Lovely hardware but disappointing software
Why would you want a portable music player when you already have the same functionality in your smartphone? There are several reasons why you would want to use one, actually. Audiophiles love them because they usually have a better DAC than a typical smartphone, and they still allow for a wired headphone connection. And there are other good reasons to use one also.
Most reviews about this player, therefore, cater to audiophiles. They focus on specs and sound quality. Sound quality will greatly depend on the source files and the headphone you are using. Our review will focus on usability instead. Can this player compete with the many apps that exist on smartphones?
Good usability starts with good hardware. The device is about two times smaller than you think it is. Unboxing it will make your jaw drop when you notice the small size. Personally, we would like it to be a bit bigger, but it is definitely usable. Build quality is top-notch. Buttons feel good. The volume knob is a bit difficult to use because of the protection that surrounds it, but that is only a small issue. The display is very good and very responsive to touch. It doesn’t have an oleophobic coating, however, so it smudges a lot.
So far, so good. Now we come to the not so good part: the software.
The software experience
The software is clearly made for technical people and audiophiles. It has a ton of settings to change things like Bluetooth protocol, antialiasing, DSP output mode, etc. Things that most people will not care for and which make far less difference than changing headphones for example.
And here we have the first problem: a lot of these settings are not self-explanatory, and there is no manual or help available to explain them. Google will also not find anything about these settings. We contacted Hidizs with some questions, and while they are eager to help, their answer was of not much use. They clearly do not understand enough English to understand our questions and to reply in a helpful way.
We decided to leave most settings at their default values and proceeded to try to use the player and enjoy the music.
We soon discovered that a lot of functionality that people expect to have in a music player is missing here. The software is so barebones that we would not recommend this player if you plan to store more than 10.000 songs on it. And even with about 6000 songs on our device, we found it hard to use sometimes.
The biggest issue is that there are no sorting, filtering, or search options available. All you get is an alphabetical list of all your tracks. The only way to find something in here is to jump to the first letter. And that’s it. If you have a thousand songs that start with a “T” for example, it will take a lot of scrolling to find the song you are looking for.
Luckily there are also 2 other lists: Album and Artist. These are far more useful but they also have no way to sort, filter, or search in them, apart from jumping to the first letter. And the player always returns to the list with tracks. So each time you do something you have to manually go back to the artist or album list. The system does not remember that you prefer these other lists. If you navigate a lot within the player app, this can get tiring.
And finally there are also lists by folder, genre or file format, but we found these of little use.
On most other player apps and devices I can just search for “doors”, for example, and I will get every album and each song from The Doors on my device. Not so with the Hidizs AP80 Pro. All you can do here is go to the artist list, jump to the “T”, and then scroll until you get to The Doors. Very cumbersome if you have a lot of music.
There is also no way to directly go from a track to the entire album. You can view the album name in the track info, and then you need to switch to the album list and start scrolling again to find it yourself. Or you can play the song, then switch to the “now playing” screen and there you will find an option to go to the album. But that works only for the song that is currently playing. So if you would like to play the entire album after you found a song in the track or artist list, you have to play the song first, switch to the “now playing” screen, tap the three dots, chose “View album”, then click on the first song of the album you want to hear (even if it is the same song you are listening to), and then it will start to play the album. If you do not do that it will just play the next song in the alphabetical tracklist on the device. Compare that with most other players and apps that simply allow you to go to the album with one tap.
Same goes for trying to see what else you have in your library from the same artist. This can only be done by going to the artist list and looking for that artist. There is no direct link from a track or an album to do that.
Once you start playing music there is no way to add more songs to the playing queue. Every other player or app allows you to add songs to the end of the queue or has options such as “play next” to have a song play after the current one. You can not reorder songs in the playing queue or remove songs from it. Simply said: there is no real usable playing queue. You either select to play an album or a single track. If you select to play a track, the next track will not necessarily be from the same album but will probably be the next song in the alphabetical tracklist unless you started from an album. A workaround here is to create a playlist and keep adding to that playlist, but as you will see further on: there is no way to edit that playlist in any way, so you can only add to the end of it.
This player is best for people who listen by album. Unfortunately, as mentioned before, you can not set the album list as the default, so you will need to keep navigating back to it. Once you are back in this list, it does go back to the last selected album, if you set that option.
You can use the artist list as an alternative. It allows you to get to all the albums where the artist is featured. If you would like to play all songs on all albums of the selected artist, you can do that too. But it will play all songs alphabetically instead of album after album. So you lose the order of the songs on the albums. If 2 albums have the same song, they will be played one after the other. The only other choice you have here is to shuffle the list. You have to switch to the “now playing” screen to put that on. Again: this player only works well if you listen to one album at a time.
Another option is to use playlists. But there are some serious issues with these:
- You can add any track to a playlist, but you can not remove tracks from them. The only option is to use the delete option, which will remove the track from the database. Even if you select not to delete the file from the micro SD card, the song will not play anymore even though it is still listed in other views or playlists. Probably a rescan of the library will bring it back, but this can take a long time. A simple “remove from playlist” option would solve that, but there seems to be no plan to provide this.
- You can not reorder the tracks in a playlist. They are played in the order that you add them. You can shuffle the playlist when playing it, but that’s about it. If you make a mistake, you have to start all over. You can delete a playlist safely without affecting the tracks, however.
- You can only add tracks to a playlist, not entire albums. This is not a big issue, it just requires extra steps. You need to open the album, long-press on a track, then select all tracks, and add them to the playlist. Most other players just allow you to add an entire album to a playlist.
- You can not rename a playlist. If you made a mistake, you need to start all over again.
- There is a way to save playlists, export them to your computer, edit them there and then import them again on the player, but that is not something everybody will want to do.
- There is no quick way to start playing a playlist in shuffle mode. Most players allow you to long-press on a playlist and choose “shuffle” and the player will pick a song and proceed from thereon. On the Hidizs AP80 Pro, you need to open the playlist, choose the first song yourself, and then navigate to the “now playing” screen to activate shuffle if it was not on yet.
Bugs & Problems
Everything mentioned above comes down to missing functionalities. This could be improved with updates, but the answer I got from Hidizs seems to indicate that they are not planning more functionality soon. They seem to be fine by the way it works.
The number of bugs and real problems is very small, luckily. The most important bug happens when trying to jump to a specific letter of the alphabet to locate a song, artist, or album. The player then sometimes seems to lock up. The selected letter remains on the display, and the list does not react to touch anymore. There is a solution when this happens: you can still switch to another view (track/artist/album/folder) and then come back, and everything will work again and the list will be on the selected letter. A small annoyance.
Bluetooth connectivity is mostly good. Sometimes there are dropouts when you walk in areas that have a lot of wifi signals. Never had that with our phones in the same areas. We do have an issue however with playing music on our Bang & Olufsen Beosound Balance. The Hidizs AP80 Pro connects, but every song is played in extreme slow-motion. We contacted Hidizs about this but they did not reply yet. We also contacted B&O and they promptly replied that they will investigate this. So it seems this player will not work with every headset or speaker out there when using Bluetooth.
Update: after contacting B&O they suggested to try the SBC protocol and that worked. There must be some problem with the AAC protocol on the AP80 Pro, but Hidisz denies it and blames B&O. We think the problem will be with the player for sure since every other device we tested played fine to the B&O using AAC.
Using it with the DH80 DAC & Amp
Many people are wondering if adding the DH80 Amp will further improve the sound quality. We tried it, and yes: there is a noticable difference. The difference is small, however. But you will notice it right away. The sound if a bit more full and warmer. Volume can go higher. Bas is a bit more pronounced. Some songs sound better (more detailed) without the DH80, but most songs benefit from adding the DH80. We used the AP80 Pro for more than a year without the DH80. Since we have it, we almost never use it without it.
You’re probably thinking that we really hate this little player after reading all this. But no: we actually love it! We got used to all of its quirks and the missing functionality and found some workarounds. We do hope that future updates will make it a bit more user-friendly. How hard can that be? Even free player apps offer all the things we mentioned. But we think that might not happen soon because the software is not developed by Hidizs but by another company that also makes similar devices.
In the end, we use it a lot. We love the fact that we do not need to take our smartphone out of our pocket anymore to change tracks. We connect it to speakers to play music on workshops without having to worry about notifications interrupting the music.
For what we use it, it’s fine. It gets the job done. But there is a lot of room for improvement.
Should you buy the Hidizs AP80 Pro? It will depend on how you listen to music. If you switch songs, artists and albums all the time on the fly while listening: better not. If you mostly listen by album, or listen to shuffled playlists that almost never change: it will work fine for you.
Would we buy it again? Yes!