Sunday, 12 March 2017

Oppo HA-2 SE DAC Headphone Amp - Portable SQ Is Possible


Oppo...a name that has been building up in the past 5 to 10 years. Not only on mobile phones but in the AV and HiFi sector. Along the way, Oppo has started to offer its high quality SQ to the portable market. As an owner of their excellent HA-1 dedicated DAC/pre amp/headphone amp, I am quite familiar with its sound signature. Thanks to Adrian Lee of OppoDigital Malaysia, I landed myself with the latest offering -  The HA2 SE. I now have the opportunity to experience Oppo sound quality wherever I go.

BUILT AND SPECS
As usual, Oppo does not compromise on packaging and built. Neatly packed and well laid out makes the luxury feeling even better. The leather wrapped unit is ultra slim makes it to be a truly portable design. 7 years ago I was very into portable music with using separate DACs and Amp beside the source itself. But after several years of struggle to understand why a bulky DAC amp is considered to be portable, I decided to restrict the on-the-go listening to directly from the source. This is due to my frequent travel that I actually need a separate pouch to carry the bulky DAC amp and the source. Not with this HA2SE unit. It is so slim and light that it even fit my jeans. 

Under the leather wrapped unit, you can find the Hi-res USB DAC ESS Sabre32 Reference ES9028-K2M chip for Apple/Android/PC/Mac usage. It also supports 384 kHz / 32 bit PCM and DSD 256. Coupled with a hybrid class AB amplification, this unit should deliver high quality sound. Big expectation.

The HA2SE comes equipped with:
  • All the necessary cables - Lighting Apple, Android micro USB for digital connection and 3.5 mm to 3.5 mm analogue connection
  • VOOC Rapid charger - charges the unit up to 70% in 30 mins
  • 2 rubber bands to pack the unit and your source together.

On the side, you can see the power indicator, button to chose high or low gain and also a button put the unit into a power bank mode to charge your phone. There is also a bass booster button. The on and off button is incorporated in the volume know on the top. Turn it until it clicks to turn off or on. At the top and bottom is where the connections are:
  • One USB A connection for Apple (bottom)
  • One micro USB for Android/MAC/PC (bottom)
  • Input selector button (bottom)
  • Analogue Audio in/Analogue Audio out
  • Headphone out

Click here for Full Specification.







FIRST IMPRESSION

Quick connection to my newly purchased Sony XPERIA XZ mobile phone to this unit via 3.5 mm connection, the sound can be described as airy and open. Not much bass response when using my IEM RHA MA750 and MF EB50. But clarity and detail are the main strength at this stage.



THE TRACKS


  • Take Five - Dave Brubeck (DSD)
  • Lelaki Teragung - Dayang Nurfaizah (DSD)
  • Atlas Rise - Metallica (WAV 16/44.1)
  • Lompat Si Katak Lompat - Kombo RTM (LP Ripped WAV 16/44.1)
  • Planetarium  - Justin Hurwitz (WAV 16/44.1)


THE SESSION

For analogue, I use the unit with my Sony XPERIA XZ as a source and for digital, I connect my Mac via micro USB connection to the unit.

The headphone I used is Beyerdynamic T1 and IEMs are RHA MA750 and MF EB50.

Analogue Connection

I can't seem to get the Sony Xperia XZ to detect the HA2SE as an external DAC, hence had to connect it via analogue 3.5 - 3.5 mm input.  With DSD files like Take Five and Lelaki Teragung, I noticed that the Xperia benefit from having an external amplification immediately. Given that DSD tracks are mastered with a lower output, the HA2SE injected some energy to the music regardless I was using my IEMs or the Beyer T1. Low end notes digs deeper especially with my T1. On Take Five, the percussion is sound dispersed which creates quite an airy atmosphere which I like. It frees up my IEMs and T1 further and feel less constrained. With vocal like Dayang Nurfaizah, it really brings out the energy and strong vocals of hers. For this kind of ballad, the HA2SE provide quite an impressive drive to really belt out that emotion from this track.

