It seems like every time I turn around, there’s a new company vying for audiophile dollars. So, when I heard of the AP100 audiophile portable player, produced by a company called Hidizs, I was curious.
Because there are so many companies invested in the audiophile player business such as HiFiMan, Fiio, iBasso and others, it takes a bit extra to catch my interest. This time it was…the name. Hidizs. It seems odd, but it caught my attention. A few weeks later, the AP100 arrived on my doorstep.
Having never heard of Hidizs prior to stumbling across the AP100 on eBay, I was understandably skeptical of their first (to my knowledge) portable music player, especially one that decided to take on the high end audio market. Well, that was until I heard it. It was then that I realized that Hidizs knew what they were doing.
The AP100 ships with a leatherette protective case, two screen protectors, a 3.5mm to coax cable, a 3.5mm right angle to right angle interconnect, a micro USB cable, a small cleaning cloth, manuals and warranty information.
Design and Build Quality
Sporting a black magnesium frame, the AP100 is by no means a stand out at first glance. It’s rather plain looking actually. Not that that’s a knock against it. It makes sense. It’s understated and utilitarian in design with a clicky, functional button array and all the necessary In and output ports.
The screen…well…it’s a screen alright. At 320 x 240, its resolution is…acceptable but viewing angles are bad and the screen washes out quickly unless you’re looking at it straight on.
But then again, the screen quality isn’t nearly as important as it would be in a more full featured device like a smartphone, which relies on the quality of its screen to present web pages and videos in all their glory. The AP100, however, merely needs to show you what’s playing, your files and maybe some cover art and track detail, so its screen doesn’t need to be good. Simplicity is the key and the AP100 gets it done in that regard. No, it’s not as easy or as fluid to navigate as an iOS device but I’m not expecting it to be either.
The uncovered Micro SD slot on the bottom of the player supports up to 64GB SDXC cards, which is something of a necessity if you’re planning to listen to lossless files on the player (and if you’re buying an audiophile player, why wouldn’t you?). Onboard storage is limited to a paltry 8GB, which will fill up very quickly if you’re loading it with FLAC and even quicker if you’re going with uncompressed WAV or AIFF. It doesn’t help that loading up that 8GB is slow going too, transferring at a measly 5Mb/s or so.
I take some issue with the Micro SD slot though because it’s entirely possible to accidentally wedge the SD card itself in between the tray and the casing, which could damage the card or the player itself, so proceed with caution.
There’s a small amount of hiss from the headphone out that was only barely noticeable with many of my earphones and only became mildly bothersome with particularly sensitive IEMs. So, while no hiss is certainly better than a little bit, what little there is is hardly an issue.
Battery life was solid at about 10 hours or so in my experience.
The AP100 features something I haven’t seen before in a portable player — dynamic sample rate conversion. With the push of the SRC button along the left side, one can cycle between four resampling options, from 24-bit/88.2 KHz on up to 96 KHz, 176.4 KHz and finally 192 KHz, with subtle, very subtle, changes to the sound at each level, which could be interpreted as improvements to micro detailing and soundstage width. Subjectively speaking, it can result in a slightly clearer and more detailed sonic image. It’s an interesting little feature and one that makes the AP100 stand out among its contemporaries in this market.
One of the more annoying aspects of the player is that its auto shut down feature can’t simply be turned off and the maximum amount of time before the player shuts down is capped at five minutes. So, if you’re in a situation where you might have breaks in time that you’re away from the player or it’s not actually playing music, you’ll have to go through the process of starting it back up again, which, while not particularly long, is a far cry from the instant-on capabilities of an iPhone or other devices.
Unlike most MP3 players, the AP100 doesn’t feature a basic database of all your files that can be sorted into individual albums or by artist, genre and so on. Instead, the main menu simply presents you with a selection of directories on the player and any inserted Micro SD cards, so, if you’d like to group your music in any particular way, you’re going to have to do it on your computer. It works and it’s easy to navigate once you’ve got everything sorted to your liking but it’s far from an elegant solution.
Yes, the actual design of the UI is, like many in this field, archaic, but in the AP100’s favor, it’s at least easy to navigate and functional.
One other minor quibble I have is a lack of USB DAC functionality, like you’ll find in other high end audiophile players like the Fiio X5, HiFiMan’s HM802 and so on, but again, that’s a minor quibble, at worst. It does feature rather specialized support for coax input and output, something that’s interesting to say the least, but not a mainstream oriented feature.
Other than that, its file format support is rock-solid, including support for the most common formats you’d expect like MP3, FLAC and WAV and also including support for AAC, ALAC and the more obscure and niche APE and OGG formats. One notable exception to all of this is DSD support, but that’s about as obscure as it gets, so that’s not a knock against the AP100.
An audiophile portable music player lives and dies based almost solely on its sound quality. No matter the bells and whistles, if the thing doesn’t sound good, it’s not worth it.
The AP100, however, doesn’t have that problem. It’s a great sounding player with a slight warm tilt but not lacking in nuance or resolution. Despite the bit of warmth present in the tonal presentation, the AP100 doesn’t fall short of my expectations in terms of transparency. It’s a very easy going sound, one that doesn’t eschew detail and doesn’t throw it in your face because it can.
What surprises me most about the sound is how little I paid attention to it. Even when listening critically, I wasn’t searching for detail or listening for little imperfections. And that’s the best thing I can say about the AP100. It’s a player that gets out of its own way and allows the music to be heard for what it is.
Will you hear a difference between the AP100 and a good MP3/FLAC player? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t personally endorse higher than CD-quality audio simply because the human ear simply isn’t capable of hearing the difference between a well mastered and encoded 16 bit/44.1 KHz file and its 24 bit/88.2 (or higher) counterpart.
Though its feature set is a bit lacking compared to the big boys in this arena like the Fiio X5 USB DAC functionality, support for more than 64GB of Micro SD storage, the AP100 represents a good value at its $300 asking price, offering excellent sound quality and power enough to drive difficult loads on its own. When paired with a nice portable amplifier, the AP100 is easily one of the most impressive portable players I’ve ever heard and even without one, it still sounds fantastic, but like many portable players, depending on your headphones, it will benefit from a little extra juice.
While $300 is rather expensive for a dedicated media player, it’s right in line with many of its competitors on the price scale when compared to other players capable of native 24 bit/192KHz playback. To put that into perspective, Fiio’s X5 retails for $350 and iBasso’s DX90 goes for $400 or so and the prices just go up from there for other audiophile portable players.
So, maybe Hidizs hasn’t hit one out of the park with their first Hi-Fi portable music player but it’s a solid triple, with home plate in sight. Its sound quality is fantastic, the dynamic resampling is an interesting way to alter the sound in a way that might not be 100% bit-perfect, is potentially pleasing enough to be worth it. The fact that it supports up to 24-bit/192KHz encoding natively is sure to be a boon for folks who believe in that sort of thing. Personally, I’m more than happy with 16-bit/44KHz FLAC encoding as there’s no real sonic benefit to using high res files anyway and the AP100 sounds great to my ears no matter the encoding. But, nonetheless, the fact that the AP100 supports such resolutions is a plus for the player and truth be told, I’d rather have it and not need it than the reverse.
If you’re in the market for a relatively simple to use high res portable player, the AP100 should make your short list. It sounds great, scales nicely with a good amp and supports all the big formats and resolutions you’d probably want. It’s not without its flaws, but it gets it mostly right where it counts.