Lotoo Paw Gold Review: As a DAP the Paw Gold has an eye catching industrial, slightly dated design, that looks premium, has superb build quality, bags of cleaver complex features, but also tons of basic features that are missing. The sound quality is absolutely fantastic, however I’m unsure of it’s TOTL price tag.
Lotoo Paw Gold Review Preface:
With its storage, reliability, good looks, and average sound quality, the iPod has aways been the supreme Digital Audio Player market leader for the average consumer. When you consider that the iPod was the founding father of the ‘on demand’ portable digital jukebox era, Apple’s massive market share comes as no surprise, but, from the iPod’s original announcement in 2001, it took around eight to ten years for third party manufacturers to realise that they could better Apple’s offerings by producing music players with better DAC chips, using higher quality amplification, or better spec’d OP AMPs. In the early years of this discovery, the marketing focussed on sonic descriptive superlatives and little attention was brought to the internal components, which really meant that people were still unsure of the devices capabilities. By discussing the internal components it would bring confidence to the consumer that these new music players were more than ‘just’ an iPod, which also allowed the equipment to be compared against each other and referenced. Fortunately, this interim period was short until Korean multimedia tech company iRiver rebranded themselves as Astel & Kern in later 2012 and delivered the first ultra premium DAP – the AK100. What Astell & Kern wanted to achieve was desktop quality audio in the single palm of the users hand… it was an exciting period of time for audiophiles to see iPod killers in the works, but the price point was widely contested. Still, users bought the DAPs in droves and this paved the way for an entirely new market and since 2012 the market has expanded past the $1000 mark. Some might say that this end of the market has become far too crowded in the past couple of years with ‘Premium’ Chinese DAP’s popping up all over the place. Sure, the DAP on analysis today is Chinese, but it is slightly different. The reason as to why this DAP is different is that the parent company, Infomedia, has more than twenty years experience in producing complex broadcast and professional audio solutions and a great reputation to match. The experience in this area is certainly more than enough to branch out and produce an exceptional TOTL (Top Of The Line) flagship DAP, in this case; the Lotoo Paw Gold. The Lotoo Paw Gold is currently Lotoo’s only DAP and its pricing, $2000, clearly takes aim at the AK240.
When the Paw Gold arrives you can’t help but notice how well Lotoo has designed the internal and external packaging. The external packaging is of an origami style and completely folds out to reveal a high quality black presentation box with silver detailing. Opening the presentation box is an experience on its own and has three separate swinging drawers for the player and all of the included accessories. In the top compartment the Paw Gold can be found encased in a short pile velvet foam platform which appears to more than adequately protect the player on its long voyage from Lotoo’s China manufacturing facility to your door. In the compartments below you will find the warranty instructions, ‘Quick Start Guide’, ‘User Manual’ and in third compartment, a half meter (50cm) high speed USB 3.0 to Micro-B cable for data transfer, a 1m 12v 1.5A switching wall-wort charger, and a Lotoo branded suede protection soft case. In terms of accessory quality, the USB 3.0 cable is well made and sports a flat profile cable design for easy, tangle free, storage and the charging cable, although non-standard, is of good quality, whereas the included soft case feels a little misjudged. Sure there’s no doubting that the included soft case is nice with its dark blue suede material and orange details, but it does have a bad habit of catching debris and it doesn’t protect the Paw Gold well enough, except from surface scratches, so it might have been much better to have included a portable hard case or body case considering the price of this player. If we talk about what is missing from the overall package, I do feel that Lotoo have neglected the need to include screen protectors. Granted, the screen has a covering of sapphire crystal glass (as seen on the latest iPhones and iWatch), but this is still not impenetrable so it would have been worthwhile to see a couple of screen protectors thrown inside the box.
From what I understand, in its early days, many buyers reported that the Paw Gold didn’t come with an adequate manual or any manual at all. This seems very odd, but thankfully I can report that the Lotoo team have addressed this matter and the package now comes complete with both a ‘Quick Start Guide’ and ‘User Manual’. If you are confused about all of the Gold’s capabilities or are unsure of any untapped ground, you can turn to the user manual in the knowledge that it provides a very good explanation into almost all of the DAPs features and settings – with the only exception being an adequate description of how the ATE and PMEQ (Acoustic Timbre Embellisher and Parametric Equalisation) clearly functions. At this moment it might be wise to mention that using these equalisers on the device is a total dog of a task, so it really would have been 100x better to engineer a PC/Mac program that could quickly allow the user to create custom EQ’s without frustrating the hell out of the user, and including this within the package. Apart from this, Lotoo have put together a great package with almost all the relevant accessories in beautiful presentation packaging.
