HiBy R5 Saber ($399): Not the pro, not a sabre, but what DO we have?

HiBy R5 Saber: Not the pro, not a sabre, but what DO we have?

Pros: HiBy sound
Details, details, details
Very good clarity
Solid Android background
Affordable
Portable

Cons: Does it do enough to separate itself from the pack?
Might be too small for some.
Slippery outside of case.

HiBy R5 Saber ($399): Not the pro, not a sabre, but what DO we have?

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R5 Saber-MusicTeck

The R5 Saber (not Pro, not Sabre) is part of a tour run by @Wiljen from a unit provided by MusicTeck. I thank both for the opportunity to review this mid-fi DAP. Recently I had Will’s R3P Saber (w/ Sabre chip) in-house and came away so impressed, I contacted Andrew and purchased my own. A review for that unit is finished, but not posted as of yet. As a point of comparison within the family, the R3P Sabre will provide that step up to see if it is warranted.



Specs:

Make/Model

HiBy R5 Saber
ColorsAluminum alloy black
Dimensions107.7*61.2*15.6mm
Bluetooth4.2
USB2.0
Operating SystemAndroid 8.1
DACCS43198*2
SoCSnapdragon 425
No. of CPU Cores4
CPU Max Frequency1.4GHz
WIFI5GHz/2.4GHz, supports IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n protocols
Display Size4.0 inches (540*1080)
Colors16 million colors
TopologyIPS
RAM2GB
Internal Storage16GB
External StorageUp tp 2TB + via 1 micro SD card
Headphone Out3.5mm
Balanced Headphone Out4.4mm
Line Out3.5mm LO
Balanced Out4.4mm LO
Digital OutSPDIF (USB out)
USBUSB storage, USB DAC IN/OUT
Headphone Impedance Range16~300Ω
EQ Adjustments10 bands (±12dB)
Channel BalanceL 10dB to R 10dB
USB DACPCM/DoP/DSD Native
Power Supply9V/1.5A
Battery3500mAh
Charge ProtocolQC3.0
Firmware UpdateOver-the-air update
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Technicals:

Much has already been written regarding the R5 Saber and that it is not an ESS Sabre chipset but rather dual Cirrus Logic CS43198 flagship DAC chips on board, a change from the R3PS. Using Android 8.1, some of the functioning is different as well, as opposed to the R3PS, which uses HiBy’s OS.

Numerous other features highlight the tweaked R5S, adding what HiBy calls a “ruthlessness” of sound compared to the warmth of the regular R5. Purported to have much better resolution than peers of the same price range, you immediately see how competitive this range is simply by looking at the advertising. Running the Qualcomm Snapdragon 425 SoC along with the open 8.1 gives HiBy the versatility to tailor the sound according to their desires. And they did. Much more has changed, but I will leave that to those more versed than I to describe and decipher.

In talking to Will, he told me at the time how the R3PS was his go to at that price, having my Shanling M2x on hand in which to compare. Up until I heard the R3PS, the M2x was MY go-to. That quickly changed. The R3PS is now my go-to at that price, and the R5 Saber has big shoes to fill. This is quite the competent mid-fi DAP so far. I shall do my darndest to mention as much of the “newness” as possible. One need only look at the included diagrams from HiBy to note the large number of changes.

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Gear used/compared:

Shanling M6 Pro
HiBy R3 Pro Saber
Dethonray DTR1

Unique Melody 3DT
Thieaudio Legacy 4
DDHiFi Janus


Songlist:

Dave Matthews
Joey Alexander-Warna album and others
Mark Knopfler-Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
Santana w/ Mana- Corazon Espinado
twenty one pilots
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Big Head Todd & The Monsters-Beautiful World
Mark Knopfler-Down The Road Wherever
Elton John-yep, still good, still cool
Tidal MQA



In The Box:

R5 Saber
USB-C charging cord
Plastic case
Purchased brown leather case
Screen protectors

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Unboxing:

Coming in a traditional glossy-black box, the R5s presents itself in a straightforward manner. What is a bit different and a tad nicer as well is the outer sleeve. Typically, those are almost an afterthought, which gives the manufacturer something else to clutter with photos, glamour or specs. Not here. The HiBy outer sleeve is thick and sturdy, giving a protective layer to the inner box. Simple graphics laden the front and back.

Moving the sleeve off, you are met with another sturdy lidded box, which does have the addresses and website link on the back. Removing he lid, which has a layer of foam glued to the top-inside, you are met with the unit itself; tucked safely into a cutout of semi-hard foam. Under that are two cardboard boxes, which hold the charging cable, instructions, extra screen protectors and the “key,” which unlocks the SD card slot, aka like FiiO’s of old. Added in is the nice brown leather case, which fits well and adds a nice touch of regality to the whole shebang.

