HIFIMAN SERENADE

rev92

Reviewer at Ear Fidelity
HiFiMAN Serenade
Pros: Well built and cool design
A beast of an amp
Fantastic DAC
Sound quality is just spectacular
Drives a lot of headphones with authority
Very fair price
Cons: No remote control
Takes a significant amount of space on your desk
No vertical option

Introduction to the HiFiMAN Serenade Review​

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HiFiMAN is one of those companies that don’t need any introduction. It is however worth noting that they’ve been more and more active in the DAC/AMP market section, with devices such as the EF400 and EF600. Both of those are actually really good, and you can read our EF400 review here.
Now, HiFiMAN has released two new devices called the Serenade and Prelude. Today we’re going to review the Serenade, which is a DAC/AMP with streaming capabilities, coming at a very reasonable price of $999.
Having such a vast selection of planar headphones makes it quite logical to enter the DAC and AMP market, as it would be quite attractive for people seeking ultimate synergy. Additionally, many of HiFiMAN’s headphones are known to be hard to drive, especially their legendary Susvara. This also adds a lot of value to their amplifiers, since their power output is well-suited for their headphones.
Today we’re reviewing the Serenade, which seems to sit at the perfect spot regarding its performance and price. Let’s see if it’s worth buying, especially if you’re a HiFiMAN headphones user.

Packaging​

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The Serenade comes in a rather simple box, as HiFiMAN has never been known for its luxurious unboxing quality. At the end of the day, this is a desktop device, so it’s not like we should expect accessories or a display case.
Because of that, the main goal of the packaging here is to ensure the safety of your new device, and it surely does that. Except for the Serenade itself, inside you’ll find a power cord and a USB cable. Everything you need to just plug the Serenade in right after unboxing it.
Since there’s nothing much to talk about here, let’s continue.

Design and Build Quality​

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Here I have more to say. The Serenade is your typical classic DAC/AMP when it comes to its design. I actually love the design of their new EF600, which acts as a headphone stand, and it also saves some space on your desk, which is always welcome.
The serenade is made to be used horizontally though, so do have that in mind if your desk is crowded. The actual build quality is spot-on, the device feels quite substantial and heavy for the size, and the overall fit and finish are both excellent.
I also like the design language here. The Serenade looks stealthy, and classical but modern at the same time. On the front you’ve got your glossy panel that accommodates headphones outputs (4-pin XLR, 6.3mm, and 4.4mm), and a volume knob. It’s easy to use and conveniently located. The volume knob has a smooth, non-clicky action and the action is quite smooth.
However, one thing that I don’t like about it is the lack of volume information on the screen. The volume knob has a small dot printed, but it’s barely visible, especially at night. Because of that, I often turn the volume all the way down to 0 when I’m about to use it, not to risk blowing up my headphones. This could have been designed better in my opinion.
Above the screen, there are buttons to control the device. You’ve got an input selector, an output selector, and a select button which basically is self-explanatory.
The overall design is quite interesting, as the front panel is located in a kind of metal sleeve that hugs it. It looks modern and elegant, and it even has a cutout so it’s easier for you to operate the buttons. The little things.

Tech​

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Now let’s take a brief dive into the tech and the overall usability of the Serenade. First of all, the device turns on rather quickly, and it has a soft turn-off to prevent damaging your headphones, which is always a good thing to have.
The DAC is built around the Himalaya PRO R2R topology, which is something I really like. R2R DACs have that timbre and an effortless sound that is something unique in today’s world of DACs. The Himalaya premiered in the non-pro version and was used in the EF400 for example, which I absolutely loved. Now, the Pro version is even better, basically being 2x standard Himalayas in a single box.
The amplifier section is a class-A amp using FET, and it’s fully discrete. The power output is rated at 4W into 32ohm, and 760mW into 300ohm, both values via the balanced headphones output. This is plenty enough for basically all headphones out there, with very few exceptions.
The Serenade is also a basic streamer that can play the files from your local NAS drive. I ain’t got one, so I’m unable to test this. Also, there’s Bluetooth that supports LDAC and aptX HD. While it shouldn’t be your main music source, it’s a very good feature to have in case you want to stream the music from your phone for example. It will not be the main reason to choose the Serenade over its competitors, but hey…it’s there.
As far as inputs go, you obviously have USB (Type B), coaxial, optical, and LAN. The Serenade can also be used as a standalone balanced DAC or an unbalanced standalone AMP. This basically makes it a do-it-all device, which is even more impressive considering the asking price. Now, let’s see how it sounds…

