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HM-801 Balanced Amplifier Module - Page 2

post #16 of 118

ohhh it means the standard cable can not get full potential of the balanced Module right ????????

If so ,then I'll better look else where instead of upgrade the HM801.

post #17 of 118

 

Interesting point this termination problem, is there a balanced portable standard headphone connector? 

 

When Fang mooted a balanced amp option for the HM801 I suspect many of us wondered how he would do the connections, as on the face of it looks pretty difficult. The de facto connector for full sized balanced phones seems to be the ageing but reliable Cannon XLR, which looks to be a non-starter here. I have used the miniature types of XLR which also seem pretty good, but they are still far too big. Hirose do some nice tiny circular multipins, and of course the best multiway connectors that I am aware of are made by Lemo and Fischer in Switzerland. A medium sized version of the Lemo was used with the Sennheiser Orpheus system.

 

I assumed that if the project flew some sort of flat or miniature usb type connector would be used. This could mate perhaps with some sort of flying lead with a pair of femail XLRs on the end. 

 

So I was happily surprised with Fang’s lump-on-the-back solution. No it’s not perfect, and it is a shame that he didn’t incorporate into the HM801 a 3.5mm 4 pole socket in the first place (though that might not mate with a normal 3.5mm plug). However, those 4 way 3.5mm plugs seem to be fairly common, and are probably perfectly good enough electrically and mechanically to do the job here, Indeed, if someone like Neutrik made them, they might well prove to be a highly sensible choice for portable balanced phones and iems. I just hope that the 'lump' doesn't make the machine unstable when placed on a table.

 

Those of us with soldering irons can probably come up with our own connection solutions. Especially if they feel the fitted 3.5mm connector is of insufficient quality. In my case as I only use the HM801and a pair of HD650s as a semi-portable system, I may hard wire the headphone’s lead to the amp board’s connector and feed the wire out via some sort of strain relief. 

 
 
post #18 of 118
Quote:
Originally Posted by qusp View Post

and so we have yet another balanced portable headphone  'standard' this is truly ridiculous. sorry fang, i know i should be happy as a cable guy that i have yet another type of cable to sell, but as a consumer i think this fracturing of the standard is the worst case scenario that i predicted well over a year ago. the consumer loses, how many different balanced cables have you got for your 13's for exactly the same purpose now warp? 4? 5?



I had a total of 3 different balanced TWag or Eclipse cables at one point (Protector, Hirose and now TRRS).  Got rid of the Hirose recently, and really only have two left, plus a regular 3.5mm TRS for the Pico Slim.  Given the bump the balanced module required to accommodate it, the TRRS is probably the slimmest that I'm aware of, so I don't really have a problem with it.  I'm not doing as many switching because I also have a conventional JH16 Pro as well.  JHA can replace a worn out socket easily and at little cost.  The danger is as the fit becomes lose as a result of switching the cable, the risk of losing a shell increases.

 

I do not count the JH-3A crossover cable here, because it is not a true balanced configuration.

 

Overall, I think there is value in the balanced module upgrade because of the SQ bump not just for IEM users, but those with portable or even full-sized cans out of a fully balanced HM-801 integrated source/amp vs. another portable source with a separate balanced amp, such as the SR71B tacked on.  The mass of the HM-801 vs these other solutions becomes justified in my book if you can live with the known shortcomings (UI, battery life, lack of gapless playback).

 

All in all an extra cable with a TRRS termination option is not a big penalty for me--although I agree that standardization would be a welcome trend overall--all things considered. 

post #19 of 118
Quote:
Originally Posted by coolcat View Post

ohhh it means the standard cable can not get full potential of the balanced Module right ????????

If so ,then I'll better look else where instead of upgrade the HM801.


There is a 3.5mm TRS female to TRRS male adapter included so you can use your unbalanced IEMs or headphones with the new module, but you wouldn't get the full benefits.  Going balanced requires a significant investment in general and you need to do it across the board, beginning with the source, interconnects and amplification.  For the price, as a balanced 24/96 portable solution, the HM-801 stands alone.

 

post #20 of 118

fwiw, at a recent local event there it was, a full Hifiman table: and I was able to hear the 801 with balanced module, both using my own IEM and their HE line of full-sized phones. for my Ultimate Ears, they let me connect my armatures to the prototype cable. there is also an adapter for standard cables, so you can indeed use your phones and cable with the adapter. my impressions (under less-than-perfect conditions, mind you) were very positive. (http://www.head-fi.org/t/566149/balanced-iem-cable-with-adapter-from-hifiman-head-direct#post_7708207)

post #21 of 118


How is battery life with the balance amp compared to the stock or game amp?  Are you still planning to do a review on the amp?

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by warp08 View Post




There is a 3.5mm TRS female to TRRS male adapter included so you can use your unbalanced IEMs or headphones with the new module, but you wouldn't get the full benefits.  Going balanced requires a significant investment in general and you need to do it across the board, beginning with the source, interconnects and amplification.  For the price, as a balanced 24/96 portable solution, the HM-801 stands alone.

