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Digital Audio (FLAC/MP3/etc) Players (DAPs) item created by nightmancometh, Jul 16, 2010
Pros - sound
Cons - build quality - waranty service
SD card slot wouldn't take card after 6 or 7 insertions.
Returned & took Head-Direct 2 months to get me a new one (from China).
New one had same problem with SD card slot breaking.
Requested refund. Also took forever & for some reason only got like 80% refund.
Plus had to pay Paypal fee on refund & of course all the shipping fees.
Was told 801didn't have the same problems...
Pros - SQ, USB DAC
Cons - UI, support, glitchy USB playing
As title said.
I love HM-602 DAC. It beats HDP, Sparrow, Pico DAC/Amp, D10. It does provide musical sound, which is closer to analog, namely to tapes / cassettes. It also does not give up to the DACs mentioned above in summary of technical terms. I mean specific SQ terms, taken by ears, not measurements.
I bear with HM-602 amp. It is good enough to not hassle with most of the portable amps. I compared it with Meier Move, which is one of the best portable amps I tried. Headphones were HD-650, RE262, KDE250, PortaGold and KSC-35km - last two are my deep modded Kosses. Music was various. Move was better in most cases, but not better enough to carry bigger brick around and to worry about batteries. HM-602 sometimes was passable, sometimes had excellent synergy, say with Kosses.
I like the resulting sound. This synergy with Kosses sounds like HiFiMan tried to reproduce 80's portable sound, say Walkman > PortaPros. Well, the mission complete and I respect the results. I grown up on this sound and I always feel myself comfortable with it. It is kinda "Back home, baby. Welcome back to 80s". I am still interested to climb higher on SQ, but HM-602 shows me the right direction now.
I can hardly tolerare HM-602 firmware. Using HM-602 buttons, it is really possible to develop UI same to or better than Sansa Clip UI, which is miles ahead.
I hate HM-602 informational support. I bought $80 Class 10 SD card just to learn it does not work. Customer support replied quickly - yes, it does not work, but Class 4 works. They knew this and they still did not added this info on to official product page at head-direct.com. It is a shame.
So, what is a summary? See my sig. If HM-602 is still there, then it is still a winner, despite its flaws. It presents one of the best combinations of SQ, portability and functionality up to date. It provides the best SQ among all the portable DAPs I tried, including all iPods, all Sansas, some Cowons, Sonys and HiSounds.
I respect what HiFiMan (Fang) does for our hobby. This product is another great long-awaited gear for head-fiers. Unfortunately, there are some major things to improve aside of sound quality. I hope my review will help Fang to make customer satisfaction even better. Some things, like public info on product incompatibilities, a very easy for vendor to improve. At the same time, they are critically important for customers.
Update Feb 20, 2011: I love it, it is incredibly great. It makes portable amps pointless and has a nice synergy with HD650. It is the best player I ever owned and the last I ever will part with...
... until it plays from my laptop USB. Unfortunately, it adds clicking noise. It requires a powered hub to play right. I yet to solve this with a customer support.
Update Sep 23, 2011:
It works well from USB with USB hub, even if no external power is used, just PC > Hub > HM-602. I found small hub and now can use USB with comfort.
I prefer to add Meier Move to amp HM-602, when listening HD650. HM-602 amp is evidently colored, sometime this is for good (with RE272), sometime not (with HD650). Move is much better with HD650.
Pros - Excellent sound quality and portability
Cons - User interface could be improved. Lack of ALAC and gapless playback support.
I am going to take a shot at posting my impressions of the 602. It's been a long time since I've posted a review or impressions of any kind on HF. I took me a long time to realize that reading them was of little value to me in terms of my listening experience. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy reading them and yes, looking at the pics but it's more for a general understanding of the product not for make a purchase decision. I'm fortunate that, for the most part, I can buy most things that I want to try and make a decision on what I'm hearing.
I remember way back, when I first saw and then heard the 801. I was skeptical, to say the least. It was large, was not and iPod, which is all I've used in terms of a DAP since the first 5 GB was released before I discovered HF. I've had more iPods/iPhones then I can remember. I love them, they have this very easy to use interface and I can use all my ALAC music without an issue. Every time I would see Fang at a meet, I made it a point to try out the 801. It was great. There was no question in my mind that from a purely sound quality perspective, it was better than any iPod I had at the time. I even found it better than my iPods with whatever portable amp I had at that particular moment. My discussion with Fang always was about the size and lack of built in storage.
