The HiFiMAN MegaMini – now in plastic, with a far better $99 price

Pros:  Tiny form factor, excellent build quality, nice looking, good even keeled sound, easy UI and intuitive control scheme, excellent value at $99

Cons: no external DAC, no gapless (on the way?), limited playlist capability, somewhat thin sound, dismal battery life (especially with HiRes)

List Price: $99

Product website: http://store.hifiman.com/index.php/hifiman-megamini-high-res-music-player-531.html

HiFiMAN MegaMini 2.0

Rating disclaimer: ratings for audio quality and value are on a sliding scale. Audio quality ratings are relative to price, and value becomes a weird moral judgment as price goes up exponentially. How do you like your diminishing returns served? I prefer mine with mustard.

Introduction

HiFiMAN has been around a long time now. They’ve gone from bargain OEM to one of the best and brightest headphone manufacturers in the world. Personally, I have a long history with HiFiMan.

In 2009, I had gotten tired of my $70ish Sony IEMs (can’t remember which ones they were and tossed them long ago) and was looking for a new pair of budget headphones to play out of my PSP—dated. Through |joker|’s thread, I discovered the RE0, and through the extinct Head-direct website, I got my first pair of audiophile headphones for $80. It was a really good deal, and the start of something beautiful and terrible, a love and lust for new audiophile gear. In a way, HiFiMAN provided me with my gateway drug, and all all my readers are now regretting it in some way.

My first post on HeadFi after years of lurking was a 3 way review comparing the RE0 to two closed circumaural headphones: the Shure SRH-440 and the KRK-KNS 8400. It did pretty well. I’ve listened to a lot of HiFiMAN gear, and still have my RE0.

This review was initially written when the MegaMini was in the midst of a crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo. HiFiMAN planned to release the MegaMini at a retail price of $299, but that never happened. The original, aluminum version came in at $249 when it went to market, which meant that the IndieGoGo campaign saved the backers no money at all—sucky. This review has had ratings updated for the new $99 price and plastic body version I now have on hand. None of the other aspects of the player have changed and the sound was the same. The original review appeared on Head-Fi.

Usability: Form & Function

Form

The MegaMini lives up to its name. It’s tiny and light in the hand. It melts into your pocket like nothing is even there. The MegaMini has bevelled edges that look quite classy and give a feeling of grip and control in the hand. In a neat touch, the side buttons light up with a faint glow, like a will-o’-the-wisp leading you to dreams or death, depending on whether you subscribe to Disney or folklore—it’s quite pleasing to hold. I like the sharp edges.

 

Feux Follets Near Paris
Image originally in Flammarion, L’atmosphère: météorologie populaire (1888, p.749), found on inamidst.com, a site dedicated to anomalous lightforms

The button layout is easy to figure out with good labels on the front buttons—take note SuperMini—but no labels on the side buttons. In contrast, the SuperMini has no labels on the front buttons and full labels on the side. The MegaMini I’m holding is a pre-production version, so hopefully it will have complete labels when it goes into production. The front buttons are for navigating the menus and for play, pause, skip track, last track, forward and backward seeking, selecting shuffle/repeat modes and adding tracks to favourites.

The headphone out, microSD slot, and microUSB charging point are on the bottom. The microSD slot helpfully has a little indent to make it easier to get the card to the somewhat deep point where it locks into place. The screen on this is colour, but looks like a shrunken version of the GameBoy Color circa 1998.

 

From user wenthevegan on Flickr

Function

The operating system on the MegaMini is rudimentary, but functional. Menus are easily navigated using the keys. Holding down the < and > keys allows quick scrolling of menus, and also can be used in playback (Now playing screen) to scroll forward or backward through the current song. In both modes, tapping either button causes the corresponding forward or backward movement. Holding the back button (far left) takes you back to the main menu. Tapping the power button turns the screen on and off. Hold the power button to power off completely. There is no sleep mode, so inactivity will drain your battery fully if you forget about it.

