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DAC/amp with features plus

A Review On: RHA Dacamp L1

RHA Dacamp L1

Rated # 32 in Amp/DACs
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Review Details:
Audio Quality
Design
Quality
Value
Brooko
Posted · 2718 Views · 7 Comments

Pros: Transparency, overall SQ, build quality, bass/treble tuning, input choices, gain option, portability, output power, balanced option

Cons: Balanced output throttled, volume control quite sensitive for IEM use, balanced uses a mini XLR rather than something more standard.

For larger views of any of the photos (1200 x 800) - please click on the individual images

INTRODUCTION

Choosing an amp or amp/DAC can be bewildering given the many options and price points available. Add to that the many subjective opinions from reviews about what adding a new amp or amp/DAC can bring to the table in terms of clarity! details! soundstage! As I’ve gained a lot more experience, and (more importantly) tested more, I’ve come to realise that many of the differences I thought I’d previously heard are pretty subtle, and mostly occur because I wasn’t volume matching while comparing different amps or sources. And the more experienced I've become – and the more aware of how outside influences can affect my overall opinion, the more I've come to find that the things we don't place the most importance on – power output, features, gain control, battery life, inputs/outputs etc – can be a lot more important than the perceived SQ. In fact with most devices nowadays, SQ should be a given.

 

And that brings me to the product I’m reviewing today – RHA's new L1 DAC/amp. I’ve now had the L1 for a couple of weeks and have been using that time to put it through its paces. Read on for my thoughts on how it performs

 

ABOUT RHA

Reid Heath Acoustics (RHA) is a Scottish based headphone company. Their core values (from their on-line presence) are described as follows:

“We stand for true-to-life audio reproduction and lasting quality. With these values at our core, we work to deliver the most accurate, comfortable and unobtrusive listening experience possible. Every RHA product combines high quality materials, precision engineering and our fundamental commitment to design.”

 

Most people will know RHA for their range of in-ear monitors. To my knowledge this is the first actual DAC/amp they've launched, and at $549.95 is sits at a pretty interesting section of the market – up against other heavy-weights like iFi Audio's iDSD and Chord's Mojo.

 

In the last couple of weeks I have spent as much time as possible listening to the L1 with both RHA's own earphones, and also several of my own – both full-sized headphones and my own IEMs. Toward the end of the review I have compared the L1 to both my iDSD and also the much cheaper FiiO E17K.

RHA on Facebook

RHA Website

 

DISCLAIMER

I was provided the RHA L1 (as part of a tour) from RHA. I am in no way affiliated with RHA - and this review is my honest opinion of the CL1. The tour unit was returned at completion of the review. I'd like to especially thank Iain and Niketa for their brilliant communication and allowing me to be part of this.

 

PREAMBLE - 'ABOUT ME'. (or a base-line for interpreting my thoughts and bias)

Click here for a summary of my known bias (Click to show)

I'm a 49 year old music lover. I don't say audiophile – I just love my music. Over the last couple of years, I have slowly changed from cheaper listening set-ups to my current set-up. I vary my listening from portables (including the FiiO X5ii, X3ii, X7, LP5, L3, and iPhone SE) to my desk-top's set-up (PC > USB > iFi iDSD). I also use a portable set-up at work – usually either X3ii/X7/L3 > HP, or PC > E17K > HP. My main full sized headphones at the time of writing are the Sennheiser HD800S, Beyerdynamic T1, Sennheiser HD600 & HD630VB, and AKG K553. Most of my portable listening is done with IEMs, and lately it has mainly been with the Jays q-Jays, Alclair Curve2 and Adel U6. A full list of the gear I have owned (past and present is listed in my Head-Fi profile).

 

I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety from classical/opera and jazz, to grunge and general rock. I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, folk music, classic rock, indie and alternative rock. I am particularly fond of female vocals. I generally tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced, but I do have a fondness for clarity, and suspect I might have slight ‘treble-head’ preferences. I am not treble sensitive (at all), and in the past have really enjoyed headphones like the K701, SR325i, and of course the T1 and DT880. I have a specific sensitivity to the 2-3 kHz frequency area (most humans do) but my sensitivity is particularly strong, and I tend to like a relatively flat mid-range with slight elevation in the upper-mids around this area.

