Pros: Overall Sound Quality over similar devices or rigs. Perfect for IEM users.
Cons: Minimal user interface, no gapless or aiff/alac support
Portable audio is something I've had a love hate relationship with for a long time. Growing up in NY and later working in the 5 boroughs with an hour commute at times the three daily papers, a Walkman and a half dozen tapes made the journey tolerable and sometimes fun. I'd always spent the money to get a good deck and even back then I'd trash the stock earbuds and trow down $50 or so for upgraded headphones. Later I migrated to minidisc and found atrac to sound great. When I joined HeadFi I jumped headfirst into the rabbit hole of portable rigs and had a succession of iPods/Imods, other daps, portable amps and LODs. While I'd gotten decent sound I'd never seriously thought these portable rigs rivaled any of my home set ups.
Before I get started on the HiFiMan 602 let me say I still love my iPhone and iPad and they are great multipurpose devices that perform well in that regard. I did always dislike the rigamarole of the dap, lod, amp and band to keep them all together.
At the LA CanJam in 2009 Fang from HeadDirect showed me the HiFiMan 801. It was a beta and a little buggy but is sounded significantly better than any dap I'd heard. I wasn't ready for a device like that at the time but was impressed at Fang's vision to produce high audio quality portable devices. It takes balls to invest hard earned money into a market flooded with dap solutions. At the most recent RMAF I picked up the 602 after some intense listening at Fangs table. After now a month of listening I am incredibly impressed with this device and believe it delivers on the promise of home rig sonics in a portable device. Now it's not without it's niggles,'ll talk about those as well.
First up I'm an Apple guy and most of my music is in AIFF a format not supported by the HiFiman at this time. So after some transcoding and some HD tracks stuff that originally came in FLAC I was off to the races. On my system loading was slower than say syncing my iPod but not unbearable. Once loaded up I had some good reference tracks that I am familiar with:
John Coltrane A Love Supreme 24/96
Paul McCartney Band On The Run 24/96
Dire Straits Brothers In Arms
Led Zeppelin l
And the recording I made at CanJam of the Michael Arnopol Trio
Here are my thoughts on the sound paired with my JH13s
John Coltrane ALS new HDtracks remaster sounded great, solid bass and the cymbal work on part one acknowledgment was rendered with clarity but not splashy in any way. Overall soundstage is increased and I'm really impressed with the mix of detail without treble spikes.
Paul Macs BOTR showed off the 602 strengths to a greater degree. Bass was rock solid without bloat and great tone. Bass is a weird thing and often I see people on this site value quantity over quality. I prefer taught bass with a line you can easily follow as well as being able to pick up on the pluses use of technique on a particular track. The 602 delivered in spades in this area! Separation was another clear strongpoint, there are multiple guitar tracks on BOTR both acoustic and electric and it was easy to pick apart the instruments in the mix. Let Me Roll it was another fun bass song with it's deep bass line and distorted guitar lines with Paul's vocals doused with liberal reverb.
Moving on to Dire Straits Brothers In Arms, Your Latest Trick. This track is a favorite of mine and short of hearing out of my speaker rig the 602 was a fav as well. There is a nice percussion track on this and it was well rendered by the 602. The track really retains the smokey club atmosphere that I imagine Mark Knofler was going for. Once again it's all about the tone all instruments retained their tone that often gets a whited out feel on my iPad/iPhone with whatever FOTM lod and amp I have at the time. Why Worry showed rich strat tone that I love along with a huge vocal track both are subtle performances that really shine through with the 602.
Pink Floyd The Wall is where the 602 stumbled slightly, not sonically if anything sonically this lp was a favorite with the 602 but lack of gapless plackback hurts the vibe. Sonics were crazy good fat bass and similarly portrayed fat drums on Hey You with great instrument separation. So you get lost in the music while in tracks but are somewhat jolted at songs end given the songs flow together. Its a minor quibble one that I'm sure Fang will address. Holy smokes soundstage on Is There Anybody Out There is wide and layered with the solo acoustic guitar portrayed brilliantly. There is tone in spades on Nobody Home!
Led Zeppelin l Babe I'm Gonna Leave You, great vocal detail picking up Plants breathing and mouth sounds. Once again tone was a strong suit the acoustic guitar tracks were stunning. When the track gets busy it is still easy to pick up the multiple parts going on, although I did find myself really focused on the guitar tracks as they were sounding awesome.
So overall I strongly recommend the 602, particularly for JH owners. I've paired the JH13s up with a lot of gear and short of direct into my Sonic 305 DAC I've not heard better. The amp/DAC combo in the 602 seems to be highly qualified for IEMs and with the JH13s it is a hand in glove fit.
I do wish there was aiff support, gapless support and maybe a smoother user interface but I'm willing to look past there three rather minor quibbles for the LARGE step up the 602 delivered over iPod/amp combos or other stand alone daps I've tried. At $439 for the 602 and $259 for the 601, both using the same TDA 1543 and amp modules it is a no brainer for iem owners that value sonics over GUI. I also really like the single unit aspect with no old or amp tethered with rubber bands.
The 602 has my strongest recommendation and I could easily live with it and my JH13s as my sole music rig.