HM-601 and HM-602: Hi-Fi DAPs For All Budgets

hifiman_601_602_01

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!

More reading:

 

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  • Raijin Madapaka

    Hi there Mike!

    I’m planning to get the HM601 for my UM Mage. Any comments on that? Will they have a good synergy with it each other? Thanks :)

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Yes, sure that should be a good pairing.

  • boogerjuice

    Its neat that you choose to review these over the HE-400 headphone youv had sitting around for a while now.
    I guess now is a great time to review these daps so you can narrow it down in a few more weeks when the SLIM model starts showing up.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Dear mr. boogerjuice, 
      This review is dated February 8th 2011. 

  • Robert Castleberry

    How does the sound quality of the HM-601 compare to something like a Cowon J3? Is it apples and oranges or closer than that? I was looking at buying the J3 but then came across talk of the HM-601 in the forums…

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hi Robert,
      From what I’ve heard from my friends, the HM-601/602 is better than the J3. But other than that I personally don’t have experience with the Cowon.

  • mark playdon

    Hi mike. Love the website and reviews, great work.
    A quick question.
    I am just about to buy the hm601 or 2, but having extreme difficulties in picking either the beyer dt1350′s or sennheiser hd25′s.
    I like listening to all music types.
    Cheers Mark

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Stas-Ka/100002693046638 Stas Ka

    Hi Mike.I got my HM-601 a few days ago. For me my hm-601 is much better than the matrix mini-i and fiio e10 (better soundstage,better micro details, better overall  music presentation).Westone um3x+HM-601  is a great combo. But I need a good desktop dac . Which dac would be better than hm-601?under 500$. HRT Music streamer 2?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      The micro details are so good on that thing, and soundstage three dimensionality as well. I actually don’t think I can find a sub $500 DAC that matches the HM-601/2 in that respect. The HRT MS2 will give you a bigger soundstage and with quite a good three dimensionality as well, but the sound is grainier and as a result I feel that micro details are a bit hidden. You should try the HM-602. Plug it to an AC adapter and it works wonderfully as a USB DAC. Plus the sound is smoother still with the HM-602.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Stas-Ka/100002693046638 Stas Ka

        Thank you!

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Good luck with building the set up!

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Stas-Ka/100002693046638 Stas Ka

            I forgot about one thing….which portable amp can you recommend most of all? c421, TTVJ SLim,  ALO Rx?

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              Right now I’m liking the C421 very much. Not saying it’s the best, but it’s very nice and the price is relatively affordable. The ALO National is also very2 good for $299, I’m working on a review of it.

  • Joshua Liswantoro

    Hi Mike -
    I am a newbie in audiophile world. I have dr Dre Studio, ATH-M50, Goldring DR150, Sennheiser IE80, CX-300, and PX-100, Klipsch S4,  and AKG K420. Reading a lot from your website, I now realize that my current source is not sufficient to get the best sound from my current headphones collection. Currently I am only using Zen M300 and FiiO E6.

    I am ready to pull my trigger on HM 601, as usual, I always try to start from the lower to fell the step up when I do upgrade. Unfortunately, I can’t get HM601 anymore. They replace it with HM 601 Slim. Have you try the slim version? How it’s sound compared to the initial model? 

    I am also plan to purchase FiiO E11 to replace my Fiio E6. Will I get benefit from it compared to the built in amp in HM 601?

    I need your advise. Thanks.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      From what I’ve heard from HM601 owners, the Slim version sound like a good upgrade to the HM-601.
      I would just get the HM-601 first and look at the amps later. With something as the HM-601, if you want to add an amp I’d suggest you get something more refined than the Fiio E11 or the E6..

      • Joshua Liswantoro

        Thanks Mike.. You save my money :D
        I love this website…

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Anytime, Joshua. :)

  • Joshua Liswantoro

    Damn… HM-601 Slim here is also out of stock. Jaben Indonesia just call me and offer to do a group buy of HM-603. There are very minimum to non existent review of this new product. 
    Mike, have you try this one?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I haven’t tried the HM-603 Slim, but I’ve tried the HM-603. Should just go for it.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/3L7GI3ZIL2VYMH3BS63FNTYG5A DARREN

    Hi Mike,
    I am looking to buy HM-601 slim can i sync or get music onto it via my Apple macbook, also do you think my Grado GR10 will work well with the 601,

    Thanks,
    Darren.

  • ivan ka

    Hi HFN, are the hifiman 603 slim  are running smooth with the SDHC 32GB class 6 /10 full of WAV songs?
    Thank you :)

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I haven’t tried that, sorry.

  • http://www.facebook.com/yongpo YongPo ‘Halton

    Hello mike,
    I was wondering will Hifiman 601 slim, good enough to drive a 6 driver ciem, i wouldn’t want to carry amplifiers around everytime.
    any suggestions ?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      It should be able to drive it just fine, but perhaps not with the kind of punch and articulation as some dedicated amps.

