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Desktop Amps item created by craftyhack, May 30, 2014
Pros - Sound Quality, Input Variety, Build Quality
Cons - No headphone xfeed
Based on solid reviews everywhere, I bought an HA-1 and have been super happy with it.
I use the unbalanced 1/4" headphone jack to drive Sennheiser HD-580s. I use the balanced headphone jack to drive Audeze LCD-2F. I use the balanced line stage to drive an Adcom 5800 to Magnepan 3.6/R speakers. I use the unbalanced line stage to drive my Tascam digital recorder.
The headphone balanced output runs in pure class A, beefy powerful, with adjustable gain so it can drive almost any headphone. It gets quite warm. The headphone unbalanced output sounds equally clean, though 6 dB quieter (half the voltage, 1/4 the power). The line stage is as impressive as the headphone output. The HA-1 is neutral (neither bright nor warm) and smooth yet detailed. No euphonics, just incredibly detailed yet natural sound for those who want to hear exactly what's in the source without any editorializing.
I would have liked to have had a headphone crossfeed circuit like the ones that Meier amps have, but given all the HA-1's other strengths, I can live without that.
I bought a refurbished unit directly from Oppo. Saved $250 on the price, it looks and runs like new, with same warranty.
Pros - build quality, user interface, bluetooth integration
Cons - bright dac, bright amp
Micro review of the Oppo HA-1:
rankings (because the bars to the side for some reason are not representative of the rank I gave)
audio quality: 2/5
- build quality is great
- nice pot, motorized, smooth and solid feel
- user interface is simple and clean, intuitive menu system
- connectivity is top notch
- I can easily see this becoming the centrepiece of a system
- but I couldn't get the usb drivers to work
- bluetooth from your smartdevice, operate both as a streaming device and as remote: fantastic!
- um, no thanks, it's headache inducing
- really edgy transients, I could maybe see this being good if you have older ears or mild hearing loss, but for younger ears this will be very fatiguing
- otherwise good definition
- chain: fed coax from a NuPrime uDSD and coax/optical from a Peachtree X1
- can't handle the HE-6; at full power into the headphone jack the HA-1 shuts down (likely a safety, it happened twice, I'm not going to push that further)
- but otherwise seems ok
- good energy
- I think it sounds better in low gain, even if perhaps lacking a tiny bit of dynamics
- but bright sounding, somewhat "pushy" in the upper mids
- especially guitar picks
- if using the dac, this combo is especially bright
- clean and functional, has a bit of gain to it so not a direct pass through (not affected by the headphone gain selection)
- also slightly bright, less so than the amp section, but similar characteristic
- This would be good with darker cans like the Audeze LCD-2/3 or the Oppo PM-1/2 or Sennheiser HD600/650, but it's a terrible match with the HE-6.
- Preamp output still retains that bright characteristic, even when using analog inputs.
- For the price as an all-in-one unit, it really comes down to how the dac sounds for you. I have some friends who really love the sound, but for me it doesn't work. Feature-wise, the HA-1 hits all the right checkmarks.
Pros - No lack of inputs, including Bluetooth; Headphone amp is good all-round with plenty of power; Functionality is well thought-out.
Cons - Mute function for the pre-amp output only accessible on the remote. Knob feel for the volume is terrible. Display text is hard to read at a distance.
Thanks to Oppo Digital Japan for allowing us to borrow the PM-1 and HA-1.
Oppo coming out with a pair of headphones was quite a surprised, especially a pair of planars. Likewise the HA-1, though it is logical that a company would provide an appropriate matching amp to do with their own headphones.
The HA-1 is based upon the BD-105 essentially, but with fewer features and a better headphone amp, in this case with balanced output. Like the BD-105, apart from the lack of disc playback, it is still designed to be the centrepiece of your home theatre system with no less than 8 inputs: RCA and XLR (balanced) analogue and S/PDIF, optical, AES and Bluetooth digital. The latter supports APTX transmission which gives essentially CD quality wireless audio transmission. For iDevice users there's even a special USB port on the front for when a friend brings around their music on their phone or iPod.
Selecting the inputs is thankfully very simple, each has its own button on the included remote control. They can also be selected simply by turning the selector knob on the front panel until the desired one is highlighted.
