Sure, iPods and Zunes can sound perfectly fine, but no one ever claimed they were bona fide portable high-end audio devices. Their "good enough" sound isn't entirely their fault: they're too small to house a battery potent enough to power a high-quality headphone amplifier and a high-resolution 24-bit/96kHz digital-to-analog converter.
The Hifiman High Fidelity Music Player HM-801 is the Hummer of portables; it's big enough to get the job done. It's 3 inches wide, 4.5 inches high, and 1 inch thick; that's about the size of an old Walkman cassette player from the 1980s. Hifiman doesn't say how much the HM-801 weighs, but it feels substantial.
If Apple wanted to build something as good or better, it could, but the potential market for something that sounds better than an iPod is probably insignificant, and certainly too small for Apple or Microsoft to bother with. They're too busy jamming more features into their players, and sound quality never makes the cut. Besides, the market demands ever cheaper products, and real quality is never cheap. so the HM-801 is downright pricey.
That's another way of saying it's aimed at the sort of music lover who's already invested in a set of top-of-the-line Etymotic, Grado, Klipsch, Monster, Shure, or Ultimate Ears headphones. If you have and you're using an iPod or Zune, you're not hearing all the sound quality you paid for with those headphones.
The HM-801 was conceived as an audiophile player, so non-sound-oriented features are pretty scarce. The HM-801 has a user removable headphone amplifier circuitboard/module that makes future upgrades easy as pie. Hifiman already has one such upgrade in the works, a $170 board specifically designed to maximize detail and resolution of high-end in-ear headphones. Looking inside the HM-801--it has removable panels--so you can see it features top quality components, like a Burr-Brown PCM1704U digital-to-analog converter and Burr-Brown OPA627 Op-Amp. This is a level of technology normally found in audiophile home componentry, and never before used in a portable music player. … Read more