In need of re­fine­ment

FOR Goes loud; strong bass; nice tonal bal­ance AGAINST Un­in­tu­itive to use; could be more dy­namic

What Hi-Fi (UK) - - First Tests -

Ever since Ap­ple killed the world’s most pop­u­lar mu­sic player, the ipod, there has been a vac­uum for a prod­uct that can match its ease of use and per­for­mance.

The ATC HDADP10 looks the part – it’s the sort of por­ta­ble mu­sic player you might get if you put ‘ipod nos­tal­gia’ on a bulk-up diet. The click­wheel draws you in, but ex­tra but­tons, ex­pand­able mem­ory and a more so­phis­ti­cated DAC pushes the de­sign fur­ther.

Al­though it looks sim­i­lar to an ipod, the HDADP10 doesn’t quite cap­ture its essence. It sits ap­prox­i­mately half the height of your av­er­age smart­phone and about three times as thick. Its smooth sur­faces are pleas­ing, and it feels well-sized in your hand.

Pow­er­ing it on, us­ing the but­ton on the top of the player, lights up its 2in, 240 x 320 res­o­lu­tion screen. Be­low the screen are four but­tons – the two on the far left and right con­trol play­back, while the others are for get­ting to the main menu or mu­sic set­tings.

Nav­i­ga­tion through these menus is done with the click­wheel but, strangely, the vol­ume is han­dled by sep­a­rate but­tons on the right-hand side. They’re all fairly re­spon­sive, but the click of each but­ton sounds a bit pla­s­ticky and our fin­ger oc­ca­sion­ally slips over the click­wheel.

Scatty de­sign

There’s also a lock but­ton on the other side, which is sep­a­rate from the power and screen-dim­mer but­ton. If you turn off the screen but for­get to lock the player (as we do a few times) then any ab­sent-minded but­ton press­ing will fid­dle with your mu­sic.

Fi­nally, the bot­tom has a line out con­nec­tion, a 3.5mm out­put, as well as a tog­gle to change the gain from +3db to +6db (which helps match the player to the sen­si­tiv­ity of your head­phones).

It’s a more scat­tered ap­proach than we’d like, and it does af­fect the player’s us­abil­ity – es­pe­cially when com­pared with sim­i­larly priced, touch-screen play­ers such as the Award-win­ning Cowon Plenue D.

The ac­tual soft­ware could be re­fined, too. Some of the mes­sages that pop up when the player turns off (“See You Soon!”) or when you’re yet to mark songs as favourites (“no songs sound! please add the songs”), make the player feel less re­fined than you might ex­pect at its price.

Keep­ing all of this run­ning is a 2400mah bat­tery, charged by a Mi­crousb con­nec­tion. ATC claims it will power the player for nine hours. While there isn’t any built-in stor­age, the HDADP10 comes with a 32GB Mi­crosd card that will hold around 10,000 MP3S. The player can ac­cept a max­i­mum of 256GB of stor­age (across two Mi­crosd cards) that slot into the two ports.

Of course, you’re not lim­ited to MP3S – WAV, ALAC, AIFF and FLAC files up to 24-bit/192khz res­o­lu­tion are sup­ported, as well as DSD64. All of these are con­verted from dig­i­tal to ana­logue through a 32-bit AK4490 DAC.

Once we've loaded the player with mu­sic, the ATC HDADP10 per­forms ad­e­quately and goes loud too. On Metallica’s Noth­ing Else Mat­ters, the best of this player is brought out in the bass. Deep, punchy and tight – each low boom of the drums hits your ears with force, whether it’s the beats that lay the song’s foun­da­tion or the drums that un­der­lie the elec­tric gui­tar flour­ishes.

There’s also a re­spectable grasp of the padded, thick tex­ture of each beat, giv­ing a good rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the dif­fer­ences be­tween the larger foot drum and the smaller snares.

Not there yet

The HDADP10 also has a de­cent sense of tim­ing, re­cre­at­ing the pace of the gui­tar riffs and speed of the drums with ac­cu­racy. It’s not quite as pre­cise as com­pet­ing play­ers such as the £200 Cowon Plenue D, which gets your toes tap­ping with a lit­tle less ef­fort, but it’s still com­mend­able.

That sense of tim­ing trans­lates rel­a­tively well to Ed Sheeran’s One and the rapid acous­tic gui­tar. Those tre­ble notes are also kept sep­a­rate from the midrange, while still pro­vid­ing a co­he­sive whole. The fre­quency range is well bal­anced, too, as the drum kicks in. Be­tween them, Sheeran’s breathy vo­cals, the gui­tar and the smooth cuts of the strings, the HDADP10 does well to let each come into its own.

That said, we would like a more spa­cious sound. We play Fleet­wood Mac’s Go Your Own Way, and where the Cowon Plenue D has a more laid-back ap­proach that al­lows the sound to reach out and find its own rhythm, the HDADP10 feels a tad strained.

The Cowon han­dles the changes in dy­nam­ics bet­ter too, mak­ing the HDADP10 sound com­par­a­tively flat. The way the vo­cals spark up for the iconic cho­rus should be in­tense, but it’s all too sim­i­lar and in­dis­tinct from ATC’S player.

The ATC HDADP10 will al­most cer­tainly be bet­ter than your smart­phone, but it has quite some way to go be­fore it matches the class lead­ers. While it goes loud and has com­mend­able bass po­tency, the lack of dy­namism, clar­ity and de­tail – along­side an un­in­tu­itive but­ton lay­out – means we can’t truly rec­om­mend it. It’s big, bulky and boistrous, but in 2018 that’s not enough.

The ‘Gain’ switch al­lows you to change from +3db to +6db for head­phones

The ATC HDADP10: pleas­ingly chunky, but sadly so are some of its func­tions

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