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  • "A Powerhouse!": Josh Valour Reviews the HIFIMAN EF400 Amp

    This is the HIFIMAN EF400. This is a very interesting amplifier because not only does HIFIMAN not really come out with very many amplifiers, but when they do it kind of marks an interesting point. This is replacing the 2012 EF6. Now, what’s interesting about this one, to me personally, is that this is sort of a nudging of people to redefine how much power they think they need for some headphones like the Susvara or the HE1000 V2. I think that the Susvara doesn’t actually need as much power as a lot of people make it seem like it does. Some people claim that the Susvara needs 10 or 50 or 100 watts, but I don’t personally think that you need that much power, and it doesn’t seem that HIFIMAN does either. The EF400 has 4.4 watts per channel. Another thing that’s really interesting about this is the use of an R2R DAC inside it. This has a Himalayan R2R DAC, the same DAC that’s in the HIFIMAN Deva, though I’m not sure if they’re implemented in the same way. I would be surprised if they literally took that entire DAC and put it in here. EIther way, an R2R DAC inside of a DAC/Amp is a rarity. Most DAC/amps right now are either using ESS or AKM chips. Build quality Now, I can’t speak to the internal build quality, because I just don’t know enough about it, but the external build quality is superior to that of TOPPING and FiiO right now. It’s just a little bit better. It feels more dense, more solid, and seems to be better-constructed. Honestly, I also like the physical design of it, especially the face being this brushed aluminum look. That looks pretty decent and matches some of the other HIFIMAN headphones. Measurements So the measurements are sort of interesting. The total harmonic distortion is 0.002%. The SNR is 118dB, and the power output is about 4.4 watts. This hasn’t been independently measured, so I’m not sure if there’s going to be any real quirks in this thing’s measurement performance, but what’s interesting about this is that it’s already a little bit behind the measurements of some existing DAC/Amps right now, those like that DX7 Pro+ and the FiiO K9, for example. Now, the interesting thing about this is that I think it’s actually targeted towards a different audience than the people who like a super squeaky clean-measuring DAC/Amp. I say that because of the use of the R2R DAC, which historically doesn’t measure quite as cleanly as something like an AKM or ESS chip. So we could sit here and argue about measurements all day, but it also doesn’t seem like that’s necessarily what the amp is trying to go for. If you’re looking for something that measures basically perfectly, you should look at something like the TOPPING DX5 or FiiO K9 Pro. Power Now, this has about as much power as any headphone is going to need. That alone is going to be very attractive to the right users. This also has a lot of flexibility. It can play with IEMs on its lowest gain mode. It can also play with a Susvara or V2 or an HE6 on its high gain mode. If you’re a person with a wide range of headphones, this is going to be very appealing. Sound quality Subjectively, I think that this thing is very good for certain headphones and misses the mark for others. For example, it pairs fantastically with the HE1000V2. Not only does this headphone require a lot of power, but actually the EF400 felt overpowered for it in a good way. It had more than enough power. I never turned the volume past 12 o’clock, which is very impressive for a big demanding planar headphone. The EF400 delivered the HE1000V2’s dynamic slam and bass very well. The HE1000V2 can suffer from a glossiness or shininess in the treble response on certain amps, but it sounded better on the EF400 than it does on better-measuring amps like the FiiO K9. It felt a little bit smoother in the top end. Now, the EF400 didn’t sound good with some other headphones, such as the Abyss Diana TC. It made that headphone sound a bit more mono and not quite as three-dimensional as it usually sounds on things like my A90/D90 stack. It sounded a bit more compressed, not as dynamic or alive. I’m not sure if this is because of a power difference between the A90 and EF400 or if there are other factors in play here. But I didn’t quite like it so much. With the HIFIMAN Edition XS, the performance of the EF400 matched the capability of something like the A90D, and that’s a relatively easy headphone to drive. There are amplification differences, but the EF400 sounded really good. Unique sonic characteristics Now, as far as characteristics go, the EF400 doesn’t seem like an overly warm