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HiFiMAN HM-801 Portable Player / DAC Review: Part One of Two - Page 41

post #601 of 620

REVIEW of HM-801:

 

I've had a loaner 801 here for a week and a half, playing a multitude of 24/96 hi-res downloads and 16/44 FLAC or WAV files, and all I can say is that I've already emailed Fang that I want to buy this one to replace my iMod/Vcap dock.  

 

I took it to Westone on Wednesday to try out their new ES5 demos which sounded wonderful with it (better balance, depth and out-of-head soundstage than my ES3X which I love).  During our 2 hour listening session p0derh0und23 (Doug) agreed with me that the 801 with 24/96 FLAC sounds a little more realistic and spacious than my iMod rig using the same songs in 16 bit ALAC files. The HM-801 with 24/96 FLAC was also superior as a line-out source to my iPad with 16 bit lossless > iPad camera connection kit > iBasso D4 USB DAC line-out > Pico Slim, Protector and SR-001 mk2.  Karl at Westone was also impressed with it as a source and amp.  

 

We tried it with the 801's built-in amp, and with line-out into Pico Slim and RSA Protector - with stock earphone cables and balanced TWag cable (with SE adapter for Slim).  And we even fed it into an Audiocats SuperFatCat ++ modded SR-001 Mk2 which everyone loved.  The 801 internal amp was a great match with the ES5 demos, as well as my ES3X and some UM3X they had there.  It's also one of my few portable amps that controls the bass well on my UE11pro and doesn't allow the mids to sound recessed.  I love how it seems to get along with a wide variety of IEM that have very different sounds.  Basically, it sounds very good and is easily on the level of these other top-tier portable amps.  

 

Where the HM-801 really shines is with my 24/96 Linn.com and HDTracks.com downloads, where it has better micro-detail, ambience air and space, soundstage, depth and realism than these other sources and amps which are limited to 16/44 files and no higher.  The differences are not huge but are readily appreciated with regular listening.  What is more noticeable is how easily I'm immersed in the musical performance and forget about everything else around me more quickly.  When I switch to 16 bit FLAC files and compare those to the 16 bit ALAC files on the iMod/portable Vcap dock or the iPad/DAC with an amp, the HM-801 has no trouble performing at a similar or higher level.  And it's definitely more portable than my iMod/Vcaps/Amp or iPad/DAC/Amp.  All at a lower price than those rigs which can't scale up with the higher resolution music files.  

 

I haven't limited my listening to my custom IEM, but I've also listened to a variety of full size phones with the HM-801.  With that I found the 801 is also a good match for my HD600, HD800, Grado HF-2, ESW10 and LA7000.  It seems to have a little more power than most of my portable amps when driving full size phones, and with HD600 it comes very close to the power of the RSA Protector in balanced mode.  With my HD800 I think the 801 beats the Protector with better synergy and beats the Slim with greater power output.  I don't think many of my other portable amps have a the right sonic balance with my HD800, other than the Pico Slim which is underpowered for them, and my Amphora which is not really portable.  However, the 801 does seem underpowered for the HE-5 LE orthodynamic phones, while the balanced Protector can drive them better (but not if single ended).

 

I also have tried the 801 briefly as a 16 bit USB DAC and found it to be very capable, although I don't think that the USB DAC sounds as good as listening to music on the SD card.  I have not had a chance to try this particular 801 as a COAX input DAC, but I did get to spend a bit of time with it as a COAX DAC > EF1 > HE-5 at RMAF last fall and found it to do an excellent job in that roll.  

 

With my 48 year old ears my hearing is strong to 12Khz but gone by 16Khz, and I can't hear the high-frequency roll-off that others have reported measuring elsewhere.  But Doug and Karl at Westone didn't mention hearing any issues with treble roll-off detracting from the sound either.  Some people have called the reported roll-off a "coloration", but the 801 sounds very transparent to me, and in my mind it doesn't change the sound of the instruments.  It has a slightly warm and euphonic but NEVER dark sound signature.  If you want to call that a coloration I guess that's fine with me, but it's certainly nothing that detracts from the performance, and if anything this euphonic flavor enhances my enjoyment.  If everyone agrees that I like colored sound, then I must like colored sound if done the right way, and I am not alone.  Give me something with a thin or bright coloration and it becomes fatiguing or irritating to me.

