MVP – Musicality, Versatility & Performance.
PROS: Musical sound that is engaging with good technicalities, very powerful, exceptionally clean background, great build quality, great looks, super versatile and drives anything from the most sensitive IEMs to higher impedance, full-size headphones, competitive price considering its performance.
CONS: Firmware updates are Windows only (no Mac support), 4.4mm balanced out might not work optimally with some 4.4mm plugs, volume dial does not provide a lot of grip, some jumps in volume level, especially with very sensitive IEMs and when switching gain levels.
I would like to thank Dethonray for providing Twister6 with the Dethonray Honey H1, and Twister6 for letting me borrow it for this review. No incentive was given for a favorable review.
Honey H1 Specifications
- Chassis: Sandblasted CNC Aluminum/Blue
- Compatible: Android/iOS/Windows/Linux
- DAC: AKM AK4497
- DSD: DSD64/DSD128
- PCM: 16Bit/44.1K – 32Bit/384K
- Max Power Output: Single End: 6 Vrms (32Ω)
- Balanced: 6.2 Vrms (300Ω)
- Performance THD: 008% / SNR: 116db
- Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20kHz
- Battery: 5300 mAH
- Battery life: 3.5 mm – 10 hours / 4.4 mm – 8 hours
- Charging: 5V 2A / 3.5 Hours / USB-C connector
- Bluetooth: NO
- Input data: 1 x USB-C
- Outputs: 1 x 3.5mm Line Out/Optical
- Headphone output: 1 x 3.5 mm headphone, 1 x 4.4 mm headphone (balanced)
- Dimensions: 137 x 70 x 19 mm
- Weight:256 gram
- Price: US$699
Dethonray is a relatively new company that was started by audio engineer Anson Tse. I actually know very little about the company, just what I have picked up here and there. From the little I do know, they seem to have a philosophy that greatly appeals to me. If anything, Dethonray comes across to me as a company that dares to go out on a limb. Their first DAP, the DTR 1 Prelude, especially seemed to embody the spirit of innovation and producing something that was a world apart from the ubiquitous Android DAPs. Dethonray not only produced the DTR 1 Prelude to offer a minimalist, pure music DAP, they did not shy away from criticism either. Putting it out there while saying: “keep an open mind and tell me what you think”. I could be mistaken in that, but that was the feeling I got at the time and I think Dethonray earned a lot of respect from the community as a result.
Sadly, I never heard the DTR 1 Prelude, which is a shame because I have always been a sucker for a minimalist, pure music DAP. Only recently did I get into streaming and I have to admit that it has won me over while stuck at home most of the time. However, I expect that once the world starts opening up again and we can get back to our normal, pre-pandemic lives, I will once again favor a pure music DAP for its simplicity and the fact that it is not going to eat away at my minimalist 4G data bundle while on the go. In fact, I was recently thinking how nice my old Astell & Kern AK70 was to use. It had very good sound quality in a tiny DAP, which is a world apart from the huge Shanling M8 I have been carrying around to stream Qobuz. The DTR 1 Prelude was the size of a pack of cards and yet in terms of sound quality it was by all accounts capable of hanging with the big boys, TOTL DAPs such as the Lotoo PAW Gold Touch. Why am I bringing this up? Because I have recently been getting into headphones and desktop gear and I found that desktop gear, while very nice to use, is also big and cumbersome. So, when Alex (Twister6) asked me if I was interested in reviewing the Dethonray Honey H1 USB DAC/amp to see how it stacks up against the big boys, I only needed a quick glance at the specs to be very, very interested.
On paper the Honey H1 looks like it packs a punch and offers a lot of performance in a small, highly portable package. I ended up using it quite a lot before even thinking about the review and then one day the title for the review popped in my head. “MVP – Musicality, Versatility & Performance” In my opinion that really characterizes the Honey H1 and so in this review I will try to explain as best I can why I think that is.
I love an unboxing like this. Black box. Honey H1. USB-C cable. That’s it. Oh no, wait! There is also an adapter to use an optical cable in the 3.5mm output. Bare bones, no nonsense and I love that. Just get to the good stuff immediately. The only thing that I can think of that would be great to include is a case of some kind, although I expect that would drive up the price. To be honest, it would probably be a shame to cover up that gorgeous blue color anyway.
I think the Honey H1 has a really beautiful design. Immediately when you see it, the blue color strikes you and it looks superb when you have it sitting on your desk. There is some white lettering on there, but it is minimal and done without any flashiness. I think it looks very refined. So, what is there on offer? Not a lot of bells and whistles either, just everything you need.
