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Review: The Battle of the DAPs – HiFiMAN vs. Studio 1 vs. iMod vs. DACport

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Thread Starter 

 

Foreword

 

This is one of those shootout sessions that simply span out of control and all my efforts to contain the information to a reasonable degree had failed because I did not want omit any important fact or impression.  Few—if any—will probably find it interesting to read it end to end, so I have tried at least to structure it along well-defined headers.  Readers should feel free to skip any superfluous content based on those, but hopefully it will be educational and helpful to some extent to compare the impressive capabilities of some of the best technology on the market today that portable high-end audio industry has to offer.

 

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Background

 

Responding to the increasingly mobile lifestyle of audio enthusiasts, the past few years resulted in both convergence and renewed focus of key industry players to bring audiophile-level sonic reproduction in a portable form factor at the level previously only available on full-sized, dedicated component systems.  For the mobile audiophile, there are now more choices than ever and it is increasingly difficult to decide just what to buy when a standard iPod sound quality just doesn’t cut it anymore.  If you’re an avid Apple user, the iMod seems like the natural choice...but is it the best choice if you want the best audio performance possible out of your shiny new top-of-the-line IEM or even your full-size cans when you’re away from home?

 

Like some of you I own several hundred CDs and several dozen SACDs and my iTunes library is extensive.  That was key consideration for investing in an Red Wine Audio (RWA) Super iMod, which could accommodate my entire collection with room to spare at lossless quality and felt very content with the considerable sound quality improvement over a standard iDevice, especially when paired with a quality amplifier such as the RSA Protector.  There was, however, a level of nagging doubt, whether or not the source quality of my portable gear was being compromised for the sake of familiarity, brand loyalty and convenience.

 

The HeadDirect HiFiMAN HM-801had been on my radar for some time now, but I could probably have never been able to convince myself to take the plunge had it not been for Can Jam, where I met Fang for the first time.  After a brief audition session of some of his demo units and an even more interesting conversation with him about the design philosophy and necessary compromises, he had graciously offered to ship out an evaluation unit to allow me to conduct a comparison review between his HM-801 and my iMod.

 

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Things were definitely looking up, but got even better after, while squatting at the desk of Craig (Whiplash Audio) and discovered a shiny little DAP hiding amongst a bunch of TWag specialty interconnects, LODs and other prized goodies.  The display unit was still a pre-production sample, but already had a quality feel about it.  It was a Chinese-made and designed HiSound Studio 1, with a “Class A-rated” opamp housed in a compact, bricklike chassis.  Despite its diminutive size, it drove all single-ended cans on Craig’s desk remarkably well.  I was intrigued and asked him to send me one when I found out that Whiplash was in fact, a HiSound Authorized Dealer.  

 

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And just like that, this became a 3-way shootout, at least up to the point until I realized in the middle of the testing process, that the HFM-801 needed to be challenged on somewhat equal footing by another source capable of rendering 24/96 high-bitrate music.  That would have been next to impossible due to the HFM-801 being pretty much the only currently available portable, modular DAP capable of playing back these super hi-res music files.  Luckily, during my fun time at Can Jam, I also picked up a little souvenir, called the CEntrance DACport, which had replaced my HeadAmp Pico DAC as my portable desktop DAC for my MacBook Pro.  So, lacking any other choice as a 24/96-capable fully featured DAP, I have enlisted this little fellow paired with my MacBook Pro to go up against the mighty HiFiMAN in the 24-bit round, resulting in more of an apples-to-apples comparison.

 

And so, the scope finally expanded to a 4-way melee featuring four separate sources and two separate amplifiers paired with the iMod.  

 

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Test Methodology and Equipment Configuration Details

 