 

Now, lest some people think I am acting like a shill for Head-Direct, I will say that not everything is perfect with the HM-801.  The power brick is bulkier than the 801 and really needs to be made smaller, especially when dealing with an 8 hour battery life that requires bringing the charger with you on trips.  Also, when using it as a USB drive to copy music to the 801, the battery does not charge and instead it will run down if you leave it plugged in for a few hours to your computer - I found that out the hard way.  I also had one glitch when I tried to switch from listening to music on the SD card to listening to the internal 2Gb memory, where the 801 stopped responding to button presses and didn't play music.  Removing the SD memory card gave control back to me, and I could not get this glitch to repeat itself after that one time.  

 

Then tonight I also found that with my most sensitive IEMs like Livewires T1 and ES3X that when accessing music on the SD Card with the volume turned all the way down I could hear some very quiet clicking or "woodpecker" noise when the battery is very low.  I didn't notice this with a full battery or all the other times I was listening, although I probably was not paying enough attention the other times I used it, but this time I found it when I was checking for hiss at zero volume (which it does not have).  This is only heard using the same IEM that reveal hiss in my ALO amphora at zero volume, and it was loudest with the T1, much quieter with the ES3X, almost gone with the UE11pro, and I could not hear it at all with my JH13Pro.  I will charge the 801 overnight and listen for noise again tomorrow, to see if it is indeed related to battery level.  Fortunately, only with the Livewires did I find it to be intrusive at very low listening levels.

 

For many months I've passed on buying the 801 because of it's size and lack of video.  I have so much money invested in my iMod/Vcap rig, which I have owned for over 2 years, that I couldn't fathom spending more on another portable music rig.  Interestingly, although my iMod can play video I have very few videos installed on it and use it almost entirely for music.  And with a portable amp attached it's almost as bulky as the 801.  So that takes away a few of my objections to switching rigs.  My only remaining gripe is the lack of large internal storage space, as the 2Gb will only hold 2 hours of 24/96 music (but 20 hours of 320K MP3).  I picked up a few 8gb SDHC cards for $17 each which will hold 7-8 hi-res 24/96 albums (about 8 hours) or 30-32 16/44 FLAC albums, and I'll start looking for a 32Gb SD card if I need something bigger.

 

I've read many posts where other people balk at the $800 price for a portable or transportable player.  But you have to ask yourself how much is desktop quality sound worth when you want to take it with you?  An iMod with portable LOD or portable Vcap dock and top-tier amp will set you back $1,000 - $1,500, depending on configuration.  The HM-801 costs almost half what the iMod/Vcap rig cost (before buying SD cards), but it sounds just as good with 16 bit and better with 24 bit music.  And it can double as a desktop DAC or computer DAC, which the iMod can't do.

 

So, my recommendation is that the HM-801 fits the bill perfectly for hi-res music on a portable rig that comes close to the sound of a desktop rig, which can also be used as a hi-res source if you do need to use an amp with more power.  If you really want something to watch movies on, the money you save over buying an iMod rig will buy you a nice iPod Touch or iPad in addition to the 801.  For casual listening I can still use my Nano, iPhone or iPad, but for any serious listening the 801 is the best choice I have found so far (aside from using my Macbook Pro with DACport 24/96 DAC amp which can match the 801 performance if size doesn't matter).  

 

(I'll post this in the review section soon.)

post #602 of 620

Very well written as always.  Good to see a well established reviewer finally put to rest the stupid ideas floating around that RMAA graphs show quality of sound.

post #603 of 620

I had not seen the RMAA graphs till today, frankly although there is no way to dispute the graphs the sound I hear out of the HM-801 does not matches the graphs. I am 52 YO so I am not an spring chicken which may explain why I do not hear any treble drop off. Having said so the HM-801 sounds better than either an iPhone 3G or a 6th Generation 160 Gb iPod via a line out dock and various portable amps (D4, T3, PA2V2, two Xin References, etc)  I own. I also find the top end of the HM-801 more extended, clearer, and with more detail than the two products by Apple.

