March 28, 2012

Hisoundaudio RoCoo-P: A non-audiophile's take on an audiophile player


A couple of months ago, Hisoundaudio ran a promotional bidding process on Head-fi. I was part of the first 20 people to bid on RoCoo-P. In the spirit of full disclosure, it cost me ~ Rs. 4,500 for the player including shipping costs. I was not interested in writing a review at first. But then, Jack Fu agreed that I could take my own time to come up with a review. Like every one who agreed to review in that batch, I got the Live ear buds free (MSRP of $99). When you get such a generous offer - $99 ear bud and a $179 player for $90's worth, you usually don't stop to think about your complete lack of interest in writing reviews. To keep my promise, I have been trying to complete this review since Feb 1st week, but circumstances have not exactly worked in my favor. To take out all my frustration, I have worked all this week to make it as long and verbose as possible. May only the patient and paranoid survive till the end of this rant-cum-review because I've purposefully excluded summary or highlights.

Huge thanks also goes out to Anubhav on TechEnclave for loaning me his HM-601 and then forgetting about it. I secretly hope that his selective amnesia does not get cured.

Before getting into the review, I must say that I have better luck judging the signature of IEMs based on reviews than sources (DAPs / DACs). I think it may have to do with difference in reviewer bias as well as the gear used. So, I've tried to elaborate where I come from so that you understand the context in which I say something. This is also a bit different from my other reviews where I've held back myself to conform to a 2000-3000 word review format. I have tried to express my thoughts more here, so it's kind of an opinion piece than just a review.

Audiophile players

Ever since I started with this hobby a couple of years ago, there has been explosion of choices with respect to IEMs - universals and customs alike. The portable players market has not been lagging behind. For the last 3-4 years, the portable enthusiast has been served with many players which are dubbed as 'audiophile' players. In general, these players claim to concentrate less on the aesthetics and marketing part (sleekness, screen, battery life, UI) and more on optimizing the sound reproduction part. Of late, companies seem to have understood that ease of use and a intelligible UI are part and parcel of the overall experience. Only time will tell if we will have specialized audiophile players matching the size, ease of use and battery life of branded players.

In this space, we have seen Hifiman's HM-801 (and soon 802/901), Colorfly has C4, iBasso has DX100 - all costing the same as an entry level speaker rig. But some of these 'audiophile' players are priced in the relatively affordable range as well. Hifiman HM-60X, QLS QA350, Teclast products and Hisoundaudio products all lie anywhere between the cost of a Clip+ and highest capacity Cowon J3. Most of these players come from China and several of them incorporate amplifier sections which are powerful. It seems that with great power also comes slight difficulty in daily use, poor battery life, moody support for external cards and so on.

Reviewer Bias

To understand my bias, I must be clear upfront that I used to loathe these 'audiophile' players. I didn't think it was wiser to spend close to a $1000 on a portable or rather 'transportable' player (as most of them are not light either in terms of size or weight) when you can buy a very decent DAC+Amp or even set up a entry level speaker rig.

My prior experience has always been with branded players. I owned a Cowon S9, iPod Touch 3G, Sansa Fuze, Creative Zen V Plus and still own a Sansa Clip+, Sony E353. Nanite N2 was the only one I ever tried outside of the 'comfort zone'. Even though I've used Nanite N2 (re-branded Cube C30) for a while, I was never ready to be the sacrificial lamb. Of course, like every other curious audiophile wanna-be, I bought the severely limited QLS QA350 Mod V2. It quickly became my favorite player for a very short while, before being repurposed as a transport to Leckerton UHA-6S MKI. I normally do not spend much on cables, but I was satisfied with the overall SQ to the extent that I dropped $100 on a (Sys.concept) cable which cannot be used with anything other than QA350 and UHA6S. But, it was not an easy task to get to that stage. To draw an analogy, QA350 is the closest I will come to maintaining a Vinyl rig in the digital world. Most things about it are annoying - battery life (5 hours), WAVE only support, no UI - just a 2 x 8 character display, the need to load tracks using an external card reader and a 3 piece cable for charging. And to think that most players today use the same cable for data transfer and charging and can also load the external card when connected to the PC :(. Thank God! There's no equivalent of record cleaning bath for SD cards. But, the one clinching factor that kept me going was that the switches and buttons were responsive and did exactly what they were intended for, every time. Had it not been for this experience, I would have never gone down this path of suffering in search of "better SQ".

