The Entry Level #5 Page 2
Overall, the HM-602 has a handsome, rather serious appearance: With its gold controls and its fine metallic finish, which at times seems a deep green and at others takes on a smoky charcoal, the HM-602, like its predecessor, exhibits an air of elegance and sophistication. And while the HM-801 proudly takes after Sony's famed WalkmanFang Bian once owned every available model of the now-discontinued portable cassette playerthe HM-602 much more closely resembles Apple's iPod Classic. On its front panel, below the 2" LCD screen, the HM-602 has a four-way control ring similar to the iPod's scroll wheel, and three sliding switches: Power, Hold (deactivates controls while music is playing), and DAP/USB.
The HM-602 is equipped with an inexpensive 5V, 1A power charger. On a full charge, the battery is good for about 10 hours of music, but be sure to keep the battery charged before any long listening session. As I discovered, the HM-602 doesn't shut down gracefully: One quiet afternoon, while casually listening to music, I was terrified by what sounded like a loud, violent siren announcing the end of the world. Fight-or-flight took overI ran from the kitchen toward my bedroom, where the sound seemed to have originated. Once there, standing in the doorway between bedroom and listening room, I realized that the music had come to an end, and that the awful sound was actually coming from my speakers. I turned to the HiFiMan and noticed that its battery had run dry, thus causing the player to send out a death signal. Fang Bian might consider augmenting his player with some sort of soft mute to avoid any catastrophic damage to speakersor to their owners.
According to Bian, the HM-602 is the first portable music player to use the Philips TDA-1543, a 1990s-vintage 16-bit DAC chip, which, he says, offers a sound similar to that of the Burr-Brown PCM1704 in the HM-801. For its amplifier section, the HM-602 uses a Burr-Brown OPA2107 op-amp. There's a headphone output, a 1/8" line input, a five-pin mini data exchange port for transferring music files from a computer, and a slot that accepts SD cards up to Class 4 32GB HDSD (cards not included). The HM-602 also offers 16GB of onboard memory for storing MP3, WAV, OGG, and 24-bit/96kHz FLAC files. Whereas the '801 boasts a modular amplifier design, the HM-602 has a High/Low Gain switch that allows the player to drive both high-sensitivity in-ear monitors and most full-size headphones. Finally, like the '801, the HM-602 has a USB DAC port, so that you can, you know, feed it data from a computer.
But I didn't do that. Instead, I primarily used the HiFiMan HM-602 as I do my iPod Nano: as a portable music player, and as a dedicated source in my main system. Over time, in both applications, the HiFiMan distinguished itself as the more engaging player, with enhanced bass weight and control; a more expansive soundstage; larger, more precisely placed images; and a richer, fuller overall sound. In direct comparisons, the iPod consistently sounded restricted and more mechanical, with less clarity and definition. Additionally, and most important, the HiFiMan exhibited a greater sensitivity to nuances of tonal color, enabling it to reveal deeper levels of musical meaning. Through the HiFiMan, music made more sense and was therefore more enjoyable and more enriching. Each time I went back to the HiFiMan, I suddenly felt more relaxed and more engaged. My body was talking to me, and it was saying, "This is right."
As I crossed Marin Boulevard, I was nearly hit by a speeding car. I hadn't heard it comingthe Klipsch S4i in-ear monitors were doing a fine job of blocking out external sounds. Once inside Shop-Rite, I untangled myself from the Klipsch's thin, flexible cable, pulled the monitors from my ears, and let loose a sigh of relief. With their patented oval eartips, the Klipsch S4is are the most comfortable in-ears I've ever tried, but I still don't like wearing them. I remain an over-the-ear kind of guy. I wrapped up the S4i's cord, shut down the HiFiMan, and bought ingredients for a meal of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and Brussels sprouts: Natalie and Nicole would be coming over later for dinner.
If all goes well, I thought, I might just get the girls to listen to some records!
Audioengine 5 powered loudspeaker
Back at home, between boiling potatoes and chopping onions, I connected my iPod Nano to the Audioengine 5 powered loudspeakers ($349/pair in satin black or high-gloss white; bamboo adds $100/pair). The sound was surprisingly good, and I must admit that it was nice to not have to worry about flipping records with fingertips smeared with ground beef. It was similarly nice to not have to think about which record to play next. The iPod's Genius mode did a fine job of that, at times unnerving me with its seemingly poetic, appropriately timed seguesgoing, for instance, from Ceramic Dog's "Digital Handshake" to Pens' "Networking" to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' "More News from Nowhere," which goes:
Don't it make you feel sad,
Don't the blood rush to your feet
To think that everything you do today
Tomorrow is obsolete
Technology and women and little children, too
Don't it make you feel blue,
Don't it make you feel blue?
Tears flooded my eyes. Was the iPod talking to me? Probably not. I kept chopping onions.
The Audioengine 5 powered speakers come packed in attractive cloth drawstring bags, and include several convenient accessories: an AC power cable, miniplug interconnects in lengths of 2m (one pair) and 8" (two pairs), a single miniplug-to-RCA Y-cable, a 1m USB cable, and a 2m length of refreshingly simple 16AWG speaker cable. Each A5 cabinet is made of 25mm-thick MDF, measures 10" H by 7" W by 7.75" D, and houses a 20mm silk-dome tweeter and a 5" Kevlar woofer. The right speaker weighs 9 lbs; the left weighs a hefty 14 lbsit contains a 50Wpc dual class-AB monolithic amplifierand on its front baffle are a small blue power LED and a volume knob. On top of the left speaker is a 1/8" input jack and USB charge port for an iPod, while the rear panel has a second 1/8" input jack, a pair of line outs, small speaker connectors, an AC input, and a power switch. Directly in the center of the rear panel is an Aux AC outlet for use with Apple's Airport Express WiFi hub, so that you can, you know, stream music files from iTunes.
But I didn't do that. Instead, I used the Audioengine 5 in pretty much the way I would a traditional passive speaker. I initially placed the A5s where the PSB Alpha B1s had been: on 24"-high stands, secured by small globs of Blu-Tack, and exactly 27" from my room's sidewalls, 5' from the front wall, and 7' from my listening position. I was immediately struck by the A5s' outstanding spatial abilities: Images were precisely placed within an expansive soundstage and bloomed from a deep blackness, almost as if I were listening through headphones, but without the danger of being hit by oncoming traffic. In addition, I noted bass weight and control unlike any I'd ever heard in my room. I wondered if this exceptional low-frequency performance could be attributed to a special synergy between the A5s' internal amplifier and the speakers' Kevlar woofers. However, Audioengine's Dave Evans explained that the company put special emphasis first on the interaction between the A5's bass driver and the speaker cabinet: "The woofer and cabinet tuning took over a year, before the amp ever entered the picture. Then, we made sure that the amp put the final touches on pulling the most from the woofer/cabinet system."