Sound of the reviewed HiFiMAN Serenade​

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The sound quality is actually the best thing about the Serenade. I could actually just describe it as – fun, and powerful sounding, which is something I was hoping for. You see, we already have a ton of neutral-sounding equipment, it kinda gets boring after some time. The Serenade, just like the name might suggest, is all about music, not about being perfectly neutral and technical.
I like that a lot, it gives that device a soul, an attribute that makes you want to listen to music more, at least it works for me this way. To help me further communicate my opinion on the sound, let’s get into our usual fashion, which is reviewing all the parts of the sound one by one.

let’s start with the bass, which is rich, energetic, and definitely present. It isn’t neutral by any means, just as the entire sound coming out of the Serenade. This DAC/AMP focuses on providing a rich, fun type of experience while also offering a good technical performance.
What’s actually really interesting is that the Serenade pairs exceptionally well with HiFiMAN headphones because of its character. Their headphones aren’t known for their bass, so that kind of frequency response works exceptionally with their cans. Also because of the power output, as the Serenade is a powerful, strong-sounding amp. Once again, HiFiMAN headphones are known to be quite challenging to drive, and the Serenade does that with zero problems.
I actually like that kind of bass response from devices like the Serenade. We have a lot of neutral-sounding devices on the market at this point, I want things that sound different, and that have a character, and the Serenade is definitely one of them. Actually, ever since receiving the Serenade, it’s been my daily driver, sitting on the main place of my desk.
So, everything related to bass is very good here. The texture, the power, control, and attack. It pairs well with both bass-light and bass-heavy headphones, as the quality is clearly there. The bass is not boomy, overly thickened nor just too much. It’s on the heavier side, but still highly impressive when it comes to technicalities.

The midrange is the star of the show here. Mainly because of the R2R DAC and the Class A amplifier, this unit provides highly natural, smooth, and thick-sounding mids that once again – pair exceptionally with HiFiMAN headphones, but not just with them obviously. I actually used it a lot with the new Meze Empyrean II and it also sounded beautiful.
The Serenade works with all kinds of vocals and with every single music genre. Once again, it’s not an overly warm or thick-sounding device, it just has that hint of soul in it, which gives your music that exceptionally pleasing vibe, while also giving you a great sound from the technical point of view.
The amount of details is very good, and so is the resolution. At the same time, the timbre of both instruments and vocals is spot-on, creating a very pleasing and musical experience that is very easy to fall in love with. This is one of those devices that are just easy to listen to, while also easily being audiophile-quality in every single aspect. Of course, it’s more colored than your typical Topping stack, but for me personally, this is more than welcomed.
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The treble is fairly neutral, very open-sounding, and spacious. It provides very good detail reproduction, without being harsh or bright sounding. With the Serenade, you clearly won’t be having issues with your headphones sounding too thin or shouty. This is once again a great pairing with HiFiMAN headphones, as some of them are known to be on the bright side.
Take the Arya for example, which for me personally, is just a bit too much. When paired with the Serenade, they get tamed a bit, enough for me to start enjoying the headphones way more. It also gives them a proper weight to the midrange, which is exactly what I need with this specific headphone.
Of course, this is not the most detailed nor the fastest-sounding DAC/AMP on the market, even in its price category. But, at the same time, while not being far from it, it also provides a rich, musical sound that just works great with everything. A true definition of a do-it-all device.