Coming to Hisoundaudio, their Amp3 players received a mixed reception with some loving it and some drubbing it. Their claims of using Class A amp inside the tiny player has it's fair share of detractors to this day. Their Studio series has a battery life in excess of 60-80 hours which runs contrary to the idea of Class A amps being battery drainers. They claim to use a proprietory technology called EMA ((Energy Management and Admeasurement Technology) to reduce power consumption of Class A amps (which in turn increases battery life). Hiss was another issue constantly associated with their players. But, the recent spate of positive reviews of Studio-V made me curious and accept the risk of trying out the RoCoo-P.

  • S/N: 96dB
  • Memory capacity: 4GB + expanding SD card slot.
  • Card Compatibility: Micro SD, SDHC,
  • Battery continually playing time: > 10hours (volume set at 3)
  • Compatible formats: MP3, WMA, WAVFlac, OGG, AAC
  • Screen: 1 inch OLED
  • USB type: mini USB 2.0
  • Dimension: 81.85mm L x 50mm W x 20.65 (MM)
  • Weight: 110g

External Factors

Build Quality

Size wise, it is larger than Clip+, but more compact than I suspected. It feels solid in hand and the finish is good without visible flaws. But the shiny surface is a bloody fingerprint magnet. The bottom side has microSD Card slot, the mini USB connector and two indicators. The one near the microSD slot is what I call the "Play" indicator which turns blue when playing. The other one is the Charging indicator which lights up red when the player is charging and turns off once the battery is fully charged. The top of the player has the reset hole and the headphone socket.

The control of the player lies with the common 5 button arrangement - four directional buttons and the center button. The left and the right are used for navigating through the top menu and Rew/Prev track and Fwd/Next track when playing. Of course, the longer you press the Rew button, the faster the rewinding process. But like some of the other Chinese players I have tried so far (QA350, N2), pressing Rew/Prev button when playing does not take it to the beginning of the current track, but to the previous track. The up and down buttons are used for navigating the vertical sub-menus and for controlling volume when playing. The center button acts as a On/Off switch besides acting as a selection button in menus and as a Play/Stop button when playing. A longer press when playing takes us back to menu. An even longer press is used for On and Off. It has a very small monochrome screen which is 1" wide and 1cm in height.

First Day Blues

What's that player, again?

Hisoundaudio (hereinafter referred to as HSA for short) has two versions of RoCoo in the same plastic-metal enclosure. One is called RoCoo-D (which has a lower gain) and the other version (for which I paid) called RoCoo Power version or RoCoo-P. Otherwise identical, only a couple of things separate them. The word "Power" should be mentioned on the back of the player and the player would have a folder named "Power". In my case, the word "Power" was hand-written in the packaging, 'Power' folder did exist, but there was nothing on the player's body to indicate it was RoCoo-P. Jack Fu mentioned that since they ran out of cases, they had sent out three RoCoo-Ps in RoCoo casing.

Buttonmare on my street

The night I got the player, the right button would not register at all, but the left button would register what seemed like a thousand presses for a single press. As a result, I would get a fast scrolling top menu that I could not stop at all. With a few hours of fiddling, the condition got better. There was another on head-fi who had a similar issue with his up and down buttons. But, most have not reported this, so I suppose I got one of the lemons. At one point during this review, I long pressed the left button only to reduce the volume to zero (down button's action) and not rewind the track as desired. May be there's a Ghost in the machine, who knows? Whether these players require 'audio burn-in' or not, they do require mechanical burn-in with their buttons. I find that everytime I keep using it for a few days in a row, the troubles reduce, almost to a nought. But, it's back to square one after a few days/weeks of not using them.

Even though the build quality of HM-601 is not exactly great, I have not experienced any issues while using it (despite the navigation 5-button panel being a little loose and that bloody heat). I've been comfortable with Clip+ for the last two years, so it would be a surprise if I said anything negative about it. QA350 may look like a college project, but it's actually well built and has not failed on me to perform a function - at least so far in half a year.

UI and all that Jazz

RoCoo-P Screen Settings and the Now Playing screen
PS: Badly taken photographs were added at the last minute to take your mind off the fact that you are in the
beginning of a near 7000 word review

Posted Image Posted Image
Not only is the screen size similar to that of Nanite N2, even the menu structure is very similar. In other words, it's a simple menu structure which is not difficult to learn or navigate.