Holding the play button, O, during playback calls up a menu that allows you to choose shuffle and repeat options, which is nice. These options can also be found in the settings menu. Shuffle is either on or off. After checking, it shuffles whatever organisation level you are at in a random or pseudo-random with replacement order. For example, if I go into my Genre menu and select Indie, the artist Architecture in Helsinki, and the album In Case We Die with shuffle on it will shuffle just that album; if I select All Albums instead of a specific album, all albums will shuffle. If you want to shuffle all songs on the player, this can be done by selecting All Songs on the main menu with shuffle on. However, there is no option to just shuffle all artists in the Indie genre, or to shuffle an upper level folder. It would be nice if both options worked. If you want all songs to be shuffled, you can do that by having shuffle on and then choosing the menu option, All Songs. Repeat works in a similar fashion, you can repeat all albums of an artist or one, but you can’t repeat everything in a genre or everything in a folder. Holding the play button outside of playback allows you to add tracks to your favourites when in a menu area with tracks. This favourites list is the only semblance of a playlist option on the player.

The playback screen is functional, but I question why it needed to be colour. The colour looks very 8 bit, and doesn’t have any cover art. Why is there a CD square in the middle of the playback screen with no cover art? It makes no sense to me. A black and white screen, like that on the SuperMini, likely would have saved some battery life and been just as functional. This isn’t a froo froo screen or a froo froo player, we shouldn’t pretend like either are true. Stick to the no frills presentation, I say. [Edit: after looking at Brooko’s review there appears to be some way to get images in, but it doesn’t work for me, maybe due to fact he uses basically 100% 256 AAC?]

I formatted two cards using the MegaMini player and it was fast at formatting. It was not fast at importing the library and didn’t give me a status bar to tell me how long it would take. I didn’t want to sit watching it, but I know it took well over ten minutes to do 200GB. Hitting update databases in the settings menu reads the whole card again, not just the files that have changed. I tried 128GB and 200GB cards from Sandisk in the MegaMini and had no problems. One thing that threw me, is the player didn’t catch all my tags, leading to some of my favourite tracks falling in the “unknown” category.

I charged the player a several times and it took 1 hour 30 minutes when I timed it, and seemed consistent on charging time on other charges. The battery life on the MegaMini is dismal. When listening exclusively to 24/96 it only got 5 hours and 45 minutes; when playing mostly 16/44 FLAC it only got 7 hours 50 minutes (there was a little under an hour of 24/96-192). That just won’t do for a DAP, I draw the line at 8 hours, and this DAP didn’t come close to that under a moderate load. The 15 hour time posted on the IndieGoGo campaign is dubious. There is no way they were playing the MegaMini at a reasonable listening volume with any high bitrate music—which is one of the reasons for buying a dedicated DAP and not just using your iPhone. The numbers are a distortion.

Audio quality

Much like Brooko (famous HeadFi user), I’d contend that a good DAC is neutral, but not passionless. A properly tuned DAC won’t have much in the way of bass/mids/treble differences to deal with, it’ll let the headphone speak, for the most part. Where I find differences in DAC/DAPs, the differences are often subtle, but not always. I find that where a DAC/Amp implementation can make a difference is noise levels, blackness of background, soundstage, and impedance matching. Outside of impedance matching, I think these primarily relate to distortion and treble performance, but I’m no audio engineer, nor do I play one on TV. Damn it Jim, I’m an audio-reviewer not a…

The MegaMini has good sound quality, but for those who have sensitive IEMs or sensitive ears, it will hiss. When I used the Vibro Labs Maya with the MegaMini, hiss was very audible. The Maya has 114 dB/mw sensitivity and 12Ω impedance. When using the UERR, I didn’t perceive any hiss issues. At low volumes there was a tiny bit of hiss, but nothing too objectionable.

Comparisons

For comparisons using the Maya I volume matched using a dB meter and white noise to 78dB, for the Maya, and 72dB for the UERR. I found that because the insertion is deeper on the UERR, I don’t need as much volume. All tests were done with single-ended outputs as I had no way to keep cables consistent across single-ended and balanced mode operation. My general approach to comparisons is to control for the variables that I can so that my comparisons are as fair as they can be.