Design and User Interface:
Before holding the Paw Gold in the palm of my hand I have to say that the pictures online seem to paint the DAP as much larger device than it actually is. In reality Lotoo have created a ‘small’ powerhouse of a DAP that measures in at 60mm x 104mm x 25.4mm; almost the same size in height and width as an iBasso DX90. In the flesh it certainly does appear that Lotoo have nailed the height and width of the device, but there is quite a large problem with the 25.4mm depth of the it. Don’t you go reaching for your tape measure yet, because I’ll tell you what the Paw Gold works out to be in real measurements; the equivalent of three stacked iPhone 5/5S, two stacked iPod Classic’s, or a Chord Electronics Hugo – which is actually 2mm shorter than the Gold. When you also consider that a number of third party cases now exist for the device, and how many extra mm’s they will add to the player, you can only imagine how this will increasingly effect portability and comfort. Put it this way, with absolutely any DAP, I fully expect it to comfortably fit within the pocket of a pair of Levis 501 jeans. Sure, I can tell you that the Paw Gold does just about pass the 501 pocket challenge, but don’t go expecting to fit the Gold in any contour shaped jeans and definitely don’t go expecting it to look inconspicuous in any jean pocket or even be comfortable because A) it noticeably protrudes from the jean material and B) it feels very weighty and awkward in the pocket – is that a Paw Gold in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me? Lotoo could have massively increased the comfort of the device if they simply reduced the depth and cut down the weight but, as the external case material is aircraft grade Duralumin, I doubt the designers could reduce the 280g monolith down by much, if at all. On the other hand (pun intended), away from the pocket, I have to say that the weight does seem to add a touch of class in the palm of the hand without too much instability, although that depth may be a problem for users with smaller hands who want to securely grip onto their precious device.
Having given the game away that the external shell of the Paw Gold is manufactured from aircraft grade Duralumin, it certainly seems as if the Lotoo team have taken some structural design queues from Astell & Kerns book. All of AK’s Mk. 2 devices use Duralumin as the main structural material and weather Lotoo knowingly did or didn’t adopt this material for their own is one for the forum fanboys to discuss. Either way Duralumin is an relatively expensive material to use that has the advantage of being exceptionally strong, hardwearing, has great corrosion resistance, and can be machined to a very flat coherent state. In theory this would suggest that Duralumin is an excellent hardy material to use and it definitely is better than standard aluminium, it’s just best to remember that it still isn’t impenetrable and that it’s strongly advisable to purchase an aftermarket case to ensure the longevity of the device. The reason as to why I say this is that, on the review model I currently hold, there is evidence to suggest that the device has previously been dropped from tarnishing of the anodised finish. Regardless, from my inspection of the casework, I can report that the machining of the Duralumin is first class. Lotoo have machined the Paw Gold to have a flawless industrial vibe and they’ve even made sure to fit the buttons snug into the shell so that they don’t wiggle or show any evidence of any design overlooks. In terms of the Paw Gold’s finish, Lotoo have anodised the surface to produce a wonderfully unique and continuously perfect blue/purple theme. Part of the beauty of this finish is that different ambient light conditions seem to effect the appearance of the device. For example, a very light sparkly purple hue is emitted when in bright white light and, in darker environments, the purple becomes rich and deep with a flat two dimensional appearance. Although I’m generally not a fan of purple, and some may say that the Paw Gold has a dated finish, I have found the whole affair to be exceptionally classy. In fact I would also go as far to say that Lotoo have nailed the look of the Paw Gold with the hard grey yesteryear pill design function buttons and 24k gold plated accents on the, power on/off button, digital potentiometer, and sun textured scroll buttons. With the general look of the device, some might mistakenly identify the Paw Gold as a portable field recorder and I actually really like this. Coming from a Pro Audio background I feel that Lotoo have stuck to their guns and produced a professional looking device. However, if we forget the depth of the device, the materials used to create this DAP do, undeniably, feel great in the hand. Likewise, the position of the buttons are all easily accessed by the thumb and the texture of the digital potentiometer is useful, my only reservations are the positioning of the Low/High gain sliding switch and hold switch, which are both on the top of the player behind both the independent 3.5mm Headphone Output and Line Outputs. Because of their position, it is much more difficult to quickly access them and, when you consider that the ‘Hold’ button is a regularly used feature, a minor issue presents itself. If, however, the hold button was on the side this would be much easier to access in a hurry. Returning to something more troublesome now, if you’re a left handed user you may experience some difficulties whilst operating the Paw Gold. Seeing as the digital volume potentiometer is on the right hand of the device the hand needs to extend to reach volume control and it cannot do this with accuracy, likewise in order to operate the play/pause fast forward/rewind buttons a left handed user will have to extend their hand away from the device to operate the controls; something which lowers the users grip of the device and, thus, stability.
