Oppo's HA-1 is a very flexible headphone amp and home theatre DAC/pre-amp and about spot-on for the money.

A Review On: Oppo HA-1 Integrated Headphone DAC and Amplifier.

Oppo HA-1 Integrated Headphone DAC and Amplifier.

Rated # 17 in Desktop Amps
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Review Details:
Audio Quality
Design
Quality
Value
Purchased on:
Currawong
Posted · 3861 Views · 16 Comments

Pros: No lack of inputs, including Bluetooth; Headphone amp is good all-round with plenty of power; Functionality is well thought-out.

Cons: Mute function for the pre-amp output only accessible on the remote. Knob feel for the volume is terrible. Display text is hard to read at a distance.

 

Thanks to Oppo Digital Japan for allowing us to borrow the PM-1 and HA-1.

 

Oppo coming out with a pair of headphones was quite a surprised, especially a pair of planars. Likewise the HA-1, though it is logical that a company would provide an appropriate matching amp to do with their own headphones. 

 

The HA-1 is based upon the BD-105 essentially, but with fewer features and a better headphone amp, in this case with balanced output. Like the BD-105, apart from the lack of disc playback, it is still designed to be the centrepiece of your home theatre system with no less than 8 inputs: RCA and XLR (balanced) analogue and S/PDIF, optical, AES and Bluetooth digital. The latter supports APTX transmission which gives essentially CD quality wireless audio transmission. For iDevice users there's even a special USB port on the front for when a friend brings around their music on their phone or iPod.

 

Selecting the inputs is thankfully very simple, each has its own button on the included remote control. They can also be selected simply by turning the selector knob on the front panel until the desired one is highlighted.

 

By pressing the selector switch instead you cycle through the options for the unit:

 

Display type, which includes a funky digital rendition of analogue style meters and an EQ display or just information on the input used and music playing.

Home Theatre Bypass, which is a fancy way of saying that the volume control for the pre-amp output can be switched to a fixed line-level instead.

Headphone amp gain.

 

My only complaints about the unit are here in that the text on all the displays was too small to be read at any kind of distance. Also, the volume knob has the worst "knob feel" of any I've ever encountered. One other issue is that the pre-amp output "mute" function can only be switched using the remote, so if you can't find the remote but only want to listen through headphones, you'll have to switch off the rest of your system or un-plug it. Also, though people are unlikely to encounter it: Make sure to switch the unit off via its own power control. When I used my Power Plant Premier to switch everything off, the Home Theatre Bypass reset itself to "fixed" mode and the next time I played music I got blasted!

 

Performance:

 

Now I've had the chance to try the HA-1 in a few scenarios, such as a HP amp and pre-amp with the in-built DAC and external DACs, here are my thoughts. Note that I listen to an incredible variety of music, too long to list here.


The HA-1 is about spot-on for value. It isn't the most resolving DAC or amp compared to, say, my Master 7 or Hugo. I was talking to anakchan about it and the word he used was "polite" which I tend to agree with. I've had mixed results with ES9018-based DACs and the HA-1 is one of the better ones, not having the flatness to the sound poorer implementations have that usually annoys me with acoustic instruments. The headphone amp gives an equally effortless-sounding presentation with both Oppo's own PM-1s and the Audeze LCD-XC as well as the Sennheiser HD-800, suggesting good power delivery. If I hadn't owned my main DACs, I'd be quite happy with the HA-1 sonically, as it does a good job of getting out of the way of the music and presenting it as it is. If anything though, I felt the HA-1 was too polite for the PM-1s and they sounded better directly out of the Hugo! It was a nicer match with the brighter HD-800s.

 

Comparing it to other equipment to get a handle on its actual ability to resolve detail, if I used the HA-1 as a DAC, it wasn't quite as resolving as my Master 7 or the Chord Hugo, missing out on some micro-detail. Likewise if I used the HA-1 as a headphone amp for my Master 7 or the Hugo, knowing that both are more resolving than the Oppo's built-in DAC, the greater resolution of either unit didn't come through the amp. Both units, however, are far more expensive than the the Oppo, the Hugo being 2.5x the price, so if anything the Oppo did well.

