Put down your iPhone or Android device. Stop listening to that iPod or Walkman. And if you think a streaming service is doing your music justice, then open your ears! Fidelity is our rousing cry today, as we gaze deep into the compressed abyss that is MP3. Lossy files are everywhere, and the name itself says it all. Lossless audio is audibly superior, though at a pretty high cost in terms of file sizes, and of course fewer devices that support the various formats.
But that just means you should focus on the few that do, like the HiFiMAN HM-700 portable audio player. Unless you’re an audio pro, you might not have heard of the company, but their name is synonymous with serious innovation aimed at the most dedicated and detailed-oriented listeners. Put simply- you probably wouldn’t listen to Katy Perry with their gear. Instead, this is a player specifically for those craving true balance and high-resolution in their audio diet. As mentioned over the weekend in our review of the excellent Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Duet, balance minimizes interference and noise while boosting output and allowing you to enjoy your WAV, MP3, APE, or 16-bit FLAC tracks distortion-free. But most folks don’t own balanced headphones, and we’ll get to that in a moment.
The lightest and smallest model yet, the mobile HM-700 weighs in at only 2.9 ounces, but still features up to 15 hours of playback via the USB-rechargeable lithium batteries. 32GB of internal storage will fit plenty of your favorite albums. The screen is awesome, and the touch controls on the face are simple and effective. Plus, this little guy is cute, sleek, and distinctive, fitting snugly into a pocket with a slight bulge to fit the headphone jack. You can use any headphones, of course, but this player shines brightest with a balanced pair.
And best of all, the HiFiMAN HM-700 even comes with a very good set, their RE-400Bs (normally $100 on their own). Built with an 8.5mm titanium driver, they don’t offer the best cabling, or the best looks, but do come with a nice case and a lot of plug/earbud options that should fit just about anyone. Plus, they sound impressive- a bit less so with other gear as they can feel a little flat, but crystal clear and precise and sharp with the HiFiMAN player. In fact, we primarily tested them together, though we did try a few other balanced over-ears, the portable nature of the player begged to be taken out with IEMs, these in-ear monitors. The overall pairing is fairly neutral, allowing your music to shine through, without any of the DAC flavors that can make music on other sources sound jagged, ragged, synthetic or altered (especially at the high end and with vocals). We put on FLAC files and listened closely for bass response and to test for any ear fatigue- the HM-700 puts out plenty of power, a clean DAC signal, and the RE-400Bs never sound boosted and offer a decent low-end that never gets tiring. We wouldn’t exercise with the system, but we’d take it anywhere else!
For the listener who refuses to compromise on sound quality, the HiFiMAN HM-700 is a great buy- especially considering the bundled RE-400B balanced in-ear monitors. If you already have a balanced set of ‘phones you love, then it’s less of a solid deal. But for those looking to step past their smartphones and jump into a lossless audio player with serious chops, the best package and the best portable audio player we’ve seen is this one. Available now, online and in stores, well worth $250.