It supports tag based browsing via it's "Music" menu and folder browsing via it's "Resource Manager" menu. Apart from that, there's only the "Settings" menu and the "Now Playing" to worry about.

Within the Settings menu, there are the usual suspects - "Play Mode" (Normal, Repeat Once, Repeat All and Random with Random being your Shuffle mode). The next item is "EQ", which is pretty useless apart from the default "Nature" setting. Strangely, there is no 'Off' setting in the EQ menu. The other items include the "Screen Off time", "Auto Shutdown", "Sleep Time", "Language", "Storage Info", "Set Default" (aka Factory Defaults), "Ver Information" (aka Firmware Version information) - all of which pretty much do what their labels indicate.

The unique items here are "HDMS" and "Btn Sound". "Btn Sound" is actually nothing but "Button Sound", which is similar to the 'Key Tones' setting in most mobiles. Some claim that turning off the 'click' sound of the button presses actually improves sound quality. Don't ask me as I kept it off right from the beginning as I never understood the idea behing even having button presses make sound. "HDMS" may be 'High Definition Music Source'? Whatever. It is supposed to be equivalent of line out in HSA players. I just think it sets and locks up the volume at 31. More like setting Rockboxed Clip+ to 0 i.e., Headphone out at max volume rather than a true Line out. Turning off HDMS only unlocks the ability to lower the volume from 31. In order to save our ears, it would be wiser to turn down volume as soon as HDMS is disabled.

Volume control works only in the Now Playing screen. It's a major annoyance if say I was using a headphone like DT880, switched off without turning down the volume and forgottenly tried an IEM the next time around. A dedicated volume button would have been better. Another annoyance is whenever center button is pressed from the Now Playing screen, it goes back to the main menu and not the album currently playing. So, switching to a different album or frequent switching of tracks becomes tad too difficult.

While HM-601's menu may not be the most intuitive, I certainly found it much easier to use and navigate despite it's not so great build quality. Now that I've installed the recent Rockbox Beta version, it's even more easier to navigate. Same goes for Rock-boxed Clip+. QA350 by comparison is the worst in terms of features (no rewind / fast forward, need to set play mode etc., using INI file on each SD Card), but so far at least, it has hardly given me issues moving around folders and tracks. Where QA350 is problematic though is that it uses 8.3 short names for sorting and display. So, even if your long file names are sorted on other players correctly, you still need to use something like a DriveSort to setup intelligible short names for folders and if required, for file names (otherwise every Symphony would all be ## - SYM~1, ## being the track number). HM-601 stock firmware suffers the same issue (where it sorts by date of creation than by folder / file name).


Most firms sell not the player, but the spec. But HSA's internals seem a little pedestrian in comparison. Chances are that internals largely remain the same as before. However, HSA seems to be unique by associating specific signature with each firmware. In general, firmware between Studio-V and RoCoo models seem inter-changeable. But, installing a firmware other than what's intended for the player would void the warranty. I very briefly tried the Studio dynamic fimware before reverting back to RoCoo-P's own firmware. Firmwares do seem to make a difference, but I am not sure if they are just loudness / EQ adjustments. Firmware files for various HSA players can be found here (Thanks to i2ehan).The installation procedure is described in the word document that comes with the firmware files and in the first post of that thread. A shorter version followed by me can be found here.

All my listening impressions were done with the 2011-12-23 version of RoCoo-P firmware. HM-601 was installed with Rockbox. Clip+ is running the one of the nightly builds of Rockbox from February. QA350 is running the latest V07 firmware.

External Cards and Library

Whenever a microSD card is inserted, RoCoo-P goes into the "Initializing CMI... Please wait" screen, which is it's equivalent of Media library update, but without any information about the progress. I have so far tried only two cards, both Sandisk Class 4 ones - one at 16GB with WAV files (I'll get to that soon) and another, a 32GB card I normally use with Clip+. Even after installing the firmware thrice (and formatting the internal memory both times), I could not make RoCoo read the tags of my MP3 files on card. Whatever is present in the 4GB internal memory is accessible through the "Music" menu for tag based browsing, but "Resource Manager" seems to be the only way to access the External card contents via File based browsing. My experience with the timing of "Initializing CMI" varies i.e., considering only instances when a card is swapped. It usually lasts three minutes for the 32GB card (which should roughly be the time taken by Clip+ stock firmware to refresh library), but it went on for 6-7 minutes one time. Usually, the "Initializing CMI" appears for about 2-3 seconds on every boot after that, which is not bothersome. Hot swapping of cards seem problematic though. I hot swapped the 32GB card once, which failed half way 10 mins into "CMI.." screen. Since then, with every card I inserted, it displayed the same partial album information it managed to read from the 32GB card. Only a firmware update solved the issue.

