gaming.
    For other codecs, they all have some delay and then it's up to the used app / system if it can compensate for it.
     
  7. Ksaurav402

    Ksaurav402 Friend

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    I was looking for EQ profiles. However it’s great to know that we can change the filters of ESS DAC.
     
  8. shotgunshane

    shotgunshane Floridian Falcon

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    Sure, sounds fun! Thanks for the offer.

    Absolutely subjective but I thought it worth while to convey my experience; your typical consumer review usually fails miserably to convey any kind of user experience.

    The most problematic issue with buttons is no consistency between manufacturers on which direction is forward (up or down). If I only owned one device, this becomes less of an issue as I’d eventually commit it to muscle memory but changing out devices for testing can become maddening.

    I can’t stand wearing these at the collar with a short cable. (Tried many times with MH755 and ES100). I just find the experience annoying but I’m sure many prefer that to wearing on a pocket like me. The ES100 buttons are a bit too smooth for non-look pressing for me. I mean it’s possible but I find myself fumbling with it often. I greatly prefer the Fiio buttons due to this. The options and SQ on the ES100 are great and have really set the bar high; I’d just like see better physical quality and port/button placement in a future model update.

    The UP2 wheel is smooth and not clicky at all. You do feel the steps but it’s a quality feel. It’s the same wheel feature on all their daps from the M0 on up. Not sure if the wheel construction is the same on all those daps but I’ve never had any issue on the various Shanling devices I’ve tried.

    As an aside, Someone posted a new a Fiio render, on Clieos’ HF thread, of the upcoming BTR5 and it looks really aesthetically pleasing: https://m.weibo.cn/status/I5dgrD3Yt?jumpfrom=weibocom
     
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  9. Augmentin

    Augmentin MOT - DUNU IEM Company

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    Looking forward to SGS doing an UP4 and BTR5 showdown. Currently I'm leaning towards the BTR5 because I prefer a volume rocker to a wheel.
     
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  10. Poleepkwa

    Poleepkwa Friend

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    Great to get these all together in one place!
    I have owned the ES100 for quite sometime now, and have mostly been pleased with the performance of this unit.

    My experience with it has been surprisingly positive, considering how it felt in my hand the first time I took it out of the box. (feels like Sansa Clip qaulity, but less robust buttons).

    - It's plastic build did not inspire confidence at all, but seems that the lightweight does seem too help it survive some pretty hard drops.
    - Light weight also makes it easy to attach to clothing.
    - Plastic body probably aids in its very solid Bluetooth connection
    - USB-C charging port would be more robust.
    - Battery status indicator on the unit itself would have been a nice plus.
    - Physical buttons are very frustrating. I mostly using it with smart watch controls, so that works very well.
    - I also feel the top end might be bit subdued, but it does seems to be pretty decent sized balls.
    - App is a definite highlight and very informative.

    Thanks to @james444 recommendation, I also have some TRN BR20S headset coming for usage with my SE215.
     
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2019
  11. shotgunshane

    shotgunshane Floridian Falcon

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    The Qudelix-5K looks like it will be serious competition. I read on HF the former CTO of Radsone is behind Qudelix. The 5k looks like it addresses most of the ES100 issues I had. However, it apparently won’t be released until 2020.

    https://www.qudelix.com/5k-dacamp
     
  12. philipmorgan

    philipmorgan Member of the month

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    Except their decision to use a 2.5mm balanced jack, dangit :)
     
  13. zerodeefex

    zerodeefex Grumpiest admin

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    Also don't forget these tests were done on iOS so the higher resolution Bluetooth codecs weren't accessible.
     
  14. gridmaster

    gridmaster Acquaintance

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    Bluetooth codecs are pertinent, but it also goes into the old "all things being equal" equation for audio.
    How well can these bt-amp/dacs actually push performance that ldac makes a difference.

    Also, I've found iOS has a significantly better audio stack than Android, ignoring codecs altogether.
    Android has a really bad core audio stack (in terms of hifi). Many people use "USB Audio Player Pro" on Android because of this, lets you bypass the Android audio stack and go exclusive with the dac.

    UAPP > iOS > Android

    Out the of the box AAC + iOS is fantastic. The differences I heard using Android + UAPP wasn't worth the convenience (for me). Android + LDAC (without UAPP) was noticeably worse for me than iOS + AAC.

    Testing was done with my ES100 and Shanling M0.
    iPhone 7 / Galaxy 8 were the phones I tested with.

    Of course imo/ymmv.
     
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2019
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  15. zerodeefex

    zerodeefex Grumpiest admin

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    using the ES100 and M0 with iphone X and S10+/pixel 2 XL and forcing high quality LDAC mode, it tilts clearly in the favor of my Android devices.
     
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  16. gridmaster

    gridmaster Acquaintance

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    Interesting, could be the Android version difference. I used 8.0 (Oreo).
    I know Androids default audio stack traditionally samples in 48khz segments, so 48/96.
    It would sample my 44.1khz from tidal to 48khz. I found this added digital hash when listening on Android (without UAPP).
     
  17. Impulse

    Impulse Friend

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    Heh, the way they're laying out their design and specs on the website is reminiscent of the amount of info Radsone provided... They even have a little comparison chart vs the ES100 & BTR3 + another one vs some Dragonfly. Definitely one to watch... Edit: Is it WSlee that moved on from Radsone to Qudelix? He was pretty awesome taking input for firmware changes and interacting with the community until some HF drama inevitably happened.

    Edit #2: Support for inline mics would probably be of interest to you no @shotgunshane ? Since you wear these near your belt no? That seems genuinely useful in general for winter time, hooking it up to a USB battery, etc.
     
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2019
  18. shotgunshane

    shotgunshane Floridian Falcon

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    Someone posted on HF they emailed Qudelix and it was wslee.
     
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  19. zerodeefex

    zerodeefex Grumpiest admin

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    To be clear, I've used UAPP and others for years so I have no idea what normal people use.
     
  20. gridmaster

    gridmaster Acquaintance

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    Right, which is what I alluded to in my original post. Android + UAPP + LDAC clearly better than iOS + AAC.
    Android without UAPP wasn't great for me, specifically because of Androids default 48khz sampling segments.

    Even Android + UAPP + SBC edged out iOS + AAC for me. Android without UAPP was never great to me, they could have improved on the default audio stack with version 9/10 tho no idea, haven't used Android since 8.
     
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