 

Larry, like you I have an HM-801 on loan from Fang and I am in the process of scheduling a mini meet w/ vorlon1 who owns an iModded iPod to compare it w/ the HM-801 so more to come. More to come.

post #604 of 620

I have experienced a very noticeable buzzing/clicking at low volume when listening with my JH16s - only when accessing the SD card, not from the on board storage. 

 

The sound reminds me of the interference I sometimes get from a cell phone near speakers, or a bee trapped in a window - quick staccato buzzing.  VERY annoying.  I've been looking for others experiencing this issue but haven't seen much on it.  Maybe I'm looking in the wrong places.  I'm hoping it's something fixable?
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by HeadphoneAddict View Post

 

Then tonight I also found that with my most sensitive IEMs like Livewires T1 and ES3X that when accessing music on the SD Card with the volume turned all the way down I could hear some very quiet clicking or "woodpecker" noise when the battery is very low.  I didn't notice this with a full battery or all the other times I was listening, although I probably was not paying enough attention the other times I used it...

post #605 of 620

I posted this in the Head Direct sub-forum but I thought this might be another good place to post it at.

 

 

Part I:

 

This impressions are on the HM-801 that Fang of Head Direct loaned me to try/test. For pictures please go to: http://picasaweb.google.com/109437154048011247077/HiFiMAMHM801#

 

I have had the pleasure to both buy and get loaner pieces from Fang in the past and I have been very pleased with his customer service. Needless to say I was excited to try this unit without having to front the $790 asking price. I did have to buy a 32 GB Kingston Type 4 SD Card, I bought it from Newegg for about $85 including S&H. Note: If the initial impressions hold over the next couple of weeks I may have be buying this unit.

 

Anyways this is not going to be so much an impressions thread but more of what people like me need to do to make this unit work properly. I say this because I am not a very knowledgeable computer person and recently I made the transition to an iMac which further made things very difficult. So the first thing I did was to transfer a large number of my Apple Lossless files to an external USB 250 GB HD. I did this to avoid messing up the iMac which I am just beginning to learn how to use. Once done I took the HD to an old (2004) Dell PC and did a search including starting a thread here on how to convert the ALAC files to FLAC. I intended to give the HM-801 the best possible files, just like I do with my iPods where I use ALAC files.

 

I took the advice of many and downloaded the trial version of dbpoweramp, of course I did not set it up correctly on the first try nor the second try. This meant I spent about 3 days in converting about 7,300 ALAC files instead of just 1 day. I have to thank all who assisted this "old fart" in learning (at least partially) a new software and method to convert files. BTW, not all of the 3 days were lost since I had to wait for the 32 GB SD Card to arrive.

 

So today I finally was able to load about 1,150 FLAC files unto the 32 GB SD Card and I have been able to finally listen to the HM-801. I need to learn how to navigate through the various buttons specially to locate specific songs, until I learn it is a pain to find songs and I am just listening in the same order I loaded the files in. Luckily I loaded them alphabetically so it is not a total pain to use.

 

As you probably know the HM-801 retails for $790 plus if you wish to have the same capacity as an iPod Classic you would need five 32 GB SD Cards at about another $410 (some savings in S&H are realized) for a grand total of $1,200 as compared with about $850 for an iPod Classic, good amp, and a good line out dock. However if you were to compare the cost with an iModded iPod w/ an external cap box and amp the price of the HM-801 would be less and it would be smaller. The HM-801 by itself is larger than an iPod but when you through in the amp and line out dock the HM-801 is smaller. Since I am comparing the two I should mention the iPod Classic play time is about 3 times that of the HM-801, say 25 hours to 8 hours both using lossless files.

