Like new: DARWIN V2 is free upgrade for HiBy's proprietary R2R players

One small step for DARWIN, a giant one for Head-Fi. The release of Darwin V2 and Darwin MPA code for 12 proprietary new digital filters – designed for the deeply custom platforms that are HiBy Music's R2R FC6, RS2, RS6 and RS8 plus discrete pulse-width modulated R8II – is a watershed moment for the DAP industry.

ANNOUNCEMENT Darwin V2 promises sound quality improvement

Launched in 2021, first as RS6, Darwin stood apart because of its unique promise of custom-written software for self-developed discrete R2R hardware. The presence of HiBy's FPGA within suggested fertile ground for future digital decoding techniques to be installed, when they became available...

At least, that was the thinking through a high-end audio lens. The point of logic on a FPGA (Field-Programmable Gate Array) is that the software aboard can be written and re-written, over and over... 

At least, free firmware upgrades to update capabilities and sonics when they came out for high-end DACs – in products magnitudes of times higher in price, and product lifespans that could be expected to span a decade...

Quite the departure from the fast-moving consumer goods that are music players and end-less, costly upgrade cycles.

And yet, here we are today, celebrating Darwin V2 as a fresh (re)start for HiBy's Darwin line. Because they've cancelled obsolescence with fully custom code, treating their R2R line as much as a software product, as a hardware one.

In such a way, one's RS6, bought in 2021, hasn't decreased in value. Quite the contrary, it's increased. One's old RS6 is now better than before. New again. Because Darwin V2 and its new spate of oversampling digital filters breathes new life into discrete R2R hardware that was always built to be upgradable. And sound better in future.

Potential, equals fulfilled. Proof, of concept. Darwin officially stands the test of time with V2, a champion of future-proofing and chasing away any fears that buying into a single product meant having to spend money on an upgrade down the road because of planned obsolescence.

We needn't have feared. We never bought into merely a single product. We bought into Darwin. An idea. A new philosophy. An investment that would pay dividends later.

A fresh way of doing things, that's meant to learn, and get better. And, those Darwin upgrades to sound quality along the way? Yes, free to new and existing owners via OTA firmware update. Starting with V2 and its new oversampling digital filters promising unique ways to enjoy your music, turning old new. 

We reached the tipping point in 2021. A decade of digital audio in Head-Fi had prepared us for this moment. We heard of the Wolfson sound, ESS sound and AKM sound, and heard them too. A conversation that distracts from the music? It's nevertheless digital reproduction – every converter present will always add and subtract something from the music.

We digress. The Wolfson sound, ESS sound, and AKM sound were all formative to our understanding, learning to describe what we were hearing and experiencing, for the ears of others. Retain that progress, though, as we begin learning to describe portable R2R. 

That’s because R2R in music players looks here to stay. HiBy’s RS6 was evidence it’s here to thrive, too. Made of a ladder of individual resistors instead of a mass-produced, DAC integrated chip, the byword for RS6 more than ever was it’s a proprietary DAC designed from the ground up, named DARWIN. It was a natural evolution.

BUY NOW HiBy Music RS6

Nothing exactly like it, before or after, HiBy passed RS6 for release. What’s R2R to sound like – there’s nothing nailed on because discrete R2R sounds exactly like what HiBy wants theirs to sound like. R2R can vary wildly in sonic results. No two discrete architectures play exactly alike.

Customisation by HiBy, however, took place for more than just tuning. It extended to Darwin V2's capabilities. In 2021, we banged on about the non-oversampling (NOS) PCM conversion in RS6's R2R ladders.

Now, with Darwin V2 and its proprietary new digital filters – one, Darwin ULTRA, claimed to be the "ideal oversampling filter for analog-heads ... has the same audible characteristics as the smoothest NOS filter while taking full advantage of oversampling ... even the phase response is a new secret sauce that is superior to both minimum phase and linear phase" – oversampling seems just as viable to achieve great sound as NOS.

