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DAP-off: Astell&Kern AK240, HiFiMAN HM-901, Sony ZX-1, FiiO X5 + Chord Hugo & Calyx M from June.

post #1 of 1112
Thread Starter 

Round 1:

 

 

Anakchan kindly lent me some of his gear and I already have a couple of great DAPs on hand, so I thought I'd do an ongoing shoot-out between them.

 

Anakchan lent me:

HiFiMAN HM-901 with balanced card.

Sony ZX-1. Getting music on to this will be interesting, but I'll figure it out.

Cypher Labs Solo -db and Duet

 

I already have:

Astell&Kern AK240. Mine. I have already made a balanced "tail" for my headphones and have more cables on the way.

FiiO X5 (on loan as part of the World Tour).  

iPhone 5

 

I'm waiting on a couple of WyWires cable sets and I need to make a couple more adaptors so I can compare amps, eg: The balanced out of the HM-901 and AK240 vs. the Duet, but I have most of what I need on hand already.

 

I'm quite familiar with the X5 and AK240 but I've only had one listen with the Sony (in comparison to an AK120) but the HM-901 is new to me.

 

Preliminary impressions shall be posted soon...

 

Edit: Here's my summary (which forgot to mention streaming with the Sony):

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Currawong View Post
 

This is where things are looking now:

 

The AK240: You are paying for a DAP that has better SQ than anything else, to the degree that it rivals desktop rigs. Unlike anything that might come close, however, it actually will fit in your pocket and power headphones quite well that it has no right to be able to do so given its size.

 

Best things: Outstanding sound, UI and design quality.

Worse things: Price! Balanced adaptors and excellent recordings required to be of any value.

 

The ZX-1: Given it is cheaper than an AK120 and, by way of being a fully-featured Android device with an excellent UI on a large screen, this might totally win if it weren't for the lack of memory or a removable SD card and the strange lack of volume. It also has something of a bright, sometimes annoying sound.

 

Best things: Large screen with excellent Android UI and thin, well-thought-out case.

Worse things: Lack of expansion. Weird volume limit. Slight harsh sound.

 

The HM-901: For its price, it might win on sound quality and capability over the Sony, but the scroll wheel and UI put me off wanting to use it. If I didn't have the AK240, I'd want to listen with the HM-901 more than the others by far.

 

Best things: Most engaging and listenable sound (ignoring the AK240). Balanced card is great with full-sized headphones.

Worse things: Chunky, clunky, 1990's UI. Balanced adaptors required.

 

The X5: A class act considering the price. It really needs playlist support and it would be almost perfect with IEMs. Add an amp for more expensive full-sized headphones. The value king by far and lacks very little in enjoyment when listening.

 

Best things: Cheap, but quality design both with software and hardware. Excellent sound for the price.

Worse things: Doesn't drive full-sized headphones well. No playlist support.

 

 


 

Round 2, June 2014:

 

FiiO X5, Astell&Kern AK240, Calyx M:

 

 

Begins here.

post #2 of 1112
So Sean is DAP-less? LoL
Thanks a lot for this.
post #3 of 1112

Very keen to hear your impressions. I've got an X5 on order and may buy either the AK120 or ZX-1, with the intention of keeping only one. I love the HiFiman sound sig and the sound of the 801 with balanced amp was great, but the 901 is too big for my tastes. The AK240, luckily for me, looks really ugly and way too big, so I won't have to lay out the insane purchase price no matter how good the sq is.I like the look of the Sony and android is a big plus for me, so I'd be able to play around with viper4android etc, and obviously the price compared to AK120 is very appealing, but won't be decisive. The potential dealbreaker with the Sony is what I've read about the volume (or lack thereof). I will use sensitive iem's primarily but I like to have lots of power in reserve. I have lots of classical recordings that have very soft passages, in addition to which I often like to listen very loud (I know). My days of carrying around a 2 or 3 piece stack are over so an off-board amp is not an option. Any thoughts on my dilemma will be much appreciated, although the sheer sex appeal of the AK120 may just win out in the end. 

post #4 of 1112
Thread Starter 

I'm pretty impressed with the SQ from the X5 actually. If you are an album-at-a-time listener it'll be fine, because as yet they don't have playlist support.

