HiFiMAN Serenade

HiFiMAN Serenade is a new DAC/AMP in HiFiMAN's portfolio. It uses an R2R DAC and a class-A amplifier, and it's priced at $999.

Introduction to the HiFiMAN Serenade Review

HiFiMAN is one of those companies that don’t need any introduction. It is however worth noting that they’ve been more and more active in the DAC/AMP market section, with devices such as the EF400 and EF600. Both of those are actually really good, and you can read our EF400 review here.

Now, HiFiMAN has released two new devices called the Serenade and Prelude. Today we’re going to review the Serenade, which is a DAC/AMP with streaming capabilities, coming at a very reasonable price of $999.

Having such a vast selection of planar headphones makes it quite logical to enter the DAC and AMP market, as it would be quite attractive for people seeking ultimate synergy. Additionally, many of HiFiMAN’s headphones are known to be hard to drive, especially their legendary Susvara. This also adds a lot of value to their amplifiers, since their power output is well-suited for their headphones. 

Today we’re reviewing the Serenade, which seems to sit at the perfect spot regarding its performance and price. Let’s see if it’s worth buying, especially if you’re a HiFiMAN headphones user.

Packaging

The Serenade comes in a rather simple box, as HiFiMAN has never been known for its luxurious unboxing quality. At the end of the day, this is a desktop device, so it’s not like we should expect accessories or a display case. 

Because of that, the main goal of the packaging here is to ensure the safety of your new device, and it surely does that. Except for the Serenade itself, inside you’ll find a power cord and a USB cable. Everything you need to just plug the Serenade in right after unboxing it.

Since there’s nothing much to talk about here, let’s continue.

Design and Build Quality

Here I have more to say. The Serenade is your typical classic DAC/AMP when it comes to its design. I actually love the design of their new EF600, which acts as a headphone stand, and it also saves some space on your desk, which is always welcome.

The serenade is made to be used horizontally though, so do have that in mind if your desk is crowded. The actual build quality is spot-on, the device feels quite substantial and heavy for the size, and the overall fit and finish are both excellent.

I also like the design language here. The Serenade looks stealthy, and classical but modern at the same time. On the front you’ve got your glossy panel that accommodates headphones outputs (4-pin XLR, 6.3mm, and 4.4mm), and a volume knob. It’s easy to use and conveniently located. The volume knob has a smooth, non-clicky action and the action is quite smooth.

However, one thing that I don’t like about it is the lack of volume information on the screen. The volume knob has a small dot printed, but it’s barely visible, especially at night. Because of that, I often turn the volume all the way down to 0 when I’m about to use it, not to risk blowing up my headphones. This could have been designed better in my opinion.

Above the screen, there are buttons to control the device. You’ve got an input selector, an output selector, and a select button which basically is self-explanatory.

The overall design is quite interesting, as the front panel is located in a kind of metal sleeve that hugs it. It looks modern and elegant, and it even has a cutout so it’s easier for you to operate the buttons. The little things.

Tech

Now let’s take a brief dive into the tech and the overall usability of the Serenade. First of all, the device turns on rather quickly, and it has a soft turn-off to prevent damaging your headphones, which is always a good thing to have.

The DAC is built around the Himalaya PRO R2R topology, which is something I really like. R2R DACs have that timbre and an effortless sound that is something unique in today’s world of DACs. The Himalaya premiered in the non-pro version and was used in the EF400 for example, which I absolutely loved. Now, the Pro version is even better, basically being 2x standard Himalayas in a single box. 

The amplifier section is a class-A amp using FET, and it’s fully discrete. The power output is rated at 4W into 32ohm, and 760mW into 300ohm, both values via the balanced headphones output. This is plenty enough for basically all headphones out there, with very few exceptions.

The Serenade is also a basic streamer that can play the files from your local NAS drive. I ain’t got one, so I’m unable to test this. Also, there’s Bluetooth that supports LDAC and aptX HD. While it shouldn’t be your main music source, it’s a very good feature to have in case you want to stream the music from your phone for example. It will not be the main reason to choose the Serenade over its competitors, but hey…it’s there.