 

I have extensively tested myself (ABX) and I find aac256 or higher to be completely transparent. I do use exclusively red-book 16/44.1 if space is not an issue. All of my music is legally purchased (mostly CD – the rest FLAC purchased on-line). I tend to be sceptical about audiophile ‘claims’, don’t generally believe in burn-in, have never heard a difference with different cables, and would rather test myself blind on perceived differences. I am not a ‘golden eared listener’. I suffer from mild tinnitus, and at 49, my hearing is less than perfect (it only extends to around 14 kHz nowadays). My usual listening level is around 65-75 dB.

For the purposes of this review – I've used the RHA L1 as amp only (with various sources), DAC/amp – paired with other DAPs and also my iPhone SE as transport, and also as a desktop set-up (my home PC runs Linux). This is a purely subjective review - my gear, my ears, and my experience. Please take it all with a grain of salt - especially if it does not match your own experience.

 

FURTHER NOTES

Volume matching was done with a calibrated SPL meter and test tones (1 kHz) when required for comparison. Frequency response measurements were taken using a relatively cheap Startech USB soundcard, which while measuring decently on loopback (0.012% THD and 0.024% THD+N) tends to be the limiting factor measuring THD, THD+N and IMD – as I seem to be limited by the Startech’s performance. So I am taking RHA’s distortion published measurements as truth, and this time not measuring myself. When I did measure, they are below the threshold of audibility anyway.

 

WHAT I WOULD LOOK FOR IN A PORTABLE DAC/AMP

I thought I’d list (before I start with the review) what I would look for in a portable DAC/amp. This is useful to remember when looking at my reasoning for scoring later in the review.

  • Genuine portability
  • Good battery life
  • Clean, neutral signature
  • Easy to use
  • Low output impedance
  • Reasonable output power – should be able to drive IEMs and earphones up to 300 ohms
  • Good gain control
  • Hardware EQ if possible
  • Easy installation of DAC drivers and
  • Value for money

 

PORTABLE AMP/DACs I HAVE EXPERIENCE WITH

Previous = Fiio E7, Beyerdynamic A200p

Current = Fiio E17K, Q1, Cozoy Aegis, iFi Micro iDSD, IMS HVA

 

THE REVIEW

PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES

Outer sleeve front and rear

 

The RHA L1 arrived in a reasonably large, but attractive black retail box measuring 147 x 200 x 74mm. There is a lot of information on the outer sleeve (which is IMO very well laid out) – including:

  • Front face = picture of the CL1, Sony Hi-Res logo, and note that there is dedicated channel processors
  • Rear = information on design, materials and features
  • Sides = information on warranty (3 year!), contents and the L1's specifications

 

Inside the inner box Manual, colour booklet and guarantee/warranty


Removing the outer sleeve reveals a book style lidded box, with a black and white depiction of the L1. Opening this discloses a nice full colour booklet about the L1, and the first look at the L1 itself nestled in its foam cut-out. Below this are compartments for the accessories – which include:

 

  • Silicone stacking bands
  • A cleaning / stacking cloth
  • USB micro-B to micro-B cable
  • USB A – micro-B cable
  • Manual and warranty card

 

Colour booklet and manual Accessories - cleaning/stacking cloth, bands and cables

 

The cables seem to be generic but pretty sturdy – nothing flash. I'm a little disappointed that there isn't a converter cable for the balanced mini-XLR to a more common 2.5mm TRRS. The manual is multilingual, very informative and includes full information on specs and how to properly use the L1

 

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

(From RHA)

 

RHA L1

Cost

~ USD 550 (RHA website)

Type

Fully balanced portable DAC and amp

Output impedance

2.2 ohms

Max output into 16 ohm

300 mW

Max output into 300 ohm

28 mW

Suggested H/P Impedance

8-600 ohms

THD+N

<0.0018%

SNR (dynamic range)

111 dB

Freq response

20 Hz – 100 kHz

Gain

1x, 1.8x 2.5x

Supported PCM

44.1 – 384 kHz, 16/24/32 bit.

