REVIEW: HiFiman HM-601
Nov 21, 2010 at 12:45 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 1,534


Co-Organizer for Can Jam '09
Member of the Trade: Paradox
Dec 6, 2004
As always, these are strictly my opinions.​
I try to present these products as honestly as possible and try to describe them as best as possible.​
As always, YMMV.​
The Hifiman HM-601
·         D/A Chip: TDA1543
·         Freqency Response: 20-20K Hz
·         Distortion: 0.09
·         S/N: 92 DB
·         Stereo crosstalk74 DB (Lineout)
·         Headphone Amplifier
        Output level: 1.1v at 32 Ohm; 2.2v at 150 Ohm
        Max Output: 30mw at 32 Ohm; 26mw at 150 Ohm
·       Size: 62mm*103mm*26.5mm or 2.4 * 4.05 * 1.04 Inch
·         Weight: About 200g / 7Oz
·         On board Flash: 2 GB
·         Battery time: 9 to 10 Hrs
·         I / O: Headphone Output; Line Output; USB Data Exchange; SD card (up to 32GB)
·         Includes cleaning cloth, USB Cable, AC Adapter and Cloth pouch.


I have been getting requests to compare all types of IEM’s to the DBA-02. One of the many, many requests I have been getting is to compare it to the Hifiman RE-252. When I get these requests, the first thing I do is ask my friends if they own a pair so I can borrow them. If this is not possible, then I usually try to demo them at a store or ask a manufacturer for a demo pair. In this case, I had to resort to contacting the manufacturer and my request was DENIED! The good news is that instead of the RE-252, Fang was kind enough to send me a newer IEM, the RE-262.  After sending me the RE-262, Fang informed me that he would also be sending me a new HiFiman player to review! True to his word, I received the HM-601 after a few days. I would personally like to thank Fang for sending me the sample HM-601 which I have here now.
1. Paul Simon – You Can Call Me Al from the album “Graceland”  
2. Paul Simon – Homeless from the album “Graceland” 
3. Nat King Cole – Stardust from the DCC release of “Love Is The Thing” 
4. Danny Elfman – This is Halloween from the soundtrack “Nightmare Before Christmas”
5. Absolute Silence – custom demo track made by myself.
6. Bach – Solo Cello Suites from the Mercury Living Presence release feat. Janos Starker
7. Ella Fitzgerald – Sweet & Lovely from the album “Sings Sweet Songs For Swingers”
8. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication & Scar Tissue from the album “Californication”
9. Lady Gaga – Poker Face from the album “The Fame”
10. Gnarls Barkley – Crazy
Mozart – Requiem (SCO, Mackerras) Studio Master 24/96
Beethoven - Piano Concertos 3, 4 & 5 (SCO, Mackerras) Studio Master 24/96
Binaural Recordings Studio Masters 24/48 & 24/96
You only need to read past reviews of mine to know why I use the above listed tracks for auditioning equipment. It’s not the only music I use but it’s easily available and sounds fantastic (except for the Red Hot Chili Peppers) without any further tweaking.
The high resolution files used for this review are available publicly except for the Binaural recordings which I have done myself. No tweaking was
done to the publicly available recordings.

The HiFiMan HM-601 is significantly smaller than the huge HM-801. It appears to have the same dimensions as the HM-602. It’s about the same height as an iPod but is about twice as thick.
All in all, the player remains light and easy to carry. I really like the silver on black color scheme. I think it makes the player look very classy and it definitely stands out from the rest of isheep type of players.
Those who have used or read reviews about the other HiFiman DAP’s, the HM-801 and HM-602, should be familiar with the menu, firmware and other such details so I won’t go into them that much. The three slide buttons on the front are for power, hold and mute.
I found the HiFiman HM-601 to be rather intuitive and easy to use. However, you have to keep in mind that I have played with a HM-801 before so I was relatively familiar with how to use a HiFiman HM-601.

What first caught my attention with regards to the Hifiman HM-601 was that it uses new old stock TDA1543 chip as its DAC. Many well regarded and expensive DAC’s and CD players have used these chips and they are well regarded by many DIY enthusiasts.
Surely there must be a better, more modern chip! Well….that depends on your definition of better…..
Many, many people regard these old chips as among the best that were ever made. Others feel that they have been replaced by chips providing better specs. How does the TDA1543 chip sound in the Hifiman HM-601? Let’s dive in…..