As far as inputs go, you obviously have USB (Type B), coaxial, optical, and LAN. The Serenade can also be used as a standalone balanced DAC or an unbalanced standalone AMP. This basically makes it a do-it-all device, which is even more impressive considering the asking price. Now, let’s see how it sounds…

Sound of the reviewed HiFiMAN Serenade

The sound quality is actually the best thing about the Serenade. I could actually just describe it as – fun, and powerful sounding, which is something I was hoping for. You see, we already have a ton of neutral-sounding equipment, it kinda gets boring after some time. The Serenade, just like the name might suggest, is all about music, not about being perfectly neutral and technical.

I like that a lot, it gives that device a soul, an attribute that makes you want to listen to music more, at least it works for me this way. To help me further communicate my opinion on the sound, let’s get into our usual fashion, which is reviewing all the parts of the sound one by one.

let’s start with the bass, which is rich, energetic, and definitely present. It isn’t neutral by any means, just as the entire sound coming out of the Serenade. This DAC/AMP focuses on providing a rich, fun type of experience while also offering a good technical performance.

What’s actually really interesting is that the Serenade pairs exceptionally well with HiFiMAN headphones because of its character. Their headphones aren’t known for their bass, so that kind of frequency response works exceptionally with their cans. Also because of the power output, as the Serenade is a powerful, strong-sounding amp. Once again, HiFiMAN headphones are known to be quite challenging to drive, and the Serenade does that with zero problems.

I actually like that kind of bass response from devices like the Serenade. We have a lot of neutral-sounding devices on the market at this point, I want things that sound different, and that have a character, and the Serenade is definitely one of them. Actually, ever since receiving the Serenade, it’s been my daily driver, sitting on the main place of my desk. 

So, everything related to bass is very good here. The texture, the power, control, and attack. It pairs well with both bass-light and bass-heavy headphones, as the quality is clearly there. The bass is not boomy, overly thickened nor just too much. It’s on the heavier side, but still highly impressive when it comes to technicalities.

The midrange is the star of the show here. Mainly because of the R2R DAC and the Class A amplifier, this unit provides highly natural, smooth, and thick-sounding mids that once again – pair exceptionally with HiFiMAN headphones, but not just with them obviously. I actually used it a lot with the new Meze Empyrean II and it also sounded beautiful. 

The Serenade works with all kinds of vocals and with every single music genre. Once again, it’s not an overly warm or thick-sounding device, it just has that hint of soul in it, which gives your music that exceptionally pleasing vibe, while also giving you a great sound from the technical point of view. 

The amount of details is very good, and so is the resolution. At the same time, the timbre of both instruments and vocals is spot-on, creating a very pleasing and musical experience that is very easy to fall in love with. This is one of those devices that are just easy to listen to, while also easily being audiophile-quality in every single aspect. Of course, it’s more colored than your typical Topping stack, but for me personally, this is more than welcomed. 

The treble is fairly neutral, very open-sounding, and spacious. It provides very good detail reproduction, without being harsh or bright sounding. With the Serenade, you clearly won’t be having issues with your headphones sounding too thin or shouty. This is once again a great pairing with HiFiMAN headphones, as some of them are known to be on the bright side. 

Take the Arya for example, which for me personally, is just a bit too much. When paired with the Serenade, they get tamed a bit, enough for me to start enjoying the headphones way more. It also gives them a proper weight to the midrange, which is exactly what I need with this specific headphone.

Of course, this is not the most detailed nor the fastest-sounding DAC/AMP on the market, even in its price category. But, at the same time, while not being far from it, it also provides a rich, musical sound that just works great with everything. A true definition of a do-it-all device. 

The soundstage is airy and spacious and it has great imaging and separation. I somewhat have a feeling that the soundstage is the aspect of the sound that got the least competitive lately, as most good DACs and AMPs offer good staging capabilities. This is obviously no different with the Serenade, as it gives you a natural, spacious type of sound that simply works.

