A big thanks to Drew and every one at Moon Audio, they handled the sale of this new unit to me and were very helpful in answering all of my questions!
Ever since my Hifiman HM 601 back in 2012 I've always loved the Hifiman Sound. The deep bass, the smooth mids and that spacious presentation. Ideally for me I thought the Hm 801 was going be the end all Hifiman DAP for me. How ever I was seeing that the unit did not age as well as I was hoping it would. In addition after spending a year with out it dawned on me one day that it was just a touch to slow, and warm for my tastes. It had that classic deep bass and spacious sound, but just wasn't fast enough. Most of my headphones sounded better out of my NFB 10ES2 so I knew it was time for an upgrade!
Coming from the Old HM 801 Box I was at first glance a little disappointed, the box for the HM 801 was a perfect compliment to the player it self. It was gawd awfully large and accented in gold, how ever it felt a little cheap in the hand. The HM 901 box was little different. While it didn't have the same BIG PRESENCE, like the HM 801 did it had a better feel in the hands. Felt a little sturdier and have a nicer set of textures and materials on the outside as well.
Of course the interior of the two units was pretty much the same, Charging cable, the unit it self and with the HM 901 the RCA Line Out Cable as well.
The player is smaller than I expected, which was a nice surprise!
Simple clean presentation!
The User Interface
I spent about all of 3 mins with Firmware Version 1.083, I then upgraded to the new Taichi 2.01 Firmware, and I must say that I enjoy it! Sadly It's only frozen on my once... in the last 20 hours of use. Which is about right for a Hifiman DAP... I found the User Interface to be easy to use though most of it commands were easy to figure out.
Some of the more useful commands were not so easy to figure out, though maybes that's just a user error on my part ;3
Either way the complaints of a poor and Buggy UI weren't present in this new Taichi 2.01 interface and I was happy to find that!
Build Quality/ Utility
And here is the ugly side of this new unit, as much of a fan of the HM801 Body and Build as I was... I was disappointed with how the HM 901 is built and how it feels in the hand
The buttons feel about as cheap as they look, the Center button looks and feels really nice! How ever the scroll wheel... is a disaster. It's a touch un responsive, nothing like a smooth an light weight... say iPod Wheel? The 4 Buttons on the side... feel like a wasted effort, I would think [going back the iPod seeing as they went for that] why not put in a bigger better quality wheel and use it's 4 main axis points for buttons, if your going to remind me of the iPod design you should REALLY live up to it!
Though there is rumors of a Hifiman HM901S to be out soon, apparently us HM901 users get to look forward to a "free" upgrade to a new chaise... we'll see how that goes when it arrives
And the BATTERY LIFE is standard, no better or worse than other Hifiman Player I've ever owned!
Though I'm not a fan of the Line Out... again it's iPod Esque with this BIG multi pin port. My issue with it is it doesn't grip the connector that goes into to well, that and the connector it self is odd... it terminates to the Left? That and while the Wire coming out of it is nice... the port it self looks and feels a little cheap... my iPod LOD has a nice series of locking metal grooves...
Yea that's two cables there... I would have really preferred the old HM 801 style Line Out [you know the 3.5mm kind] that way I could still listen to the player Line Out while I charged it!
SO let's hope Hifiman gets build quality up to par with the HM 901S launch!
All of the vanity aside ... I bet your wondering HOW IT SOUNDS!
Well in Short it sounds GOOD
All in all, I found that with transparent headphones or some of the brighter and more revealing headphones the HM 901 proves to be a great dac for these units, The HM 901 being, dark spacious and very energetic, dynamic changes and imaging on the HM 901 take the cake for sure! The HM 901 brings a great level of detail, space and speed to the classic "fun" Hifiman Sound. It is the perfection of the Hifiman Sound I came to love in my old HM 601 and HM 801 units!
It's a very transparent DAP, it's un forgiving of colored headphones, and poorly mastered tracks, though it still has some personality of it's own! Bass that's just a smidge boosted without ever being bloated and a very tactile and dynamic presentation!
