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Back to HM-901 (HM-901 -> AK120 -> HM901)

post #1 of 82
Thread Starter 

My friend in China helped me to buy an HM-901 about 4 months back, I was thrilled when I heard it the first time, even bought a pair of Sennheiser IE800 to go with it. Later on I added the balanced amp card together with an RE-600, so I'd be able to use the HM-900 to its full (balanced) potential. Loved the combo, but I felt the sound was not as refined as I hoped and the UI, built quality and industrial left me a lot to desire. So I sold the whole package off after having them for around 2 plus months.

 

My journey to search for a good portable DAP didn't end there, I started to look for something fancier, the AK120, which is regarded as one of the best portable DAP available. I read a lot reviews and comparison between the HM-901 and AK120, the overall feeling is that HM-901 has slight edge in sound quality even with the standard amp card, but AK120 has much better UI/built quality, and of course it's much smaller and easier to carry around. If not compared with HM-901, most reviews raved about the sound quality of the AK120. I thought I could live with it if its sound quality is somewhere close to HM-901. When I saw a decent deal on a used AK120 about a month ago, I quickly grabbed it.

 

The AK120 is indeed a very nice little DAP, it can play pretty much anything I put in, DSD too, and the sound quality is super, has great details and resolution when paired w/ high quality IEMs. I tried both IE800 and K3003i with it, both sounded pretty nice. But some how I didn't feel the sound was as attractive as I felt with the HM-901. I didn't have the eager to listen to music with it as much as I hoped, and sometimes I just used my iPhone5 instead, 'cause I didn't feel the AK120 sounded much better. Don't get me wrong, the AK120 is a much better DAP technically than iPone or iPod. It's just I didn't feel its sound very musical at all. Probably that's what many people called 'digital sound'? I felt I enjoyed playing music with my iPhone as much as with the AK120, and iPhone is so much easier to use.

 

Anyway, ended up my AK120 didn't get much use even I had it by my pillow every day. Yes, I use my portable DAP in house, not on the road. Probably because I drive to work more often than I take public transport. I can live with desktop setup, but I want some flexibility too even when listening to music at home, especially with two young kids around, I can't sit in front of computer for long.  

 

I know portable DAP is always a compromise when comparing with full sized desktop setup. We all have to weight all the factors and see which ones are more important to us. But to me portability isn't the most important factor because I only use it at home. Keeping the AK120 probably defeats its purpose - its great portability. I started to miss the sound of HM-901...

 

I heard from my friends that later batch HM-901 players have better built quality due to revised moulds and better materials used. So I started to look around and bought another new HM-901 last week directly from Hifiman China. And this time I decided to go with the IEM amp card instead of balanced. My friend brought it over to me a few days ago, upon first listening to my K3003i through the new player, I felt THIS IS IT! That's what I wanted from a portable DAP! The sound is so musical. I had it burnt-in for three days, three nights in a row I couldn't help but listen to music through the new HM901 until after 2am, and the sound got better everyday. I still feel sleepy now when I'm typing this.

 

Sorry I don't know how to explain or do reviews like those other reviewers, you know, about the highs, mids, lows, sound stage and imaging, layers, or whatever fancy words which some of them I still couldn't figure out what they mean. I just want to say that the sound come out of this HM901 is really musical. Vocals (my favourite genre) sound really sweet, instruments (love the strings and pianos) sound true to what I feel. When I did A/B comparison between the AK120 and HM901, I could feel that the details and resolutions are on par. If I could hear it from the HM901, I could hear it from the AK120. And the same to HM901. But the musics from AK120 just don't sound as attractive as from HM901. In the past a few days, every nights when I lied in bed, I couldn't wait to put my earphones (either K3003 or OMX980) in and switch on the HM901. I never had the same feeling when I had the AK120. The only problem I had in the past a few nights was lack of sleep.

 

Well, I sold off the AK120 three days after I got the new HM901, don't think I'd look back. For now my search for a good sounding portable DAP ends with the new HM901. The UI is still as unfriendly as before (comparing with iPhone or iPod), even with the newly upgraded firmware. The built quality seems to be slightly better with much improved center wheel, but still no way near the level of AK120. The look is still the same industrial prototype, and it still takes a minute or even longer to boot up. But I am so glad that I got it back whenever I'm listening to my favourite musics with it. This time I won't let it go easily that's for sure.

 

Just some rants after a long day's work before I go back to the kids. Hope you enjoyed reading them.

 

Players used: AK120, HM901
Earphones/Headphones used: K3003i, IE800, OMX980, W3000ANV
Sound tracks: various from vocal to classical music

 

Here are a few quick snaps I had with the players and the IEMs/headphones:

 

 

 

 

 


Edited by fengwei007 - 10/8/13 at 5:55am
post #2 of 82

Thanks for the impressions but I don't find much comparison between an Ipod/Iphone anything and a AK120 and we're talking HiDef vs standard def besides. I get that the 901 can be preferred but it's just too bulky to pocket for me so would limit it's use. Portable is an important aspect of 'portable DAP'.