READ ALSO Step up RS6 with palm powerhouse C9

In any case, NOS was always a harder hill to conquer on a hardware level and held up as the great technical achievement then, especially in a portable platform.

To convert at the original PCM sample rate without re-sampling or oversampling (the latter’s a built-in secondary option) is doubly impressive because of the double accuracy necessary in individual resistor parts, operating without a digital filter.

Jeff Zhu of Holo Audio, with a mirror ladder, and Cees Ruijtenberg, who separated PCM’s most significant bits from the least significant bits, are two of the last decade’s digital audio luminaries. Their original work imparted ultra-precise, ultra-linear, NOS decoding in their R2R products. But said products were full-size Hi-Fi mounted in racks, with accompanying price tags.

It is on these shoulders that HiBy shrank a discrete NOS converter into a palm-sized music player and built a linearity compensation circuit to ensure accuracy of the decode and respectable noise and distortion performance – without the crutch of an oversampling process.

NOS is the harder way. Whether it’s the better way, your ears will tell you. While we’re explaining it, HiBy did R2R the hardest way (miniaturising everything) to remove oversampling digital audio filters – because oversampling digital filters are audible. 

We’d typically want our digital filters to sound as much like music, as music. But nothing sounds like music as much as original sample rate PCM files. Which leads the conversation to DSD.

Music is music. SACD and DSD is music. Whatever position you occupy about the business aspect that brought this five-per-cent format to market, some of our favourite music is in DSD. Which makes playing this back the right way of utmost importance, too.

DSD’s point is that it’s a 1-bit digital format; the closest point digital is to analog. DSD – or scientifically, PDM – is a fundamentally different digital audio format to PCM. It’s something RS6 recognises: and therefore converts DSD via an entirely dedicated 1-bit circuit, separate from PCM. 

We love this image – it tells us so much with so little. Follow the trail. DSD’s pitch as a 1-bit digital format is that it’s magnificently easy to decode. Just low-pass filter it. Analog comes out, in one stroke. A breeze, compared to the extra steps – and extra room for error – it takes for PCM.

Certainly, HiBy’s schematic above highlights DSD’s simplicity. And if you’ve a DSD file, you’ll want to hear it native with a total lack of pre-conversion to PCM, via RS6. The reason: no digital t̶a̶m̶p̶e̶r̶i̶n̶g̶ filtering happens to the original DSD.

VIEW ALSO All of HiBy's other DAPs here

As 1-bit, DSD is digital’s closest point to analog, making the transition from digital far less convoluted, and error-free – so long as it stays 1-bit. German champs T+A elektroakustik prominently build separate PCM and DSD hardware decoding paths. While EMM Labs, Playback Designs and PS Audio go one further: convert everything to DSD.

Those merits are for discussion another day. It suffices now to say that great DSD conversion and playback has scientific research behind the backing it’s better. HiBy doesn’t swing in favour of either format. If it’s PCM or DSD you do, Darwin – as the FC6, RS2, RS6 and RS8 – could do it best.

Since RS6's hardware integrity is integral, it wouldn't be any less apt for its bit-perfect Android software to be up to par. Crossroads commonly occur in audio. Having new Hi-Res Lossless ALAC from Apple Music decoded to full resolution, with an R2R touch, has us clutching our streaming accounts even closer.

DARWIN is a different breed, clearly. And D to the A that ignites our fire to listen to more music elevates it in our consciousness. So HiBy comes at us, the tipping point.

Whether your preferences of DAPs swung Wolfson, ESS or AKM in the infancy of yesteryear, the time has come to step up the evolutionary chain and acclimatise to the sound of Darwin V2; rich, resolving, R2R. It's here with us to stay.

1 comment

Avatar - corey p

corey p

Thanks for this very good technical, although not too technical as I am not an engineer, description on RSR. I see what this is about much more clearly; I really was confused beforehand. I really look forward to reading reviews on the actually sound of the new Hiby RS6 DAP.

848 days ago