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Build/Functions:

@wiljen’s review does an excellent job at the functionality of the R5s, so I will focus on the build, and a brief comparison to the R3 Saber.

With a glossy glassy back cover, and the glass front, you have a burnished alloy frame, and plastic top & bottom pieces. Rounded edges allow the user to feel the tactility of the buttons on each side, nicely. As a result of that shape, and the button feel the unit is not slippery like some I have had in hand. Since functions between DAP’s have not changed, use is as easy as finding the correct button. And like others, the play button is a bit larger than the FF and REW, which helps even more.

Compared to the R3 Saber, the R5s “seems” slightly narrower. I do prefer the access afforded to the buttons more on the R5s than the “inset” buttons of the R3 Saber, when both are in their respective cases. Out of the case, the R3 Saber has uniform switches, which can be mistaken, except for the single button on the play, which sits between the FF and REW. The volume is also a toggle-type button, which sue to the slight raising helps you fiddle with it in the dark.

I like the feel of both, but the R3 Saber just feels right in hand. I also like the single push to turn the unit off as well. Due to the proprietary OS on the R5s, you need to touch the “off” spot on the screen after activating it with the on/off switch.

As for how the R5s functions, it functions well. Easy to use and intuitive since it is running Android 8.1. This is a higher OS than many competitors use and comes with all of the frill you need. Tidal, Google Play, YouTube, Spotify; all download and play easily. With Google Play already installed, it is easy to add the apps you choose. The native HiBy music app comes with MSEB as well, like the R3 Saber, which is a really nice “equalizer” function, that can tailor the music and sound to your tastes with excellent precision. Want a cool/bright signature? Slide to toggle to the left. Warm/Dark? To the right. You can change everything from, crispness to sibilance control to vocal and female overtones. The fine-tuning works and works well. As one who prefers not to EQ, unless it is an XBass-like switch or 3D effect, I generally leave this function off. You get a 10-band equalizer as well, so tailoring the sound to your needs and desires is quite wide open.

Much like my Shanling M6 Pro, the user intuition and feel works like a typical Android-based unit. Some learning curve is needed, but the use becomes efficient and functional after a bit of use. There is a reason the vast majority of DAP’s use Android. It is eminently tailorable and allows all sorts of aftermarket abilities to shine. I will admit though that short of Tidal, Pandora, Spotify and YouTube I may only add another music app such as some of the fine offered ones (choose one, they are all mostly good). That said, the native HiBy app is quickly becoming my favorite of the native-based DAP music apps. Functionally easy to use (better than the Shanling), and on par with the smooth operating Cayin native music app. Functionality ranks quite high here, and ease of use follows that. The way it should be…

I espoused that sometimes you do not need a touchscreen, much like the Dethonray DTR1 or Questyle products have; but this is a case where the touchscreen Android OS works to the benefit. And to be truthful, most favor this route anyway. I’m OK either way, and will switch depending upon my mood.

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Internals:

With the ability to run MQA and work for 18 hours of continuous play, you can tell that DAP’s have moved into the wonderful length of time battery stage, versus the “will I make it until lunch” battery crowd. It’s about time in my mind. Aided by the use of dual Cirrus Logic CS43198 DAC chips, the R5 Saber does not run ESS Saber chips like the R3s, so the Saber name can cause a bit of confusion. Just know that the chips are new, they function as well as the ESS, but do sound a bit different. Incorporating Panasonic electronics as well, maximizes efficiency and helps to control heat issues. Using the Qualcomm Snapdragon 425 SoC memory system keeps the speed up as well, while minimizing heat effect. In other words, this critter just works as one would expect from a mid-fi DAP.

Since this is the unit, which came from Will as part of the tour, he ironed out the connectivity issues, and I had none. Read up on his review for help if needed.


Sound:

Marketed as the big brother to the R3 Saber and little brother to the R6, the R5s sounds warmer and a bit richer than the R3 Saber. I purchased the R3 Saber after listening to Will’s, and I do not regret it. Now my go to affordable go-with DAP, the R3s functions extremely well. That said, had I heard the R5s first, it may have become my go to mid-fi DAP over either my older Shanling M2s or newer M3s (not the x). Both of the Shanling function extremely well but sound a bit thin in comparison. That richness of sound carries over across the sound spectrum to me, and as I prefer the warmer signatured items whether DAP or IEM; the R5s compliments my listening environment with aplomb.

With DAP’s other than the baseline signature, to me it is a bit harder to judge individual sounds like with a headphone or IEM. But differences and similarities between models can be discerned, so I try and focus on that.

