Friday, January 15, 2016

Lotoo PAW 5000: Loud and Clear

Introduction




I would like to thank Tony at HifiHeadphones for this opportunity to join the review tour of the Lotoo PAW5000. The PAW5k was with me for one week and honestly, I wish I had more time with it to properly take advantage of the many features it offers.

This review should of course be taken as a grain of salt as it is my opinion and only my opinion. I have past experience with quite a few cans and IEMs before. I personally own or have owned these cans and IEMs (to the best of my knowledge):
  • Sennheiser HD25 Aluminium 25th Anniversary Limited Edition
  • Sennheiser HD424
  • M-Audio Q40
  • Denon AH-D2000
  • NAD VISO HP50
  • Aedle VK-1
  • Beyerdynamic DTX-101iE
  • Monster Turbine Pro Gold
  • ADL EH-008
  • Koss Sportapro
  • Other odd vintage cans
  • Flare Audio R2Pro
  • Final Audio Design Heaven VI



Aesthetics


Packaging and Accessories


I can't say much for the way the Lotoo PAW 5000 arrived as they were sent my way by another reviewer and not the manufacturer or a third-party seller, but when I opened up the package I was greeted with a small box that immediately split into two when I took it out.

The top half contained a flat and well-constructed USB 3.0 cable, a neoprene armband and a plastic case which allows the PAW5k to be used with the armband. I didn't have use for any of the latter two as (for the armband and case) I'm a potato who doesn't exercise at all and (for the cable) because I transfer all my music using a MicroSD card.

The bottom half contained the warranty and quick-start guide and underneath those, the deceptively small player nestled in black velvet-covered foam. I have to say, this player is presented quite nicely and the packaging seems to be adequate without being excessive.

Design and Build




The Lotoo PAW 5000 is a small all-in-one Digital Audio Player (DAP) constructed of what seems to be two metal panels with a plastic middle separating the two. I'm really not worried about the player breaking anytime soon because of its solid construction. It fits really nicely in my hand because of its rounded corners and if anything feels a little heavier than expected.

The front consists of the screen, a navigation scroll wheel with a play/pause/ok button in the middle, fast forward and rewind buttons, a music menu button which also allows for Fn functionality with a long press, a back button which also gives access to the setup menu with a long press, a button which accesses the proprietary 'ATE' (Acoustic Timbre Embellisher) and a parametric EQ, and the power button.

The left side has the high/low dampening slider, the volume buttons and the high/low gain slider. The right side has a single USB 3.0 port for connection to a PC. The bottom has the MicroSD card slot and the top has a 3.5mm TRS phone out, a 2.5mm TRRS balanced out and a combination line out/optical digital out 3.5mm jack.

The scroll wheel feels solid enough when I turn it but the buttons seem to be somewhat wobbly when I attempt to move them. This shouldn't be too much of a problem but for a cool £330 perhaps it leaves a little to be desired. All the buttons are fairly easily accessible but the power button feels just a little awkward to hit using my right hand. This could actually be a design feature to stop people from accidentally pressing it though!


Usability


Loading Music and Format Support

Loading music has never been easier for me; I did my typical firmware stability test and loaded my phone's 64GB Micro SD card directly into the DAP without formatting of any kind. Lo and behold, it worked without a hitch! Several other DAPs which I shall not name have hiccuped at this stage, being rather confused with the other files present on the card, but the Lotoo PAW 5000 prevails!

I don't personally own any DSD files or much of anything beyond 16/44.1 FLAC. Yes, I'm not a believer, I know. However, for the purposes of this review, I downloaded a few of my father's high-resolution and DSD music and loaded them into the PAW 5000. The DAP ate them without a hitch and gave me music just like with any old 16/44.1 file. The PAW 5000 works well with MP3 and WAV and also appears to accept APE, OGG, M4A, AAC, ALAC and CUE playlists.

Screen and UI

The screen isn't the biggest, but is more than adequate for a simple DAP. The Lotoo PAW 5000 comes with a rather exotic UI, but fortunately it was very easy to learn how to to use it. It has a rather retro styling which to me is very endearing and unlike anything else on the market and the limited space is managed rather well with all useful information being present on the screen.

The UI seems to be very responsive with no noticeable lag whenever I operate the DAP. Scanning the music into the database didn't take long at all either. There was no 5-minute-long wait for me this time like, again, some other DAPs have forced me to undergo. The scroll wheel is a huge asset with larger libraries like the one I have; zipping from A to Z has never been faster with any DAP I have used so far and is only limited by the speed at which you turn the wheel.

It's very easy to access whatever you want to on this device; everything can be done in just a few clicks. However, something that does annoy me is how you can't skip tracks unless you hit that awkwardly-placed power button to first activate the screen. Please do fix this as I'm a user that tends to skip around my music a lot and it took me a while to get used to how the PAW 5000 does things.

Another thing that may be an annoyance to some users is how the UI is a file-based one with no support for tags of any kind. I happen to already be a very organized file-based DAP user due to being exposed to the Shozy Alien and it's minimalist UI but people who are used to tag-based UIs will have to spend some time cleaning up their library before being able to use this DAP.


Sound



Equipment and Burn-in

The equipment I used was:
  • Windows laptop (running Foobar 2000) > Stoner Acoustics UD110V2 > Project Ember with Mullard CV491 > Headphones
  • LG G4 > Cozoy Aegis > IEMs
  • Lotoo PAW 5000 > IEMs
  • Lotoo PAW 5000 > Project Ember with Mullard CV491 > Headphones 
Since this is a review unit, I have no idea how long this DAP was burnt in, so I'll assume that they've already been used for many hours and burn-in is not a factor here.

