On Tuesday morning, at a very well-attended press conference held at the Embassy Suites, members of the press learned more about Fang Bian, founder of HiFiMan, makers of personal audio products, and were introduced to HiFiMan’s new HE-400 planar magnetic headphone ($399), EF-6 headphone amplifier ($1499), and HiFiMan Express HM-601 Slim portable music player (4GB, $199; 8GB, $249).
HiFiMan was founded in 2007 in New York City while Bian worked toward a PhD in Nanotechnology. In 2009, the company set up two factoriesone for headphones and one for electronicsin Bian’s homeland China. Bian explained that his interest in audio, and especially portable audio, developed when he was a teenager. He collected all models of damaged or discontinued Sony Walkman and Discman players from local shops, refurbished them, and soon began selling them online. Meanwhile, Bian had helped his parents assemble a home theater system at home. The idea for a hi-fi version of the Walkman (hence “HiFiMan”) was born through his fascination with the iconic player and his interest in better sound quality.
I reviewed the top-of-the-line HM-801 portable player in my blog and the more modest HM-602 in the May issue of Stereophile. In my time with HiFiMan’s players, I found that they offered a tonally richer, fleshier, and more involving sound than my 8GB Apple iPod Mini, but lacked the latter’s ease of use and portability. The issue of portability is addressed in the HM-601 Slim, the first in what one assumes will be a growing line of affordable “HiFiMan Express” products. Less than an inch thick and weighing just 7oz, the HM-601 Slim is available in either 4GB or 8GB versions; is compatible with 32GB SD memory cards; can play a variety of music file formats including MP3, WAV, FLAC, AAC, and OGG; and has a High/Low Gain switch for use with either in-ear monitors or over-the-ear headphones.
HiFiMan’s HE-400 planar magnetic headphone has a rated sensitivity of 92.5dB. Bian explained that he wanted to maintain a high level of quality while enhancing portability and appearance. To those ends, the HE-400 weighs less than other full-size headphones in HiFiMan’s line and sports a new metallic cobalt finish, which looked especially striking against former Home Theater sales rep Christina Yuin’s blue eye shadow and sweater (seen in the photo above).
Finally, the 5 watt, solid-state, class-A EF-6 headphone amplifier was designed to drive the most demanding loads, said Bian. It weighs 24lbs and has a nicely finished brushed aluminum faceplate.
Throughout his discussion, Bian talked of wanting to achieve a “traditional sound” as opposed to a “modern, digital sound.” When I listened to the HiFiMan Express HM-601 Slim through the HE-400 headphone, I noted a sound that was very easy to listen to and enjoy, one that was forgiving, yet involvingI was listening to a track from Adele’s musically excellent but sonically challenged 21with bold, fleshy images and a good sense of rhythm and flow.