Just a year ago, the DAP market had been split fairly cleanly. On one hand, there were the Chinese offerings from iBasso and Fiio that packed tons of hardware into fairly low-cost packages. The DX50, DX90, X3, and X5 all come to mind. On the other was the Korean Astell & Kern with its near complete domination of the high-end DAP market. Besides pure technical specifications, one of the biggest advantages that the AK players had was a fairly refined UI that was often painfully missing on cheaper options. As a long-time iBasso user, I can easily attest to this. I’m now on my second unit after the first suffered from what could only be described as a catastrophic hardware malfunction. Even after replacement, the new unit still has more than a few “quirks”. For one, it turns on to a black screen, and refuses to accept any OS updates. So, a bit of an issue. It’s not an isolated case either –speaking with other Head-Fiers, I’ve learnt of some similar experiences as well. Fiio’s scroll wheel style DAPs were probably more hardy, but I’m a 21st-century creature. Give me a touch-screen any day. Working quietly in the background was Sony with its pricey, but less than perfect NW-ZX1.
Coming back to present day –we have got more DAP solutions than ever before. In what can only be described as an audiophile land grab, just about everyone seems to be jumping into the market. From the crowd-funded Echobox Explorer to the Onkyo DP-X1 revival, there’s simply so much going on at the same time. In the midst of all this is Thebit with its new Opus#1 DAP. A bit of introduction is in order. Thebit is a Korean company with previous experience in ICT devices, and had previously supplied components for big-name companies like Samsung, Best Buy, and SanDisk. It’s great to see that Thebit has relevant experience in the field, as I think it’ll go a long way in terms of enhancing general usability. Many of DAPs these days don’t suffer from a lack of hardware –but rather a lack of decent software. Now, taking a look at the spec sheet for the Opus#1, you’d swear you were seeing a doppelganger of a certain AK player. And you’d be right, because the Opus#1 was designed to bring serious hardware to the table, without charging the premium demanded by most luxury DAPs.
DISCLAIMER: This unit was provided by thebit at a discounted price for the purposes of this review. We are neither affiliates nor employees of thebit. All media rights are reserved.
The Opus#1 comes in a rather simple black cardboard box, not unlike the iBasso series of DAPs. It is rather plain, but conveys a sense of seriousness that strikes a great balance between elegance and utility. Needless to say, I like it. Inside is a charging cable, some spare screen protectors and some literature. A leather case by Dignis comes separate. Overall, a straightforward package that’ll get you started on your listening experience in no time.
Let’s talk a bit about build first. The Opus#1 is a plastic DAP –but it’s a solid ABS body and one that feels very nice in the hand. There is tempered glass for the screen/ back plate that adds a very refined look to the player. Design wise –the Opus#1 kind of looks like an upgraded Cowon brick, but comes shy of looking like an AK. I think there are things that could be done to make the Opus#1 look better, such as removing the rather odd “Hi-Res Audio” displayed rather prominently on one leading edge of the DAP. Moving on to functionality, the volume and track control buttons are clicky and responsive, and are excellently placed for ergonomic use. The two MicroSD slots are covered, shielding the insides from dust and other particles nicely. The 3.5 and 2.5 mm ports are located on the top edge along with the power button. Charging port is on the bottom. Overall I’d say the Opus#1 does have a fairly utilitarian aesthetic, but one that still looks sharp enough to be impressive.
Now, I’ve heard complaints that the Opus#1 is “too light” and that this results from its “PCI being too small”, and that this somehow was related to degradation of sound quality. I don’t like to be contrary, as I feel it’s really not constructive in most cases. However, I do feel the need to weigh in on this. Regarding the Opus#1 being too light, I found it to personally have a good amount of heft, while still being compact enough to be readily transportable. Regarding the PCI being too small, to my knowledge no one has opened the Opus#1 up yet, and I personally cannot determine how big a PCI is simply by moving the DAP around in my hands. Now, I may be wrong in this regard, but for the time being I find this concern to be a somewhat unfounded. I believe that there is an Opus#2 made out of Duralumin (ring a bell?) coming out later this year. Now, the player does run a little warm at times, and that’s the only concern I’ve had so far.
Moving onto the UI, with the latest firmware update, the Opus#1 has become one of the fastest and most responsive players I’ve ever used. Switching between pages is a breeze (absolutely zero lag), and scrolling is amazingly smooth. This is, without a doubt, aided by the 32 bit, 1GB Quad-Core DDR3 processor core. Overall, there are very, very few bugs now. Occasionally there’s a slight skip or crackle, but compared to iBasso, etc., it’s just so obvious that the Opus#1’s UI was designed by people with not only experience in Android, but also with a solid understanding of what a good DAP needs to do. And the latter is simply to play music. Firmware updates are a breeze, and much requires a simple drag and drop on the user-end of things. To top it off is an absolutely beautiful screen that works even outside in the sun. The pictures you see above are pretty darned close to what you get on the actual screen (unlike certain brand’s rather misleading advertising). Overall, it’s a great user experience. If there is one thing that is missing –it’s a playlist function. I suppose it’ll be coming in a firmware update to you soon.
Now, talking about hardware, the Opus#1 uses 2 Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC chips. I’m going to leave the setup below here as it’s far easier to understand it visually. In addition, the Opus#1 boasts TAPI Channel Mixing, selectable rolloff filters (EDIT: For now it seems like this feature is missing), advanced DSM modulation/ architecture, low-clock jitter, and a “mismatch shaping technology that eliminates distortion. DSD and 24bit/ 192 kHz playback is supported.
Starting with the noise, the Opus #1 does have a fairly low noise floor, but not one that is completely nonexistent. With more sensitive earphones you can definitely hear it a little in the background. Sound wise, the Opus#1 is a neutral DAP. This is a good thing in my book, as the DAP doesn’t need to be altering the sound significantly. Speaking with the team, I learnt that they had worked with studio engineers to achieve a professional reference sound. The result is in my opinion, excellent. An analytical sound with an immense soundstage. Let’s start with the lower frequency performance first. The Opus#1 doesn’t have much by way of bass emphasis, lending the DAP a “thinner” sound that may be initially lackluster. In fact, it may even feel like bass quantity is somewhat missing. However, closer inspection reveals that the Opus #1 has a well-layered, and extremely fast bass section. For those who’ve used the ER4 series of earphones before, this might be ringing more than a couple of bells. I’d say that the Opus#1 is sort of like the spiritual DAP cousin of the ER4.
The mids are an absolute breeze. Sounding full without becoming overly sweet or thick, the Opus#1 strikes a good balance between clarity and naturalness. The transition to the highs is smooth, and you get a bit of emphasis in the upper registers for extra sparkle and a general expansion of soundstage (more on this in a bit). The Opus#1 maintains a bit of texture on the sound, giving it a slight bite. For those looking for an absolutely smooth sound, this may be something to take note of. However, I enjoyed it thoroughly. Soundstage and imaging are amongst the two strongest traits on this DAP. Combining the Opus#1 with the right gear, and you have a very wide soundstage that can even occasionally extend behind the listener’s ears. Because of the DAP’s sound signature, it is also incredibly airy, giving way to excellent imaging and resolution.
If there is one annoyance, it is that the Opus#1 is susceptible to EMI interference. If you’re hearing weird crackling/ pops, you might want to check if you’ve got it too close to a phone or a smart device. This is a problem, one that I countered by leaving the DAP and smartphone in opposite pockets.