- Very good value and decent build
- Balanced connections result in smooth, more articulate detail and massive soundstage
- Competes above its price point
- Single ended output could be improved
- Slight static when dial being moved
- Not usb chargeable, requires external traditional 16 DC plug
I’ve been obsessed with amplifying my IEM for a while. An obsession that begun as a necessity in the time where no discman handle IEMS like ER4S, or be quiet enough to . With the advancement of DAP and their subsequent development in their inbuilt amplification circuit the requirement for external amplification became less and less apparent for most however not for me. What once was a genuine quest into bettering my music enjoyment soon developed into an obsession into trying all different exoteric things, regardless how strange they are. And I happen to believe even in the current time where most DAP provide enough voltage to even power the likes of HD800 however amping isn’t always about driving a headphone to high SPL, for the same reason why people EQ sound one might like to use amplification that slightly colour the sound to their preference.
For a while I have been interested trying tube amplifier. When it comes portable valve amplification there options aren’t plentiful and certainly aren’t cheap. At least the one that come from trustworthy manufactures.
The issue of cost always plays a role. Thankfully BA-10 is about the only hybrid amplifier I know that is both IEM friendly and south of the 500 USD mark.
Yes it is a hybrid design, it accept both single and balance input (via HIROSE connectors ) and single ended and balance output (via 2.5mm jack).
Build and Design:
Source: Fujiavic twitter account
To be perfectly honest the complete design topology of BA-10 is unknown to me. I’ve been told that it is hybrid. And I did ask them a few times however I didn’t get an answer, maybe they like to keep it a secret or maybe just like Fitear they don’t want the parts to be the focus of their product and rather have the sound be the focus of the peoples attention.
The body feel metallic, for a product of its size it feels light and quiet premium.
Regarding tube microphonics I am happy to say on the go the tubes don’t have movement microphnic issue and it is no way as bad as its brother NT-1. The microphonics on BA-10 is present when the metallic body makes contact with other metallic body however it is so small and dissipate so quiet that it can be negligible.
The volume knob doesn’t rotate freely if you do decide to carry it in your bag however it doesn’t turn as smoothly as my portaphile 627x amplifier and honestly the only volume knob that feels more premium than my 627x is Woo Audio WA8 but they are both product costing 2-4 times the price of BA-10.
Also one thing to note is that the volume knob turning does result in static like noises however once the adjustment it finalised noise vanishes.
As far as input design goes BA-10 accepts both single ended and balance input and ouput. The input can be either via 3.5mm jack or HIROSE connector for balance which than feeds the 2.5mm TRRS AK connector type balance out or the 3.5mm out.
I terms of power for BA10 according to Oriolus, the max output is 340mW (32 OHM）for balanced, 125mW (32 OHM ) for single ended output. It wasn’t specific to me whether those values related to single ended input or balance input. If my ears were to be the judge in terms of providing raw power input connection doesn’t matter.
Meaning you don’t have to have a balance input to enable the balance output and also you can have balance input and just use the 3.5mm connector.
Battery power when I use the balance connector, having the volume knob set at 10:30 I get 5-6 hours. I also get similar result regardless what type of connectors I use. This makes me think that the two tube are always engaged regardless of what input/out is used. I don’t get the full 7 hour. Sure I agree 5-6 hours isn’t enough however keep in mind this is a tube amp and such numbers are actually quiet good as far as tube amps design is concerned.
For those who do want a longer battery life maybe they should look into NT-1 which used a new generation of high performance low heat and high current “tube” based design by KORG audio called NuTube. I managed to get a good discount for NT-1 and I hope to review it eventually once it is burned in. And don’t worry I will compared it with BA-10, just not right now.
