Hifi DAP Comparison: HM-801, HM-602, QA350, Boomslang

The excitement surrounding the HM-602 was pretty high, and not long after that I began to plan a comparison article of the HM-602 to the HM-801. Of course another chinese player by the name of QLS QA350 is starting to gain some solid fanbase, even in my local community, so I thought of making it a three way review. Soon after that, I remembered that Ibasso released the Boomslang portable DAC not long ago, so why not throw that into the mix as well? I thought the four is a pretty solid number representing the current crop of Hi-Fi portable sources. Lastly, I threw in a popular USB DAC, the HRT Music Streamer II+ just to see where these portables stand in comparison to the desktop/USB DAC market. Many thanks to my buddy Sem for the portable players. Thanks to Hifiman for the HM-602 sample.

Here is a group picture for a size comparison.

Since this is going to be a serious shootout, I prepared accordingly:

  • Quality recording music were used: Buena Vista Social Club, Beethoven 9th Abbado 4/2000 24/96 DDD recording, Mahler 2nd Tilson 2004 DSD recording, and Stockfish Record’s Art of Recording.
  • A special mini-to-RCA cable using my reference interconnect cable and a matching pair of RCA interconnects for the HRT MS2+.
  • 2-ch Beta22 amplifier
  • Sennheiser HD800
  • All files used are of WAV format, because the QLS don’t take any other format but WAV.

There are two more things to take note:

  • The QLS QA350 has been modded by the owner, where he replaced some of the stock no branded caps with some Nichicon ones. Modding the QLS apparently is getting quite popular among its owners.
  • The Ibasso DB1 Boomslang DAC comes with the stock 6-pin Hirose connector cable. It would be ideal to build a 6-pin Hirose to RCA cable, but since I don’t have the connector in stock, I couldn’t. Hence I had to use the DB1 under this configuration: DB1 Boomslang DAC -> PB1 Toucan AMP (low gain, maximum volume) and take the output signal after the PB1 Toucan amplifier.

Let’s move on.

Portable Sources Shootout

The set up is as follow:

  • HM-801 via lineout to Beta22, HD800. HM-801 direct to HD800.
  • HM-602 via lineout to Beta22, HD800. HM-602 direct to HD800.
  • QLS QA350 via lineout to Beta22, HD800. QLS QA350 direct to HD800.
  • Ibasso DB1 via balanced out to PB1, via headphone out to Beta22, HD800. PB1 direct to HD800.

HM-801 vs HM-602
The general soundstage is quite similar to the HM-602, but the subtle improvements are very evident from the first moment. Soundstage size is deeper and wider on the HM-801. And going back to the HM-602 after the HM-801 makes me feel that the soundstage is abrubtly cut off at the edges, where the HM-801 has a more progressive cut off at the edge of its soundstage. Detail level is definitely up, very rich micro details that you don’t hear on the HM-602. The treble extends higher than the HM-602, the vocals richer and more crisp. Bottom end is weightier and there is more low bass presence.

As a result of the treble extension, there is more sibilance on the HM-801 than on the HM-602. I also find vocals to have better presence on the 602 than on the 801. Moreover, while the additional bass weight and low bass is welcome, the transition from midrange to bass is actually smoother and more linear on the 602. I think overall the 602 has a more likeable sound signature, while the technicalities are still a little short from the bigger brother.

The HM-801’s headphone out also has quite a bit more voltage swing than the HM-602 on a high gain setting, enough to make a difference between “quite loud” to “ear piercing loud”.

HM-801 vs Modded QLS QA350
Here is a serious attempt to take the crown from the HM-801 from QLS. Not bad at all, considering the QLS cost a fraction of the HM-801. As long as you’re willing to live with the impracticalities of an even bigger size, the anemic user interface (more on that later), strictly .WAV only compatibility, and the tiny screen display. Ignoring all the other aspects of the design, however, the QLS do have a fairly solid sound signature — so good in fact, that some people in our forum prefer the QLS to the HM-801.