Supported DSD

DSD 64, DSD128, DSD256 (quad DSD)

Inputs

3.5mm line in, USB A, USB micro-B, mini-TOSLINK optical

Outputs

3.5mm line out, 3.5mm headphone out, 4-pin mini XLR balanced

Battery life / charge time

10 hours continuous / 4 hours charge

Battery used

4000 mAh

Dimensions

118x73x20mm

Weight

233g

 

BUILD / DESIGN

Beautifully curved outer shell  Protective cover over the tone and gain controls

 

The RHA L1 is an interesting shape. The body consists of a single sheet of machined aluminium alloy bent around to form a rectangular shell. The top, bottom, and sides are a hard rubber/silicone. The headphone outputs sit at the top of the device, as does the pot/volume control. The USB inputs/outputs and optical/line-in/out sit at the bottom. In the middle is a set of 3 dials – housing the hardware controls (bass, treble, and gain), and these are encased with a protective over-plate. Reading through the documentation, RHA says that the build/design was inspired by home audio equipment, and it shows in the use of the knobs for the EQ and gain – and also a somehow classic look with the alloy outer jacket.

 

The main body is designed to fit your hand (and assuming right handed), your fingers will curl around the rounded edge, with thumb in easy reach of the side controls, and index finger has easy access to the volume control.

RHA L1 in profile The volume pot (quite sensitive)

 

At the top left is the balanced 4 pin mini-XLR socket. It is gold plated for both protection and transmission. At the top right is the single ended 3.5mm headphone out socket – again gold plated. Between these sits the volume pot. It is quite long, bevelled to make it non-slip, and recessed from the body to save accidentally jogging it. This is pretty essential, because the pot itself has 5 major settings – 0 (off) to 5 (max) with each quarter turn giving a full numeric increment. Between each bass number are guides for 2 settings in-between. With the somewhat easy to drive AKG K553, and using my PC as digital source, a single partial increment can go from easy listening to very loud in a moment. This is pretty sensitive. Between the mini-XLR and volume control is an LED light which denotes status (off, on, charging, low power and depleted).

Top - headphone out (single ended and balanced) + volume pot Line out, line in and USB inputs

 

At the bottom is the inputs/outputs. From left to right is the line-out, USB-A socket, USB micro-B socket, and line-in/optical in socket. Below the micro-B socket is a 3-way switch to select the input / output. The 3.5mm sockets are again gold plated.

 

On the right hand side are the controls for treble, bass and gain. The treble and bass controls range from -3 to +9, with each increment representing ~1 dB change. The gain wheel has 4 settings – low, med, high – and a charge icon (which basically turns the L1 into a storage bank for charging other devices). The controls have a nice click for each setting and will not move inadvertently if bumped. The treble and bass controls can be used even in DAC mode.

 

Underside view Balanced mini-XLR connection

 

Overall the external build quality is pretty much faultless. It feels really good in the hand – solid and dependable. It is also perfect for stacking – with its flat back – and as far as size goes is almost the same dimensions as the new FiiO X5iii – and slightly wider than my iPhone SE. For any X7 owners – the X7 is similar width and depth – but about 1 cm longer. The only caveat I have is the sensitivity of the volume pot.

 

Internally, the L1 uses a pair of Sabre ES9018K2M DACs – one for each channel. There are in turn boosted by a pair of class A/B amplifiers (unfortunately they aren't mentioned in the documentation, and I don't think RHA would be too appreciative of me taking a look-see under the hood). The DACs are capable of DSD support up to quad DSD, and up to 32 bit/384 kHz PCM audio. The specifications list a very low 0.0018% THD+N (and basically this means that any distortion is inaudible), a dynamic range (SNR) of 111dB, and reasonable output power of 28 mW into 300 ohms.

 

HEAT AND POWER

So far I’ve noticed just a slow heat build-up with the L1 (only really gets to lukewarm). Even after a couple of hours (driving my HD800S), it’s still no issues to handle.

 

RHA rates the target headphone impedance as 8-600 ohm, and I was surprised that for my 600ohm T1, there was no issues at all reaching and exceeding listenable volumes. Using my HD800S (300 ohm), and the volume pot at 1-2 clicks below 2/5, I was right at my normal listening volume of 65-70 dB with Emma Ruth Rundle's album “Some Heavy Ocean” (L1 acting as DAC to my main desktop). Advancing to 2/5 on the same track drove the dB meter to 75+ dB, and pushing to the full 5/5 was reaching 90dB peaks. This was all on low gain – so with the HD800S on high gain and reasonably modern music, high gain would net peaks just under 100 dB.