  • This review is focused on differences in perceived sound quality, usability, ergonomics and a few other factors to offer observations and impressions.  I have included hyperlinks and some references for hardware specifications and other relevant information, but will not be focusing on those aspects
  • Standard iDevices are not part of this comparison because I do not consider them portable audiophile-quality sources--at least until the upcoming Cypher Labs Algorhythm Solotransport enters the market this fall enabling direct digital out from all iDevices.
  • A/B comparison sessions were conducted using a minimum of two separate passes for each track for a grand total of about 25-30 mins for EACH comparison tests listed below.  With the exception of sessions required IEM cable replacement (balanced vs. single-ended), all sessions involved starting both sources at the same time on the same track, switching between them within 2 seconds, as often as needed to compare passages closely.
  • The specific test tracks listed below were consistently benchmarked, however, additional content not individually listed was also utilized from SACD Redbook-layer ripped Master Recordings from artists such as Rebecca Pidgeon, Spyro Gyra, Tierney Sutton, Lex Vandyke and Livingston Taylor when additional scrutiny was necessary.
  • Volume level matching was done by my ears alone, although the greatest care was exercised in doing so, this method does not have the accuracy of an instrument-assisted testing, thus qualify for informational purposes only, as intended
  • The optional GAME Opamp module, reportedly designed primarily for IEMs was not part of my evaluation kit, so all HFM-801 sessions in this review were conducted using the standard GanQi OPA627 module.  According to the HeadDirectwebsite, the latest versions of the OPA627’s Gain setting has been retuned to accommodate both IEMs and most full-sized headphones.  Indeed, the OPA627has performed admirably with every headphone and IEM on the list below without any hiss or other artifacts, regardless of the differences in impedance.
  • All iMod comparison tests were conducted using 16-bit ALAC files vs. 16-bit FLAC files on the other devices
  • No EQ was used (the Studio 1 doesn’t even have EQ)
  • All test tracks used by the HFM-801 had been played from a single 16GB Patriot Class 4 SDHC flash memory module and I have copied the same test track FLACs to the Studio 1s internal flash memory
  • All test involving my JHA customs used Whiplash TWag cables in single-ended and a prototype Next Gen. Molded TWag in balanced configuration.  Whiplash TWags to me are a must have upgrade for everyday listening, but even more important during these sessions to help differentiate minute details between high-performance audio sources due to their increase resolution, life and emotion they somehow infuse into the music.

 

Test Equipment Configuration Details

 

Sources/Amps:

 

  • HiFiMAN HM-801 Evaluation Unit FW 0.19 (05/24/2010) with standard GanQi OPA627 Opamp Module.  Burn-in time:  approx. 50 hrs. prior test
  • RWA Super iMod 5.5G 240GB/850mAh Extended Capacity Battery Upgrade.  Burn-in time:  approx. 400 hrs
  • HiSound PDAA-1 Studio DAP FW v5.41 (SigmaTel 3770 based DAC/Amp) 8GB internal flash memory.  Burn-in time:  approx. 15 hrs.
  • 2010 Apple MacBook Pro/512GB SSD/Core i7 CPU/8GB RAM.  Burn-in time:  countless hrs.
  • CEntrance DACport portable DAC/Amp.  Burn-in time:  approx. 100 hrs.
  • Ray Samuels Audio (RSA) Protector portable amplifier.  Burn-in time:  approx. 250 hrs.
  • TTVJ Slim (amp-only model) portable amplifier.  Recently replaced.  Burn-in time:  N/A.

 

Interconnects/cables:

 

  • Whiplash Elite TWag iMod LOD (BlackGate Cap-equipped).  Burn-in time:  200 hrs.
  • Whiplash Elite TWag IEM replacement cable, 48” single-ended ViaBlue 1/8” connector.  Burn-in time:  approx. 325 hrs.
  • Whiplash Elite TWag IEM Gen. II (molded) Prototype IEM replacement cable, 48” balanced, Protector proprietary connector terminated.  Burn-in time:  approx. 150 hrs.
  • Virtua Audio custom USB to mini-USB cable, 36”
  • Whiplash TWag Studio 1 1/8” to 1/8” ViaBlue Adapter for Studio 1 (workaround for recessed HP-out and Line-In sockets)

 

 

IEMs/Cans

 

  • Denon AH-D7000 (Imp. 25 Ohms) reference headphones, stock configuration.  Burn-in time:  approx. 50 hrs./3 weeks old
  • Sennheiser HD650 (Imp. 300 Ohms) reference headphones, stock configuration.  Burn-in time:  approx. 25 hrs./2 weeks old
  • JH Audio JH13 Pro custom IEMs (Imp. 28 Ohms).  Burn-in time:  approx. 200 hrs./3 months old
  • JH Audio JH16 Pro custom IEMs. (Imp. 18 Ohms)  Burn-in time:  approx. 350 hrs./4 months old

 

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16-BIT/48kHz COMPARISON SESSIONS

 

HiFiMAN vs. RWA iMod Comparison Tests

 

HiFiMAN HM-801 vs. RWA iMod/Protector (S/E) Comparison Test

 

Equipment:

 

  • HiFiMAN HM-801 DAP/PCM1701UK DAC->GanQi OPA627 Opamp->Denon AH-D7000
  • RWA Super iMod 5.5G 240GB->Whiplash Elite TWag LOD->RSA Protector-> Denon AH-D7000 (single-ended)

 

