HM-801, T51, RWA Imod, Ipod Classic, and X1060!

Here it is, our first digital audio player (DAP) comparison. As portable set ups are getting more and more transparent sounding, it’s about time we find out what source gives the best sound quality.

For starters, we have the Ipod Classic, which is probably something that everyone is familiar with. The Classic might not be a “special” player, but we feel that it’s good to have it there, just to see how it actually compares to the “better” players, or just to have it there as a point of reference. Another common player that we added into the mix is the Sony X1060, which currently is the top-of-the-line player in Sony’s line, and the only portable player equipped with digital amplification section.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a proper “headphone enthusiast’s” comparison, without the presence of the Imod. For years, the RWA Imod has been the standard of a high quality DAP, and so one of the question that everyone asks is how the Imod compares with the newer players, and so this player is very high on our list. The version we use for the comparison is the Ipod Video 5.5G with 80G of storage.

It’s very interesting to pitch the RWA Imod against the new Hifiman HM-801 player. In case you haven’t been following the news on DAPs, the HM-801 is a very serious player designed strictly with audiophile specs in mind. Everyone who’s heard it says that it’s in a different league than the other digital audio players. Just going from what people say about the HM-801, it has a pretty strong chance of being the current king of audio players.

We also received another chinese player from Hisound that’s supposed to be very good sounding as well. Unfortunately, the Hisound Studio that we have in our possession has to be crossed out from the comparison. It has a very recessed output jack, that I really can’t make a good connection with any cables I have in my possession (even a cheap but slim mini to mini cable). I think this flaw definitely needs a fix from Hisound.

Finally, we have included another promising player from chinese manufacturer Teclast. The T51 player is also sold as Nationite S:Flo2 from mp4nation.net, and it comes with a dual Wolfson DAC inside it. Very interesting indeed.

We think that a ranking system will probably show my own personal bias for what we look for in a DAP. There is no perfect choice, and the label the “Best Digital Audio Player” can’t be given without weighing each person’s priorities and musical preference when looking at a DAP. So the choice is up to yourself to decide, but this review should help to give you a picture of the sound signature and the sound quality of each DAPs.

The review is divided into two parts, the first part is on the quality of the line out, and the second, on the headphone out. It’s almost 5,000 words in total, so, take your time, and you don’t have to finish all of it in one read.


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  • Inado

    Good review Mike,

    Can I plug HM 801 to my sound system a QUAD amp and pre amp ???…..If yes which cable plug will provide the best result ??? I’m a bit mixed up with all those cablePlug
    Alsoo can I send music from my PC -to HM 801 DAC – to QUAD Preamp – Amp ???……If yes which cable plug will provide the best result ???

    What is the HM 801 amp upgrade for IEM??? This upgraded amp Will it also work with HD 800 ???

    Thank you
    Ivan

    • Anonymous

      Inado,
      Just get a simple 3.5mm to RCA interconnect and you should be set to hook the HM801 to your preamp. Boutique cables are a bit beyond the scope of the discussion for now, but our sponsors ALO and TWAg both make nice cables and you can contact them regarding your cable question.

      The HM801 amp for the IEM can be purchased directly from Head-Direct. Again they are a sponsor. The amp replaces the stock amplifier module of the HM-801, and it is designed for IEMs and is less suited for big headphones like the HD800.

      Cheers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Eduardo-Wong-da-Silva/1299053948 Eduardo Wong da Silva

    Hi Mike, i have the whipmod with the pico slim and twag cable but i’m really interested with the hm-601 or 602 so i don’t know if i sell my whipmod for the hifiman player, i hope you can help me, thank’s.

    • Anonymous

      Hi Eduardo,
      And you’re asking me about?

      • Wong Da Silva Eduardo

        Yes i have forget the question, the last night i have ordered a hm-601, you it can drive the hd650 ?

        • Anonymous

          It can, but I find it lacking impact. You’ll be best adding a headphone
          amplifier to the combination.

          • Wong Da Silva Eduardo

            Ok thank’s, maybe i will buy the ttvj slim or the ibasso pb1.

  • Nial

    Heard that the iPod cannnot play FLAC files. If so, can I use the iPod manager and nero aac encoder for foobar2000 to automatically encode FLAC files when I transfer them to the iPod? The result would be ALAC right? I have it set to m4a under preferences.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t know if you can use those programs to automatically encode the
      FLACs into ALACs. There should be programs available to convert one type
      of music files to another, but I am not too familiar with them.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=534521663 Osiris Walstra

      dBPowerAmp with the full codec pack can batch convert from FLAC to ALAC easily.

      Also Floola is a nifty open source iPod manager that I recommend to transfer the ALAC to the iPod.

  • Albert

    Can you try to pair the HM-801 with T1 or HE500? Is it better than HM-801 > HD800? Thanks

    • Anonymous

      I haven’t tried that, but I’m not sure they’ll work well.. when pairing
      the HD800 to the HM-801, normally we’re playing close to maximum volume
      level, and since the T1 needs more voltage level and the HE-500 needs
      more voltage and current than the HD800, I don’t think the two would be
      driven adequately from the HM-801.

  • Gjm304

    Hi, What would the 602 HiFi man Drive a set of ATHES10 [Audio Tecchnica] headphones at there best or would they need a amp..if so which one would be the best under say$450?

    • Anonymous

      I am not so sure as I’ve never tried that combo personally.

      For the ES10 I think the Meier Stepdance would be a good amp.