In this TOTL (Top of the Line) DAP arena, touch screens are all too common so it may come as a relief to some of you that the Lotoo Paw Gold does not follow suit. In order to access all of the settings and menus you need to use those gold ol’ fashioned push buttons that we spoke about earlier, which actually can make navigation much easier for those in colder climates, those who hate fingerprints on the screen, and also those who have the mildly uncommon ‘touchscreenaphobia’. However, when you take into consideration that we are talking about a TOTL DAP here with a supreme premium price tag, forgetting the Altmann Terra Player for the moment, it seems criminal that Lotoo have only settled with 1.8” OLED display sporting a poultry 160px x 128px display. In use the display appears to do the job as the text and icons are easy to read without any difficulty, but I can see that users who require reading glasses will struggle to make out the tiny text on the player. The other issues with this type of screen is that you can clearly see the individual pixels, the contrast is poor, and the refresh rate is slow – something that I feel is unacceptable when demanding so much of your hard earned cash. Perhaps the only up side to this display is that Lotoo have covered it with a thick layer of expensive sapphire crystal glass. The up side of using this material is that it makes it much harder to scratch or shatter the display, and it is for this reason Apple use this coating for almost all of their new iDevices. Still, you have to remember that the player is not immune from accidents and the increased weight of the device, along with the fact that the screens glass stands proud of the player, could mean that it is even more prone to a shattered screen which is, again, evidence that including screen protectors in the package would be a worthwhile asset. Strangely enough I do have to say that using this type of display does have one up side, and this is battery life. In a toss up between quality and longevity, Lotoo have followed the path to longevity by using such an energy efficient screen that is sure to increase the play time by at least a ¼. To make the device even more efficient, the Lotoo team could have used an ambient light sensor to intelligently dim the screen in various light conditions, but they chose to not go down this route. Within the settings menu the user can adjust the backlight of the screen to either; Low, Mid, or High. All of these settings appear to be well judged for most indoor uses, but still the screen proves difficult to read in bright sunlight making the smaller text a nightmare to read thanks to the backlight not going high enough and also due to the gloss effect of the sapphire crystal glass. What we can be thankful for is that all of the physical buttons on the player are very well labeled and still stand out for flawless operation.
As we recently discussed the role in which the screen has on the battery life, it’s only fair that we have a little chat about the quality of this vital component so, let’s put it this way, it’s absolutely astonishing. Certainly using a poorer quality screen has its advantages, but we actually have to give kudos to the massive 5900mAh 22Wh Li-Po battery that, for the record, makes up almost half of the Paw Gold’s total width (11mm). Because of the batteries construction, it is not easily user removable or replaceable and is instead designed to deliver a very respectable total play time of approximately 11hours at the highest sample and bitrate; more than enough for a couple of very extended listening sessions, or an entire day at the office. In modest use, with various high sample rate and bitrate FLAC and WAV files I can report that the battery has lasted me anywhere up to thirteen hours so you’ll almost never get caught short again. Because of this massive Li-Po battery the Paw Gold can only be charged via the included wall wort power supply and, unfortunately, not by USB. If you intend to go on holiday and pack light, you may have to think again because you will need to remember that power supply. With this said, I have noted that to charge the battery from completely flat it does take approximately eleven to twelve hours, which is not too bad at all. The plus side of this is that, if you so desire, you can continue listening to music during the charge cycle. Another positive is that if you head over into the settings menu Lotoo have allowed the player to either display a battery percentage remaining indicator, or even an estimated remaining play time. The estimated play time seems to be accurate to within an hour or so and I cannot fault the function of this feature in any way at all, if anything more DAPs need to have this functionality instead of making the user take a wild guess as to when they next need to intermediatiary charge their player. Having considered all the facts, Lotoo have excelled themselves with the play time of the Paw Gold, it’s just sad that it comes at the cost of an increased player width.