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Tracks Used (in all 16-bit sessions FTW):

 

  • Boulevard of Broken Dreams - Jacintha (16-bit FLAC/ALAC)
  • Blame it on my Youth - Eden Atwood  (16-bit FLAC/ALAC)
  • Norah Jones - Come Away With Me  (16-bit FLAC/ALAC)

 

 Impressions Summary:

 

The stock HM801 opamp was able to drive the Denons with authority and precision. It has excelled on both test tracks across the board, with the rich, layered bass foundation that is a signature trait of these reference cans. Upper mids and treble extensions were slightly less defined and transparent, vs. the Protector.  It is a known fact that single-ended mode operation does not showcase the Protector's true capabilities, especially in terms of soundstage and bass reproduction, as was the case here.  However, even with these constraints, the iMod/Protector was able to edge out the HM801 by superior treble extensions, which exhibited far less rolloff.  Still, in this configuration, the overall sound quality of the HiFiMAN was more balanced, enjoyable and less fatiguing to listen.

 

Edge:  HiFiMAN

 


HiFiMAN HM-801 vs. RWA iMod/Protector (Balanced) Comparison Tests

 

 

Equipment:

 

  • HiFiMAN HM-801 DAP/PCM1701UK DAC->GanQi OPA627 Opamp-> Whiplash Elite TWag IEM Single-Ended->JH13 Pro
  • RWA Super iMod 5.5G 240GB->Whiplash Elite TWag LOD->RSA Protector-> Whiplash Elite TWag IEM Gen. II (molded) Prototype Protector Balanced->JH13 Pro

 

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Impressions Summary:


 

This particular session evolved into one of those defining ones, when any subjective predisposition as a long-time iDevice fan had crumbled and vanished in the face of overwhelming aural evidence.  As expected, switching into balanced mode had improved the transients and smoothed out the low and mid-range deficiencies exhibited in the previous single-ended session, however, it had also highlighted the limitations of the venerable, but well-regarded Wolfson DAC, despite the considerable enhancements of the iMod conversion process in cleaning up the signal path to the dock connector and the high-quality Whiplash LOD.  Since the Protector is at least as good as the OPA627 opamp, the HiFiMAN’s dual Burr-Brown PCM1701UK DAC chipset must be credited for the difference due to its ability to render a superior soundstage, less forward, considerably more musical representation.  It seems that even the best amp and headphones cannot offset source limitations, merely render them more tolerable.  In this case in the Jacintha track, even thru its single-ended opamp circuitry, the HiFiMAN managed redefine the music, the vocals, percussion and saxophone carried their own aura of sound with a subtle richness that was not missed or noticed from the iMod/Protector rendering, but somehow magically appeared when switched back to the HiFiMAN. 

 

Edge:  HiFiMAN

 

HiFiMAN HM-801 vs. RWA iMod/TTVJ Slim Comparison Tests

 

Equipment:

 

  • HiFiMAN HM-801 DAP/PCM1701UK DAC->GanQi OPA627 Opamp->Whiplash Elite TWag IEM Single-Ended->JH13 Pro
  • RWA Super iMod 5.5G 240GB->Whiplash Elite TWag LOD->TTVJ Slim-> Whiplash Elite TWag IEM S/E->JH13 Pro

 

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Impressions Summary:

 

The synergy between the iMod/TTVJ/JH13 Pro has been a longtime favorite of mine, primarily due to its ability to lend “tube-like” warmth to the (sometimes) overly tight, analytic sound signature of the JH13 Pro.  Up until this session, when contrasted against the HiFiMAN, I have been extremely content with it.  The soundstage, the lows and mids were comparably presented on both systems to my ears, perhaps a bit more precisely rendered, layered bass coming out of the iMod/TTVJ combo.  However, the HiFiMAN clearly edge out its competitor with better transients, instrument separation and treble extensions.  It has to be noted, however, that the TTVJ I now have is a brand new unit and this has, no doubt, influenced the results to some extent.