An what I love about the HM 901 is not only does this sound exist in the Line Out but also with the Included Classic Card! I have a dinky little pair of MS1i-W's that sound GREAT out of the 3.5mm out! While I tend to use these headphones on the go, such as walking around campus or even hanging out at the mall, the HM 901 offers both the Hi Quality sound out of it's line out but also offers a great quality out of the Classic Card as well! While the Line out is better, the some what awkward plug don't always make it the most practical choice, that and my pockets are only so big! Still if your looking for an All in One Box Solution the HM 901 is where it's at! An if your like me and you just want to slap a line out into the sucker and run it into your portable amp it's going to offer a top quality sound there too!
Big thanks to JoeDoe of Head-Fi as he performed the cup installation as well as the swapping out the headband. Price for a stock Alessandro MS1i is $109
Now the headphones themselves have been outfitted with an Auvio Headband. Which offers a slightly more durability than the stock Grado Headband.
It has a nice construction, very light weight has a good feel in the hand. It also have a comfortable head band and a sturdy feel to it's hinges.
My only fault with the Auvio Headband is it doesn't feature to much left or right cup rotation, which with an open back headphone isn't a huge issue, though it does affect the sound stage a small bit.
The drive and housing assembly are unique to this headphone as well, the cups are made from American Black Walnut and the drivers are suspend within them.
A unique feature of the drivers though is the small white pad that sits in front of them, while it certainly has some sonic benefits unknown to me, I can say it does improve the comfort of the headphone.
In addition to comfort, the headphones placement is pretty simple. Dead center on your ears for the best sound, slightly different from the Senn Grado I reviewed early this month!
Sound Summarized The MS1i-W has a smooth and mellow presentation, it brings the right amount of brightness when needed for metal and other very metallic instruments, the bass has good body and the overall presentation is airy though a tad laid back. All in All if you enjoy a fairly smooth presentation or are new to the hobby. This would be a can I could recommend! I'd say in the $100 range this can does well, it's got a nice presentation a good sense of separation and is just pleasant to listen to without being overly smoothed out or just plain boring. As always check out the full article at Head Fi for song by song impressions!
Big thanks to Joe Doe of Head Fi. com for allowing me the chance to demo these very cool little headphones! Essentially "They're basically a Sennheiser PX100 driver housed in a Grado style cup." Joe's words exactly!
As for the visuals, lets take a look!
Visually I love the look, simple leather headband nice metal accents and of course the gorgeous wood cups.
How ever, while they look amazing, the comfort is different. These are meant to sit on your ears, the most comfortable position, is the optimal one for sound quality.
Now let's move onto the sound
These are wired with a single 3.5mm Jack, that said I'll be using my iBasso PB2 Se out. The reasons being is my iBasso PB2 has been optimized for low gain headphones, with my NFB 10ES2 being better suited for Balanced Headphones or Low or High Gain.
For reference I'll be comparing it to my HE 4 out the NFB 10ES2 Balanced Out, my SE doesn't have quite enough power to drive them.
Power wise they aren't hard to drive, but they aren't too easy either. I'm sittin at about 2 o'clock on the PB2 SE out
A general over view of the sound would be aggressive and airy. These are very much a dry headphone, nice detail retrieval and impressive bass response! Speed is nice as well, the dynamics are about average as is the 2D and 3D sound stage presentations.
Let's get down to the finer details of the Sound
Bass: Mid bass has nice punch to it and very taut, sub bass though is some what lacking in body and attack though only mildly rolled off on that end.
Mids: Mids are the sweet spot for the SennGrado, it has a nice balanced of both attack and decay, with a lovely balance between both the upper and lower mids. Both Guitars and violins have a great tone to them. Male and female vocals are also breath taking! The mids sit a touch forward over everything else, and have a realyl wonderful tone to them! There is also a nice touch of intimacy to the mids as well.
Highs: Nice and airy, a touch of grain on the top end but overall very pleasant. Nice extension on the treble as well.
I would say overall, the bass is where the SennGrado is it's only con, the smaller driver lacks the sheer mass to move air like a full Size Planar can, or have the hit that a closed back has. How ever that said, there is a mild Mid Bass Hump that combined with lots of attack and little decay, makes for a pleasantly tactile bass.
On the positive side though, the Senn Grado has breath taking mids and does a really wonderful job with a wide Variety of musical genres. I think all in all for any of you who like to mod or are even curious about modding, the Senn Grado would be an excellent place to start! An if your like me and not into modding, head on over to Head Fi and have one of our more experienced Modders build you one!