Lotoo PAW 5000 Review

Lotoo PAW 5000 Review

Thanks to Hifiheadphones for the loaner.

First Impressions:  The box seems a little on the small side.  Hmm sturdy though and the inner box sticks to the lid.  Oooh the little player is so little.  Okay it’s not really that small but I was expecting something the size of the HM-650.  The button layouts look kinda the same so I’d assumed they had similar lineage.  Clearly they can’t from the size.  Feels rather light too.  Oh and its visually much nicer looking.  It was no secret I didn’t think much of the HiFiMAN’s looks but this is much nicer.  Still seems like there are too many controls but whatever.

Having a first listen and ooooh.   Nice, very nice.  Clean, touch warm, quite nuanced and with good dynamics.  There is a bit of a softness in there somewhere.  There is a niceness to it I can’t quite put my finger on what. Hmm curious.  Anyway bit of burn in time.

Screen:  It’s actually quite nice.  It looks pretty low resolution but the graphical design of it, with its 80’s digital angular blockyness it works.  Colouring is fine, it’s pretty readable outside and it displays plenty of info.  Not that it’s wildly important on an audio player but it’s highly functional rather than pretty.

Battery Life:  The numbers 10 to 12 hours.  If anything I found it better.  I wasn’t sitting with a watch waiting but it felt much longer.  It doesn’t touch the 100 hour craziness of the Studio but it’s pretty good.  Easily do you a day if not two or 3 of good use.  The battery is sealed though so no being able swap one out like the 650 can.

UI:  It actually looks rather nice.  I like its playback screen, with its time played, remaining, channel output bars, file info including the bitrate even.  It’s not “necessary” but hey it appeals to me.  Though getting away from that and things are les glowing.  For a Chinese DAP it’s alright but I dunno.  Not bad but you know, it’s not an elegantly smooth and obvious layout nor naming.

In The Hand:  Physically it fit my hand rather nicely.  Its lower corners are rounded and its relatively small size too just added to it snuggly fitting.  The buttons though, namely that power button was awkward to hit.  If all it was for was on or off only then I’d be fine but it was needed to wake the thing up. That got irritating rather quickly as I skip tracks constantly.  Usually things let the skip button wake up the device on one press and on a second actually skip.  Why doesn’t this do that?

Format Support:  As far as I can tell, everything.  It’ll also do up to 96kHz sample rate.  Odd choice but personally I’ve got sod all practically that’s above Red Book anyway.  Card wise it’ll do micro SDXC ones up to 2TB, not that you can buy them I think but with 128GB ones plummeting in price, that’s where I’d be looking.

Connections:  Here it start s to get a bit exotic.  The first one you will notice, the cable it comes with has a big flat connector.  Oh yes boys and girls, an actual micro USB 3 cable!!!!  Woo hoo, this should make for quicker charging and faster card loading.  I mean USB2 speeds are liveable but if you’re trying in 4 years trying to fill your 1TB microSD card I’d bet you’ll be very thankful for it.  Otherwise up top we have 3 things.  A line out / SPDIF (the 3.5mm kind) so you can use it as a source.  Then the normal 3.5mm hp out.  Then a weird 2.5mm balanced output.  Eh???  Balanced I get but really, a 2.5mm socket?  Erm am I missing something here?  I don’t understand why they would do this, why not just use 3.5mm, I actually have things that use that?   Lastly, they also have an invisible connection.  You have on the top right Bluetooth written.  Like the 2.5mm balanced I’m wondering why.  Frankly what the hell is the point of being a quality DAP with quality internals to then not make any use of them?  Maybe because sometimes you want quality and others you want bluetooth for the gym maybe?  I don’t know, it’s there but I think it’s a waste of time buying the 5000 if you’re going to just use it for Bluetooth.

Volume:  With a gain switch and a “DAMP” high and low which just seemed to be an additional gain option, I’ve no idea, even pushing the Oppo PM-3’s they could push them to insane make your ears bleed levels.  Though with both on low there wasn’t any hiss that I noticed coming through on things.

Sound Quality:  Duh.  Take a guess, if you guessed pretty awesome then your guessed right.  While there is as ever much that Far East DAP’s don’t do so well.  Well except Sony but I digress.  The UI while here is among the best it’s still a bit odd.  The buttons especially had me thinking sweary words more than once.  The controls, are at times mildly frustrating and at others really, really annoying.  God I’m digressing again.  Yes the sound, they sound fantastic.  Not quite as mellow as the gently flowing stream of the 650 but nowhere near as cutting and crisp as the Studio.  Its falling somewhere in between, more towards the 650 though.  It’s rather beautiful.  Pair it with some well mastered tracks and some cracking headphones and its gentility and accuracy eek out so much detail but so casually and gently displayed.

Swapping things about it had a definite preference towards smooth, slow melodic stuff.  They could push treble but they wanted it to be a wondrous shimmer, even when a track is trying to be a crystal goblet exploding, with razor sharp shards flying everywhere.  It mellows and rounds the most brutal things, this for me is fine as I’m treble sensitive but if you want that Grado esq savagery it may be a little to kind and gentle for your tastes.  The more and more I listen the more I 650 like I feel it is.