Right away if you want to know whether this amp sounds like how a tube amp is infamous to sound like in short BA-10 sounds like a hybrid amp when used only as a single ended in. If you truly want to get
the tube amp sound, you know the expansive soundstage, smooth high, thick lush mids and an engaging textured bass you can only get this sound if you use balance in/out. To me balance in and single ended out sound the same as single ended in and balance out. I only got the sound I wanted using both the input and output in balance format.
I initially hoped to use the BA-10 paired with WM1A using its 4.4mm Pentaconn connection however results wasn’t stellar at all. I think it simply doesn’t offer that much current out however offers plenty of voltage out. I happened to order a custom AK cable to use with AK70 and to my surprise AK70 pairing with its 2.4 VRM offered the current BA-10 seems to need. I also used the Onkyo DP-X1 to test scalability of BA-10.
Now for the purpose of this review I use the AK70 as a balance source feeding the HIROSE balance input of OAK. Below is the list of the IEM I selected to my review:
· AKG K3003
· JVC FW-01 using Sony MUC-M12SM2 cable
· Cardas EM5813
· Dita Truth
· Fitear F111 using Jaben Spiral Strand balance cable
· ATH CKR10
· Inear stagediver SD2s using Brise audio STD001 AK cable.
Single ended the OAK is fairly neutral. If one were to listen to it initially to it without knowing anything about the design of BA-10 they would think it is just a warmish solid-state amplifier.
It is just slightly north of neutral using single ended out, offering a moderate soundstage, relatively forward vocal. In terms of speed of this amp it is able to compare to its solid-state competitor well however using single ended those complex orchestra passages can sound congested. Using my Cardas EM5813, which has quiet thick midrange I tested whether the thickness of midrange of EM5813 will be enhanced, which for me would have been a bad thing and thankfully no significant alteration in sonic characteristic of my Cardas was heard by me.
But change things over to balance out for me this is where it is all at. Sound becomes smooth, detail stand out better. It feels like the entire soundstage gained an extra 2-meter of space in all dimension and yes the background noise becomes more noticeable at the lowest volume when no music is playing back using my Fitear F111. Annoying? Perhaps if I was listening to amplifiers without music playing, however since I know of no one who use amplifiers for such usage I am sure that will not bother many of us. For me pairing my F111 using the balance out of OAK basically resulted in what felt like an addition of a entire dedicated midrange driver in my F111 without influencing the infamous expansive soundstage of F111.
Similar effect was heard with my SD2s, however I felt improvement in bass and midrange was more noticeable. In terms of background noise the level was so low that it can with all intensive purposes be ignored. What we gain with this pairing is an improvement with an already good midrange detail, somehow making the SD2s more coherent. The vocal gained emotion that wasn’t present before. If I were to pick a favourite pairing this setup would be my most favourite out of all the IEM I tested.
There are two ways this can be test, 1) Does altering the input of BA-10 improve its overall sound performance? 2) Does using balance out of BA-10 improve the sound compared its single ended 3.5mm output?
I answer one with yes and I answer two with a HUGE YES.
I’ve said this before already but I have to say it again in order to get the best of this amp you must use its balance in and balance out.
While I did hear an improvement in resolution and channel separation going from AK70 to dpx1 however going from singled end out to balance out offered so much more improvement that I simply can’t go back to the 3.5mm output after hearing that. Sure improving the sources always helps but the bottle neck will be how you ended up connecting and listening to BA-10.
Oriolus engineers offer a very sensibly priced and solid first attempt into what I think to be a hybrid amplifier made sound as close to tube can without excessive heat production. It offers a taste to those who like to get into tube amplification but who aren’t ready to spend north of 500 USD yet. It is a product that performs much higher than its price point. For its price point and sound there isn’t much I can pick on it except that it requires an external traditional 16 DC volt to power brick and in these day and age that can be cumbersome. Beside that I can’t really find any other fault. Once everything is plugged in no microphonic can be heard, it gets warm but never too hot to touch.
I think it is worth mentioning for those who want perfect staking Oriolus offer a pairing source named BD-10 CEIBA.