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by CosmicHolyGhost View Post

So Sean is DAP-less? LoL
Thanks a lot for this.

 

He has the loaner AK240. I saw the writing on the wall and just bought one on the spot. His review is on the front page. He actually did an excellent comparison but I'll be using different headphones and music. It is ridiculously good. But, it has a couple of caveats: First, I've found to get the most out of it, you have to have (or intend to buy) top-of-the-line IEMs or headphones to use with it. In other words, it's a $3500+ "end game" investment. 2nd, you have to like a clear, detailed and un-coloured sound signature. It is quite a departure from the AK100 and AK120.

post #5 of 1112
Add DX90 maybe?
post #6 of 1112
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by irvin59 View Post
 

The AK240, luckily for me, looks really ugly and way too big, so I won't have to lay out the insane purchase price no matter how good the sq is.I like the look of the Sony and android is a big plus for me, so I'd be able to play around with viper4android etc, and obviously the price compared to AK120 is very appealing, but won't be decisive. The potential dealbreaker with the Sony is what I've read about the volume (or lack thereof). I will use sensitive iem's primarily but I like to have lots of power in reserve. I have lots of classical recordings that have very soft passages, in addition to which I often like to listen very loud (I know). My days of carrying around a 2 or 3 piece stack are over so an off-board amp is not an option. Any thoughts on my dilemma will be much appreciated, although the sheer sex appeal of the AK120 may just win out in the end. 

 

The irony here is, while the Sony is the thinnest, the AK240 is actually the smallest. I'll try and remember to check how loud the volume is at maximum with classical music. There is a volume limiting function which I'll need to check if it is off. 

 

For the UI, the Sony wins hands down, helped by having the biggest, clearest screen and using the software from one of their phones, followed by the AK240, then a big jump down in usability to the X5 and finally the HM-901.

 

My first comparison I did tonight with the DITA Audio The Answer and my UERMs between the HM-901, AK240 and Sony. In all cases I was using the single-ended output.  I just wanted to get an idea of the character of each. Music was: Amber Rubarth (binaural), Buena Vista Social Club (24/96) and Babatunde Olatunji - Sare Tete WA from Open Your Ears.

 

  • The ZX1 has a lively character to the sound that makes music engaging to listen to, but at the same time this can come across as a bit harsh or aggressive. 
  • The HM-901 (SE out of the balanced amp) has a bit more warm and engaging sound that just makes me want to relax and listen to the music. It was very easy to listen through an album with it.
  • The AK240 takes a step above the other two presenting the music in a way that is more open and effortlessly detailed. It really shows up the slight grain the Sony and the details missing from the HiFiMAN, but loses their sense of engagement at the same time. It's similar to switching from regular headphones to 'stats in some respects.

 

The Sony and HiFiMAN are different like rolling tubes in my Studio Six makes the sound a bit different. The AK240 is like switching to higher end SS amp -- you lose a bit of engagement in exchange for the clarity.

 

Just a reminder that that was done using The Answer and UERMs single ended. I need to make a couple of adaptors (or a whole new cable for the Roxannes) to get everything running balanced. 

post #7 of 1112

Why not toss in your iPhone 5 too, Amos? :)

 

Looking forward to contrasting my own impressions with yours.

post #8 of 1112

Thanks for those answers. Maybe the 240 just looks bigger because of the odd shape. I do like a lively sound. I'm sure you'll enjoy the testing.

post #9 of 1112
I am having a hard time relating to the 901 balanced missing details. Only the Hugo had more...but then again never tried AK240.
post #10 of 1112

My dream comparison/impression thread is here.  :D

 

Looking forward to further impressions.  :popcorn:

 

 

Would be interesting to have an iphone or ipod in the mix to compare with a non-audiophile device.

 

Also, the new DX90 could bring some interesting comparison as well.  

 

UERM and Roxanne sounds like good references to test them out, in addition to TG334 and any other top tiered iems.

 

 

It will be interesting to find out what setup will reveal the music in it's full glory.  


