When it comes to the so-called audiophile DAPs (Digital Audio Player), I can hardly keep up with them, they’re popping up weekly and from all over the world, its quite overwhelming. Although the market is currently booming, if you actually look back in time it was HiFiMAN who first produced an all in one DAP, that had a focus on sound quality over everything else while everyone else at the time gave portable amps for iPods more of a focus. As well as staying on top of the higher end DAP category with the 802 and 901, they have actually entered the arena in the entry level range as well with the 200 pound HM-700 that comes bundled with their phenomenal £100 RE-400B IEMs. You can also get a 16gb version with a pair of balanced earbuds for £70.
I do have say that HiFiMAN have gone in a slightly different direction with the HM700 than other companies or even themselves with their two more expensive models because the HM700 bundle, works very well as… you guessed it, a bundle. While most of these so called high end DAPs, stray from packaging a earphone with them (like you might traditionally expect with an iPod) because lets face it, if your dropping more than £300 or even £2200 on a music player, your likely already going to own a pair of headphones or two BUT, the HM700 actually throws in one of their very highly regarded IEMs, the RE-400, a model that actually won the sub £100 earphone of the year in my 2013 awards. So they throw in a great earphone, how does that separate them for anyone else, well, I have found that the most ideal situation for the HM700 is when it is paired with either the included RE-400 or the RE-600, which is part of a more expensive bundle, because that in house synergy is hard to beat. So even if your on a budget that could only just about get you the HM700 with RE-400 or even if you had a bit more so that you can stretch too the RE-600 bundle, to try and equal that synergy any other way, is well, probably close to impossible.
With the RE-400B
Another reason that the HM700 is more suited too the included earphones is that this is actually a fully balanced player, with a 3.5mm TRRS output. There is also no way to switch the output too single ended so if you do want too use your normal 3.5mm TRS earphones with this you have to use the included adapter, which is a little bit of pain, you can of course balance your earphone but this will add up in money. The included adapter is fully functional but what it does do is take away the nice ergonomics of the player and also adds unneeded cabling into the audio chain.
Using the Dunu DN-200 along with the single ended adapter
Finally there is also the fact your buying the earphone and you cannot just buy the player alone so using other earphones loses value but that is of course up to you, but honestly, I don’t see why you would want to use other earphones, just try the bundled combo.
They player itself is small and simple. The UI is pretty basic, with an easy navigation, few options and a little bit of lag. HiFiMAN have decided to pair physical buttons with a touch pad and the combination I am not sure about. While the physical buttons have a nice click and work great, the touch pad is not always the most accurate and sometimes I mishit, I also find that the player easily unlocks in my pocket. That being said for the most part controlling the player is painless, it look simple but does the job and while sometimes my tags on my files are not read correctly, I still can navigate through all my music and it allows me to listen by album, artist and all the usual as well as shuffle all songs and that’s all I ask for in that regard.
In terms of features it is quite basic, you have 32GB built in memory that is not expandable and that would be rather limiting if it could handle high res files or DSD but it is limited too 24/44.1, which is roughly 1000 FLAC tracks, not too shabby really. We simply have that balanced output and a charging port, nothing more, which keeps things simple and too the point and I like this. Sometimes its nice to have a simple device, that doesn’t try do more than it can handle, because, more often that does just end up backfiring.
If you find the features lacking, it does make up for that in terms of how many accessories they thrown in the box to give plenty of uses. You get a pretty cool exercise band that you can wear on your arm and fit the player into so that your earphones wont get in the way when your pumping the gym while getting those good quality motivation vibes. You also get a little pouch to keep it safe while on the go as well as cleaning cloth to keep it pretty. You then get the relevant adapters, TRRS (balanced) to TRS (single ended) cable for the included balanced earphones, as well as a cable that plugs into both the USB port and the TRRS headphones out to give you a single ended output by using the USB port as a ground. You also get all the tips and stuff you would get if you were too buy the RE-400 alone!
While the flagship players from HiFiMAN are known to be bricks, the HM700 is vey sleek and easily pocketable with a similar form to some of the older iPod Nanos. It is almost half as deep as an AK100, not as wide and then just a bit taller, which makes it ergonomic in the hand as well. The construction feels strong with the way the lack of things going on leaving it with very little to break.
Now with a player, synergy is always going to be of the upmost importance and rarely does a single company make both earphones and players, and when you do have the rare occurrence of someone like HiFiMAN doing just this, you take advantage of it. In testing of the player you know they are going to have been using the RE-400 and RE-600 and it shows in the magical synergy with both of them, running fully balanced. I would say the adapter is there more for convenience or perhaps even for scouting out too see if a synergy with an earphone or headphone is good and if balancing them is worthwhile.
