Its Android but not as we know it. The latest DAP (Digital Audio Player) from Korea, the Opus #1. With a name like that its clearly got soemthing to live up to and if you are interested to see how it does, keep on reading.
Thanks to Hifiheadphones for the loaner.
Oooh all black box, nice to the touch, silver and black does look good. Mind you with its price so it should, not that it really matters but you know, nice things are always nicer than not nice things. The little box the leather case comes in is rather less so, okay just how fancy is that case??? Oooh pretty, pretty, pretty. That case screams I am fancy. The DAP itself is nice to look at it, I like the angularity of it and its asymmetry. I am a little curious as to why the screen is so big on it. Does it do video and other Androidy stuff? Powering it up, it’s a pretty nice screen if I think a total waste. The UI is a little odd but once you have a little play your get the hang of it. Though there is no Androidyness to it at all. It may run android but it’s a highly locked down custom UI. So if you think you’re going to be browsing Facebook or checking your email think again. Oh my its really snappy though. VVVV responsive.
Playing a little track or two, damn it. It sound really good, sufficiently good that after 30 min I’m pretty sure I don’t want to return it. Bother. It feels so effortless and so detailed but without the Studio V’s crisp bight. Darn this is going to be one of those endless A/B’ing back on forth things isn’t it. Sigh.
You know while I feel that DAP and only a DAP has no need for a big nor geed screen. The screen here is big and it’s quite nice. Not the highest resolution but good viewing angles. If you are huge on wanting the album art then yes they go great on here. I just don’t care. Sure it’s nice but frankly I’d much rather have the buttons more comfortably placed on the front. It does have real buttons on the sides so you aren’t forced to use the touchscreen controls for track and volume control. More in-depth controls you do but you are going to likely want to be looking at the screen anyway at that point.
In use its battery life is pretty good. However the most interesting bit I found was when I accidently left in on overnight. It wasn’t off, it was just screen off, on standby, so pressing power it instantly was back to life. It had barely dropped anything. That I really appreciate as you try that with the HM-650 and it’ll be long dead. I mean we’ve all accidently put something down, its screen off and you forget to properly turn it off haven’t we? It doesn’t give any quoted standby times however, still its 10 hours of rated playback seemed about right to me. Maybe a little on the conservative side actually but I wasn’t going to get a stop watch and time it. I couldn’t even begin to imagine its standby time other than at least several days.
Strange. You live directly in the playback state and then you can access the very limited menu from there. Limited doesn’t really quite express how little option you have other than playback ones. It’s so stripped down it doesn’t feel like Android in the slightest. The trade off in lacking any generalist Android talents is that it’s so streamlined, the UI moves like poop off a shovel. The thing is lightning fast. Most notably the skip track transition is instant. Not fast, not snappy but instantaneous. I’ve never had a DAP of any kind respond with this sort of speed. It is crazy stupid fast.
In The Hand
It’s a highly angular affair but it was fine. Its plastic edges made it feel a little less severe than if had been metal. Why they slapped a glossy bit of plastic on the back I don’t know. Still it’s quite nice, fits my hand rather well and I found the hardware buttons to be reasonably placed. I would have rather seen them on the front and a much smaller screen but no biggie. The case, now while that thing made the Opus look fabulous I really didn’t like it in my hand. It felt fine but unnecessary and more significantly it make it harder to feel the hardware buttons and then to press them. So while its looks super good after a day the exquisitely lovely case got removed.
Supports WAV, FLAC, ALAC, AIFF, DSD, WMA, MP3, OGG, APE (Normal, High, Fast) audio files High-resolution portable sound supporting up to 24bit/192kHz. So that’s pretty much everything I’ve heard of I think. It also has two micro SD card slots and so it officially supports 200GB cards in each slot. However due to the spec it really ought to have no trouble taking cards up to the max size for the specification so, in theory that include the just announced 256GB cards right the way up to a crazy 2TB cards. I can’t promise that but there seem no reason why it shouldn’t.
