Pros: looks amazing, built like a tank, gives your iOS device new life
Cons: Battery, no proprietary carry case
This is a amazingly looking device, it does not matter how you look at it, it is simply a pleasure to look at. That is the first impact that one have once you look at it, it calls your attention, I even make a point of not keeping it visible when I’m on the go. (I don't live in a safe country). It screams awesome all over it, it must be the best looking portable AMP/DAC I’v seen to date.
The build quality is second to none, the level of detail and attention is beyond the expected for audiophile items. Many expensive audiophile toys (not that the PHA-1 did not hurt my wallet) are purely based on sound quality and day by day occurrences are overlooked, some are even straight from shelf cases. This is not the case with the PHA-1, there is a level of care that is clearly seen on the design.
The PHA-1 has rubber built in feet, so it does not slide around nor scratches your table, also protects your investment. The front panel, volume knob and connections are protected by hook guards so they are not disturbed once in your pocket/bag. Finishing on the materials are stunning. Proprietary rubbers are a cool unique little touch. Good resistance and feel to the knob as well.
It comes with:
- 4 rubber bands (proprietary design)
- a standard line cable with 90 degrees jacks, about 5 cm (imperial measurements are useless deal with it)
- iPod/iPhone 30pin connector to USB, about 10 cm
- Micro USB cable of 1m
- Sony walkman to line cabe with 90 degrees jack, about 10cm
- A rubber mat so your audio source is not rubbing against the metal once coupled
- Useless documentation
The weight and solid feel adds to the premium overall experience.
The PHA-1 is rated at 5 hours as a iOS DAC and 10 hours as a pure amplifier. And so far it has delivered what it promises. Some may argue that 5 hours of playing is not much, and I agree. But personally I seldom listen to more than 5 hours of music on the go. And as these days smart phones only last one day I don't mind adding another item to charge with my iPhone and iPad at night.
That been said I will have a long international flight coming soon. So instead of using the DAC I will use use my line out cable. Problem solved. Once in a while its not a bad thing to change things a little.
This amp can be used as a:
- Amp with a line input
- PC or Mac DAC/AMP
- iOS DAC/AMP
(I don't know if it works with android, please someone let me know?!?!)
Unfortunately it does not support line out, this can be a let down to many people, I also wish it was an option. The PHA-2 does support line out, be aware it is substantially more expensive.
There is a GAIN switch from LOW/HIGH impedance headphones. The PHA-1 is rated to support 600 ohms headphones. However, to be noted that people have reported not been able to drive headphones that high in impedance. I personally don’t have headphones that heavy to test.
As a iOS DAC and AMP
It adds a clear accuracy to the sound, specially on the highs. Quick cymbals are well defined, a clear resolution improvement over the stock iPod.
The PHA-1 has sonic characteristics that brings more life as well, it brings the upper range of the mids slightly forward. It also adds a little more bass, not too much, but it rounds up the signature quite well.
By the fact that mids are forward and very well defined they add loads of fun factor to the table. I use it very often with my Shure SE535, and as amazing as the 535s are they can be a little clinical, the PHA-1 fix that right away. Same goes for my Shure SRH840 (even more clinical than the 535s).
It delivers loads of power as well, my most demanding headphones are the SRH840 (granted not that bad) and i use them at about 25% on the low gain setting.
The sound is also crystal crystal clear, its noise floor is much lower than any desktop amp I have used. Even cranking the volume all the way up on my IEMs while no music is been played there is almost no hiss, a marvelous engineering achievement. I cant stress enough how quiet this amp/Dac is.
As a Mac DAC and AMP
Almost the same characteristics as if plugged into a iOS device. I do think that they use a different DAC chip while connected to a computer, as the low frequencies are not as forward as on a iOS device.
The resolution is still amazing, because the lows are not as forward, the crispness is even more apparent. I would say that it is almost too much brightness to some extent, as sometimes I fell the need to have some more warmth, specially on acoustic songs. That also been said it is not a bad sound in any way, I personally don't like a all that bright sound signature.
The PHA-1 is a great product, as the cheapest of the iOS supported DACs it holds its ground proudly against the more expensive competition. The fact that it is also a powerful Amp and a Mac/PC DAC it even adds flexibilities that the competition does not support.
The build quality is exactly what one would expect from SONY, and it looks and feels amazing as well. The battery can be an issue, specially if used as a mobile device DAC.
The sound characteristics are extremely pleasing, I would say that the PHA-1 is more directed to a fun experience opposed to a monitor tool. But that is expected from a mobile device.
Gear used on testing
iPod classic 7th generation 160GB
EarPods (just kidding, LOL)