REVIEW: HIFIMAN HM-700 - Amazing Mid-Fi Player
Specifications: (provided by Hifiman)
Frequency response: 20Hz-20KHz
S/N: 91 dB
Max output: 50mW (1.35V @36 Ohm)
Dimensions: 49mm x105mm x12mm
(1.9X4.1X0.5 Inch) WXHXD
Weight: 82g (2.9 Oz)
On-board ash memory: 32GB
Battery life: 15 hours
Acceptable music formats: WAV, MP3, APE, FLAC (16Bit)
1x USB-to-MicroUSB cable
1x MicroUSB-to-TRRS cable (helps with some hiss)
1x Armband case
1x Soft carrying pouch
Build & Design:
The HM-700 looks very well built, made of a mix of aluminum and plastic parts; cold aluminum for the whole frame and sturdy plastic for both the front and back plates. The three orange buttons are made of plastic as well. I think there's a video going around the web showing the HM-700 resistance to falls. Not that I'd try it myself anyway.
As for the design, it's quite attractive. No plain black, grey or white colors theme, but grey/gunmetal with orange buttons in the middle. It's also very light and rather slim, what makes it very easy to store and carry. The LCD screen is very nice and of good quality too and comes with a screen protector.
While there's no line-out connection as other DAPs of the competition may have, the HM-700 has the upper hand with its own headphone output that can accept both single TRS and, especially, TRRS balanced jacks; a feature that is quite uncommon (and even unseen) for a DAP at this price range, but not so surprising from the Hifiman as the new HM-700 was meant to be used with their TRRS balanced in-ear models, part of the reason it's being sold together with either the new RE-400B version or the excellent sounding RE-600 (and it knows how to make them really shine).
Even though the 32GB internal capacity is quite enough, the exclusion of an expandable memory slot might be considered as an important disadvantage (and possibly a deal breaker for some).
At the moment, the 32GB version is being sold only with the above mentioned RE-400B and RE-600 IEMs, but a 16GB HM700 version can be purchased separately at a lower price.
UI, Firmware and Navigation:
The UI is quite simple: 3 orange buttons in the middle and 4 directions navigation arrow buttons at the lower half part. The orange left and right are for the volume control, while the middle one for Power and Hold. There's no Home/Return button at the current version.
Personally, I find the current firmware a tad slow in response, even compared to the budget/entry-fi Clip+. A bit disappointing but could be easily fixed with feature firmware releases.
Even though the Manual isn't very informative and doesn't get into much detail, the Navigation is pretty intuitive so there's no need to get into details. Just to mention some features, at the main screen we'll find 3 options: 'Browse', for the music and playlist folders; 'Music', for the playback options; 'Settings' for the system adjustments.
As there's no Home/Return button, it's still possible to get back to the main menu by holding the Left arrow button, and back to the 'Now playing', by holding the Right arrow. By holding the Right arrow when navigating on the 'Browse' section will get to the option to Delete either a file or a whole folder. And most importantly, if hold during playback, it will open a new menu with the many extra options, including the EQ, Scan Speed, Info and Delete option as well.
Hiss and Battery:
[NOTE: With the first HM-700 unit I had, hiss and noise were strongly noticed, especially with more sensitive IEMs even during playback. Battery life also seemed quite short. As there were also some charging and compatibility issues, I had it easily replaced for a now well functioning unit.]
The current unit seems to work correctly and the Hiss is barely noticed, so there's practically no need for the Micro-to-TRRS adapter. Battery life also looks more acceptable even though it might take some time to get fully charged.
EQ and Amplification:
The EQ options are separated in two different menus, the 'Select EQ' for presets and 'Setup Sound' for user customizable EQ.
At the current firmware version (1.09) the presets options are quite a disappointment as they show neither serious nor well achieved changes. Hopefully, it'd be improved with future firmware versions.
That said, the custom EQ is another story, and in a whole positive way. Despite having just a 5-Band EQ (at current firm.) it works magically perfect. It's very accurate and natural and shows practically no distortion. Capable of adding a large amount of bass (mid and sub), bring forward the midrange and vocals, and even add or tame down the treble response. Worth of praise, and if Hifiman decide to expand the limited 5-Band EQ, it's be more than excellent.
As for Amplification, I've tried both the Panda Audio Amp-S as a flat/neutral amplifier and the Firestone Fireye HDB for a warm and rich sounding one.
