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Amp/DACs item created by RHA Team, Aug 25, 2016
Pros - All in one, acceptable power, multiple adjusting options, portable, excellent build quality
Cons - Short on power, numbers on three wheels are hard to see, the need for more cables (possibly)
The nice thing about being last on the tour is that I have the benefit of completely broken in equipment. The new smell and feel is gone. Gone through many miles and air flights, and USPS trucks and many ears filled with various stages and consistencies of earwax. Various stages of responsibilities and obligations set under the guise of "I have to get this done, YESTERDAY!"
That is the beauty of being last. I have no such pretense. I have no such obligation. No such responsibility. Kind of like when I applied for the tour....I was late, I was after the deadline...and well...didn't get onto the tour. But, as luck would have it, another dropped and I caught the RHA bug. As time would have it, I was between reviews, and successfully breaking in some of my own gear. Yiiipppeeee! It was fate. It was almost like RHA knew my Scottish heritage. I gladly accepted the spot, and waited. Other reviews and gear filled my time.
I casually waited for the arrival, and perused the reviews. Having a pair of fine RHA ma750 (non-mic), I knew of RHA's near-legendary build status. Known for a build equivalent on par with a Swiss watch, I really like the sound. A bright vibrant sound reminds me of a stalwart Scot who is friend to all at a party. (I made that up, but go with it, please…)
I was hoping that the sound of the enclosed gear would rival my happily owned ma750's. Reading the various reviews, all commented on that build as top notch. But when sound was discussed, the views varied wildly. Yes wildly, not widely. Widely denotes a common line in time albeit one with variance. Wildly denotes all over the place, passing that line with the speed of light, in all directions. I loved that, and awaited my take on that ride, grabbing hold late one Saturday, after the snail pace of my wait on the day of delivery (not the fault of the sender). As hours turned into MANY hours, the lateness of postal delivery...by tortoise I have no doubt, finally brought the product(s) to my door.
Hence, the time begins....A huge thanks to Nik and the RHA team for including me on the tour. I will do my best with various devices in hand to give an honest open review.
I have an affinity for the state of Kansas (otherwise known as “flyover country”). It stems from the hours and days and months I spent riding my mountain bike through that wonderfully peaceful scenery, as distraction from classes at Kansas State University (#EMAW). Far from civilization, we would just ride. Sometimes we met a rancher, but before we could be booted off his land for trespassing; we always mentioned how we had mended a section of fence for him, or cleared some brush from their fence line...something to show we cared about his land as much as he and his family. Over time our group grew to a hearty 5; but the rules did not change. We ALWAYS fixed something. The mutual respect between the rancher and our group of mountain bikers allowed us free entry onto land that few if any would visit, ever. This solitude was not lost on either the rancher or us. Ever.
That affinity to Kansas carries over the musical group, which shares that same name, a group I wholeheartedly recommend you give a good listen. It was this music, which was used for the week (along with many of my standards). I could not think of a better tie between the heartland, and the Scottish country. A country with a proud heritage of many items we cherish. Not the least of which is the best single malts the planet has ever known. Of that there is not debate in my mind. It is with that same fortitude, which I do believe RHA crafts their wares. Having, and still owning the ma750, I understand. If the product cannot stand up to Scottish standards, it is of no use. It is not good. Well...I can unabashedly state that the quality of craftsmanship is excellent. Top notch is a term thrown about, but would not be a shy comparison here. It is that tie between Kansas and Scotland, which gives me the tie and the right to proceed on this solitude of listening. I am within, and I do not mind.
The volume pot on the L1, is quite sensitive, but with careful attention this causes minimal problems. I do like the shape and mix of materials present, on the RHA. A dark grey anodized aluminium provides a tough scratch resistant surface; while the black silicon wrap where all of the buttons and jacks are located provide a softer touch and one would suspect a bit of shock absorption.
All of the controls seem to be logically placed, with adequate access to all. Once an item becomes too small, or of a certain size, then one begins to not only fully understand the designers intentions; but more importantly the canards of design. An ill fitting knob here, lack of access to a switch there…it adds up if the design isn’t thought for all parameters. Happily…so far…this would not be the case. All jacks and switches and knobs are accessible. I would be remise if I did not point out that the numbers present on the three adjusting wheels is very hard to read. Luckily detents emphasize the tactility allowing quick work of adjusting.
A very nice, configurable dac/amp, the L1 represents an excellent foray into this realm of portable audio. Not as powerful as I would like, but adequate, it will handle a line out quite well. (see more later regarding line out) the L1 pairs well (duh!) with the CL1. Versatile in adjustment, what with the Bass/Treble/Gain and multitude of connections, the RHA tries very hard to fit all into a small portable device. By and large it does succeed. On par with the iFi iDSD Micro Black Label, price-wise, and most features, but definitely not as powerful. A good comparison would shed light onto both. Throw in the Aune S6, and you have three within $20 of each other…A veritable boxing match all within the same weight class, could be the result.
Running the L1 on +3 Bass, and neutral treble was my motus operandi for the week. High gain in all settings, gives a decently powerful sound out of the headphone jack. Not overpowering, but adequate. I did find myself wishing for about twice the power, though. Compared to my FiiO A5 (straight amp), the L1 is sorely lacking in power from the headphone jack. Sound capability-wise, though it is on par.
An intimate sound stage accompanies that “power.” This is not an unpleasant sound, mind you; it is just not as open and authoritative as I expected. Running my FiiO x5iii on 80/120, through Tidal and the L1 all the way up and on high gain, yields a decently loud sound, and of good quality (using Line Out from the x5iii). Again, the V-shape of the CL1 compliments the L1. But, I am left wanting MORE….more power, louder volume…It was not until I hit 100/120 (on the x5iii), that the sound became uncomfortably loud. Granted, my old ears do have a hearing loss, but I have not gone that high on the x5iii with anything else.
Pushing the adjustable Line Out (LO) on the x5iii to 120/120 does allow a nice adjustable volume for the L1 with which to play. This makes more sense to me, now; as most LO volumes are run flat out. This then allows the added device in question the ability to adjust for your tastes. Running the FiiO/RHA combo this way certainly provides enough “oomph” for my tastes. At 2/5 on the L1, I am provided a good full, albeit bright, sound, which has become more enjoyable the longer I listen. But a finicky volume adjustment means one must be careful in fine-tuning that, lest you accidentally blow your ears.
It is almost like they were made for each other!
The sound qualities of the L1, as stated before are quite nice, and acceptable. Switching to Dave Holland and his excellent Hands album, my reactions are tamed. Music of much better quality, allows the L1 to do its work. Paired with the CL1, I can now see the benefit of both. There is most definitely that synergy going on…the pair WAS made for each other after all…
More bass off the bat than the comparable Aune S6 (comparable in price and functions), the RHA moves ahead in not only portability but also bass punch. More adjustable features, too. There is something to be said for adjustability in a device such as this. One need only look at the iFi iDSD Micro Black Label to understand, that sometimes the more you put into a critter; the better it will sell (hopefully), with the added bonus (foremost in my mind) of excellent sound capabilities. Having the ability to fine tune a dac/amp would be the equivalent of tuning a sports car. Sometimes stock is not enough. Sometimes you need that extra little kick. What the Aune S6 lacks, the iFi BL and the L1 provide; as does the Chord Mojo (I have no experience with that wonderful device, only knowledge gained from what I have read in reviews).
One of the biggest benefits I found while reviewing the iFi BL was its ability to adjust multiple items. Not only was there gain, but a bass boost, and an IEM fine-tuning option. I was quite impressed, and still am. While the RHA does not have the multitude of adjustments built in, the necessary (to me) adjustments are there. An adjustable bass and treble each from -3 to +9, allows one to add or subtract to their near-hearts content. As adjusting would have it, I pushed the Bass Boost to a +3, and left the Treble Boost at 0. Ironic, in that this is exactly the same adjustment I used to use many moons ago in my old Opel GT with my hard earned cash spent on a fine Alpine car audio system.
Maybe it was that memory or the placebo effect of being back in that fine old car, but the +3/0 simply sounded right to me. Sounded like old times. That combo sounds most pleasing to me, and I do not mind. Through either the FiiO x5iii or Shanling M5, the EQ setting was good. Enhancing the bass is something I do not mind, but would be just as happy to leave neutral. My go to IEM’s are kept neutral, always; but here the beauty of adjusting your sound takes the forefront. And it should. That is the true benefit of a dac/amp such as this. The ability to personalize ones sound should not be underestimated. Many on various Head-Fi threads espouse this virtue. This ability to tailor to our own needs is paramount to why many continue in the “hobby” after finding their Zen.
I must say, as did @Brooko in his thorough review; that the more time I spend with this little device, the more I come to appreciate it. The more I appreciate the simplicity of plug-n-play. The more I welcome how seamlessly the RHA Team makes all of the functions work. The more I value the ability across listening/music platforms…FLAC? No problem. MP3? No problem. AAC? It…just…plays…running Los Lonely Boys (another of my all time favorites) through my x5iii, and the L1; the CL1’s simply shine. With this combination, I can bypass that V-shaped sound. I can forgive the need for POWER! There is no want for more, running these together. A benefit of the Line out on the FiiO, is that the volume is adjustable. A near unheard of feature in mid-fi DAP’s. And well worth it, in my mind. Born on the Bayou simply oozes through this combo; making me feel as if I was in a backwater open air Cajun shack of a bar. Throw a lime in a cold beer, and you are there. A superb combination, not to be diminished when one considers cost.
Combined this “set up” runs north of $1600 USD. Not cheap, and for that outlay of cash, one would hope for this type of synergy. I guess it just goes to show that even devices, which may be less than “worthy,” to some based upon their sonic preferences, can shine as part of the whole. I’m not saying I will run right out and purchase the RHA’s no; but I AM saying that for that kind of outlay, one could do much worse.
RHA DACAMP L1 ($549) v FiiO A5 ($129)
Running the A5 through its paces is a pure joy. I replaced my A3 with the A5, in hopes that this would be my last portable amp for a good while (Pipe down, out there! I can hear your snickering…sideways face). It is powerful, has lo/hi gain and a Bass Boost to boot. What more could one ask of a portable amp? Well….this is where teams such as RHA, iFi, Aune and Chord think they may know more than we…and in some case they would be correct. If one is in “need” of a better DAC/AMP, then those four would be worthy additions to your stable. But, if all you desire is a portable amp, because you happen to have an excellent front source, then you can be forgiven the need to have more…and in that regard, I would choose the A5. I have no need for “more,” because I like to think I have pretty good front ends in the FiiO and Shanling. And in that regard, the A5 is an excellent partner.
I would consider the A5 the peer, and in at least one way, better than the L1. It has more power, and when comparing the amp sections alone, a cleaner sound (to me). And yes, I am aware that the A5 is only an amp. But while playing Kiko and the Lavender Moon from Los Lobos, the opening immediately struck me as pure, clean, and without sound in the background. The L1 on the other hand provides a darker sound (to me), one, which must be “tamed” with the EQ settings of bass and treble. The gain settings of lo/med/hi must be used pretty aggressively to account for that lack of power. But, when properly routed through a devices line out, there is actually adequate power for most devices. Through my Shanling M5, there was more than enough. And with the x5iii, there was certainly enough with which to work. Again, this boils down to whether you want pure power, or more “ability” to control the sound with adequate power.
RHA L1 ($549) v iFi iDSD Micro Black Label ($549)
Identical pricing at the time of print, somewhat different aspects. The iFi BL has been available for a while and is considered quite successful for what it does…which is pretty much everything this side of dishes! Powerful, adjustable, an excellent DAC unit, all the while with the ability to tailor in more detail your current crop of IEM/Cans. What more could one ask for with such a unit? Well…it is quite cumbersome to use as a portable. We have taken to calling it “transportable,” due to the size itself. While it is not that much larger than an iPhone X+, it is indeed larger. And while DAP’s continue to shrink in size and gain in ability, that size can prevent you from using the BL on the go. The L1 one on the other hand is quite portable and will stack neatly with most DAP’s.
Sound-wise the RHA is of a darker nature. Warmer but not really a fuller sound, the RHA will aspire to those with a warm side. One, which can and does compliment the CL1, or a more analytical sounding IEM/Can. The iFi on the other hand, just works. Throw a hard to drive can at it, and it scoffs at your attempt. Hard to drive? Psssaaawww. Bring it. More adjustability wins out here. For the same price, you get a DAC/AMP which has more adjusting capabilities, more power and the “tweaking” of sensitive IEM’s in its holster. While some found the 3D Holographic effect hokey, I did enjoy the occasional ability to give a concert hall-like sound to the music played. I do like the sound signature of the BL more, too. More power, and adjustments to boot is hard to beat.
RHA L1 ($549) v Aune S6 ($569)
Not really a fair fight, since one is a dedicated desktop amp, and the other a jack-of-all-trades. In a nutshell, the Aune has multiple platforms for hook up (as does the RHA, just not as versatile), and pretty much the same power. What the Aune lacks is portability. And well…it wasn’t made for that! Two different audiences, two different outcomes for the same price. Purchase a lightning-to-usb and you can run through your iPhone, plus take it with you. The lack of adjustments on the Aune is by design. Meant to be used with the EQ settings of whatever device you have plugged in. And it works. The RHA will give you that adjustability on the fly. A draw here…
So…what are we left with? A mid-fi priced DAC/AMP, which tries to compete with the big boys…Stepping up to the table, the RHA Team has taken that line in the sand, and pretty much crossed it on the dare. Not afraid to innovate, not afraid to take their excellent build characteristics and form a platform, which is extremely competitive with the competition is hard to do…By and large, the L1 has succeeded. It is a good DAC/AMP, albeit one, which is a little short on power (to me). I think that the RHA team wanted to build a device, which functions very well, and not worry too much about the power ratings. Why? Well, because their device does work. And work quite well for what it is, a competent DAC/AMP, which can be used on the go, stacked, or the desktop with equally good results.