Technicalities wise, the HM-801 remains the King, and quite by a significant margin. Soundstage presentation is more real on the HM-801, low level detail, refinement level, frequency extension, the HM-801 is quite a step up, similar to how the HD800 is to the HD650. You also have to remember that the QLS have been modded to have better capacitors than cheap stock ones, and yet the difference is still not subtle. The HM-801 sounds far more richer, especially on the low level details and treble extension.

HM-602 vs QLS QA350
Moving to the HM-602 from the HM-801/QA350 comparison, it’s again evident that the HM-602 is still under the HM-801 in terms of technicalities. Interestingly, compared to the QLS QA350, the HM-602 has quite an edge. Better soundstage depth though smaller width, better detail level, a fuller and smoother midrange (very nice), and a more believable ambiance than the QLS’. Though I would like to have the HM-801 better treble extension on the HM-602, the HM-602’s treble actually works better for most music as it is more sibilance free.

The only area where I prefer the QLS’ headphone out is the gain level that matches the HM-801, leaving the HM-602 with the least gain among the three.

Ibasso DB1 Boomslang DAC (Coaxial)
The Ibasso DB1+PB1 combo represent a unique entry. It doesn’t work on its own and requires a separate portable transport before it can work as a true portable source. In this comparison, I used the QLS QA350 as a transport, connected to the DB1 coaxial input. The DB1+PB1 combo is surprisingly very good, clearly above the QLS and slightly better than the HM-602, but only coming up short behind the HM-801. Wider soundstage than the HM-602, with equally good depth and separation, and slightly better micro details and refinement place the QLS+DB1+PB1 three-pack transportable source above the HM-602. The HM-801, however is still better than the three-pack combo, having even better micro details, soundstage depth, and an amazing ambiance and liveness that reminds me of very good desktop CD players.

Of course the question to ask now is, how portable is a three-pack package like this? It does have the most gain among all the other sources, mainly due to the very potent PB1 amp, but in the case of IEMs, the extra gain is irrelevant, and I’d rather walk around with the HM-602 than a three-pack Ibasso system.

Among the four portable sources/DAPs (excluding USB DAC functions — that’ll come later), the ranking is pretty much as follow (best to least): HM-801, DB1+PB1, HM-602, QLS QA350

vs HRT Music Streamer II+
In comparison to a good USB DAC like the HRT MS2+, the portable sources are doing quite well. The HRT MS2+ stands out as having a very wide soundstage that’s even wider than the HM-801. But other than that, it doesn’t nearly have the refinement, micro details, and the soundstage depth of the good portable sources. With the exception of the QLS QA350, all three portable sources are quite better in resolving digital data and portraying music than the HRT MS2+.

If you notice earlier I also tested the portable players direct to the HD800 headphone. Most of the players have plenty of gain for the HD800, with the HM-602 being the least powerful. Although the Beta22 amplifier drives the HD800 far better than the players, I felt that listening to the set up via the line out and to the Beta22 amplifier, some information from the DAC is lost. In theory, the shorter the signal path is, and the less connection you have, the less degradation to the signal. And listening straight to the DAPs, though a little weak in punch, reveals little details that I missed on the Beta22 set up.

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  • Bebop McJiggy

    I suppose I was not crazy when I thought the spdif was better than the usb on the boomslang, so that is good (maybe?). I'm not really sure what I intend to do with my DB1. Just leave it in my room for when I am going to sleep maybe and to take on vacations with me? Feed it toslink with a laptop or something. I wouldn't really consider it a DAP at all to be honest and it is kind of useless without the PB1, though I suppose I could attach it to any balanced amp… the general idea of that is pretty silly to me though.

    If you don't mind my asking, how does the HM-801 stack up to say the m902? Not really related I know… I recently got a Zodiac+ and it is quite a bit better than my other DACs, but I wish I had some other similar gear to compare it to. (I have no other DACs anywhere near its price range.) I am undecided as to whether or not I am going to actually keep it, but I am leaning towards keeping it as it is burning in.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Oh man, you got the Zodiac+! Now that's one DAC that I've been wanting to hear! The Grace's DAC is a so-so performer. It uses an old DAC chip that is the PCM1730. The DAC circuit is also not all-out DAC unit, being more of a swiss-army type of a device. Needless to say, the HM-801 slaughtered the Grace m902's DAC.

