Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.

October 2022

Most of us shift between multiple media sources as we move through our day.

As a creative resource for several marketing agencies, I’m immersed all day. I spend a lot of time developing video scripts, reviewing motion graphics and proposals for accompanying music, and editing presentations. The rest of the time, when I’m writing, I like to have a soundtrack to match the task and my mood. And then, there are all those music videos and bits and pieces of video from artists’ electronic media kits to keep track of, as well.

A laptop well stocked with a range of apps makes it all easier, but the ideal situation would be to have a hub that could handle both video and audio with equal aplomb.

James Hale

With all that, it’s no surprise that Gordon Brockhouse’s review of Zidoo’s Neo S 4K UHD Media Player ($1499, all prices in USD) on SoundStage! Simplifi caught my attention. While Gordon’s review was mixed—primarily because he had ongoing issues with Zidoo’s software—he was clearly impressed with what he heard when he played music from, or through, the Neo. The kicker was when he wrote that he preferred the sound of the Zidoo to his own NAD C 658 streaming DAC, a well-built machine that costs about $1000 more.

As usual, Gordon was extremely thorough with his examination, so I won’t go into the entire rundown of the Neo’s features here; suffice to say, it’s pretty much a Swiss Army knife for playing video and audio files, and for streaming via Roon or Apple AirPlay, as well as from apps that support the UPnP/DLNA protocol. It also handles Bluetooth signals using the AAC, aptX, and aptX HD codecs.

In terms of computing power, the Neo has a six-core processor that runs Android 9, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of eMMC storage for the operating system and application software, and an internal 256GB SSD for audio and video files. You can transfer files to the internal SSD from a drive connected to one of the Neo’s USB ports using the player’s File Manager app.

Measuring 11.5″W × 4″H × 9″D, the Neo has a 4″ × 3″ glass-covered OLED touchscreen display on its front panel, along with a button to switch between standby and active use, 4.4mm balanced and 6.3mm single-ended headphone jacks, and two USB 2.0 Type-A ports for connecting external drives.

The rear panel houses a rocker switch for main power, three connectors for the supplied Bluetooth and Wi-Fi antennas, an HDMI output connector, a Gigabit ethernet port, two USB 3.0 Type-A ports, and a coaxial (RCA) S/PDIF output. Inputs include a USB Type-B for connecting a computer or streamer, optical (TosLink) and coaxial (RCA) S/PDIF, and AES/EBU (XLR). In addition, there are two pairs of line-level audio outputs: one unbalanced (RCA) and one balanced (XLR).


Through its HDMI port, the Neo can output 4K video at 60fps, with support for HDR10, HDR10+, HLG HDR, and Dolby Vision formats. The HDMI port can pass through Dolby True HD and seven-channel 24-bit/192kHz PCM audio.

When playing audio from a PC or Mac through the Neo’s USB Type-B port, maximum resolutions are 32/768 PCM and DSD512. Via S/PDIF, maximum resolution is 24/192 PCM.

In putting the Neo through its paces, one thing Gordon didn’t try was connecting it to a pair of active desktop speakers. So it was up to me to see if it was a candidate to replace the iFi Audio Zen DAC V2 I currently use to flow music from my Apple MacBook Pro to the RCA inputs on the pair of Focal Alpha Evo 50 studio monitors on my desk.

Zidoo Focal

In my original review of these nearfield speakers, I noted how they managed to reproduce music naturally, with exceptional clarity and force, through each speaker’s single 5″ woofer and 1″ tweeter. The Alpha Evo 50, which retails for $898 per pair, also has a large bass-reflex port on the front and is powered by two class-D amplifiers that supply 30W to the woofer and 20W to the tweeter.

Using the cable supplied by Zidoo, I connected my laptop via one of its Thunderbolt 4 ports to the Neo’s USB DAC port, and set out to explore two new, independently released recordings by improvisational small groups that I knew would benefit from close listening.

Artist-led, independent jazz labels are anything but new. Bassist Charles Mingus, his then-wife Celia, and drummer Max Roach launched Debut Records in 1952. While it was relatively short-lived, the label laid the groundwork for others like JCOA Records, led by composer Carla Bley and her then-husband Michael Mantler, and saxophonist John Zorn’s Tzadik label, which has been active since 1995.

Today, while major corporations like Universal (encompassing labels like Capitol, EMI, Republic, Interscope Geffen A&M, and Def Jam), Sony (Columbia, Arista, RCA, Epic), Warner (Atlantic, Elektra), and BMG have built brand-laden organizations, artist-run labels like jazz trumpeter Dave Douglas’s Greenleaf Music have flourished and expanded their rosters and catalogs.