      • http://www.facebook.com/yongpo YongPo ‘Halton

        Oh i see, thanks, but it would be better than ipod touch 3g/4g right?
        hmm comparing HM601 and ipod video 5.5g without amp, which would you suggest?

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          You will get better sound from the HM-601 due to its DAC, but amp section is more or less the same than the Ipod. That’s based on my experience on the non-slim model. I heard the slim models get a more powerful headphone out, but I haven’t listened to them personally.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.loke.7 Stephen Loke

    Hey Mike,

    Do you think it is worth getting the Hifiman HM601 or HM602 to upgrade from an Ipod Classic? I already have amplifiers such as the P-51 Mustang, JDSlabs C421 & the National by Alo Audio. I use the Sennheiser HD25-1 II.

    Listen to: Pop, Rock & Alternative.

    Thanks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.loke.7 Stephen Loke

    Hey Mike,

    What do you think about the HM601 / HM602 pairing with external Amplifiers? What amplifier standard does these have on-board (JDSlabs C421, P-51 Mustang, RSA Shadow?)

  • http://www.facebook.com/cameron.mackie.716 Cameron Mackie

    Hi Mike,

    Please forgive my ignorance as I am new to this whole game.

    Just wondering what you think about driving the HE400 directly from the Hifiman 602 – is it absolutely necessary to purchase a separate headphone amp as well? If so what do you recommend? – my budget is $100 – $200.

    Thanks

  • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

    there’s a 901 coming out? :O

  • Eduard

    @headfonia:disqus

    Hi
    Mike will the HM 601 be able to drive the HD598 & IE8 properly and will it be a good match for them?
    Currently I use an A series walkman and am considering upgrading to the 601 as the walkman can’t drive the HD 598 proprerly.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=692862021 Nick Tam

      The HM601 has tonz of power, 598 isn’t that demanding as the hifimans are capable of driving the bigger Senns without much of a hicckup.

      • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

        What Nick said. Shouldn’t be a problem.

        I think it’s a nice match for the HD598. I haven’t really tried it with the IE8 though.

        • Eduard

          Thanks Mike

        • Eduard

          @headfonia:disqus

          With efficient full size headphones like HD 598 & SR 325i will the HM 601 slim have good body to the sound and the bass have a nice authoritative punch/slam??I don’t want a thin sounding DAP.

          is it true that the 601 slim has a more powerful amp section compared to the standard 601??

      • Eduard

        Thanks Nick.

      • Eduard

        @facebook-692862021:disqus

        With efficient full size headphones like HD 598 & SR 325i will the HM 601 slim have good body to the sound and the bass have a nice authoritative punch/slam??I don’t want a thin sounding DAP.

        is it true that the 601 slim has a more powerful amp section compared to the standard 601??

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  • Khloe85

    @headfonia:disqus

    Hi Mike

    Is there any difference in the sound produced by the HM 601 & the HM 601 slim??
    Some say that the slim has a better DAC section & more powerful amp & that the 601 slim is an improved version of the 601. Is it true?

    The slim one is 4mm slimmer & comes with 4GB & 8GB versions as compared to 2GB on the old one apart that is there any difference at all?

    Which one did you use for this review??

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      This review used the non-slim version as the slim version wasn’t out yet.
      I’ve listened to the slim, 601, 603 and thought that it sounded roughly the same as the non slim. I thought the sound was nice and though there may be differences (I didn’t have the normal version when I did the listening) I would go for the slim if I’m getting one.

  • vick_85

    @headfonia:disqus

    Hi

    I bought a HM601 slim last week and I’m disappointed with the sound.It sounds thin/lacks body and if I use the EQ then its like a viel has been put over the sound, the transparency is reduced.

    Headphone used: HD598 & IE8.

    Music files: A mix of WMA lossless & 320kbps mp3 files

    Is my unit faulty??

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      That sounds weird. The HM601 shouldn’t be thin/lacking body. I don’t know if it’s faulty, as faulty units usually has noise/buzzing/other issues that are more serious than just a thin sound.
      To be honest I don’t know what’s up with the set up. What are you comparing the set up with? Perhaps the other DAP you’re used to have a bass boost EQ on?

      • Guest

        @headfonia:disqus

        Thanks for the reply Mike

        I use a walkman with the clear bass on with the IE8 IEM’s adjustable bass thingy set on 3, so I guess that is why 601′s bass response was underwhelming.

        (Fiio E12+HM601+HD 650) will this be a good pairing???

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          The HM603+HD650 would be better if you can get it.

          Still I’m not sure if it’ll have the bass quantity of your IE8+Walkman +Clearbass combo

      • vick_85

        @headfonia:disqus

        Thanks for the reply.

        I use a walkman with the clear bass on with the IE8 IEM’s adjustable bass thingy set on 3, so I guess that is why the 601′s bass o/p seemed underwhelming.

        (Fiio E12+HM601+HD 650) will this be a good pairing???