amplifier, nor like a squeaky clean, clinical one. It just hit right in the middle. It didn’t seem to have any particular leaning, which is a good thing and a bad thing. I wish, since they weren’t really going for measurements, that they would sort of lean in a warmer direction. I think that would be my personal preference, but they didn’t seem to do that. It’s kind of generally what I would consider to be kind of middle-of-the-road. Other than that, I didn’t really notice any standout characteristics that would make me not recommend this to somebody, especially if you’re not really interested in doing the measurements dance. It sounded very clear and without characteristics that I would count as a detriment to it. It sounded quite nice. Conclusion The major competition for the EF400 are the FiiO K9 Pro and the TOPPING DX7 Pro+. Those two offer more features and better measurements. As far as subjective listening tests go, I have no problem recommending the EF400 if you’re fine with the limited feature set, the high amount of power, and the looks. Of course, if you’re a measurements chaser, it’s clear that you’re going to be deciding between the DX7 Pro+ and the K9 Pro. I think all of these sound about the same, except when you get into some bigger planars. I actually felt that the Diana TC was better on the DX7 Pro + than it was on the EF400, but I felt like the HE1000V2 sounded better on the EF400 than it did on either of the others. So it’s really a matter of which particular headphone you’re using. At the end of the day, it really comes down to what you want more of: power or specs and features? Those are your decisions. I think these are the three options in this price range that I would really recommend, and it would really just depend on what you need from your DAC/Amp. Alright, guys. Thanks a lot for watching. Catch you next time.
  • Buy the TOPPING DX1 on Apos Audio

    It’s time to shake up the entry-level market! TOPPING has just released the DX1, a $99 DAC/amp combo that features a brand-new AKM DAC chip, dual gain settings, and two headphone outputs. The first thing you’ll probably notice about this thing is that it’s tiny. Here it is riding on top of the TOPPING L30 II… Small though it may be, it boasts some big names in hardware. Its two-channel AKM DAC chip decodes 32-bit/384kHz PCM and DSD256 (Native) in a stunning 120dB of dynamic range. Its USB controller is made by XMOS. And while this is a far cry from a feature-rich all-in-one, TOPPING were thoughtful in their implementation of certain features. A high/low gain option and two headphone jacks (6.35mm and 3.5mm) give you everything you need to run IEMs and full-size headphones. Another neat feature is the Discrete LNRD circuit, which filters out noise and interference from the conveniently-sized yet notoriously noisy USB 5V power supply. This plays no small part in the unit’s fantastic <0.0002% THD+N. How about power though? 280mW x2 @32Ω is not too shabby, especially if you’re planning to run IEMs and dynamic driver full-sized headphones. All in all, this is an exciting product from TOPPING that is sure to command the entry-level conversation going forward. Product highlights Hi-Res Audio AKM AK4493S DAC chip <0.0002% THD+N DSD256 PCM384 XMOS XU208 Discrete LNRD 280mW x2 @32Ω 2 gain settings 6.35mm and 3.5mm outputs Line out -160dB of jitter
  • The Battle of the <$1000 All-in-Ones! TOPPING vs SMSL vs FiiO vs HIFIMAN

    Let the battle begin! Lachlan of Passion for Sound pitted the best <$1,000 all-in-one units against each other in a roundup review on his YouTube channel. He compared the TOPPING DX5, xDuoo M500 MkIII, HIFIMAN EF400, TOPPING DX7 Pro+, and the FiiO K9 PRO ESS. Watch the full review below or scroll on for an abridged transcript. Due to the lengthy runtime of the video review, we’ve only transcribed the introduction, preliminary conclusion, and final conclusion chapters. Our transcription doesn’t do Lachlan’s incisive and nuanced commentary justice, and we encourage everyone to watch the full video. Intro Hi, folks. Welcome to another Passion for Sound audio review. Today, we have a battle between five different all-in-ones. What I mean by that is that all of these are a DAC and headphone amp (and also a preamp in most cases). They’re all of that wrapped into a single box. I happen to have been sent a few of these for review all in short order, and so I thought rather than do individual reviews, where inevitably I would have compared them against each other anyway, I thought let’s just start off by comparing all of the all-in-ones that I have handy up to $1000. Preliminary summary I had some really interesting conclusions, and