The soundstage is airy and spacious and it has great imaging and separation. I somewhat have a feeling that the soundstage is the aspect of the sound that got the least competitive lately, as most good DACs and AMPs offer good staging capabilities. This is obviously no different with the Serenade, as it gives you a natural, spacious type of sound that simply works.
I’ve also been using the Serenade in gaming and the soundstage never misled me when it comes to imaging. Everything is very accurate and three-dimensional.

Comparisons​


HiFiMAN EF600
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While these two devices sound quite similar on the first try, the Serenade is simply an upgraded version of the EF600, which is at the same time an upgraded version of the EF400.
The Serenade sounds more powerful, thicker, and more polished and elegant. The Ef600 is a powerhouse on its own, don’t get me wrong, but the Serenade is simply even better. It is also more expensive, so this was to be expected.
However, the design of the EF600 makes it even more functional when it comes to the on-the-desk use scenario. It takes less space, and it also works as a headphone stand as well, which is a superb design choice for me personally. I wish more manufacturers would go that way and give us devices like that.
Overall, you can’t go wrong with both. The Serenade is an upgrade, but it also costs more, so just pick your poison. It also drives hard-to-drive headphones like the Susvara better, so if you’re using some power-hungry headphones, the Serenade will be a better choice for you.

EarMen Tradutto + EarMen CH-Amp
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The EarMen stack has been my daily driver for a long time, as it offers great functionality, a small form factor, and a great, natural, and balanced sound.,
However, the Serenade sounds more fun, while also being natural. Its sound is thicker, more engaging, bigger and there’s more meat to the bone. By no means the EarMen stack is bad in those categories, but the Serande simply takes it a step further.
The power output is also significantly better on the Serenade. It drives the Erzetich Charybdis and HiFiMAN Susvara much better than the CH-Amp does, so it’s also worth noting for those who are looking for a powerful amp.

Pairings​

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HiFiMAN Susvara
Let’s get right into it – the Serenade doesn’t squeeze everything from the almighty Susvara. It’s not their full potential, but at the same time, it’s close enough, considering the price of the Serenade.
This setup sounds natural, engaging, and insanely detailed. What it lacks compared to a full-potential Susvara is mainly the slam, dynamics, and attack. It’s not a surprise, as to unleash the full potential of the HiFiMAN flagship, you really need a BEAST of an amplifier to do so.
However, if you don’t have an unlimited money glitch in real life, the Serenade is a very good choice for driving the Susvara on “a budget”. The tonality suits the Susvara fantastically, the sound is simply musical and very accurate, and you won’t have feelings like you’re really missing on anything…as long as you don’t try some top-tier, 5k USD+ amplifiers.
Overall, I actually think the Serenade is the best choice for the Susvara in its price category, at least from the devices I’ve tested. It might seem logical, as this is the same brand standing behind both devices, but we all know it’s not really the case in most situations.

Erzetich Charybdis
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Another pairing is Serenade with the Erzetich Charybdis. The Slovenian flagship is an interesting case, as it’s not a wildly demanding headphone, but it scales incredibly well. Here comes the Serenade, which pairs exceptionally well with the Charybdis.
It gives them that raw power, timbre, and richness that makes them sound wonderful. The Serenade is a very capable device that makes the Charybdis sing. What’s very impressive is that it does it while costing less than a third of the price of the headphones.
This setup definitely puts music on the nr1 spot. It sounds rich, musical, accurate, and very detailed, while most importantly being fun to listen to.
Ever since I got the Serenade, this pairing has been one of my go-to for months now. A beautiful blend of technical capabilities and a timbre to die for.

HiFiMAN Serenade – summary​

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Let’s get straight to the point here – the HiFiMAN Serenade is an incredibly capable DAC/AMP that is priced more than fairly.
An R2R DAC together with a class A amplifier that is able to output up to 4W at 32 Ohm at such a price is an achievement on its own. Additionally, this device sounds nowhere close to its asking price.
HiFiMAN truly made a fantastic device with the Serenade, and it’s now my nr.1 recommendation for a DAC/AMP in the $1000 budget. Spectacular!

