Rega Ear 2 review
posting for reference, that way the next person to search for this on Google or right here on Head-Fi will find more info on it
I managed to snag this local unit Rega Ear for a bit less than half of local retail price to serve as my back up amplifier while my Cantate.2 is out of action and parts arrive in the mail. I was hoping for an Arietta or Headfive, but I guess they aren't only scarce over here but owners aren't parting with them (I should know, I only bought another amp as a back up to the Cantate.2). Feedback I found prior to putting a bid on it was unnerving though (which was why I took a while before doing so) - they were either "nice with my HD580/600 or SR325," or "get a Meier or Headroom" (see, there's Meier again). It was highly likely that the positive feedback which at best was in comparison to Creek but not even an X-Can V3 or V8 were made by people who didn't really know headphone amps.
Anyway, I brought it home, wired it up, and to make a long story short I eventually browsed the spec sheet and found something I overlooked: Gain - 28dB. WTF was Rega thinking?! That people buying it would use a 1.2v iPod on one end and then a Stax on the other end of this thing? After dinner I browsed for modifications for the v2, or even the v1, and then after I woke up the next day I realized I was an idiot: Neutron Music Player had a variable Replay Gain. I set it to cancel out the gain on the
Set-up: Samsung Galaxy S3 with NeutronMusicPlayer (ReplayGain at -14dB) >USB OTG> Ibasso D-Zero >4in 3.5mm to RCA> Rega Ear >short cable with Cardas Sennheiser plugs, copper conductors, and Amphenol 6.3mm plug> Sennheiser HD600
Other notes: My reference is the Meier Cantate.2 (or what I remember of it), and another amp-DAC I use is the Ibasso D-Zero; also, "neutral" means I assume the audible coloration is from the HD600
Generally warm-ish but not problematic. Less "bite" on the attack of some percussion hits vs the Cantate, but highs are smoother than the D-Zero when played louder. Will update once the Cantate's back in action so I can do back-to-back listening. For non-critical listening the Ibasso D-Zero isn't audibly worse off, but when I do kick it up a notch the Rega Ear does better at keeping everything together.
Note that at some point I also tried using it with my computer, feeding the D-Zero but using a spare 1.5m 3.5mm to RCA cable by Philips that I bought on sale. Not good, and it wasn't just the gain (as I used the same cable with the SGS3 as source) - treble was sharp and bass wobbly. Note that the custom and Monoprice 3.5mm RCA cables I had were identical in sound and had similar construction (single strand copper conductors) vs the Philips (nicer plugs and Y-junction than the Monoprice, but the cable itself used multi-strand conductors - like on generic car audio cables). I can't do a blind test since I live alone, but for what it's worth it seems transparent enough with upstream components. Keep it simple and just use a generally neutral source and proper copper cables (decent plugs optional).
II. Noise and detail
Very quiet - no hiss between tracks at normal volume nor max volume (despite the insanely high gain). Very black background. I thought there was some static noise when I was listening to a Smashing Pumpkins track, but a few seconds later it disappeared; went back and it was in the same section (something I didn't notice in the track before but apparently it's there).
III. Drivng the HD600
Drives the HD600 well enough, no immediately noticeable issues like the over-excursion "thu-whacks!!!" (instead of a solid "thud!") on some bass drum hits I got with the Nuforce HDP before. That said the warm-ish tone still has a few other effects - some bass notes decayed a bit slower and the sound basically felt more like they scattered than faded out. Not really a big problem, considering I paid around $160 for this amp, but if Rega wants $395 for this I'd be inclined to tell people to pick between the Asgard, NFB-11, and the O2+ODAC. Overall, PRAT was still good - I got my feet tapping along to Melissa Auf Der Maur's Out of Our Minds and Epica's The Phantom Agony (the whole albums, generally; not specifically the title tracks).
IV. Other notes
I actually like it enough, the older Ear must have been really bad for it to get the kinds of feedback that it did and makes the new version sound even worse for the money given all the other options out there, plus there's the 28dB gain. That said, even if you have a way of getting around the gain (like simple mod, or can use ReplayGain in some way), I'd still recommend the Valhalla, Jazz, or O2+ODAC vs a regular price Rega Ear. If you can get one on the cheap though I'd say it makes a great back-up or first desktop amp, but of course that assumes whatever source material/gear you use have ReplayGain or other similar tricks (like, fix Loudness War recordings).
Edited by ProtegeManiac - 4/11/15 at 9:58am