Hisoundaudio Nova 3 Review
Thanks to Hisoundaudio for the sample
First Impressions: The box is interesting, nothing hugely fancy but easy enough to open which is nice. Inside we have the DAP of course and then oddly we have three, yes three earphones in there. Well two IEM’s and one pair of earbuds. That’s rather a bit of an oddity and to me a really unexpected way to go. I’d have thought audiophile aimed at DAP’s would have been more inclined to go with giving you none, expecting you will be picking your own anyway. That you get 3 here though does mean that mainstream folks are likely to get something to suit. One of them, the Wooduo 2, I’ve heard before and it’s a pretty good IEM so it’s the one I’d expect most folks to go right to, it’s likely the one I will. The other two, the IEM is the Tabour which I’m not familiar with but seems lower end and the buds are the PAA-1. Note they aren’t the PAA-1 Pro’s so again should be lowerish end buds but probably rather better than most stock earbuds I’m betting.
Looking at the Nova 3 itself it’s in a brushed goldish colour with a checked pattern on the front. Turning it over it’s just goldish on the back and looks not bad, the front though, eek, I can’t say I like it. In pic’s the Nova 1 being sort of titanium coloured looked nicer I think. Turning it on and I am confronted with some form or Far Eastern hieroglyphics. Instantly the number one priority is finding how to get into the settings menu, once I did the only option I recognised was “Languages,” yey and into English. I think this could be the first time something has ever come by default in some other language. I can’t be sure but given the pictures don’t indicate settings well (a little spanner maybe?)
Screen: Well unlike previous Hisoundaudio DAP’s there is no tiny monochromatic OLED screen. What we have here is a colour screen. As colour screen’s go it’s a bit meh, the colours are washed out and the viewing angles suck. There is an option for video but you won’t use it, honestly I can’t even be bothered trying it. The screen, even if it was great is tiny, hell I don’t use my phone for video because it’s too small and I’d bet every person who will ever read this has a phone with a bigger and better screen than this. Still all that said it does its job and works and that sensibly Hisoundaudio have used a monochrome UI means its pretty usable even in sunlight.
Battery life: The manual says 20 hours but that seems optimistic to me. Granted I was using FLAC so that would hit it somewhat. It seemed to make it through a day of use fine but I’d be inclined to charge overnight every night.
The Manual: Got to say I loved to manual, it’s so quirky and constantly made me smile. Lol, firstly its labelled “Manual of Nova” on the front. Inside it goes on to point out the objective of the company and places like head-Fi, to restore what’s been lost and to point out that your phone probably sucks audio wise. It’s awesome.
UI: If there is one thing the Middle Kingdom has yet to master it is the user interface. Ignoring it didn’t come in English as I recognise their market isn’t entirely anglocentric and that was only a five minute frustration. No one is going to put this side by side to an Ipod and think Apple have missed a trick. It isn’t what I’d call terrible but in no way can I say I have enjoyed it. A big part of that is no doubt the buttons, it’s a weird layout and there is nothing to indicate what they do bar hitting them. You’ll figure it out but it’s still what I’d characterise as quirky rather than intuitive. Still it did do what I like most and that’s let me shuffle everything that’s on the player. That’s what I pretty much always use so on the whole once it was going it was fine.
Radio: I only note this as it’s there. Oddly it’s called HiFi–FM. It seems to work but never seemed to have the best signal but I never use the radio so can’t really say if that’s normal. No one’s ever going to use it anyway so who cares.
In The Hand: The player itself feels nicely put together, it feels solid. The buttons on the side don’t seem to have quite the same quality about them but I had no trouble with them. What I did have trouble with is the buttons or lack thereof on the front. Much like the Cowon i10 I had in once, this has capacitive buttons. I hate capacitive buttons as I think they give you the worst of both worlds. No clever and pretty touch interface and no tactility so you can’t use it in without having to look at the damn thing. Clearly this may not be an issue for everyone as I’m sure some will be perfectly happy with capacitive buttons. I however find them very frustrating. Otherwise the button arrangement made sense, it did seem a bit odd to dedicate a button the changing the EQ pre-set but okay.
Format Support: In the manual (love the manual btw) it says it supports MP3, WMA, WAV, FLAC and “Part of APE” since I’ve never seen anyone use APE files I’m not testing it. Actually I’m not testing most of them, MP3 and FLAC are going to be the two big codecs, MP3 for universality and small file size or FLAC for quality. WAV is over kill and I’ve never seen WMA used in the wild. So I can report MP3 and FLAC both work great and it had no bother picking up the id3tag info. More strangely it can also apparently support displaying lyrics. Again this isn’t something I tested as the suggested site to get them seemed dead. Is reading the lyrics a Chinese thing? I’ve never heard of anyone I know wanting such a feature and certainly not so much to add in thousands of files. Still it’s there if you want it I guess.