The TDA1543 DAC sounds great! But there is a catch…more on that later….
The sound of the HiFiman HM-601 is musical to say the least. It’s not an accurate player and doesn’t come close at providing a neutral signal free from coloration. However, the coloration it does have is wonderful. This is the type of coloration you WANT if you are looking for a musical sounding DAP.  Much like vintage gear is idolized for the good distortions added to the music, so I see why so many love the HiFiman DAP’s.
The sound is warm, lush and smooth. While not 100% neutral or natural, it still sounds life-like. The sound is reminiscent of the early high-end CD players which are cherished by many music fans and audiophiles.
Vocals sound amazing, especially when paired with the HiFiman RE-262 or the Fischer Audio DBA-02’s with the HiFiMan RE-262 edging out the DBA-02’s with this player. That should be no surprise as they are from the same company. Call it synergy if you will. I played some Ladysmith Black Mambazo and some Cantus and the sound coming out from my IEM’s was just pure bliss. Warm, intimate and life-like.
I continued to play various CD-rez music files from all genres and time and time again, the sound was warm and pleasant. The HiFiman HM-601 is also a forgiving player, hiding some of the artifacts present in bad recordings like in some of the tracks from Californication and a host of other poor sounding sources I have.
All in all, CD-rez files sounded fantastic and I have yet to be displeased by any track I have thrown at it. It might not be the most accurate player out there but it is one of the most musical players I have ever heard.

This is the gray area….the part that I didn’t like. As I mentioned above, the CD quality music did sound awesome. However, every single high resolution file I played on the HM-601 sounded significantly worse than on any other player. There was distortion present on low gain, on high gain and on the line-out. The problem was present on any file with a resolution higher than 16/44.1!
For a premium, high-end product, this was disappointing. This might be due to the NOS DAC or it might be a firmware problem….who knows….but make no mistake…there is distortion being added to the music. The solution…..
Well, after putting my nose to the grindstone, I found out why the hi-rez stuff sounded so bad….the EQ was on! Apparently the EQ was causing the music to distort, even though the EQ was set to 0 on all the bands. This is something that needs to be fixed but for now, it’s easy to just go to the main menu and turn off the EQ for good.
Interestingly enough, I never turned on the EQ, so if you get your HiFiman and it sounds funny, be sure to check that the EQ is completely off. It makes a world of difference and IMHO, the EQ shouldn’t even be used at all with this player.
After turning off the EQ, 24/48 files sounded very good, as good, if not better than normal resolution files. 24/96 still produced some audible hiss and distortion but I doubt many people will be able to hear the distortion and the hiss is normal in other players that downsample 24/96 as well.
In short, I was very satisfied with the way the HM-601 was able to handle high resolution files. Musical sound was present all throughout my listening sessions.
If you have hi-rez track from HDTracks or other download sites, I would recommend you downsample your 24/96 files and higher down to 24/48 for best compatibility with the HM-601. It wouldn’t be super hi-rez but it will still be better than 16/44.1!!!!
Everybody here knows that I love a natural, non-colored presentation to my music. It’s the mastering engineer in me. However, when coloration sounds this good…it’s hard to argue against it. Tube equipment, especially vintage equipment, measures very poorly by modern day standards, yet it makes music sound soooo good! Many engineers know that audiophiles hate neutral/natural sound and it’s not hard to hear why a little coloration beats out neutral/natural with most listeners.
The HiFiman HM-601, or for that matter, all of the HiFiman products I have tried, make no illusion of what they want to be and for who they are made. These are hardcore products made for music loving audiophiles. They aren’t flashy and don’t want to be the next iPod or iBuds. These are products which many music fans will find delightful and will find themselves reaching for time and time again.
The main question you have to ask yourselves is whether you want a neutral/natural sounding player like the Clip+ or a colored musical player like the HM-601. But WAIT….the Clip+ sounds great and is under $100 while the HM-601 costs more than double the amount and takes up more than double the real estate! Well…consider the following…a similar sounding CD player to HM-601 will easily run you over $500. I know because a friend of mine owns one and he paid $900 for his CD player. It is bulky, old, not even remotely portable but it is very musical. The choice of musicality versus transparency is one YOU must make and depends on your individual preferences. Keep in mind that an HM-601 is still cheaper than an iPod + LO Dock + Amp and still sounds better than any iPod combination IMHO.
My friend with the CD player absolutely loved the presentation of the HM-601 with the RE-262’s and found the price to be a bargain considering the sound quality it put out. This is coming from a fellow mastering engineer. My father felt that all of his mp3’s sounded wonderful through the HM-601 and was convincing me to leave it for a few days….something I just couldn’t do. My wife wasn’t charmed by the players looks but felt it sounded very nice with any music she played on it.
In the end, all of the people who heard the HM-601 thought it sounded very nice. I had reactions of smiles, closed eyes and sheer joy. I am sure many of you here will agree that the HiFiman HM-601 sounds extremely pleasing. Not a single person complained about the sound of the HiFiman HM-601. The bass is warm and full, the mids are lush and colorful and the highs have a very pleasing roll-off.
What the HiFiman HM-601 does, it does extremely well. It’s musical and all types of genres sound fantastic on it. The headphone out is powerful enough to power some of the most power hungry headphones out there and the line out allows for even more flexibility should one need it. If you have been lusting after a HiFiman DAP but don’t need a soundcard DAC or don’t have the money for the more expensive ones, the HM-601 might be the right HiFiman for you.
You’re not paying for artwork display, you’re not paying for great looks or ultimate portability…you’re paying for a high end product that produces a very specific sound signature with plenty of tone and body that many, many people will find extremely pleasing. I know many an audiophile who has spent thousands trying to find a system with this type of sound signature. Despite the fact that I KNOW it’s not an accurate player, I can’t help but smile and enjoy all types of music on this player. I’ll say it once again…the HiFiman HM-601 produces a very pleasing sound signature that can become very addicting.
The only annoying problem I had with the HiFiman HM-601 is how it handles CUE sheets. It’s not a big deal for those of you who use individual tracks but those who do use CUE sheets…you’re in for a slight disappointment with the HiFiman HM-601. Why? Well, the player always cues up the first track perfectly fine but every track after the first one is off! It will cue it up either a few seconds before the track starts or in some rare instances, a few seconds after it starts.
I know it’s not the cue sheets because they work fine on my laptop, my mastering rig, with EAC, with Foobar, with my iPod, with my Fuze and with my Clip+. I am sure this must be a firmware issue but it is a real annoying issue if you only use files with cue sheets.
The last, albeit minor quibble I have with the HM-601 is that it only has 2GB onboard flash. That means you can fit only 2 hi-rez albums on there if you are lucky. Obviously, you can fit more than 2 standard CD-rez albums but I still wish it had at least 8GB of onboard memory.
Overall, very minor quibbles for such a great sounding musical player. I don’t know what the measurements on the HM-601 are but I am almost 100% that it has some roll-off in the high end and some phase inaccuracies. This might be what gives it its pleasing sound. In the end we don’t listen to measurements, we listen to music and if you like all your music to sound warm and musical then the HiFiman HM-601 is for you. You’re not paying for the ultimate flashy player but rather you’re paying for a highly musical portable player that removes all hints of digital harshness and digital reality to produce a more life-like, coherent and forgiving musical scene. If you are not a mastering engineer with a multi-thousand dollar set-up with the skills to fix music, the HM-601 will be worth its weight in gold.
EDIT: For a nice overview of that special sound signature that the 601 has, please see THIS POST.

