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Portable Amps item created by castleofargh, Mar 28, 2014
Pros - Balanced Sound, Black Background, Soundstage & Imaging, Build, Features
Cons - Battery Life, DAC Not Up To Scratch, UHA-6S MKII
First I’d like to thanks Nick from Leckerton Audio for the UHA760 loaner unit. I’ve read quite a lot of people praising the UHA-6S.MKII and when I heard that there would be a new model from Leckerton coming out, I was very interested indeed. I have never heard any Leckerton product despite hearing about them because nobody really seems to own them in Australia and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect in terms of sound from the UHA760.
The UHA760 is Leckerton Audio’s new flagship amp/DAC unit and it slots in above the previous and very popular flagship, the UHA-6S.MKII. According to Nick, the amp section is very similar but perhaps slightly improved from the 6S. Seeing as so many people loved the 6S, I thought that this would be a good thing. The impressive UHA760 page also looks very nice and informative. I love the fact that they managed to cram a decent DAC in there along with the amp while keeping the size small enough.
**Disclaimer** The UHA760 is a loaner unit from Nick and I am not offered any special price for doing this review. I was, however, offered the pre order pricing.
Build Quality & Design
Well there is definitely no faulting Leckerton’s build quality; it is exceptional. The UHA760 is priced like a premium product and the build really does show that. The entire unit feels a bit heavy and very solid. The Leckerton logo looks like it wouldn’t be rubbed off easily and the switches all have a very nice click to them. The jacks feel and look rather heavy duty and aren’t very tight to start with. Lastly, the volume knob is not too tight or too easy to spin. Accidentally knocking it won’t result in a huge change of volume.
I am quite a fan of Leckerton’s minimalistic yet thoughtful design. The gain switches are very helpful and I like the UHA760 as well as the power light next to it. The power and charge buttons are at the back, which is thoughtful so they don’t get in the way. Personally, I prefer an on/off switch rather than the volume knob on/off design that some amps use. The charge switch is also useful to prevent the battery from degrading too quickly. I would have liked to a see an option to run purely on USB power, but it’s no big deal. The crossfeed seems to fiddle with the soundstage and makes the sound somewhat thinner. I don’t exactly know what crossfeed is, but I am not a huge fan of it. Still, this feature may appeal to other people. Overall, I think the UHA760 is quite a simple amp, but it has all the features that most people want.
Unboxing & Accessories
When I first got the box, I thought that it was very solid and well-built and it looked rather impressive. However, when I opened the box, I was a bit disappointed with the amount of accessories that I got. There was a USB cable, a manual and some rubber feet. I would have expected them to at least include a 3.5mm cable and some rubber bands at this price, but it’s no big deal. The USB cable is a standard micro USB cable and is very well built. The rubber feet are somewhat solid and not very rubbery. The manual contains some information that you should probably read to ensure that you are not damaging the UHA760, but using it is pretty straightforward.
Measurements & Impedance
Personally, I have never really been a measurements and graphs person. I prefer to actually use my ears to listen. One things that I look for in a portable amp or DAP is the output impedance. For me at least, I prefer the impedance to be as low as possible and it should be under 1 ohm IMO. The UHA760 does pass this with the specs on the website stating it is 0.5 ohms. Anyway, here are the specs from the website for anybody who is interested.
Max output power (1% THD, 1 kHz):
30 mW into 16 ohms
55 mW into 32 ohms
100 mW into 62 ohms
125 mW into 100 ohms
55 mW into 300 ohms
THD+N (1 kHz, USB input, 20 Hz to 22 kHz bandwidth, no weighting):
1 mW: 0.0036%
10 mW: 0.0037%
1 mW: 0.0035%
10 mW: 0.0038%
30 mW: 0.0078%
1 mW: 0.0029%
10 mW: 0.0034%
50 mW: 0.0061%
1 mW: 0.0030%
10 mW: 0.0030%
50 mW: 0.0048%
1 mW: 0.0042%
10 mW: 0.0036%
40 mW: 0.0031%
Frequency response, USB input (48 kHz sample rate)
<3 Hz to 23 kHz, ±1.0 dB
7 Hz to 22 kHz, ±0.1 dB
Frequency response, analogue input
<3 Hz to 75 kHz, ±1.0 dB
7 Hz to 22 kHz, ±0.1 dB
Output impedance (1 kHz): <0.5 ohm
Battery life: (AD8610 op-amp)
12 hours, analogue input
6 hours, USB input
Dimensions: 70 x 84 x 20 mm (2.8 x 3.3 x 0.8 inches)
Weight: 6.0 oz (170 g)
Well this is a DAC/amp so testing it required switching sources a lot. First I hooked it up to my desktop from foobar2000 and WASAPI. Now, this unfortunately does not have a line out so I cannot use this as a pure DAC so I just compared it as a whole unit to the DX50’s line out feeding the amp. I also used it briefly with the iPod Nano’s line out. Obviously, the better the DAC section, the better the combo will sound. I found the DX50’s DAC section to be the best so for the review, I will be feeding the UHA760 from my DX50. I used my UM Miracles for a while before I sold them, the Dunu DN-1000, Unique Melody 3X, Beyerdynamic DT1350, Sennheiser HD25 I-II, modded Fostex T50RP and finally my HiFiMAN HE-500s. Obviously, the UHA760 didn’t drive the HE-500s well… at all so I will be listening to several IEMs I have on hand right now, specially the Dunu which really responds well to amping.