Sound Quality: Good. Firstly you won’t be using it on a flat EQ, Wooduo, HiFi or HSA V2.0 are the ones to look to, I’d say ignore everything else as they suck. I don’t like that I have to use an EQ but you do so just accept it. Its sounds super meh on flat. Oh and the noise floor, well there isn’t hiss much but there are beeps and squeaks aplenty, you don’t notice much when its playing but when you skip tracks or have a quiet passage it’s pretty pronounced.
Lows: Good, depends on the EQ your using and with the Wooduo’s abundance they seem to pair well. The depth with them seemed a bit dialled down but seems fine with others, they are clearly referenced against each other.
Mids: Rather nice, nothing is added and they have pretty good transparency, a touch ish on the cool.
Highs: Nice, good extension but a little bit gritty when you pair it with bright stuff but again it pairs really well with the Wooduo 2.
So why is the above so short? Because you’re always using an EQ so I’m not doing a comparison of how each behaves. The quantity of each aspect will be whatever you set it to.
Volume: On the EQ setting, USER which I have sot to flat the volume isn’t massive. I can with the Wooduo 2’s max the volume and not feel it’s too loud. Particularly on recordings that are a bit quieter it’s just not that loud. Hitting the EQ button though makes a big difference and I feel the DAP is intended to be used with some form of EQ going on. With the HAS v2.0 engaged can crank the volume down to about half and be happy with it. Honestly what I think you’ll do is pick which EQ you like and leave it on that all the time. That’s what I did despite not being a fan of EQ’s. Still if you have something really power hungry (HD600) then EQ or not and you can max the volume and be left wanting.
Edit: The new firmware update has boosted the volume so this is improved but I still found that the use of an EQ setting feels necessary.
Accessories: DAP’s don’t normally get much in the way of mention about accessories but the Nova 3 has an interesting bundle. I mentioned it before but they come with 3 earphones which is the first I’ve ever heard of any DAP shipping with. The bud’s, the PAA-1 I had a quick listen to and they seem fine but I’m spending little time with them as I find buds rather uncomfortable. They sounded okay, a bit muddy maybe compared with the IEM offerings but they look nice and of course you can hear everything that’s going no around you. That’s sometimes a necessity. The next one, the Wooduo 2 I’ve reviewed before and its pretty good. Way bass heavy but otherwise a really impressive sounding IEM that normally goes for circa US$129. That its bundled together with a means it’s probably the best bundled IEM that any DAP has ever had. The last one, the Tabour, I thought from its circa US$30 retail price it was the beater IEM included for times when you want music but there is risk of damage to them. So it was a pleasant surprise in that it sound pretty good. It’s clearly not challenging the Wooduo 2 for quality but again for a bundled IEM it itself would beat pretty much every other DAP’s bundled pair. What is really weird though is that there was no included range of tips. The two IEM’s came with medium tips on them but that was it, I’m hoping that was some sort of oversight as its seems silly not to include some more like they would normally come with.
Value: It depends. As a DAP on its own I’m not loving it but if you take into account the whole package it improves massively. That you got three earphones is most unusual and that one of them is the Wooduo 2 is a huge boon. They are pretty good IEM’s and without question the best bundled IEM I’ve ever seen with a DAP. They themselves go for a reasonable amount of cash so if you need a decent IEM too then the Nova 3 bundle takes on new value. If you don’t need or want the Wooduo 2’s then it really hammers the value of the package.
Conclusion: I have over the past couple of years been a bit of a Hisoundaudio fanboi. I freekin’ loved the Studio V when it came out and the Rocoo BA and Studio V 3rd Anv. have both been great and I use them frequently. The Nova 3 I can’t say expect the same will happen. Its champagne gold colour I don’t love but most of all it’s the controls I can’t abide. The touch sensitive buttons give you nothing over real buttons and I think it was a mistake to have used them. You may not agree with me but they really made the device a pain to use for me. That’s all I plan to say about that.
Sound wise things were not bad but I wasn’t wowed like I have been with other Hisoundaudio DAP’s. It’s nice but if I take the DAP on its own then it costs what the Rocoo BA did and the Rocoo is clearly better sounding. Of course you didn’t get the Wooduo 2’s included there so you’d then have to go buy something good to pair with it which makes the total spend more. If your starting from scratch that is. So as a package, if you need a DAP and an IEM then it’s a good bundle for someone starting out. For those who frequent Head-fi.org then I’d be willing to bet you don’t need both in which case the Nova 3 just isn’t wowing me. As a DAP its good sounding but nothing more. I’m not sure it’s good enough to overcome the UI issues and those “buttons.”
What I feel the Nova 3 needs (aside from real buttons) is to not be bundled and to get a price cut. Sure the bundle as I’ve said is really good value but I’m not convinced everyone needs both at once. Most people upgrade bits one at a time, you move from your phone and the bundled crap buds to something good but cheap like a GR06 then you go higher to like a GR07. You then start to see the limitations of your phone so then you want to get a real DAP. The Nova 3 bundle is a bit of a leap.
So essentially the Nova 3 is fair, the Wooduo 2 are really nice and the bundle is really nice value.