Lows:  Rich.  Perhaps a little on the polite, mellow side for some.  It doesn’t really want to give you that hard impact edge you find in punchy bass tracks.  Even with the PM-3 which is so fast and punchy, just no not quite.  The edge is muted, tamed ever so slightly.  The fullness and body of the impact is all there but just that initial edge is rounded.  Thus I found I liked more melodic and smooth things.  They sounded that bit more at home and comfortable in their own skin in a way cheasy pop didn’t quite.  Depth was very pleasantly low but again it’s inclined to soften that faintest touch.  Vicious bass just wasn’t really on the menu.  Dark and symphonic, sure but just didn’t quite pull off rock solid bouncy bass.  It’s like a mini HM-650 actually.

Mids:  Staying to its melodic and carbonara like nature, there is that sliver of creamy coating.  It’s only the slightest of drizzling’s but it flavours everything.  Aggression and cutting brutality, well it’s just not there.  Slap on some Susan Wong’s “How Wonderful You Are” and it’s just oozes and flows around your ear canals.    This is where they are their best.  They sound confident and so sure footed in this sort of music.  Slow, lingering and sumptuous.  Again it’s the 650 I am mentally comparing it too.  So many similarities but not quit the same.  The 5000 feels more dark.  There is a deadness, a blackness to it, maybe it’s the lack of hiss.  There is a lone quality to it, solitary and a sadness to many tracks.  Curious.

Quantitatively mids are maybe what’s most prominent, or maybe I’m confusing it for the fact it’s where the 500 is most at home.  It likes a good vocal and so you find that you’re drawn repeatedly in that direction.  They “shine” best here but shine is the wrong word.  That is that greyness, the darkness like someone has turned down the colour on the music.  Sorry if that’s not making complete sense to you but language is so often ill equipped to quite capture the heart of how something sounds.

Highs:  There is the ever so faint sanding of impactful edges here.  Not surprising as it does in elsewhere too.  The highs are a light drizzle that is sprinkled on as a garnish.  It’s there to aid in presentation as much as to constructively add anything to the body of work itself.  Thus highly treble orientated music, isn’t going to be shown off to its best here.   These want to give you a clean picture of what happening up top but through a greying, darkening filter.  Softer to the eyes removing both the harshness and some of the colouring.  It makes for a relaxing listen and one you can hear all day without it wearing out your ears.

Quantity wise there is a slight detraction, not so much in the actual quantity but in the presentation making it rather less in your face.  Rather like as is with the bass.

Hiss:  Yeah I did hear some with the gain on high and the DAMP on high too.  Still very little and nothing you’d notice in songs.  Set them to low and there is practically nothing.

Accessories:  Well you get a micro USB 3 cable, that’s nice.  Of course you can still use a normal one that you have laying around.  Sure it won’t be as fast if that’s important to you.  I always just changed with a normal micro one as I have them all over the place already.  The other thing you get is weird.  You get an arm band and clip/holder thingy.  It’s really good quality too, or if feels good anyway.  It’s such an odd thing to include in an audiophile DAP.  It does have a “sport” mode after all.    Nothing wrong with having it included but it’s nothing I’ve ever seen bundled before.  Awesome I’m sure for those that will use it but I’m not convinced that many buyers of the 5000 will really care about it.  Hey maybe I’m wrong, maybe your all fitness junkies that absolutely need this in your life.

Value:  Hmm.  £330 is a fair chunk of cash.  That’s just over US$512 so yeah, it’s a fair bit of wallet ouch.  Value is a highly subjective thing and on sound alone it’s good, but so is the 650, and the Studio and I can’t see any wildly compelling reason bar tonal preferences to pick this over those two.  Well it’s also got Bluetooth if that’s really important to you?  Sure it sound’s good but so do others.  You got what you pay for frankly, it’s a quality thing with a quality price tag.

Conclusion:  Hmm my first reactions to the 500 were all exceedingly positive.  Not least of which its size.  I’d been using the 650 as my default DAP since I reviewed it and so moving to the itty bitty 5000 was like “WOW” it was so small, it was so nice in my hand, the screen was so nice, you could actually see it outside!!!  Just so many things all had me loving it.  It really was just like having an updated and shrunken 650.

However… god I want to punch who ever came up with the controls for it.  The things that really killed me were the power, track skip and volume buttons.  I change the volume and skip tracks constantly so for me they really matter.  Here though, they make me want to scream.  The skip buttons, on the screen timing out do nothing until you hit the awkwardly placed power button to wake it up. Grrrr.  Then the volume buttons, what could be wrong with them you might think.  Well they also can act as track skip or back buttons too.  If you hold them for a particular length of time they change from being volume up or down to track changing but if you keep holding them they stay volume changing like things normally do.  I hated this.  I can’t tell you how annoying this was, I just stopped trying to actively change tracks that way as I just got ever more wound up.  Why the F they did this I have no idea and while we’re at it why are the 40 million buttons of the front that do sod all?  Really we need a dedicated EQ button do we?  There is plenty I can bash Apple for but my god the got the controls on the original Ipod right.

At this point I have not glowing feelings for the 5000.  It sounds good but the 650 sounds better, not a ton but it’s still better.  What the 5000 has in its favour is that it’s tiny beside the 650, its battery life its epically better, it looks a boat load better than the 650, its screen is so much more nice and more functional.  It also has a balanced out if that matters to you which it probably won’t.  If you care about looks and what others think, the 5000 is something you would be embarrassed to be seen with (cough 650 cough) and at the same time delivers pretty good battery life and sounds exceedingly nice.  While I’ve really enjoyed listening to the 5000 I just cannot say I’ve enjoyed controlling it.

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