Like many people, I have been mostly using my cell phone as a personal music player. I prefer Android phones to the iPhone ones because of the freedom that open platform offers in choice of file type and where you can get your music from. I love music and listen to a broad range of genres and play musical instruments. Like most people, I jumped on mp3’s when they first emerged but was never really satisfied. These days, I much prefer lossless FLAC despite the large file size. I copy my CD’s and when possible I make 24 bit recordings from vinyl because they are often produced from a separate mix at the studio that sounds better than the generic mix set up with compressed low bit-rate digital distribution and poor quality players in mind.
It arrived quickly. On opening the packaging, I was greeted with a box similar to what you might expect a upmarket cell phone to come in: a minimalist matt black box with white edging and the Hifi man logo centered on the front. It feels nice with the black having a nice, tactile and rubberized feel. You open the box in layers and the whole experience bespeaks of quality.
Along with the media player itself, the box contains:
In ear headphones
An assortment of silicon buds of different sizes
A quality Micro USB cable with ferrite core
Small felt pads (handy if you’re going to lay it on a desk and hook it up to a HIFI or speaker).
A screen protector (plastic film)
A simple manual in Chinese with a QR code to a proper full color digital manual in .pdf format.
The HifiMan SuperMini
The player is pretty cool in an odd, retro and futuristic way. On first removing it from the box it reminded me of Bang & Olufson of the late 80’s. It’s fairly minimalist: thin planar wedge shaped, combining both matt and gloss finishes but without the stainless steel that these days is more commonly associated with kitchen appliances.
A quick look around the outside of the player you notice that it has two 3.5mm output jacks both a regular and a balanced one, a micro USB socket and MicroSD card slot for storage. The controls are also minimalist. There are very few buttons. It used to be that you could often tell high-end HIFI separates by straight to the point controls and minimal functions. They tend to focus on getting the best possible sound with as little tweaking as possible. Often, all the extra bells and whistles on mainstream devices are there to hide areas a device is lacking in quality.
When you start the supermini by holding the on/off button, you are greeted with a cool boot screen on the small OLED display. The screen is a crisp monochrome black and white with a slight cyan tint.
The main menu shows the volume and battery level on a status bar at the top. Underneath that you have the following menu items:
- Now Playing
- File Explorer
- All Songs
As you can see, it’s very focused on quick access to your audio tracks without any fiddling. Navigating the menus is simple. There is a strip of three raised buttons just below the screen. From left to right you have Scroll Up or previous track, Select/play/pause, Scroll Down or Next Track.
On the right hand side of the device you have separate Volume up and down buttons, and a small back navigation button roughly centered on the side for returning to previous menu.
The settings menu is also fairly compact including playback, SD Card and memory management settings which are as follows:
- System version (lists current firmware build number)
- Backlight (you can set the timer for how long you want the screen to stay illuminated)
- Auto Power Off (how long you want the player to stay on before it shuts down)
- Screen Lock switch (Lock the screen on or off)
- Updating Database
- Reset Settings
- Format SDCard
As you can see the whole system is fairly minimalist giving you the essential options without any having to wade through miscellaneous features that aren’t needed on a device dedicated to playing music.
My device comes with 8gb of internal storage that appears as Drive J: when hooked up to the PC via USB. You can simply drag and drop the files from the pc into the storage on the supermini or use a separate MicroSD card. Initially, I used a 32gb SD card. The specs state it can handle up to 256gb cards.
I have used the SuperMini with a variety of devices. Since I have a dedicated audio card on my computer I first tried the HifiMan supermini through the line in on my audio card. The difference between the supermini and my cell phone was immediately apparent. My audio drivers have various options to compensate for lossy audio, bass boost, treble boost, etc. These are required with my Android phone. The supermini sounds muffled and boomy with those settings enabled and wonderful when the enhancements are turned off and the tracks are played directly through the soundcard without any coloring outside of what the manufacturer intended from the speakers.
I also tried my favorite DJ/studio monitor headphones which have quite large 50mm drivers. This was where the supermini really shines. When you’re isolated with those big drivers wrapped around your head, the sound stage sounds amazing with extreme clarity, deep bass that isn’t boomy, rich warm mids and lots of fine exquisite detail. It sounds like what you would expect from an audiophile player. By comparison, my Android cell phone doesn’t really have the power to drive the large headphones well and sounds noticeably flat with a muted flabby bass and comparatively weak treble. And I actually thought it sounded pretty good before.
Marshall Woburn Speaker
The Marshall is a Bluetooth speaker with several inputs. Bluetooth always sounds thin and reedy so from the computer I use the optical input, and when I use my cell phone I use the 3.5mm Aux cable. Just like with the over-ear headphones the Supermini brings out the best from an excellent speaker with a much stronger balanced signal that sounds very similar to my high end PC audio card. The cell phone just sounds ok when boosted and the pre-amp turned up in the Android music app I use.
HIFI Man earphones
The earphones that come with the supermini are only ok. I’m not a fan of in-ear headphones to begin with. The small drivers just can’t produce the rich variety of sounds of a good quality over ear headphone or speakers. They work fine and enable you to listen to music out of the box. But if all you’re going to use is ear buds then you’re really missing out on the fantastic quality of sound that the supermini is capable of.
Great little music player for people who want best quality music
Product Name: HIFIMAN SuperMini
Product Description: High Bitrate lossless portable audio player
This is a great little music player for people who care about getting the best quality recordings to listen to. If you’re still using a lossy format like mp3 or have cheap and cheerful headphones then the extra cost might be hard to justify. Especially if you like the convenience of Bluetooth. The HIFIman SuperMini really shines with high-quality lossless recordings and good quality over ear headphones or good quality amplified speakers. It’s then that the difference is really noticeable. With the HIFIMan SuperMini you don’t need any tricks like bass boosters, pre-amps and high frequency boosters to add clarity to inferior lossy recordings. This player goes up to 24 bit 192 khz which comes to about 5000k per second of data. A regular CD is 16 bit 44.1khz while mp3 is similar but compressed and streams at about 128 to 192k per second.
Lossy mp3 compression tends to blend many frequencies together making instruments seem to meld together into a less distinct fuzz while vocals sometimes blend with the background music and lose their warmth and timbre. A lot of detail is lost in the primordial soup of noise.
A lossless high bitrate format like FLAC can reproduce the exact same sound that would be heard in the studio.
The SuperMini plays back everything as close to the original as possible though your speakers and headphones may color the sound depending on what they were produced for. The SuperMini has no equalizers or fancy bass boost or frequency enhancement. Like a lot of audiophile gear it gives you quick access to your media but relies on you to provide the best speakers and headphones that enable it to reach its full potential.
My relatively inexpensive import DJ headphones in one of my photos sound superb and I am extremely happy with the Supermini. It’s actually been a while since I have listened to something this good. It reminds me of the first time I heard a CD coming from a tape player.
Disclaimer: I received the SuperMini in exchange for an honest and fair review. The opinions expressed are my own.