Nov 21, 2010 at 1:14 AM Post #3 of 1,534
Nice write up. Sounds how i feel about my HM602. I'm listening to it right now, it just keeps drawing me back in, LO in the car, LO to stereo at home, DAC at work, HO on the bus i can't put it away.
Is there a cleaner version of the Californication album anywhere? i like the album but the quality makes me cringe.
Edit: the storage size is a pain even the 16gig on mine fills up so quick, might have to buy a couple of 32gb cards but worth it imo.
Nov 21, 2010 at 4:10 AM Post #8 of 1,534
It has a nicer look than the 602 and supposedly better bass extension and a lower price.
Too bad it only has 2gb of memory inboard, which is very disappointing and far too little. Should've had at least 8gb imo. 
Nov 21, 2010 at 4:26 AM Post #9 of 1,534
Great review LFF-I just pulled the trigger on a Hifiman HM601, I am hoping I will notice a SQ improvement over my Sony NWZ-A816 which has been a great DAP.
I am assuming that the HM601 is drag and drop Windows compatible?
Nov 21, 2010 at 4:43 AM Post #10 of 1,534
Nov 21, 2010 at 6:38 AM Post #13 of 1,534

oh and how's the soundstage?
one thing i hate about my fuze and clip is the tiny soundstage compared to sound cards..

The soundstage is slightly wider than the Clip+. Huge if you use something like the Silver Bullets or RE-262.
Nov 21, 2010 at 7:01 AM Post #14 of 1,534
Couldn't agree more with nearly every comment you made in that review. A truly musical player that keeps you coming back for more. 
Fang is certainly onto something with his HiFiMan line... it's not for everyone - sure, but for those that don't want to listen to graphs and specs, this player keeps a smile on your face and your foot tapping all the way home. 
I alo much prefer the silver/black colour combination rather than the gold on the HM-602. I'm tempted by this player, even though I probably don't need it.
Nov 21, 2010 at 9:18 AM Post #15 of 1,534
Would anyone be able to compare this player to some of the other top rated players like the S:flo2 or the Sony X or any other player? 
Is the EQ a 5 band adjustable with different presets?   How do you find the overall build quality? 
Thanks for the write up.

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