One of the challenges that you encounter with headphones under $1000 is that there are so many great options, but often the amps and DACs in the same price range just aren’t up to the task of giving you the best experience. Sometimes they lack in power, and other times the level of detail they’re able to deliver just doesn’t match up. The HIFIMAN EF600 aims to change that, with an all-in-one amp that’s both feature rich and powerful.
Build, Design, and Features
I was skeptical of EF600’s tower form factor at first, but it ends up working perfectly for an all-in-one unit, especially as it’s designed to double as a headphone stand. The buttons all feel good, and the various functions and connections are well labeled. The knob is a cool touch, with a design that almost makes it look as if it’s floating on the front of the unit rather than being fully attached.
The look and feel is nice, but the stars of the show are the Hymalaya Pro R2R DAC and the 5.12W per channel output. EF600 is an absolute beast in the power department, giving you the ability to drive virtually any headphone quite comfortably. Between the Meze 109 Pro, HIFIMAN Audivina, Audeze MM500, and various other headphones we tested it with, we barely had need to turn the dial past about 30%.
EF600 also features very strong connectivity, with a mix of digital and analog inputs. You can use USB-C, USB-B, digital coax or Bluetooth for digital inputs, and RCA or XLR for analog input. That means you can use EF600 as a Amp/DAC combo, just a DAC/preamp, or just a headphone amplifier.
EF600’s sound is characterized by the natural delivery of the R2R design in the Hymalaya Pro DAC and the pure power of the amp. Where the original Himalya DAC in the EF400 had a thicker sound, that was just on the warm side of neutral, Hymalya Pro presents a more reference-like character that’s tuned towards the expansion of the soundstage with a sound that’s still natural, but feels wider and more expansive.
The biggest standout of EF600’s sound is the way it lends a holographic feeling to the imaging, and provides strong separation there. With headphones like the HIFIMAN Arya that have strong imaging, EF600 enhances that existing sense of space, and with headphones that might have a more intimate feeling, EF600 injects some extra depth and a stronger sense definition into the sound.
EF600 also features the option for oversampling, and non-oversampling (NOS) mode. While either way you get a balanced, reference sound, there’s a touch of smoothness to the highs in the oversampling mode that can tame some peakier headphones, and give you a less fatiguing experience overall.
Comparison: iFi NEO iDSD
If you’re looking for similar features in this price range, the iFi NEO iDSD offers close to the same connectivity, but drops the analog inputs and swaps the XLR output for a 4.4mm. NEO iDSD’s footprint is a bit smaller than EF600, but it has some similarities, like the ability to transform into a headphone stand. Sonically, NEO iDSD is more characteristically warm, with a more “tube-y” character compared to EF600’s more transparent sound.
EF600’s amp capabilities also separate it from NEO iDSD, which doesn’t have as much output power and also doesn’t have the ability to function as a standalone amp. Between the slim form factor and included remote, NEO iDSD is more comfortable as part of a media center style setup, while EF600 is stronger as an all-in-one headphone solution.
EF600 has a great balance between features, sound quality, and raw power that makes it an excellent pick for a DAC/Amp combo under $1000. The design and ergonomics gives it just a little bit of an extra edge too. Put it all together and HIFIMAN EF600 provides an excellent blend of function, performance, and value.