Then comes the 602. So I go to the NYC meet last year and there is Fang with this new smaller portable DAP and I give it a try. I should add that the only headphone I own is the JH13. I do not feel the need for any other headphones although the HE-6 is tempting. I listen to speakers the vast majority of the time I listen to music. Anyway, so I listen to the 602 and the 801 and my comments are the same as the always have been. Still too big and not enough built in storage. At the time, I also felt the 801 was just better than the 602, which I guess was in the early development stages.
Almost a year later, I am contacted by Miguel (mrarroyo) who lives about 30 minutes away from me. He offers up the 801 and and early production (maybe pre-production) 602 for me to try for a while. I take him up on the offer and spend a few days with both players. There is no question that the 801 was better. That early 602 just didn't do it for me. I told Miguel this and he says that I should with hold judgment as my complaint, mostly lack of bass response was being worked on for the production model.
This brings me to my next encounter with the 602. I went to RMAF this year, mostly to check out the speaker rigs. Most of my time at CanJam was to go grab a buddy to hear a pair of speakers. I did find time to say hello to Fang, whom I've known for a long time and consider one of the good people in this hobby. He insists that I sit down and listen to the 602. I tell him about my earlier experience and he say, forget it, just listen. We talk about my qualms about the size (not as big a deal as with the 801) and the lack of storage. He asks what I am using and I show him a 16 GB and my 32 GB iPhone. I realize that the storage thing is really in my own head as 32 GB is plenty of music to carry around, even if lossless. I really enjoy my time with the 602. The bass is deeper than I remembered. It was closer to the 801, which was the basis of my prior comparison. I realize it's pretty light, fits nicely in my pocket. I eventually leave and when I get home, decide to ask Fang to try one out for an extended time, which is happy to do.
I've now had the 602 for at least a month. I've used it for extended listening sessions out back, carried it with my while walking the dog, took it on business trip for a hotel/Starbucks rig and I'm am not going to give it back. Fang, if you read this, just send me a bill and I will settle up with you. The 602 is a perfect match for my JH13. I have two 32 GB SD cards and have only filled one of them so far. I have not found the need to fill the other. I have plenty of music in FLAC but with all the music I have on the not filled 32 GB card.
Now to the sound quality. I'm going to keep this simple. I really like this thing. I have not used any iPods or amps since it has arrived. The sq is better than any other portable experience I've had (I don't consider the 801 portable so not part of this comparison). I've read other say it has some treble roll off and it's a bit colored. As I said earlier, that stuff is generally meaningless to me. There are so many factors that color what others say about audio that I can only speak for myself and do not expect others to rely on what I say for making a purchase. I'm 50 years old, I've been to more live shows then I can remember so I suspect my hearing has suffered although, it's not noticeable to me but I'm sure it's there. Many of you are much younger and very well may be capable of hearing things that I cannot. If it is colored and if the treble is rolled off, then I guess that is what I like. What can I say, I just like the thing. Is it perfect, definitely not but the sq is such that some of the little quirks are not an issue for me.
One other thing I like about it is that I can use it as a stand along DAC. I have been using it in my office rig and it sounds great through my Audioengine A5's. I have an Amarra 4 DAC from Sonic Studios which has been out for repair for the last month or so. When I listen to digital music I have been using the 602 as the DAC. While it is not close to the Amarra 4 it is very good through my speaker rig which consists of a Manley Stingray and Zu Soul Superfly speakers. The 602 has really come in handy for me while my DAC is being repaired.
I could try to throw out some audiophile terms for you all but I don't feel that would be doing any of you a service. You need to listen for yourself and make your own judgments on whether this or any other audio product is for you. My opinion is only that, my opinion. Just one example, at RMAF I looked to listen to a speaker that I heard was just amazing, I had to check them out. They are way more money than I could or would ever spend but I did want to hear what all the fuss was about. I went into the room, expecting to be blown away by these speakers which cost in the many thousands of dollars. They turned out to be some of the worst sound I heard at RMAF. The speakers were YB Acoustics (forget the model). So listen to your ears and make your own decisions.