Copying files, fortunately is much like Clip+ and other players - drag and drop in MSC mode.


Whenever I get a new piece of gear, I burn it in setting aside my own personal beliefs, especially if a manufacturer says so. It only consumes time and does not disturb me in anyway, so why not do it? Jack Fu mentioned that RoCoo needs 300 hours of burn-in to reach optimal performance. I continuously ran the RoCoo with the charger plugged in.

I did not note the changes before and after burn-in. Some have claimed that the player improved with burn-in and even synergy with certain IEMs improved, but I leave that decision to the individual.

Battery life

The RoCoo initially had approximately 12 hour battery life with MP3 files in the internal memory. Battery life now oscillates between 8-10 hours, though I suspect it was a little less with my all WAV card. Much like N2, if I kept it unused for a while, battery would drain (which Clip+ or other players do not do), so one may need to quick charge every 3-4 days even if they do not use it. The charging time was around 3 hours.


For most people, gapless is not such an important feature. But to those who have gapless albums like Pink Floyd's DSOTM, a moment of silence introduced between tracks could prove so awkward. Of course, with Rockbox support, both Clip+ and HM-601 support gapless. QA350's 'gap' is not even a second, so for practical purposes, it is almost as good as gapless. RoCoo-P would fall into the same category, at least as evidenced with my WAV files.


The other annoying thing that distracts you when listening to music is all those weird noises players make. Clip+ and QA350 are silent if you operate other functions (navigating the menu / browsing the library / EQ in case of Clip+, folder and track changing in case of QA350). RoCoo-P stops playback for a millisec if you move from "Now Playing" to menu or if any button is pressed to bring the sleeping screen back to life. HM-601 with stock firmware makes weird noises when you moved to menu while playing or in between tracks. I've not observed the same phenomenon since installing Rockbox.

Other than Clip+, QA350, RoCoo-P and HM-601 make a tiny pop when switching on, while UHA-6S swishes away like a radio while turning off. Luckily, I have made it a habit to follow the procedure of switching on everything (source, then amp) first before inserting the IEM, then removing the IEM before switching off in reverse order (amp, then source) - a habit stuck with me from the days of using my speakers as I don't think those pops are good for drivers in the long run.


This has been a true bane of HSA players right from the days of Amp3. While it is claimed that hiss has reduced with latter models, it has not completely gone away. It is not audible when music is playing, but if your library has music with quiet passages, you are sure to observe it. Also note that I specifically looked out for hiss during these tests, so you may or may not be as sensitive to it during normal listening sessions. In my tests, RoCoo-P hisses with most IEMs. Strangely, I can hear the some amount of hiss/noise while I was rewinding / Fast forwarding the test track in a similar proportion.
  • Audible Hiss: Fischer Eterna, Atrio MG7, JVC FXT90, TF10, CK10
  • Mild / Very Mild Hiss: Phonak PFE, Etymotic HF2, DBA-02 MKII (though DBA-02 picks up more noise when rewinding), FX700, EX-1000
  • Almost no audible hiss: Brookstone CDD, Fischer Tandem, RE-272
  • Strange: SM3 (more like humming during silent passages and very slight hiss during FF/Rew. SM3 just had to be different from others even in this!)
Sound Quality

Reviewer bias

At first, let us be clear that each of us have different sound preferences. Some lean towards a neutral, analytical sound while others love a warm, tube-like sound. I have always felt that the difference in portable sources (equally applies to IEMs) beyond a particular level is minimal. But if the changes brought about by that 'minimal' improvement consists of what you are looking for, then you won't be wrong in claiming that it 'destroys' everything else. I am hindered by my own preferences and biases. Hence I won't even try to be objective here.

A good source to me is neutral / balanced. My stand is that the headphone / IEM should do the coloration and not the chain before it. Unlike Speakers, one can own many IEMs in his life time - either at the same time or one after another. Either way, it is essential that a source be compatible with all sorts of IEMs - BA, dynamic, high impedance, low impedance. Granted any IEM will output sound, what I am concerned with is allowing the signature of the IEM to shine through unaffected.

