ROUND 1: HM-801 VS. iPOD TOUCH
I did my testing with both Audio Technica ATH-ESW9 ($349) over-the-ear headphones and custom-sized JH Audio JH16 Pro ($1,149) in-ear monitors. In each of the below cases, I played WAV or Apple Lossless files on the iPod, and lossless FLAC files on the HM-801, so there's no difference in the recording itself. I also listened to many more MP3s, and for these the same files were used on both players.
My first track was one I nearly always start my audio testing with: "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" by Radka Toneff. I like starting with this track as her voice, the openness of the recording, and the delicate piano are all difficult to reproduce well. In a direct comparison between my iPod Touch and the HM-801 (with levels matched the best I could) the HM-801 had a cleaner sound, less gritty than the iPod. The treble was smoother, more open on the 801. The difference was definitely audible.
Next was track 8, "Down for the Count," from Girl Talk's album All Day. The HM-801 had slightly warmer, fuller bass, and a marginally wider soundstage. Once again the 801 just sounded more open, more natural. Conversely, the iPod seemed almost compressed in its overall sound. Was it a huge difference? No, but it was noticeable. Arbitrary letter grades? B for the iPod, B+ for the 801.
Brent Butterworth and Geoff Morrison combine their years of gear testing and knowledge in one überblog of irreverence and techiness.
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