I’ve also been using the Serenade in gaming and the soundstage never misled me when it comes to imaging. Everything is very accurate and three-dimensional.

Comparisons

 

HiFiMAN EF600

While these two devices sound quite similar on the first try, the Serenade is simply an upgraded version of the EF600, which is at the same time an upgraded version of the EF400.

The Serenade sounds more powerful, thicker, and more polished and elegant. The Ef600 is a powerhouse on its own, don’t get me wrong, but the Serenade is simply even better. It is also more expensive, so this was to be expected.

However, the design of the EF600 makes it even more functional when it comes to the on-the-desk use scenario. It takes less space, and it also works as a headphone stand as well, which is a superb design choice for me personally. I wish more manufacturers would go that way and give us devices like that.

Overall, you can’t go wrong with both. The Serenade is an upgrade, but it also costs more, so just pick your poison. It also drives hard-to-drive headphones like the Susvara better, so if you’re using some power-hungry headphones, the Serenade will be a better choice for you. 

EarMen Tradutto + EarMen CH-Amp

The EarMen stack has been my daily driver for a long time, as it offers great functionality, a small form factor, and a great, natural, and balanced sound.,

However, the Serenade sounds more fun, while also being natural. Its sound is thicker, more engaging, bigger and there’s more meat to the bone. By no means the EarMen stack is bad in those categories, but the Serande simply takes it a step further.

The power output is also significantly better on the Serenade. It drives the Erzetich Charybdis and HiFiMAN Susvara much better than the CH-Amp does, so it’s also worth noting for those who are looking for a powerful amp.

Pairings

HiFiMAN Susvara

Let’s get right into it – the Serenade doesn’t squeeze everything from the almighty Susvara. It’s not their full potential, but at the same time, it’s close enough, considering the price of the Serenade.

This setup sounds natural, engaging, and insanely detailed. What it lacks compared to a full-potential Susvara is mainly the slam, dynamics, and attack. It’s not a surprise, as to unleash the full potential of the HiFiMAN flagship, you really need a BEAST of an amplifier to do so.

However, if you don’t have an unlimited money glitch in real life, the Serenade is a very good choice for driving the Susvara on “a budget”. The tonality suits the Susvara fantastically, the sound is simply musical and very accurate, and you won’t have feelings like you’re really missing on anything…as long as you don’t try some top-tier, 5k USD+ amplifiers.

Overall, I actually think the Serenade is the best choice for the Susvara in its price category, at least from the devices I’ve tested. It might seem logical, as this is the same brand standing behind both devices, but we all know it’s not really the case in most situations.

Erzetich Charybdis

Another pairing is Serenade with the Erzetich Charybdis. The Slovenian flagship is an interesting case, as it’s not a wildly demanding headphone, but it scales incredibly well. Here comes the Serenade, which pairs exceptionally well with the Charybdis.

It gives them that raw power, timbre, and richness that makes them sound wonderful. The Serenade is a very capable device that makes the Charybdis sing. What’s very impressive is that it does it while costing less than a third of the price of the headphones.

This setup definitely puts music on the nr1 spot. It sounds rich, musical, accurate, and very detailed, while most importantly being fun to listen to. 

Ever since I got the Serenade, this pairing has been one of my go-to for months now. A beautiful blend of technical capabilities and a timbre to die for.

HiFiMAN Serenade – summary

Let’s get straight to the point here – the HiFiMAN Serenade is an incredibly capable DAC/AMP that is priced more than fairly.

An R2R DAC together with a class A amplifier that is able to output up to 4W at 32 Ohm at such a price is an achievement on its own. Additionally, this device sounds nowhere close to its asking price. 

HiFiMAN truly made a fantastic device with the Serenade, and it’s now my nr.1 recommendation for a DAC/AMP in the $1000 budget. Spectacular!

Wildly recommended!

Big thanks to HiFiMAN for providing us with the Serenade for this review. I wasn’t paid or asked to say anything good or bad about this product, all of the above is just my personal, unbiased opinion. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *