disclaimer: The AP80 was provided by Hidizs for the purpose of this review. I had the opportunity to try the MS4 with the AP200 recently, after which Hidizs offered to send the AP80 as it supposedly has even better synergy with the MS4. I have spent a good bit of time using the AP80 as my daily companion to get a good feeling for what it is capable of and have used it both with the suggested MS4 as well as some of my normal collection of daily drivers. I have no financial interest in Hidizs and was not compensated other than the product itself. If you have an interest Hidizs, you can visit their website or their Amazon store.
Unboxing / Packaging:
The AP80 is what I would class as a micro DAP with dimensions hovering right at 2 x 2 x .5 inches, very similar to the Shanling m1, the Sandisk players, and the Riuzu A50 in size. The player is glass front and rear with metal sides and is roughly square with a slight deviation for the controls on the righthand side as a raised rib protects the volume knob and houses the 3 physical buttons. Going around the player the top is slick, the left side has the micro-sd slot near the lower edge, the bottom has the 3.5mm jack and usb-c connector, and the right side has the Volume knob, back, play/pause, and forward buttons from top to bottom. The metal frame has rounded corners, but the edges where side meets front or rear are still a bit sharp so the supplied rubber case is a necessity for pocket carry. The AP80 is available in a variety of colors including black, grey, red, blue, purple (violet) and silver. My review sample is what Hidizs refers to as purple but I would call somewhere between violet and pink. Overall build quality is quite good for a player that now retails for sub-100 USD so a few slightly rough edges can easily be forgiven especially considering the issue is corrected with the soft rubber shell.The gallery was not found!
Internally, the AP80 uses an Ingenix X1000 processor and the Hiby Linux OS (version 3.0). DAC and amp duties are handled by an ESS ES9218P chip which provides 32/384 PCM support and DSD 64/128 support as well as a 2 volt headphone amplifier. This helps keep size and power consumption low, but does limit the AP80 to the use of fairly efficient headphones as total output power is 70mW @ 32Ω and it drops quickly as impedance goes up. The display is fairly low resolution at 480 x 360, but does a reasonable job or rendering album art and with the limited feature set, video playback was never on the menu anyway. The upside to the display is colors are vibrant and the screen is easy to view in bright light. There is no internal storage, but the little player does support cards up to a listed 1 TB and had no trouble reading the 512gb and 400gb cards I tried it with. This seems like plenty for a micro player. The other somewhat unique feature of the AP80 is and FM radio tuner built in. It works by using the headphone cable as the antenna so can’t be used with bluetooth headphones, but it does work reasonably well when wired earphones are attached. I’ll cover battery and connectivity in their own sections.
The AP80 is an interesting mix of touch screen and physical controls. When first powered on, 4 on screen options are presented, player, FM, step, and Bluetooth. Swiping left reveals two additional options for System Settings and about. One of those options must be selected using the touch screen before the physical controls become active (excepting the volume control). Volume can be adjusted by use of the touch screen or using the knob and I found gross adjustments much easier using the on-screen control while fine adjustments were easier using the knob on the side of the player. Once the player goes into screen save mode, swiping up returns to the menu or to the active application. From least used to most, the step option is a pedometer for those who wish to use it, the about lets you check the current firmware version to see if an update might be available. To actually perform the update, you’ll need to go to system settings. Realistically, once the initial setup is complete, you’ll rarely need system settings unless doing updates. Bluetooth is exactly as advertised, turn it on or off to conserve battery, pair devices, or reconnect. FM radio is exactly as advertised and works well although I do wish they had connected the physical volume knob to the tuner control as the arrows on the touch screen either seem to move too fast or too slow for my liking.
And finally, the player app is where most will spend the bulk of their time. This app starts with 4 icons at top and a list of tracks below. Touching the left most icon (the hidizs symbol) opens a menu on the left with options for updating the track database, MSEB (more on this in the sound section), EQ, play settings, and exit. Choosing any of these options except database update, takes you into a full screen menu. Under play settings, the two most commonly used will likely be Play mode (shuffle), Gapless, and gain settings, but others of interest like the filters are hiding in the list if you swipe up to expose them. The four images below show the opening menu, then clicking the hidizs icon, then the two play settings screens.
The second icon from left on the top menu (the musical notes) is the music selections that allows choice by artist, album, genre, etc. The third is the heart which has favorites and playlists hiding under that heading and the 4th (the Spectrum analyzer which by the way actually works) is the now playing option. Below are the pictures in sequence.
Connectivity options are limited to either 3.5mm single ended cable, usb-c, or bluetooth for the AP80 with bluetooth providing sbc and AptX but not AptX HD, AAC, or LDAC which while disappointing is understandable considering the need to conserve space and battery. I found bluetooth connectivity good in open space for roughly 10 yards before it would occasionally cut out, but did find that even a single interior wall defeated the connection with fair regularity. It did work well with player in a front pants pocket for listening which is a tough geometry and more than I can say for a few others I have tested.
On the USB side, I did find that the little player worked well as a USB dac when connected to my laptop and while output power is pretty limited compared to something like the Schiit fulla, at the price point it does make a considerably more versatile offering since the Fulla falls short as a stand-alone player.
The battery is an 800 mAh lithium polymer cell and provides a 15 hour battery life per the documentation. I found the player would indeed run all day without draining the battery if the screen was set to disable after 30 seconds or so. With the screen on fulltime, that life is roughly cut in half but a full work day can still reasonably be expected. The AP80 does provide settings for the length of time the backlight stays on, the brightness of the screen, and the idle timeout of the player all of which contribute to the life expectancy of the battery. I also found that when using bluetooth battery life was decreased, but not as markedly as forcing the screen to stay on. One could still reasonably expect to get 9-10 hours out of the little player before needing to plug in the USB-C charge cable.
The base sound of the AP80 is a touch cool and feels very near neutral. The only deviation from neutral is a very mild lower treble push that lifts vocals just enough to stand forward of the rest of the mix. The AP80 has good detail and even enough micro-detail to be interesting although it won’t compete with higher end models in that department. Where the AP80 really shines is in its dynamics. The AP80 quite simply has more dynamic range and sounds larger (if you will) than the other small players I previously mentioned. Combine that with the tuning options it has, and you have a recipe for a great little pocket music player. It can be as neutral as you wish it, or as V shaped as you make it all while retaining a black noise floor when using sensitive iems.
For a micro-dap, the AP80 packs a ton of tuning options. As previously mentioned, all the chips filters are exposed so the user has the option of 8 different filter options to tune the sound. Also under play settings is the soundfield setting that lets one enhance the stage size if desired. The 10 band EQ is more functional than anticipated and does a great job of sculpting the output and then we come to the MSEB which is Hidizs DSP. I know many see EQ and DSP as abominations and you can stop reading now if that defines you, but for the rest of us, this is an opportunity to custom tailor the sound to our liking and is not common on any dap, let alone on one in the sub-$100 micro category.
The DSP offers setting to tune temperature, bass extension, bass texture, note thickness, vocal distance, female overtones, sibilance (both high and low filters), impulse response, and air. I was expecting effects to be subtle if noticable at all, but that is not the case, small adjustments make small differences, larger adjustments can make this sound like a completely different player. This is easily the most tunable dap in my collection and offers more options to configure the sound than many at much higher price points. Color me impressed.
Pairing with the Ms4:
This was specifically what I was sent the AP80 to do. Hidizs told me the synergy between the AP80 and the MS4 was something special, and I think they were quite right in that. The pairing is quite good and the tuning options actually let me adjust a couple things that I thought needed tweaked on the stock Ms4. I think if I had purchased the two as a pair, I would have been tempted to color match the shells as the blue MS4 looks a bit out of place with the violet AP80, but make no mistake, the pairing is worth a listen as it drives the Ms4 well.
Thoughts / Conclusions:
Pros: easily pocketable, great dynamics, very tune-able sound with EQ, DSP, and filters exposed, sub-$100 price tag
Cons: some controls are too small for large hands to operate quickly, display resolution, bluetooth is a generation behind.