      The Zodiac+ is a 24/192 right? And the Gold model is the 24/384.. if I remember correctly.

      • Bebop McJiggy

        It does indeed do 24/192 over usb… with no drivers even, not sure how they managed that one but I'm pretty sure it is working as advertised. It thinks it is anyhow, it changes sampling rates on the LCD correctly as I change tracks. I haven't been able to tell the USB or SPDIF input apart yet so that's good. I'm not entirely sure the Zodiac+ isn't also somewhat of a swiss army device. The base model is more of just a dac but it is not available yet I don't think. But I'm not really sure what I am going to do with the "de-jittered" digital outputs for instance and I doubt I will ever use the word clock input or at least not anytime soon. It should work fairly well as a pre-amp, but I haven't tried the analog inputs yet. I just got it this past weekend so I'm really mostly just burning it in at the moment. Considering returning it to buy the base model, but I would be somewhat disappointed going to 24/96 over usb to be honest. I'm thinking about buying a linear power supply to replace the switching power brick that it came with.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Yo, so in a way it's like the EMU 404 which also does 24/192 over USB driverless. What's the price difference between the + and the base model?

          • Bebop McJiggy

            I suppose so but the driver is one of the bullet points on the EMU 404 on http://www.emu.com/products/product.asp?product=15185 and it doesn’t work above 48khz on a mac. ( Acceptable considering the vast price difference.) The base model is $1000 cheaper, I think the gold is 1000 the other way. I am starting to think I will keep the + though, it has really been growing on me. Not sure I will ever use all the features but oh well.

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              Darn… $1,000 of a difference. That would buy you a nice amplifier upgrade!

              • Bebop McJiggy

                Yeah the price is kind of steep… $1000 amounts to 24/192 over usb (over 24/96, admittedly I don't have a spectacular amount of 24/192 right now but actually more than I have 24/96 material), AES input, AES & 2x SPDIF output (I guess I could use them to compare other DACs at the same time), the balanced & unbalanced analog inputs, word clock input, mono button, soft & full mute button and uhh a partridge in a pear tree? Whether or not all that is worth 1k or not to me I am not entirely sure of yet.

                I've actually been fairly impressed with the headphone jacks so far, though I haven't tried anything particularly hard to drive yet. But I have been looking at some amplifier upgrades as well.

                • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

                  From the few DACs that I've tried with a headphone jack, the built in jack always does a fairly good job since it maintains a short signal path to the source. Just don't ask for it to drive very hard headphones and you'll be fine with the built in jack. :)

  • GoldFish

    Thank you. How did you manage to did all that? Exhausting? Good job, good job. Thank you again.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Yea.. my head spins after all of those critical listening… Surprisingly differentiating them is easier when listening direct than via the Beta22 amp.. signal loss perhaps.

  • GeorgeGoodman

    Great review, Mike. However, I felt like the Ibasso combo got slightly short changed because you did not run it fully balanced. It has 25.2 volts of swing this way, twice the amount of single ended. On Head-Fi, the word is it is much better that way. With HIfiman releasing a balanced amp card soon, things are going to get interesting.I am considering getting the Toucan as my first amp. overall, this is a great review on current portable-fi.

    @Bebop McJiggy: I have the Iriver H120, which has an optical digital out. You can hook this up to the Ibasso combo and it is semi portable. Check out the beautiful rig this makes on head-fi.org by searching "Ibasso Boomslang and Toucan pictures." I hope this helps.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hi George, thanks for the comments.

  • GoldFish

    Did you sense roll-off at low end bass? At Head-Fi, one person believed it was the case when he hooked up 602 to big speakers.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Yes, a slight low bass roll off with the HM602. Perhaps not a real roll off, as in a cut-off in the low frequency, but more like not being very evident and not too present.
      The Ibasso and the QLS was a bit better, but the HM-801 was very good with low bass.