A good solid unit, which bring RHA into another realm or category and does so well. A category, which is extremely competitive and crowded with other excellent choices. One, which a company would need to provide a good product, and RHA has succeeded for the most part. A very good DAC unit, with many connective capabilities, hamstrung a bit by its lack of “oomph”. Something that can be overlooked, because the rest of the device works quite well. Have a look; it is worth a try in comparison to the others.
I want to thank the RHA Team for including me on the tour. I do love trying new gear, especially gear, which is out of my “comfort zone” so-to-speak. Gear, which after careful analyzing I would recommend most take a look at if ones taste, might run on the more neutral analytical side. With of course, the ability to tune almost to their hearts content. Good stuff.
Pros - Good tonality, 12 steps of treble and bass adjustment, lovely volume knob, pairs well w/ RHA CL1 and CL750, DSD256, fantastic sound when fed by a DAP
Cons - Balanced output impedance (4.4Ω), soundstage comparatively somewhat small, amp too weak for hungry cans, USB issues,volume knob w/ sensitive IEMs
List price: £399.00 ($499)
Acknowledgment Thanks @RegularIan (formerly known as @RHA Iain) and Niketa of @RHA Team for sponsoring this wonderful tour and giving me the honour of overseeing and organizing the UK leg. Thanks to all the people on the tour before me for putting in such wonderful performances. I was provided the DACAMP L1 as a sample at the end of the tour. This review was originally published here.
Introduction I first met Iain, formerly of RHA, at the Cambridge UK HeadFi meet. Iain joined us for a meetup and listening session in the TraveLodge and joined us at a restaurant for beer and vittles, in addition to giving us a listen to the pre-production RHA T20 during the meet. That pre-production RHA T20 was really piercing in certain parts of the treble—I think our feedback from the meet helped make the RHA T20 more approachable. You’re very welcome world.
RHA is the acronym for Reid Heath Audio, a Scottish company out of Glasgow that has been producing headphones since roundabout 2012. The headphones are designed in Scotland and manufactured in China, because China kicks butt at manufacturing of all qualities and costs a whole lot less than Western manufacturing. You couldn’t get RHA’s build quality for double the price or more if it were manufactured in Scotland. RHA is known for a tendency towards fun sounding headphones that lean towards bright. They also have ridiculous warranties.
Since that Cambridge meet, RHA has taken the world by storm. I personally have reviewed the s500i and the ma750, both excellent headphones with stellar build quality. I first heard about the DACAMP L1 when it was still strictly confidential, but didn’t get to try it out till after all the UK tour folks finished their reviewing—that’s six months’ wait. In this review we’ll see if the DACAMP L1, RHA’s first step into the source arena, lives up to the reputation of its headphone predecessors.
I think it is valuable for readers to know as much about their reviewers as possible, so in the interest of full disclosure check out my about me (in the linkie).
Useability: Form & Function I’ve reviewed a lot of DAC/Amps and DAPs, and I’ve generally found that they sound good, but some do sound better than others.
The DACAMP L1 comes in a stunning box with individual compartments for every piece, and loads of manuals. This thing is really planned for worldwide dissemination, loads of languages of instructions. I like this, but wonder if this couldn’t have been done as an online thing.
Build quality (physical characteristics) The overall aesthetic of the DACAMP is industrial. The DACAMP L1 has a nice looking shape to it, but I think I would have preferred a flat edge instead of the rounded edge. Sometimes the best use of space is to have a DAC on it’s side. With the current design, this isn’t really possible without making the gain and tone controls inaccessible.
I like the volume knob. It has a good knurled feel and the labelling is helpful for knowing what kind of volume you are outputting. It turns really smoothly and I like its orientation. Others have complained that they would like the volume to increase by turning away from the top of the device; however, given my primary use on a desktop, the DACAMP L1’s current orientation allows me to post a finger on the top of the player and turn towards it in kind of a pinching motion. It feels really comfortable to me that way and allows really sensitive adjustments.
The tone controls and much of the outer part of the device are made of a smooth silken plastic. The smooth lines of the DACAMP L1 are interrupted by a vertical seam in the plastic near the headphone outputs showing where two piece of plastic meet. This isn’t the design choice I would make on a device being sold as premium. I’ve seen the choice of plastic on a number of cheap headphones. It feels silky, but my experience with it being used on inexpensive devices makes the DACAMP L1 feel inexpensive. It may just be me. I think Sennheiser used a similar plastic on their latest Bluetooth headphone.
I had a lot of problems with the USB micro input. This thing is picky on cables because of the deep inset of the USB micro slot—it’s kind of drilled into the face of the plastic and recessed. I had to frequently re-adjust cables that fit and some cables just didn’t work with the device. My recommendation is to stick with the included cable and take it everywhere with you, at least you can be confident it will work. A half millimetre less depth would have made all the difference. I had three USB cables not work at all. I had the best success with Anker cables, followed by my LH Labs Lightspeed USB Micro, but the latter required having it sit perfectly. The included USB cables worked. However, I found that my phone had decreased battery life when attached to the RHA DACAMP L1. It would be nice if the phone’s battery was left completely alone. If you hook up the phone after powering on the unit, you’ll use a lot of battery power from your phone quickly. Make sure your follow the instructions in the manual and hook up everything before powering the unit on; power drain is still there, but much more reasonable.
I had no problem connecting the DACAMP with my Android phone or any Windows computer (Windows 7 and 10). On my Note 2 (gawd it’s ancient), I was unable to get Tidal to play through the DACAMP L1, but music on my phone played beautifully. I noticed that the volume was much louder when playing from Android than when playing from my Windows 10 laptop. I don’t know the reason, but it is mildly annoying, as it messes up conclusions on the amplification a bit. How powerful the amplifier is depends on the source for me.
Audio quality I listened to several headphones with the DACAMP, including the new RHA CL1 and CL750. I won’t be analysing those in this review much, as they will be getting their own reviews and will be paired with the DACAMP L1 in those. For this review I used the Noble Kaiser 10 Encore (K10E) with Effect Audio Ares II+ balanced cable and adaptors; as well as the HD600 with WyWires Red balanced cable with adaptor, and the Ultimate Ears Reference Remastered (UERR) in balanced (Ultimate Ears stock balanced cable) with an adaptor.
The best pairings I had with the DACAMP L1 were with decidedly non-neutral headphones, the Meze 99 Classics (balanced cable, does reduce bass distortion), and the RHA CL1. The Meze 99s are bass heavy with forward mids, and the DACAMP L1 sounds a touch more forward in the mids than my neutral reference (the Aune M1S). It’s a really strong pairing for tracks with strong bass and vocal components. Listening to some 2Pac, God Bless the Dead just thunders and rolls out of the DACAMP L1 and the Meze 99 pairing. Layering of vocals is clearly and beautifully rendered. That’s some serious hip-hop potency. How do you want it?
Just like that if you are a fan of hip-hop. What’s more, low gain and a volume setting of 2 drives the crap out of the Meze 99, I had to listen lower on some tracks. It sounded fantastic with hip-hop and dynamite with the chiptune reveries of Anamanaguchi. I highly recommend this highly coloured pairing. It’s a bitch slap to your ears just when you need it.
When I listened with the Meze 99 Classics with the iFi Micro iDSD Black Label (link is to the review), I found that I like a bit of treble boost to balance out the bass a little. You can do that on the DACAMP L1 too. There are of course trade-offs between the two. The DACAMP L1 is legitimately portable, but the iDSD Black Label has way more power and is a more flexible device that can drive sensitive IEMs all the way up to big cans without any hiss or distortion.
The DACAMP L1 is just made for the RHA CL1. These products were obviously tuned together. Some have observed scooped out mids on the CL1, but it didn’t feel that way on the DACAMP L1. They are a touch recessed, but still have good presence. I like the sound of the CL1, period, but I like it best out of the DACAMP L1.
I gave the DACAMP L1 a run through with the Aune M1S feeding it using the DACAMP only as an amplifier, and the reports of it not sounding as good as an amplifier are widely exaggerated. The amplifier was clear and well defined with the UERR on low gain. The image cast was a little bit improved from the Aune M1S alone or the DACAMP L1 alone. I think the M1S essentially acted as a pre-amp, which gave greater stage and clarity to the presentation. It is quite possible that other folks are hearing their sources' line-outs exposed.
Positive things I noted on sound:
No hiss with Noble K10E on single ended, which is a surprise given the 2.2Ω output impedance
Excellent clarity and instrument separation
Good range of gain for IEMs, including high impedance IEMs like the CL1 and CL750
Volume control is smooth and distortion free
Tone controls provide meaningful adjustments from subtle to really noticeable.
The bass boost is potent (bassheads will be happy)
The treble adjustment is equally noticeable. For those wanting a sharper treble, you’ll get it with the adjustments.
Turning treble and bass down works, too, but is more subtle than the boosts.
Things I wasn’t so happy about:
Volume swings are too large with my resident low impedance sensitive IEM, the Noble K10E. It was very hard to volume match—like doing the micro-adjustments necessary to get the precise perfect temperature in a shower (I’m finicky on water temperature).
It doesn’t have enough juice to do an adequate job with the HD600. There is no way that it will adequately drive 600Ω cans. Maybe it can do 600Ω iems, but I highly doubt it. That spec is straight up false. There is no reason to set unknowing people up for disappointment like that.
4ohm output impedance on the balanced headphone output makes many headphones not an option in balanced mode. I opened up my custom adaptor to see if something was wrong when listening to the Noble K10E out of the balanced jack. Unfortunately, I was clumsy and now have to have the adaptor repaired.
The single ended jack doesn’t sound as good as balanced with headphones with appropriate impedance. I tested this using the CL1 with the balanced Ag4 cable and a custom made 4-pin mini XLR to 3.5mm TRS (single ended) adaptor with volume matching. The stage width and imaging are better on Amber Rubarth – Tundra in balanced.
Mids are a little forward on the amp
Comparisons Comparisons were done using the UERR for reference, volume matched at 72dB. I’ve since discovered that I was lowering too much for the UERR, 76dB is about right; however, because I was comparing sources, not headphones, it didn’t matter for this comparison. I find that the UERR is louder in ear than universals, which I usually match at 78dB. I made comparisons to the Aune M1S, HiFiMan SuperMini and iBasso DX50 in single ended mode. White noise is random, so there isn’t a set dB level, which means that my dB measurements are objectively monitored but subjectively averaged over a period of observation. I also compared the balanced operation of the Aune M1S and HiFiMAN SuperMini to the single ended operation of the DACAMP L1 using a 2.5mm TRRS to 4-pin min XLR adaptor and a DIY 2.5mm TRRS to 3.5mm TRRS adaptor made by my friendly local wire and amp wizard. I have the UERR official Ultimate Ears balanced cable. I also made comparisons using the Noble K10E with the Effect Audio Ares II+ balanced cable using the same adaptors. Comparisons using the K10E were done with volume matching at 78dB, my standard listening level. The table below gives my settings information. I give this information so that people can replicate my observations, this removes some subjectivity, which is a good thing.
DAPHeadphone[sup]6[/sup]Gain setting Volume
DAP number (~dB)
RHA DACAMP L1[sup]1[/sup]UERRLow~1.9 (72.4)
Aune M1S (firmware 1.03)[sup] 1[/sup]UERRMiddle70 (72.0)
HiFiMAN SuperMini[sup]1[/sup]UERR--21 (72.5)
RHA DACAMP L1[sup]1[/sup]Noble K10ELow~1.75 (78.1)
Aune M1S[sup]1[/sup]Noble K10ELow78 (78.2)
RHA DACAMP L1RHA CL1High~2.2 (78.0)
Aune M1SRHA CL1High77 (78.1)
RHA DACAMP L1Meze 99 ClassicsLow~2.2 (78.0)
Aune M1SRHA CL1Middle78 (78.1)
RHA DACAMP L1[sup]2[/sup]Noble K10ELow~1.9 (78.1)
Aune M1SNoble K10ELow69 (78)
HiFiMAN SuperMini[sup]3[/sup]Noble K10E--16 (77.2)
RHA DACAMP L1UERRMiddle~1.9 (72.1)
Aune M1SUERRMiddle58 (71.8)
HiFiMAN SuperMini[sup]3[/sup]UERR--18 (72.3)
RHA DACAMP L1RHA CL1High~2.1 (78.0)
RHA DACAMP L1[sup]4[/sup]Sennheiser HD600High3.1 (78.1)
HiFiMAN SuperMiniSennheiser HD600--27 (77.7)
Aune M1S[sup]5[/sup]Sennheiser HD600High74 (78.1)
UERR Ultimate Ears Reference Remastered, K10E Noble Kaiser 10 Encore
[sup]1[/sup]With Venture Electronics 2.5mm TRRS to 3.5mm TRS adaptor
[sup]2[/sup]2.5mm TRRS to 4-pin mini XLR adaptor
[sup]3[/sup]With Venture Electronics 2.5mm TRRS to 3.5mm TRRS adaptor
[sup]4[/sup]With 4-pin XLR to mini 4-pin XLR adaptor
[sup]5[/sup]With XLR to 3.5mm TRRS and 3.5mm TRRS to 2.5mm TRRS adaptors
[sup]6[/sup]UERR with Ultimate Ears stock 2.5mm TRRS cable, Noble K10E with Effect Audio Ares II+ 2.5mm TRRS, CL1 both with Ag4 and Ag4 plus mini 4-pin XLR to 3.5mm TRS, Meze 99 Classics with stock 3m cable
I am the adaptor king!
Whilst testing I observed that the single ended and balanced were likely the same power, as HeadFi’s @Brooko has previously measured, but that my 2.5mm to mini-4pin XLR adaptor likely adds a small amount of impedance, as observed by the volume levels on the UERR out of single ended and balanced. I may want to make a new adaptor or buy RHA’s adaptor when they get around to releasing it. However, I was able to confirm from RHA that the output impedance of the balanced output is 4.4Ω, which is totally inappropriate for most IEMs and caused audible distortion on the Noble K10E. There is simply no need to have such high output impedance as increasing damping factor has universally positive effects on sound by reducing the potential for distortion. Generally, output impedance should be as low as you can possibly make it. 2.2Ω is high, 4.4Ω is inappropriate for most IEMs but may be okay for a good variety of full-size headphones.