  • Mast3r_5ega

    Mike, is it worth to buy HM-801 only for standalone DAC via mini-coaxial? I know the USB DAC implementation in HM-801 is not good :D

    Thx :D

    • Anonymous

      Ive never tested the coaxial dac feature of the hm801, but since there is little room to lose in terms of quality, I suppose the performance would be just as good.

      • Mast3r_5ega

        Thx Mike :D

        PCM1074UK for the win! :D

        • Anonymous

          Awesome. Are you getting one?

  • Shawn

    Great article and details, as always.  I have a 5th gen iPod that I’ve been thinking of getting iModded, but now having some second thoughts.  My application is the best sounding source I can get for a car audio system.  This source (iMod, 801?) will feed it’s analog into a high-end Audison DSP and matching high-end amplification.  Given that is where the signal is going and this is for a car system, does that change anything with respect to your recommendations or thoughts for what is the “best’ source for my setup?

    To give you a little more information, sound quality is definitely priority #1.  I understand that I’m going to lose the UI battled by leaving the Apple platform, but then again, with an iPod Classic, it’s not exactly thrilling either.  I guess what I really want to know is this … if I’m putting together a high-end car audio system, is the difference in sound quality between the iMod and 801 so great that I need to be thinking about the 801?  Or, is the difference significant but not earth-shattering that given all that I will lose with abandoning the Apple platform, I should just stick with the iMod?

    I know this may be tough to answer, but I appreciate your perspective on it.  Thanks!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=534521663 Osiris Walstra

    Now this needs to be done again while adding the Colorfly C4, and iDevice* +HP-P1 / CLAS!

    *iPod Classic / iTouch / iPhone / iPad

  • Anonymous

    excellent review Mike! It would be better if you include  also Cowon3 and Zune HD 80 GB as well. Thanks.

  • NoteWorthy

    With firmware 2.3, the bass problems on the T51 are remedied :)

    • Anonymous

      Thanks. Do they still make these? Last time I heard they’re nowhere to be found now.

  • http://www.facebook.com/destroysall Chris Allen

    Hey Mike!  I wanted to get an iPod but I am having a trouble deciding.  What would you pick, the latest iPod Touch or the iPod Classic?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Chris, 
      Obviously the touch is very nice with iOS and App support, but I personally like the click wheel interface for a music player. I would go with the Classic. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/destroysall Chris Allen

        Sweet, thanks Mike!

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Alright!

          • http://www.facebook.com/destroysall Chris Allen

            Hey Mike, just one more question.  How is the built-in DAC on the iPod?  If I pair it with either the FiiO E11 or the Electric Avenue PA2v2, would the sound still be good or would the built-in DAC on the iPod ruin/take-away the sound from either of these portable amps?

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              Chris,
              The built-in DAC is alright. No problem for pairing with the amps since most of them are designed with the Ipod in mind.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/HDDYQQ7P5NOATI5KZ3TBP3WPAA audio

    hi mike can you tell me your impressions on teclast t51 in terms of build quality and how reliable it seems .I do not want to get a great sounding dap just to have it die in 3 months.Also I am choosing between this and hippo gumstick or maybe find older pioneer dap from amazon/jp

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      The build quality was quite good, but UI is quite slow/laggy, and as far as reliability is, I have no idea. 

  • Gabriel

    Sorry I’m asking so many noob questions on old articles and such, but you guys are really helpful!
    One thing I’m confused about: if I connect a portable DAC/amp like the E17 to the iPod Classic with something like a FiiO L3, rather than through the iPod’s headphone jack, will I be bypassing the iPod’s internal DAC AND internal amp?

    • Dave Ulrich

      No, just the amp. It takes an dac like the kinds Cyber Labs makes to bypass the internal dac of an ipod.

      • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

        Thanks Dave.

  • Dao

    Hi Mike, thanks so much for you comparisons, it really opened my mind a lot. I actually have been wondering what ones to choose recently.
    So the background is I now have W4R, iPod Classic 160GB (7th gen?), Fiio E11, Fiio L9 set, normally listen to rock, jazz, a few pop, sometimes classic music (not often at all). But I figure I probably have the need to upgrade my gears. I’m looking at JH13/16s as IEM (as apparently everyone is talking about them, and they are also sort-of ‘all rounder’s?), but the problem goes down to DAP/AMP: I may want to keep my iPod even if I buy another DAP, so should I choose a better AMP or just a better DAP? I could definitely use some suggestions if you don’t mind giving them :D

    The AMP I’m thinking are RSA shadow or protector, Headamp Pico slim or ALO Ex (probably later two as I can only find store selling them in Australia, I live in Australia but will be in China for holidays btw). Then with AMP I need to find proper cable for iPod as well.
    Or on the other hand, I’m thinking to buy Hifiman HM901 or Colorfly C4 when next time I’m in China, which then I probably can also use as a DAC through my computer sometimes.
    So which way in your opinion is better with JHs? iPod/AMP or ‘better’ DAP? I figured the prices would be almost same and either way I need to carry a bulk device(s) on-the-go. I guess I can try all of them but the problem is I can’t try them all at same time :)

    One last question is, before I actually upgrade my gears, do you recommend that I should try a Electric Avenues PA2V2 or JDS Lab C5D instead of my Fiio E11? I’m asking this as I cannot try by my own either of them so I can’t make sure they are worthy or not.

    Thanks very much in advance.