 

I've found things like selecting gapless or using eq can somewhat damp a DAP's performance. If you were using gapless on the AK which can't currently be selected in the 901 for instance the difference may have been smaller for you regarding emotional involvement when both the same. Sometimes headphone matching prefers one to another as well. Maybe not in your case and simply better for you. It's great when someone has found the right device for their personal needs. Glad you found yours.:bigsmile_face: 


Edited by goodvibes - 10/8/13 at 8:00am
post #3 of 82
Thread Starter 
Thanks. I'm glad that I got it back too smily_headphones1.gif

As I said above, sound quality is the most important factor for me, plus some portability. Actually hM901 isn't that big if you put in a backpack or shoulder bag. But it certainly won't go inside my jeans pocket biggrin.gif
post #4 of 82
Congrats, fengwei.

I also want to own both, too.

EDIT: Sorry, missed the bit that you sold the 120 already. Its better to keep both so to have different flavour.
Edited by CosmicHolyGhost - 10/8/13 at 4:50pm
post #5 of 82
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by CosmicHolyGhost View Post

Congrats, fengwei.

I also want to own both, too.

EDIT: Sorry, missed the bit that you sold the 120 already. Its better to keep both so to have different flavour.

 

Thanks. I didn't want to keep both 'cause I didn't use the AK120 much, kinda waste if just kept it collecting dust. But I couldn't help but using the HM901, actually I've been using it a lot more often than the desktop setup now :) 

 

Probably because I don't really carry them outdoor, my preference is different from many others who use portable DAPs mainly for outdoor or commute. 

post #6 of 82
Quote:
Originally Posted by fengwei007 View Post
 

 

Thanks. I didn't want to keep both 'cause I didn't use the AK120 much, kinda waste if just kept it collecting dust. But I couldn't help but using the HM901, actually I've been using it a lot more often than the desktop setup now :) 

 

Probably because I don't really carry them outdoor, my preference is different from many others who use portable DAPs mainly for outdoor or commute. 

 

I commute with 901 (balance card) to work also.. and switched between a modded X3 (with 8741 chip) and DX50 > DB2/PB2 combo (dual 8740 end to end balance) rig...

 

it is good to get different SS from different DAP and multiply the synergy with different phones. E.g. TG334 does not work well on DB2/PB2 combo (the sound stage becomes too unnaturally wide while Parterre benefits more dynamic from going balance)... I think this is the appeal of portable gear for me...

 

I also wish I can get AK120 in the future (it seems more and more people are offloading their DAP)... but the brand new asking price is too much for me...

post #7 of 82
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by CosmicHolyGhost View Post
 

 

I commute with 901 (balance card) to work also.. and switched between a modded X3 (with 8741 chip) and DX50 > DB2/PB2 combo (dual 8740 end to end balance) rig...

 

it is good to get different SS from different DAP and multiply the synergy with different phones. E.g. TG334 does not work well on DB2/PB2 combo (the sound stage becomes too unnaturally wide while Parterre benefits more dynamic from going balance)... I think this is the appeal of portable gear for me...

 

I also wish I can get AK120 in the future (it seems more and more people are offloading their DAP)... but the brand new asking price is too much for me...

 

I drive to work mostly, but sometimes I do take train to work too, the iPhone5 is good enough for me to kill the time when I'm in the train. I got a portable player is for its convenience when I'm sitting around w/ the kids (they like to play or study anywhere they like), or just enjoy music when I'm in bed. 

 

I don't have many IEMs or earbuds, only K3003i and OMX980 to pair w/ the HM901, both work pretty well. Love their open sound and good sound stage too. When I'm on the go, it's always the phone plus PFE232. 

post #8 of 82
Quote:
Originally Posted by fengwei007 View Post
 

 

 the iPhone5 is good enough for me to kill the time when I'm in the train.

Should consider a X3 or DX50 as a reasonable priced replacement/backup for portable high-res playback than the iphone..

pretty sure can see used x3 and Dx50 in the 2nd hand market once the next wave of DAP (with certain gimmick) hits market

post #9 of 82
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by CosmicHolyGhost View Post

Should consider a X3 or DX50 as a reasonable priced replacement/backup for portable high-res playback than the iphone..
pretty sure can see used x3 and Dx50 in the 2nd hand market once the next wave of DAP (with certain gimmick) hits market

Actually I had the X3 for about a month. It's a very good sounding DAP, definitely better than iPhone. It's just I need to carry two things in pockets, not so convenient. So I sold it in favour of iPhone for all in one device when I'm on the go.
post #10 of 82

What music did you listen to them both with?