Just as vital as the screen resolution, battery life, and the button layout is the harmony between the operating system and CPU. For the Paw Gold the Lotoo design team used an Analogue Devices Blackfin 514 400MHz single core processor, which seems more than adequate for the task at hand. From cold the Paw Gold starts in less than two seconds to reveal the main screen of the device and navigating your way through the settings is a moderately speedy affair with only occasional modest latency, so I cannot massively fault the processor at all. Maybe if I had to say something it would have been better to use a slightly faster CPU to eliminate all lag, but still I can’t see 100 – 300ms being too much of an issue for the average consumer. Unlike other DAPs in this area that rely on Android to build their operating systems around, the Lotoo’s stock OS is custom built and, again, takes user interface design queues from their portable field recorder heritage. Let’s put the design aesthetic of to the fore, this is a ‘simple’ operating system, with no WiFi, no BlueTooth, no additional applications; nothing but a pure unadulterated music player. If you’re wanting all the bells and whistles, to use Tidal, use BlueTooth APT X with your wireless headphones or media server then you best look elsewhere, namely Astell & Kern, because you’ll get none of that with Lotoo’s Paw Gold. Lotoo clearly wanted to make this player simple, and that is what they’ve done. Some might say that Lotoo have made the Paw Gold on the cheap, some might say that they’ve brought the portable music player back to its roots, and some definitely won’t understand its featureless operation, only you can decide what you think about this device… to me one word springs to mind; Marmite. Put it this way, what you might get along the line is official operating system updates, or even potentially more exciting third party operating systems if someone steps up to the plate (like Lurkers Mod for iBasso or Rockbox etc.), who knows but it will never be a ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’. This is, quite simply, a music player.
Let’s come back on to the descriptive once again, because we still haven’t got into the meat of the operating system. Considering the dated industrial appearance of the design, the looks and feel of the operating system appropriately follows suit, do actually look good, and is modestly functional. On the main ‘Player’ screen the Paw Gold offers all the relevant information in a well laid out order, the only exception being that the screen does not display the artist, just the name of the track. Perhaps as well Lotoo could have made the track number easier to know at al glance because it is in a completely different stretched digital font with 1000 digits either side. I mean come on, what album has 1000 tracks? We’re still another few hundred years away from the ultimate ‘NOW That’s What I Call Music’ 1000 compilation. Other than these two concerns the following information is offered on the main display screen: play state, file type, sample rate information, bit rate information, file name, current time playing, total track time (which can be configured in the setting to remaining track time), repeat state, battery status, if the device is locked, EQ applied (if any), and a large Left and Right digital VU meter which extends from -50dB to 0dB. If you’ve set the function button to scroll across the track information you can bring up the album artwork, but this is massively hit and miss. For a start the player has a bad habit of not resizing the images correctly and when they are displayed the limited colours and resolution of the screen makes them look truly awful. If you’re a fan of album artwork as part of the beauty of a record then you will be disappointed. Regardless, it’s amazing how much information Lotoo have fit on the tiny 1.8” screen even if it doesn’t have the ability to display the artist or playlist currently playing. However, a very useful feature of the Paw Gold is that when you move the digital potentiometer the volume level will be displayed on the screen alongside a graph. What the graph shows us is that the volume is not on a fixed incline, the volume dial has a slope to it which means that the higher you go with the gain the shorter time it takes to increase the volume. I can see this being a useful feature to those using less sensitive IEMs or headphone because it easily allows the volume to relevantly increase in gain without having to keep scrolling the wheel for an increased length of time. Thankfully another two great features that the firmware offers to the digital volume potentiometer is that you can reverse the direction of gain increase/decrease, which is excellent for for left handed users (even if its top right placement is still annoying). The other great [sort of standard] software feature is that you do have the option to leave the potentiometer active when the device’s ‘Hold’ button is engaged. Both of these features are brilliant! Considering the above, I have found that the operating system is intuitive to use and does not require the help of the included manual. In total there are four settings screens away from the main display, these are: The ‘File’ menu used for locating tracks, The ‘List’ menu for accessing playlists, The ‘Setup’ menu to adjust the various player settings, and the ‘ATE/PMEQ’ screen to adjust or apply various equalisation. To access any of these screens is as simple as pressing the marked button on the player to bring up the various menus, which presents itself in a simple list form sadly without any pictorial references. There is an additional button on the player, and this is the ‘Function’ (Fn) button. Now it has to be said that this small function button is amazingly useful… From the settings menu you can change it to do a whole host of unique useful actions such as; Mute the output by -20dB, Mute the player, change the Repeat mode, Display the screen information, turn the screen on and off, Display the battery information, and perform a Database Update. I would be surprised if you didn’t immediately find this Function button as a godsend (particularly the -20dB feature), my only criticism is that there’s not another one!