It’s on the whole pretty simple here. We have the charging and data port on the bottom in the form of a micro USB socket. The afore mentioned 2 micro SD card slots then up top we have a standard 3.5mm headphone out. Lastly we have a more curious addition. It’s a 2.5mm balanced output. That certainly not something you see round much and it is a bit of a bonus feature for those who would make use of it. I however have nothing with a 2.5mm balanced connector.
I didn’t manage to notice anywhere that says what the dial goes up to. Visually I’m going to guess 150 but either way I wasn’t really ever pushing past 100. And that was with the Oppo PM-3’s. You really ought to have more than ample headroom to burst your eardrums if you really want to. Even with the HD600’s I could make them go louder that I would ever feel comfortable at, unpleasantly loud if you want.
Pretty bloody flawless. They to my ears seem to be almost perfectly neutral, a tiny hint of natural but for the most part unflavoured and uncoloured. They are excellent, bugger me they damn good. I’m not one for warmed DAP’s as so many seem to be so this sort of colourless sound is perfect for me. It’s a little lacking in explicitness in the midrange for me but I’m nit picking. Up top though is where they shine. Or rather they shimmer. Gobs of detail yet with no brutality or edge. Its not soft though, just super detailed, of course you need very highly resolving earphones to pull out the most from them so they are somewhat more suited to brighter and more explicit headphones and IEM’s. It’s so nonchalant though I constantly feel like I want to turn them up to expose to my ears all that detail they so casually present. It’s all there but a faintest reticence. So demure and calm. If it was a song it be The Beautiful South’s “A Little Time.” So much there so much gentle detail and emotiveness all there, just raging below some sweeping and gently melodic foreground.
They are polite. There is a hint of punch impact diminished. Scale and power though they can be powerful and drive bassy things well, they just are simply too polite to be truly vicious. Even with the Senn IE8’s in their bass should be so dangerous it ready to rip your face off. Instead there are gloriously symphonic wonderment. Acoustic lows are fabulously natural sounding and almost so real you could reach forth and touch them. For audiophile and purist listeners they are mesmerizingly good but if you want cheap party explosive power? Well they just don’t want to go there. They don’t want to tear your face off. Now given they cost £550, shocker that they are playing to the sensibilities of a more mature and grown up audience. They are harmoniously beautifully rendered even when they shouldn’t be. It’s like taking a pot noodle and serving it in the most exquisite bone china.
There is a teeny bit of reluctance to shine but their nuance levels are superb. I wish they would come take centre stage and dominate but much like “A Little Time” there is a certain gentility to proceedings. Firing up the more aggressive Northern Kings and their vocals, while excellently rendered have a certain aggressiveness diminished. There is something being held back, the brutality, the scariness isn’t quite there. I’m not sure I’m really quite putting my finger on exactly what it is. There is so much detail and it’s all so effortlessly rendered it’s all so unhurried and nonchalant. There should feel like things are struggling a bit or maybe I’m just so used to that from lesser things? These just having any sense of enthusiasm, they are just so good, they know they’re good and they render all before them but they seem to have no emotional investment in the process. Arguably you want a DAP to be flavourless and not adding anything, use the headphones and earphones for that right?
They are beautiful but I want to bump them forward and give them a little soul rather than just their presently flawless rendition.
They are superb, they really, really are just so good. They are so detailed and nuanced but without any sort of bight. It’s all a little unexciting. It’s a little curious as its really quite capable of reproducing the lacking in finesse high of much of today’s pop music but even with their brittle scratchy source, the Opus no1 seems to want to give them all a gently subdued and evened out shimmer. Take the bright, cold metallic edge and they warm, soften and smear it into something ever so much more ear friendly. My ears very much appreciate that. Its detail retrieval is first rate though for a portable and when paired well it’s not very hard to pull out everything. Though it doesn’t want to do that by its nature. The Opus #1 wants to be an integrated and musical coherent whole and not an analytical tool. They want to be a pleasantly beautiful portrayal and the most explicate accuracy takes a back seat to a truer acoustic intention.