  • Daniel

    Mike, thanks for this awesome comparison review. Would you be perfectly fine with any of your headphones or earphones straight out of HM-801 if it was the only source you could have?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I’d probably still want a good desktop amp in the set up, but source wise, I think I would be happy to have the HM801.

      • Daniel

        Have you ever approached the same level of detail and transparency of the HM-801 with it's built in amp module while using an external amp? Or is it simply impossible due to the short and clean signal path from the DAC to AMP inside the HM-801?

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Unfortunately, no. Even with my B22 which uses SCAG silver wire for input and Burson attenuator, some detail loss is noticeable than when I use the HD800 direct to the HM-801.

          It's pretty hard to beat the very short signal path inside the HM-801, and the built in amp apparently is very transparent.

  • Bebop McJiggy

    Well I don't own any K1000s or HE-6s or things of that nature to ask it to drive anyhow so I think I am safe there. It sounds quite nice with my HD650s and LCD2s (and every other headphone I have tried thus far.) A certain review claimed it was "effortless" with the T1, HD800, k702 and HE5-LE but I have no real comments there.

    I just ordered an improved power supply, I wonder if I will really be able to tell a difference or not.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Sounds good!

  • HD 25-1-II Fan

    Hi Mike.
    Earlier you’ve told me to buy the 801, which would be a good combination with the HD 25-1-II.
    But you’ve said in the review that the 602 sound is more likable.
    Which one should I buy then?
    Thanks

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I think that with the HD25-1, either one should be fine. The 602 has a more forward midrange, but the HD25-1 already got a forward mid, so that boost may not be needed. Personally I’d get the HM-602 over the HM-801 just due to size considerations.

  • nurbren

    Hi

    Thanks for review but i wish you compared hm801+DB1 balanced or singled to direct hp out of hm801(power wise)

    • http://twitter.com/MikeMercer Mike Mercer

      How did you drive your headphones from the HRT??
      I just finding it hard to believe (and I wrote about the HRt LONG before I worked there) these portable devices (I’ve heard almost all of them) gave you better micro and macro-dynamics than the HRT Music Streamer+.

      I think perhaps gain was an issue here – so I’m merely curios at this point.

      • http://twitter.com/MikeMercer Mike Mercer

        I’d love to see, IMO, a comparison of outboard DACs to other outboard DACs.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          That would be fun, won’t it? Help me out to get the DACs together?

          • Mike Mercer

            Would be my pleasure sir!!

      • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

        Hi Mike, good question. For the comparison I used a Class A Beta22 headphone amplifier that's considered the best solid state headphone amp for many. I also used the same interconnect cable (I have several identical pairs that I use for source comparisons) to hook up the different sources to the amp. I was quite surprised with the result as well, to be honest, as I've always regarded the HRT very very highly.

        It's hard to believe such comparisons, but the HM-801 also trashed my Grace m902 DAC, and it also took on another desktop PCM1794 based DAC. The HM-801 didn't have as wide of a soundstage compared to the desktop stuff, but everything else including micro details, ambiance, soundstage imaging, the HM-801 was superior.

        Thanks for asking!

        • Mike Mercer

          GREAT answer!! Thorough as always

          • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

            Thanks, Mike!

  • nurbren

    Hi

    Thanks for review but i wish you compared hm801+DB1 balanced or single to direct hp out of hm801(power wise)

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hi, power was not quite a priority in the review, but the PB1 amp in single ended has a tad more power than the hm801’s headphone out.

      • http://headfonia soulgalactic

        hey mike , im a little confuse in the usb department from the hm 802 and 602

        i have a usb connection in my car stereo. do you use the usb dac or the exchange data?

        which portable is better for home/ car stereo ?

        thank you

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Hey soulgalatic, I don't think you can use the USB connection on the Hifimans that way. The USB on your car stereo most probably is designed to take files from USB drives. You can try connecting to the "Exchange Data" port, but I don't guarantee it'll work.

  • http://www.kantong-kresek.com kantong kresek

    another great review from mike.

    btw regarding the qls mod that you review is mod v1 or mod V2? coz now we already have the V2 mod

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Thanks! The QLS Mod is a self mod, Sem only replaced some of the caps with Nichicon brand ones.