At the back there are two USB-C ports, where the left is dedicated to power and the right is dedicated to data. Right next to the power port there is a small LED indicator for the battery. Green means the battery is at or above 80% full, blue indicates the battery is between 30% and 80%, and red indicates the battery is below 30%.
On the side there are two switches for setting either ‘line out’ or ‘phone out’, and setting the gain to either low or high. Very simple and they are quite sturdy feeling where there is no risk of accidentally switching those, as that could cause serious problems when listening with sensitive IEMs. However, a tricky thing is that for the change between gain setting to take effect, you need to turn the volume dial. I have done this from low gain to high gain using very sensitive IEMs (I will explain this idiosyncrasy later) and the volume can jump significantly. My advice would be to do this while not having the IEMs in your ears. In fact, I ended up always starting the Honey H1 up like that as a rule because the Honey H1’s power can very easily push sensitive IEMs to extreme volumes when not expected.
On the front there are the 4.4mm balanced headphone out and the 3.5mm single ended headphone out that also doubles as line out and optical out. There is a small LED there as well, which indicates the file quality; green indicates PCM/Flac, blue indicates DSD64, and blue + red indicates DSD128. Finally, there is the volume dial that also acts as an on/off switch. This is where I find one of my biggest issues with the Honey H1. The volume dial looks good, but does not offer much in the way of grip. It is small both in width and depth, and the surface is not very grippy, which makes it considerably less practical than the volume dial on Dethonray’s HA 2 amp. A seemingly minor gripe, but one that I personally find has quite a big impact on day-to-day use.
Of note here is that when plugging and unplugging IEMs, the 4.4mm balanced out socket did not feel like it was working optimally. Using an Effect Audio/Pentaconn 4.4mm plug, the socket felt far from smooth and quite rough to the point where I was worried it could damage the plug, which happened to be attached to Effect Audio’s flagship Code 51 cable and so made me wince a little every time. Another cable I use is the DITA Audio Oslo cable with interchangeable ‘Awesome’ plug. This one had a different problem. When inserted fully the left channel would cut out and in order to use it, I had to slightly pull out the plug. A spacer would definitely be practical in this case. The third plug I used was a Furutech plug from my 4.4mm (male) to 2.5mm (female) balanced adapter custom made by Triton Audio Cables. This plug worked perfectly and felt smooth plugging in and unplugging.
Under the Hood.
First thing you will notice is that the Honey H1, although a USB DAC, does come with its own 5300 mAH battery that will provide around 8 (balanced) to 10 hours (single ended) of playback and ensures a better power supply than you would get from a USB socket.
The DAC is based on the AKM AK4497 chip, which you see around a lot and as I always say, its performance depends a lot on how well it is implemented. I think Dethonray have done a very good implementation here given the overall package, the performance and price. The DAC is capable of supporting PCM of 16Bit/44.1K up to 32Bit/384K and DSD up to DSD128 and input is exclusively via the USB-C data port.
I have not been able to find many details on the amp section, but it is abundantly clear it is very, very capable. From single ended the Honey H1 pushes out 6 Vrms at 32 Ohms, which is 1,125 mW (at 32 Ohms). That is a lot of power. However, from balanced that goes up to 6.2 Vrms at 300 Ohms, which is around 128 mW (at 300 Ohms). I feel that is pretty impressive for such a portable device and should be plenty of power to drive a healthy selection of high-impedance, full-size headphones. This is where I feel the “V” from “MVP” shows itself most clearly. The Honey H1 is extremely Versatile in that it will drive sensitive IEMs as well as full size headphones in a package that you can easily take anywhere and use with a phone or laptop, or paired with a less powerful DAP as transport.
I am of course not the most technically-focused reviewer, as I am a music lover first and foremost, so I think I can best explain what this all means in practice by going into more detail on the sound and practical performance. Before I start however, I must emphasize that I am not running the latest firmware.
This is my biggest complaint with Dethonray, that firmware is entirely limited to Windows only. Don’t have a Windows PC? Though luck. No firmware updates for you. I have long ago switched to Mac and as a result I don’t even have an ancient PC sitting in the attic somewhere. That meant I could not try out the latest firmware and explain what improvement those might offer, which is something I understand they certainly do. There are even different firmware versions such as Ultraman that is specifically designed for the balanced out. It is a super interesting and highly versatile aspect of the Honey H1 and as such all the more frustrating that I could not play around with it. There are some workarounds for Mac users, such as Bootcamp or Virtual Box, but I have no intention of playing around with those. The last time I tried to be clever with my MacBook, I ended up having to go to the store for a full clean re-install because it crashed harder than a rich kid testing out daddy’s new Ferrari. I expect this situation is probably because of how small Dethonray is as a company, but fingers crossed wider support will come in the future.