For the comparisons below, the DACAMP L1 was fed with the following signal chain:
Dell Vostro — LH Labs Lightspeed 2G — iFi Micro iUSB3.0 — LH Labs Lightspeed 1G Micro — RHA DACAMP L1
Observations about amp power should be taken with a grain of salt, because I did observe that when I used my phone as a source the volume levels were higher. For instance, fed from the above chain the gain was set to high for the RHA CL1, but from my phone the gain for the CL1 was low. I don’t understand why there would be a difference, but this is what I’ve observed.
Aune M1S The M1S destroys the DACAMP L1 and the SuperMini when listening to Fleetwood Mac – Dreams with either the UERR or the K10E. The DACAMP L1 has a smaller stage and lower detail resolution. The M1S strikes me as an excellent neutral reference. I had similar observations listening to the Noble K10E with Pixies – Where Is My Mind. The soundstage is bigger in all dimensions and the sound has greater clarity in single-ended. I couldn’t do a fair balanced connection comparison as the balanced output jack has far too high impedance at 4.4Ω for the K10E. In my experience doing volume matched comparisons between single ended and balanced on the M1S, the balanced connection is clearer, with even bigger soundstage, so I would anticipate a more severe beating but can’t do more than predict due to lack of empirical observation. This isn’t really a contest.
I also tested the M1S with the CL1, and it does an excellent job of driving it, so it’s capability to drive more demanding IEMs matches the DACAMP L1. The single ended output of the M1S outperforms the DACAMP L1 with the CL1. When I switched to balanced, it was closer, but the M1S was still sonically superior with the stage feeling more natural and the details being more discrete on the M1S. The M1S also sounded slightly better with the HD600 and Dragonforce—this really surprised me. It didn’t have quite enough grunt on bass, but the treble was well articulated and the soundstage was bigger than the DACAMP L1. On paper, the M1S shouldn’t do even acceptable with the HD600, given its power output, in practice, it sounded okay, but not nearly as good as the SuperMini.
HiFiMAN SuperMini The SuperMini drives the HD600 much better than the DACAMP. When playing Dragonforce – The Fire Still Burns, the SuperMini gives a full, clean, dynamic sound with a good size soundstage. The DACAMP L1 sounds closed in and muffled. The soundstage is miniscule—like listening to IEMs. It simply doesn’t have enough power to do a good job with the HD600. The HD800 is easier to drive than the HD600, but I can’t see the DACAMP L1 having enough for the HD800 either—at least not out of my computer. The power I get out of the HD600 predicts a poor showing with the HD800, but I don’t have it on hand (big caveat!). In my experience with switching between amps for the HD600 and HD800, I’ve found that if an amp does really poorly with the HD600 it does poorly with the HD800 and vice versa. The DACAMP L1 does poorly with the HD600. You get sound, but that isn’t saying much. I get sound for the HD600 out of my laptop headphone out.
With the Noble K10E, the SuperMini hisses, like many DAPs. It also has some electrical buzzing from time to time, which isn’t good. I don’t recommend the K10E with the SuperMini.
Specifications Every manufacturer has some advertising copy and specs that they provide to the public. Sometimes the copy is informative, sometimes it is just adspeak. Here’s a summary of the useful stuff that RHA had to say about the DACAMP L1 on their website:
High-Resolution Audio certified by Japan Audio Society
Fully balanced circuit configuration
12 step bass and treble control (-3dB to 9dB) for personalized sound
Compatible with Android, iOS, Mac, Linux and Windows (driver required)
DAC chip(s)Dual ESS SABRE[sup]32[/sup] ES9018K2M DAC chips with dual class AB amplifiers
Output power16Ω 300mW; 300Ω 28mW
Output impedance2.2Ω on single ended, 4.4Ω on balanced headphone output
Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise0.0018%
Input connections3.5mm line in, USB A (for iOS), USB micro-B, mini-Toslink optical
Output connections3.5mm line out, 3.5mm headphone out, 4-pin Mini XLR (balanced) headphone out
Headphone impedance recommendation12Ω - 600Ω
Battery4000mW, ~10hr life
Format supportPCM 44.1-384kHz (16, 24, 32 bit); DSD64-DSD256 (single to quad DSD)
Dimensions118 x 73 x 20mm
Conclusions I highly anticipated the DACAMP L1 and performed pretty darn well, it just got sonically beat by something less expensive. What the DACAMP L1 does as a package is unique in truly portable DACs, providing treble and bass controls that have both cuts and boosts, a wide variety of inputs and outputs, compatibility with all OS’s and specific design features to simplify implementation, and playing DSD256 and PCM384 (Cozoy REI also does this). The DACAMP performed admirably, but the soundstage was rather not terribly impressive and the overall power of something sold as necessary amplification didn’t sell me too much. I really wanted to see it pull HD600 power out, but didn’t expect it to given its modest specifications. The 4.4Ω impedance caused distortions to the sound of the Noble K10E in balanced mode, and that high output impedance rules out using sensitive headphones in balanced mode with an adaptor.
Overall, the DACAMP L1 is a competitive package that feels like it falls just a little short of other options out there in a similar price range. If given the choice, I’d take the iFi iDSD Black Label over the RHA DACAMP L1 every time, even with the higher cost and large footprint. Right now, I’m perfectly happy with the Aune M1S, which bested it on overall audio quality, but it isn’t nearly as multipurpose as the DACAMP L1.
Pros - Wonderfully packaged, Great build, Nice functions
Cons - Overly sensitive volume dial, balanced output noise, user-interface learning curve
Spoiler: About the Reviewer
I am a 24-year-old science teacher, which means I am poor and like to find headphones that offer an excellent value. When I first started my “audiophile” (I tend to not like that term, rather all things audio lover) hobby I generally was akin to a more laid back, warm signature. I do still love that signature in a pair of headphones but have recently developed a taste for treble in the past year or so.
I listen to just about every genre of music, especially singer-songwriter, and music scores. I do, however, listen to many contemporary pop artists and some rock music. I always make sure to listen to a wide variety when reviewing headphones, but bear in mind everyone has their own unique tastes!
When looking at headphones there are a few things I value over others. Those things being: are they well-built, are they comfortable enough that I can wear them for long periods, and can I appreciate the sound they provide (which is extremely subjective).
Hello, Head-Fi! I am one of the members who was lucky enough to be selected to review the three newest products from RHA here in North America. These products are the CL750, CL1 Ceramic, and the Dacamp L1. Today you will be reading about the CL750.
Disclaimer: The CL750 were provided to me as a part of the North American Review Tour by RHA. I have been given 10 days to listen to and then write a review where I will pass them along to the next reviewer. My opinions written in this review are just that, mine. They do not reflect RHA as a company. I am receiving no monetary compensation for this review.
I will apologize upfront: no pictures for the CL1, there was a terrible tragedy in which those photos got deleted, and I have since passed the RHA trio onto the next reviewer. Luckily for you, dear reader, other reviewers have wonderful photography skills and have already taken amazing photos!
My first introduction to RHA was about a year ago when they first released their first micro driver IEM, the s500i. I found them a superb value at their price point, even though they had a pretty strong v-shaped sound and poor isolation. I was also not too fond of their fit. The Dacamp L1 is the companies first foray into the amp/dac market. Continue reading to listen to my impressions! I will keep this review short as I understand your time is precious and I will simply go over the highlights. Message me if you want to know more details!
The L1, much like all RHA products, is very well built and sports a rugged utilitarian design. It has a solid aluminum body that gives it a weighty heft in the hand. The nobs and ports are all satisfyingly articulate and feel well built. It is clear that great care and attention was given when assembling the L1. This is the general tendency of RHA.
The L1 features three dials on the side that offer treble, bass, and gain adjustment. They are labeled on the side like a book binding. On one of the upper sides of the L1 you will find various input ports, whereas the side across from it has the outputs. This is pretty straight forward. For the inputs there is a nob that can be switched to whichever setting you need, depending on your input. I found it slightly confusing and certainly needed to consult the manual to determine which was best.
The sound of this amp/dac is not neutral. It has a very warm bass through and through. If you are looking for a clean sounding amp/dac this is not the device for you. If you have a pair of headphones like the T70p that is fairly neutral, then these will pair wonderfully. It really brought the lower end forward is abounded amazing with the T70p
Pairing these with the two new RHA products, the CL1 and CL750, was as you would expect: a good pairing. It comes as no surprise that the New IEM’s from RHA also pair well with their new amp/dac. It gave both the CL750 and CL1 a robust low end, but plenty of sparkle to keep the details. The pairing was a pleasant listen
The balanced output was well done. It provided an even better sonic experience doe the CL1. While it did provide a good listening experience it could only be used on the medium gain. This was because there was a high pitch hum sound when it was on the low gain setting. This only occurred while in the balanced output and on low gain. As soon as it was switched to medium the noise vanished and the sonic abilities restored. Since no other reviewers have noted this I am thinking it could be unique to my review unit. My assumption would be that it is not present in all cases.
L1 (549) vs m9XX (499):
The best comparison I can make for these is the Grace Design m9XX. This is my current go to desktop set-up which also provides decently small footprint. The L1 is about the same size as far as total desktop space, although it is a little slimmer in profile. It also features a battery so in truth it is far more portable than the m9XX. This gives the L1 an advantage for mobility. The L1 also has an equalizer which allows you to customize your sound a bit more than the m9XX so that is a benefit as well.
At this point, you are probably thinking I am giving the victory to the L1, but it is not that simple. Sonically, the m9XX wins easily in my book. This is simply because it has a much cleaner sound, and a far superior volume nob. The nob in the L1 super sensitive and I found too difficult to make minor adjustments.
So, what is my verdict? Answer: it depends on your needs. If mobility is your primary focus, then the L1 is your best choice. If sound and simple usability is your focus, then the m9XX should be your choice. This, of course, is assuming you are deciding between these two. Another wonderful contender is the Mojo, but I do not have one so I will leave those comparisons to those that do!
Overall the L1 is a great Dac/amp. I think it is priced a little high, but it does offer plenty of features and has a good sound presentation. I think it will be a good fit for those who enjoy a warm sound, or want to warm-up some of their headphones. I think if it was priced at 449 instead of 549 it would be a better value and be more competitive with the Mojo and the m9XX.
Considering this is RHA’s first attempt into the amp/dac world I am pretty impressed. They have established a wonderful first product and I am eagerly awaiting to see what they do next. I enjoy seeing companies continue to push the envelope and trying out new things. This is, after all, how great new products and ideas are born!
I would like to thank RHA again or selecting me for the tour. It was a wonderful time filled with wonderful music.
Until the next time, happy listening!
Pros - Build quality, Sound Quality, Heaps of power, Tone control
Cons - No 6.25 mm headphone jack, USB design can be improved
I got this unit as part of Australia/New Zealand tour arranged by @RHA Team, thank you very much for including me in this tour
I am just another music fans in this world, I love listening to music, and that made me stumble into head-fi around 10 years ago when looking for the best way to listen to my music. I am not in anyway an audiophile, heck not even close, so please forgive any lack of details in my review. Most importantly this is my personal impression on the unit, most likely i heard things differently than you, my ears, my preferences, my brain
I've listened to RHA DL1 for about 4 days. I've used them mainly as a desktop DAC/AMP out of my Linux laptop.
My music preferences is mostly instrumental, whether it's Classical, Jazz, Celtic, New Age, etc. I also enjoy music with vocal on them, but my playlist is mostly instrumental. I would say around 80/20 mix.
Example of the music I listen (not limited to):
- Acoustic Alchemy
- Tony McManus, Soig Siberil
- Hawaiian Slack Key guitars
- Fusion Jazz (Lee Ritenour, Dave Grusin, Fourplay, Special EFX, you get the idea)
- Akira Jimbo, Tetsuo Sakurai, Casiopea
- Europa Galante/Fabio Biondi, Musica Antiqua Koln, Rolf Lislevand
- Yoko Kanno
Sound signature preference
Hmm...not sure what my pref is, I enjoy Fostex TH-600 very much, It's one of the best headphone I've heard, so that make me a fan of U or V shaped sound signature.
Having said that I also enjoy ZMF Blackwood which have mid-centric sound sig compare to the TH-600, so I guess I am flexible
My typical listening gear is: Asus Xonar STU -> Project Polaris -> ZMF Blackwood
When travelling I usually use MEE P1 straight out of DAP/Phone.
Build Quality and Design
DL1 has an excellent build quality, felt really solid in your hand, have enough weight to feel premium but not too heavy that you can't carry them around as portable device. The dimension is quite similar to Fiio E18, the DL1 is bit thicker and heavier, while E18 is more on the lean side and boxier.
The gain, bass, and treble control have enough firmness and feel pretty solid, they won't accidentally change if you put them in the pocket of your jacket. The volume control (doubling as on/off button) is a bit different, they are quite flashy I suppose. I don't have any problem with them, but personally would prefer button similar to the gain/bass/treble button.
DL1 has 2 USB slot, one is USB-A for USB OTG from Android/Iphone and phone charging, while the other one is micro-usb for charging the DL1 and using the DL1 as a DAC. I would like to point out here that the Fiio E18 has similar feature but manage to do this with 1 micro-usb slot, something that I think DL1 should go with for the sake of simplicity, just my personal opinion of course.
- 3 level gain
- Bass and Tone Control (awesome)
- Balanced output
Ok the most important part for me, sound quality, so how do they sound? As a DAC/AMP, they have a U shaped sound signature, I notice that sub-bass and treble is elevated a bit, giving them a fun and engaging sound signature.
I mainly used the DL1 as a desktop DAC/AMP, running out of my linux box. Installation on Linux is a breeze, no issue at all. Windows 7 installation is also quite easy, just download the drive and you're good to go. On windows 10 I have to disable the driver signature otherwise the DAC won't function with the driver.
My first trial with the DL1 is using ZMF Blackwood out of the built-in amp, and boy they sounded good! I can't believe a portable DAC/AMP have enough power to drive the Blackwood! I believe ZMF Blackwood have a mid-centric kind of sound, so paired with the DL1, it brings a wonderful balance to the presentation, they sounded sweet and musical, very engaging.