Pros - Overall Sound Quality over similar devices or rigs. Perfect for IEM users.
Cons - Minimal user interface, no gapless or aiff/alac support
Portable audio is something I've had a love hate relationship with for a long time. Growing up in NY and later working in the 5 boroughs with an hour commute at times the three daily papers, a Walkman and a half dozen tapes made the journey tolerable and sometimes fun. I'd always spent the money to get a good deck and even back then I'd trash the stock earbuds and trow down $50 or so for upgraded headphones. Later I migrated to minidisc and found atrac to sound great. When I joined HeadFi I jumped headfirst into the rabbit hole of portable rigs and had a succession of iPods/Imods, other daps, portable amps and LODs. While I'd gotten decent sound I'd never seriously thought these portable rigs rivaled any of my home set ups.
Before I get started on the HiFiMan 602 let me say I still love my iPhone and iPad and they are great multipurpose devices that perform well in that regard. I did always dislike the rigamarole of the dap, lod, amp and band to keep them all together.
At the LA CanJam in 2009 Fang from HeadDirect showed me the HiFiMan 801. It was a beta and a little buggy but is sounded significantly better than any dap I'd heard. I wasn't ready for a device like that at the time but was impressed at Fang's vision to produce high audio quality portable devices. It takes balls to invest hard earned money into a market flooded with dap solutions. At the most recent RMAF I picked up the 602 after some intense listening at Fangs table. After now a month of listening I am incredibly impressed with this device and believe it delivers on the promise of home rig sonics in a portable device. Now it's not without it's niggles,'ll talk about those as well.
First up I'm an Apple guy and most of my music is in AIFF a format not supported by the HiFiman at this time. So after some transcoding and some HD tracks stuff that originally came in FLAC I was off to the races. On my system loading was slower than say syncing my iPod but not unbearable. Once loaded up I had some good reference tracks that I am familiar with:
John Coltrane A Love Supreme 24/96
Paul McCartney Band On The Run 24/96
Dire Straits Brothers In Arms
Led Zeppelin l
And the recording I made at CanJam of the Michael Arnopol Trio
Here are my thoughts on the sound paired with my JH13s
John Coltrane ALS new HDtracks remaster sounded great, solid bass and the cymbal work on part one acknowledgment was rendered with clarity but not splashy in any way. Overall soundstage is increased and I'm really impressed with the mix of detail without treble spikes.
Paul Macs BOTR showed off the 602 strengths to a greater degree. Bass was rock solid without bloat and great tone. Bass is a weird thing and often I see people on this site value quantity over quality. I prefer taught bass with a line you can easily follow as well as being able to pick up on the pluses use of technique on a particular track. The 602 delivered in spades in this area! Separation was another clear strongpoint, there are multiple guitar tracks on BOTR both acoustic and electric and it was easy to pick apart the instruments in the mix. Let Me Roll it was another fun bass song with it's deep bass line and distorted guitar lines with Paul's vocals doused with liberal reverb.
Moving on to Dire Straits Brothers In Arms, Your Latest Trick. This track is a favorite of mine and short of hearing out of my speaker rig the 602 was a fav as well. There is a nice percussion track on this and it was well rendered by the 602. The track really retains the smokey club atmosphere that I imagine Mark Knofler was going for. Once again it's all about the tone all instruments retained their tone that often gets a whited out feel on my iPad/iPhone with whatever FOTM lod and amp I have at the time. Why Worry showed rich strat tone that I love along with a huge vocal track both are subtle performances that really shine through with the 602.
Pink Floyd The Wall is where the 602 stumbled slightly, not sonically if anything sonically this lp was a favorite with the 602 but lack of gapless plackback hurts the vibe. Sonics were crazy good fat bass and similarly portrayed fat drums on Hey You with great instrument separation. So you get lost in the music while in tracks but are somewhat jolted at songs end given the songs flow together. Its a minor quibble one that I'm sure Fang will address. Holy smokes soundstage on Is There Anybody Out There is wide and layered with the solo acoustic guitar portrayed brilliantly. There is tone in spades on Nobody Home!