I’m not done yet but let me give you a quick summary of how these perform just as all-in-one’s driving headphones. I’m going to come back around in a moment and talk about them with IEMs and also as DACs or preamps only. But first let’s summarize them as all-in-one units only. The xDuoo M500 is the clear standout when combining price, sound quality, and the feature set. The M500 is an absolute beast. The DX7 Pro+ comes in a very, very close second. It’s not quite as good as the M500 from a sonic perspective, but it’s got more power, it’s got I2S, it’s got balance control, and some of you are going to prefer the design. The K9 Pro ESS has been bumped to third place for me, because it’s got slightly more features than the other two, but the sound quality from the M500 and DX7 Pro+ is clearly better. The EF400 kind of sits on its own. For me, it’s got the best sound of all of them, but there is such a massive gulf in the feature set, and it also doesn’t seem to play well with high impedance headphones, so it’s got kind of a niche position. It’s number one in sound quality with lower impedance headphones, but it drops back so quickly, in terms of features and high impedance cans, that I really don’t know where to put it. I will put it as number one for sound quality for low impedance cans, but for everything else I’m probably going to go for the M500 as my absolute top. And, finally, I don’t want to not mention the DX5. The DX5 is still great, but given that for just $80 US more you can get what I consider to be the best value in this whole roundup for that little bit more money, I just think the M500 makes so much more sense than the DX5. Let’s not quite stop there just yet. I’m not going to crown any of these as the ultimate winners because there’s a bit more we need to talk about. Final conclusions As you can probably see at this point, none of these are perfect. Deciding which of these is best is going to come down to how you’re going to use it, what you prioritize, what you’re using it with. There are lots of different variables, so let me try to sum everything up now and pull it all together into a coherent picture. Starting at the bottom, in terms of budget, is the DX5. It’s a good solid unit. I will still recommend it for that <$500 market, but it’s really outclassed by everything else here. The xDuoo M500 Mark III is my clear favorite in terms of price, features, and performance combination, but it is worth remembering that it doesn’t give you a huge ability to upgrade with external amps, and if you are switching regularly between the headphone outputs and the line outputs, it is a little bit of a cumbersome process. It’s not a big deal. It’s a couple of presses of a button, but it’s a bit fiddly. If you want to just change on the fly, the DX7 Pro+ is the easier product to use. If you’re going to constantly switch between headphones and the line out, it’s much easier to switch than the M500. From a pure sonic perspective, I still think the M500 is the better-sounding device. The EF400 is probably the best-sounding product on low impedance headphones. For some reason, that sound changes with high impedance headphones. It doesn’t work particularly well with IEMs, and it’s got no features to speak of other than oversampling and not-oversampling. It also has no preamp functionality (the volume control on the front is only for the headphone outputs). And then, finally, we’ve got the FiiO K9 Pro ESS here, which is not as good as the M500 or the DX7 Pro+ from a pure all-in-one driving-a-headphone point of view. But it gives you a fantastic set of features, and it’s also the best of all in terms of being able to provide a variable line out and some of the best sound coming out of the DAC in this entire roundup. And so if I were going to choose one of these for myself, it would be the M500 for versatility, the EF400 for pure headphone driving sound quality (unless it’s high impedance), or it would be the K9 PRO ESS for maximum versatility (but that would be with the assumption that I was going to be running external amplifiers as well). I’m not knocking either of the TOPPING units. I think they’re both really solid devices. They just happen to be outclassed by a slightly cheaper M500, a slightly better-sounding EF400, and a slightly more versatile K9 PRO ESS. Ultimately, there are no clear-cut winners here. I very rarely do clear-cut winners, but there are some really strong standouts. The M500 for me is the hero of this roundup. This is the one that I’m now most likely to have on my desk. Happy listening, and I’ll see you next time on Passion for Sound.
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