Wildly recommended!


Big thanks to HiFiMAN for providing us with the Serenade for this review. I wasn’t paid or asked to say anything good or bad about this product, all of the above is just my personal, unbiased opinion.
babarrun
babarrun
Any thoughts on pairing it with an expanse?

Ichos

Reviewer at hxosplus
Serenade me
Pros: + Extremely musical and engaging
+ Natural and organic timbre
+ Strong technicalities
+ Liquidity and smoothness
+ Weighty and visceral presentation
+ Immersive and holographic soundstage
+ Powerful headphone amplifier
+ LAN streaming
+ Excellent as a DAC/preamplifier
+ Analog line input
+ Elegant and beautiful looking
+ Desktop friendly size
+ Stellar build quality
Cons: - Bluetooth connectivity only for the Chinese market
- No gain settings
- Not that suitable for sensitive earphones
- Wired only streaming
- No remote control
- Power switch at the back
- Top sampling rates are limited to the LAN input
- No dedicated streaming application
Intro

Goldenwave is a boutique audio manufacturer from China that was recently bought by HIFIMAN. The first two products born out of this collaboration are the Prelude headphone amplifier and the Serenade DAC/amp. The Prelude used to be a DAC/amp when it was produced under the Goldenwave brand name but now HIFIMAN has stripped it out of its DAC, offering it as a standalone headphone amplifier and kept the Serenade as the DAC/amp combo unit.

When the Serenade was produced by Goldenwave it featured a ES9038PRO DAC chip that is now substituted with HIFIMAN’s own HYMALAYA PRO R2R DAC module.

Technical stuff

The HYMALAYA PRO R2R DAC is a small module that consists of several 0.01% precision resistors and supports a new FPGA algorithm. The Serenade uses two such modules in a balanced implementation and HIFIMAN claims that it has a performance equivalent to two PCM1704K balanced connections with a measured performance that surpasses that of the legendary PCM1704.

The Serenade uses a discrete components LPF analog circuit without coupling capacitors in the signal path. The Class A, fully balanced, headphone amplifier is made with precisely matched transistors and is based on the circuit of the Prelude headphone amplifier.

HIFIMAN knows that clean power is the mother of audio so they have designed an internal, linear power supply that is based on a 50W toroidal transformer which has an iron core and oxygen-free copper windings. The power supply has nearly 30.000 microfarads of total capacitance and features multiple, low-noise, high speed voltage regulators.

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Non Audio stuff

HIFIMAN Serenade supports traditional USB, optical and coaxial digital inputs as well as streaming media through a wired LAN connection. The USB input uses a separate XMOS XU316 receiver and supports up to 384kHz/32bit PCM and DSD256 while the SPDIF inputs are limited to 192kHz/32bit PCM and DSD64. The LAN wired network further surpasses the USB input to support 768kHz/32bit and DSD512.

An RCA single-ended line level input is also included so you can use the Serenade as a standalone headphone amplifier or preamplifier for an external analog source like a phono.

Analog outputs include both XLR balanced and RCA single-ended while the headphone amplifier offers 4-pin XLR and 4.4mm balanced as well as 6.35mm single-ended outputs.

The HIFIMAN Serenade includes a great variety of inputs and outputs to cover multiple usage scenarios and the only thing really missing is WiFi wireless connectivity for the streamer and maybe a balanced XLR analog input. A version with a Bluetooth module that supports LDAC level reception is only available for the Chinese market.

The whole chassis of the Serenade is made from solid CNC machined aluminum alloy that has a smooth black finish and features an elegant design with rounded corners and curved edges. The front panel has a glass faceplate insert that looks very attractive and houses a small LCD screen that is positioned just before the volume control knob.