 

Edge:  HiFiMAN

 

HiFiMAN vs. Studio 1 Comparison Test

 

HiFiMAN HM-801 vs. Studio 1 Comparison Test 1

 

Note: Originally, I had planned a similar range of comparative sessions, similar to those with the iMod, but upon receiving official confirmation from HiSound, the plan has changed for the following reasons:

  • The Studio 1s opamp’s Gain setting in the current version is only compatible with high-impedance headphones, such as the HD650, therefore, it is the only test I could conduct with the equipment on hand.  This rules out its pairing with most IEMs and even the Denon D7000s.  HiSound had indicated that it is by design, although I find it interesting that they would design a compact player that it is tuned specifically for high-impedance or full-sized cans.  Perhaps there is a bigger market for this combination outside of the US.  However, this imbalance renders this particular session results skewed, therefore, it is not going to be rated.
  • Personally, considering this fact, I will prefer to stick with the HFM-801 myself, due to my strong preference in JHA IEMs.  In addition, the HM-801 has the option to bypass the OPA627 the use of an external portable amp, such as the Protector or the TTVJ Slim, if I need the ability to drive an HD800 or HD650 with more punch than the built-in OPA627 amp can provide.  This not an option with the current version of the Studio 1, because it sadly lacks a Line-Out socket.

 

Equipment:

 

  • HiFiMAN HM-801 DAP/PCM1701UK DAC->GanQi OPA627 Opamp-> Sennheiser HD650
  • HiSound Studio 1->Sennheiser ¼”-1/8” Stock Adapter-> Sennheiser HD650

 

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Impressions Summary:

 

Back at Can Jam, my brief auditions of Craig’s Studio 1 demo unit had managed to peak my interest for a reason. The sound I have experienced out of the Studio 1 was surprisingly big.  It had managed to drive even the monster Whiplash-recabled Sennheiser HD800s effortlessly, so I knew this little matchbox had potential.

 

The Studio 1 has managed to deliver enhanced transients, well-defined, smooth mids and comfortably balanced, unobtrusive and visceral treble extensions that made even the remarkably neutral HD650s sound closer to live music as opposed to a recording.

 

It’s worth noting that Studio 1 is still a very new entry on the US market; clearly some additional work is necessary to iron out some kinks, primarily in firmware.  For example, the integrated FM radio was unable to pick up any FM stations in my area.  Time will tell how further firmware updates—if any—will affect the reliability and performance of the unit in the long run.

 

iMod vs. Studio 1 Comparison Test

 

RWA iMod vs. Studio 1 Comparison Test

 

Equipment:

 

  • RWA Super iMod 5.5G 240GB->Whiplash Elite TWag LOD->RSA Protector(High-Gain Setting enabled)-> Sennheiser HD650
  • HiSound Studio 1->Sennheiser ¼”-1/8” Stock Adapter-> Sennheiser HD650

 

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Impressions Summary:

 

I have decided to rate this session, because I did have the flexibility to set the Protector in High-Gain mode to provide grounds for a comparison on equal terms, at least as far as amp tuning goes.  Still, compared to the Studio 1, the iMod/Protector combo had performed as if its sound was emanating from behind a veil.  All that is prized in audiophile equipment; the lack of sibilance, clarity, visceral impact of percussions, the presence of vocals and the emotion they carried appeared from the Studio 1 as if by magic.  For a moment, I almost forgot I was using the HD650s as I normally prefer natural representation vs. neutral, but again, the source limitations were impossible to ignore and the Studio 1 has proven victorious in this comparison.

 

Edge:  Studio 1

24-BIT/96kHz SESSIONS

 

Important Note:  For the sake of objectivity and fairness, it is essential to preface the following tests by presenting it in the appropriate context:

 

  1. Unlike the three other sources in this review, the DACport is not a DAP, merely a transport.  This puts it into a different category and at an advantage when it comes to fair comparison.  It is included here simply because it was the only way to provide any kind of comparison using 24/96 content.
  2. Because of this, I have decided to introduce a weighted, dual rating system to compensate for the results, because the HM-801 did not have the benefit of a dedicated computer as a source vs. the DACport with the MacBook Pro behind it.  For this reason, given the relatively small difference in sound quality, the Overall Edge rating still belonged to the HifiMAN, as shown below.

 

Hifiman HM-801 vs. CEntrance DACPort 24-bit Comparison Test 1

 

Tracks Used in All 3 Sessions:

 

  • La Habana Joven - Xiomara Laugart. (24-bit FLAC)
  • Painting by Numbers - Judith Owen. (24-bit FLAC)
  • Beautiful Life - Barb Jungr  (24-bit FLAC)
  • Love at Last - Claire Martin  (24-bit FLAC)

 

Equipment:

 

  • HiFiMAN HM-801 DAP/PCM1701UK DAC->GanQi OPA627 opamp->Denon AH-D7000
  • MacBook Pro/Songbird 1.7.3-> Virtue Audio USB-mini->CEntrance DACport->Denon AH-D7000

 

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Impressions Summary:

 