Surprisingly good with the T1 & bass controls helped with lower end HD800S were sublime with the L1 - and fantastic when paired with the PC & JRiver MC

 

At the other end of the scale RHA suggests compatibility with earphones as low as 8 ohms. With their 2.2 ohm output impedance (and following the traditional 1/8 rule for damping), I would have thought 16 ohms would be a safer bet. Fortunately I have the 8 ohm DN-2000J on hand and was able to test those. I was pretty close to the lower limit of the pot to get to a quiet enough listening level, and the sound was quite different on the DN-2000J out of the L1 than using my X5iii, or X5ii + A5 (it was a little darker – not as airy as the 2000J usually is). I wonder if this has to do with the damping factor? Anyway – my personal recommendation is that whilst the L1 can easily be paired with 8 ohm earphones, perhaps something with slightly higher impedance may be ideal.

 

Higher impedance U6 matched well & treble boost was a great feature RHA's CL1 in balanced mode - paired with X5iii

 

The one thing I was finding though (with the HD800S, T1 and HD600) was that the L1 does seem better suited toward full sized headphones. There is simply more play on the pot overall. With IEMs it can be a little sensitive. If you have variable output from your transport though – this can easily be mitigated.

 

FEATURES / USABILITY

The L1 is really simple to use. Headphones go at the top – either balanced mini XLR or 3.5mm single ended. Source is connected at the bottom, Switch set to source being used. Select your volume and away you go – very simple.

 

Gain

The gain wheel selector is the bottom most side knob on the L1 and allows you to select 3 levels of gain. I measured these under loopback, and they represent:

  • Low = 1x or +0dB
  • Med = 1.8 times or approx +5 dB (per my measurements)
  • High = 2.5 times or approx +7.5 dB (per my measurements)

 

Measured in DAC mode - showing frequency response and gain.

 

The only thing I would have probably liked to see here is a little more usability with the gain. Given that the difference between 1-5 on the pot is actually around 25-30 dB, adding a mere 5-8 dB gets dwarfed a little by the actual pot changes.

 

Tone Controls – Bass / Treble

This IMO is the killer feature on the L1. I'm a bit of an EQ buff. So many times I've been sent a pair of IEMs to review and found that with some minor changes they can actually be transformed. A lot of the time I just want a quick rough and ready fix to a problem – and using the E17K for so long, I've become used to using it's tone controls to adjust a frequency curve to a better level. Each tone control (bass and treble) comes with a 12 dB range of options -3dB to +9dB. See graph below.

 

Bass controls - measured as pass-though (amp only)  and treble controls

 

And its amazing what you can do with the EQ when combining the two. You can create a U/V shape, or give the mids a bump – simply by dialing it in. I've included graphs from my CL1 review (further down this page) where I wanted to tone the treble back (a lot), and the bass back (a little) to basically flatten the frequency curve. You an see that this is quite effective – and the only thing I would have really liked would have been if there was equal opportunity to reduce as there is to add. RHA – when you read this, if there is an L2 at some stage, and you still use the tone controls, consider 2 dB increments both ways : -10 -8 -6 -4 -2 0 +2 +4 +6 +8 +10. That would have been just about perfect IMO.

 

Curve versatility - max to min, and min to max You could also reate a mid-range bump, or a large U/V shape

 

As a DAC (PC)

Usage as a DAC couldn't be easier. No additional drivers needed with Linux. The L1 was correctly identified and it was simply a matter of selecting it. With Windows it was simply a matter of downloading and installing the driver from RHA. After that – select the L1 as the output device and then select your bit-rate and resolution. I ran through PCM resolutions from 16/44.1 through to 32/384 (up-sampling) and there were no issues. Likewise I tested DSD playback (using Foobar2000 in Windows) – and no issues with playback (it was only DSD64). I did the same with Linux, using jRiver's Media Center for Linux. It allows me to up-sample without jumping through hoops. PCM at 384 kHz worked with no problem – but under Linux I could only get to 2xDSD (I can get to 4x on the iDSD). It may simply be an issue with my set-up, and unfortunately haven't had time to further trouble shoot it. Sadly I didn't get the chance to use optical from my PC as I no longer have an optical out port I can test with.

