So, now you’re confused. You want something that’s warm sounding like the Sony, but also with the transparency of the Imod. Surprisingly, the chinese DAPs were able to combine the best of both worlds.
I find the two chinese DAPs, to be more “audiophile” sounding, despite their overall limitation as a player. The chinese DAPs gives you the detail, the soundstage, the resolution of what the RWA Imod is capable of, and more. If I can simplify, the chinese DAPs have very good technicalities while still remaining very musical. If you ignore the storage capacity, the less robust UI, lack of support, et cetera, the chinese DAPs are very very good sound-wise.
Between the two, the price difference between the Teclast T51 and the Hifiman HM-801 is rather huge. $790 for the Hifiman HM-801, and roughly ~$150 for the T51. Where does that $600 difference come from? Let me give some overview between the two players before moving on to the sound.
The HM-801 is an ambitious project by Head-Direct. This is the same people who’s produced the superb HE-5 headphone, the RE0 and RE2 earphones, the Jade electrostatics, and some amps like the Minibox and the Hifiman amplifiers. So, Head-Direct is already a known player outside of china, and when the announcement of the HM-801 was made, people got really excited about it (reading the spec sheet, at least).
The Hifiman HM-801 was designed from scratch to be THE audiophile DAP. Head-Direct wasn’t playing around when they designed this. It’s equipped with a high end Burr-Brown PCM 1704 digital to analog conversion chip, the same stuff you find on desktop sources. Though the version we use has the better quality 1704UK chip, I heard that the later version ships with the 1704U chip (This is not confirmed by Head-Direct though). The amplifier section is handled by the famous OPA627AU chip. It comes with a removable amplifier module that you can upgrade to in the future. While the basic HM-801 sells for $790, I believe a version with the upgraded amp will sell for closer to $1,000. A lot of money for a portable player it may seems, but if you compared it to a proper Imod set up (with the dedicated LOD), and a good portable amplifier, they come out to roughly the same $1,000 figure, or more. And the Hifiman still comes out better as it has a better DAC section.
The HM-801 is the only player in this comparison that has the ability to play 24bit files. Now, I’m sure that 24bit files are nice, but again, since the other ones don’t have that capability, I’ll be testing the HM-801 with 16bit .wav files. With such a good DAC circuitry, Head-Direct equipped the HM-801 with a coaxial and USB digital input. Thus, the HM-801 can function as a stand alone DAC that will process 24bit files. I did compare the HM-801 as a stand alone DAC to the internal DAC on the $1,600 Grace m902. The HM-801 was connected to the MacPro through USB, and the Grace was connected through the optical link (the Grace’s USB DAC implementation is not very good). Although I didn’t listen to it for too long, but during the short listening time, I do feel that the HM-801’s DAC is on par with the Grace m902’s DAC. Now you’re starting to feel that this $790 is worth the pricetag.
The Teclast T51 is actually sold only in China, and everywhere else outside of China most probably buys the MP4Nation’s rebranded version, that’s called the Nationite S:Flo2. Neverthless, they are two identical players except for the rebranding. Unlike the Hifiman, the Teclast or the Nationite name is not very well known in the international circle. And so, people was kind of sceptical at first, but the low price of the Teclast eventually lure people to try it out. The T51 is by far the cheapest priced player in this comparison. The 16GB model sells for $159.50, the 8GB model for $129.50 (currently sold out at MP4Nation), and a meager $109.50 for the 2GB model. I really don’t know how these people make money. The Teclast are ridiculously cheap.
The overall package of the T51 is actually quite good for a chinese made player, and even though it still has UI issues, at least it comes with a nice and big touch screen display, with an overall dimension that’s only slightly longer than the Ipod Classic. It’s also fairly light weight, perhaps a little lighter than the Classic, and the plastic housing makes more sense than what Apple did in the Ipod (for something that you will be carrying around in your pocket every day). Like the HM-801, line out signal is sent through the 3.5mm connector, and so it doesn’t require you to make a dedicated LOD for it, like the Sony or the Ipod do.
The T51 uses dual Wolfson WM8740 chips to do the digital to analog conversion. One chip for every stereo channel. And while people are debating the merit of having a dual chip configuration, we prefer to stay away from the debates and go straight to the listening impression.