I though I was happy with my Xonar STU + Project Polaris (and some old fashioned EQ) pairing, but DL1 is very much on par if not more engaging due to the different sound sig they bring to the table.
The fun doesn't stop there, when I switch headphone from Fostex-TH600 to ZMF Blackwood, I always thought they are lacking sub-bass (compare to TH-600). Well enter DL1, crank the bass adjustment to +2 and we're back on business! I am really really impressed with these small DL1, they pack a lot of punch for their size.
Ok let's try different things, I put on RHA CL750 through DL1 and it was good, a bit too much treble but that's ok, just lower the treble -1 and everything sounds great!
RHA CL1 is similar story, hook them up with the DL1, even more treble than CL750, but that's ok, lower the treble -2 and it's beautiful!
I can't stress out how the bass/treble control is such an awesome feature, because personally for me there will be time when I wish I had bit more bass/treble/mids, and fiddling with soft EQ is a bit annoying, but hardware tone adjustment like the one on DL1 make a whole different for me, very easy and fast.
RHA DL1 vs Fiio E18
Like the DL1, Fiio E18 is a DAC/AMP that also pack a bunch of nifty features such as mobile phone charging and some excellent bass boost, although the E18 doesn't have bass/treble control and balanced output, they are still provide a good value for money in my opinion.
This comparison is using them both for DAC and AMP. Right so let's get straight to sound quality, Fiio E18 sounds pretty decent, they have a good amount of bass quantity, good mids, but not much of treble extension on the upper region. The DL1 in comparison provide a better textured bass, it's more punchy and full, clear mids and better treble extensions and overall details.
Sound and feature wise RHA DL1 is a clear winner here, having said that, Fiio E18 is still a good value if you have tight budget.
RHA DL1 vs Asus Xonar STU + Project Polaris
Now this is more of an equal comparison, I would argue both of them is on par in term of class, they have similar amount of details and quality, what difference is their sound signature. Xonar STU have more of a neutral, balanced and bit laid back sound, while the DL1 offer more forward and sharp sound. Again, bass and treble is a bit elevated on the DL1 compare to Xonar STU. If I have to chose between them i'll take the DL1, just because the sound signature enhance my ZMF Blackwood experience, obviously YMMV with your headphones.
RHA DL1 + Project Polaris
I can't help to try pairing the DAC on DL1 and amped them through Project Polaris. Now, the DL1 amp is pretty good, I mean it's strong enough to drive the Blackwood so it's no slacker, however Project Polaris is even better than DL1 amp. The elevated bass of DL1 sounds more....firm, full, it has better slam and presence, and the treble is more controlled and refined. Using this combination to drive Blackwood is really an awesome experience, they sound spectacular, man...the synergy is so fun and exciting they sounded like a whole different headphones.
In case you didn't notice, I think DL1 is awesome, I wish I can trade my gear and get the DL1 (maybe I'll keep Project Polaris), they sounds so good with the Blackwood.
For the price you paid, you're getting a lot of good features here, tone control, heaps of power, balanced output, heck even mobile charger.
If you're looking for a 1-box-to-rule-them-all solution in portable package, please, do yourself a favor an give DL1 a try, you're in for a treat.
Pros - Excellent Build, Powerful, Smooth Sonic Presentation, Portability
Cons - Finicky Volume Wheel, Usefulness of Balanced Output
It is with great pleasure, and with thanks to RHA (as well as nmatheis for helping to organize the North American leg) that I can say that I have been selected to take part in the RHA listening tour. During this tour, I have 10 Days to listen to & evaluate the CL750, CL1 ceramic earphones, and the Dacamp L1, a digital-to-analogue converter with class AB amplifiers. Although I am very grateful to be able to participate in this tour, I receive no compensation other than the joy of listening to these items in the comfort of my own home, and the following review is my honest opinion.
I’ll start with a little about myself. I’m pushing 50 and have less than perfect hearing (50 is pushing back). I’ve been a music lover for as long as I can remember, and I learned to listen a little more critically during the few years I sold audio equipment (and the more I listen, the more I learn). My fascination/infatuation with headphones began about 4 years ago, and has only gotten stronger. I’ve only recently taken a more serious look at the hardware end of the audio equation, and I’m enjoying the journey. The majority of my listening was done listening to FLAC, WAV & various MP3s with my Shanling M2, Fiio x3 (1st gen.), Samsung Galaxy S7, or through my HP all in one PC as a source for the Dacamp L1. My tastes are fairly eclectic, but my listening centered on classic rock, folk, jazz, classical and various genres of EDM.
Here’s some features paraphrased from RHA’s website:
-High-Resolution Audio certified by Japan Audio Society
-Dual ESS SABRE32 ES9018K2M digital-to-analogue converters and class A/B amplifiers,
-The Dacamp L1 has a fully balanced circuit configuration; support for audio formats up to 384kHz/32bit PCM and Quad DSD
-Bass, treble and gain control
-Compatibility with current smartphone OS systems (Android 4.0+ with OTG, iOS)
-The Dacamp L1 easily integrates into Linux, Windows and Mac operating systems
-Encased in machined aluminum, formed using aluminum extrusion, resulting in a single, durable piece
-The all-metal outer doubles as an electromagnetic shield, protecting against signal interference
-Using a 4000mAh lithium ion battery, the Dacamp L1 is able to power headphones from 12 - 600 ohms for up to 10 hours via the 3.5mm headphone out and 4-pin mini XLR connections
-While not in use, it can be set to charge portable devices via USB connection
-3 year warranty; $549.95 (USD)
Accessories are fairly sparse, although I don’t feel as though they left anything out. The box contains Silicone stacking bands, a cleaning cloth, USB micro to USB micro (male x male) cable, USB A to USB micro (male x male) cable, Manual and warranty card. Perhaps they could have included an optical cable of some variety, but given I have no use for it, it wasn’t missed.
This tour is my 1st time experiencing any RHA products. RHA has a reputation for a robust build quality, and I can honestly say, that the Dacamp L1 lives up to that reputation. It feels robust in the hand, with solid connections and firmly turning dials. The smooth edges were welcome, and the size was very manageable, feeling comfortable in my hand. This is easily the most portable battery powered DAC/Amp combo I’ve used. There are a couple of ergonomic niggles I’d personally like to change. The fine black on gold input labels I found difficult to read with my aging eyes unless viewed in very strong lighting, or wearing reading glasses. I also would have liked to see a little more travel in the volume wheel, finding the right volume often presented a challenge and was particularly awkward since the only option is to roll the wheel with one finger. Other than that, the Dacamp L1 was easy enough to use and fairly intuitive.
The Dacamp L1 has Controls and inputs/outputs on the front left side & rear panel only, the right side being a smooth curved edge that fits nicely in the hand.
The front panel, from right to left has the proprietary 4 pin mini XLR headphone connection, (I think it’s proprietary, it’s made to be used with their Flagship CL1 IEM, and I don’t know of any other manufacturer using this connection) which is only active when using as a DAC/amp combo, an indicator light, (steady when in use, blinking when charging) the horizontally oriented volume wheel, and 3.5mm headphone input.
On the left side, also right to left, there are treble/bass controls (+9/-3 for both) and gain/charge control (3 gain levels, Lo, Med & Hi, and a lightning bolt symbol, when selected will charge an external device through the rear USB Type “A” connection).
On the rear there’s a dual purpose 3.5 mm line in/optical input, a micro USB input for use with a computer, the Type “A” USB input for charging, and a 3.5mm line out. Directly underneath the micro USB input there is a selector switch for which input/output you’re using: only one can be used at a time.
When using the L1 as an amp only, I found that it had sufficient power to drive my Sennheiser HD600, and enough delicacy to handle my 64 Audio U6 (Adel) with no discernible noise (keep in mind I am not the best judge of hiss due to persistent tinnitus, but other reviewers seem to agree). There was a particular synergy with RHA’s other IEMs on this tour, (The CL1 and the CL750, reviewed separately) but I found that the Dacamp L1 sounded fantastic with my Sennheiser HD600, which could be driven to insane levels, even on low gain. The L1 did warm up with extended use, but I found this was marginal, never feeling hot to the touch.
Personally, I’m a firm believer that amplifiers for the most part (at least amps of the solid state variety) should be the proverbial “Wire with Gain” in that they shouldn’t impart much “color” onto the sound. That being said, in reality I think there is always some sonic coloration passed along when creating an audio chain and an amplifier is no different. I’ll admit that there is the possibility that I haven’t acquired the skill of breaking the sonic influence into bass/mids/treble/soundstage, but I believe that these influences are much more subtle than that. I would go so far as to call an amp full, thin, warm etc. but not much more, especially without having equipment to back up my claims. I find the amp section of the L1 to fall on the warm side of neutral, sounding lush without crossing into thick or muddy territory. When comparing to other amps I have on hand, my ALO National or the ifi micro iDSD BL, (On loan for a listening tour, comparing amp only here) I find there to be more similarities than differences. Because they are all so close in fidelity, without volume matching, it’d be impossible to comment on detail retrieval and the like, but the overall impression I had was that they are all warm-ish amps: everything I played sounded full bodied and satisfying.
Unfortunately, I don’t have anything with which to test the optical input, as all of my DAPs only have coaxial outputs. It did pair instantly with my Samsung Galaxy S7, and I found that to make a terrific portable solution, and a distinct improvement in fidelity when compared to the line in. Pairing with a smartphone using the ubiquitous rubber bands is never ideal, but it’s the only real option without resorting to Velcro or something more permanent, which really isn’t an option for a tour unit.
If you’re using a PC and you want to use the iDSD BL as a DAC, you need to download the driver from their website (https://www.rha-audio.com/us/downloads ). If you’re a MAC lover, I believe it is supposed to be plug-n-play). Once the driver was downloaded, my HP all in one PC recognized the L1 immediately, and listening could begin. The bass and treble controls are quite effective when adding what’s missing, going all the way to +9, but less so if you’re trying to dial down the tone, only going as low as -3. I did have some fun playing with them from time to time, but in general I found I enjoyed the Dacamp L1 best in its neutral tone settings (excepting when using the RHA CL1, which I cover more extensively in that review).
Since fortune smiled upon me and I happened to have the ifi iDSD BL (also priced $549 USD) on hand at the same time, it seems only appropriate that I give my impressions of both. Build quality between the two is about on par, with the RHA being just a tad more robust overall IMO. The RHA also has the smaller more portable form factor: it’s smaller in every dimension. The RHA does have the balanced headphone output, but being a 4 pin mini XLR input, which seems to only be compatible with their own headphone the CL1 Ceramic ,(at least I don’t know of any other headphone using that connection) which calls Its usefulness into question. Furthermore, and perhaps most disappointing, the benefits of using that connection was not readily apparent…it sounded virtually the same whether used single ended or balanced (reviewer Brooko did record measurements that seem to back this up). The RHA does have bass/treble controls (+9/-3 for both) and 3 gain levels, but the iDSD BL has 5 gain levels, Xbass+, 3D+ and a preamp output. They both can be used to charge a dying cellphone, have about the same battery life/charge time (on paper and in use) and have digital inputs (coaxial and optical for the ifi, optical for the RHA). I’d say all the bells and whistles come down to a matter of preference, and I’d give RHA a slight advantage being more portable. Ergonomically, there isn’t too much to complain about in either case. The biggest problem with the ifi is a somewhat crowded front panel, on the other hand the volume wheel RHA chose, while having better resistance than the ifi, is much harder to control…it steps up in volume more rapidly and is awkward to turn. Sound quality is where the rubber meets the road, as they say, and sonically I’d say it would be a matter of preference. Power output seems comparable overall, with the ifi being more versatile (at least 5 different gain levels). While I find both of these to be on the warm side, I’d say that the ifi is more on the analytical side of warm, while the RHA sounds a touch smoother. These are not night and day differences, and there was no clear sonic winner for me. I’d honestly be more than happy to have either of these in my audio chain. I lean slightly toward the ifi, simply because my DAPs utilize coaxial outputs and I could see myself using that often, but that could easily change with a DAP upgrade.
I really enjoyed my time with the Dacamp L1. The combination of portability, power, and great sound is hard to beat. Factor in the fantastic build quality and tone controls and you have a real winning combination. My only real issues are with the over sensitive and awkward volume wheel and the usefulness of the balanced output. $549 is by no means chump change, but for the level of performance you get, there are definitely worse values out there. My thanks again go to RHA as well as nmatheis for including me in this tour….it was a great experience.
Pros - flexibility in tuning , improved clarity , very powerful
Cons - physically warm .
Box & Accessories
Packaging were of high quality , cables and instructions were boxed up nicely . Instruction manual were clear and concise , very important for an amplifier this powerful .
There were no pouch or cloth that came along with this unit , which i was expecting it to have .
Overall built quality was pretty solid , it does have a nice weighty feel to it , which i find it a plus , because lightweight dacamps just feels cheap .
Although RHA have sent the review unit to me for demo , Do note that the review is done in no particular favor of RHA , and i do not get to keep them . What you are about to read would be an honest impressions from my point of view , however your mileage may vary . I did not went to read about the DACAMP before hand and have zero knowledge on the retail price or any technological "breakthroughs" to note . This is to keep the review as fair as possible , by just blind hearing them .
This review was done just based on the pairing with the CL1 and CL750 , if you are interested to find out on how it paired with other headphones or iem , do browse some other review to assist you in making your decision . The pairing of the DACAMP with both of them IEMs mentioned could be driven at the lowest possible gain setting , LO . Do note that both of these units have an impedance of 150 , i have not tried pairing the DACAMP with another IEM for the same reason , it may be too powerful for it .
When i introduced the CL750 to the DACAMP , the audio was overly bright and sibilant at 0 bass 0 treble . turning down the treble to -2 , where i hope to get better balance , i was surprised to find out that the audio was terrible at that point as well , there were poor resolution , poor texture , poor soundstage , very artificial sounding , and absolutely a displeasure to listen to . The initial impressions were extremely disappointing , i unplugged the CL750 from my ears , and felt that the CL750 and DACAMP was not designed for each other at all .