One of the things I've come across is that ideally, the impedance of an amplifier (which each portable player does have) should be 1/8th or less (Tyll says 1/10th) of the IEM it powers. Typically, to comply with this rule for low impedance IEMs (16 and below), we need a player with as low an output impedance as possible. But impedance of an IEM is not a constant value as it changes with frequency. So, in some cases even with low impedance IEMs, we might observe subtle to huge changes (mid-bass emphasized, sub-bass rolled off, treble rolled-off), but not as much in others. Those who are interested in going a little beyond this on-the-surface description can read Tyll's explanation of the Impedance-Phase graph and damping factor. Sansas are a fine example of low OI players within a small budget, but they lack the output power. UHA-6S is something which gives me both - enough power and low OI.

Colored sources or sources which have higher OI can sometimes be irksome because they require you to 'match' IEMs for it's specific signature. You are never sure how an IEM would sound like with that player unless you've heard it (lot of trial and error).

Comparison Methodology

IMO, no player is 'great' by itself. It can be extremely satisfying by itself no doubt, but it does not exist in vacuum and hence comparison to other players is necessary to properly evaluate where the player actually stands.

The methodology used here is two fold. First is what I would call 'macro comparison' in which I spend a long listening session of an album with RoCoo-P followed by one of the other sources. This brings out what each of them focuses on. Second is quick A:B of one source followed by another. Unfortunately, I hit another wall here as QA350 does not support rewinding of tracks. Thus this is by far, a more an on the surface exercise than anything deep. To purge any biases, I have repeated comparisons a few days or weeks apart. Even after doing all this, be aware that this is still a subjective, biased opinion of one man and nothing more (so if you don't agree, we can agree to disagree).

For comparisons, I had to use the lowest common denominator, which in this case happens to be the WAV format (which is the only one supported by QA350). So, I prepared 4 identical cards with the same content (rips from my own CDs in FLAC format converted to WAV using foobar2000) and used them with RoCoo-P, QA350, Clip+ and HM-601 respectively.

Size comparison: THE portable, A portable and A brick

Posted Image

Thickness Comaprison: Top of Clip+, RoCoo-P and my main rig of QA350 + UHA-6S....and people tell me I do not exercise
Posted Image

Ideally, for proper comparison, I should have used a player which was in a similar price range ($150-210) and compared it to RoCoo-P. Unfortunately, I had to do with what I had. I did not want to add my old iPod Video or Sony E353 into the mix to reduce complications and taking further time. The rigs are all in different price ranges: one is well under $100 and the other two are $100+ above RoCoo-P. My intention is to see if RoCoo-P can slot between them in terms of SQ and overall performance. Also, two of them (Clip+ on one end and UHA-6S on the other) have low output impedance and HM-601 and very likely, RoCoo-P have high output impedance. A branded player, two chinese 'audiophile' players and US made DAC-Amp - though not a fair comparison set, at least one that has enough variety in it to pick out differences.
  • Clip+ is a well regarded budget player which can be had for well under $100. For a very long time, it was my go-to player for IEM comparisons and is one among the few budget players which has low output impedance.
  • I am not sure if HM-601 Slim sounds any different from HM-601. But, the cost of 4GB HM-601 slim falls within the same range as RoCoo-P.
  • QA350 -> UHA-6S is a costlier rig at $600, but then QA350 acts only as a transport. UHA-6S is costlier than RoCoo-P by $100, but just like Clip+, it is my current go-to rig, only costlier, bigger, bulkier... you get the point.

Driving Power

One of the good things about RoCoo-P is it's driving power. I could listen to DT880/600 at about 22. But, it does not make a good low volume player i.e., Most times, I feel the need to increase the volume to 11 with IEMs, whereas to my ears, 8/9 seem to give the usual SPL I hear at. I would attribute this to the muffled feeling I get about the overall signature, which makes me crank up volume to hear details better.

In comparison, Clip+ barely begins to power DT880/600 to audible levels when you are closer to the maximum volume of 0 in Rockbox (+1 to +6 are elevated levels) not to mention the weighty 6.3mm to 3.5mm adapter and the neutrik plug struggling to stay put within the light weight player's headphone out. Both UHA-6S and HM-601 feature low and high gain modes making for an easier transition from IEMs to headphones.