      • http://www.kantong-kresek.com kantong kresek

        ooo you have to ask other member for the V2 mod. the performance is far better than the V1 mod.

  • Daniel

    Mike, do you hear the HM-801's smooth, buttery but super clear sound? Compared to my iPod Touch. The iPod's sound is more energetic with an increase presence in treble leaving aside the other huge inferior aspects of the sound quality to the HM-801. With the custom IEM's I use ( Westone ES5, JH13 Pro ) the HM-801's tamed treble leads to a more analog and smooth sound because those custom IEM's are very neutral. With darker sounding phones the HM-801's sound signature may be over the top in warmth. Just wondering though do you think ( via HP out ) the HM-801 is neutral and iPod's over emphasize treble or do you think the treble is slightly tamed to give a analog sound? Thanks!

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Daniel, I don’t really hear a “smooth and butttery” sound on the HM-801, sorry. :) But I do understand if you feel that the Ipod sound is more energetic. Indeed I think the majority of Ipods have a more energetic sound than the HM-801 and HM-602. The Boomslang and the QLS is still quite energetic, and may be quite close to the Ipods in that department.

      I do think that your observation with the ES5 and JH13Prowith the HM-801 is accurate, and yes with darker sounding phones the HM-801 may be a bit over warm. The headphone out is less warm than the line-out though, so you may want to try them direct.

      It’s hard to define what’s neutral. I think that probably 99% of us started our audio journey with the Ipod, and for that reason, I do think that the Ipod sound is more neutral than the HM-801 or HM-602. The HM-801 has a very good low end body, though not really bassy. The HM-602 has a very good mid body, while still maintaining great midrange clarity. So the colorations on both Hifimans are quite clear. But as we know by now, people in audio loves pleasing colorations (me included), and neutrality is not as big as people thought it was.

      • Daniel

        Thanks for response Mike. It is very true, many of us aim for a neutral sound but in the end we much prefer a sound that is slightly colored. Neutral isn’t natural.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          "Neutral isn't natural."

          I like that. :)

          • http://twitter.com/MikeMercer Mike Mercer

            AMEN to this,

            WELL said

  • Luna Argenteus

    Great review as usual.
    btw, what do you think about the recently-released HM-601? The price is much more affordable than its big bros, and the DAC chip is supposed to be the same as HM-602.

    • Mike

      Thanks, Luna.

      I can't remember if the HM-601 accepts external memory, but since the internal memory is only 2GB, that's a big turn-off to me. The sound, I'm quite sure, will be more or less the same as the HM-602, after all, Fang said it's going to be the same sound and he knows what he's talking about.

      Cheers. :)

  • sinan

    Hi have you tested DB1/PB1 with a balanced HD800 cable? Do you think balanced ibasso can better than hm801?

    Also I didn't get why coaxial and usb sounds different? Aren't they both digital signals? I mean if you plug it to the same PC (not qa350) with optical, coaxial or usb, shouldn't it sound same.

    • Mike

      I haven't tested the boomslang with a balanced HD800. However, balanced or not has little effect on the actual DAC quality. The HM-801 is clearly on a superior resolution level. :)

      When you are connecting through USB, there is another circuitry involved that is the USB receiver circuitry. The design and implementation of this circuit is very important to the overall sound quality.

      • sinan

        Mike can you be more specific please? I mean why that circuitry would make a difference, how can a cable or a circuit can modify a digital data? If it modifies the data, how it is music anymore, not static? Did you had any chance to test same DAC connected to the same source with both optical (or coaxial) and usb. I am new to this hobby and on the edge of ordering a DB1 to enhance my PB1 use, but HM801 pops questions.. Thank you.

        • Mike

          It is a widely known fact that USB receivers affect sound quality in a big way when dealing with USB DACs. It's far more complex than simply “they are the same digital data”.Sorry I can't explain it right now. But you'll also notice that the HM801 is rated as much inferior when used as a USB DAC. Don't you wonder why?