Pairing with the DACAMP L1 with the 3.5mm CL1 was nothing amazing , it simply had more room for you to tune it to your liking , with the bass and treble adjustments . The only gain option i can set it to would be the LO option , where even within the LO option , i was unable to turn the volume anywhere higher to have me to try the other few gain options available . The treble was way to distracting to turn it up , so turning it down would be my suggested option . The sound was also rather artificial and non musical , i cannot make my self enjoy it's sound , even when i tried .
Pairing it with the Mini XLR Balanced cable , it was when things start to get alittle more interesting and musical , with acoustics being more believable and everything more tangible .The treble becomes more controlled , with a slight bump clarity wise . The sound produced was still pretty cold and metallic even with the improvement , but i felt that this should be the only way that these 2 should be paired , by XLR . I could listen to this pairing for awhile longer before the listeners fatigue kicked in again , and forced me to remove them from my ears to have a break from it . At a retail price of over S$1.6k when paired , i really find them to be extremely overpriced and seem to be pushing their luck . Having worked in an audio shop as well , i know the expectations for S$1.6k , and this combination was extremely far from it . I would however , feel that the DACAMP + CL1 combination would be worth only S$450 as a set . Regardless of the technology involved in the manufacturing process , It's only purpose is to sound pleasurable , something that i would wish to leave it in my ears for long , and not be irritated by how limited the performance of the IEMs are .
The general characteristic of the DACAMP L1 is that they are very neutral , powerful and they do allow more details to be retrieved in the pair .
Even though the L1 is unable to bring out any beauty in the CL1 & CL750's terribly harsh tuning . i believe , that there may be other pairings out there that may pair well with the L1 . Because this review is solely done based on the pairing with the CL1 & CL750 , and i do not think that any of the new models pairs well with the L1 , which is a very bold and interesting take from RHA .
Honest Final Thoughts
Felt that the L1 does not pair very well with either the CL1 or the CL750 .
If RHA designed the L1 to be meant for use with the CL1 , i feel that they have alot room for improvements .
The L1 may have potential with other headphones and IEM , but my review would only cover my personal opinion regarding what has been sent to me .
Pros - Build & Design, Tone controls, Balanced, Line in-out, external charge function, SQ clean and powerful with extensve range both ends.
Cons - Volume wheel too sensitive, USB layout and switch could be better, balanced connector type or at least supply a 2.5 adaptor..
RHA DacAmp L1 Review
To start with, thanks again to Glassmonkey for organising this tour and RHA making all possible to start with.
RHA known for their IEMs at affordable prices with Scottish heritage where they are designed and production from China with even their latest flagship model not breaking the bank as opposed to most modern day flagship models cost yet they do not have a portable Dac/amp in their portfolio that is until now…
This is the new L1 Dacamp that has been released in conjunction with their two CL range IEMS the CL1 & Cl750 which need an adequate amplifier to drive them @ 150ohm… step forward the RHA Dacamp which will be more than enough to power the new CL range IEMs.
How coincidental is that I hear you ask?, very maybe, but it seems something has been brewing in the RHA back yard for some time as it has been a while since the range with the T20 topping their model range emerged and was time for something new but don’t think many would of guessed what RHA actually had in store with this triple release with one being the Dacamp L1 but here we are about to see RHA’s first take on an amplifier with dac that has DSD and balanced capability.
Below is Dacamp L1 features:
Dual ESS Sabre ES9018K2M DACs & class AB amplifiers
Support for high-resolution audio formats up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM and 11.2MHz DSD
Headphone outputs: 4-pin Mini XLR (balanced), 3.5mm
Digital inputs: USB A, USB B Micro, mini TOSLINK (optical)
Compatibility: Mobile and desktop devices including Android, PC, Mac, iOS (MFi certified)
4000mAh li-ion battery for 10-hour battery life with power pack function
Three level gain control and EQ dials for bass/treble attenuation
A list of Equipment used with the Dacamp L1 for this review.
RHA CL1, CL750 & T20 IEMS
In Ears Prophile 8
Meze Classic 12’s
Grado GS1000e Open back headphones
Meze Classic 99
Sony 7520 modded with Whiplash cable welded to both cups.
File type used: WAV, FLAC, DSD dsf256
Laptop used: HP X360 Spectre Win10
Sony ZX1 Walkman
Tag Mclaren DVD32R
Dacamp L1 Specs:
Output power (16Ω)
Output power (300Ω)
PCM sampling frequencies
44.1 - 384kHz, 16 / 24 / 32-bit
DSD sampling frequencies
3.5mm line in, USB A, USB micro-B, mini-TOSLINK Optical
3.5mm line out, 3.5mm headphone out, 4-pin Mini XLR (balanced)
Like the CL1 that is their flagship IEM the packing of the L1 Dacamp is given the same treatment with a nice hard board box with unfolding lid that reveals the Dacamp which is laying on top in a foam holding bay then underneath that is the accessories section which includes the following:
Cleaning / Protection Pairing cloth
USB micro B to micro B cable
USB A micro to B cable
Manual and warranty card
RHA when designing the Dacamp I think really wanted to cover a lot of basis with what this can do for the money you have to put down on their first ever Dacamp.
So as well as having the tone control functions which has physical 3 step gain this can either be run as an amp only and has 3.5mm line in and a 3.5mm line out jack as well as optical input.
What makes this even more versatile which would come in handy for emergency’s is the Dacamp has a feature where you can use it as a power bank and use the battery to charge a mobile device which is easily set by using the gain switch when turned round to the lightening badge which is a step under the low gain setting will then allow charging of the external device.
It will give up to 10 hours continuous performance before the battery is out of juice and takes four hours to recharge the 4000mah battery. I never measured to test the battery accuracy but was getting at least several hours a day listening in some days without battery giving up the ghost then was on charge overnight ready for next day.
Mileage will vary I think on whether you are trying to power a set of 600ohm monsters and file types and sizes used will determine the batteries stamina.
I personally wished it could do another few hours but cannot have everything I guess in this size footprint without making it bigger and heavier. The battery is simply recharged via the USB connection to the Dacamp.
To top it of RHA Dacamp comes with a 3 year warranty which is commendable but think RHA know they have quite solid reliable build in this that none of us will ever need to use it. The Dacmap is capable of decoding up to DSD256 and is High Res Certified by the Japanese audio society.
Build & Design
It looks like it is a solid build from the photos and that is because it is as once you see one of these in the flesh it is from a build stance high quality as you can get In its given price structure and even though its design might not be for everyone, hell, yes I was one of them when I first see photos thinking I like the body and general shape but the tone controls are done oddly?
After a while though you begin to appreciate the design once using the Dacamp as things like the volume wheel and tone controls are not just aesthetic to look good and is form and factor by design so has a reason for been designed like it is.
On the whole I do like the design and it is different without been offensive showing a retro hi-fi style with those tone control wheels and modern clean lines of the one piece aluminium casing and actually is something that really identifies it being an RHA amp without mistaking it for anything else out there.
So that volume wheel could be a strange place to have it but when you have it to hand it becomes a feeling of been more logical and makes sense and has been designed not to be knocked by accident.
I love the volume and the power click with the way the volume numbers are done but it is probably just too light and easy to move for anyone who is still a tad heavy handed with things as wrong pressure can make that wheel turn a few clicks the wrong way pretty quickly.
I never managed knock it by accident myself but I did have it stationary as a desktop use so was unlikely to happen in this scenario but did notice it was easy when going to adjust the volume wheel if one was not dextrous when making contact with the wheel it was easy for it to go a few clicks on than desired which with IEMS does not take much to blow ones head of if not careful.
For those who would use it on the go I could imagine it might still be possible for the volume to be accidentally moved. It is not what I call urgent recall status or anything but felt to me like it was half way there to been the perfect balance of not too light nor too stiff so if I was gauging it maybe another 25% resistance on the wheel might have done the trick there.
The power indicator although minimalist was still too much for me too remember all the different stages of where the battery is at and what it is doing when on charge etc. with different colours flashing at different speed, not flashing and although it is minimalist to have only one light bulb tell you everything I think they should of taken a lead out of the OPPO HA2 Dacamp with the way it clearly shows you the level of battery with a number of led lights that simply go out after a few seconds to save battery.
I know it may seem a bit nit-picky and will probably come across as being so as there will not be too much to criticize about this Dacamp if the sound is anything to go by from the general high standard of the build is. Sometimes it is the smaller things like this that can really actually annoy me as there is a better alternative to doing this without compromising the battery.
The jacks and plug inputs feel solid when jacks are inserted and the gold connectors give it that feel of quality when looking at it.
The only port that seemed to be maybe not quite right on my unit was the actual Micro usb port and sometimes was not hooking up straight away to any devices and was sometimes a case of two or three attempts to get it to seem to pair with sound coming through so whether it was just my review unit or not I am not sure.
Again been nit-picky here but at £400 you still want it to be perfect is still with the usb port just seems a bit frayed already around the edge of the material where the USB plug goes in which compared to the rest of the nicely polished looking unit just looks tatty and raged which after multiple uses seems to be making it look even more frayed with use. I thought it was just my unit but have seen this on photos form a couple of others so maybe just needed a slightly more thought into maybe some sort of trim finish or mini bumper around the port that would not fray when the usb makes contact where sometimes we all miss by a MM on insertion.
Last moan off would just be to make it less fiddly it might have been better to implement the USB function switch above the actual USB port which would of made life a little easier.
Other than those little niggles the rest of the Dacamp is just solid as gold bullion and feels like it will not fall apart anytime in the next 50 years or so.
This is not the first time I have heard this as two months prior I was able to listen to these at a show in London which was a mixed bag as I was left a bit underwhelmed with the two new CL range of IEMS at the time although this was to later change with the review units I had for a happier ending I did not have such problem with the new L1 Dacamp.
This from the word go seemed to be an amp that was not going to be a go at studio reference neutral flat with a dampened signature as it is anything but… It actually comes across as having quite a big full sound with a very dynamic signature.
There is an actual touch of warmth without been like syrup so allows details to still shine the acoustic vibrations these amp seems to generate yet the top end is left a little more open and brighter sonics with sparkle and but to my surprise is far from the brighter end the way the RHA IEMS are tuned which is why I think they offset the RHA IEM’s very well and actually made my T20’s shine in a new light I had not heard them until now with the Dacamp.
The first thing I plugged in to the 3.5 SE jack hooked up to my Sony ZX1 in line out mode listening to this with my JH16Pros with the Dacamp it had an ability to have a big sound with a good range from top to bottom and have a tendency to just convey the rhythm at a pace that pitched just right and is not slow nor too fast and finds a way to suck you into the music. It had plenty of headroom to match the 16’s own headroom which it excels in.
Highs have good range but do not have the same sharper tuning that is incarnated into RHA’s range of IEMS and is in fact very pleasant to listen to without losing the ability and effect to extend that upper range like the CL’s are capable off.
Been these was the first actual IEM I ever tried with the L1 at the show my JH16Pros had an excellent synergy showing straight away this could be an decamp with potential and nothing changed upon plugging it in again when I received this L1 for review as the JH16’s ability for having very good headroom is able exemplary as the Dacamp has more than enough to make the JH16’s have a high range with amazing control. The JH16’s are extremely efficient and had no problem with floor noise and was pitch black allowing the 16’s to have great detail, spacing and dynamic range come through with ease.
Then I tried the opposite end of the scale with the modest Meze classic 12’s I have which themselves scale well if you give them top recordings for their £70 price tag and the L1 really suited been able to make perform to its best potential with micro details and the signature is a lovely match for the Dacamp and if you already like the classic 12’s ability for a nice rich low end then the L1 will compliment this even further for you.
I will move on briefly on how this dealt with some headphones before I move back to RHA IEMS with the Dacamp, firstly the Grado GS1000e which are a bit different cup of tea for some out there but the Grados detail rendering is great with any string related stuff and the Dacamp matched them fairly well but maybe not as well as I was quite expecting as it was really good in the soundstage and top end but the balance was not quite there synergy wise in the mids to low end and much as I was enjoying it there was something holding me back from enjoying this like when with the Vorzuge Pure amp combo which I think is perfect for GS & PS1000e headphones.
Next up I tried the Meze Classic 99’s which is a more refined and broader range version of their budget Classic 12 IEM and these do not disappoint with the L1 Dacamp been able to show of what the Classic 99’s are all about and again like the 12 classics the L1 will just goes hand in hand signature wise as these are a very easy headphone to drive the amp has plenty there to drive these on low gain.
I also had a brief listen to my Dads Ether open backs which for the day I had them with the Dacamp like the Meze would recreate the sound of them quite faithfully but even with the slight warmth of the Dacamp it does not manage to overdo it on top of the warm and relaxing technically gifted detailed headphone that it is and I loved the way the soundstage and imaging was retained with the Ethers making them sound expansive as they are capable of been so was another good pairing.
Lastly I tried my old trusty Sony 7520 studio closed back cans which I had modified with a Whiplash Hybrid V3 cable welded to both ear cups and really did not think it would amount to much as the Dacamp had spades of bass scope and punch with a high end suited to get the best out of the CL range and I know my 7520’s are still capable of sounding a bit too sharp on the treble still with certain tracks and the Bass is quite generous for a studio monitor (probably even more since I put modded Beyer velour pads on which is a significant improvement over the Sony stock pads) so thought the pairing would be too much in these areas for the Dacamp to do justice to my Sony’s.
How wrong was I?! These did intensify in the low end more than usual, but managed to really keep it tight and detail there to keep it driven with an authority and slam that you get on some bigger headphone amplifiers and really could not quite believe how it was engaging with each other with the high frequencies and actually had a good synergy with very compelling tonality & harmonics and the mids had a way of sounding quite big with plenty of depth and quite a lively punch to lower mids.
The combination actually was a perfect match here which surprised me as I have heard these with a lot of good equipment in my four years of owning them and have to say the Dacamp just made the Sony 7520’s sing quite not like I have heard them before.