The Serenade combines compact size with a low profile so it can fit virtually anywhere, be it your desktop or a HiFi rack. This is a sturdy and exceptionally well made device that weighs a whole 3.9kg. The Serenade together with the Prelude are the best made and assembled HIFIMAN devices I have tested so far.

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Operation stuff

Operation is easy and straightforward, the Serenade has three buttons at the top part of the faceplate that are used to perform the various operations. The left one is to cycle through all the available inputs. With the center button you can enter a sub-menu with the options to set LCD brightness and select whether the steaming board power supply will be always on or not. The right button will cycle the output options between headphone amplifier, preamplifier or DAC. The screen will clearly display all settings and input sampling rate.

The power switch is located at the back and since there is no standby button at the front you must reach for the switch every time you have to power on/off the device.

The HIFIMAN Serenade features an embedded network streamer with the option to switch it off when not in use in order to minimize EMI. This is a wired only board without support for wireless connectivity. The device is plug 'n play, the only thing you have to do is to plug a LAN cable and start steaming.

There is no dedicated application so you must rely on third party apps, like the well known BubbleUPnP, in order to access streaming services or your music library through network attached drives. Not much of an issue though since this is the best streaming application available in the market and is very cheap to buy the premium version. The Serenade also supports Tidal connect and it doesn't have a USB port for attaching memory sticks or hard drives.

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Power and gear stuff

The headphone amplifier of the Serenade is powerful and can do 4W/32Ω or 760mW/300Ω from its balanced output. Even the single ended output is powerful enough and can do 2.8W/32Ω or 510mW/32Ω. The Serenade can effortlessly power the HIFIMAN Susvara and high impedance headphones like the Sennheiser HD8XX with plenty of headroom and excellent dynamics. With the Susvara, I never needed to go past the middle of the volume knob.

Noise floor is low and not audible unless you plug in some really sensitive earphones like the FiiO FX15 or headphones like the Aune AR5000. With such loads there is also the risk of getting loud too early because the amplifier doesn't have a low gain setting. There is a workaround though, you can always use the iFi iEMatch which helps to enjoy the sonic qualities of the Serenade with your favorite sensitive earphones as it effectively vanishes noise and allows for a wider range of volume adjustment.

As per usual practice the HIFIMAN Serenade was left playing music for more than 100 hours before listening evaluation. Power, USB and headphone cables are all made by Lavricables.

A caveat

The LAN streamer of the Serenade is a little better sounding than all the other digital inputs, USB included. And I am not talking about the maximum bit rate support, which is higher on the LAN, but I am rather referring to actual sound quality differences when comparing the exact same track through all the digital inputs. Plain and simple, the LAN just slightly surpasses in audio performance all the other inputs and this is the one that must be utilized in order to get the most out of the HIFIMAN Serenade.

Audio stuff

Reading all these technical mumbo jumbo about the HIFIMAN Serenade using R2R DAC modules and discrete audio circuits with transistors and all that stuff made me have great expectations about the audio performance. I was expecting something different sounding than the usual D/S & THX combo units that are flooding the market and I was proven right.

You don't need to listen to more than a couple of favorite tracks to get acquainted with the Serenade and become familiar with its special sound characteristics and the philosophy that hides behind the tuning concept. The Serenade belongs to the rarely found specimens of audio devices that are specifically designed and tuned to sound as natural and musical as possible. Timbre gets the lion's share and technicalities follow suit to support by adding the necessary technical performance a modern audio device should have to stay competitive.

What the Serenade does extremely well is to transform digital streams into real sounding music by recreating and communicating the soul and the atmosphere that are captured inside the recording, connecting the listener with the music. The Serenade has all the necessary means to reproduce instruments and voices with the utmost realism and exceptionally natural timbre, an euphonic and organic sound that is full of colorful harmonies and rich overtones. Furthermore, digital glare and artificiality are banned forever, the treble is free of metallic artifacts and any kind of sharpness or coarseness.