        • Mike

          Sinan,
          The DB1 is still a fine DAC, and since you have the PB1, might as well go ahead and get the DB1 to make a nice pairing. :)

          • sinan

            Ok then Mike, I research myself why usb decreases quality, still curious. After realizing how "bad" USB to HM601, my mood got better :P Thanks again, great site btw, keep it up.

            One more question, it might be silly but: how much "percent" would it differ between db1/pb1 and quality desktop amp (lets say about $1500) in terms of what you get from a hd650. Could you grade as taking best quality you heard ever from hd650 (with which setup?) as %100 and then grade ibasso and $1500 amp please.

            • Mike

              Lol… I'll give you two rules:
              1. You can't treat all amplifiers within the same price-range (ie $1500).
              2. You can't put numbers for judging improvements. :)

              My advice is, if the current set up sounds good, just enjoy it. I know sometimes we want to know how much better a set up can sound, and that's what drive us to buy more expensive products, but at the end of the day, more expensive may not always mean better music enjoyment. :)

              • sinan

                Yes, sometimes I get loss with the all equipments and prices, and miss the real point. I need more time and more money to try and understand more. Good thing I study dentistry :P Thanks again Mike.

  • Ubik

    I known it isn't in this comparative.

    But what is the place to the colorfly compared at the concurence, for you ?

    And the Hifiman has got a random touch ?

    • Mike

      Hi Ubik,Did you read the Colorfly review? I compared it to the HM-801 there. Also, what about the Hifiman random touch? I don't quite understand the question. Sorry

  • Kkch

    Don’t be angry with me, but I’ve the qa-350 as my main stereo gear. I mean directly to the amps and big spks too. I think that every one here surpasses most of actuals CD/DVD players and whatever you choose, you will not regret.
    About the soud in a big chain… well with the new firmware 05 and without any mod yet, it really show you what was recorded (goods or bads). I found mysel asking why there are so many compressed and overdubbed records, thats sucks!.
    SHM, XR or MFSL make a great differnce with the others ones (I think cuase they had payed more attention on remasterings, not the type of cd itself).

    • Anonymous

      Nice. I think you really should try modding it. Local QLS owners have been modding their players like crazy, replacing every caps they see in the circuit with boutique stuffs. Word is it’s much improved from stock.

      I think the players here surpasses most $300-$500 CD Players, but they’re not quite up to the level of $1000+ players.

      Cheers.

      • Thomasjamespoole

        I bought a qa350 before I had heard of the hifi man players. To my ears it’s the best DAP I’v ever heard by far. unfortunately I managed to destroy it and now I’m torn between buying a qa350 mod2 or hm601. I know the 350 and love the dynamics and vibrancy. I’ve got no idea what the hm601 sounds like but have heard contradictory reviews all over the place from overpriced rubbish to best sounding thing ever. I’m a bit worried about it sounding soft which would turn me off but maybe I could counter this with bright headphones. it is also a lot smaller, longer bat, better ui and takes flac. help!

        • Anonymous

          Hi Thomas,
          The HM601 does a few things better than the QLS, like what I wrote on the article. However the sound signature is indeed warmer, and it wont be as lively as the QLS. Hence I cannot guarantee if you will absolutely like it, since you’ve been accustomed to the QLS.

          The HM601 does take FLAC files though, but the battery life is rather short around 6-8 hours. If you like trying things around, then do give it a try. Otherwise it’s safer to stick to the QLS which you already know.

  • Sharklordy

    Is there any portable setup dap+dac+amp much better than hm-801? I don’t mind the price and the size unless it can fit my bag. I am going to pair it with Ed8. Cheers

    • Anonymous

      Mmm.. tough. I still think the HM-801 is the best currently.

      • Guest

        How about SR-71B in balanced?

  • Sharklordy

    Ok now i have the HM-801 and i am still not satisfied with it. From what i heard, Hm-801 has the best DAC in portable right? So i just need to buy an external amp for an upgrade. Which portable amp do you think is the best match for Hm-801?

    • Anonymous

      What are you not satisfied with it? Perhaps can help me better.