Like I mentioned in the HDB review (link), the HM-700 + HDB wasn't a synergy-wise good match. The HM-700 already carries some warmth and there's no real need to the extra HDB's warmth.
On the other hand, the HM-700 + Amp-S Combo showed better sonic results, adding a bit more of clarity, air and openness, but overall the improvements were minimal to justify the extra amplification.
In short, the HM-700 should not need extra power that it already has, unless driving serious hard to drive headphones.
Hifiman RE-400, Dunu DN-1000, Ubiquo ES703 and ES903, Moe Audio SS-01, Ostry KC06, AudioFly AF56, SoundMagic HP200, Rock-it R-Lite
Balanced TRRS Output IEMs: Hifiman RE-600, RE-400B
Source and Amp: Fireye HDB, Panda Amp-S, Sansa Clip+
Here's where the new Hifiman HM-700 DAP excels, in its sound reproduction. Being a Hifiman product it is no surprise that it features the well known company house's sound signature, well balanced with a hint of warmth.
As usual, the sound will strongly depend on the output in use, but as a general idea, the HM-700 marks a noticeable difference and it's definitely a remarkable upgrade over the budget oriented sources (such as the Sandisk and Apple that I owned or had the chance to audition). And in spite of being classified as a Mid-Fi music player, it has an 'air' of higher-end sources, a peculiar characteristic of Hifiman consumer/affordable oriented products; something that was also found within the RE-400 in-ear model, and the legendary RE-0.
Now, the overall sound itself is rather 'organic' with a very natural character, giving a more realistic and lifelike presentation.
Both ends are evenly well extended. Thus, the sub-bass is much deeper with better presence and rumble. As one should have guessed for a Hifiman product, there's no extra mid/upper-bass lift, but simply a hair of added warmth and fullness towards the lower frequencies. One the one hand, this works great with bassier phones as they won't sound too overwhelming (and less bloated), neither lose its strength, but will obtain a much better control, texture and speed. On the other hand, the HM-700 has a good synergy with both mid-centered and brighter and leaner sounding sets, showing more fullness and better balance and extension.
The midrange has always been a strong point of the Hifiman company products, and the HM-700 is no exception to this rule. The whole midrange is neither recessed nor too forward; just well balanced. Although I do agree that mids lovers might like a stronger midrange presence, it's nothing that cannot be easily fixed with the player current EQ that works wonderfully. The quality is simply excellent; with a high sense of richness and sweetness from lower to higher mids, and the accuracy and separation is definitely worth of praise, and not just considering the DAP price.
Instruments are logically well-positioned and separated without sounding 'too airy', and obviously far from being artificial. Vocals are beautiful, with a better and sweeter texture, and more intelligent. It's quite easier to differentiate between main and background singers. Male singers have better weight and thickness, and upper/female ones sound more delicate and less harsh. Even with brighter tracks and earphones, vocals show nicer control and less annoying peaks and sibilance, yet further extended.
While the HM-700 show great results with vocals oriented headphones (or at least vocal prioritizing ones), don't expect to make a miracle with V-shaped or heavy-bass sets, unless EQ is used.
Mirroring the lows, the highs extend relatively far, and similarly, the mids to highs transition is pretty flat. Here's also where the HM-700 easily marks its difference from both the budget oriented and the popular sources. While those generally present a more artificial, unnatural or even splashy treble, the HM-700 takes a radical change in the treble dept. and achieves a controlled yet present and open treble, more articulated with more delicate and pleasant texture. Sibilance prone ear/headphones will be easier to listen and less fatiguing without losing their strong characteristics.
Finally, the overall detail and accuracy is impressive from the lowest frequencies to highest and micro details become much easier to notice. This was always one of Hifiman's strong points. The detail retrieval is truly impressive, even the highly detailed TWFK drivers based sets, such as the R-50M show noticeable greater detail level that doesn't stop to amaze me. Soundstage as well is nicely improved offering a good intimacy/distant balance.
HDB (w/Clip+) VS HM700: (from the HDB review)
While the HM700 has quite enough power to drive most of my current gear, it's obvious that the HDB is the much more powerful as with the 3 levels of gain is meant to drive even 600ohm headphones. That aside, when it comes to sound signature, the HDB is noticeable warmer and stronger towards the low freq. with a much fuller and wider sound, giving a more "out-of-head" feeling. The HM700 in contrast, has a softer impact and leaner/thinner midrange but also more forward when no EQ is used. Vocals are more frontal and intimate on the HM700, while more even on the HDB. Even though, the Hifiman's EQ works as wonder and can achieve similar effect as the HDB. Still, the HDB will sound more spacious and much bigger with greater dynamic range; it can also be more aggressive (not in an offensive/annoying way). In the treble dept. the HM700 is brighter and more sparkly against the smoother and more rounded FSA HDB.