For some, the way in which a music player helps them use playlists is a critical function. Sadly the Paw Gold makes these users lives a lot more difficult than it should be. In order to use the playlist function you will need to import a .cue sheet from your computer for the Paw Gold to recognise that a playlist exists. Once the file has been copied over the Paw Gold will recognise the playlist in its dedicated ‘Playlist’ screen, but don’t go thinking that you’ll be able to modify or create playlists because the Gold does not support this, it’s only able to read and not write so your best bet is to download CUETools and manually make the .cue file to import over to the device. For some this will be a familiar task, although I do feel that the play should afford the user with some function and control over their playlists. Fortunately in the ‘Setup’ menu you do have the option to be able to play your playlists on ‘Shuffle’, ‘Sequence’, ‘Single Repeat’, and ‘Repeat All’, which all work as intended. However, if you thought that the difficulties with the ‘Playlist’ function were disappointing, wait until you hear that the Paw Gold will not auto-scan your library and arrange your music into Album, Artist, or even Genre! Is this not a simple requirement?! Certainly for some this will be one foot in the grave because the player fundamentally requires you to have all of your music meticulously manually arranged into Artist > Album. Sure the folder browse menu is as easy as pie, but this is no consolation. I just have absolutely no idea how the Lotoo team could nail all the other settings and forget some of the most basic attributes of a good, let alone TOTL, player – is this unforgivable? Maybe… Then we just turn our attention to the EQ controls, to then realise that they are just as mind boggling. Usually I’m all for applying a bit of EQ to test the limits of certain headphones… Not with the Paw Gold, I’m not even going any further than going in the settings, accepting that they want to use two typologies, glancing at the ‘interface’ and grimacing. We’ll come onto the PMEQ in a moment, but in the meantime we’ll address the reason for the ATE (Acoustic Timbre Embellisher) settings. Without kissing goodbye to an hour of my life trying to make head nor tail of what this actually does, my interpretation of the change in sound that I can here is that it applies a certain EQ and reverberation characteristic to your music – similar to what happens during mastering. Whether this adds value to the player beats me… My suggestion is check it out, if you like the few included settings it keep it on… Coming onto the Parametric Equalisation (PMEQ), this is an area that is user customisable (unlike the ATE). The Paw Gold comes with some standard settings although, if you’re feeling adventurous and have the skills of an audio surgeon you can tackle the User Setup to create your own… My advice? Don’t bother, it’s likely that you’ll do more harm than good. Why? Because it’s an unadulterated disaster, it’s not intuitive in the slightest and will take you ten minutes to get anywhere and half an hour to come up with anything useable. Just don’t bother. What Lotoo should have done is create a PC/Mac program where you can plug the player in, use it as a USB audio device, and modify the EQ curves that way.
