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HiFiMAN HM-101 - Sound Quality and Verdict

Andrew Williams

By Andrew Williams



  • Recommended by TR
HiFiMAN HM-101


Our Score:


Sound Quality - The Bad

We like the HiFiMAN HM-101. Its aims are good, it's a worthwhile product and it's supremely affordable. But it's certainly not perfect.

It adds a noise floor to the signal - a light hiss. Yes, the HM-101 is noisier than a £15 stick MP3 player, and if you exclusively use isolating in-ear headphones, this is a bit of an annoyance. With open-back headphones you can barely hear it, though.

HiFiMAN HM-101 1

The HiFiMAN HM-101 is also extremely susceptible to interference. Get it too close to a mobile phone or certain other gadgets and it'll start bleating as if it's being touched inappropriately. It's easy enough to get the HM-101 sufficiently far away with a miniUSB cable - if needed you can buy a longer one from eBay for pennies - but only a short one is supplied. And the interference is a reminder that this is in several ways a fairly compromised device.

But let's not forget - it is £30.

Sound Quality - The Good

And for £30, the sound improvements it can provide over a laptop's standard headphone jack are seriously impressive. We tested the HiFiMAN HM-101 with a Windows laptop, a desktop PC and a MacBook Air, all without any special audio hardware. And we tried numerous sets of in-ear, on-ear and over ear headphones ranging from £20 to £600. Some consistent improvements soon became clear.

The HiFiMAN HM-101 excels as tightening-up the low-end and clearing out low-mid bloating, resulting in increased definition and an increased sense of soundstage. Bass volume tends to decrease a bit, which might not be desirable if you're using already bass-light headphones, but response is unmistakeably improved. HiFiMAN HM-101 4

Separation and clarity are the staples of "high end" sound, and that a £30 box can provide them is quite remarkable, even if it does introduce noise as part of the bargain. We found the difference in tonal quality more marked than recently-reviewed Fiio models, although in their favour this year's boxes don't add that occasionally irritating hiss.


The HiFiMAN HM-101 is undeniably good value in the same way that Fiio's E6 portable headphone amp is. In this field, anything that provides results at such a low price is worthy of praise. Do consider whether the interference in particular is likely to become a problem, though, as it has the potential to become a deal-breaker.

HiFiMAN HM-101


The HiFiMAN HM-101 is a USB soundcard with a Burr-Brown DAC chip that sells for under £30. And it provides genuine sound quality improvements over a standard computer's audio output. It introduces a little hiss and is terribly prone to interference too, but at the price that it can make a £600 pair of headphones sound demonstrably better is impressive.

Overall Score


Scores In Detail

  • Design 8
  • Sound Quality 8
  • Value 9


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.


February 10, 2013, 6:15 pm

wrap your head dumbass


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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