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HE-4 + Leben CS-300 XS (Custom Edition): This system was the second—the first was Sennheiser HD800 + CS-300 XS—that for me at least could in some aspects work as a reference system. Not that I suggest these two were the best in the world but they were good enough in so many qualities that I could successfully reference other systems against them. Again the HE-4 had an advantage over the Sennheisers in resolution and speed. I guess these traits result in their outstanding transparency. I needed to listen to this system just once to realize that it could become an absolute reference for these attributes. It was also incredibly liquid. The bass also was clearly better than over the EF-5. It still wasn’t as extended as over the Sennheisers but now good enough to no longer miss it. I did miss a bit the liquidity and continuousness of the HD800 which is where the Germans rule. They also staged larger where the HE-4 tended to shrink the images a bit and focused me more on the center of the headstage.
HiFiMan HM-602 + EF-5 + HE-4: Listening to the complete review system I left for the very end whilst I awaited the arrival of the Chord mini-to-2xRCA cable. After listening to all parts of this system in different configurations I already had formed an opinion about each of them. I thought that listening to them together would only confirm my observations. I was wrong. Each of HiFiMan's products is really good and in certain aspects outstanding even. To get the best of them all you need to carefully choose the remainder of your setup however.
The full system somehow sums up everything and emphasizes the best advantages of each component. The first recording (played from a 24/44.1 file I'd just bought online) was Brian Eno’s Craft On A Milk Sea. This sounded great. I couldn't believe I was listening to music from a portable music player combined with a small head amp. Only in this particular setup did the HE-4 deliver very well-extended bass and incredibly hard-to-match resolution and transparency. This system also pumped out extremely coherent liquid sound. It was surely one of the very best headphone systems I've ever heard. The Sennheiser HD800 with Leben CS-300 XS did still offer a bigger presentation with a deeper better defined soundstage but on resolution the HifiMan system had a small advantage. Stax electrostatics might be slightly faster and offer even superior resolution of the midrange still but can't deliver timbres as rich as this system. The Sennheisers with Leben might sound more authoritative on some very dense recordings but that advantage now was down to a small margin indeed.
€1.500 here buys you an incredibly mature high-end system. You get a player that allows you to interchange head-amp modules (but you need your music as FLAC files) and you can ‘upgrade’ or at least change the sound of the amplifier by rolling tubes. I must say that I loved this system as it stayed with me like my temporary second reference system. I would compare this excitement to buying new books. You already have a lot of great ones but as soon as you read another winner you need to buy it to browse through it again and again - or to wait for the next installment of a compelling ongoing story. That's what happened to me with this HifiMan system. I highly recommend it to all headphone fans!
Summary: HifiMan’s products are excellent but not cheap. The player naturally can't compete with an iPod or iPhone on ergonomics or cosmetics but then what can? It is simply not as well thought out. It also requires external data storage because the16 GB internal memory isn't really sufficient especially for hi-rez files. Its performance is so good however that you should soon forget about these functional flaws. You really ought to run hi-rez material here as these files will sound much more liquid, precise and simply better.
The EF-5 head amp sounded great with AKG headphones. Its tonal balance was slightly on the bright side so you should be aware of ancillaries. With the AKG it created true synergy. Last but not least the headphones for me were the most interesting part of the system dispatched . These cans offer fantastic resolution and dynamics. No dynamic headphones I know makes sound like these. Their tonal balance is slightly on the bright side which suggests needing a proper head amp. With the right amp they will play faster and more precise than electrostatic headphones (except for the most expensive Stax), with better dynamics and more coherence. Ultimately it's the system here that delivers the complete sound. Resolution, depth, involvement – it all comes from the whole system. It is easy to recommend HifiMan’s system but also very easy to recommend each individual component.
Description HiFiMan HM-602: TheHM-602 is a portable music player featuring 16GB of flash memory. You can also play files from an external flash SD card up to 32GB of capacity. The circuit is build around the Fuzhou Rockchip Electronics Co. RK2706RB chip. It's a very robust dual-core chip capable of decoding pictures, playing video, reading ebooks but here the manufacturer used only some of its potential. The player can also double as D/A converter with USB input. This type of signal must first be decoded which is accomplished by the USB Audio CM108AH C-Media controller. It is not the best on the market but should do its job just fine.
The casing of the player is quite big, rather thicker than an iPod Classic but a bit shorter. Its size is directly related to the internal design which isn’t SMT but runs more classic mounting technology. Conversion is via Philip’s NOS TDA1543 chips. One of its features is the possibility to defeat oversampling and that’s what was done here. If you have the time reference Ryohei Kusunoki's 47Labs article here - it explains a lot on the underlying concept. The DAC chip itself is not perfectly linear and a bit noisy compared to more modern variants but many people find its sound seductive. HifiMan also used ‘classic’ opamps like the OPA2107 for the headphone output and the OP275 and OPA2604 in the line output. The firm’s Mr. Fang confirmed that the amplification stage is almost the same as the HM-801’s. There is a choice between normal and high gain executed with a simple switch to adapt the output signal strength to various headphone loads.