Personal Audio Review!
High-Res Portable Player:
"A Cut Above The Competition"
Price: starts at $699
Likes: high-end sonics, balanced output
Dislikes: no included digital output cable
Wow Factor: lots of buttons, lots of sound
More info: Hi-FiMAN HM-802
by John Gatski
It’s a wonderful time to be a high-resolution music listener these days. We have all manner of DACS, streamers, players for the audiophile setups, as well as the portable market. Hi-FiMAN manufactures the high-end side of portable player/headphone amps, and several models have received critical acclaim from end users over the past three years.
One of my favorite Hi-FiMAN hi-res players is the Wolfson-DAC chip (WM8740)-based HM-802. The HM-802, priced at $699, is an SD-card storage player (128 GB max.) that features up to 24-bit/192 sample rate PCM (including FLAC), and 2.8 MHz/5.6 MHz DSD playback. It also decodes the convenience audio formats, such as MP3, AAC, etc., ALAC, and AIFF, etc.
**The player sports a non-touch screen LCD and mechanical controls, as well as buttons to activate its various functions for playback and operational features.
The HM-802 player features a user-replaceable battery as well as upgradeable HP amp modules. The standard module features 105 dB S/N; an optional upgraded, balanced headphone amp module adds 5 dB in performance gain.
Compared to the ultra-compact Astell and Kern portables, such as the popular AK-100, the HM-802 is a big hold for the hand, but its size allows for the larger replaceable battery and changeable HP amp modules, as well as several mechanical controls and connections. Battery life is listed at 11 hours of play. On my demo player, I always got at least eight hours at 24/192 or DSD quality.
HM-802 utilizes SDXC up to 128GB for audio storage
The front-panel controls include a jog wheel/push button select for the menu items, play controls, and menu back. The in-case, integrated, knurled volume control is a throwback to Walkman-era devices, though the headphone jack is thoroughly modern with the ability to drive balanced headphones when selecting that option with the normal/balanced switch and using an 1/8th-inch HP adapter cable for the balanced ‘phones.
There also is a multi-pin connector that hosts the AC adapter, which is the only way to charge the HiFiMAN, and the SPDIF digital input/analog output adapter. An optional dock allows full digital I/O, but I could not find out much about it from the HiFiMAN web site. I would buy such a dock since I often use portables as source players for separate DACs in my home system.
The menu is easy to navigate via the jog wheel, and within each window, it is easy to enable the functions by pushing the “enter” button. However, it must be noted that all these functions are done with mechanical button pushes. In contrast, the Astell & Kern AK-100 portable operates with fewer buttons — since it uses a touch screen. However, I got used to the HM-802’s jog wheel-turning/button-pushing activity, and it always worked.
Two really cool things the HiFiMAN offers are its user-replaceable battery, which means you can use it for a long time, and the upgradeable HP amp module. The balanced HP amp version ($979) nets about 5 dB better performance in S/N and dynamic range — 105 dB to 110 dB. My unit had the standard module. Thus, I don’t know if the upgraded circuit provides discernible audio improvements using balanced headphones. Good portables, like the original AK-100 we tested, measure in the 105 dB range. Not true 24-bit, but pretty darn good for a battery-powered self-contained hi-res player. A 110 dB S/N performance would be exemplary indeed. Nonetheless, the standard HP module HM-802 ain't no slouch.
As a hi-res music fanatic, I was quite impressed with the HiFIMAN HM-802’s audio playback performance. Its analog out via headphone, or line out, is sufficiently high-end to impress even the most finicky listener.
Like the Astell and Kern players and many standalone DACs, the HiFiMAN has a welcome on-screen sample rate display. And as important, it also shows word-length (bit) of the music being played. The bit indicator also is handy for digital input connection info — if you connect it to an outboard device.
The HM-802 contains the aforementioned front panel jog wheel, menu button, back button, and play/pause, track forward button, and track backward button. The volume control is located at the near-top right of the unit. Other controls include a HD/Classic switch, which provides a treble roll-off in the Classic mode and is flat in its treble response in the HD mode. The unit also contains a Low Gain/High Gain switch. A balanced/normal switch engages the balanced circuitry when using a mini-jack-to-balanced adapter to connect balanced headphones.
On the left side is the headphone mini-jack 1/8th-inch connector. The bottom-mounted, multi-pin connector provides conduits for the analog-out/digital-in connector cable that is included. The included cable has L/R unbalanced analog RCA outputs and SPDIF RCA inputs. The digital input is nice for connecting outboard players, such as CD players, or a universal player. However, you need am optional connection “base” to get digital output, which was not in my HM-802 kit.
The HM-802 can only be charged by the included charger, which also connects to the bottom multi-pin connector. The portable cannot be charged by the USB cable, which only allows you to move audio files to and from the unit.