By pressing the selector switch instead you cycle through the options for the unit:
Display type, which includes a funky digital rendition of analogue style meters and an EQ display or just information on the input used and music playing.
Home Theatre Bypass, which is a fancy way of saying that the volume control for the pre-amp output can be switched to a fixed line-level instead.
Headphone amp gain.
My only complaints about the unit are here in that the text on all the displays was too small to be read at any kind of distance. Also, the volume knob has the worst "knob feel" of any I've ever encountered. One other issue is that the pre-amp output "mute" function can only be switched using the remote, so if you can't find the remote but only want to listen through headphones, you'll have to switch off the rest of your system or un-plug it. Also, though people are unlikely to encounter it: Make sure to switch the unit off via its own power control. When I used my Power Plant Premier to switch everything off, the Home Theatre Bypass reset itself to "fixed" mode and the next time I played music I got blasted!
Now I've had the chance to try the HA-1 in a few scenarios, such as a HP amp and pre-amp with the in-built DAC and external DACs, here are my thoughts. Note that I listen to an incredible variety of music, too long to list here.
The HA-1 is about spot-on for value. It isn't the most resolving DAC or amp compared to, say, my Master 7 or Hugo. I was talking to anakchan about it and the word he used was "polite" which I tend to agree with. I've had mixed results with ES9018-based DACs and the HA-1 is one of the better ones, not having the flatness to the sound poorer implementations have that usually annoys me with acoustic instruments. The headphone amp gives an equally effortless-sounding presentation with both Oppo's own PM-1s and the Audeze LCD-XC as well as the Sennheiser HD-800, suggesting good power delivery. If I hadn't owned my main DACs, I'd be quite happy with the HA-1 sonically, as it does a good job of getting out of the way of the music and presenting it as it is. If anything though, I felt the HA-1 was too polite for the PM-1s and they sounded better directly out of the Hugo! It was a nicer match with the brighter HD-800s.
Comparing it to other equipment to get a handle on its actual ability to resolve detail, if I used the HA-1 as a DAC, it wasn't quite as resolving as my Master 7 or the Chord Hugo, missing out on some micro-detail. Likewise if I used the HA-1 as a headphone amp for my Master 7 or the Hugo, knowing that both are more resolving than the Oppo's built-in DAC, the greater resolution of either unit didn't come through the amp. Both units, however, are far more expensive than the the Oppo, the Hugo being 2.5x the price, so if anything the Oppo did well.
I also tried the HA-1 using the Bluetooth input using my iMac, and the results were very good, only a tiny bit behind the sound quality of a direct connection, something only apparent when directly compared.
Overall though I felt performance was spot-on for what Oppo are asking, especially considering the wealth of features included. It would best suit someone who wants to use the variety of features, such as with a pair of active speakers as well as headphones. With a pair of, say, the inexpensive but good quality Emotiva active speakers and headphones of choice it would make a great complete rig.
Pros - Astounding quality, both in sound and build. Tons of features.
Cons - Would have liked it slightly less square and more rectangular....full length chassis.
Some first impressions now that I've had the HA-1 for a week.
It's totally natural on the my Beyer DT800/600s. The bass improved over the EMU 1616M I was using previously, which was fully expected. I probably shouldn't have been running a 600Ohm can on that interface, though it did a good job overall. Treble and mids blended well with great distinction on both cans and powered speakers.
Secondly, the soundstage on both the XLR outputs to my powered speakers as well as the cans had a more forward presentation. In fact, I'd say it's where it should be. The EMU really had a recessed soundstage. I like to listen nearfield, and one would think that the forward presentation puts you further into the room, but it doesn't. In fact, the stereo image is nicely presented from only 5 ft away (speakers are about that far apart as well). Vocals are clear, with no overhang or excessive warmth on male or female voices, but both acoustic and electric bass has nice weight along with excellent note delineation. Electric guitars have the rasp one would expect from their originating sound, but are not harsh. If you see or have experienced much live music in your life, you'll be impressed. Finally, I hate saying this since the description seems overused from new equipment reviews, but I really do hear more detail now than I did prior.
Oddly, I bought this as more of a DAC/Preamp than a headphone amp, but I believe it will cause me to rediscover my cans again. This said, it has exceeded my expectations in every aspect. I usually listen to it with the screen dimmed completely off, expecting that there may be some audible benefit, though I haven't heard a difference. I purchased the silver model because I read that the silver anodizing process produces better sound than black. LOL. Kidding of course.