 

Via Line-In
Again no issues playing audio from my X5iii to the L1. Audio was clean and clear, and for those looking for a straight amplifier, the set-up worked really well. The beauty of course is the access to the tone controls as well as the extra amplification.

 

iPhone SE, the L1 and the CL1 in balanced mode This was a nice pairing - but needed the EQ

 

iPhone SE

This worked perfectly. Using a lightning cable to micro USB, the iPhone recognised the L1, handed off audio to it, and basically played without a hitch. The only downside was that it drained the battery pretty quickly on the SE (in 2-3 hours), so something to watch if you're planning on using it with a smart-phone.

 

Use as a battery bank
This was something I didn't see coming, but works pretty well. There is a setting on the gain switch (a lightning bolt), and when selected, it basically feeds power from the on-board L1 battery to the paired device. This feature was unexpected, but would be pretty handy if you needed your phone but were caught short of a recharge point.

 

BATTERY LIFE

RHA rates the play time on a full charge at around 10 hours, recharge at around 4 hours, and for my use I’d suggest that time is pretty accurate. Whilst I did not get time to specifically measure the full battery life, the L1 was good for a day's audio, and the I'd charge it at night while it was doubling as a DAC for my desktop.

 

SONIC PERFORMANCE

Preface

I’m going to preface this section with a little critique I received a while ago (by PM), and my answer to it – so that you can understand why I don’t comment on some things, and why I do comment on others. I was told my review on another amp was poor because I didn’t include sections on bass, mid-range, treble, sound-stage, imaging etc – yet referred to an amp as warm, full, or lean.

 

Now I can understand the reference to warm / full / lean – as they are very subjective terms, and whilst I’d like to avoid their use, they are invaluable to convey true meaning. Comparing my NFB-12 to the Aune X1S for example – the Audio-gd does sound richer and warmer. It’s the nature of the DAC which is used.

 

But I choose not to comment on bass, mids, treble, and most definitely not sound-stage – simply because when we are talking about an amp – IMO they shouldn’t be discussed. An amp’s job is to amplify the signal with as low distortion as possible, and output as linear signal as possible. If it is doing its job properly, there is no effect on bass, mids, or treble. And IME an amp does not affect soundstage (unless there is DSP or cross-feed in play) – that is solely the realm of the transducers and the actual recording.

 

So we have that out of the way how does the L1 perform sonically – as a separate DAC and as a DAC/amp combo?

 

Performance

The first thing I did was to check the linearity of the L1. To do this I used a calibrated sound card (calibrated to measure completely flat), ARTA and a loopback. At first glance the L1 measures pretty flat – with a small drop off between 10-20 kHz (only a couple of dB). This could be my equipment, but the E17K measures flat on the same equipment so I suspect this could be an intentional roll-off with the DAC section, and maybe a result of filtering. When I had measured the amp section only (check earlier graphs) it was measuring dead flat with no EQ engaged. So the L1 does have good linearity.

 

I’ve stopped measuring distortion (THD / IMD) as I need better measuring equipment to get to the levels RHA is able to measure. I think we can trust the published distortion measurements

 

So what does this tell us? Simply that the L1 supplies reasonably linear, and very clean output. Purely subjectively, it sounds pretty neutral and to my ears, ever so slightly on the warm side of neutral. It does have a very clean background and a good sense of space.

 

Balanced vs Single Ended
I'll start this bit by readily admitting I'm pretty stupid. The lateness of this particular review is because I had to rewrite some of it. I initially couldn't get the balanced output working, and even went through some suggestions from RHA's staff (they were pretty helpful). In the end I twigged onto two things – (1) I needed to make sure the new sMMCX connectors were seated properly on the balanced cables, and (2) the balanced connection only works when used as a DAC/amp – rather than straight amp (duh!). Like I said – particularly silly.

 

RHA CL1 recorded from the DAC - balanced vs SE - note same volume and curve!  Applying EQ to adjust the bass and treble down - better but limited.