Now considering how much praise the UHA6S has received, I was expecting this to sound really good. And it does, but the problem is that it costs $439… certainly not cheap at all. Yes, I do think that it is the best amp for IEMs that I have heard and from memory I think it is better than the Matrix Portable. Another thing that I am not quite sure what section to put in is the background noise in this. It is silent, completely silent. This is simply the most silent amp that I have heard and I feel like this is one of its big selling points. Anyway, on with the review.
Now, Leckerton’s marketing for this amp is very much targeted at the new DAC in the UHA760. I have followed Wolfson and Sabre DAC chips for a while, but I haven’t really paid attention to Cirrus Logic chip. This uses the flagship Cirrus DAC, the CS4398. Personally, I think that the DAC is a nice touch and certainly a nice upgrade over the DACs in laptops and desktops, but it isn’t that great. I think that it is rather neutral and similar to the DX50’s DAC, but it is perhaps a little bright. It is quite detailed, but just falls behind the DX50’s DAC in a lot of ways. Flysweep also noted that the DAC section of the UHA760 wasn’t a huge upgrade over the UHA6S one. So to sum up, the UHA760’s DAC is good, but not great.
Overall, I feel like the entire amp is rather neutral sounding and this applies to the bass as well. When I first heard the UHA760, I thought that the bass might has been just a little bit on the heavy side but after a bit more listening, I found that the bass was actually very full sounding, but perfectly neutral. It hits as hard as it should and there is no boosted, warm Fiio bass at all. It is very fast and the bass is the most detailed that I have heard from any portable amp I’ve tried. From memory, I really liked the Tralucent T1’s bass, and that gets close, but isn’t quite up with the UHA760. Drums have that perfect amount of reverb and bass guitars are very well reproduced. All in all, I think that the bass is awesome and there is nothing that I have heard that can compete with this.
I think that burn in has changed this area the most of all. Previously, when I first received this, the midrange was rather warm and I would even call it a bit congested. Vocals would sound a bit too muddy and even the DN-1000 lost that sharpness in the midrange. However, after around 100 hours, I feel like the midrange has improved significantly, but I still feel like there is a very slight warmth in the midrange, which I am not particularly fond of. Vocals now do sound great and it pairs really nicely with the DN-1000’s colder midrange. Vocals are detailed and I really love Maroon 5 from the UHA760. The piano also has a very realistic timbre and weight to it which I do not get from the DX50 – Palaios. The midrange is a bit smooth, but definitely very detailed.
The treble for me was just about perfectly flat, but remember, neutrality is a very subjective term. My perceived neutrality does not necessarily mean that you will hear it as neutral as well. When I first got it, I did think that it was somewhat rolled off and it has improved with burn in. Whilst I am confident that the midrange improvement was because of actually burn in, I’m not sure if the treble becoming brighter is in my head or real. Anyway, I think that the treble is perhaps the “weaker” area of the UHA760. It is certainly detailed and has a nice and realistic sparkle, but I feel like it just feels a little bit congested up there at the top. This was present from the start but it has gotten a little better I think. Cymbal still have a nice decay and sparkle to them, but on complex passages involving a lot of treble, I feel like the UHA760 just becomes a bit muddy.
Separation & Detail
The separation is truly impressive for something of its size. It is the only amp that can match my O2 in terms of separation, which is a huge feat. Although the DX50 does very well on simple and complicated tracks, adding the UHA760 really did make the separation go up a notch. This was much more evident is complicated tracks where the DX50’s amp section started to struggle a little.
To me at least, the UHA760 is a neutral amp that may just have a hint of warmth and I feel like this gives an impression of not being particularly detailed. However, it is really quite detailed, as good as the O2 and better than any other portable amp I’ve heard except the Matrix portable amp (take this with a grain of salt because this is from memory) which is very impressive.
Soundstage & Imaging
Soundstage is definitely one of the UHA760’s strong suits. It is wide and very well defined. The DX50’s soundstage is arguably a little weak and the UHA760 does make everything sound much more spacious. It does give me a much better sense of depth and height, which is not really something I hear in many amps. The soundstage is definitely great on the UHA760.