Sound Signature

Let me also make it clear here, that the jargon I use is almost always in relative terms i.e., when I moved from A to B, I think this is the best way to translate the differences I hear into audio jargon. However limitations do exist in terms of my hearing ability, ability to concentrate and understanding of jargon.

RoCoo-P fails to stand up-to other sources as far as bass is concerned. With IEMs and headphones alike, RoCoo fails to deliver a satisfactory bass note. While stand alone, bass feels adequate at times, the bass was found to be more abundant and fuller in the recording. That's my gripe - the bass note never feels complete as it should - a damp thud with most IEMs than a drum hit. It's as if it starts to decay vertically right after the attack rendering an untextured, lifeless note. Bass extension is just about decent with a roll-off in the sub-bass region. Even HM-601 does relatively better with bass (though thicker sounding). Clip+ extracted a bit more quantity than UHA-6S and was more punchy and tight, whereas UHA-6S was a tad softer, but warmer and fuller in presentation with good extension.

The mid range has a warm coloration. Many times, I felt that there was a slight veil over the mid range, especially when switching to something like the UHA-6S which shines better in the mid range. At first, I thought that it may be on account of the distant mid range when discerning instruments at the back of the stage was difficult (though it logically made no sense. Can't have long sight or short sight in sound stage. Can we?). But, further A:B-ing makes me think that the resolution of the player itself is an issue. On A:B-ing, the mid range notes and details feel a lot more articulate (sharper, more present) with Clip+ albeit the two being not too far off in terms of texture. With UHA-6S, the mid range is a bit more intimate, clearer, smoother and well textured. HM-601 may not be my cup of tea when it comes to overall signature, but it takes the cake when it comes to mid range. It's warm, thick, forward, free of sibilance and very engaging. It's a pity that it is not as suitable across genres and IEMs.

The treble takes a slight back seat to the mids. There's some hint of sparkle with some IEMs, yet due to it's nature - laid back, rolled off at the upper end and slightly recessed, it does not shine even with brighter sounding DBA-02 MK2 or DT880. With some IEMs, treble feels accentuated a bit, but mostly it is due to a bump introduced in the upper mid/lower treble region. HM-601 may have rolled off treble, but combined with the closed in, intimate presentation, it's treble details are more apparent than the RoCoo-P. Of course, Clip+ and UHA-6S do better here.

Sound stage size is one thing I cannot fault with RoCoo-P (with caveats). It has the widest sound stage of the set here with a dark background, even surpassing a dedicated portable amp in UHA-6S. The instruments are well spread out in space, though at a few odd instances, they did feel a bit disjointed. Left and right channels are very distinct with most IEMs. However, mid range placement could be the key as it's placed a tad behind than other sources - somewhat akin to RE1. Imaging and layering are good. But, UHA-6S has better layering of sound and a more coherent presentation. Clip+ is a tad handicapped when it comes to size as it presents things more 'in your head'. However within that, the separation and layering are good enough after the initial period of adjustment. HM-601 has a constricted sound stage and the imaging is not great, though separation is good.

In general, RoCoo-P lags behind in resolution. It's hard to discern micro details from RoCoo. Now, if you ask me the other question - whether RoCoo-P is "musical", I can't help there either. Each of us have a different definition of what constitutes a 'musical' signature and I can just state my opinion here. Though flawed, I would grudgingly accept that HM-601 sounds more 'musical' to my ears.


A good source would easily have 'synergy' with almost everything, of course, for some IEMs better than others. While a good, transparent source will let the IEM do it's 'thing', it won't coverup for IEM/Headphone's deficiencies (add warmth, body, weight, roll off treble). But, if you love an IEM/Headphone/source with shortcomings (according to you), you figure out ways to cover up that 'shortcoming' without disturbing it's strengths (Arrow with Bass boost to power CK10, a tube amp with DT880). But, a moody source demands that you be very careful in choosing it's match. For instance, with HM-601, I'd not go for SM3 as both have creamier, forward mid range accentuating the effect.

To figure out synergy, I ran RoCoo-P with all my IEMs except Sunrise XCape v1 (discontinued) and Panasonic HJE900 (which is rare these days). I did not try to critically listen, but just swapped IEMs at regular intervals during a long casual listening session. I sorted IEMs into various categories. Let me also point out here that this is different from a critical perspective, where I'd have concentrated much more on how close the resulting signature is to the IEM's own. Though I've taken a little bit of that into account, the emphasis here was placed on how good I found an IEM for casual, quick listening with RoCoo-P. The classification should be taken as an indicator of my satisfaction levels during the session and nothing more.

