In need of refinement
FOR Goes loud; strong bass; nice tonal balance AGAINST Unintuitive to use; could be more dynamic
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.
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