Back to IEMS with my RHA T20’s before I continue onto the CL ceramic range as I originally got these as a good cost effective back up to my JH16Pros if they went down or missing as I did not have another pair of IEMS to fall back on and the T20 was my choice with build, fit, sound and price taken all into account even though at times it for me has the ability to be to treble lively and be spikey I did find it was quite a lot to do with the pairing of these IEMS with what they was plugged into would accentuate this with the treble more although it is still not too forgiving with certain recordings it is an enjoyable IEM for me I know the T20 is still too much for some out there as after all they will go into the brighter sounding IEM category out there.
The T20’s paired with the Dacamp L1 even after it sounding engaging and layered enough with either my ZX1 direct or with the Pure amp with Hugo DAC the L1 straight away portrayed this in a different light as if the T20 had been especially tuned to go with the L1 to start just as much as the CL range has been.
This was just a sudden awakening how different and actually how good these IEMS can sound and what was strange the normal slightly recessed mids of the T20 was immersed with a vast amount of detail and texture almost pushing it to the fore of the soundstage. The Bass sometimes may sometimes be a little too forceful in their approach with the T20’s in general even with normal reference filter attached but seems to have quite a good flexible range in the lower mid bass to sub bass and the L1 really just gives it a solid layer of extra body and detail to the low notes but just reigns in the aggressive nature of the T20 bass a bit.
To sum up the Dacamp transformed the T20 into a IEM that really finds its full potential with this Dacamp that sounds like it had been tuned with this in mind as much as the new CL range of IEMS but maybe it’s hardly a surprise for me was another feather in the compatibility pairing category for the L1.
Finally how did the CL range perform with the Dacamp which were all designed and released at the same time?
First up the CL750 with the Dacamp L1:
This was interesting to find the L1 does not seem to colour the 750’s at all leaving them to have their open clean linear presentation in the mids and leaves tonal qualities untouched allowing the CL750’s to faithfully reproduce the recording how it is. Where the L1 will step in a bit is adding to the bass of the 750 with the way it drives them effortlessly with an air of authority in the lower frequency.
The lower treble range is still prevalent but seems to be calmer than on other sources I used in comparison and made it easier in this region to listen to on the ear with the Dacamp.
For anyone who does find the RHA treble on the new CL range too much still this is where the tone controls on the Dacamp come into play as this is made possible to tone It down a little as some may want to also use these feature although it can be dialled up to 9db the reduction only goes down to -3db which should be enough to take that edge of for those who want the treble dialled down but might still not be quite enough for some.
Apart from maybe a bit of EQ needed depending on personal preference and needs the Dacamp does manage to deliver details which the 750 will resolve an reflect in an honest manner as mids are clear and concise and feel the Dacamp has good timing with cues making it a natural pairing.
One thing I would of liked to of heard if the CL750 was detachable cable like the CL1’s was to try these balanced as I think this would of just made what is a very good pairing even better.
Finally with the Flagship CL1 IEM:
When RHA designed this Flagship IEM I don’t think many envisaged the signature it was about to have and the way it was tuned and it can tend to still be potentially fussy with pairing this with other amp/ dacs so when the CL is hooked up to the Dacamp you can tell straight away there is a special chemistry happening here.
The combination of the Dacamp’s low floor noise which I also found with my JH16pros help pave the way for a clean black backdrop making it easy to pick out all the intricacies in songs which also allows for better dynamics at lower volumes.
The Dacamp with the CL1 is very much again like the CL750 reflecting very much what the IEM portrays. The difference with the CL1 is there is a touch more warmth paired with the Dacamp which is down to partly the Dacamp having a touch of warmth and the nature of the Ceramic shell with harmonics makes this and even more easy on the ear listen say compared to the CL750 pairing with the Dacamp which is more sharper on the attack in sound.
The CL1 for me seemed to be a little tamer on the hot spot of the treble area when used with the Dacamp but not at the expense of the CL1’s extension and the ability of the notes been able to linger and hang on with clarity and space on the top end notes is retained through the Dacamp.
The bass combination is definitely a buzz listening to the Cl1’s and there is plenty of quantity there in depth and really has a big spacious scope of field bass that covers the soundstage which with say OST tracks from say Inception, Batman – Dark Knight, Tron or Gladiator really have atmospheric experience when notes hit the sub bass range and feels very immersive. I personally liked the amount of bass there and felt although for some might be a bit too much never thought it sounded forced or false in a boosted way and was a natural flow to delivery in this area.
For me the Dacamp is an even more magic pairing than the CL750 with the CL1 and then like I have mentioned in the CL1 review running balanced makes what is already a good pairing go an extra mile with better localization and precision of imaging and where notes come from and adds to a more height to the field of sound with more space for everything to breathe easier.
For me the Dacamp is the perfect partner for the CL1 especially when running balanced which makes any of the CL1’s shortcomings it does have more easier to bear as the Dacamp just seems to be the block of circular shaped wood a kid uses to learn what shapes go into what and this fits the Cl1’s round hole perfectly or is the missing piece of the CL1 jigsaw puzzle you could say.
I still think for some taste it may either be too much treble or bass there but this is where the beauty of the Dacamp has an ace card with having the tone controls to be able to EQ as desired.
General notes on sound across the board…
One thing I have noticed is with the Dacamp is how well it scales with well recorded material as you then can hear what the Dacamp is capable of performing too and with good DSD material it really finds more solidity and resolution with notes and finer detail to cues and decay in notes and combine that with the balanced mode is what I think RHA envisaged when they must test it with a good quality sample of files from their library as this is when you will hear the very best the twin Sabre dacs are able to achieve but all too often even with my music there are too many that are not good enough, even ones you would think would have been recorded better when you look at the artist and music involved or just simply your favourite artist or album can let you down with how it is recorded.
I guess the blessing here is the Dacamp when there is average or poor recordings does not make a fuss of it like some dacs or amps can although it is more noticeable when it is the CL IEMS plugged in as it will always be that treble section that will get hot first with over bright poor recordings.
I just wish I had other IEMS or cans that had an XLR balanced to of tried with the Dacamp as would have been interesting after hearing the CL1’s balanced how my other gear would of sounded in this mode running balanced and that maybe would have been a nice inclusion if there had been an 2.5 TRRS adaptor to XLR with a lot of people now having that connection as the more popular choice of portable balanced connection now days. I guess if you end up buying this and falling in love with it you are more inclined to shell out for at least the adaptor or have the cables done to Mini XLR.
Only thing that I would like to see made for this first RHA Dacamp even if it was an optional accessory to buy would be a nice leather case that it could slide into would be a nice finishing touch to this amp instead of using the separating cloth supplied.
The Dacamp actually is a very versatile machine that covers most needs. It may not exude the same amount of detail or openness as my Hugo but then that is a £1400 unit with a seriously good Dac inside but the flip side to that is I think for the money the amp section in the Dacamp is better than the way the Hugo implements their lack lustre way they implement in their unit.
Even with myself owning the Hugo and very capable Vorzuge Pureii+ was missing this Dacamp with IEMs and especially the magic relationship it had with my Sony 7520’s and icing on the cake how it gelled with its own breed in the CL1 running balanced was extra special which I was not expecting at all when I started the review.
For RHA’s first Dacamp this is a very competent first attempt that with the versatility of this device making it appealing and hearing it may well entice you into buying one as it is a very solid performer that seems to pair with most of the IEMS and Headphones I could throw at it.
Even though I am used to the extra resolution in detail of my Hugo for last two+ years I still enjoyed the Dacamp a lot enough I could listen happily for several hours straight especially when it was with top recorded material running balanced with those CL1’s was a magical listen in its own right.
Just like the Chassis of this amp, it has a very solid base to start from and sure will be a popular Dacamp with many out there and if this is in your price range I highly recommend listening to this solid versatile performer.
Pros - Powerful bass, pronounced mids
Cons - Spiky treble, volume controls, interface
The L1 is sent to me, compliments from RHA as part of the world tour review of the L1, CL750 and CL1.
This is what you get inside the packaging. Sorry for the high noise image, my Note 4 jacks it up seeing it's all black lol.
Inputs: Coaxial, USB, IOS USB
Outputs : 3.5mm, Line out, Mini XLR
Gains : Lo, Md, Hi, A lightning icon (whatever that means)
Bass : -3 to 9
Treb: -3 to 9
My selection: Gain Md, Bass 0, Treb 0, 3.5mm to RHA MA750i, USB to PC
Song selection title: Pentatonix
Treble At some point in certain songs, the treble goes a long way, and could spike and distort a little. It's minor but noticeable, may be due to the songs themselves or the L1 just able to pick them up easier.
In the song "Water", quite a number of high note cripples could be heard, but if in comparison with mojo, it's more obvious. If you do not have any other devices to make the comparison, it might not be noticeable.
Mids The warm lushy mids from the 750i gets improved using the L1, which makes me love the L1 more in combination with the MA750i, but definitely not recommend using them with the bright sounding IEMs, cause both the CL750 and CL1 gets the worst treble ever with the dacamp 1, which means the whole series is bright sounding, so a dark sounding, warm mid IEM is a better combination.
Bass The bass that the L1 is able to push out is really good. Try hearing some bass-centric music, like dubstep or some shuffling song, say "Sorry for Party Rocking". Short volume bass starts thumping out and my ears are so entertained, but then I felt the bass is not there yet, time to find something deeper, and hence I tried "Underground Army - Hans Zimmer - The Dark Knight OST", the bass is still so beautiful. This song is so bass centric with a lot of layers of bassy region, the low end really trips the mood while listening, getting me a bit moody but the pace of it keeps me on pace. Really nice bass.
Soundstage It's really tricky to interpret soundstage on a hardware, like the L1. The ability to push the drivers to perform extensions on the IEM is one thing, and the ability of the IEM to do so is another. I had faith in my IEM and the L1 really took it nicely, spreading the surround effect effectively. I could tell which instrument is in the front, background little brittle and minor details, drums here, strings there, echo and mix, tadaaa.. nice hall effect!
Conclusion I must say, I am proud of what RHA did with the L1, which I initially thought (while testing with the CL750 and CL1) is a dump hardware, but I was so wrong! With the MA750i, it made a statement, own me or go super premium. I believe this hits the right spot of what a DAC+ AMP should be like. Other vendors, try to keep up yo!
Pros - Transparency, overall SQ, build quality, bass/treble tuning, input choices, gain option, portability, output power, balanced option
Cons - Balanced output throttled, volume control quite sensitive for IEM use, balanced uses a mini XLR rather than something more standard.
For larger views of any of the photos (1200 x 800) - please click on the individual images INTRODUCTION Choosing an amp or amp/DAC can be bewildering given the many options and price points available. Add to that the many subjective opinions from reviews about what adding a new amp or amp/DAC can bring to the table in terms of clarity! details! soundstage! As I’ve gained a lot more experience, and (more importantly) tested more, I’ve come to realise that many of the differences I thought I’d previously heard are pretty subtle, and mostly occur because I wasn’t volume matching while comparing different amps or sources. And the more experienced I've become – and the more aware of how outside influences can affect my overall opinion, the more I've come to find that the things we don't place the most importance on – power output, features, gain control, battery life, inputs/outputs etc – can be a lot more important than the perceived SQ. In fact with most devices nowadays, SQ should be a given.
And that brings me to the product I’m reviewing today – RHA's new L1 DAC/amp. I’ve now had the L1 for a couple of weeks and have been using that time to put it through its paces. Read on for my thoughts on how it performs
Reid Heath Acoustics (RHA) is a Scottish based headphone company. Their core values (from their on-line presence) are described as follows:
“We stand for true-to-life audio reproduction and lasting quality. With these values at our core, we work to deliver the most accurate, comfortable and unobtrusive listening experience possible. Every RHA product combines high quality materials, precision engineering and our fundamental commitment to design.”
Most people will know RHA for their range of in-ear monitors. To my knowledge this is the first actual DAC/amp they've launched, and at $549.95 is sits at a pretty interesting section of the market – up against other heavy-weights like iFi Audio's iDSD and Chord's Mojo.
In the last couple of weeks I have spent as much time as possible listening to the L1 with both RHA's own earphones, and also several of my own – both full-sized headphones and my own IEMs. Toward the end of the review I have compared the L1 to both my iDSD and also the much cheaper FiiO E17K.
RHA on Facebook
I was provided the RHA L1 (as part of a tour) from RHA. I am in no way affiliated with RHA - and this review is my honest opinion of the CL1. The tour unit was returned at completion of the review. I'd like to especially thank Iain and Niketa for their brilliant communication and allowing me to be part of this.
PREAMBLE - 'ABOUT ME'. (or a base-line for interpreting my thoughts and bias)
Spoiler: Click here for a summary of my known bias
I'm a 49 year old music lover. I don't say audiophile – I just love my music. Over the last couple of years, I have slowly changed from cheaper listening set-ups to my current set-up. I vary my listening from portables (including the FiiO X5ii, X3ii, X7, LP5, L3, and iPhone SE) to my desk-top's set-up (PC > USB > iFi iDSD). I also use a portable set-up at work – usually either X3ii/X7/L3 > HP, or PC > E17K > HP. My main full sized headphones at the time of writing are the Sennheiser HD800S, Beyerdynamic T1, Sennheiser HD600 & HD630VB, and AKG K553. Most of my portable listening is done with IEMs, and lately it has mainly been with the Jays q-Jays, Alclair Curve2 and Adel U6. A full list of the gear I have owned (past and present is listed in my Head-Fi profile).
I have very eclectic music tastes listening to a variety from classical/opera and jazz, to grunge and general rock. I listen to a lot of blues, jazz, folk music, classic rock, indie and alternative rock. I am particularly fond of female vocals. I generally tend toward cans that are relatively neutral/balanced, but I do have a fondness for clarity, and suspect I might have slight ‘treble-head’ preferences. I am not treble sensitive (at all), and in the past have really enjoyed headphones like the K701, SR325i, and of course the T1 and DT880. I have a specific sensitivity to the 2-3 kHz frequency area (most humans do) but my sensitivity is particularly strong, and I tend to like a relatively flat mid-range with slight elevation in the upper-mids around this area.