Finally we’ve almost reached the end of this section, so we only need to touch on one last major point; gapless playback. Although there are currently no options to cater for gapless playback in the settings menu, like you would expect from other DAPs, if the tracks were originally ripped, or purchased, as gapless you would expect the player to present them in such a way. Unfortunately due to the fact that there is ‘no’ support for this in the ‘Play’ settings you will have to live with your beautiful gapless album being rudely interrupted by a brief momentary pause and a paired volume cut. The only way to remedy this currently is to take all of your tracks and glue them together with your choice of audio editing suite or third party software – not ideal! Despite the potential fact that the audio editing software could effect the purity of the file, this is not a risk that I would like to take… Lotoo should sort this pronto.
Lossless tracks varying from 44.1kHz to 192kHz and 16bit to 24bit, Samsung 64gb Class 10 UHS 1 SD Card, MacBook Air Mid 2013 i7, iBasso DX90 (for reference), Grado ¼” to 3.5mm Adapter, Fostex ‘TH900’, Fostex ‘TH600’, Final Audio Design ‘Pandora Hope VI’, Beyerdynamic ‘T1’, Beyerdynamic ‘T90’, Apollo Audio Lab ‘X1’, Heir Audio ’10.A’, Heir Audio ‘8.0’, Noble Audio ‘FR’, Musical Fidelity ‘MF-100’, Audio Technica ‘WS99’, Audiofly ‘AF180’, Chord Electronics ‘Scamp’, Various Van Damme ‘Professional Series’ interconnects, The Chord Company ‘Epic’ Speaker Cable, and the Audiofilia ‘AF-SM1’.
Having been on a very bumpy road so far, now’s the time where I sing the Lotoo Paw Gold’s praises and eat a generous portion of humble pie, simply because I cannot say that it’s performance is anything less than fantastic. Just so I can stagger my superlative filled enthusiasm, I will point out that my chosen pairings with the Paw Gold haven’t all been plain sailing. Let me elaborate; With my Beyerdynamic T90’s I found that they lost much of their body by gaining a harsh top end, but my Heir 10.A’s were even worse. With the 10.A’s I found there to be no synergy between the CIEMs and the device whatsoever and, in fact, this is the first time that I’ve ever heard the 10.A’s loose their sparkle and become dreadfully insipid like a wilted flower; an utterly shameful listening experience. Surprisingly the same wasn’t to be said for the Heir 8.0’s, Noble FR’s, Fostex TH600 (although they did become more matter of fact and the bass vibrated my head/brain), Final Audio Design Pandora Hope VI’s, and Fostex TH900’s which all developed an increased sense of depth and complexity. Because of the consistency of my above findings, I have chosen to settle upon one master pair of headphones to review the Paw Gold’s full sonic capabilities – The Fostex TH900’s.
Before we move on to the descriptive, I would like to focus on the amplification side of the Paw Gold for just a minute. Having used numerous headphones of varying impedance with the Gold it should be noted that it has absolutely no issues with driving headphones up to 250Ω, past this it might be an idea to use an external amplifier to get the best out of the device. When I plugged the mega thirsty Beyerdynamic T1’s into the Paw Gold everything appeared to be ‘good’, just not great. Using the T1’s meant that I was riding on the very upper limits of the gain and I didn’t feel entirely comfortable with their slight fatter dynamic performance. Considering that the T1’s can still be powered by the Paw Gold’s internal amplifier is an amazing achievement on it’s own, it’s just up to you whether you’ll be comfortable with the performance. On the other end of the spectrum, very sensitive headphones appeared to have very very little to no issue whatsoever which displays that the output impedance must be very low to be so universal.
I’ve always found it easiest to kick start the ‘Sound Quality’ section of a review with a general overview of what the device sounds like. In this instance I would have to describe the Paw Gold as sounding a cross between neutral and natural, with the main weight falling on the ‘natural’ side of the boarder. The reason as to why I’ve forced in this hybrid descriptive is all down to how the bass and low-mid frequencies are held against the mid-midrange and trebles. Put it this way, the lower end of the spectrum is like ‘Mahogany’, deep and rich in all the right measures with a forward presentation that is free of any cloudiness. There is some teeny tiny evidence of compression in low-midrange, nothing barely noticeable enough to warrant any prolonged attention, but as we get up to the midrange we get to a certain point where the mild neutral ‘Oak’ descriptive takes over from the natural. The higher frequencies are all on point and synchronous with remarkable fluidity with maybe some recession around the upper mids. At the very top end of the frequency spectrum Lotoo haven’t overly extend the frequencies too high so there’s no overly sharp transients and, as you get to the very high treble, it appears to taper down to prevent that horrible crispness that you typically associate with lower performing DAPs. The whole feeling of this DAP is one of power and grace – power in the bass, grace in the silky mids and tops which never let up. Further from this, I would say that this is probably one of the most analogous players that you’ll come across on the market today.