In this first test, not surprisingly to me, that a slight edge in overall superior sonic representation belonged to the DACport/Mac combo. My suspicion is that the Class A opamp of the DACport was able to offer greater synergy with the warm-sounding D7Ks, accurately and in an overall more pleasing, at least to my ears.  The music had emerged from the Denons more naturally, almost displaying vinyl-like analog qualities that are typically lost at lower-resolution digital copies of master recordings. The HiFiMAN had still managed to render a, pleasing, near-convincing facsimile of this hi-res content to its credit. And, there was no particular area that was lacking in the HiFiMAN's representation.   It's just that the DACport managed do everything a bit better.  Even in the portable sources, it is evident that there is no substitute for raw power; audiophile chipsets require plenty of it to extract every erg of aural fidelity hidden in those encoded bits.  Still, this session increased my appreciation of not just how good the CEntrance amp/DAC transport really is, but for the HiFiMAN as well, being a self-contained, portable integrated player and able to offer comparable audio performance using high-bit rate recordings, even against one of today's highest rated, semi-portable, dedicated source components.

 

Sonic Edge:  MacBook/DACport

Overall Edge:  HifiMAN

 

After this, I couldn't wait to see how these two competitors stack up when paired with the best of what JHA has to offer in terms of high-end custom IEMs.

 

Hifiman HM-801 vs. CEntrance DACPort 24-bit Comparison Test 2

 

Equipment:

 

  • HiFiMAN HM-801 DAP/PCM1701UK DAC->GanQi opamp->Whiplash TWag IEM cable->JH16 Pro
  • MacBook Pro/Songbird 1.7.3->Virtue Audio USB-mini->CEntrance DACport->Whiplash TWag IEM cable->JH16 Pro

 

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Impressions Summary:

 

The exceptional synergy between the HM-801 and the JH16 Pros reappears in an even more forward, precise manner. The soundstage is well-defined, lows, mids and vocals are well represented here.  Has a very natural, smooth representation of the acoustics of the room and the presence of the instruments along with their unique subharmonics on the Xiomara track.   The CEntrance DACport has a remarkably similar sound signature, so I had to switch back and forth several times to find minute differences, but the DACport has managed to deliver slightly more lifelike vocal representation than the HM-801, though, on most tracks the difference was hardly noticeable or nonexistent. Overall, both the DACport and the HifiMAN has delivered a very nice, warm and relaxed sonic presentation that is above and beyond of what’s possible from a RedBook CD-quality sampled recording free from its well-known digital artifacts; with a slight edge belonging to the DACport at certain passages.  Once again, credit goes to Head-Direct for bringing this level of musical enjoyment to the portable player category previously reserved for SACD players!

 

Sonic Edge:  MacBook/DACport

Overall Edge:  HifiMAN

 

Hifiman HM-801 vs. CEntrance DACPort 24-bit Comparison Test 3

 

Equipment:

 

  • HiFiMAN HM-801 DAP/PCM1701UK DAC->GanQi opamp->Whiplash TWag IEM cable->JH13 Pro
  • MacBook Pro/Songbird 1.7.3-> Virtue Audio USB-mini->CEntrance DACport->Whiplash TWag IEM cable->JH13 Pro

 

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Similarly to the previous test, both the HM801 and the DACport were capable of exceptionally balanced rendering of the test tracks. The differences were somewhat less evident in this configuration most likely due to the remarkably neutral presentation of the JH13 Pro. During "Love at Last," the DACport has managed to—ever so slightly--edge out the HM-801 in an almost JH16-like visceral rendering of the percussion/conga sequence during the entire track. Both competitors have rendered a wide, three-dimensional soundstage with a slightly less layered bass and headroom attributed to the missing extra dynamics yielded previously by the quad-low driver cluster and the enhanced resolution and acoustics of the advanced, 3-bore design of the JH16s.

 

Sonic Edge:  MacBook/DACport

Overall Edge:  HifiMAN

 

HiFiMAN HM801 FW 0.19 (05/24/2010) Evaluation Unit Report Card

 

Usability/Firmware Issues Experienced With Evaluation Unit

 

  • One-time freeze when manipulating controls.  Popping out the battery had reset the device, however, it has also caused the loss of all presets or custom settings.
  • When the device had powered off, it also lost the SD card content cache, which was apparently saved in NVRAM. On this firmware level, the "Update media file" command had no real effect in refreshing it--even though the display had indicated this--ejecting and reinserting the SD card seemed to be the only effective workaround to remedy this problem.