 

The good news is that I could finally test the balanced output with the CL1. The balanced output is provided by the mini-XLR output (and RHA a nice touch would be an adaptor – maybe to 2.5mm). Anyway – I went back and forth with the CL1 balanced, single-ended and back again. The weird part was that I didn't have to touch the volume (normally balanced has a higher power output – more volume). As I went back and forth, I honestly couldn't tell any real difference. So being the objective gentlemen I am, I plugged the L1 in as DAC on the PC and measured the output with the CL1. Two things stood out. Firstly – the volume was the same – measurably the same. Secondly the frequency response was identical. The comments floating around about the balanced output improving the CL1's frequency response simply can't be true. There is no change to frequency response between SE and balanced. Maybe my ears are simply not good enough to hear the other differences some people associate with balanced output – but to me they sound pretty much the same in the limited time I've had with the L1 and CL1. The interesting thing was also checking the set-up with the E17K, and after volume matching – same curve.
 

Adding E17K - frequemcy curve very consistent! The better EQ from the E17K

 

COMPARISONS

For this section I chose to to compare FiiO's E17K as it has similar features but is a cheaper option, and the iFi Micro iDSD as being more on par. The FiiO E17K currently is listed on Amazon at USD 100.00, and the iFI Micro iDSD at $399 (older model).

 

Warning – completely subjective evaluation ahead!

 

RHA L1 (USD $550) vs FiiO E17K (USD $100)

Both have very good build quality, although the L1 simply looks like the more refined unit – where the E17K is more utilitarian. In terms of hardware, the L1 had the superior hardware on paper, although they both have similar SNR. L1 also has lower overall noise – but given both devices noise floors are below audibility, this is somewhat of a moot point. The E17K has ~ half the headphone output impedance – making it more suitable for IEMs. In terms of battery and size, the E17K is more portable, and its 15 hour battery life makes it a winner.

 

L1 supports higher resolutions, and is more powerful. E17K has better gain control and also has balance control. And then of course there is the cost – although if you were using the E17K as a desktop rig, ultimately you'd want to pair it with an amp like the K5 (effectively doubling the price)

 

Sonically (after a lot of back and forth), the E17K sounds a little flatter, more neutral – while the L1 imparts a little more warmth. Both have a very clean and clear background.

 

So which moves me more and why? Well I like the E17K's tone controls a little more, and it is extremely portable, and sounds pretty good – BUT – it really depends on the use. With IEMs I'd take the E17K because they really don't need much power, and the E17K wins hands down on portability and has a comparable if not better feature set. If I'm driving my HD800S though (or other full sized headphone) – then the tables are turned (and this includes if I was using the L1 solely as a desktop device). The L1 simply has a fantastic synergy with the HD800S and has an effortless way of pulling me into the music. Interestingly I get this more when used as a DAC/amp rather than as an amp only.

 

RHA L1 (USD $550) vs iFi Micro iDSD (USD $399)

I’ll get this out of the way first up. I love my iDSD – it is a fantastic piece of equipment with massive versatility in power output, and a very good DAC in the Burr Brown.

 

Both are larger and more transportable than portable – although this time the L1 is the smaller unit (by some considerable amount). Both have a great array of inputs and outputs. Both can be used to charge other devices. The iDSD has far more power, and a much better gain system – so it can be used for the most sensitive IEM or very hard to drive cans (even up to the HE6).

 

Both cover the full range of resolutions (up to quad DSD). The L1 has the tone controls. The iDSD has Xbass control and the 3D speaker preset, and can be used as a preamp to active speakers.

 

As a purely desktop device, the iDSD has the better overall feature set, and ability to drive more variability in loads. But …...

 

There is a definite difference between the Burr Brown and Sabre set-up. This time the iDSD is the warmer set-up, and my preference is leaning toward the L1 quite heavily. Again it is simply pulling me in (with the HD800S) – sonically it is a beautiful pairing. Fantastic sense of spatial awareness and depth. I've been extremely happy with the iDSD for the last couple of years – and then RHA comes and delivers the L1, and I'm suddenly second guessing myself again.

 

For my current headphones (and acknowledging I have just sold my T1) – despite the extra cost, and iDSD being more suited to desktop use – right now I'd really consider taking the L1.

VALUE & CONCLUSION

I’ve now had the L1 for a couple of weeks and in that time I've grown to like it more and more. Unfortunately it simply doesn't suit my current needs – too big for my needs for portability, and doesn't have all the features I need for desktop use. But I'm still tempted to hand over the cash and get one. And that should be all you need to know about the L1.

 

It combines a stellar build with a great feature set – which is crowned by the inclusion of the tone controls. Power output (for its size) is very good – and seems to easily handle my HD600 and HD800S.

