While using a smartphone or iPod may work for most, that's not going to cut it for picky audiophiles. HiFiMAN offers dedicated portable music players with audiophile-grade features. The company's new HM-901 pushes the boundaries of portable sound even further, with swappable amplifier modules and balanced headphone drive.
Like all HiFiMAN players, the HM-901 dumps the fixed hard drive you find in an iPod Classic, and plays your tunes from SD cards. This allows you to load up with uncompressed and lossless files without having to worry about running out of storage room. The player can handle most lossless digital formats including Flac and Apple Lossless, including sampling rates up to 192kHz 24bit. It will even play MP3 files if you need to slum it occasionally.
One problem with an iPod Classic is that while it sounds okay driving simple little earbuds, its relatively wimpy amp has a tough time with less efficient full-sized headphones. The HM-901 lets you tailor the output of the player to the type of 'phones you plan to use with swappable headphone modules. They have also reconfigured the microphone connection on the Apple-style mini jack, so you can use the four connections to drive the headphones using a balanced connection. This will presumably only work with HiFiMAN headphones that conform to this standard, although a switch on the side of the HM-901 lets you use standard unbalanced headphones.
To expand the HM-901's capabilities to your home stereo, an optional dock lets you avoid the old problem of listening through the headphone jack. The dock also adds SP/DIF and USB digital input and output, so you can connect it to your fancy outboard digital to analog converter.
Posted on location at CES 2013 in Las Vegas. All photos taken by Michael Trei for DVICE.