 

Pros vs. iMod

 

  • The HiFiMAN HM-801 is a new, evolving audiophile-focused portable platform and brand. I must emphasize this, because as good as the 5.5G iMod is as a player, it is by all accounts, based on a discontinued version of Apple’s ubiquitous DAP. 
  • Does not require separate portable amp and LOD - 2 amp modules currently available
  • Due to lack of hard disk-based storage, dual PCM1701UK DAC chipscould be integrated into the design.  High-quality DACs have significantly higher power requirements and in the case of the disk-based iPods, most of the power is used to spin the disk platters.  This is one of the reasons behind the HiFiMAN’s superior audio performance when compared to virtually all other DAPs on the market today.
  • Less prone to RF interference due to integrated design (for me this is a biggie)
  • Display can be easily read when using polarized sunglasses in the daylight vs. being rendered invisible on the iMod 5.5 color LCD display
  • Designed for optimum audio performance vs. general purpose audio/video/photo player
  • Native FLAC support
  • No iTunes support (if you hate iTunes)
  • No native FLAC support (unless RockBoxed-> see previous bullet)
  • 2 years extended warranty available, 30 days return policy

 

Cons vs. iMod

 

  • Relatively limited battery life (6+ hours continuous play observed, 7-8 hours rated, depending on amp module used) using the standard 14.8 volt Lithium Polymer Battery
  • Only 2 GB internal flash storage capacity included in price, requires purchasing additional SDHC memory cards
  • First generation product, less polished firmware capabilities
  • Virtually no 3rd party support or accessories
  • Audio-only playback capability (by design)
  • No iTunes support (if you like iTunes)

 

Pros. vs. DACport

 

  • Standalone DAP function (no separate source required)
  • Self-powered operation (vs. requiring computer-based USB-port)
  • DAC and Amp can be used separately

 

Cons. vs. DACport

 

  • Overall: none.  Nearly identical audio performance to DACport in transport mode

 

Pros. vs. Studio 1

 

  • Standard support for a wide range of IEMs and headphones out of the box
  • Component-based operation possible (DAC and Amp-only modes) vs. Amp-only for Studio 1
  • More established presence and brand name in the US
  • User-replaceable battery
  • Bigger, easier to navigate LCD display

 

Cons vs. Studio 1

 

  • Less built-in flash memory on board
  • Size and weight
  • Limited battery life

 

Enhancement Ideas

 

  • Optional wired remote control using the same control scheme equipped with a clip suitable for fastening it to shirt or jacket
  • Develop external, plug-in battery pack to increase battery life that can itself be charged separately and can charge the built-in battery. iDevices have several examples of these. This would yield additional flexibility because even if the owner purchased additional battery packs, as they can only be charged one at the time while installed into the device.
  • This has been mentioned several times, but a factory-made custom case should be standard issue considering the investment required in the device, preferably with a detachable belt clip.
  • Adopt OLED display vs. LCD in next version
  • Car charger accessory (as others on the forum had already pointed out)
  • If possible, allow option to display saved artwork from current track being played as a "dynamic wallpaper" similar to how the iPods handle album art.
  • Incorporate additional control functions:
  • Repeat all folders or playlists instead of just all songs within a single folder
  • "Next Folder" or playlist button instead of just having the capability to use the onscreen menu to select the desired album. Same capability should be also implemented in above described remote.
  • Advance "Low Power" audible and visual indicator, perhaps 15 mins ahead of forced shutdown due to battery exhaustion to give ample time to plug in unit to preserve settings.

 

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Final Verdicts and Closing Arguments - The Deaf-ense Rests

 

If anyone ever gets this far, you deserve to be spared from further torture.  Thank you for bearing with me, your feedback is appreciated and hopefully there were some takeaways here for nearly everyone.

 

Here are some parting thoughts pertaining to the three DAPs featured in this review:

 

The HiFiMAN Choice

 

Defining a new market segment since its introduction last year, the HM-801 still represents a value proposition that is impossible to ignore for portable audiophile segment.  It is the only portable, modular component-based platform capable of rendering up to 24/96 content on the road without the need of a computer or a SACD-player.  Even in Redbook Audio (16-bit CD-quality) format, it most likely outperforms nearly all portable players with most headphones and IEMs on the market in terms of sound quality.  Battery life on a single charge is a limiting factor, which can be partially offset by additional batteries and use of AC power when stationary.  And at $790, dare I say it, comes cheap when compared to an RWA iMod and a high-quality portable amp, plus interconnects, which can run up to 30-50% more, depending on configuration, plus the cost of SDHC extra storage required for the HiFiMAN.  And, watch out for the upcoming HM-602 for more audiophile goodness in a more compact package, as demonstrated at Can Jam.

