Review of HiSound Studio PDAA-1 - RMAA to come
My God, this thing feels amazing in the hand - like I could kill someone or something. Reminds me of that scene in Fast and the Furious where the 'tool' was a brick. The Studio, more so than the AMP3 is a brick, but very nicely fashioned. It is sleek, honestly. The prototype model has some problems: the glass fascia (presumably which hides the screws) is a bit off kilter; the Micro SD card slot is about 1mm misaligned, so once it goes in, it won't come out.
And finally, any nice headphone you have: it won't be able to connect to the Studio because the plugs are recessed.
Yes, the Studio, like the HiSound AMP3 before it, functions as an 'amp' as well. It is about as good an amp as a national flag is a warm muffler, but oh well. It still doesn't amp earphones for performance. If you want your hard to drive IEMS to nab that extra punch, it won't happen with the Studio. Nor will your midrange Jays v-Jays get any better.
HiSound's products are visionary, but hardly pragmatic. This one, however, manoeuvres better than the AMP3: navigation is much better, primarily because the buttons are much easier to control than the often-stuck click circle. The screen is the same and all functions are the same.
So too is the hiss: it is still Sony X, Sony A845, A828 strength, but thankfully isn't as plagued by clicking in the background as its older sibling is. And, it is classier in every audible way than the HiSound Rocoo which, honestly, is embarassing.
The EQ lacks a custom setting, but applies effects well enough with across-the-board volume attenuation. Don't worry though, there is a LOT of power under the bonnet. It is louder than the AMP3 Pro 2 which could reach deadly levels with most of my headphones.
So what headphones sound best with it? The answer is as simple as always: the DT880 600Ω, but then again, they sound good from almost any source. With the Studio and AMP3 Pro, they are pretty powerful and alive, not thin or reedy. Of course, if you want to get all audiophile, you could plug them into a very expensive source/amp and say they sound better, but I challenge you to use a neutral amp (not tube/valve nor signature-tweaked SS amp), volume match it to something like a good portable amp and find a difference in blind listening. Of course, both amps must be neutral and have similar unloaded performance, otherwise the test goes out the window as one is obviously tailored for a certain sound.
There is more than enough volume at volume setting 22 which compares nicely with the AMP3 Pro at volume 28/29. Both the AMP3 and the Studio have great synergy with the DT880, if nearing energetic. If you have large, power-hungry headphones and don't really care to invest in a nice source, the AMP3 Pro and Studio and even the Rocoo sound good and have great synergy with certain headphones. But, sensitive large headphones such as the DJ1Pro will hiss and that is unacceptable. If all you listen to are portable earphones, I'd recommend you to look elsewhere as neither the studio, nor the AMP3 have the lungs to drive IEM's with grace nor focused energy.
But the purported price of more than 300$ is probably asking too much. It is a somewhat capable DAP with FLAC, MP3, WAV, and WMA playback, FM radio, some custom settings, and an 'amp section'. Plug this into your DAP or source of choice and rather than amp, you are just adding a different flavour to the sound. The lovely midrange from the AMP3 is welcomed back in the Studio which overall, sounds good, but not great. The cute warbly treble is still there, but the Studio ain't fatiguing; it's just cute.
With lowΩ earphones, the Studio, like the AMP3 before it, tends to boom instead of rumble. It can be unnerving at times, and reminds me of the reason my Cowon D2 was sold a long time ago. Fortunately, the sound signature is cuter than the Cowon, so I cannot complain as much.
I've not yet tested battery life, but it seems to keep going and going.
Unfortunately, there are some complaints coming from HiSound's long-time supporters. They need to work on: hiss levels, firmware, and of course, custom service.
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