Imaging is again, impressive on the UHA760. It is very accurate and realistic, very well separated. This does even better than the O2 which I find to be very impressive considering the UHA760’s size. I feel like compared to the Palaios, the UHA760 is a pretty solid upgrade in this area. The imaging of the UHA760 is wonderful and it’s definitely one of the best I’ve heard from a portable amp.
Ah, here is where I feel a little let down by the UHA760. For some reason, I feel like this is a little bit on the smooth side and its clarity is not as good as other amps I’ve heard. Vocals sound a tad but smoothed out and not as clear as the O2 or the T1 (again, from memory, so take this with a grain of salt). This may be some people’s preference though, but personally I would have liked to see the clarity be a bit better.
The UHA-760 is rather neutral and has no obvious colourations such as a boosted bass or a spiky treble. However, I feel like, as I have mentioned before, it is a little bit on the warm/smooth side. Now, they aren’t as warm as the Fiio products I’ve heard for sure, but it is a little warm. I actually prefer my sources to be neutral to a little bright and I can’t say I really like the UHA760’s tonality. However, it doesn’t detract from my listening experience at all (except for the slightly weak clarity).
Don’t take one look at the 3 and a half star rating and straight away think that this amp is no good, because that is definitely not the case at all. The UHA760 is a very competent portable amp with a nice inbuilt DAC, but the average rating is because of its younger brother, the UHA-6S MKII. I’ve heard it has an almost identical amp section (I have not actually heard the 6S myself though) and it also has a DAC with optical and coaxial in which some people may want. Now, the 6S is priced at $279, a good $160 less than the 760. So what you are essentially paying extra for is the DAC, which is IMO nothing special. I think that you’d be a lot better off going for the UHA-6S MKII and put the rest to a nice DAC or DAP.
Most of the pictures are not mine. If you have any objections with me using your picture(s). let me know and I will take it down.
Pros - neutral, transparent, totally silent, crossfeed, 3gain settings, perfect volume control, usb dac with wide compatibility.
Cons - battery life as dac, a little heavy, its little brother UHA6s mkII is a serious challenger with a very small pricetag.
I've been ranting too much so I've put every time I slipped too far out off topic into quotes. That way you can pass it all and just read a real review if you don't want to be bothered by some #my-life kind of content ^_^.
and there is a short +/- list at the end if you really just want answers.
Here we go!
The UHA760 is a portable dac/amp, you can get a lot of technical information from the Leckerton website if you want them http://www.leckertonaudio.com/products/uha760/ . And Nick kindly answered to all my extra newbie questions with what I thought to be honesty and confidence, so if you have a specific question don't be shy, he knows what he's talking about.
Basically, the amp section is close to that of the UHA-6S MKII with different gain settings and 2 crossfeed positions. Again you can look for yourself but pretty much everything is done not to be cheap, but to minimize noise and distortion.
The dac part now gets asynchronous, so added with the upsampling to 192khz, jitter maniacs should breath better using usb(coax and optical versions will be available later). The input is still 16/48 for the usb one, I'm guessing other inputs version could get higher resolutions and USB stays as it was for maximum compatibility.
I think I remember project86 telling that Nick was working for Cirrus Logic, so no wonder we get a CS4398 DAC chip in his amps.
The output is under 1 ohm on all 3 gains.
It can charge through USB or you can turn the charging off to save battery life on your source while using it as a DAC.
The op amp I have is the AD8610, you can ask for another one but it's not on a socket so no op amp rolling here.
The volume knob is stiffer and shorter than on the UHA-6, a much appreciated evolution.
So definitely an upgrade to the UHA-6S MKII, but very little change has been done to the sound. if you're on budget, you can give up all the features and still get quality sound from the UHA-6S MKII. I wondered about that choice myself, and decided the upgrade was worth it for my IEMs as I feared some channel imbalance on the 6 when listening quietly, or some accidental increase of the volume while manipulating the amp. Two concerns absent from the 7(also I'm a crossfeed fan).
Laptop to odac+o2 (gain 1X) vs laptop to UHA760 (gain 0db and tried again at gain -12db with the same observations)
I've tried both extensively with everything I had: IE80, JH13, Parterre, 334, HF5, HD650, and a few crappy IEMs and earbuds (the best of those being the 30$ xba-c10).
They are so close in every possible ways, just go read something about the O2/Odac and you have it. At first I had noticed a lot of differences (and trying hard to get some as in my head there was no way the Leckerton could be equal to my beloved O2.
But when I went serious for the review and started to use a switch and do some better (still by ear) level matching, all the differences just faded away. I honestly don't think I could accurately tell one from another with my IEMs in a blind test. I feel like there is a difference when switch, but I just need to switch 4 or 5 times thinking about something else, and I would fail to tell which one I'm actually listening to.