      IMO the direct headphone out is very good and I tried it with some amps
      before but the sound quality is not as good as direct from the headphone
      out (due to longer signal path, interconnects, etc)

      • Sharklordy

        So it be a waste of money if i add an external amp? Do you think Hm801 dac line out surpass DB2 in balanced? I have sold my hm801. I want to start from scratch again.I thought there is a better portable setup.

        • Anonymous

          The HM-801 uses the legendary PCM1704 chip. I think the DB-2 is going to
          be great, but I can’t say if it has what it takes to compete with the
          PCM1704. The Wolfson WM8740 chip used in the DB-2 is good, but most
          agree that it’s not quite the level of the Burr-Brown PCM1704.

          • Sharklordy

            Have you tried to pair HM-801 with SR-71b/Lisa III/Stepdance/P51 Mustang? Which one will give a livelier and brighter sound?

            • Anonymous

              If what you’re looking for is a brighter sound, then the Ibasso DACs
              will give you that. Pair it with the Stepdance, that should be quite
              bright.

  • Edvard

    How would S:Flo2 Line out to TTVJ SLIM  compare with the HM-801? That is my current setup and I’m curious about how it is in comparsion to other portable dac+amp combos.

    Great article Mike!!

    • Anonymous

      The HM-801 remains far superior in the source quality. Better micro
      details, ambiance, etc.

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  • Kanon

    I don’t understand, as an dedicated DAC MS2+ is at the same price as 601, yet the sound quality is far worse not considering 601 is a standalone player?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I don’t understand, where did I say it is far worse? 

      • Kanon

        it doesn’t nearly have the refinement, micro details, and the soundstage depth of the good portable sources.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Yes but also this: 
          The HRT MS2+ stands out as having a very wide soundstage that’s even wider than the HM-801. 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2YD4HGOCSRFILZHQOGBA7SAY5E Arten

    Mike,

    Could you recommend me a portable amp to be paired with HM-801?
    HM-801 surely can drive my HD650 to loud enough volume.
    But with portable amp, can i get more refinement on the low, mid and high?
    Since i already spent this much on HM-801 and don’t want to buy another DAP.

    Thanks Mike

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hi Arten,
      In my experience it’s best to use the HM-801’s internal amp. I don’t know why but using a separate amp on the HM-801 never seem to yield a good result. I lose too much of the DAC quality through the line out-mini to mini link.

      • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2YD4HGOCSRFILZHQOGBA7SAY5E Arten

        Wow Mike, i never realize that HM-801’s internal amp is that good , but sure is sounds very good :D.
        So i guess what i could do:
        1. Install HM-801 Balanced amplifier modul
        2. Use iPod + CLAS/HP-P1 + SR71B/L3

        By choosing the 2nd option, could i get the same quality as HM-801?
        Or could you please recommend me the best portable setup to be used with full size?

        Thanks Mike

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Aside from the sound signature differences between the HM-801 to CLAS/HP-P1, I think having the L3 in the chain is going to put it far ahead of the HM-801. But you do realize that this is not going to be a practical portable system anymore due to its size?

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2YD4HGOCSRFILZHQOGBA7SAY5E Arten

            Sorry Mike, i forgot to tell you that i’m going to use them as portable home setup. So i guess size wouldn’t be a problem.

            If L3 will push the sound far from the usual portable setup, what setup do you think best for HD650? (DAP – Portable DAC – L3 – HD650).
            I prefer the setup to be lush on the mid and smooth on the high.

            Thanks Mike

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              The L3 is not exactly your lush on the mids and smooth on the high sound. But if you want the best portable amp, currently that’s the best portable amp there is. I’m publishing a review on it later this month.

  • 8043350051

    How is the DB1 connected to the PB1? Can the Fiio E17 take the role that the DB1 is taking? Are there any other portable transports other than the QA350?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      DB1 is connected to the PB1 using the special 6-pin Hirose interconnect cable.
      Yes you can use the E17 but it won’t output balanced signal.

      I think you can use the Ipod+CLAS as a transport. Also there is an iRiver DAP but I don’t remember the model number.