SuperMini

The sound signature of these two is nearly or completely indiscernible to me at matched volumes. I tested with the Vibro Labs Maya, and couldn’t consistently tell a difference between the two players’ signatures, which is a good thing, they are both fairly neutral players. Both players have some low level hiss with the Maya, but I think this is going to the case for the Maya on many rigs—I got some soft hiss at low volumes with the Maya on the iBasso DX50 also. I thought I heard a bit more depth and body in the SuperMini, but that may be expectation bias, as I’ve already read

@Brooko’s excellent review of the SuperMini and the measurements show lower distortion, which in my experience has usually improved depth. Short story shorter: I can’t confirm any differences between the Minis whilst using the Maya.

Switching to the UERR, the SuperMini sounds like it has a little bit bigger soundstage when listening to Amber Rubarth doin’ some Tom Waits on Hold On. Differences are small and still subject to all the biases that come with non-blinded testing. It might all just be in my head, and not just because the UERR are several mm closer to my brain than the Maya.
I like the simple black and white screen on the SuperMini better. Navigation is basically the same between them, but the playback screen tells me more on the SuperMini. I found the CD picture in the middle of the MegaMini screen pointless given that I didn’t see cover art for any album in my library and I’m not sure the resolution of the little screen on the MegaMini would do cover art any favours anyway.

iBasso DX50

Up to the point of this comparison, I had been listening to everything on the two Minis. I had settled into the sound like an old recliner and let the cushions envelope me. When reviewing I think it is really important to give yourself time to get used to the sound of a player or headphone before you step into comparisons. I think that this eliminates potential bias against the review item and lets you enter comparisons comfortable to the sound, like that old easy chair. This getting accustomed period also has its benefits in comparisons: it makes differences between comparators more stark, which allows better clarity in defining the characteristics of the review item. There are lots of differences between the MegaMini and the DX50.

The DX50 absolutely destroys the MegaMini on sound. In comparison, the MegaMini soundstage is small, and the sound is thin and muted sounding. The DX50 has more body and a more engaging organic dynamic sound. Highs are more extended, lows have more texture and body, and overall the sonic portraiture is more refined with a more tightly woven tapestry of notes. The MegaMini is smooth and easy going. The MegaMini sounds good, buti It isn’t a close comparison to the DX50, sonically.

Playing Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon on both players makes me distinctly aware of how much not having implemented gapless sucks for the MegaMini. Floyd just doesn’t work well in gapped playback—the staccato breaks between songs are obnoxious and take you out of the extended enveloping moment that is Dark Side of the Moon.

The iBasso DX50 kicks the MegaMini around the block on features. It has more power. It has adjustable gain, it has a removable battery, it has standalone DAC functionality, it has gapless (HiFiMAN says they will add gapless to the MegaMini later), it has a touchscreen that is pretty easy to use alongside great physical buttons, it has a removable battery, and it supports USB OTG. There is no question that the iBasso DX50 is the better player on features.

Specifications

Specifications  
Dimensions 43mm x 100mm x 9mm
Weight 69g (2.43oz)
Frequency response 20hz – 20kHz
Output Impedance ~1Ω (as measured by @thatonenoobcomment linkie)
Total Harmonic Distortion 0.08%
Power Output 54 mW into 36Ω
Battery life 15 hours stated
Formats supported 16/44 to 24/192 WAV, FLAC, ALAC; 16/44 to 24/96 APE; DSD64 (single rate, DSF and DFF formats); also supports MP3, OGG, AAC, WMA
Memory MicroSD to 256GB, no accessible internal memory

Conclusions

The main selling features of the MegaMini are tiny size, excellent build quality, a variety of formats played, a good UI, decent sound, a new $99 price, and advertised 15 hour battery life. In my two battery drain tests, I didn’t get anywhere near 15 hours and I really question the methods that they generated that estimate with, so we can strike that last one.

The player is limited on features: no gapless, no USB DAC, no USB OTG, no line out, no equaliser, no gain adjustment. Some of these could be added via firmware update, gapless was mentioned at launch but then disappeared into the vapours. They can’t add a line out to the player, and I highly doubt that two of my favourite DAP features: USB DAC capability, and USB OTG are in the cards. This player was not competitive at $299 MSRP, and was not competitive at the $229 IndieGoGo price. Other players in the same price bracket were simply better. I have 3 players that are better in that price bracket now.

When the price dropped down to $99, the consideration is quite different. It is very good sonically for a $99 price tag, and very good functionally. I think it ticks a lot more boxes for a budget buyer now than it did before.

 

 

 

 

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