I wouldn’t say it’s a permanent fix because while it does the job, it just isn’t quite the same as plugging your earphones straight into the jack of the player. I also find when using an adapter and a single ended earphone that we do get a less silent background, with a bit more audible noise. Other earphones I have used with the HM700 have also decided to show up some of the flaws of it compared to other players with earphones like the Dunu DN-2000, a current favourite of mine at £200, being less preferable too the RE-400 off the HM700, while off my reference portable rig, the Dunu being at a clear advantage. This is not me trying to put you off the HM700 by any means, its just me saying that your purchase of this should be dependent on what your after. If you want a player that is going to be a hit with a huge range of headphones and earphones with a versatile sound, then you are best of going else where, if however your looking for a one off purchase of a portable rig, both earphones and player, then I don’t think anyone could find better value than either of the combos of the HM700 you can get.
That being said though the balanced output vs. the single ended output with adapter could well be a cause of the lesser synergies I have found with other earphones due to the balanced output just being significantly better. There are a few things to back this up, the first being that the balanced HiFiMAN models I have not sounding as good when I use a single ended adapter on them and the other being that only other TRRS 3.5mm balanced earphone I have, the Widing ME-10EL sounding awesome off the HM700. I still hold what I just said though; it still isn’t the player to buy for a whole collection of earphones because balancing them is both not free or the quickest procedure (unless you have no problem doing it yourself).
Now the base combo, the RE-400B and HM700 offers a balanced, clear and detailed sound. It lacks coloration and does a great job of delivering a tight and dynamic sound. The sound is also incredibly wide and spacious, I can tell you that you just not finding as an expansive experience in an IEM packaged for anywhere near this cheap, maybe its because of the balanced drive because when I reviewed the RE-400s, soundstage never struck me as something that was amazing but this time round, with the HM700, it is one of the things that the rig is most vocal about. It really is noticeable. I mean I went very thoroughly into the sound of the RE-400s in review that focused just on the earphones, and we still have them same fundamentals here, its not a new experience, obviously, but the HM700 just possesses the right characteristics too make the qualities of the RE-400, shine even more. This is a system that will deliver you a clear, transparent, detailed sound that is right up my street and if someone gave me 200 pounds to spend on a rig, without question its going here.
The player itself is generally forward, dynamic and a little bit tilted towards the treble. In fact I find it to be quite polarized to the AK100 as a music player, which too me, as a standalone player maybe very resolving but is too soft, warm and safe and I think it generally lacks punch without an additional amp. This isn’t the case here, well with IEMs at least, you get the full sound straight from the headphone out and even though it is a little bright, texture and body are still good, something that does not always go hand in hand with a brighter signature! Now that’s not too say there isn’t stuff too not like. The sound is quite grainy and it does not have the most finesse, I would say that things could be a bit hard. It also does have a bit of whirl in the background, not anything to do with how sensitive your monitors are, just something present with the player, of course it is only subtle. The player does does well at being forward, lively, very clear and detailed and if you plan on using with other earphones then you have to take into account this, if not just accept that the synergy with the HiFiMAN models is great.
Another great combo has proved too be the Widing earphone, a model with crazy deep bass and a lot of impact but a pair I can sometimes find a bit laid back in the upper mids into the treble and with the HM700 this certainly helps bring a bit more life into them ranges and generally making them a more exciting earphones.
There is not much too talk about when it comes too harder to drive headphones, this doesn’t have the power but it’s a completely portable player and never, have I found myself in need of using my HD800s with this, because, I have stuff that are designed too do that. There is also the point that without a line out and the balanced headphone out, feeding an amp with this is too much work for any slight success you may get out of it so this is a player only, not a source.
Finally you have the $499 combo from HiFiMAN, yes, for $100 more you can get the HM700 player along with the RE-600s and if you don’t already know my view on the RE-600 it is an earphone that is worth dropping money on. Now if you was planning on buying the earphones alone as you already have a good idea on what you plan to use them with, well, I recommend grabbing this combo because for that extra money, this player is really worth checking out, especially considering they sound creamy and right together. The brightness of the player managed to get just a little more clarity and sparkle out of the RE-600 while keeping that amazing detail in the midrange, tonal accuracy and honest bass.
Now I know through out this review I talk a lot about synergies and that because I have been stunned, the HM700 with either of the RE-400 or RE-600 does so much for the asking price I just want too scream and shout. Yes there are limitations, I couldn’t personally just own the HM700 because I do like taking my high-res files on the go and having a much bigger library of music than 32gb can provide, but in the gym or for less demanding environments, listening to the HM700, I am very satisfied and if you want something to truly kick start you into the portable audio world, then your looking right at the best way too do it.