 



 

post #22 of 118
Quote:
Originally Posted by flargosa View Post


How is battery life with the balance amp compared to the stock or game amp?  Are you still planning to do a review on the amp?

 

 



 


Yes, next week, once I get back my HifiMAN modded cans from Whiplash Audio after the final mods have been applied.  As far as I can tell, the battery life is about the same as with the v2.0 ST card. I'm burning that in now so it would have the same amount on it as the balanced card (approx. 200 hrs).

 

post #23 of 118

Any news on whether the balanced card is a winner? I have not heard much on this I figured more people would be interested.

 

post #24 of 118
Quote:
Originally Posted by radiohead7 View Post

Any news on whether the balanced card is a winner? I have not heard much on this I figured more people would be interested.

 


I'm working on my review now that I got my HE-500s back.  Wanted to listen to it using both full-sized cans and IEMs.  I should be done with posting it by mid-week.

 

post #25 of 118

 

 

Listening Impressions:  HifiMAN HM-801 Balanced Amp Module vs. ST Amp Module v.2.0

 

DSC_2378.jpg

 

Preface

 

The goal of this post is to attempt to compare key performance aspects of the new balanced amp module vs. the latest version of the standard (single-ended) amp module (known as the ST module) included with the HM-801.  Since the gain structure of the v.2.0 of the ST amp has been revised to accommodate most IEMs as well as standard headphones without any audible hiss, the optional, IEM-only GAME adapter module is not included in this comparison.

 

Test Equipment

 

  • HM-801 with 32GB Kingston SDHC card
  • HM-801 ST module v.2.0 and optional Balanced Amp Module
  • HifiMAN HE-500R (modified version of the HE-500 hardwired with Whiplash TWag V2 Reference cable, fully balanced XLR4 termination)
  • JH Audio JH13Pro customs w./TRRS-terminated balanced Eclipse OM replacement cable (for balanced amp module) as well as TRS-terminated single-ended Eclipse OM replacement cable (for ST amp module)
  • Adapters:  custom TRRS male-to-XLR4 TWag v2 female adapter (for bal. amp module) and a combination of TRS-XLR3 balanced+XLR3-XLR4 balanced TWag v2 adapters (for ST module)
  • Burn-in time:  200 hrs each amp module using the ISO-Tek System Rejuvenation CD “Small Equipment” session.  The interconnects and headphones/IEMs have all been burned in far exceeding their manufacturer’s recommendations.

 

Evaluation Music 

 

Tracks from the following 24/96 mastered albums have been used in this evaluation purchased from HDTracks without any additional conversion in native FLAC format:

 

Untitled.jpg

 

 

DSC_2376.jpg

 

 

 

Evaluation Methodology

 

As much I would have liked to follow a more real-time A/B switched testing method, the fact that the balanced module assembly does require replacing the two tiny screws holding the modified cover in place did introduce a 30-40 second delay between listening sessions switching from the ST amp and back.  Luckily the differences between the two modules have been substantial enough where I feel comfortable publishing my impressions, subjective they may be.

 

Test One - Full-sized Headphones - HE-500R

 

The HE-500s are one of my all-time favorite non-electrostatic headphones and I was looking forward evaluating this particular, heavily modified version with the HM-801 in balanced output mode.  That is because this is really the only way to experience all these have to offer.

 

DSC_2374.jpg

 

Listening to the HE-500R using the ST module is not without merits, as the ST has a very pleasing tonal balance.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite have enough power to muster the necessary voltage swings to drive the HE-500Rs to their full potential even at max volume.  Almost, but not quite at the level to push them to their limit.  The soundstage and depth is nowhere near as pronounced as it could be.  Instrument separation also suffers a bit.  Clearly, more efficient headphones such as HifiMAN’s own HE-300s and the Sennheiser HD600s could be easily and effectively driven by this configuration in terms of raw power output.  But no matter what, an excellent source as the HM-801 is, truly deserves a balanced analog output stage to make it complete.

 

Swapping the amp modules and switching to the new balanced module requires very brief listening to fully appreciate what the upgrade cost buys you in terms of SQ enhancements.   Here are the highlights:

 

  1. Imaging.  The difference is quite pronounced, especially with the HE-500Rs.  The spatial imaging is significantly extended along both the x and y axis; the soundstage becomes both wider and deeper.
  2. Power.  While I do not recall the exact specs between the ST and the balanced module, the balanced module makes driving the HE-500Rs effortless.  By that I mean it does so with a punch.  Attacks are much sharper and even though the HE-500s are not the fastest cans on the block, the overall dynamics are much more satisfying and more consistent with similar performance characteristics those of balanced desktop amplifier/source combos.
  3. Instrument separation.  The synergy between the neutrality of the HM-801 digital source coupled with the balanced amp module compliments the HE-500Rs midrange emphasis by slightly flattening the performance curve and infusing some extra detail between most instruments.  This is evident in both reference recordings, but quite frequently surface during the Natalie Merchant “Tigerlily” tracks with acoustic guitar compliments.  They are projected with a definite air around them, clearly distinguishable from the other accompaniments as opposed to somewhat fused in together.
  4. Bass and treble extensions.  The improvement in these aspect of sonic excellence is relatively minor, but I believe it is still there and worth mentioning.  In essence, the balanced amplifier is able to deliver cleaner, crisper treble and tighter bass with a slightly more pronounced, yet smoother texture without sacrificing midrange performance; a key selling point of the HE-500s.

 

DSC_2380.jpg

 

 

Test Two - IEMs - JH13 Pros (TWag Eclipse recabled)

 

I’m going to take some literary license and make relatively short work of this one.  Essentially, anyone who spent time listening to IEMs paired with portable balanced amps such as the RSA SR71B or the iBasso PB1 or PB2 could attest to this.  Most IEMs I’ve listened to containing a passive crossover circuitry are not really capable of benefiting fully of balanced amplification the way balanced full-sized headphones such as the HE-500Rs can, because for some reason they are unable to effectively project the Y or depth aspect of imaging.  The X is no problem, but it’s just how that technology works, I suppose.

 

The only exception I have encountered so far is the JH-3A/16 active crossover/DSP system.

 

DSC_2379.jpg

 

So, how do the JH13 Pros benefit from pairing out of the balanced amp module of the HM-801?  Essentially the same way as the HE-500s above with the differentiation being that the overall SQ of the JH13 Pros are more linear than that of the HE-500Rs.  What’s nice with the amp module is that it’s equally capable of driving these sensitive customs without any noticeable hiss--minus the very faint overdrive at zero volume level I have described during my earlier unboxing post--yet it can scale up extremely well to drive the HE-500Rs, if not the HE-6s.  That is quite a useful performance curve for most people, methinks.  With the balanced TRRS-terminated balanced HifiMAN cable included as part of the balanced amp upgrade kit, one can enjoy a pair of HE-500s or other headphones at home and switch to IEMs on the go, having to invest just one extra cable (or reterminate an existing balanced IEM cable using the supplied TRRS connector).

 

Summary

 

In closing, I think it comes as no surprise that I highly recommend this particular upgrade to HM-801 owners, provided the cost of any additional cabling or retermination needed to take advantage of the balanced amplification is within budget.  Although the cost is not insignificant compared to the GAME adapter, its versatility in being able to support full-sized headphones as well as IEMs, plus the added extras the kit includes makes it somewhat of a bargain in my book.  It is certainly more cost-effective and convenient than springing for an external balanced portable amplifier and interconnects.  The sonic improvements alone breathe new life into the HM-801 platform and incorporating the balanced amplification features is done in a way that should effectively replace both existing amp modules with this single offering without hardly ever a need to switch while transitioning between headphones and IEMs.

 

Not sure if Head-Direct is planning to sell the balanced amp module as a bundle for new customers, but I would welcome such an arrangement.  And I would also like to see a custom case offered at least as an option that incorporates a cutout for the TRRS socket bump-out in the back of the case to protect the player while on the go.  Other than that, the new upgrade kit should please just about everyone who is considering investing into one of the best sounding portable platforms capable of natively rendering 24/96 high-resolution audio out of a single, well-engineered unit.

 

DSC_2377.jpg

 


Edited by warp08 - 9/26/11 at 12:15pm
post #26 of 118

thanks warp. did you get to try their hifiman balanced IEM cable, or did you only use your twag balanced IEM cable?

post #27 of 118

Thanks warp08 for the time to write the above report, of course my wallet does not like you! wink.gif

post #28 of 118

Warp08, thanks for doing a review on this one, appreciate the time and effort you put into this.  Where did you get your Trrs plug from?  I don't seem to find any made by the usual tried and dependable brands, Neutrik, Switchcraft, Canare.

post #29 of 118

Nice review. So now there are three different portable balanced amp connectors. It would be nice if there was one rather than three different types. 

post #30 of 118
Quote:
Originally Posted by melomaniac View Post

thanks warp. did you get to try their hifiman balanced IEM cable, or did you only use your twag balanced IEM cable?



yes I did.  Seems like a decent cable for easy-to-drive cans.  I have used it with the HE-300 evaluation sample Fang was nice enough to loan me.  Unfortunately, this particular pair does not sound the way people describe theirs sound, so I've asked Fang to look into the issues experienced. I'm pretty sure it's just with these particular cans, however, it has prevented me from including them in the review, since it wouldn't have been fair.  But the cable is far superior to the stock Canare cable included with the HE-300s.  Of that I'm reasonably confident.

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