- Quick response to button pushes
- Solid, sturdy build
- Navigation simple and quick
- Huge card capacity
- Fast power up
- Recessed yet accessible volume control
- Great value for money
- Golden volume and navigation controls may be on the blingy side for some
- No digital outputs
- Charges via mains adapter/wall wart only - not USB
- Screen seems small amongst those of other DAPs
A very capable and well-built unit, the Lotoo PAW Gold Player looks and feels as good as it sounds. The array of buttons make navigation a breeze and they're all easy to get to. The unit feels right at home in the palm of the hand, and is easy to operate - even in the pocket once the control layout is familiar. It scored a hit with everyone here who tried it, and together with its future-proof SD card capabilities it looks like it is going to be some tough competition for other high end portables out there.
Joining the ranks of companies entering the portable audio fray with a high-end audio player is a company called Lotoo (pronounced low-to) with the PAW Gold. With audio quality that matches the Astell&Kern AK240 player and a price which is a whole lot lower, you may not need to win the lotto to enjoy this player!
The most striking thing about the PAW Gold other than the large golden Mayan-style control on the front is the obvious button-focused control method which is a contrast to the AK240's touchscreen. And it's horses for courses; many people love gadgets with touchscreen operation and many people prefer buttons, these offer instant feedback as the user knows that a button has been pushed, and instant access to menus such as the player's start screen or EQ settings is certainly a bonus.
Lotoo have gone for simplicity in terms of outputs and connectivity; the PAW Gold offers both a headphone output and a 3.5mm line-out. Sound quality is described below, but it's unlikely that any external DAC is required to be used with the PAW Gold, also this DAP packs a real punch in terms of power so external amping is unlikely to be needed if the user is on the move. Line-out is a nice extra though if connecting to full-size amp and loudspeaker system.
The PAW Gold can accept some giant capacity cards - it's designed to work with SD cards, but can of course be used with Micro SD cards by means of an adapter. So up-to-date is the Lotoo PAW Gold, the maximum capacity card does not yet exist! This may be a window into the future as the maker has seen fit to add compatibility for 2TB (2 Terabyte) SD cards. The largest sized SD Card available as of this time is 512Gb, so there's a clue!
The volume control is accessible but nicely recessed at the same time. No need to be nervous when donning sensitive IEMs for example. It has a nice feel to it, neither too stiff nor too loose.
The size of the PAW Gold is noticeable when we're used to ultra-skinny items such as modern phones and media players, but it feels like a solid piece of kit, much like something from the realm of professional audio. Not surprising, as the maker is well known for manufacturing innards for other brands' high quality audio gadgets.
It feels great in the hand (left or right) and all buttons are easy to reach with the thumb. The screen is comparatively small but this is designed to be listened to after all. On-screen information consists of file audio quality details and track/artist details, with a large stereo level meter.
A moment of confusion was when the 'key lock' switch had been operated; this was not immediately obvious to me when I tried to operate the unit. The display showed the 'power down' screen leading me to think the battery was low, but a colleague pointed out that the key lock feature had been enabled. Perhaps a future firmware update might address this.
As may be expected for a player at this price point, sound quality is top notch and can only be compared to similar bits of kit to give any meaningful impression, such as the Astell&Kern AK240. The PAW Gold resolves very well, perhaps a tiny bit better than the AK240, but the AK240 gives a better sense of atmosphere. Much like the difference between valve and solid state amps, although much more subtle.
The audio was tried with the in-ear Audiofly AF180, as well as with full-size headphones such as the Beyerdynamic T1. The PAW Gold gave a vibrant and immersive presentation, and with genres such as classical music, a wonderful richness. Timbre/harmonics are brought out and separation is very realistic with an excellent soundstage.
The amp was certainly put to the test; as well as the Audiofly AF180 IEMs which were used for the critical listening tests, a pair of power-hungry Beyerdynamic T1s were plugged in. The PAW Gold has 2 levels of gain and on the louder setting the T1 was powered very nicely. Only during the quieter parts of dynamically uncompressed classical tracks was any extra headroom called for; it's safe to say that for any headphones under 600 ohms and with sensitivity equal to or greater than the T1's 102dB this will not be an issue.
With portable players, many factors come in to play as the unit is picked up, put down and carried around many times per day; the sound is as important as what the unit is to live with and operate on a day-to-day basis. The PAW Gold certainly passes both tests as, despite its solid chunkiness, it becomes like an old friend very quickly. Once the button layout becomes familiar, the unit can be operated (such as track skip) in the pocket without needing to take it out, and the unit just feels good in the hand.