 

The iMod Choice

 

The iMod has been beaten in nearly every encounter here, so it’s down, but not out.  It still offers decent audio performance, depending on configuration and its usability advantages are light years ahead of both HiFiMan and Studio 1.  Apple’s investment in software development and ergonomics are hard to ignore in terms of usability.  It’s controls are intuitive, accommodates massive amounts of storage without swapping small memory cards and delivers up to 12 hours of continuous playback in one charge using lossless files (higher HDD spin rate).  If you have a large iTunes library consisting of photos, music, videos, etc., like I do you’ll appreciate that universal flexibility.  It can be synced to many additional devices without resulting to folder-level file management for each device.  It is the best sounding iDevice on the market today with enormous flexibility of amp choices none of the other competitors here can match.

 

The Studio 1 Choice

 

If you are one of the early adopters of this shiny new toy, you arguably enjoying one of the best bargains out there—as long as you are doing so with a pair of high-impedance headphones.  This current version is suitable only to a very narrow market segment, as most IEMs simply do not pair well with it, producing high background hiss rendering music enjoyment virtually impossible, at least during quiet passages.  However, assuming some continued development and enhancements in future versions by HiSound can easily result in broader adoption rate as word of mouth gets out, the Studio line could evolve into another popular choice for the aspiring audiophile-on-the-go crowd.  Amazingly compact size, excellent fit-and-finish—save for the recessed, drilled-in sockets on the review unit, which needs to be changed, like, yesterday—and remarkably long battery life are icing on the cake for what matters the most: big, CD-quality sound from a tiny package.  It will be exciting to watch HiSound’s progress in this space.


Edited by warp08 - 7/7/10 at 2:18pm
post #2 of 61
Thread Starter 

 

Reserved for Credits and Additional Comments:

 

This section is reserved for vendor input and updates.  Many thanks to the Head-Fi Community and Sponsors for their support.  Special thanks go to Fang@HeadDirect and Craig@Whiplash Audio, for their willingness to provide evaluation samples of their excellent products, without which this review will not have been possible.

 

Comment from Fang@HeadDirect at 7/5/10 6:53:41 PM:

 

“HM-801's amp module was called "Ganqi Bay". Ganqi is ancient Chinese word "weapon". Because HM-801's nickname is a famous Chinese ancient warrior, the amp module work like weapon for this warrior. HM-801 come with amp module called ST (standard) card (which is what you have). The ST card use OP275 opamp as input. The output stage is discrete circuit design. HM-801 have two op627 opamp used in filter/buffer part after PCM1704UK chip. GAME card is an amplifier card that we did not provide to you. It has two OP627 opamps, and two buffer chips. GAME card has more detail and freq extension than ST card. We will release a balanced amp card in the next 8 to 10 weeks to drive fullsize headphones.”

 

 

Comment from Warp08  7/6/10 5:06 PM: 

 

In addition to the tracks and albums available from HDTracks.com, there is also another option to fill your HifiMAN with some 24-bit, high-quality recordings.

 

Society of Sound 24-bit Music Download Subscription URLfor HifiMAN owners.  Credit for tip goes to Craig of Whiplash Audio.

 

There is a free trial subscription—which I recommend to make sure you like the selections before spending hard-earned cash-- and several formats and versions offered in the selection. Subscription benefits include access to all existing and new album releases every month.  Both PC and Macs are supported by the Download Manager.”

 

Related Guide to 24-bit FLACis a short but enjoyable read.

 

Update:  changed incorrect "HM-601" reference to "HM-602" which is the correct model number for the upcoming HiFiMAN DAP.

 

 

Update:  for those who may be interested downloading the full-res pictures shown here and those that didn't make the cut; they are available in my MobileMe Album.


Edited by warp08 - 7/7/10 at 4:45pm
post #3 of 61

Warp08,

 

Nice review!  I've always wondered how the imod held up compared to the 801.  

post #4 of 61

Yes, good review.

 

^^ I think it stands to reason that there is no ball park still. A review is, as always, a piece of opinion. I demo'd the Studio and agree completely that it wasn't good for IEMs, but I don't find it necessarily good or great for high impedance headphones, either. I am sure too that reviews like this are wonderful, but there is no whole story about sound quality, ever. The whole thing is a subjective affair.

post #5 of 61

Fantastic write up! My question is this, after reviewing the HiFiMan do you plan to purchase one?

Also, as a fellow MacBook Pro user it was interesting to see you use Songird. Is there any reason why you prefer it to say iTunes with Fluke or programs such as Clementine (What I currently use), Cog or Vox? I only ever hear negative things about it so it'd be lovely if you outlined why you prefer it.