Rock-It Sounds R-50M: (from the R-50M review)
The Hifiman slightly warm house's sound shows great synergy results with the R-50. Better balance and more natural presentation along with nicer extension and dynamics are easy to notice in this combo. Furthermore, the excellent HM700 custom EQ may add the 'necessary' (and even more) bass quantity, tame down some of the extra highs' brightness, or give some fullness to the midrange and vocals. The most amazing part is that the already hyper detailed TWFK drivers' sound improves even more showing hidden micro-detail that is missing when paired with lower-fi sources.
Despite being a very easy to drive earphone (if not the most sensitive I've tried so far), when plugged to a small DAP like the Clip+, the KC06 wasn't able to show its full performance. This is in-ear shows great improvement with better sources and the HM-700 is no exception. Even with zero equalization the KC06 sounds much more refined with wider stage and noticeable bigger sound overall. Bass reaches deeper and hits stronger and highs extend further and more naturally. Midrange is where this team shines, as the HM-700 gives a nicer and more captivating texture and fuller body to vocals. And if this wasn't enough, the EQ setup of the Hifiman DAP can bring up real strong bass response that some might still miss. In short, a perfect match.
Ostry KC06A: (in progress)
AudioFly AF56: w/EQ
The AF56 is a model that managed to surprise with its huge sound and strong bass response, but the midrange couldn't match against the actual competition. With the HM-700 the low-end gets fairly tighter and better controlled, but there's still some bloat towards the mid bass and the lowest mids. Just for some fun, I tried some equalization, and to my surprise the results were quite impressive to see how good the AF56 model responded to it. It's possible to clean a lot of the bass bloat and step the mids much more forward, keeping the stage dimensions that the AF56 offer, making it a much more enjoyable earphone.
Balanced output: RE-600, RE-400B + EQ
A reason why the HM-700 is sold together with either the RE-600 or the RE-400B models is obviously not only to show how impressive this new Hifiman DAP, but also to demonstrate the huge improvement when these two models are driven in their 'balanced' mode.
While the original regular RE-400 showed very minimal improvements or changes with different sources or amplification, it did scale better with the HM-700.
Compared to the single ended RE-400, the balanced RE-400B sounds, as expected, more 'balanced'. The main and first things to be noticed are the added bass quantities and depth with larger soundstage, more air and even more effortless midrange. Vocals were already too good on the original version for the $99 retail price, and even bested pricier sets in texture and sweetness. Highs are more present and extend further but remain in the smooth and relaxed side. While it wouldn't be fair to compare the HM-700 + RE-400B pack to the much pricier HM-700 + RE-600, it definitely classifies as a 'bang-for-back' as a great player with a great sounding 'bundled' earphone.
RE-600: Songbird at its best!
The last Hifiman in-ear model, the RE-600, it's true to its name, the Songbird. I will get into more details in the RE-600 own dedicated review, but just will mention here how great the RE-600 perform driven in balanced mode through the HM-700. While the single ended RE-600 (with the included TRRS-to-TRS adapter) already shows significant sonic improvements over its much more affordable sibling, it will need the right source to show its true power. The HM-700 is able to take the RE-600 to a total higher level transforming it into a new beast. The soundstage is really huge with an amazing out-of-the-head feeling that's hardly found in the IEMs world, and together with the incredible depth and three-dimensional presentation and resolution and higher speed (which is actually up there with the fastest BA models) makes the RE-600 one of the best IEM out there. Sure, $500 is fairly pricey but it really pays off as one of the best sounding portable equipment.
All-in-all, Hifiman Company has released a great product with a very solid build quality, slim and attractive design, enough 32GB capacity and pretty much perfect sound quality. The Firmware could be easily improved, but it's easy to get used to it. The HM-700 is not sold separately, yet (at least not the 32GB version), the more affordable HM-700 & RE-400 Combo is already a perfect match for the $250 asking price, while the more pricey HM-700 & RE-600 Combo will bring music to a new different realm.