So what differences can I talk about?
Well the size would be a good start, to me the more obvious reason to buy one or the other (or both like I did) is that the knob and gain on the O2 aren't ideal for sensitive IEMs. It's too loud or you have to struggle to avoid channel imbalance. As much as I love the O2 with my JH13 when, by chance, I can get the desired volume without issue, it's still much nicer to use the O2 with headphones.
The Leckerton has digital volume control and 12/0/-12db gain switch that makes it ideal for IEMs. But very low sensitivity headphones might not go loud enough.
So no this is not the all in one wonder everybody keep asking for, it might not drive your orthodynamic loud enough. But it will drive anything that a normal human being would call portable. [troll ON]It's almost as if Nick had decided to make a portable amp for portable gears... Those amp guys have the strangest ideas. He should know by now that the first question on headfi for a portable amp is “how does it drive the LCD2?”[/troll OFF]
I know a lot of people find the O2 to be a boring amp. In a way I agree with them as it doesn't bring the excitement of a dynamic sounding signature, it's doesn't make the sound tighter, or warmer, doesn't add grain like a tube can … But it never was the purpose of a neutral amp, the idea of a wire with gain does fit the O2 very well. Anyway, clearly what you thought of the O2's sound (good or bad) will apply here with the Leckerton as strangely enough, a clean neutral amp does sound close to another clean neutral amp (mind blown!).
Absolute silence, you're lost in space listening to your music and Sandra Bullock actually stopped talking. Grumpy cat is impressed.
For reference, I find most sources to be hissing. The dx50, all Sony daps I've owned, all hisound daps, and surprisingly even most amps. Using super sensitive IEMs like the 334 and listening at ludicrously low volume levels at home, gives me an open window on noise and I hate it. Just that perfectly silent background made me fall for the UHA760
Smartphones arrrrghhhhhhhhhh...... :
You don't want to stick an active phone to it. It's noisy until 15 or 20cm away depending on the orientation of the amp and almost inaudible at 40cm from my phone in communication (and trying hard to get some noise). The most sensitive part being where the cables are as usual.
Compared to the amps I had around, it was actually the best result :'(. I remember the Pico slim to be almost completely quiet, while with my RSA Protector I could track the guy with a phone 3meters away just by ear. The Pico(not slim) was sensitive around the same distances as the UHA760, but was making picked up noise much louder and from all directions.
I tried with fiio LO cable that are kind of prone to help picking EMI, I used it to be fair with my memories of older amps that I did use with FIIO's lods. The ground seem to surrounds entirely the left and right wires, I believe braided cables would deal with EMI better than this.
+natural sound very close to what I call neutral.
+Volume control is simply the best I've ever had for my sensitive IEMs. Hard to turn knob+digital volume control+ gain swith= perfect control.
+Crossfeed (2different settings).
+Light turns red when battery gets low instead of dying on you without notice, and will really go down in the next hour.
+Usb charging can be turned off if used as a DAC with tablet or laptop to save battery.
+Absolutely no hiss on any IEM. I mean it!
-You can find sharper and more resolving, or at least with more power if it's what you like/need(but I doubt you'll have it with the same neutral sound).
-Heavier than it looks.
-EMI shielding isn't great in a 20cm radius so you'll have to use airplane mod to pair it with your phone.
-Batterie life around 12h as an amp and around 5 or 6h as a dac/amp(with usb charging OFF). The UHA6S mkII does a lot better for less money.
It solves almost every single problems I ever had with IEMs. If the EMI shielding was a little better I would call it the perfect IEM amp. Far above my second favorite, the pico slim, that still has its size and battery life to be proud of.
I can obviously think of “better” sounding or at least more powerful amps if I forget about hissing, channel imbalance and size. But the ease of use of the Leckerton really made me forget the extra 5% of sound happiness I could get elsewhere. As I said to Nick, this amp does make a lot of sense to me and answered my “nomad with IEM” difficult needs.
No need to deal with some “I can't pass the first ¼ of the knob because it's too loud” nonsense. No “I have to listen louder because lower has channel imbalance” facepalm. If you're like me a heavy IEM user, you know what I'm talking about and are probably a little fed up with it. You can always find a dap with volume control on the line out, but technically it means getting the noise floor of the dap up. Not always a problem but in this world of perfection seekers, why not avoid it?
All this to say that good volume control on the amp matters a lot more to me as an audionerd than any dsd, or frozen diamond cables. And Nick did exactly what I needed on the UHA760. Between the 3 gain settings, the precise digital control and the harder to turn knob, the Leckerton is really a pleasure and a secure tool to use with IEMs. If you want to know portable quality with a minimum of drawbacks, I believe this amp is a serious solution.