Led Zeppelin l Babe I'm Gonna Leave You, great vocal detail picking up Plants breathing and mouth sounds. Once again tone was a strong suit the acoustic guitar tracks were stunning. When the track gets busy it is still easy to pick up the multiple parts going on, although I did find myself really focused on the guitar tracks as they were sounding awesome.
So overall I strongly recommend the 602, particularly for JH owners. I've paired the JH13s up with a lot of gear and short of direct into my Sonic 305 DAC I've not heard better. The amp/DAC combo in the 602 seems to be highly qualified for IEMs and with the JH13s it is a hand in glove fit.
I do wish there was aiff support, gapless support and maybe a smoother user interface but I'm willing to look past there three rather minor quibbles for the LARGE step up the 602 delivered over iPod/amp combos or other stand alone daps I've tried. At $439 for the 602 and $259 for the 601, both using the same TDA 1543 and amp modules it is a no brainer for iem owners that value sonics over GUI. I also really like the single unit aspect with no old or amp tethered with rubber bands.
The 602 has my strongest recommendation and I could easily live with it and my JH13s as my sole music rig.
Pros - Plays 24 bit music, good sound, USB DAC with amp and line out, expandable
Cons - Size, no Apple Lossless support, 8-10 hour battery life
At RMAF 2010 last weekend I picked up a demo HM602 which had been burned in by Fang, and I've put an additional 24 hours on it since Saturday night. Low volume channel balance with the HM 602 is good with sensitive IEM, whether in low or high gain, just like the HM 801 which has enough power for HD800 and yet works great with IEM (and has no gain switch). I have not unpacked my full size phones from RMAF yet, and all my listening was with my best custom IEMs. I typically do not listen to full size phones with a DAP anyway.
GEAR: I did most of my listening with my Westone ES5 custom IEM because they are my best IEM and they can be ruthlessly revealing - I don't miss a thing with them. My JH13Pro have very good detail too, but with a little bit of added low-bass boost, so I tried these IEM at the end as well to look at synergy with all the players involved.
I initially began by comparing the 602 with my 16Gb 5G Nano (headphone out). While they are both a 16Gb DAP, the 602 can be expanded through the SD card slot and the Nano is stuck at 16Gb. The Nano has the advantage of syncing with iTunes, but it can't play 24 bit music like the 602 nor can it function as a USB DAC. I later included the HM 801 which is an upgrade to the 602, and the iPhone 4 which is an upgrade to the 5G Nano. I've always felt the iPhone 3GS/4 were my best sounding iPods, just below my previous 5.5G iMod. But in previous comparisons I felt the 801 beat my iMod as a source, and the built-in amp was very close to my best portable amps. So for the most part I left my amps out of this comparison because my biggest goal was deciding which was the best DAP for portable use, without needing to carry around extra cables and amps. I did do a brief comparison using the Pico Slim because it's my most portable amp, best with my ES5, and closest in timbre and tone to the 801's headphone amp.
MUSIC: I started with a 24/96 FLAC of Jimmy Cobb Quartet "Jazz in the Key of Blue" and Carla Lother "100 Lovers" in 24/96 on the 602, but a 16/44.1 Apple Lossless conversion of the same albums on the Nano, created with MAX on the Mac. It seemed fair to listen to them with the best quality music that they can handle, to extract their best performance possible. I believe the 602 down-samples the 96Khz music to 48Khz, but it does display the music as 24 bit on the display. After my initial listening impressions, I went back and listened to a 320K MP3 rip of Bella Sonus "Enamoured". This can be a bright or sibilant recording that would be good to test the players with a compressed format to see how they handle it, and it also has some very deep bass notes that go as low as approximately 25Hz in the beginning of the first song.
TREBLE: What first came to mind in the comparison is that the 16Gb iPod Nano 5G is a little brighter sounding than the 602. Although neither one seems too bright or too dark to me, the Nano seems slightly crisper but not actually more detailed or speedy. Without the forward or slightly aggressive highs of the Nano, the 602 still has a nice sparkle and shimmer in the cymbals, while the 5G Nano has a slightly harsh bite with the trumpets (although not sibilant or sizzling).
