OK, to put it as short and sweet as I can, I have in my posession all three DAP-s: HM-700, X3 and DX50. I've been fiddling with them for about a week or so, all three have been burned, HM-700 has about 100 hours on him. So it's fair to say that all three had equal chances. I've used ONLY two pairs of IEM-s; my beloved Heir Audio 8.A and RE-400B. Second pair was a kind of obvious choice, as HM-700 came along with those, and I can see now very clearly why HiFiMAN guys decided to add them to their latest DAP and how well thought that idea actually is. But more about that a bit later.
Two, scratch that, three disclaimers before we go:
1. I hadn't payed for any of those amps, they were delivered to me as a free samples, no journalistic surprises or secrets here. Both came directly from Questyle HQ
2. I'm not affiliated with companies mentioned in this article in neither financial, nor personal way. Though, obviously, I know PR people working there, but we get along only on professional level and that's it.
3. Sorry about my language skills, I'm aware that they could use some improvement. But I honestly believe that by writing stuff such as this review I'll get better. If you consider yourself as a language purist and are afraid your eyes might fall off, please stop reading here.
List of music I used is quite vast: Nine Inch Nails, Bat For Lashes, Rebecca Pidgeon, Einsturzende Neubauten, Corvus Corax, The Knife, Fever Ray, early albums of Mike Oldfield, Filter, Wardruna, Pig, Ministry, Michael Goddard/Monteverdi, Dead Can Dance, KMFDM, Jarboe, Muse, David Lynch, Therion and some Chesky's stuff to name a few. No additional details are needed here, but if someone asks about specific tracks, I'll gladly answer.
OK, onto details now we go:
OS and UI
To be honest, HM-700 is in third place in terms of OS, it's somewhat slow, and it takes time to get used to it. There's no "return" button, therefore getting one screen back is done via left arrow. But i. e. when I'm in EQ adjusting certain frequencies, and when I want to jump from 3 kHz down to 50 Hz, I can do this only by pressing right arrow and go into loop. Intuition tells me to use left one but when I do that, I instantly am one screen earlier, which is odd. Return button could be useful here. DX50 and X3 OS-es are more fluent and the one in latter, also buttons based, is also faster. Look, nothing dealbreaking for HM-700 here, but bear in mind that there are some things listener needs to get used to. And I've noticed that arrows below screen aren't always responding despite audible and perceptible click. I guess this might be OS related, but have no idea now, we'll see what changes updates will bring. Though I have to confess, that getting used to somewhat awkward placed X3 buttons took me more time, even today, after months of usage I make mistakes. DX50 is the best one for me among all three.
HM-700 is well made judging solely by its cost. Though some things could be better, i. e. very poor display. But after whole testing phase it came to me again how well thought this device actually is (size, used materials, its innards etc.), price wise of course. Aye, DX50 is the best one out of all three DAP-s, and a real looker too. X3 seems more sturdy thanks to aluminum back than HM-700, but second one is made out of very sturdy plastic. I don't see the scenario when its screen gets damaged. And I'm not sure how many of you know, but whole HM-700 frame is aluminum. Back and front are plastic, but its sides are noticeably colder, therefore it must be aluminum. Orange buttons work good, though I can't write the same thing about arrows. Maybe it's just me, but I'd like them to be moved more to borders of the device and up a bit, even if it would mean that display has to be reduced. When having HM-700 in my right hand, and in need of pressing arrow down or right, my thumb acts awkward. I don't see this as a common issue or flaw, at least for now, maybe it's just me. But I pay attention to those things. I like my DAP-s just as my wife - comfortable in use And yes, before I forget: I'd like to see something better than TFT these days. I know you can do it HiFiMAN, I really do.
Sound quality - HiFiMAN HM-700 vs FiiO X3
It's hard not to hear that X3 sounds warmer. HM-700 is more natural and not so round, but I have to admit that I don't like too warm sound. And for the sake of facts, my 8.A weren't used here, for obvious reasons. This is a no go with X3. OK, moving on to RE-400B, HM-700 bass goes audibly deeper, is more dynamic and doesn't have that midbas hump X3 has. FiiO DAP has its lows more rounded, not so well controlled and overall - worse. Maybe if lows in X3 were deeper, who knows, but they aren't, in addition midbas makes sound more bloated and I'm very sensitive on that particular field so it is what it is. HM-700 has more highs, therefore they deliver more details to music and are quite smooth. Not HM-901 smooth, but still pretty good. Again, HM-700 is my pick. Both DAP-s present mids in different way as well. The way I see vocals is that those are connected do soundstage depth, different distance can be between them and listener. HM-700 has them closer, more direct than X3. Those aren't "in your face" direct, but audibly closer than the same parts heard on HiFiMAN-s rival, and, of course, more clear. Though I have to give credit to X3 here, mids of this DAP are more smooth, about right for me in that regard. The same stuff is with guitars. HM-700 presents them in more dynamic, and not so rounded way, but that's a kind of matter of taste I guess. Some people like them soft and a bit fuzzy, some - clean and a tad sharp. In terms of midrange, the best solution for me would be X3's roundness and smoothness plus HM-700 closeness and dynamics, you get the point. I guess I can't have it all in fairly budget pricerange. Moving on, X3 has worse instruments separation, mainly thanks to bloated lows, at least to my ears. Not a big deal though, but audible, HM-700 sounds more clear and detailed. As for soundstage, I wrote X3 has more depth, but width is fairly limited. HM-700 does something opposite, this DAP sounds wider, but also noticeably closer in center of the show. As mentioned above, it's a device with more direct presentation. Same thing I witnessed with HM-901, and I liked it a lot. To sum things up, HM-700 sound is more spacious, airy, detailed, dynamic and direct when compared to X3. FiiO's DAP is for people praising warmth above anything else. Excluding mids smothness, personally I don't see spot where X3 is better than HM-700. Not with RE-400B.