 

As far as carrying the HM-801 I am not aware of any case for it so IMO it is more of a transportable unless you do not mind risking damaging the HM-801 by carrying on a cargo pant pocket. I guess a camera bag would work as an alternative for many so it may not be too bad of an option.

 

For the first listen I used a HiFiMAN RE-252 IEM and a Grado RS-1 with the 1/4" to 1/8" Grado converter. The first two songs were by Nina Simone and Nicole Henry and I also asked "she who must be obeyed" to listen and provide feedback. How does it sound? To this old tired ears it has more detail, clarity, and treble extension than an iPod Classic 6th Generation, iPhone 3G, and Nano 2nd Generation. I also hear more air between notes and female vocals are more engaging and it is easier to understand the words being sung (weird ain't it). Again this are very quick impressions and I will let the "new toy" mentality settle over the next couple of weeks before I can truly say more.

 

If I was to start a wish list it would include:

 

1. A better instruction manual either electronic or hardcopy.

2. Longer play time, I would suggest a 20 hour target. Or the inclusion of a 2nd battery even if it adds an small amount to the price.

3. The player remembers the last song before it was shutdown.

4. Inclusion of a case, even if it adds $30. The case should have a place to carry an additional two SD Cards.

5. Gapless which I believe it is being worked on as we speak.

 

 

 

Part II:

 

Well I spent more time w/ the HM-801 today and a Yuin OK1. I asked a fellow coworker to listen to the HM-801, he is not into 2-channel portable audio but he loved it, he said he has not heard music sound so good unless he is at home listening to a nice pair of speakers. Then I had him listen to my iPhone 3G loaded w/ Apple Lossles files while using the OK1 and he could not believe how much worse it sounded. By comparison the iPhone sounded "dead" to him and I have to agree w/ his assessment. There is a sense of liveliness and vitality when listening to the HM-801 that I do not hear with the iPod or the iPhone.

 

Overall I really like the sound of the HM-801 and it is far superior to an iPod or iPhone connected to an external portable amp using a high quality line out dock. Fang and his staff have done a fantastic job, if any of you local members of this forum wish to listen to the unit I have on loan send me a PM and we can get together during the weekend.

 

At the end of the day the sound of the HM-801 is superb and far better than the iPod or iPhone. More to come, cheers.

 

 

 

Part III.

 

After writing the first two parts above I have lived with the unit for an additional couple of weeks. In that time a couple of developments have come a reality. First I have learned how to use some of the features like the equalizer including the user selectable and a new smaller and sleeker power supply has been released for the HM-801.

 

During this time I have come to appreciate the improvements in sound this unit offers over the iPod and the iPhone. We all talk about musicality and it is a hard item to describe to those who may not have the opportunity to listen to the gear in question. Perhaps the best explanation is that it is the unit I go to when I am in the mood to listen to good music. There are other accolades and adjectives that I could use but they would not provide the listening experience that this unit is capable of. To that effect I have spoken to a fellow member (Carl) and we will try to have an small mini meet with others (Dom and Vicky) and hopefully they will chime in with their experience with the unit.

 

Of the wishes I wrote above the biggest one for me is a carrying case, followed by car charger. The second “wish item” is somewhat less of an issue following the newer and smaller charger that was recently added.

 

BTW, for those who may argue that the HM-801 is a bit large ... well it is but when you carry an iPod w/ a LOD and an amp you are at about the same size and the sound is nowhere as involving and satisfying.

 

One of the tests I conducted during this period was to feed my home stereo with the HM-801 and an iPod Classic. I used a Kimber copper mini to RCA to feed a Yamaha RX-V3000 Receiver which in turn was feeding a pair of Time Windows 1A speakers. The music was courtesy of Peter White’s Glow album in lossless (ALAC and FLAC) How was the comparison? There wasn’t, the HM-801 was so much better than the iPod Classic that neither my wife nor I could stand listening to the iPod for more than one song.