Bass

The first thing which came into my mind was accurate. It was very accurate, rather like studio bass, especially compared to the stronger meatier bass of the Cozoy Aegis. It extends very well, is nicely controlled and is punchy but there's not too much authority in each hit. It's a drier kind of bass, one that purists will enjoy very much but I personally do not find to be the most appealing.

Midrange

A nice, transparent yet smooth presentation is best used to describe the mid-range of this DAP. It's on the same level as the Cozoy Aegis but to me is slightly thinner and brighter, especially the upper mid section. It accurately brings forth the timbre of musical instruments but it never gets too strident or sharp. It's also very dynamic and clean and can be quite enjoyable but again, it's slightly too thin for my own tastes.

Treble

There's a slight 'digital' feel to the sound which does give the treble section a very detailed response. This, however, also means that it doesn't pair well with brighter sources or badly-mastered music and the Aegis is just that much more natural to me and fits my preferences better. However, it does make the R2Pro sound more neutral than it does out of the Aegis due to this and thus to some people, it may be preferable.

Soundstage/Presentation

The soundstage is very accurate, but has a distinct lack of depth that does hinder the overall layering of music and is further emphasized by a lack of blackness in the background. This is fine for less complicated pieces but when you try to force a full orchestra through this DAP these shortcomings becomes very easy to hear. I wouldn't try to play music that's too complicated through this DAP at all.

Headphone/Line Out Power

The headphone out is good enough for IEMs and efficient cans but chokes when feeding more inefficient full-sized cans such as the Sennheiser HD650. This is a DAP that is best paired with more portable audio equipment it seems. This isn't necessarily a bad thing though as it means that it won't hiss with the most sensitive of IEMs due to the lower power output.

I briefly tried to utilize the line-out of the PAW 5000 and fed the signal into both my Gilmore Lite and Project Ember. Unfortunately, it was beaten by the lowly UD110v2 DAC which has a much smaller price tag, so I have to say that the internal DAC is best paired with the internal amp.

EQ and 'ATE'

As mentioned previously, there is a button on the front of this DAP which allows for both a parametric EQ - a very nice touch which not many DAPs I've used so far have - and a propriety DSP-based sound filtering system which Lotoo calls the ATE (Acoustic Timbre Enhancement). Only one can be activated at a time.

I didn't try it extensively but there is the option to create custom equalizers as well as the presets. None of the presets or ATE options really appealed to me and I don't really use EQ with my R2Pros as I'm happy with their sound. However, I can see how this will appeal to people who are a fan of extensive EQing of their cans or people who have a problem with a specific part of the sound signature of a pair of cans.


Conclusion



I've really enjoyed the week I had with this product. Lotoo have really made sure that the end user has a joyful experience from start to end. The UI is incredibly unique and one-of-a-kind and to me has a very cool styling and this is backed up by the power of the SoC which ensures smooth, rapid navigation. Music files are very easily recognized and played and extensive gain, EQ and ATE functionality also allows the user to alter the sound to their liking.

However, it’s not without its flaws; a file-based system mean that tag-based users will potentially have to do a lot of work reorganizing their library so they can navigate the PAW 5000 properly. The sound signature, while very good, is also somewhat polarizing and not everyone will enjoy it.

A wonderful enjoyable user experience from the moment I open up the box to when I finish listening mean that this product is something that I would happily recommend to someone who enjoys a clean, pure sound signature.


Category Score Comment
Packaging and Accessories: 9/10 Gorgeous presentation from when I opened the box up and plenty of accessories ensure a great user experience from the get-go
Design and Build: 8/10 A very solid build with rounded corners ensure it’s very nice to hold in the hand. However, the buttons are a little shaky when being pressed so this could be an improvement.
Loading Music and Format Support: 9/10A wide range of formats are supported which should mean that most libraries can be played straight off the bat. Loading music is quick and easy too, even from a non-ideal SD card.
Screen and UI: 8/10A quick, very unique and responsive UI mean a smooth and enjoyable user experience. The screen is good enough not to interfere with any functionality. A file-based navigation may cause problems with disorganized music libraries though.
Bass: 7/10 Clean, tight and dry studio-type bass mean very precise lows that don’t emphasize anything.
Midrange: 8/10 Transparent and clear mid-range that is very dynamic but still has good timbre.
Treble: 6/10 Bright and crisp treble that’s slightly emphasized and very detailed but plays very badly with poorly-mastered music.
Soundstage/Presentation: 6/10 Very accurate but with a distinct lack of depth that hinders the overall presentation.
Headphone/Line Out Power: 4/10 The headphone out doesn’t have much juice so this is best paired with IEMs or efficient cans. The line-out however is disappointing as it’s outperformed by a very cheap standalone DAC.
Value: 7/10Not the most bang for the buck, but it has a ton of features and good if slightly polarizing sound including EQ and balanced out which I suspect will make this DAP an all-in-one unit for many people.
Total: 7/10 A wonderful enjoyable user experience from the moment I open up the box to when I finish listening mean that this product is something that I would happily recommend to someone who enjoys a clean, pure sound signature. However, it’s not without its flaws.


Specs

File Formats: DSD64 (DFF, DSF, ISO); PCM (WAV, MP3, FLAC, APE, OGG, M4A, AAC, ALAC, CUE) max 32/96
Screen: 2 inch color LCD 220 x 176
Core: ADI Blackfin DSP 514
USB: USB 3.0
Storage: Micro SDHC and micro SDXC memory cards up to 2TB
Weight: 110g
Firmware: Updates actively supported
Frequency Range: +-0.5dB (20-20KHz)
Distortion: THD + N <0.007 (20-20KHz)
SNR: 94dB
Power: 100mW per Channel at 16ohm
Battery Life: Up to 10 hours at max power output

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