At this point I tried the HM 801 with this same 24/96 music, and I felt that it had slightly more treble presence than the 602, making the 602 sound slightly rounded off or soft in the highs in comparison. The 801 offers the same smooth refined highs with slightly better treble presence. The 801 also offers slightly better transparency and clarity than the 602 which I still preferred over the 5G Nano.
While the treble is where the 602 and 801 differ the most it's not a huge difference, with both being more refined and natural than the 5G Nano which is slightly boosted in the highs (but not too bright and better than my previous 4G Nano). I switched to my iPhone 4 with this same music in 16/44, and I felt the iPhone 4 probably has a similar treble presence to the 5G Nano, but it's more refined sounding and closer to the 801 in that regard. Throughout my listening I never felt the need for more treble with the 602, but it seems to be maybe 1-2 dB below that of the 801 or iPhone 4. My 48 year old hearing starts to roll off at 12.5KHz and is fairly well down at 16Khz, and you'd think that I'd prefer something brighter sounding but I don't, and I suspect that my brain has accommodated for this loss over the years.
MIDRANGE: The 602's mids are also a little fuller, warmer, richer and more life-like than the mids of the 5G Nano, making the 5G Nano's mids seem slightly thinner and slightly distant in comparison. This makes the jazz guitar on the Nano sit a little further in the background than with the 602. But the Nano also renders trumpets and guitars with less body than the 602. Overall the soundstage of the 602 seems slightly more forward than the Nano, due to the mids being more natural and solid. But without having done this comparison I would have never thought to call the 602's mids forward and I'd say they are just right.
The micro-detail, air/ambience and space is still very good with the 602, so I don't lose any of the size of the venue due to a more forward sound and rolled off treble, because I can still hear all the room echos intact with good separation. The listener is moved slightly closer to the stage with the 602, and farther away with the 5G Nano. The iPhone 4 is not as distant nor as forward sounding, but it's the 602 sound-staging that sounds more correct to me, and it comes very close to the 801 in this area. The iPhone 4 is very close to the 602 and 801 in the mids, and it's better than the 5G Nano as well, but it's still not quite up to the level of the 602/801. With iPhone 4 the trumpets and pianos don't carry quite the same weight or presence that they do with the 602/801. Again, there is not a huge difference but it's noticeable between iPhone 4 and the 602/801.
BASS: I also think the 602's bass is slightly more present or full-bodied sounding than the 5G Nano. The 602/801 and iPhone 4 are similar in that regard and they give a little better foundation to instruments like drums or string bass, although the 5G Nano is not lacking in bass nor is the 602 bass heavy in comparison. Typically the bass is one of the things I think the 5G nano does better than its mids or highs. However, the Nano and 602 headphone out still do not go as deep as when I use an LOD with an amp like the Pico Slim. Here I found the 5G Nano and the 602 to both be slightly rolled off at 25Hz, and even more so at 20Hz when comparing them to 31Hz and 40Hz tones (Bink Audio Test CD). The 801 and iPhone 4 were both a little stronger at 20Hz and 25Hz than the Nano or 602, although still not as strong down there as the Slim. So while the 602 bass is slightly fuller with slightly better impact than the Nano, its extension or depth is about the same.
AMPLIFIED: In a brief comparison, adding the Pico Slim amp to any of these DAPs adds more bass extension, and slightly more channel separation, soundstage, air and space. The improvement over the iPod's headphone out was bigger than over the 602/801 headphone out which falls closer to the quality of the Pico Slim. But with the JH13Pro + Slim the bass is boosted a little more than I like for medium to loud volume listening, and I preferred the 602 headphone out with JH13Pro unless listening at lower volumes. The ES5 sounded great with any of these players, but I have to admit that they were still a little better when using the Slim. Again, the 801's and 602's line-out (with jumbo cryo silver X mini-mini) served as a better source to feed the Pico Slim than using any of the iPods with TWag LOD.