This is a smooth sounding device that doesn't induce listening fatigue while it manages to stay vibrant and energetic enough. Detail retrieval is realized in such a way to let the finest particles naturally emerge from the depths of the recording and gather together to help form the whole picture. The Serenade is not made for analytical listening and has long parted from sterility and clinically driven manners.

This kind of sound shaping doesn't mean that the HIFIMAN Serenade is deliberately adding some kind of extra coloration that is not already present on the source material or manipulating the frequency response of both the DAC and the amplifier. Linearity and neutrality are respected, the sound is not lacking in transparency and overall clarity from the bottom to the top. Resolution and definition are very competitive and not less from what someone would expect for the category. The textures are rich and juicy, from the weighty and visceral low-end, to the lush and fluidious mid-range, up to the liquid-smooth treble. Bass technicalities are really great, it is speedy but not too fast, tight and controlled with plenty of physical impact and good layering. You can definitely find faster sounding and more controlled bass, with greater dynamic impact and even better layering (if that is what you seek) but as a whole, the Serenade offers a nicely balanced low-end that sounds effortlessly natural.

The Serenade shines when it comes to the soundstage and the way it gets recreated by becoming multi-dimensional and holographic. This is not only a spacious and open sounding audio device but furthermore it offers gobs of depth layering and ambient information. Imaging and separation are very good but not class leading, some of the competition, like say the FiiO K9 PRO ESS, can do better than the Serenade. But in the end, what really sets it apart from the competition is its unique way to sound atmospheric , grandiose and speaker-like. Listening to large scale classical music, with headphones like the Meze Elite and the HIFIMAN Susvara, is an unmatched experience.

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Treat me like a DAC

Except for headphone listening I have also tested the DAC output of the HIFIMAN Serenade in a 2-channel speaker system that consists of the Audio Physic Spark speakers and the Lab 12 integre4 MK2 integrated amplifier in an acoustically treated room.

In this section I am not going to describe the sound performance of the DAC because it is nearly identical to that of the balanced headphone output as discussed above. What I want to do is to emphasize how good sounding and competitive is the DAC portion of the Serenade. You can buy the Serenade as a standalone DAC/streamer and completely ignore the headphone output if you don't need it.

The Serenade is just excellent as a standalone R2R DAC and can do justice to many 2-channel speaker systems. The overall sound signature and sonic performance reminds me a lot of the Gustard DAC R26 that I have reviewed in the past or maybe the Denafrips Pontus II. Yes, that good is the Serenade as a DAC and it gets my highest recommendation if you are after a mid-range R2R DAC with the added bonus of the embedded streamer.

Comparison with the FiiO K9 PRO ESS

(sound only comparison)

The K9 PRO ESS is more neutral and transparent, an audio device that is more absent rather than present. Technicalities are of higher quality but the sound signature is slightly more sterile and drier when compared to the warmer and smoother sounding Serenade. The K9 PRO ESS is cleaner and more energetic, with better overall definition and offers a more analytical view into the recording but it is also flatter and not as dimensional and atmospheric as the Serenade. The bass on the K9 PRO ESS is more impactful, faster and tighter but not as rich and visceral as on the HIFIMAN Serenade which has also the ability to sound more organic and natural than the K9 PRO ESS which additionally is not devoid of some digital glare and artificiality.

Conclusion

The HIFIMAN Serenade is an all-in-one audio device where all outputs are equally treated and offer the same kind of sonic performance without compromises. You can consider the Serenade both as a powerful DAC/amp for your headphones or as a DAC/preamplifier for a 2-channel speaker system and treat the embedded streamer as a nice gift. Whichever the use scenario might be, you are going to be rewarded with a very musical and organic sound signature backed by strong technicalities.

I consider the Serenade as the best sounding and well made audio device HIFIMAN has made thus far and has rightfully become an indivisible part of my reference systems both for headphones and speakers listening alike. The HIFIMAN Serenade earns my warmest recommendation and it is an audio device that you must definitely audition if you value timbre realism and lifelike musicality.

The review sample was kindly provided free of charge.