 

Next I will be using the HM-801 as a DAC/Amp with a computer as the source. I also wish to compare w/ an iModded iPod in the near future. Thanks for reading this and also thanks to Fang for loaning me the unit.

post #606 of 620
Quote:
Originally Posted by bidoof View Post

I have experienced a very noticeable buzzing/clicking at low volume when listening with my JH16s - only when accessing the SD card, not from the on board storage. 

 

The sound reminds me of the interference I sometimes get from a cell phone near speakers, or a bee trapped in a window - quick staccato buzzing.  VERY annoying.  I've been looking for others experiencing this issue but haven't seen much on it.  Maybe I'm looking in the wrong places.  I'm hoping it's something fixable?
 


Which firmware is your HM-801 on?  The latest is v0.19beta

 

http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/448109/hifiman-hm-801-player-firmware-debug-thread/225#post_6670677

 

Does it do that buzz clicking noise all the time, or only sometimes?

 

Have you tried playing 24/96 files?   There were a few players that had a defect that caused the player to lock up after playing 24/96 files, you can have your HM-801 replaced under warranty for that problem.

 

-Ed

post #607 of 620

I have the .19 firmware, and I've tried it with both 24 and 16 files with the same results.

 

The noise only happens when a file is playing, and only when it's playing from the SD card.  When a file is playing, the noise is always audible (at low or no volume).

 

It also happens when the battery is fully charged.

 

It seems as though there is interference caused when the SD card is being read.  When I switch tracks, the noise stops.  There is a different noise right when the file starts playing, like the noise 'turns on' and then goes into the rhythmic click/buzz). 

 

And as I said, i doesn't happen when I play from the on board memory - (I've tried the same files on SD and on board, and the noise only happens from the SD)

 

I've also tried two different SD cards (both 8g, class 4, one san disk, the other I don't have with me), thinking maybe it was somehow related, but both made the noise. 

 

Is there a recommended brand of SD?

 

Thanks for any help!

post #608 of 620

Does this portable accept native 1/4 headphones without an adapter?  I know it natively uses 1/8 but is there anyway I can change that to 1/4 without using an adapter? 

post #609 of 620

It has a fixed 1/8" headphone out, I do not see a way to change it out.

post #610 of 620

Double post. 


Edited by HyperDuel - 7/5/10 at 7:09pm
post #611 of 620

Well I'm going to ask Fang if something like a 1/4 is even possible in this unit. 

post #612 of 620

Question for owners of this DAP and Grado headphones (RS-1 the better):  How good is the combo?

post #613 of 620

I have RS-1i.  It's a wonderful combination, especially what I'll subjectively describe as the "body" to the music.  I use the device as an external DAC as much as a DAP.  My amp and speakers are being fed through it right now.

 

- Ed
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by HyperDuel View Post

Question for owners of this DAP and Grado headphones (RS-1 the better):  How good is the combo?

post #614 of 620

Hi, I just took a listen using FLAC files of Rachelle Ferrer as well as from Ronny Jordan. I used a Grado 1/4" to 1/8" adaptor and my RS-1 are the older ones with the buttons which I have owned since 2005. I should mention my HM-801 does not have the better (to some) amp module that uses the OPA627. Regardless I think the pairing is very good with good decay, excellent punch, nice detail, with an smooth top end. Ideally you should listen to the combo to make up your own mind, I do believe that if  the RS-1 was re-terminated to a 1/8" it should sound better since two solder joints and one mechanical joint would be eliminated. If you can make it to Fort Myers on 7/24 you could hear the HM-801!

 

BTW, I have paired the HM-801 w/ an Audio Technica AH-ESW9 and all I can say is WOOOOOOHHHH! Really love that combo.

post #615 of 620

An update on the problem I was having with interference/noise when listening to files from the SD card (with my JH16s) -

 

I purchased the GAME amp and installed it, and - no more noise.  Finally!

 

(Now I'm going to ask for either a refund for the GAME amp, or a replacement amp module that works with my JH16s - still not clear what the problem was - I still haven't seen a lot of talk about this being a widespread issue, so maybe it was just a bad amp (or a bad batch of amps).

 

Hope this helps

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