In the bass region, precision is king. The bass region has excellent solidarity with a forward macro detail presentation and sheer clarity. I don’t think that I’ve ever experienced such low end clarity in this magnitude before with anything, maybe apart from the CAD 1543 DAC. Usually I’d say that a forward bass presentation goes hand in hand with a ‘bloated’ descriptive, yet there’s no instance for me to affix this label to the Paw Gold. If we come back on to what I said earlier about the bass being like ‘Mahogany’, the Paw Gold’s bass contrast is so superior that you can almost see and feel the grain of the frequencies with your ears. Ultimately the Gold’s presentation is able to afford the user with an immersive experience that is only liked to a window inside the recording studio where you can’t help but stand and stare. Continuing on from this, although you are maybe just moving your eyes a fraction of a mm across the room, every little detail becomes entrancing with massive precision. Well, that’s my fixation and interpretation of the Paw Gold’s bass presence; the bass is texture rich and decadent to the extreme with fluid like coherence. In terms of bass imaging, Lotoo’s Paw Gold does an excellent job at keeping the bass frequencies into the central domain. What I really like about the imaging here is that, even though the bass instrumentation is kept central, I can’t say that the bass ever feels like it’s on tight reins, or overly intimate, like it does with other DAPs. There’s definitely no evidence of the frequencies and instruments being tightly squashed to fulfil a cheaper player idealistic, because at the moderate to further limits of the central domain you can still seem to hear evidence of the bass being there before it elegantly tapers down in the most natural way. I believe that much of the reason as to why the bass region is so entrancing, is all down to how well it’s imaged, as we previously discussed, and how well the Paw Gold handles the transient attack and decay to create extraordinary instrument separation. In terms of transience, in this specific area, this player feels to me as if it progressively scans the music and sees the bass transients before its even arrived. Sure the bass can be a touch in your face due to it’s mildly softer dynamic approach, but it has bags of detail by adapting to whatever style of music you’re listening to and keeping the timing consistent – excellent for electronic genres! At the bottom end of the limits I can say that, with the right headphones, the Paw Gold can go very low. You don’t ever feel that it’s aggressive in its approach, more supportive to the baseline above, and if the sub-bass frequencies haven’t been mastered out of a track (for. example Infected Mushroom’s Friends on Mushroom’s ‘Savant on Mushrooms’ track) the sub-bass certainly let’s you know it’s there, not by being hyped, just by being present and balanced with the mid-bass above. Whilst in the bass region it’s much more difficult than the mids and trebles to achieve clear instrument separation between the bass line and the rhythm of a drum. In this respect the Paw Gold genuinely surprises me. The player is able to clearly differentiate between the two and both the instruments attacks and decays can be heard independent of each other, clearly articulated, with modest air between them so that they don’t coagulate to form a flatter image. If we wrap up this section now, I’ve noticed that when I paired the Paw Gold with the Fostex TH600’s I found that the rumble on the bass became thunderous with ridiculous resolution and accuracy, even if it is certainly softer than the frequencies above. If you’re a bass head and are looking for an ideal pairing between the two, the TH600’s would be a good bet.