 

Did you find there to be much of a difference in SQ and battery life using the various amps with the 901?

post #11 of 82
Quote:
Originally Posted by fengwei007 View Post
 

 

Thanks. I didn't want to keep both 'cause I didn't use the AK120 much, kinda waste if just kept it collecting dust. But I couldn't help but using the HM901, actually I've been using it a lot more often than the desktop setup now :) 

 

Probably because I don't really carry them outdoor, my preference is different from many others who use portable DAPs mainly for outdoor or commute. 

Glad that you realize that your situation is not exactly standard.

 

AK120 may be slightly inferior in SQ (and that's your opinion, I couldn't really hear a difference with a stock HM901), but for anything else, HM901 is just awful.

Not really portable.

Built like a Russian tank maybe, but the UI is also built like a 1990s Russian tank. No EQ, battery life: no comment.

 

The AK120, apart from its price, doesn't have any major downside. It is a real commercial product which you can use without having to mess with firmwares, DIY modifications and awkward tricks (special dedicace to iBasso, it's amazing how people can accept to be alpha-testers for such as a high price ;) ).

 

Bear in mind : we are in the PORTABLE source gear section.

The HM901 is at best transportable, as you mentioned.

Having less than 10h of battery when you travel is a no-go, and when I fly, I have to keep luggage weight under 20kg. So no amp, no full headphones.

 

I hope you can appreciate my (different) point of view.

post #12 of 82
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Goldlion973 View Post
 

What music did you listen to them both with?

 

Did you find there to be much of a difference in SQ and battery life using the various amps with the 901?

I like to listen to soft vocals and strings/pianos, some classical music too. That's what I play on both.

 

The SQ w/ different amp card seems to be quite different. The standard card is okay, but probably doesn't do justice to the player. I'd go w/ at least something better: balanced, IEM or MiniBox card. The balanced card has much stronger output power, but I felt the sound wasn't really refined w/ IEMs like IE800 or W4R. IEM card works a lot better w/ IEMs. 

 

Battery life w/ the standard card is around 9-10hr, balanced card consumes a lot more power, the player can only last 5-6 hrs w/ balanced card, but I guess it also because we intend to use hard to drive headphones/IEMs w/ balanced card, this might be part of the reasons too. With IEM card, the player can play 8-9hrs, good enough for me since I only use it at home, in bed actually. 

post #13 of 82
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by tienbasse View Post
 

Glad that you realize that your situation is not exactly standard.

 

AK120 may be slightly inferior in SQ (and that's your opinion, I couldn't really hear a difference with a stock HM901), but for anything else, HM901 is just awful.

Not really portable.

Built like a Russian tank maybe, but the UI is also built like a 1990s Russian tank. No EQ, battery life: no comment.

 

The AK120, apart from its price, doesn't have any major downside. It is a real commercial product which you can use without having to mess with firmwares, DIY modifications and awkward tricks (special dedicace to iBasso, it's amazing how people can accept to be alpha-testers for such as a high price ;) ).

 

Bear in mind : we are in the PORTABLE source gear section.

The HM901 is at best transportable, as you mentioned.

Having less than 10h of battery when you travel is a no-go, and when I fly, I have to keep luggage weight under 20kg. So no amp, no full headphones.

 

I hope you can appreciate my (different) point of view.

Yes, I totally understand what you said here. I'd go w/ AK120 too if I value other factors more, or even the overall package (SQ, UI, built quality, size and others). But to me SQ is the most important thing here. It's already a trade off from desktop system, and it's not cheap. I don't want to spend so much money on something I don't enjoy listening to (not playing with). 

 

I organize all my musics in different folders, mostly base on artists then albums. On HM901 I just open up one folder at a time, and let it play the whole folder w/o even touching the player. I don't even need to power it off, just let it play the whole album and stop there after it's finished, it'd power off by itself when time is up. Never had lock up or anything funny happened to me yet :)  


Edited by fengwei007 - 10/9/13 at 6:32pm
post #14 of 82
Personally, mini box is better than IEM. The high is better control, wider sound stage and better detail and control. I don't play with balance so I cannot comment on the balance side. The original standard is really a let down. So both my standard and IEM in dry box.

If the 901 sound like the 801 vocal style and that is really perfect.

Rgds,
post #15 of 82
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by LECW View Post

Personally, mini box is better than IEM. The high is better control, wider sound stage and better detail and control. I don't play with balance so I cannot comment on the balance side. The original standard is really a let down. So both my standard and IEM in dry box.

If the 901 sound like the 801 vocal style and that is really perfect.

Rgds,

Thanks for sharing the info. I'll give the minibox a try someday :)  But for now I'm pretty happy w/ the HM901&IEM card combo. 

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