I have been using a HM801 DAP for four years.
While this player isn’t neutral sounding or technically inclined in terms of soundstage precision, ultimate transparency, extreme frequency extensions, uber imaging... that sort of “Hi-Fi” qualities, it delivers rich tones, lush mids, natural sounding instrument timbres, bold/deep bass and an overall organic sound signature similar to analogue rather than digital. I find it very enjoyable, musical, and consistently great sounding with every style of music.
Two years ago, I upgraded to Balanced mode. This amp module improved soundstage, clarity, depth, speed, instrument separation, and power by just a tad but put together, it sure felt like a worthwhile fine tuning, a tighter sounding HM801 (RE262, Re272, Re600, Senn HD650 and AKG K701Q all benefited from it)...
So when I saw the tiny balanced HM700, I wondered if that little guy was the new mini balanced HM801.
My first reaction was “Nice!!! balanced mode in action!”
I was listening to “Pollen” by AES Dana (Ambient electronic). Sound came across as neutral with a wide soundstage, plenty of bass (slightly “bloomy” but not “boomy”), smooth mediums and highs, combine with a decent amount of speed. Not a slow sounding player. It felt transparent, well defined, fast and yet pretty smooth.
I wanted to listen to the HM700 longer before I brought in the HM801 so from memory, this pairing felt more transparent but definitely less bold and organic than the HM801.
Bringing in the HM801, it was fairly obvious that the Balanced HM801-RE400 (great pairing btw) belongs to a different league. Perhaps a tad less transparent and airy, the HM801 is noticeably more refined and rich sounding (more texture, micro details, natural timbres, longer sustain, fluidity, bolder, more articulate bass + sub bass, weightier)
But compared to the stock HM801 (equipped with the power amp module instead of balanced), these differences still apply but to a much lesser degree. The HM700 keeps up pretty close overall!
At $249, the HM700 is NOT a mini balanced HM801 but very good sounding nonetheless.
In a way, the HM700-RE400 pairing feels more of a “High-Res DAP with character” than a “Hi-Fidelity” player, that is, when compared to the balanced HM801 (an unfair comparison considering the price difference)
... ... ...
The soundstage depth increases at the expense of the width.
Tonality is slightly warmer (sounds more "orangy" than white) with a noticeable touch of “liquidity”.
That liquid touch, as subtle as it may feel is no small detail to me. It actually affects many areas in a positive way:
Bass seems to extends a little bit deeper and feels a tad bolder.
Sustain/resonance last longer which enriches tones and makes timbre feel a little more natural
Imaging improves a little, separation is clean, speed is still there, smoothness is still there...The overall presentation becomes a little more bass-mids oriented and feels more bold and musical in a way. This combo sounds closer to the HM801-RE600 than the previous comparison.
While the HM801 is still richer, bolder, and more refined overall, the HM700-RE600 sounds a little larger, softer, and more transparent. Some may actually prefer the HM700-RE600 larger and more airy presentation than the similar richer sound signature...
Not sure I would label the HM700-RE600 as “Hi-Fidelity” but certainly Highly musical and enjoyable.
As far as getting as close as possible to the HM801's performance, it's certainly to my ears the better compromise.
I’ll try to add further comparison between iphone 4, and HM700 at some point.
I was also going to comment on the difference between HM700 and HM601 but I no longer have it and was using different iems anyway so I’ll refrain from doing so.
Hope it helps more that it confuses those wondering about the HM700. I’m not an expert at reviews, just wanted to share my opinion ; )
EDIT 08/04/14: Update about burn in
Having bought them pre-owned, I assumed they were already fully burned in when I received them. Apparently not. A couple of noticeable changes within a week following my first impressions (I already edited them)
1. A peak with voices/sax that was a bit edgy/smeary to borderline unpleasant level at times
2. The resonance/sustain were a bit dull resulting in acoustic instruments sounding a little artificial (cymbals felt a little muffled...)
And I felt like it affected music styles such as Jazz vocals, classical, opera... Some styles sounded better than other.
This is not the case anymore so if you find yourself noticing the same things, make sure they are properly burned in before giving them your final verdict.
Again to summarize my impressions with HM700:
• Listener slightly in front of music
• Nice bloom in the bass, smooth mediums, a tad more/brighter highs
• Neutral tonality, balanced sounding (no particular emphasis on frequency)
• Listener slightly more in music (more intimate and slightly more holographic sense of depth)
• A tad deeper/more Bass, smooth Mediums, slightly less Highs. Liquid sounding
• Warmer tonality, slightly more emphasized on Bass and Mediums
Sound signatures are audibly different to me. But they both sound very good and I’d be hard pressed to say the 400 feels like an inferior IEM. I really like them both. But I would think that most people would tend to prefer the RE600 pairing, especially those who really enjoy the HM801 analog organic sound signature.
Edited by Tympan - 4/16/14 at 6:16pm