I have extensively tested myself (ABX) and I find aac256 or higher to be completely transparent. I do use exclusively red-book 16/44.1 if space is not an issue. All of my music is legally purchased (mostly CD – the rest FLAC purchased on-line). I tend to be sceptical about audiophile ‘claims’, don’t generally believe in burn-in, have never heard a difference with different cables, and would rather test myself blind on perceived differences. I am not a ‘golden eared listener’. I suffer from mild tinnitus, and at 49, my hearing is less than perfect (it only extends to around 14 kHz nowadays). My usual listening level is around 65-75 dB.
For the purposes of this review – I've used the RHA L1 as amp only (with various sources), DAC/amp – paired with other DAPs and also my iPhone SE as transport, and also as a desktop set-up (my home PC runs Linux). This is a purely subjective review - my gear, my ears, and my experience. Please take it all with a grain of salt - especially if it does not match your own experience.
Volume matching was done with a calibrated SPL meter and test tones (1 kHz) when required for comparison. Frequency response measurements were taken using a relatively cheap Startech USB soundcard, which while measuring decently on loopback (0.012% THD and 0.024% THD+N) tends to be the limiting factor measuring THD, THD+N and IMD – as I seem to be limited by the Startech’s performance. So I am taking RHA’s distortion published measurements as truth, and this time not measuring myself. When I did measure, they are below the threshold of audibility anyway.
WHAT I WOULD LOOK FOR IN A PORTABLE DAC/AMP
I thought I’d list (before I start with the review) what I would look for in a portable DAC/amp. This is useful to remember when looking at my reasoning for scoring later in the review.
Good battery life
Clean, neutral signature
Easy to use
Low output impedance
Reasonable output power – should be able to drive IEMs and earphones up to 300 ohms
Good gain control
Hardware EQ if possible
Easy installation of DAC drivers and
Value for money
PORTABLE AMP/DACs I HAVE EXPERIENCE WITH
Previous = Fiio E7, Beyerdynamic A200p
Current = Fiio E17K, Q1, Cozoy Aegis, iFi Micro iDSD, IMS HVA
THE REVIEW PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES
Outer sleeve frontand rear
The RHA L1 arrived in a reasonably large, but attractive black retail box measuring 147 x 200 x 74mm. There is a lot of information on the outer sleeve (which is IMO very well laid out) – including:
Front face = picture of the CL1, Sony Hi-Res logo, and note that there is dedicated channel processors
Rear = information on design, materials and features
Sides = information on warranty (3 year!), contents and the L1's specifications
Inside the inner boxManual, colour booklet and guarantee/warranty
Removing the outer sleeve reveals a book style lidded box, with a black and white depiction of the L1. Opening this discloses a nice full colour booklet about the L1, and the first look at the L1 itself nestled in its foam cut-out. Below this are compartments for the accessories – which include:
Silicone stacking bands
A cleaning / stacking cloth
USB micro-B to micro-B cable
USB A – micro-B cable
Manual and warranty card
Colour booklet and manualAccessories - cleaning/stacking cloth, bands and cables
The cables seem to be generic but pretty sturdy – nothing flash. I'm a little disappointed that there isn't a converter cable for the balanced mini-XLR to a more common 2.5mm TRRS. The manual is multilingual, very informative and includes full information on specs and how to properly use the L1
~ USD 550 (RHA website)
Fully balanced portable DAC and amp
Max output into 16 ohm
Max output into 300 ohm
Suggested H/P Impedance
SNR (dynamic range)
20 Hz – 100 kHz
1x, 1.8x 2.5x
44.1 – 384 kHz, 16/24/32 bit.
DSD 64, DSD128, DSD256 (quad DSD)
3.5mm line in, USB A, USB micro-B, mini-TOSLINK optical
3.5mm line out, 3.5mm headphone out, 4-pin mini XLR balanced
Battery life / charge time
10 hours continuous / 4 hours charge
BUILD / DESIGN
Beautifully curved outer shell Protective cover over the tone and gain controls
The RHA L1 is an interesting shape. The body consists of a single sheet of machined aluminium alloy bent around to form a rectangular shell. The top, bottom, and sides are a hard rubber/silicone. The headphone outputs sit at the top of the device, as does the pot/volume control. The USB inputs/outputs and optical/line-in/out sit at the bottom. In the middle is a set of 3 dials – housing the hardware controls (bass, treble, and gain), and these are encased with a protective over-plate. Reading through the documentation, RHA says that the build/design was inspired by home audio equipment, and it shows in the use of the knobs for the EQ and gain – and also a somehow classic look with the alloy outer jacket.
The main body is designed to fit your hand (and assuming right handed), your fingers will curl around the rounded edge, with thumb in easy reach of the side controls, and index finger has easy access to the volume control.
RHA L1 in profileThe volume pot (quite sensitive)
At the top left is the balanced 4 pin mini-XLR socket. It is gold plated for both protection and transmission. At the top right is the single ended 3.5mm headphone out socket – again gold plated. Between these sits the volume pot. It is quite long, bevelled to make it non-slip, and recessed from the body to save accidentally jogging it. This is pretty essential, because the pot itself has 5 major settings – 0 (off) to 5 (max) with each quarter turn giving a full numeric increment. Between each bass number are guides for 2 settings in-between. With the somewhat easy to drive AKG K553, and using my PC as digital source, a single partial increment can go from easy listening to very loud in a moment. This is pretty sensitive. Between the mini-XLR and volume control is an LED light which denotes status (off, on, charging, low power and depleted).
Top - headphone out (single ended and balanced) + volume potLine out, line in and USB inputs
At the bottom is the inputs/outputs. From left to right is the line-out, USB-A socket, USB micro-B socket, and line-in/optical in socket. Below the micro-B socket is a 3-way switch to select the input / output. The 3.5mm sockets are again gold plated.
On the right hand side are the controls for treble, bass and gain. The treble and bass controls range from -3 to +9, with each increment representing ~1 dB change. The gain wheel has 4 settings – low, med, high – and a charge icon (which basically turns the L1 into a storage bank for charging other devices). The controls have a nice click for each setting and will not move inadvertently if bumped. The treble and bass controls can be used even in DAC mode.
Underside viewBalanced mini-XLR connection
Overall the external build quality is pretty much faultless. It feels really good in the hand – solid and dependable. It is also perfect for stacking – with its flat back – and as far as size goes is almost the same dimensions as the new FiiO X5iii – and slightly wider than my iPhone SE. For any X7 owners – the X7 is similar width and depth – but about 1 cm longer. The only caveat I have is the sensitivity of the volume pot.
Internally, the L1 uses a pair of Sabre ES9018K2M DACs – one for each channel. There are in turn boosted by a pair of class A/B amplifiers (unfortunately they aren't mentioned in the documentation, and I don't think RHA would be too appreciative of me taking a look-see under the hood). The DACs are capable of DSD support up to quad DSD, and up to 32 bit/384 kHz PCM audio. The specifications list a very low 0.0018% THD+N (and basically this means that any distortion is inaudible), a dynamic range (SNR) of 111dB, and reasonable output power of 28 mW into 300 ohms.
HEAT AND POWER
So far I’ve noticed just a slow heat build-up with the L1 (only really gets to lukewarm). Even after a couple of hours (driving my HD800S), it’s still no issues to handle.
RHA rates the target headphone impedance as 8-600 ohm, and I was surprised that for my 600ohm T1, there was no issues at all reaching and exceeding listenable volumes. Using my HD800S (300 ohm), and the volume pot at 1-2 clicks below 2/5, I was right at my normal listening volume of 65-70 dB with Emma Ruth Rundle's album “Some Heavy Ocean” (L1 acting as DAC to my main desktop). Advancing to 2/5 on the same track drove the dB meter to 75+ dB, and pushing to the full 5/5 was reaching 90dB peaks. This was all on low gain – so with the HD800S on high gain and reasonably modern music, high gain would net peaks just under 100 dB.
Surprisingly good with the T1 & bass controls helped with lower endHD800S were sublime with the L1 - and fantastic when paired with the PC & JRiver MC
At the other end of the scale RHA suggests compatibility with earphones as low as 8 ohms. With their 2.2 ohm output impedance (and following the traditional 1/8 rule for damping), I would have thought 16 ohms would be a safer bet. Fortunately I have the 8 ohm DN-2000J on hand and was able to test those. I was pretty close to the lower limit of the pot to get to a quiet enough listening level, and the sound was quite different on the DN-2000J out of the L1 than using my X5iii, or X5ii + A5 (it was a little darker – not as airy as the 2000J usually is). I wonder if this has to do with the damping factor? Anyway – my personal recommendation is that whilst the L1 can easily be paired with 8 ohm earphones, perhaps something with slightly higher impedance may be ideal.
Higher impedance U6 matched well & treble boost was a great featureRHA's CL1 in balanced mode - paired with X5iii
The one thing I was finding though (with the HD800S, T1 and HD600) was that the L1 does seem better suited toward full sized headphones. There is simply more play on the pot overall. With IEMs it can be a little sensitive. If you have variable output from your transport though – this can easily be mitigated.
FEATURES / USABILITY
The L1 is really simple to use. Headphones go at the top – either balanced mini XLR or 3.5mm single ended. Source is connected at the bottom, Switch set to source being used. Select your volume and away you go – very simple.
The gain wheel selector is the bottom most side knob on the L1 and allows you to select 3 levels of gain. I measured these under loopback, and they represent:
Low = 1x or +0dB
Med = 1.8 times or approx +5 dB (per my measurements)
High = 2.5 times or approx +7.5 dB (per my measurements)
Measured in DAC mode - showing frequency response and gain.
The only thing I would have probably liked to see here is a little more usability with the gain. Given that the difference between 1-5 on the pot is actually around 25-30 dB, adding a mere 5-8 dB gets dwarfed a little by the actual pot changes.
Tone Controls – Bass / Treble
This IMO is the killer feature on the L1. I'm a bit of an EQ buff. So many times I've been sent a pair of IEMs to review and found that with some minor changes they can actually be transformed. A lot of the time I just want a quick rough and ready fix to a problem – and using the E17K for so long, I've become used to using it's tone controls to adjust a frequency curve to a better level. Each tone control (bass and treble) comes with a 12 dB range of options -3dB to +9dB. See graph below.
Bass controls - measured as pass-though (amp only) and treble controls
And its amazing what you can do with the EQ when combining the two. You can create a U/V shape, or give the mids a bump – simply by dialing it in. I've included graphs from my CL1 review (further down this page) where I wanted to tone the treble back (a lot), and the bass back (a little) to basically flatten the frequency curve. You an see that this is quite effective – and the only thing I would have really liked would have been if there was equal opportunity to reduce as there is to add. RHA – when you read this, if there is an L2 at some stage, and you still use the tone controls, consider 2 dB increments both ways : -10 -8 -6 -4 -2 0 +2 +4 +6 +8 +10. That would have been just about perfect IMO.
Curve versatility - max to min, and min to maxYou could also reate a mid-range bump, or a large U/V shape
As a DAC (PC)
Usage as a DAC couldn't be easier. No additional drivers needed with Linux. The L1 was correctly identified and it was simply a matter of selecting it. With Windows it was simply a matter of downloading and installing the driver from RHA. After that – select the L1 as the output device and then select your bit-rate and resolution. I ran through PCM resolutions from 16/44.1 through to 32/384 (up-sampling) and there were no issues. Likewise I tested DSD playback (using Foobar2000 in Windows) – and no issues with playback (it was only DSD64). I did the same with Linux, using jRiver's Media Center for Linux. It allows me to up-sample without jumping through hoops. PCM at 384 kHz worked with no problem – but under Linux I could only get to 2xDSD (I can get to 4x on the iDSD). It may simply be an issue with my set-up, and unfortunately haven't had time to further trouble shoot it. Sadly I didn't get the chance to use optical from my PC as I no longer have an optical out port I can test with.
Again no issues playing audio from my X5iii to the L1. Audio was clean and clear, and for those looking for a straight amplifier, the set-up worked really well. The beauty of course is the access to the tone controls as well as the extra amplification.
iPhone SE, the L1 and the CL1 in balanced modeThis was a nice pairing - but needed the EQ
This worked perfectly. Using a lightning cable to micro USB, the iPhone recognised the L1, handed off audio to it, and basically played without a hitch. The only downside was that it drained the battery pretty quickly on the SE (in 2-3 hours), so something to watch if you're planning on using it with a smart-phone.
Use as a battery bank
This was something I didn't see coming, but works pretty well. There is a setting on the gain switch (a lightning bolt), and when selected, it basically feeds power from the on-board L1 battery to the paired device. This feature was unexpected, but would be pretty handy if you needed your phone but were caught short of a recharge point.
RHA rates the play time on a full charge at around 10 hours, recharge at around 4 hours, and for my use I’d suggest that time is pretty accurate. Whilst I did not get time to specifically measure the full battery life, the L1 was good for a day's audio, and the I'd charge it at night while it was doubling as a DAC for my desktop.
I’m going to preface this section with a little critique I received a while ago (by PM), and my answer to it – so that you can understand why I don’t comment on some things, and why I do comment on others. I was told my review on another amp was poor because I didn’t include sections on bass, mid-range, treble, sound-stage, imaging etc – yet referred to an amp as warm, full, or lean.
Now I can understand the reference to warm / full / lean – as they are very subjective terms, and whilst I’d like to avoid their use, they are invaluable to convey true meaning. Comparing my NFB-12 to the Aune X1S for example – the Audio-gd does sound richer and warmer. It’s the nature of the DAC which is used.
But I choose not to comment on bass, mids, treble, and most definitely not sound-stage – simply because when we are talking about an amp – IMO they shouldn’t be discussed. An amp’s job is to amplify the signal with as low distortion as possible, and output as linear signal as possible. If it is doing its job properly, there is no effect on bass, mids, or treble. And IME an amp does not affect soundstage (unless there is DSP or cross-feed in play) – that is solely the realm of the transducers and the actual recording.
So we have that out of the way how does the L1 perform sonically – as a separate DAC and as a DAC/amp combo?
The first thing I did was to check the linearity of the L1. To do this I used a calibrated sound card (calibrated to measure completely flat), ARTA and a loopback. At first glance the L1 measures pretty flat – with a small drop off between 10-20 kHz (only a couple of dB). This could be my equipment, but the E17K measures flat on the same equipment so I suspect this could be an intentional roll-off with the DAC section, and maybe a result of filtering. When I had measured the amp section only (check earlier graphs) it was measuring dead flat with no EQ engaged. So the L1 does have good linearity.