In general, I found RoCoo-P to go well with ear buds like HSA's own Live, which has a warmer, laid back mid range. For the same reason, I found Fischer Tandem (a bit of mid-bass bump was heard though it was insignificant, slight upper mid range emphasis could be found) to be a good match for casual listening. Of this list, the ones classified as 'Good' are the only ones I will bother listening with RoCoo-P. They are the ones where the relatively veiled mid range is not that much of an issue.

  • Brookstone Clear Dual Driver
  • Fischer Tandem: Good mid range, mid bass + slightly upper mid/treble bumped)
  • JVC FX700: The 'bass head' bass is tamed, vocals brought up a little more, treble has no edge. FX700 is a far more capable IEM, but the combo is not bad at all
  • Sennheiser HD600
  • Alessandro MS1i: Sound stage even with a Grado?
  • Atrio MG7: Screws up bass, otherwise fine
  • TF10: More width than depth in sound stage, slightly more sibilant. Cranking up volume a little (from 7 to 9) makes it sound more like a detailed, sibilant, slightly trebly Brainwavz M2++
  • SM3 v1: Least affected of triple drivers, sound stage more 'normalized' and intimate as opposed to enveloping, mid bass bump a bit too much at times
  • Sony EX-1000: Treble emphasis shows through, mids a bit sucked out and not as clear as usual even at volume of 12
Not bad
  • Phonak PFE, Etymotic HF2, DBA02 MKII: because it masks a bit of their analytical edge due to the veil
Somewhat Bad
  • JVC FXT90: Bass gets affected due to presentation, slight upper mid emphasis, but nothing alarming
  • RE272: Veil, lack of airiness, bass
  • Brainwavz HM5: May have more to do with the headphones
  • Beyerdynamic DT880/600: Not as good as driven by an amp, a tad congested with busier, low dynamic range music
  • Fischer Eterna v1: Just didn't like it
  • CK10: Slightly harsher than it actually is. Sound stage is a bit congested with busy passages, way 'audiophile' to screw up one of the best imaging IEMs.
  • Those with quality bass with not so shorter decay (FX700) do not sound odd.
  • Those with warmer, slightly well textured / thicker mid range do not suffer in mid range.
  • Can't make my mind about treble. Phonak PFE sounds nice, FX700 gets tamed a bit, Tandem does decently well, but it's a little more inconsistent across IEMs than bass and mids. I cannot tell one way or another.
  • BAs in general don't do greatly. Triple drivers with varying impedance across FR like TF10 suffer most. Dynamics are a little more consistent in terms of sound stage.
  • Higher impedance headphones like HD600 and DT880/600 do not suffer hugely like IEMs.

HDMS Mode and External Amplification

Considering that HDMS is not a true line out, we are essentially double-amping, much like with Clip+ / Cowon / Sony players.

I could not get it going with ZO2 v3. FWIW, ZO2 is not 'burned in' at all ... and it's a sound processor not an amp per se. However, since RoCoo-P's shortcoming was in the bass department, I could not resist. Trying HDMS mode with DBA-02 produced great distortion. I was afraid that I might have damaged the IEM, so I reduced the volume in RoCoo to 15, increased ZO2's volume and tried it with Fischer Tandem, one of the IEMs which went well with RoCoo. The bass was improved, but the sound was more... warm and fuzzy and sound stage closed in. I preferred RoCoo-P's headphone out here.

Rest of the amps did work with HDMS mode (in fact, sounded too low with volume reduced to 15).

With 2StepDance, the basic signature of RoCoo-P remains the same, especially the issues with bass. What 2SD does add is better resolution all around. The sound stage becomes a bit more exapansive and the mid range is much clearer. Treble comes out better. Placement improves a lot. Without HDMS turned on, volumes between 25-30 work for amplification as well. Anything around 15 and below does not allow 2SD to go loud even with it's own volume set at max (in low gain mode).

With UHA-6S, bass was a little bit better. Though the sound stage was not of a similar size (smaller), layering and placement were better. Background details were much clearer. Treble was a little short of 2SD.