 

I also tried the HA-1 using the Bluetooth input using my iMac, and the results were very good, only a tiny bit behind the sound quality of a direct connection, something only apparent when directly compared.

 

Overall though I felt performance was spot-on for what Oppo are asking, especially considering the wealth of features included. It would best suit someone who wants to use the variety of features, such as with a pair of active speakers as well as headphones. With a pair of, say, the inexpensive but good quality Emotiva active speakers and headphones of choice it would make a great complete rig. 

16 Comments:

Do you think this unit would benefit from a treble and bass tone manual adjustment feature?
Did you know there's an entire site dedicated to reviewing gear by the feel of their knobs?...
hmm, knob feels really good to me. Maybe I am missing something.
I agree with cb3723. With all of those features, some EQ would also be nice.
@Armaegis Yes, Shigzeo introduced me to Knobfeel. Maybe it was my unit though, but the volume didn't feel good.
Wow, that was creepy, and inopportune timing that required some hasty explanation.  My computer speakers are turned up pretty high, and I clicked on a knob feel review, not expecting what I got.  The speakers were loud enough for my wife to hear the "sound effects", so of course she promptly came to my office to see exactly what I was up to on the internet.  Fair warning to others, the sound effects for knob feel reviews are NSFW if the sound is the only context someone will have for what you are up to... you might find your self having a discussion with HR that will start out pretty awkwardly (and end up that way on why you are spending work time watching knob reviews on YouTube :D).
I tried out the HA-1 at the SF meet and I thought the volume knob was pretty nice, maybe it was a bad unit? Or maybe it's just preference, it did have a very heavy feel to it, so it was easy to make minor adjustments with a good amount of throw, which I liked. Overall I thought it sounded very nice, and I liked the UI and input options.
I played with my knob a bit tonight and it feels pretty darn good to me!  Maybe everyone's knobs are different(mine is very slightly slanted to the left for example, I don't want to bend it back and maybe hurt it, it definitely works fine), or maybe different folks have different sets of expectations on what playing with their knob should feel like. I don't know that I have ever played with a knob that would be considered to be awesome, so maybe my standards are just lower.  Too bad we can't play with each others knobs to compare how they feel.  I also didn't play with my knob until after being home from work for a bit and having a couple of drinks, so maybe playing with my knob feels better when I am more relaxed and not so picky and discerning, I dunno.
 
Thanks for another good review!
@Dan S We're talking about EQ - any idea why there's a load of comments with members talking of playing with their "knobs"? LoL - maybe some people should keep their private life out of the comments section of reviews?
Reviewing the knobs is apparently a more important part of the head-fi experience than I realized (I am new to this), I was just trying to catch up!  On a side note, no offense intended, but I am not much for an EQ to be added, unless it wouldn't require screwing with the current signal paths, add to the cost, and assuming it would be an opportunity cost issue preventing other features like perhaps addi media player type functionality so that it would be a truly stand alone unit minus cans (i.e. just add storage with content that it would be able to decode), kinda like the 105.  No need for a disk transport, just USB/SD/etc. input that could consume/convert digital content directly.  That is a tall order I know... just saying I think that would be neat :).  Oh yeah, and upgrading the pre-amp path to be as awesome as the HP path.
When we went to dinner and drinks after one of the Tokyo shows I asked a woman if she'd like to feel my knob. I was talking about my camera, but it was pretty funny all the same. ;)
And that woman's now your wife right? ;)
Great read as always @Currawong! I was looking forward to your insight with regard to the HA-1.
I'm not a big fan of the Oppo PM1s (do they have a dash, can't remember) but the amp looked saucy
Awe Crafty Hack that's just classic! 
 
I was looking at buying the HA-1 but now that it's knob feel has come under fire... I may have to rethink my upgrade path.
having played with my knob ( obviously I am referring to HA-1) , there is no issue, but if I may suggest, The Fed, that please go ahead and do buy this device !
However I do get to feel that the unit gets heated up after a non stop usage of 2 hours, well here in Delhi , the ambient temperature is hovering around 35 Deg C.
Wonder if this is the observation by other fellow users too
Components getting quite warm is never a problem. In fact, it is quite normal. Class A gear especially is inefficient.