As we'll see in all three of my concurrent Soundaware reviews, each new model dominates its predecessor with finer finish, more features, heavier specs and bigger chassis. This SIno brand launched in 2011 thus signals clear intent of upping its game. For size reference, consider the earlier Esther M1 Pro with a Questyle QP1R in-between.


Whilst the MR1's click wheel looks suspiciously like a scroll type à la Questyle—theirs has become annoyingly glitchy aka infernal— it only clicks. It's Esther's reliable cluster of five done up in different form. But the 'home' and 'menu back' controls have gone touch screen now. They collect fingerprints to keep the smartphone brigade on familiar terms.


The MR1's GUI remains essentially unchanged but adds new functions like 'boost'. Pulling top battery duty, it increases output voltage for high-impedance headphones so is ideally done whilst charging to enable endless sessions regardless of power draw. The player's bottom sports the expected twin micro SD card slots and a USB mini port for charging, USB DACing or data transfer. The upper right edge features the mains and volume '+' and '-' buttons. A small hole below conceals a 'reset' trigger that's accessible with the end of an unbent paper clip or similar.



Left to right, the top sports variable mini balanced and single-ended analog outputs, a mini combo jack that does digital coax and fixed-level line-out and the HDMI-carried SAW-Link. Unless the display does full-colour cover art—unavailable with .aiff files under current firmware but fault-free with .flac—Soundaware's colour scheme is a conservative mix of yellowish browns.



The optional 'expander' kit buys you the following:


Soundaware's mini-to-4-pin XLR balanced link equals instant plug'n'play with any big headphone you have terminated accordingly.


In the wild outdoors of the gym, tube or sidewalk, most would obviously don less showy IEMs. Still, a more compact €249 over-ear Meze could still make for a viable walkabout buddy. A big costly planar should probably stay home to not tempt mischief or dings. In its leatherette pouch, the champagne-colour MR1 version cuts quite a figure as any accessorized fashionista's stylish accompaniment right next to that Apple iPhone or Samsung Galaxy. That it requires a committed listener to discard those smartphones as music players and carry a second piece of kit goes without saying. So does the obvious fact that name recognition for Soundaware won't ever equal those smartphone giants. But then who wears their sports coat with the label out?