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MP3 Players

HiBy R3 is a $229 iPod alternative that's rocking Kickstarter

The HiBy R3 may well be the unicorn of the MP3 player world. This cheap, Tidal-compatible and audiophile-friendly portable music player is a hit on Kickstarter.

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HiBy

To the casual observer it would appear that streaming media is the killing blow for the humble MP3 player. Why tote something else around when you can listen to whatever you want with your phone, including music services?

To the budget-minded music fan, however, a product like the HiBy R3 is kind of a holy grail. The device, which has already amassed more than 10 times its Kickstarter goal, will cost just $229. (That translates to about £165 or AU$300, but UK and Australian retail prices would likely be more.)

What makes the HiBy R3 special is its ability to play and potentially store music from Tidal -- the music service with better quality audio for more discriminating listeners -- for offline listening. The player's 3.2-inch touchscreen and 11-hour battery life outshine other dedicated music players in its price range. (Yes, now that the iPod is deadportable audiophile-grade music players have migrated to pricey niche status symbols.)

Additional key specs:

  • Wi-Fi, Bluetooth (with AptX), DLNA and AirPlay, Tidal support
  • ESS ES9028Q2M DAC
  • File formats include PCM up to 384Khz/64biit, Native DSD 256, MP3, AAC and Ogg Vorbis
  • 3.23 inches high by 2.4 inches wide by 0.51 inches deep
  • 3.36 ounces or 95 grams

The HiBy player is also well specified in other areas too, with a 64-bit Digital Analog Converter from ESS, a 3.5mm output with 2.5mm balanced option and Bluetooth. The only downside, from the specs, is its lack of onboard memory, but it can take microSD cards up to 2TB.

Promising portability

Despite great promise, I have been consistently disappointed with loading files onto an MP3 player using Wi-Fi and not a PC. Most of them are painfully slow at transferring music if the process works at all, and they also cost more than the HiBy. Can the R3 be the first player to make the process easy? Will its DLNA capabilities help?

Until now it was only more expensive players like the Android-toting Sony Walkman NW-ZX2 that could stream Tidal, but that player was unable to store more than a couple of offline albums. The iPod Touch -- 32GB for $199 or 128GB for $299 -- also offers Tidal (and Spotify and Pandora and everything else), but it doesn't have HiBy's expandable storage.

As well as amassing a great deal more than its Kickstarter goal, HiBy is still accepting backers through April 26. Before contributing to any campaign, you should read the crowdfunding site's policies to find out your rights (and refund policies, or the lack thereof) before and after a campaign ends. As always, we'll believe this is a shipping product when we see it -- but we'd love to see this sort of affordable, next-gen iPod rival come to fruition.