Overall, I couldn't be happier. I can't believe what you can get for under $2k these days.
Pros - There's all sorts of inputs & outputs to this DAC/Amp. In it's own class too for its price
Cons - Learning curve to the UI, SQ although probably one of the best in it's price range has room for improvement (for extra $$)
Oppo Digital has had experience in making SACD players and in releasing it first headphone, the PM-1, also released a matching HA-1 DAC/Amp that comes packed with features taking in miscellaneous ranging fro USB, Toslink, AES, Coax, iDevice, & even Bluetooth. It can also be used as a amp only taking balanced or unbalanced line in. As for it's output, it can output balanced and unbalanced line out, in addition to its XLR balanced headphone out or 1/4" single ended headphone out. The HA-1 also supports up to DSD256.
Now I have to admit, prior to getting the loan from Oppo Digital Japan (thank you to them by the way!!), I was looking forward to the PM-1 but after receiving the set, I think I'm left by being more impressed with the HA-1 DAC/Amp.
The HA-1 DAC/Amp Features
As mentioned previously this DAC/Amp is jammed packed with features for inputs, outputs, and soft format support. It takes in unbalanced in, balanced in, digital optical toslink, USB, AES/EBU, even Bluetooth with a little antenna. It also has balanced line out, unbalanced line out, single ended headphone out, balanced XLR headphone out in the front.
On top of that, it has this large LCD panel in front with all these fancy display of information that makes the whole DAC/Amp just cool.
The UI is a little confusing for me though as the interaction is primarily though the source dial/button. At times I dial when I should press, etc. But that's just silly me. There is one other cool feature worthy of mentioning and that's the auto volume down when changing from low to high gain. That's saved my ears a few times.
But How Does It Sound?
Most of the tests were done via the USB Audio feeding in from my iMac. The software player used is the Audirvana Plus v1.5.12. Forcing on to DoP v1.0 the HA-1 is capable of playing DSD natively up to DSD128 (at least in Audirvana Plus, as the HA-1 itself is capable up to DSD256). All my DSD are up to DSD64 only. Trying out from the iPad with Onkyo HF Player into the HA-1's mobile USB input in the front however, the Onkyo HF Player can't play DSD natively on the HA-1. It's Bluetooth supports SBC and AptX although AptX was not tried.
Coming from my Invicta v1.0, I found the HA-1 DAC/Amp to be more treble focused for my other headphones straight from the headphone out. Now one may say that with the Invicta 1.0's headphone out has as different DAC (ES9016) from than from it's line out (ES9018) to explain the difference, however even comparing line out of both the Invicta 1.0 (ES9018) with the HA-1's line out (also ES9018) into my Zana Deux SE, the HA-1 still sounds a little more treble focused than the Invicta. This to me showed that despite both having the same DAC chips, implementation around it still could yield different results. The treble focus wasn't an issue for most of my headphones, however just not what I'm personally used to. On my Alpha Dogs (which hasn't been Doggie Treated), it can be a little hot for my tastes but fine for the TH-900's and for the SR-007/SR-009 (via the Eddie Current Electra).
With the PM-1 though, and this is where the Oppo HA-1 is perfectly matched with the PM-1 headphone, it strikes a balance, since the PM-1 is more lush warm.
Aside from the treble (and headphone matching), the rest of the HA-1 performs well. It's detailed & smooth, quite transparent in the overall signature. Although compared to the Invicta, it is a tad smaller in soundstage and slightly flatter in depth imaging.
As mentioned in the introduction, I think overall between the Oppo Digital PM-1 headphone and HA-1 DAC/Amp, I think I feel more impressed with the HA-1 primarily from the number of features it supports. In addition, for it's price of $1200, it's very good value for money. I think I'm walking away being more impressed with the HA-1 than with my formerly owned HP-A8. Having said that, now that I've experienced something like the Invicta, if I had owned the HA-1, it'll probably be stepping stone until I'm ready for the next upgrade.
Pros - Value! Build quality, features, solid company, power amp and DAC implementation
Cons - Integrated so all or nothing, hard to mention any others yet
This will be links to my posts in the impressions thread until I can finish, aggregate, and aredo the review specifically for this section. I will add post as I go over the next several months.