I liked the combo with Arrow 3G (Gain: 1, Bass boost and other settings set to 0). The sound stage did not collapse; instead it was about the same size or even very slightly bigger. Resolution was much better. It was here that I doubted myself about the comments I've passed about RoCoo-P. I mean it's an amp, so it just amplifies the RoCoo-P's output, so there must be something I missed there. So, I went back and tried Clip+ (RB Volume @ 0) via Arrow for comparison. While Clip+ needed a bit more volume, mids were slightly more forward relative to RoCoo-P and details were much more clearer too.



My 'audiophile' player journey so far has been less than enthusiastic. I had higher expectations about the SQ of RoCoo-P due to the positive reviews their latest Studio-V received. I am not blown away by RoCoo-P either in terms of SQ or as an overall player. My biggest gripe is the inconsistency it displays depending on the IEM. I am a very simple person in terms of listening to music - pick up the IEM desired, plug it in, select an album and hit play. But, if I have to be mindful of what I choose to pair with a player, it takes away most of the charm. May be I ought to have tried Studio-V, but it wasn't available under $100 :P

HM-601 has similar issues, but it at least has a slightly stable Rockbox implementation, a line out and a low/high gain switch. Because of it's unique signature, I am even willing to consider it as a special case player with certain IEMs. In terms of SQ, it has better resolution too, though it's smaller sound stage and intimate presentation makes it cringe worthy with wider sound stage IEMs.

Clip+ does one thing quite well - a flat FR. It is not the be all and by all of players considering it's lack of power, sound stage, dynamics etc., However, once I get used to it, it's hard not to marvel at this tiny player which goes with every IEM I try. iPod Video with the typical smoother Wolfson DAC sound was better in terms of dynamics, warmer mid range, a bit more engaging sound signature. But it's headphone out suffers from higher output impedance too. It was better via LO to UHA-6S and 2SD. QA350 is a brighter, better source overall adding good texture to the overall sound. But it too has annoyances like a wide, but not so deep (distant mid range placement) sound stage and not so prominent bass. To me, all these sources are more or less within the same broad range with a few having a higher rating (like 6.9 or 7.3) and others having a lower rating (like 6.5), but they are more variations within a similar realm.

UHA-6S has been my favorite source for sometime now, though iPod Video when combined with 2SD is catching up to it a bit. One of the hallmarks of a good source is not what it does with your favorite IEM, but what it does to make your not-so-preferred IEM (like Atrio MG7) sound good - enough to decide against selling it. It's transparent mid range, well extended bass, clarity and excellent imaging and layering makes it one of my most preferred sources. I would consider these two combos a step up in SQ tier (and also weight and size and not as portable... oh! well!). While I have not A:B-ed properly, I'd say DacMini CX is within this tier as well and may be top of this tier.

To understand my 'tiers', you should also be aware that none of these things, including my favorites score a perfect 10/10. The top-tier may be in the mid to high 8's (8.2-8.8) as on date. May be if I can audition / buy sources and DACs which are supposedly higher end and compare to what I have, they will move up or down in ratings. I will give a perfect 10 the day I hear a source (or a source + amp) that stops me from thinking about upgrades (even if it isn't the very best out there). On this conservative scale, even the differences I perceive as tiny may be much more important to others (like sound stage in RoCoo-P). So, I'd understand anybody saying that players I group within the same tier are worlds apart in reality.

For my tastes and preferences, a little better mid range detail and a little more bass would have earned RoCoo-P a spot clearly above Clip+. But as it stands, I can't see myself putting RoCoo-P in a different tier than Clip+ all things considered. RoCoo-P + Arrow 3G was a better combo. But, if I were to use an external amp, I'd rather prefer my iPod Video with 2SD. Make no mistake - I am not a fan of HM-601, but despite it's annoyances, I like it via Line out to Arrow 3G better than RoCoo-P combo. At least the mids are more organic.

In all, the conclusion is clear - I am just not 'audiophile' enough to appreciate RoCoo-P.

IMO, Who can buy it?

Would I recommend RoCoo-P to anybody? Not to everyone, that much is clear. One who ticks all the following choices does qualify
  • If you are a audio martyr who would sacrifice usability for better SQ (slight hiss during silent passages, ordinary UI, at times moody buttons, at times moody battery)
  • You want to use a player with both headphones and IEMs
  • You do want a small player, but something that feels sturdy in your hands (and you won't do drop tests just to feel good)
  • You love a wider, airier sound stage
  • You are not that bothered about bass
  • You have dynamic IEMs / higher impedance Headphones that have a warmer sounding mid range which is not too forward and bass that does not decay quickly.

No comments: