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

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.

dap_comparison_6

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.

dap_comparison_3

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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.