Pulling out the old SE530’s as they are sensitive beasts, hiss monsters if given the chance but I noticed none. Even turning that volume dial up to a level I was unhappy about I still got none. I don’t care much about hiss as the songs themselves tend to have more than any DAP adds anyway but if you care. These seems dead silent.
You get a micro USB cable. That’s it, that’s your lot. I’m glad they don’t try to include any earphones as anyone buying the Opus #1 will already have their own rather decent ones or be buying anyway. Now I did also get the optional leather case for it. It I had mixed feelings about. You see to look at, oooooooh pretty and to the touch, ooooooh fancy. It looks great and it feels so nice, the combo screams I am a fancy bit of kit, which it is. The issue I had was that while there are little indentations for the button controls on the sides they weren’t great. They made the buttons less readily obvious to the fingers in your pocket and it made pressing them harder. You push where you finger feels is the button but nothing happened. Also if you’re using it in your pocket which I think is the point of hardware buttons you don’t really need a case to protect it nor to look great.
How does one define value in a £450 DAP? I’m not sure. I have on my desk sitting the Opus #1, the HM-650 and the Studio V 3rd Anv. All expensive but the Opus #1 is a clear bit more costly. Flicking between them, they each have merits, acoustic stylings and I cannot say one is “better” though arguably the Opus #1 is the one with the least issues. The Studio, while I love its cooler crisp sound it’s a bit of a hiss monster. The 650 has poor battery and it’s a rather warm flavoured sound. The Opus #1 is acoustically walking more of a middle ground, adding practically nothing of its own to proceedings. It’s very, very neutral. You could say that makes it the most versatile acoustically for pairing which is true but it’s not like you can’t get synergistic pairings with the others. The Opus #1 would however be a little bit more standout if you have several earphones or headphones as all should go very nicely together. I can’t say you get 9 times the value you would buying 9 FiiO M3’s but the old adage is ever true. Sometimes you get what you pay for. The Opus #1 is excellent in every possible metric.
I don’t want to give it back. I’m not sure I’ve had a DAP that is such a paragon of neutrality. It really adds nothing acoustically in terms of flavouring. It has fantastic detail retrieval yet doesn’t do the Studios trick of bumping the contrast on these rather crisp edges. I believe that so far this is the most true to life playback I’ve had from a DAP. I can’t be definitive about that as I’ve not got every DAP I’ve heard in front of me to test and other DAP’s I’ve heard I’ve not had the chance to test multiple ear and headphones with. However it remains that I believe it to be the most pure, flavourless and acoustically neutral DAP’s. Its nothing short of excellent, as you would frankly expect at its price.
In use, it’s also got a UI that shames practically all Far East attempts, it’s so simple but more so it is crazy fast. I have a 64GB card in there and it tells me it has 3033 tracks at its disposal but track skipping is super snappy. I’m still not feeling the need to have such a big screen, I’d much rather half it or more and get those buttons on the front but I love real hardware buttons. Yey!!! I do so love real hardware buttons on DAP’s, I rather feel that the Opus #1’s present button layout needs to be adapted by phone makers. It’s great if you insist on keeping that screen.
So would I / should you buy one? Well with the good DAP market so rapidly expanding competition is getting fierce and while each will have its place I am sure, the Opus #1 is a bit of a jack of all sounds. You probably expect I’ll then say oh but master of none. Nope. The Opus #1 I’ve been able to pick up anything from my fairly broad collection and it sounds great with everything, its pairs flawlessly with everything. I sure as hell can’t say that about the 650 or the Studio V. They are both flavoured sufficiently that bad pairings can really suck. The Opus #1 doesn’t care, slap in anything you fancy. It’s the sort of DAP you could use to replace a handful of good DAP’s with. Sure it’s not cheap but it’s a bit of a jack of all trades and a bit of a master of them all to boot!