Coming onto the low-midrange now, I’ve found that this is an area that has many of the characteristics of the mid-bass region. Essentially the low-mid is a remarkable continuation of the bass region which is what you would expect to hear, it’s still dark in presentation, solid in terms of forward characteristic yet it carries a more rounded demeanour that doesn’t quite have the same element of air and instrument separation that we discussed before. There is some very minor evidence of occasional incoherence, and crushed instrument separation, through a slower attack and sharper decay, although it is barely noticeable and corrects itself very soon into the low-mid-midrange with a much sharper attack. As we move our way through between the low-mid-midrange and all the way up to the low-high-midrange I am able to confirm that the Paw Gold delivers ridiculous levels of clarity and depth whilst, oddly, taking a laid back, slower approach. Throughout these frequencies you are softly greeted with epic contrast of depth that opens up before your ears to reveal a more lifelike stage than what you may be use to with a DAP. In this area the spatial environment is more private stage performance than arena hall so you can’t expect to turn your head left or right when listening to a well mixed track, it will instead feel classy and classic like a comfortable wishy in a smoking room setting – ultimately much more analogous with a reel to reel vibe than any digital in your face attitude. In this instance I would say that if you are someone who prefers ultimate precision, then it’s best to look elsewhere. The modest luscious and intimate yesteryear presentation with natural beautifully dynamic contrast is best suited to those you don’t cry out for all the micro details to be in their face. Sure the micro details are there, but they’re comfortably realistic and soft because this player is not clinical with the mids in the slightest, it takes the neutral train in frequency range with an natural prevailing edge in the dynamic and spatial presentation. If we come onto the presentation of male and female vocals, I’ve noticed that the Paw Gold has a habit of bringing them forward more so than other players so that they don’t get lost within the mix. At every instance I’ve been able to follow the vocal lines with no issues of incoherence at all, but I have noticed that the Paw Gold does have a habit of making making single track female vocal performances (that haven’t been overdubbed) sound dry. As we move into the upper midrange now, the same qualities are carried through as previously discussed. The only main difference is that they are less forward and taper downwards – a trait that slowly continues into the treble region.
If we were to generalise the treble region this would be quite a complex task because, in the low treble area, the Paw Gold takes on a seemingly dryer more present approach, whereas the frequencies in the mid-treble region, and above, are noticeably softer, smoother, and much more laid back – qualities that ultimately bolster that analogous spirit we previously mentioned. I will have to say that, if we first begin with the low-treble descriptive, there is a clear matter of fact sort of flat shelf neutral vibe about the frequencies here. There’s clearly less dynamic contract and, thus, the depth in this area is reduced to the detriment of micro to macro transience and separation. In continuation of this point, as we enter into the mid to high-low treble area, the stereo width appears to have been regimented down by the player into a more intimate affair where vocals sound more condensed into the central domain than other DAPs I’ve previously explored. Strangely I wouldn’t say that any of the neutraleqsue qualities are a bad thing here, more refreshing when you consider the contrast between the lower and upper high registers because every that that you put through the player pops. However, as we now enter the mid-treble to high-treble region there is a clear and steady tapering down to create a darker, increasingly refined, less regimented, gentle experience which is completely free of any distortion. Having said this I think that the best way to describe the presentation of these frequencies is with the adjective luscious because, yet again, this is an undoubtedly green area with massive depth. If we discuss this even further, I strongly believe that the main difference between this region, in contrast to any other, is that it yields a much more open stereo field. It is this quality that allows you to explore each instrument as an individual unit with complete realism, absolutely no fragility, and very little boundaries. For some, the analogous quality of this frequency region may prove difficult to handle. If you’re searching for crystalline treble with sharp attack and decay, it’s best to look elsewhere… this is just not a quality that Lotoo’s Paw Gold possesses. This is even the case as we get up into the super high frequencies. Sure, they theoretically extend well, but they are smooth, have a closed-set approach, and there’s such little of them that some people may want to reach for the ridiculously confusing parametric eq (PMEQ). This is not to say that the Paw Gold can’t give a bit of sizzle, because it does (Ie. Julia Holster’s ‘ Maxim’s I’), just don’t go expecting a cold digital clinical sound.
Loto Paw Gold Conclusion:
With classic premium looks, and a premium price tag, Lotoo’s Paw Gold is a physically, and sonically, beautiful machine. Sure I slated the thickness of the device within this review, but I think that we have to accept the facts; a TOTL player with 11+ hours of play time and a juice packed amplifier section will have a certain footprint whether we like it or not. I do understand that, in all its simpleness, this is a great player, although what I seriously think has let this DAP down is that Lotoo have chosen to focus on building in tons of great usability features and neglecting the basics, ie. Digital Out, an awful EQ application, poor Gapless Playback, poor Screen resolution and size etc etc etc. With all the facts considered, The Pro Audio Web Blog awards the Lotoo Paw Gold with a Four Star rating.