I hate to use the term “mature” to describe the R5s, as that may come across as warm, rich and boring. That would not be the case. The R5s does have excellent instrumentation and is a step up from the R3 Saber. But, the R3 Saber provides a “more fun” sound to me, that provides a nice alternative. I would not call the R3 Saber too bright, nor the R5s dull, far from it. Nicely tuned would be better. Detail retrieval on the R5s is better, but both do exude a somewhat similar sound to me. That fun sound of which I mentioned comes across in a better push up top from the R3 Saber as opposed to the R5s. That to me is the biggest difference between the two. Slightly brighter versus warm and rich. The R5s also provides more power and the use of a 4.4bal jack versus the 2.5bal on the R3 Saber. I suspect the difference was due to space limitations, such as the switches were as well.

Soundstage is fairly wide and dep with good height extension as well. That said, so much depends upon the source material here and listening device. Let’s put it this way. On some I can clearly hear how narrow the soundstage is, or how cavernous. With the R5s I cannot discern a narrow soundstage, so I will call it good. The R5s provides me with a very good detailed sound as well. As mentioned, instrumentation is quite good, and this helps with the detail as well.

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Comparisons:

HiBy R5s ($399) v Shanling M6 Pro ($700):

This is my go-to DAP, even though I have the Cayin n6ii mk2. The Shanling travels everywhere with me and provides me with everything I need. 2.5bal, 3.5se, & 4.4bal jacks give me a quick change on the fly, without having to change motherboards or inserts (like the M8). Plus, the sound is sumptuous. Warm, rich, detailed and warmer than neutral the M6P provides plenty of power for all I have due to the dual DAC “turbo” feature as well as three gain settings. I have yet to get it past about 45 on the dial, and then to only check how an IEM or headphone sounds.

This really is not a fair comparison as the price alone is twice; but when you consider all you get from the R5s, it becomes valid. If the prefer an excellent mid-fi first and foremost, the R5s is hard to beat. Then you can skip right past the M6P price to the Cayin n6ii mk2, HiBy R6, or Shanling M8 if you desire a flagship DAP. That isn’t really a bad idea, and the R5s would be (and is) a stellar day to day device.


HiBy R5s ($399) v HiBy R3 Pro Saber ($209):

Mentioned throughout the sound section, the only thing I could add is in relation to the last paragraph right above. If I had to choose between a day to day DAP, it would be the R3s due to its smaller size, and nearly identical sound. Plus, it has all the power I need, and cost nearly ½ the price. A conundrum that HiBy has put about themselves, and one in which you will need to decide…


HiBy R5s ($399) v Dethonray DTR1 ($549):

For pure sound, the DTR1 is hard to beat, and I have espoused its virtues in many a review. Simple to operate using the Linux OS, you do not have a touchscreen, but the focus is on pure sound. I am still hard pressed to find a better sounding DAP for purity, with a hint of warmth at pretty much any price than the DTR1. In my comparison to the Questyle QPM, I noted that the QPM might be the first to compare and make me move upscale to it from the DTR1, but at a cost of nearly 3.5x more, would the merits outweigh the cost? That is how good the DTR1 is for pure sound.

The R5s provides you with many more options, such as Tidal and other music apps and the solid 8.1 OS, which is hard to pass up. Plus, that HiBy sound is taking me in with its level of clarity and slightly warm signature as well. This comparison comes down to features/functionality and adds-ons versus purity of sound. If you want pure sound, the DTR1 is hard to beat. Add in the features of the R5s along with excellent sound, and a cheaper price and the case can be made for that as well.

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Finale:

I purchased the R3 Saber after hearing Will’s. It is now my go-to portable unit when I am working out or need a quick listen. I love the sound, feel in hand and functionality of it. I really do not like the buttons but deal with it knowing of its diminutive size. A Trade-off of which I can live. The R5s is the same but different, though.

Better button functionality, a bit larger feel, Android 8.1 OS, and the option galore make this a tough call. If you want a simple straight forward HiBy-based proprietary OS DAP, the R3 Saber is hard to beat, especially at ½ the price. This is where one could rightly make the case that HiBy shot themselves in the foot, because the R3 Saber is so good. But if you want an Android-based DAP with the ability to run many apps like the true mid-fi DAP’s it will compete against, you would be remiss to consider this affordable mid-fi DAP, for it is good.


I thank Andrew at MusicTeck and @Wiljen for the tour, it was a pleasure playing with and listening to the R5s. This really is a fine DAP, and had I not already had the R3 Saber, it would be in consideration as my mid-fi DAP.

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