I’ve stopped measuring distortion (THD / IMD) as I need better measuring equipment to get to the levels RHA is able to measure. I think we can trust the published distortion measurements
So what does this tell us? Simply that the L1 supplies reasonably linear, and very clean output. Purely subjectively, it sounds pretty neutral and to my ears, ever so slightly on the warm side of neutral. It does have a very clean background and a good sense of space.
Balanced vs Single Ended
I'll start this bit by readily admitting I'm pretty stupid. The lateness of this particular review is because I had to rewrite some of it. I initially couldn't get the balanced output working, and even went through some suggestions from RHA's staff (they were pretty helpful). In the end I twigged onto two things – (1) I needed to make sure the new sMMCX connectors were seated properly on the balanced cables, and (2) the balanced connection only works when used as a DAC/amp – rather than straight amp (duh!). Like I said – particularly silly.
RHA CL1 recorded from the DAC - balanced vs SE - note same volume and curve! Applying EQ to adjust the bass and treble down - better but limited.
The good news is that I could finally test the balanced output with the CL1. The balanced output is provided by the mini-XLR output (and RHA a nice touch would be an adaptor – maybe to 2.5mm). Anyway – I went back and forth with the CL1 balanced, single-ended and back again. The weird part was that I didn't have to touch the volume (normally balanced has a higher power output – more volume). As I went back and forth, I honestly couldn't tell any real difference. So being the objective gentlemen I am, I plugged the L1 in as DAC on the PC and measured the output with the CL1. Two things stood out. Firstly – the volume was the same – measurably the same. Secondly the frequency response was identical. The comments floating around about the balanced output improving the CL1's frequency response simply can't be true. There is no change to frequency response between SE and balanced. Maybe my ears are simply not good enough to hear the other differences some people associate with balanced output – but to me they sound pretty much the same in the limited time I've had with the L1 and CL1. The interesting thing was also checking the set-up with the E17K, and after volume matching – same curve.
Adding E17K - frequemcy curve very consistent!The better EQ from the E17K
For this section I chose to to compare FiiO's E17K as it has similar features but is a cheaper option, and the iFi Micro iDSD as being more on par. The FiiO E17K currently is listed on Amazon at USD 100.00, and the iFI Micro iDSD at $399 (older model).
Warning – completely subjective evaluation ahead!
RHA L1 (USD $550) vs FiiO E17K (USD $100)
Both have very good build quality, although the L1 simply looks like the more refined unit – where the E17K is more utilitarian. In terms of hardware, the L1 had the superior hardware on paper, although they both have similar SNR. L1 also has lower overall noise – but given both devices noise floors are below audibility, this is somewhat of a moot point. The E17K has ~ half the headphone output impedance – making it more suitable for IEMs. In terms of battery and size, the E17K is more portable, and its 15 hour battery life makes it a winner.
L1 supports higher resolutions, and is more powerful. E17K has better gain control and also has balance control. And then of course there is the cost – although if you were using the E17K as a desktop rig, ultimately you'd want to pair it with an amp like the K5 (effectively doubling the price)
Sonically (after a lot of back and forth), the E17K sounds a little flatter, more neutral – while the L1 imparts a little more warmth. Both have a very clean and clear background.
So which moves me more and why? Well I like the E17K's tone controls a little more, and it is extremely portable, and sounds pretty good – BUT – it really depends on the use. With IEMs I'd take the E17K because they really don't need much power, and the E17K wins hands down on portability and has a comparable if not better feature set. If I'm driving my HD800S though (or other full sized headphone) – then the tables are turned (and this includes if I was using the L1 solely as a desktop device). The L1 simply has a fantastic synergy with the HD800S and has an effortless way of pulling me into the music. Interestingly I get this more when used as a DAC/amp rather than as an amp only.
RHA L1 (USD $550) vs iFi Micro iDSD (USD $399)
I’ll get this out of the way first up. I love my iDSD – it is a fantastic piece of equipment with massive versatility in power output, and a very good DAC in the Burr Brown.
Both are larger and more transportable than portable – although this time the L1 is the smaller unit (by some considerable amount). Both have a great array of inputs and outputs. Both can be used to charge other devices. The iDSD has far more power, and a much better gain system – so it can be used for the most sensitive IEM or very hard to drive cans (even up to the HE6).
Both cover the full range of resolutions (up to quad DSD). The L1 has the tone controls. The iDSD has Xbass control and the 3D speaker preset, and can be used as a preamp to active speakers.
As a purely desktop device, the iDSD has the better overall feature set, and ability to drive more variability in loads. But …...
There is a definite difference between the Burr Brown and Sabre set-up. This time the iDSD is the warmer set-up, and my preference is leaning toward the L1 quite heavily. Again it is simply pulling me in (with the HD800S) – sonically it is a beautiful pairing. Fantastic sense of spatial awareness and depth. I've been extremely happy with the iDSD for the last couple of years – and then RHA comes and delivers the L1, and I'm suddenly second guessing myself again.
For my current headphones (and acknowledging I have just sold my T1) – despite the extra cost, and iDSD being more suited to desktop use – right now I'd really consider taking the L1.
VALUE & CONCLUSION I’ve now had the L1 for a couple of weeks and in that time I've grown to like it more and more. Unfortunately it simply doesn't suit my current needs – too big for my needs for portability, and doesn't have all the features I need for desktop use. But I'm still tempted to hand over the cash and get one. And that should be all you need to know about the L1.
It combines a stellar build with a great feature set – which is crowned by the inclusion of the tone controls. Power output (for its size) is very good – and seems to easily handle my HD600 and HD800S.
It also has both balanced and single ended output available – and the balanced is true balanced (separate DACs, separate amps).
Tonally it is very linear as a stand alone amp, and seems to have slight measurable roll-off when used as a DAC. It is very slightly on the warm side of neutral – but just a hint. It also has a very black background (low noise floor), and is able to convey a great sense of detail and spaciousness with the HD800S. That pairing alone has me really regretting having to send the L1 to its next tour recipient.
However – it still has some slight flaws, or ways it could be improved IMO. For starters the pot could have a little less sensitivity, and the gain control have a little more kick (FiiO's tiny E17K for example is 0 dB +6 dB +12 dB). A lower output impedance would allow more versatility with sensitive low impedance IEMs, and the tone controls could have more room for deduction of the original signal (would have helped with their CL1).
The price at $550 is getting up there – but it still hasn't deterred me, and I'm sitting here doing the final edit with the HD800S on my head, L1 connected to the PC, and listening to Jocelyn and Chris Arndt – and thinking “what would I have to sell to appease my lovely wife”. That's pretty dangerous for me at the moment, and hopefully the madness passes in a few more days.
Congratulations RHA – the L1 is my pick of the 3 (CL750, CL1 and L1). I think it will sell pretty well.
The new FiiO X5iii proved a pretty good transportReally didn't want to see the L1 go - a genuinely likeable product!
Remember earlier I described my list of requirements for a portable DAC/amp – lets go through them and see how the L1 fared ….
Genuine portability – yes, but still a little bulky
Good battery life – 10 hours is about average
Clean, neutral signature - definitely
Easy to use - definitely
Low output impedance – lowish, could be better (sub 1 ohm ideal)
Reasonable output power – should be able to drive IEMs and earphones up to 300 ohms – yes, but the pot could be a little less sensitive
Good gain control – it is good – just needs more refinement
Hardware EQ if possible – yes and its brilliant
Easy installation of DAC drivers – yes definitely
Value for money – although it is getting up there, I still don't think it's over-priced
4/5 from me. The few minor improvements I suggested would take it to a full 5. Thanks again to Iain and Niketa for giving me the chance to spend some time with the L1. A thoroughly enjoyable experience!
Pros - Build Quality - Input options - Clean sound
Cons - Volume knob spins too freely - Bass/treble EQ
Today we are going to be taking a look at RHA's first foray into portable amplification, the Dacamp L1.
Admittedly, I don't have a ton of experience with portable amplifiers outside of my Topping NX1, and no experience with a balanced connection, so this review is written from the perspective of someone entirely new to this part of the hobby. Please take my comments and thoughts with a grain of salt. This combined with a limited amount of time with the product means my review will be fairly brief and to the point, with focus placed on aspects that stuck out most to me; build quality, ergonomics, and sound quality.
The Dacamp L1 was sent to me along with the CL750 and CL1 as part of RHA's Head-fi tour. After my time with these products was up, off to the next reviewer they went. There is no financial incentive to write this review, nor do the thoughts within belong to anyone but myself.
Packaging and Accessories:
The Dacamp L1 comes in packaging befitting it's status as a premium portable amplifier. The front contains a hi-res glossy image of the amp floating in front of a matte black background along with a brief description of what it is. The right side contains the units specifications, and the rear a list of features.
Sliding off the exterior sheath reveals a textured black box with a vector-graphics like image of the inside of the Dacamp L1, which I think looks pretty unique. Flipping back the magnetically sealed flap reveals the unit itself securely held in place via a foam insert. Under the flap on the left resides your features manual.
Lift out the foam sheet and you find yourself looking at a number of boxes. One large one at the top with three smaller ones below. The large box contains the manual and cleaning cloth, while the others hold the rubber straps, charging cable, and short USB cable used to connect your phone or other compatible USB-enabled device.
Overall is it a very nice unboxing experience that didn't leave me wanting much, if anything. A custom case to protect the Dacamp L1 would have been a nice inclusion, even if is was a simple silicone cover. Still, not necessary.
Build Quality, Ergonomics, and Usability:
No one will ever say the Dacamp L1 looks or feels cheap and if they do they're lying. From the moment lay eyes on it and you pick it up you know the Dacamp L1 breathes quality. The housing feels like the solid hunk of metal that it is. The exposed Torx screws are a welcome and functional design element. The design fits comfortably in the hand with the switches and knobs moving smoothly and solidly. The overall design evokes memories of high end stereo equipment from the 70's (or at least I think so). The weight does too. If I were to purchase this amp it would probably end up being a companion for my laptop. Something a little lighter and more compact would be better suited to mobile use.
Each of the knobs are in fairly natural positions and after just a few minutes I was able to use the Dacamp L1 without the need to look and see what I was doing. It became second nature to use it with little to no learning curve.
I did have a bit of an issue with the DAC and running the CL1 balanced, but that was 100% due to my own unfamiliarity with the tech and a lack of attention to detail. With a bit of guidance from the manual, @nmatheis, and the folks at RHA, I was quite literally up and running in seconds, slapping myself in the forehead for the user error. Worth the slap, cause this thing sounds b-e-a-u-tiful filtering through the DAC.
There are quite a few input and output options at your disposal. You have your usual 3.5mm input but also digital options like USB A, USB B Micro, and mini TOSLINK (optical). For outputs there is the standard 3.mm jack in addition to the 4-pin Mini XLR balanced option. That should be enough for most users I suspect. Support for high-resolution audio formats up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM and 11.2MHz DSD is also included.
If I were to levy any complaints at the Dacamp L1 in this category, it would be for the ease at which the volume knob spins. It was pretty easy to brush against it and raise or lower the volume accidentally. With something like the CL1 which has a very enthusiastic upper range, it could be a tad dangerous to erroneously raise the volume a significant amount in a brief period of time. Add some extra resistance and problem solved. Other than that, I thought it was functionally a great product. It was easy to use, input positions made sense, and wow does it feel good to hold.
This is admittedly where I really start to leave my element. I could talk about build quality and packaging all day, but when it comes to sound quality I don't really have a baseline to compare to. Yes, I have my Topping NX1, but seriously, a ~$30 amp versus the $549.95 Dacamp L1? Even my plebeian ears could immediately hear the difference in quality between the two. No comparison really.
The Dacamp L1 had a black as night background regardless of what earphone I plugged in; BA only, hybrid, dynamic, whatever. It didn't matter. The sound was so clean and pristine it's been hard to go back to the NX1. There's a bit of grain to the sound that I just can't get around. There's a bit of hiss with the new Brainwavz B100, B150, and the ClarityOne EB100. None of that is there with the Dacamp L1.
The power too. Oh man, the power. While I don't really own anything overly power hungry, except maybe the Havi B3 Pro 1, nothing made me think I needed the medium and high gain options. Not even the CL750 or CL1 required medium or high gain. I left my HTC at 80% volume with the Dacamp L1 only exceeding volume two when I was listening to a real banger, such as The Prodigy's "The Day is My Enemy".
While I appreciate the inclusion of the bass and treble EQ knobs, they never came across as being a critical feature or overly useful. The bass knob seemed to increase mid-bass quantity pretty evenly with sub-bass. Earphones ended up sounding pretty boomy when the bass was cranked all the way. As a result, bass stayed at naught for the duration of time the Dacamp L1 was in my possession. Keep in mind that I greatly prefer sub- over mid-bass, so the way this EQ's might be right up your alley.
The treble dial was a little more useful and helped dial down some of the excess energy of the CL1 and CL750, but it would have been nice to have as much range when removing treble as there is when adding it in. Being able to dial in so much extra bass and treble is nice but being able to remove to the same extent would have been even better. Not a huge issue since I've got an EQ on my HTC, but since the Dacamp L1 has the EQ options built in, the additional flexibility would be welcome.
Overall I found the Dacamp L1 to be an extremely powerful and clean sounding amp with lots of input options.
In the limited time spent with the Dacamp L1, it came across as a really nice amp. I rue my lack of experience with similar products to have been able to really put it through it's paces. But, for what I could get out of it and when using it with the CL1, it was pretty impressive.
The build quality is crazy good, as I have come to expect from RHA. The design is quite attractive, ergonomic, and it takes next to no time to learn your way around it, though it has some serious weight to it that could make portable use less than ideal. There is power to spare even when running products designed specifically for amping, and the built in EQ controls are a welcome addition even if I didn't get a lot of value out of them.
It definitely came across to me as being worth a purchase if you have the gear that can take advantage of it's capabilities.
Thanks for reading, and thanks again to RHA for including me on the tour!