For un-amplified listening the 801 is my first choice by a small margin, but the 602 is not far behind as my second choice. Even my old iMod as a source for the Slim didn't have the same sense of space or refinement as the 801, so the iMod is gone now. I suspect that as close as the 602 is to the 801 that it would be ahead of the iMod as a source as well. In this sense the 602 is a bargain compared to a $500 iMod + $300-500 for LOD and amp. The money saved could by a lot of 32Gb SD cards for more music, or a nice set of IEM. I did feel that the Gap between players narrows when using the 602's line-out to the Pico Slim, but the 602 is still a better source. And, I don't feel like I'm missing much at all with using the 602's built-in amp and keeping the package more portable. I would not give up my iPhone 4 for the 602 because I use it for calls, surfing and email; but the 602 offers a better musical experience while saving the iPhone 4's battery for phone calls, web surfing, movies or games.
USB DAC: Unlike the iPhone 4, the 602 can be used as a USB DAC/amp to upgrade your computer's built-in sound. The USB DAC sounds better than the Macbook Pro's built-in output, but it's not as detailed and spacious as my upgraded iBasso D4 or DACport. In the end I feel that both the 602 and 801 sound better listening to music on the SD card than through USB (although the 801's coax input is quite good too). Maybe sometime in the future I will do a more in depth review of the 602 as a USB DAC only, but I don't see that as its primary purpose and I wont be using it that way.
PROS/CONS: As far as Pro's and Con's go, the best thing about the 602 is the great sound, followed by not having to tether it to an amp with an LOD and use a rubber band or velcro to hold everything together. Being able to use small wallwart with a standard single tip instead of the double tip charger of the 801 is another bonus, as it makes it much easier to carry a charger when traveling or to find a car charger for it.
I see the biggest problem with the 602 being the lack of Apple Lossless file support. Most of my lossless music is stored as ALAC, and not FLAC, AIFF or WAV. I do have several 24/96 hi-res downloads that came as FLAC files, and they play great with no modification. In addition to that, I converted my favorite 25-30 albums from ALAC to FLAC for the 801/602. But I'm not happy having to convert another 70Gb (approx 250 albums) from ALAC to FLAC and store it for possible use with the 602/801 later. Plus I have another 250 CDs to rip into iTunes and don't want to do both ALAC and FLAC. However, most of my ALAC music has a second copy stored as a 256-320K MP3 to fit more music into portables with limited memory, and the 602 sounds very good with these lower bit-rate files. So, I'm not locked out of listening to most of my music library, only from listening to most of my lossless music unless I'm willing to put in the time to convert everything once again.
A second con is the 602's size, as it is about as thick as three stacked 5G Nanos, and 1.5x wider - making my 5G Nano + Pico Slim a slightly smaller package. On the other hand, while the 602 is thicker than my iPhone 4 + Pico Slim, it's not as long nor as wide. Still, it will never be as portable for front pants pocket carry as a thin un-amped iPod.
The SD card expansion is nice, because one can add more music without having to carry around a laptop to sync music onto the device. I have three 8Gb SD cards filled with music, which can expand the internal 16Gb with music that wouldn't fit otherwise. The line out using a normal 3.5 mm jack is another plus, because it can be connected to other amps, docks and car connection kits without needing a proprietary dock connector.
SUMMARY: The HM-601 is a respectable portable DAP which provides better performance than the iPods I've tried, and doubles as a USB DAC/amp to upgrade your computer's sound. It's not cheap, but still in the ball park price of an iPod + LOD + amp and offering as good or better performance for the price. Its slightly muted treble extension doesn't take away from the experience for me; but some may not like that aspect of the sound, especially with a rolled-off treble or dark sounding earphone. It has an inviting musical quality which draws me into the performance just a little better than an iPod + amp, although my iPhone + Pico Slim comes close. And it has better synergy with my JH13Pro than my Pico Slim.
* I rated value as a 4.5/5, in that while it sounds better than an iPod + amp costing more money, it's not as versatile as a $229 Touch with $220 iBasso D4 amp for the same price which can also surf the web, email, facetime chat, run apps and play games, etc
** Design, Battery life and User Interface are 3.5/5 for being average.
*** Overall 4.5/5 is for portable gear, where the 801 or desktop rigs would score 5/5 - the high sound quality of 4.5 is more important than the 3.5's in other areas and gave it a higher overall score than the sum of the sub-scores.