Edited by SilverEars - 4/13/14 at 8:39am
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post #14 of 1112
Thread Starter 

FYI guys, rather than posting "subbed" you can click on the Subscription link at the top of any page of the thread and do it there. :smile:

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by eke2k6 View Post
 

Why not toss in your iPhone 5 too, Amos? :)

 

Looking forward to contrasting my own impressions with yours.

 

I've been thinking about doing that too in more detail than I already have. Basically though, apart from the different sound signature -- "clear" for the iPhone 5 and "slightly warm" for the X5, I didn't notice any significant difference with the UERMs. The AK240 (I didn't have the others here at the time) is a significant jump in resolution in comparison (and functionality/usage/etc.) to the X5. Full-sized headphones is where it will get interesting though.

 

The funny thing is, I find my iPhone to be a good sonic match to the Roxannes, though I don't listen loud. Something worth considering is that Jerry designs for quite a few musicians that have been around before hearing protection and are now quite deaf. All those drivers are there to get enough headroom for those guys who need to listen LOUD without distortion.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mimouille View Post

I am having a hard time relating to the 901 balanced missing details. Only the Hugo had more...but then again never tried AK240.

 

I've only tested SE so far, but I don't imagine with IEMs I'll experience much difference with the balanced outputs. I hope that people will read my comparisons carefully and not take comments out of context. :ksc75smile:

That being said, I only had one chance to compare the Hugo and AK240 and I felt they were close in resolution. I hope I can compare them in the future.

 

Back to the fun part: Next up was Anakchan's AlgoRythm -dB and Duet rig with my UERMs. I have a balanced Double Helix cable for them (which I traded for something else a while back because I wanted to see how my JH-13s were on balanced portables). Against it was the AK240 balanced using the supplied UE cable. The source for the -dB was my computer via an Oyaide USB cable and an adaptor.

 

The Cypher Labs rig, which is super overkill for IEMs IMO, has something of an aggressive sound signature which reminded me of the Sony. Very "dynamic", but when I switched to the AK240, it was the same story: For double the wallet punishment, you get far more refinement. But what I want to do is try headphones balanced out of the AK240, then add the Duet to the chain to compare the headphone drive.

 

So far then: The AK240 is too good with the top IEMs. I think I need to put it aside to compare the others for a while, especially as I need more cables!

post #15 of 1112
Thread Starter 

I'm too lazy to set up the Nikon, so excuse the average photos in this next bit.

 

While I await cables, I figured I should write about form and functionality.

 

Form

I think these pictures say it all really. 

 

 

 

Being able to switch amp cards and the battery and fit a full-size SD card really does make a DAP much bigger.

 

Other than that, the AK240 is much smaller than it looks from its isometric design making it deceptively large, the X5 a bit larger and the Sony deceptively small due to its different thickness on one end than the other and the large screen taking up most of the front. I didn’t bother taking pictures with cases on, their effect on the size is only slight. Of course, the AK240’s lovely leather case contrasts markedly to the X5’s silicon one, which only emphasises how much it reminds me of the original iPod. Options for the Sony are many and varied. Anakchan sent his with a nicely fitting plastic case.

 

Trying to take photos of DAP UIs while using a flash is not fun. It doesn't show well in these pictures but the Sony's screen size is quite a bit bigger than the AK240's. Note the letter-boxing of the X5's screen. 

 

 

When you have to actually use one of them, then the contrasts fall a different way than it does with sound, the ZX-1 and AK240 on top with their Android UIs, and the X5 and HM-901 on the bottom with their home-brewed ones. The X5, despite having a screen that is significantly smaller than the piece of glass it is behind, has a UI that is pleasant to look at, especially when you have album art, and the nice big scroll wheel and button arrangement makes it reasonably easy to navigate. The well-made enclosure and buttons make the X5 feel expensive, even if it is not. 

 

The HM-901 looks like something out of ’90’s computing (or the same era portable audio) and the scroll wheel is too small and quite hard to turn easily. If I owned it, I’d stick some kind of grip-pad stuff on it because it desperately needs texture to stop fingers sliding all over it instead of turning the wheel. So, for now….

 

 

But if I am being unfair to the HM-901, it's still not anywhere near as bulky when you compare it to a full balanced portable rig:

 

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