 

It also has both balanced and single ended output available – and the balanced is true balanced (separate DACs, separate amps).

 

Tonally it is very linear as a stand alone amp, and seems to have slight measurable roll-off when used as a DAC. It is very slightly on the warm side of neutral – but just a hint. It also has a very black background (low noise floor), and is able to convey a great sense of detail and spaciousness with the HD800S. That pairing alone has me really regretting having to send the L1 to its next tour recipient.

 

However – it still has some slight flaws, or ways it could be improved IMO. For starters the pot could have a little less sensitivity, and the gain control have a little more kick (FiiO's tiny E17K for example is 0 dB +6 dB +12 dB). A lower output impedance would allow more versatility with sensitive low impedance IEMs, and the tone controls could have more room for deduction of the original signal (would have helped with their CL1).

 

The price at $550 is getting up there – but it still hasn't deterred me, and I'm sitting here doing the final edit with the HD800S on my head, L1 connected to the PC, and listening to Jocelyn and Chris Arndt – and thinking “what would I have to sell to appease my lovely wife”. That's pretty dangerous for me at the moment, and hopefully the madness passes in a few more days.

 

Congratulations RHA – the L1 is my pick of the 3 (CL750, CL1 and L1). I think it will sell pretty well.

 

The new FiiO X5iii proved a pretty good transport Really didn't want to see the L1 go - a genuinely likeable product!

 

 

ADDENDUM

Remember earlier I described my list of requirements for a portable DAC/amp – lets go through them and see how the L1 fared ….

  • Genuine portability – yes, but still a little bulky
  • Good battery life – 10 hours is about average
  • Clean, neutral signature - definitely
  • Easy to use - definitely
  • Low output impedance – lowish, could be better (sub 1 ohm ideal)
  • Reasonable output power – should be able to drive IEMs and earphones up to 300 ohms – yes, but the pot could be a little less sensitive
  • Good gain control – it is good – just needs more refinement
  • Hardware EQ if possible – yes and its brilliant
  • Easy installation of DAC drivers – yes definitely
  • Value for money – although it is getting up there, I still don't think it's over-priced

 

4/5 from me. The few minor improvements I suggested would take it to a full 5. Thanks again to Iain and Niketa for giving me the chance to spend some time with the L1. A thoroughly enjoyable experience!  

7 Comments:

Fantastic review, extremely informative!
 
Where did you get that lightning to micro  USB cable? Is this one of the cables you can purchase it with at moon-audio? 
An excellent review - great work. As always, enjoy the way you correlate objective information w/ subjective impressions.  
Is the rest of the device (not the bent aluminum piece) also aluminum?  Anyways, great review as always, @Brooko!
@Chris1975 - thanks.  The lightning to USB cable can be found here (http://penonaudio.com/L19-Lightning-to-Micro-USB).  Its really cheap and works well with the iPhone and most USB DAC/amps.
@thatonenoob - thanks, I really appreciate that comment. A lot of the time its been really hard to mix the objective and subjective.  I guess I'm one of those guys who always questions what I hear too :)
@Uberclocked - thanks.  Between the two aluminium sides is a hard rubber/silicone layer.  The build is really good, 
I fully agree that an amp shouldn't impart any real sonic changes (I'm not sure that they can't and don't sometimes mind you) and I have to agree that it is likely more practical to use "subjective" terms like warm and lean as you do. Nice review and as a former iDSD Micro owner and fan, you certainly have my interest peaked. This is a highly competitive price segment as you noted and it sounds like RHA has indeed made a meaningful entry into it.
 
Thanks for the review, maybe I will consider one for my incoming Z1R as it might like the neutrality. As I am a huge fan of the 800S the fact that you enjoyed the pairing is very intriguing for sure. Cheers.
detail & great review brooko....superb
 
@Brooko, when u pair rha dac L1 with your iphone, did u notice any EMI interference ?, like static noise when your smartphone streaming music via 3g/4g/wifi or when browsing internet, etc.?  im using mojo+iphone SE, and that EMI interference really annoys me...thanks brooko :)
Thanks Kazz - I didn't notice any EMI with the iPhone - but I don't usually use it for browsing the net and I tend not to stream.  Good point though - I should have tested more thoroughly for it.
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