The price of the HIFIMAN Serenade is $999 (€1139) and you can buy it from the HIFIMAN store.

A deluxe version of the review with more photos is available in my website.
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493756
Using the spdif coax compared to Schiit Bitcrost 2/64. Which might sound better? For only the dac portion.
Ichos
Ichos
@tylerindianapolis , I can't help because I don't have the Bifrost. The DAC portion of the Serenade is really good but I don't know how they compare. Maybe someone else can help.
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Niklas Oldemeier

New Head-Fier
A Serenade by Hifiman
Pros: Smooth and natural sound
Attractive build
Good connectivity
Competitive price
Cons: Front panel is easy to scratch
Inefficient headphones might need more power
I’ve had the pleasure of owning Hifiman’s new balanced Dac/Amp, the Goldenwave Serenade, for a couple of months. It’s quite an aesthetic build and the minimalist black casing gives a reassuringly solid feel. All the connectivity options one might require are snugly packed onto the back of the unit, including balanced and unbalanced outputs. For my listening, I’ve connected the unit to a MacBook Pro using Wireworld’s Supernova optical Toslink-3.5mm cable – an expensive option, but worth it for the noticeable improvement in sound.

On the front panel we have XLR and 4.4mm Pentacon balanced outputs as well as the standard unbalanced 6.35mm stereo plug. I had fun using two outputs simultaneously, connecting my Hifiman Arya Organic and Sennheiser HD650 via XLR and 6.35mm respectively, using high-quality OCC copper cables by GAGACOCC for both.

Both headphones sound great with the Serenade, but what struck me first of all was the volume difference between the two – comfortable listening on the Sennheisers being around 12 o’clock and 10-11 o’clock on the Arya. The HD650 is meant to be quite an efficient headphone so it goes to show just how easy to drive Hifiman’s more recent headphones really are.

The serenade has a very enjoyable sound signature which reminds of a tube-amp warmth and fluidity. Transient and airy sounds are just fantastic with the Arya; there’s a real tangible feel to experimental electronic music by artists such as Bernard Parmegiani and Autechre. On some brighter recordings, I did feel the treble was too much and found myself switching to the HD650. The sibilance on Anderson .Paak’s vocals in Oxnard was much easier to bear with the Sennheisers and the silky smooth delivery of bassline and back-up vocals had me tapping my foot. The Serenade is excellent with dynamics so your pop and rock will really have the rhythmic kick to give it that fun factor.

While the Serenade brings the best musicality and smoothness out of the HD650s, the Arya’s hyper-detailed sound can be fully enjoyed too. I perceived sounds in some recordings I had no idea even existed before, and found it hard stop listening to very well-edited albums such as Radiohead’s King of Limbs. There’s a three-dimensionality in tracks such as Bloom or Codex where subtle editing and stereo effects in background electronics would be totally lost with headphones not capable of such resolution (probably in part due to the Arya’s remarkable treble extension, up to 65khz). This doesn’t mean the sound is clinical – there’s a very pleasing feeling that the instruments are floating naturally in a holographic picture, with an aforementioned tube-like effortlessness that my Chord Mojo doesn’t even come close to. The Arya’s wide soundstage is also brought out very nicely, and they can perform the ‘disappearing act’ headphone enthusiasts yearn for, in a way that the HD650, for all its excellent qualities, isn’t quite capable of.

Easily one of my favourite things about listening to music with the Serenade, is the loving way instrumental sounds are presented, particularly stringed instruments such as guitar - I especially enjoyed listening to Ravi Rhankar's Sitar playing. Without wishing to get too poetic, it genuinely feels as as if the instruments were smiling, enjoying the proper presentation of their textures and dynamic range.


To sum-up, the Serenade is clearly a very capable unit and delivers an excellent price to performance ratio. The sound is controlled and authoritative but nonetheless feels liquid and natural, with a three-dimensionality and tangibility that can be quite addictive! I’d absolutely recommend giving it a try with your favourite headphones.
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