**Operationally, you access the HM-802 menu windows by turning the jog wheel and then pushing the enter button. The menu items are: Now Playing, Favorite, SD Card, Artist, Album, Genre, All Songs and Settings. The settings menu includes Repeat, Shuffle, Backlight, Playback Resume, Sleep, Brightness, Cue support, Language selection, SPDIF-In activate/deactivate, Media Database update and Reset settings.
The battery is easy to remove when it comes to time to replace it. The HP amp module is user replaceable as well, located under the battery. The unit comes with a paper manual, the charging dock, and the digital in/analog out dock.
Although the HM-802 is kind of old school in its appearance and multiple-switch approach to operation, its performance is outstanding. I loaded numerous hi-res tracks from HD Tracks and numerous tracks of my own recordings of jazz guitar, acoustic guitar and DSD piano, the latter recorded by Tom Jung of DMP and Sound 80 fame.
Through my AKG K702, Shure SRH1840 and Oppo PM-1/PM-2 planar magnetic headphones I found the HiFiMAN’s audio performance deliciously listenable. The Wolfson DAC/ HP amp combo relays a detailed, wide, open soundstage, yet is smooth as butter with that desirable analog tape-like transient response.
On a 24/192 dub of Bob Dylan “What’s A Sweetheart Like You” track from the Infidels SACD, the multiple layers of electric and acoustic guitar tracks are clearly heard, similar to my high-end standalone DAC/HP combos. Yet there was no hint of harshness.
On a 24-bit download of the Commodores “Sail On,” the detailed, multitrack mix of acoustic and electric guitars, pedal steel guitar, horns and percussion impressed me with its depth in revealing all these distinct audio layers. The HM-802 is truly high-end in its audio delivery.
Through my AKG K702s, Shure SRH-1840 and Oppo PM-1/PM-2 planar magnetic headphones I found the HiFiMAN’s audio performance deliciously listenable. The Wolfson DAC/ HP amp combo relays a detailed, wide, open soundstage, yet is smooth as butter with that desirable analog tape-like transient response.
The HM-802’s smooth factor was particularly noticeable on the Jason Mraz track “I Won’t Give Up” (from the Love is a Four Letter Word album). This nice-sounding, 24/96 pop hit starts out soft and acoustic, but gets really loud in the chorus, as the level peaks at digital 0. On lesser DACs, the loud parts can be a bit hard sounding, but on a good DAC the peaks are softer, easier to listen to. The HiFiMAN handled the tracks without that hardness in the loud parts of the song. Much easier on the ears. The AK-100 playback has a little more edge on that track.
The HM-802’s playback is equally at home on jazz, classical and acoustic as well. On a direct-to-DXD (24/352) recording that I made of a Taylor dreadnaught guitar, sample rate converted to 192 kHz sample rate and transferred to the HM-802, the intricate, flat-picked harmonics and the wide sense of space of the mic placement clearly came through the AKG K702 and HM-802 combo. It sounded ultra-clean and detailed through the Shure SRH1840 as well.
And a 24/88 Mahler Symphony No. 6 performance also revealed the ample dynamic range, and low-level detail, low noise floor of the HiFiMAN DAC/HP amp. And there was plenty of gain in the high-gain setting to drive the low impedance AKGs — even during the symphony’s more quiet parts.
The HM-802 also worked with other headphones including the Shure SRH1840s, and the smooth lush, tone-inducing Oppo PM-1 planar magnetic headphone. I also used the player a lot with the Sony MDR-7510, a budget, pro headphone that is fairly neutral in its presentation. I was quite pleased with that combo.
Compared to the original Astell & Kern AK-100 that used a Wolfson DAC, the HM-802 is slightly richer, smoother sounding and a bit wider in its soundstage, but there are times the punchiness of the A&K’s audio playback comes in handy. I do prefer the simplicity of the A&K’s touch screen operation for track operation, versus the multiple button/jog wheel approach of the HM-802. But at the end of the day, the HiFiMAN’s functions are easy to master and it offers a gorgeous sound signature.
My only real negative is the lack of digital output from the included connector cable. You need the optional docking “base” and another cable to get the full digital SPDIF output capability.
As a hi-res music fanatic, with access to numerous high-end DACS, headphone amps and other various playback methods, I was quite impressed with the HiFIMAN HM-802’s audio playback performance. Its analog out via headphone, or line out, is sufficiently high-end to impress even the most finicky listener. At $699, it is a good buy. The great sound, replaceable battery and excellent battery life put me firmly in its camp. If it had a standard digital output and USB cable charging, its operation capability would be perfect in my book.
Overall, the HM-802 gets an Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award and an audition recommendation from me to those who want hi-res music playback in a small form factor.