Now that Hifiman has released a $259 version of the audiophile DAP HM-602, everybody is asking the question”do they sound the same”? At $259, the HM-601 is so affordable that you have no other excuse not to get a true high quality source for your portable system.
I’ve been listening to both players and as I was getting ready to write this article, I visited Head-direct’s website just to see if there is any other information I might have missed. What a surprise that upon reading the HM-601’s product description, they have already written what I wanted to write for this article!
HM-601 has very similar sound to HM-602 because these two players share same D/A converter and headphone amplifier circuit. HM-601 has slightly better bass extension than HM-602, and a little less sweetness and smooth texture in mid and high (A lot of people might not be able to tell difference at all).
That’s basically the gist of it. And if manufacturers can consistently write accurate sound descriptions like that, then I wouldn’t have to spend too much time critically listening to all these different products! If I had written this article without ever reading what Head-Direct wrote, I probably would’ve written something like this:
It’s quite obvious that the two players share a lot of things in common when it comes to the sound quality and presentation. In fact, they are so similar that I didn’t quite notice the differences until after several hours of listening time. The HM-601 carries the same warm signature, midrange, voicing, tonality, detail extraction, soundstage performance, as the bigger brother HM-602. There are slight differences, where the HM-601 has more treble and low bass presence than the HM-602. The result is a slightly livelier sound and also a better pace with fast music as the HM-601 is less mellow sounding than the HM-602.
The HM-602 retains an edge in midrange clarity and smoothness. Likewise, the treble on the HM-602, though more rolled off, is smoother than on the HM-601’s. So, in a sense, the HM-601’s presentation is more “complete” as it has a more linear tonal balance and not as mid-centric as the HM-602. On the other hand, if you don’t mind the more mid-centric sound of the HM-602, then I do think that the overall finesse and smoothness of the HM-602 to be a tad better.
So, while the DAC and amplifier circuit remains the same, Hifiman has changed the op-amps on the HM-601 in an attempt to make it less mid-centric and livelier sounding, while losing a little smoothness on the sound. The HM-602 uses OP275 and opa2604 in LPF and OPA2107 in headphone amp, while the HM-601 uses LM833 and JRC4560 in LPF and JRC5532 in headphone amp.
In all fairness, when I’m just listening to the music and not doing any critical listening, or if I have no HM-602 as the comparison point, I probably wouldn’t be able to pick up the differences in the HM-601 sound. They are very close sounding, and for all practical purposes, can be considered the same sound. Hence, the only difference that may be relevant is the 8GB on board memory vs the 16GB on the HM-602, and the ability to use the HM-602 as a pretty awesome sounding USB DAC.
My friend Rian asked me if it would be worth the money to invest in the more expensive HM-602, or if he should get a HM-601 and another desktop DAC for the price difference of $180. For $180, you can get the HRT Music Streamer II (~$145) or the Audinst HUD MX-1 (~$180). Well, I didn’t have the HRT MS2 or the Audinst around anymore, but the other day I was comparing these four USB DACs:
- HRT Music Streamer II+
- Yulong U100
- Musiland 02
- Hifiman HM-602 (USB DAC function)
And I can immediately put the HM-602 on the same league as the HRT Music Streamer II+ DAC, and clearly ahead the Yulong U100 and the Musiland 02. To put it briefly, the HM-602 had better soundstage depth and is smoother and more refined, while the MSII+ had a wider soundstage depth, and has more treble and bass presence. I had used the Zana Deux amplifier (As it comes with three analog line inputs, hence I didn’t need to use another box for source selector. The Burson HA160D also had three inputs, but it was out on a loan to a friend), out to the Sennheiser HD800 with TWAg cable for maximum detail retrieval and transparency.
So, going back to Rian’s question. I do think that the HM-602 is worth the extra money, but on the other hand, the HM-601 is just as appealing due to the lower and more affordable price. But ultimately, with the HM-601 at $259, HM-602 at $439, and the HM-801 at $790, Hifiman now has an audiophile DAP to suit everyone’s budget!
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