Chicago saxophonist Dave Rempis created Aerophonic Records in 2013 to enable greater interaction with fans and music presenters worldwide, and his latest release—Allium (16-bit/44.1kHz WAV, Aerophonic AR036)—is the second album from his chamber trio featuring cellist Tomeka Reid and bassist Joshua Abrams.

Over 48 minutes and nine performances, the album revealed a trio that takes collective improvisation to a very high level. Whether exploring sonic possibilities on the abstract sound sculpture “Petiole,” or splashing pointillistic gestures around on the impressionistic “Scape,” the three musicians listen to each other and respond with impressive timing. While it’s almost a cliché to refer to group improvisation as being akin to human conversation, the exchanges on “Stolon” do indeed closely resemble speech, with each musician finding notes, inflections, and responses that fit the flow and propel the conversation forward. As in a free verbal exchange of ideas, there’s no predicting where this trialogue will lead—the tension continues to build, with no obvious resolution.

While Allium is generally more concerned with tonality and texture than melodic development, harmony, or rhythm, Rempis’s nimble playing follows a somewhat more traditional type of expression on pieces like the cleverly titled “Schubertii.”

Given the instrumentation on the recording, Allium’s sonic focus is largely on the middle range, although the lower notes of Rempis’s tenor saxophone and Abrams’s bass do occasionally broaden the soundscape.


With the Neo’s volume set at the midpoint (-30dB), the sound emitted through the Focal monitors was exceptionally clear and tactile. Every nuance of the string-work was audible, Rempis’s tone on alto and tenor sounded rich, and the soundstage stretched across my desk with enormous presence.

As I wrote in my original review of the Alpha Evo 50s, the ability to listen from close range adds another dimension to the experience of hearing music like Allium, and the Neo displayed remarkable authority.

Next, I switched to an upcoming release from pianist Kris Davis’s Pyroclastic Records label: Mexican vibraphonist Patricia Brennan’s second album, More Touch (Pyroclastic PR22, available November 2022). Featuring bassist Kim Cass, drummer Marcus Gilmore, and percussionist Mauricio Herrera, the recording is a fascinating mélange of Afro-Cuban influences and Mexican folkloric references that weave and shift in and out of focus.

More Touch

Recorded by Ron Saint Germain and Ryan Streber, and mixed by the estimable Saint Germain (whose praises I’ve sung before in this column), More Touch is one of the best-sounding albums I’ve heard this year. The 24/96 WAV files I received were rendered by the Neo with extraordinary clarity and depth. In several months of playing music through the Focals, I’d never heard the minimonitors sound so good.

Like guitarist Mary Halvorson, Brennan favors a gauzy tone from her instrument and makes frequent use of electronics to bend and blur notes. Gilmore is an active and varied drummer, and the two combine for a potent blend of floating elements and visceral power. Indeed, on pieces like “Robbin” and “El Nahualli (The Shadow Soul),” the vibist’s ethereal-sounding top register and the percussionist’s dark, primal rumble are both at play. The Neo held it all together beautifully, and the Focals pumped out enough bass that I didn’t feel the slightest desire to add a sub to this setup.

Brennan’s quartet is ostensibly a percussion ensemble, but its textural reach is extended by the presence of Cass—a Maine native who studied at the New England Conservatory before moving to New York City. His dark, resonant bass-playing is featured on “Convergences,” mixing with a shimmering curtain from Brennan and the occasional electronic squiggle, and the Neo expressed both the top and bottom with great transparency.

“Square Bimagic,” featuring driving hand percussion by Herrera, and the rippling “Sizigia (Syzygy)” deliver the harder-edged approach listeners might expect from a band that references Afro-Cuban music, and again, the Zidoo/Focal combo delivered flawlessly.


As Gordon mentioned in his Zidoo review, the machine’s software is anything but flawless. Since I was using the same unit he had reviewed, I knew to expect some wonky connectivity issues; and sure enough, I experienced some dropouts when I switched to Bluetooth and streamed from my Roon core.

But bad software shouldn’t sour you on a promising piece of equipment—most of our indispensable electronics go through a constant cycle of operating system upgrades these days. The Zidoo Neo S 4K definitely has promise, and, paired with my Focal Alpha Evo 50s, delivered a sub-$2500 system that would provide a great listening experience in any small room.

. . . James Hale

Note: for the full suite of measurements from the SoundStage! Audio-Electronics Lab, click this link.