 

Lastly if you want to be anal some of your links are followed directly with text. (No spacing).

 

I've been awaiting this review ever since I saw you were planning one and you sure as hell didn't disappoint. Hat's off to you.

post #6 of 61

Very nice review, of course the naysayers will chime in and state not possible look at the charts ... Hogwash! the HM-801 sounds fantastic. Thanks for the time to review and write it all up.

post #7 of 61
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by shigzeo View Post

Yes, good review.

 

^^ I think it stands to reason that there is no ball park still. A review is, as always, a piece of opinion. I demo'd the Studio and agree completely that it wasn't good for IEMs, but I don't find it necessarily good or great for high impedance headphones, either. I am sure too that reviews like this are wonderful, but there is no whole story about sound quality, ever. The whole thing is a subjective affair.

Completely agree with you.  But the more, better founded and researched opinions are posted, the forum members will benefit.  And a lot depends on the specific configuration between players, cables, amps, and headphones.  One specific configuration may have good synergy, while changing a simple component can produce surprisingly different results.

 

Nobody has the whole story, but all of us together sharing our individual experiences amounts to a lot.  That is why I'm taking the time and effort to do these.
 

post #8 of 61
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by mrarroyo View Post

Very nice review, of course the naysayers will chime in and state not possible look at the charts ... Hogwash! the HM-801 sounds fantastic. Thanks for the time to review and write it all up.


Thanks, Miguel.  As I stated in the beginning, I use my ears for good or bad.  In the end my ears are the ones in command of my wallet..sometimes bypassing my brain entirely 

post #9 of 61
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hero Kid View Post

Fantastic write up! My question is this, after reviewing the HiFiMan do you plan to purchase one?

Also, as a fellow MacBook Pro user it was interesting to see you use Songird. Is there any reason why you prefer it to say iTunes with Fluke or programs such as Clementine (What I currently use), Cog or Vox? I only ever hear negative things about it so it'd be lovely if you outlined why you prefer it.

 

Lastly if you want to be anal some of your links are followed directly with text. (No spacing).

 

I've been awaiting this review ever since I saw you were planning one and you sure as hell didn't disappoint. Hat's off to you.

Thanks for the kind words.  I'm using iTunes as well having a bunch of iDevices, but I use the SongBird with the DACport, because it is capable playing back 24/96 content and it is free.  I'm not familiar with the other applications you mention, but for now, this one does what I need it to do.

 

I most certainly going to keep a HiFiMAN around, especially with the new, balanced amp module on the horizon.  I must admit being skeptical at first, but its sound quality, versatility and ability to play 24/96 content had won me over as a preferred player for my reference recordings.  I will purchase, however, an extra charger and battery with it.
 

post #10 of 61
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by wsilvio View Post

Warp08,

 

Nice review!  I've always wondered how the imod held up compared to the 801.  


Thanks!  Well, live and learn.  The iMod really good, but from a sound-quality perspective, the HM-801 is superior to my ears even with the standard opamp, even with 16-bit content.  It still has several practical advantages--as outlined in the review--but if you are looking for the best sounding player out there today, it'll be hard to find anything as good and versatile a mobile platform as the HM-801.  Now I need to find a case for this baby...not as easy as for my iMod 

post #11 of 61

Nice writeup. I skimmed through it but I'll read it completely later tonight. I do have one small question tho. I'm a little bit confused as to why the DACport is there since that is a dac/amp to connect to your computer and not a DAP. Was it included just to compare the 24 bit capabilities of the hifiman?

post #12 of 61

^ If you read the topic in total you'll find that yes, it was there simply to compare the 24 bit capabilities.

post #13 of 61

comes down to what they said " life's too short to listen to bad music" so start saving for the gold coins

 

great review but i must honestly say that i havent read them all, it just too freaking long lol i bet you spent like more than 6 hours at least in writing it

post #14 of 61
Quote:
Originally Posted by warp08 View Post



Completely agree with you.  But the more, better founded and researched opinions are posted, the forum members will benefit.  And a lot depends on the specific configuration between players, cables, amps, and headphones.  One specific configuration may have good synergy, while changing a simple component can produce surprisingly different results.

 

Nobody has the whole story, but all of us together sharing our individual experiences amounts to a lot.  That is why I'm taking the time and effort to do these.
 


Very true. I love the time you took and someday, look forward to hearing a Hifiman. I will be borrowing a DACport from tomorrow to try with a bunch of computers and other portable stuff. I expect that to be quite a beast, but who knows.

post #15 of 61

Great review. Thank you for all your work.

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