So I thought I would write down a few words about the Sony PHA-2. I'm generally a noob when it comes to audiophile lingo so you'll have to excuse the lack of adjectives like "warm midrange." I don't even know what that means :). I don't have a lot of audio gear, although I know the way things sound is important to me. Important enough to break into my frame of a house that was being custom built to wire two 7.1 speaker configurations. The home-builder would only do 5.1 and used inferior equipment....but I digress. Having said that, I can tell you from a layman's perspective how things sound when hooked up to the PHA-2. My general set up is the PHA-2 hooked up to a windows computer, or hooked up to my iPhone 5S with Sennheiser PXC-450's. Why the 450's? I used to travel a lot. It's nice to have the noise cancelling function, otherwise I slide the lever to "bypass" and deactivate it (sounds much better). The PHA-2 was a serious upgrade from the FIIO E7 that I was using with the IPhone 4S (duh). I only upgraded thanks to Apples greed for forcing audio manufactures to purchase licensing from them. I've heard you can use the camera connection kit, but that seemed dubious and it was time for a DAC upgrade.
PHA-2==>IPhone 5S on ITunes:
The sound coming from regular ITunes music through the PHA-2 is pretty incredible. The IPhone 5S can drive my SH's, albeit very, very quietly, but it's no comparison (of course) when hooked up to the PHA-2. I tested the PHA-2 with a few songs and the main highlight to me is that the low ranges are incredible. Sony manages to let you feel the bass without being boomy, vibratory, or distorted. If you've ever used a bone-mic it's kind of like that. Clarity is really outstanding as well, and it's black background is incredibly silent! This thing seems impervious to radio interference when the IPhone is strapped to it with the Silicone connectors (Black colored - misplaced one already). I tested it and managed to hear the familiar static beeping only once. If I leave my Slim Armor case on the IPhone and attach it with the bands, it's solidly placed and the same size as the 5S. My only real complaint is that the treble doesn't seem particularly awe-inspiring. The most notable sounds came from music that is mastered very, very well. When I heard Shinedown's Acoustic version of "45" you really heard the difference and I felt like I was sitting right next to the guitar! Regina Spektor's "Fidelity" actually shot me up from my seat! Also, with any headphones of note, you will have to use the "High Gain" switch on the side if you want to really drive your head-gear.
Mastered for ITunes music plays really well. I tested that with Stone Sour's "Tired." It sounded really good with the PHA-2. It sounded good without it, but without the amp built into the PHA-2 it sounded kind of flat and hard to hear.
PHA-2==>Windows 7 box with ITunes and Klipsch 4.1 speakers:
Everything sounded incredible. 'Nuff said.
PHA-2==>Windows 7 box with Sony's Hi-Res Player:
I downloaded the Thriller album in DSD 176/24 bit FLAC from HDTracks and played it through the Sony player into the PHA-2 and it sounded really good. I heard things that I never heard before in that album. It's hard to decipher though, how much of that is the AMP doing the work, or the DAC inside the PHA-2. Again, I have noob audiophile ears.
To be honest, it was between the VMODA or the PHA-2. It came down to functionality and form rather than what was under the hood. I didn't like the metal cases that you put your phone into with the VAMP VERZA, so the Sony won out. Seems silly I know. The rubber rails on the top and the bottom of the PHA-2 are ingenious. It doesn't move at all on any surface I put it on. Also, the silicon bands work really well! Black, though? C'mon Sony! They give you four of them, but you're gonna need them, you'll misplace them easily. Hey Sony, how about red or lime green? Tactical black is so 90's. The metal "Last Starfighter" looking wings that protect the volume knob and the headphone cord are ingenious as well. I've already bumped it twice, and I'm certain the first hit would have taken the volume knob off. Battery life is not great compared to the other portable rigs out there, but I've never outlasted the battery. It won't charge your IPhone either, nor would you want it to with only like a 5 hour lifespan (I have a Jackery for that though). Here is my ONLY functional complaint, but it's annoying. Wait, I'm sorry, did you say you can't charge the battery while you are using the PHA-2? WTH? What is this the stone ages? There could be a valid reason for it. I suppose the circuitry needed to charge the device while using it might introduce interference or noise while listening to it. I may have just made that up...but if that's why they did it, I should point out that genius and insanity are often related :). Overall I love this DAC/AMP!