With heavy metal music like Atlas Rise, it gives out quite an authoritative presentation especially on the T1. James's vocal sound upfront and quite dominating. The shredding guitars of Kirk can be a bit shrilling but it creates that metal sound that you would want. Lars's drums took a back seat as the kick drums were not really upfront compared to the snare.

I recently went into the practice of ripping some of my favourite LPs. One of them is not-in-the-market Kombo RTM lead by Alfonso Soliano. It was ripped to WAV files using a Sony Hi Res recorder via analogue connection. No clean ups were done hence it was a direct rip. Playing this through the HA2SE made me hear parts that was not really evident when I played this track via my my main system. And of course, the LP 'white noise' was also very evident.  Nevertheless, putting aside the noise, the HA2SE gave quite a bold sound signature on this track. The saxophone sounded big and the sound of the reed vibrating can sometimes be heard. I like the liveliness that the HA2SE injects.

Believe it or not, the last movie I watched at the cinema was La La Land. But it gave me quite an impact especially Justin Hurwitz genius stroke on the soundtrack of this movie. Planetarium consists of a mixture of wind instruments, piano, percussion and strings works. Through my T1, the HA2SE presented quite a fusion within all the instruments. The simplicity of the repeated tunes but with different instrument intensity was well presented by the HA2SE as it recreates the feeling I experienced while watching the movie. Splendid.

Digital Connection

After few weeks of meddling around with Sony Xperia - HA2SE digital connection via micro USB, I still could not get the OTG function to work. So to really test out the DAC inside the HA2SE, I had to connect it to my Mac. For this, it was straight forward. No drivers to download. My Mac recognized the HA2SE immediately and within seconds, I was already listening to my T1 via the HA2SE DAC.






DSD files being fed into the HA2SE breathed to a new height. It sounded even airier than just using the amplification of the unit. I gained more depth this time around. It might not be a fair comparison to challenge the DAC in the Sony Xperia but the ESS Sabre chip in this HA2SE unit definitely gave a different sound to this track. The percussion dispersion is even wider and the depth it goes to when hitting on the drums, push my T1 to a different level. I am quite used to an Oppo sound signature as I have been driving the T1 using the HA-1 headphone amp for a few years now. It reminds me a lot of the long sessions I have with the big brother amp. With Lelaki Teragung as well, the track becomes livelier with strong emotions of that track was delivered through this unit. DSD tracks were definitely the highlight of this review.


The LP ripped file didn't sound impressive as I believe that the DAC in the HA2SE really brings out the natural sound of the file. Being it is a 'dirty' file, the HA2SE presented it as it is but in an even higher clarity. At times it sounded quite pitchy and shrilling. Lessons learnt - feed good files to this unit.

For heavy metal test, it became more balanced between vocals, guitars, drums and bass. Feeding the track to the internal DAC of HA2SE definitely levels things up and it produced a more neutral sound. The bass and highs were still sufficient but it does not emphasise on one over another. 

The Planetarium also sounded very decent with good delivery of various level of intensity of the instrument. But this time around, it comes out to be even more in depth presentation. The details and clarity of each instrument seems to be one of the HA2SE strength here. It goes all out to push for detail delivery of the music.

CONCLUSIONS

With all these promising features, it seems that the HA2SE is really a bargain piece of portable DAC headphone at the retail price of RM1599. If there was one gripe that I have to highlight is that I still need to turn the volume up to about 4 on the knob to really do justice to my T1. For the IEMs, at level 2 and maximum 3, was sufficient to give me goosebumps with its neutrality but quite an authoritative presentation. The amp also does not really run that hot that it is quite pleasant to carry it around. Although I had to crank it up to level 4, but it did not make my T1 sound strained.

One plain advice is to feed this unit with good files. Do not feed heavily compressed files to this unit as it it highlight the very worst of those kind of files. Feed it with good lossless and uncompressed files especially DSD, you will be in for a surprise and fun listening sessions.
Now I wonder how will it sound connected to my main hifi as a dedicated DAC?
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