Sound quality - HiFiMAN HM-700 vs iBasso DX50
Things get a bit tricky here. Audible differences between DAP-s are more than just audible. This time roles have changed. It turns out, that DX50 (FW 1.2.8) is the one sounding in more dry and neutral way. It's more than appropriate to write here that it's brighter and it could use a bit of natural touch, at least for my taste. Is it something bad? Don't think so, it's about picking right IEM-s or headphones, ain't it? At first I went with RE-400B. When both DAP-s are in flat EQ mode, well, bass difference between them is huge. It's not even about quality of it, amount is on the table. HM-700 has way more bass than its direct rival, those go much deeper and are more rounded. Lows in DX50 are audible, don't get me wrong, but they barely tap in comparison to HM-700-s rock crushing blows. How about that. Though it's fair to say that those devices are tuned differently and that's it. Vocals bring additional differences to the table. DX50 has them more sterille and clear, the same thing is with guitars. Though HM-700 has better drive, that balanced amp really is something. In addition HiFiMAN-s DAP sounds more round and a tad more smooth. Highs are much more audible in DX50, and a bit sibilant as well. But those aren't too sharp. HM-700 has them more smooth but I don't consider them as recessed. Both devices have similar instruments separation, the same thing goes with width and depth of the soundstage. Even vocals are similarly placed in front of the listener, both devices do good here. But overall, HM-700 has more natural and organic soundstage (and sound), thanks to more natural presentation and fair amount of very good lows. At this point I'm amazed what HiFiMAN has achieved, RE-400B when paired with HM-700 are one excellent combo, those were meant for each other, I think I wrote that in one of my previous posts and I still stand by that statement.
Then I went with 8.A. Truth be told, both DAP-s don't have what it takes to show their full potential. When Heir's flagships are paired with HM-700, sound is in more dark and thick (and yes, more smooth as well) in comparison to DX50, but it has way too much bass for me. FAR too much. In combination with 8.A DX50 sounds more clear and neutral, with acceptable amount of lows, though sibilants are still audible. But overall presentation seems a bit lifeless to my ears. So it's a matter of taste I guess. If I had to pick... well, it's a hard one. DX50 has better UI and that's important here, though there's a fair chance of having RockBox for HM-700 in the future. Decisions, decisions. Pure SQ wise and having 8.A, I'd go with HM-700 and tinker with its EQ. I'd completly turn off lows in 200 Hz dept.,just to get rid of that nasty midbass bloat, and shorten at least a half of those sitting in 50 Hz. This I'd do just for safety reasons. Paired with HM-700, 8.A have lows which literally can make your head crack in half. I'd probably do something with 14 kHz as well, not too much though. But if I'd had to take all things into consideration, for now DX50 is better choice. Truth be told, I'm far from recommending 8.A to anyone having DX50 or HM-700 already. I don't want to discredit first one, I really like that DAP and am utterly surprised what iBasso achieved and has to offer for 240$, I know this device can sound very, very good. But not with IEM's I've had on hand during my tests.
HM-700 isn't surprise for me, at least not on regular fields. In comparison to X3 and DX50, UI and OS of HiFiMAN-s new entry level DAP could use improvements (as usual), build quality is OK at best and so on. But sound... kills. Dang. Paired with RE-400B this is one excellent combo, trust me. SQ wise it is very good starting point for those of you, who are looking for a fairly budget, yet synergistic set. SQ wise and ONLY with RE-400B on hand, I'd pick HM-700 over DX50 and X3 without looking back, not even a flinch, any time, any day. Small device, big, big sound. In addition, RE-400B go very well with HM-700 custom EQ tweaks. When you hit 50 Hz up, you hear only that being bumped up, nothing more. And possibility of RockBox is huge cherry on top of it all, at least for me. Unless you want some DAP that has all the fancy fetures like DSD, USB OTG, line-out, DAC function etc. If so, get yourself something else. But bear in mind, that SQ wise you miss hell of a set.
P.S. Before I go to sleep, two things helped me with writing this thing above. Some of you know Scooter's "How Much Is The Fish", aye? ( <-----love that smiley)
And this. I'm constantly blown away.
Edited by 00lunar - 2/6/14 at 6:25pm