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HiFiMAN HM-101 review

Andrew Williams

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Reviewed:

Awards

  • Recommended by TR

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HiFiMAN HM-101
  • HiFiMAN HM-101
  • HiFiMAN HM-101
  • HiFiMAN HM-101
  • HiFiMAN HM-101
  • HiFiMAN HM-101
  • HiFiMAN HM-101

Summary

Our Score:

8

Pros

  • Tightens-up low-end
  • Improves soundstage
  • Neat, light and cheap

Cons

  • Prone to interference
  • Adds light hiss

Key Features

  • Burr-Brown PCM2702 E DAC chip
  • MicroUSB port
  • Headphone and line out
  • 26g weight
  • 36 x 60.5 x 13.8 mm
  • Manufacturer: HiFiMAN
  • Review Price: £29.99

The world of high-end audio is full of dubious claims, the deliberately baffling use of science-y terms, sky-high prices and products that resonate with ego. The HiFiMAN HM-101 isn't like that. One of HiFiMAN's "consumer grade products with Hi-Fi elements" and part of its new HiFiMAN Express range, it's a dirt cheap USB soundcard that's small, light and tremendously simple. And while it's easy to make the assumption a £30 box couldn't really improve sound quality, it'd be a false one.

Design

Matchbox-sized, button-free and 26g in weight, the HiFiMAN HM-101 doesn't shout about what it's for. It has no flaps, no batteries and no display. It's a lot simpler than the rival Fiio E17 - and simpler even than the sub-£20 Fiio E6.

HiFiMAN HM-101 2

On its top edge is a miniUSB port. Plug this into a computer and the HM-101 will start acting as the computer's soundcard, piping signal through the two 3.5mm jack ports on its bottom. These are line level and headphone outputs, letting you plug in speakers and headphones at the same time. From a quick look, the only way to know if it's working or not is to look at the little power icon on its front, which glows blue when the HM-101 is drawing power from its USB connection.

For a device that doesn't really need to be all that portable - it's for plugging into computers rather than MP3 players - this thing is tiny. But it is also reasonably sturdy. A single band of metal forms its sides, and the front and rear are panels of glossy black plastic. It's too light to feel super-strong like some of Fiio's metal-bodied headphone amplifiers, but it can easily withstand being trodden into carpet - a likely occurrence. HiFiMAN HM-101 4

Next to the retro HM-601 media player, the HM-101 looks positively sleek and modern. But what does it actually do?

The HiFiMAN HM-101's main aim is to replace the DAC, the digital-to-analogue converter, of your computer. Because, in all likelihood, it's probably not a very good one. This little box won't work with iPads or Android tablets - while they may have a USB interface of sorts, it doesn't have the requisite flexibility.

Specs

What the little box replaces your computer DAC with is a Burr-Brown PCM2702 E chip - Burr-Brown makes the DAC chips in the much more expensive Arcam drDock and rPAC. It's a good start, isn't it?

HiFiMAN HM-101 5

HiFiMAN claims the HM-101 provides 96dB signal-to-noise ratio, 20Hz to 20KHz frequency response and 26mW power output at 150Ohm. It should therefore be able to power over-ear headphones as well as teeny little in-ear buds. The numbers don't really tell you what the HM-101's really like to use, though…

jetronic63

June 21, 2012, 6:25 pm

Would have considered replacing my iMic with this as I do quite a bit of listening while working on my mac mini/Sennheiser combo. However the interference IS a deal breaker for me as my mobile is always nearby. The iMic is immune to this and so it will stay for the time being.

Nick 2

June 22, 2012, 12:35 pm

What about adding a little shielding to the device? Maybe wrap it in foil or something ? Just a thought. No idea if that would work.

Hamish Campbell

June 22, 2012, 2:40 pm

I can see the Fiio E7 is down to 52 pounds on amazon. I would guess it performs better with interference and hiss. Obviously, percentage-wise a large increase, but for many the 22 extra might be well worth it.

I would need Android to include usb audio out to justify moving from my E6.....might happen, especially in cyanogenmod, seems it would need to include a standard linux audio driver which currently isn't there, so sounds like the change wouldn't be dramatic to get it there.

khgk

February 10, 2013, 6:15 pm

wrap your head dumbass

syntheticzero

February 9, 2014, 3:04 am

I just got the Hifiman HM-101 and I agree, for the most part, with the reviews. However, there are some mitigating factors. For some reason, the amount of noise it adds seems to vary considerably with the source. I suspect the noise is coming from the USB power supply as it is routed through the headphone amp section, because I noticed the noise far more when plugging it into some devices than others. For instance, when plugged into my iPad with a Camera Connection Kit (it works beautifully with that), there is virtually no noise added. There's more noise when plugged into some laptops.

The second thing is if you plug your headphones into the line out, it is actually loud enough for a lot of music and there's no added noise. It's a very clean signal from the line output. However, I prefer the sound via the headphone jack even when I have it connected to a device that adds a little bit of noise.

I will add this as well: beware as the device is rather fragile. I was carrying it in my jacket pocket with the USB cable attached to the little box. This is not a good idea as at some point during the day I must have managed to mush the cable a bit and it broke the connector. Do not try to save time by leaving the cable connected to this box! On the upside, however, this thing is SO cheap I thought nothing of getting another one to replace the one I had carelessly destroyed.

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