Nuforce HA-200: High performance, Single Ended, Class-A Headphone Amplifier

Discussion in 'Headphone Amps (full-size)' started by kazsud, Nov 20, 2013.
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  1. Lyn Antony
    Hey guys, I am looking to run a pair of HA-200 in balanced mono and I require some DAC recommendations. I am currently looking at the HA-1 as an possible candidate but wasn't too sure about the harsh treble of the ESS 9018 saber chip (or so i read). If I do get the HA-1, would I be able to control the volume via the HA-1 volume knob or do I have to volume match both HA-200 by ear? 
    Sorry for asking noob questions in advance. This is my first time running a mono-block rig.

  2. Villy
    Go for the monoblock Lyn, my experience tells me you'll be rewarded greatly. But yes, you'll need to hook it up to a good dac. ESS9018 is a highly resolving chip and how it is implemented makes all the difference. Getting a stand-alone dac would be a better option, for there won't be any compromises made between the amp and the DAC needs, though anything less than $500 likely will lack either good design or quality build/components. There are good dacs popping in the classifieds section now and then, so it could be worthwhile to keep an eye on it.
  3. Arcee
    For quite some time now I am a happy user of the Nuforce iDo DAC in combination with a Little Dot MKIII tube headphone amp, driving my Sennheiser HD800's. I've got a broad selection of tubes and have found a very good combination of tubes to drive the HD800's.

    As I was looking for upgrading my living room system, I by coincidence I ran into a Nuforce DAC-80 which I got for what I believe is a bargain. And wow, it really improved my setup. But I was not pleased with the DAC-80 volume control. So, I upgraded to a NAD M51 for my living room rig and now I'm perfectly pleased.

    So, the DAC-80 is collecting dust, which is a shame. Now I consider upgrading my bedroom rig.

    I actually also found the HAP-100 and HA-200 available for the same price and now am hesitating:
    - How will the HAP-100 and HA-200 compare with the Little Dot MKIII when paired with my HD800's?
    - I've got mixed signals on this thread, in the beginning I see the HAP-100 pairs better with the HD800 than the HA-200, but later on, the HA-200 seems better with the HD800 after all?

    To be honest, I like the fact that the HAP-100 is more versatile, also usable as a preamp just in case. So if they both sound good with the HD800, I'm likely to get the HAP-100 as it originally is more expensive but now at the same price, and because its versatility. But if the HA200 really is another league, then I'll get the HA200. What would be the best option? Or should I simply keep my Little Dot and forget about it?
  4. zilch0md
    I find the HA-1's amp section to be wonderful with all but the highest-resolving headphones (i.e. Senn HD800 or, my latest acquisition, the DT880 600-Ohm), but if you're looking to run a pair of HA-200s with an HD800, using the HA-1 as the DAC, I would advise against it (despite the fact that it offers balanced output.)  Not only is the amp section of the HA-1 incompatible with the HD800 (due to its use of negative feedback to compensate distortion created by multiple gain stages), but also because its ES9108 DAC is incompatible with the HD800, in my opinion, even when used with a zero- or low-feedback amp. The HA-1's DAC is especially bad when using the HA-1's USB receiver - which suffers an HD800-detectable graininess (even with the HA-200 amp) that I suspect is caused by internal power noise. Its USB receiver is not externally powered.
    You can find posts I've made in the HA-1 thread where I have stated my conviction that the affordable Teralink X2 USB-to-SPDIF converter (limited to 96kHz/24-bit files), when powered by the equally affordable, simple, EI-core transformer equipped Teralink X1/X2 5V regulated linear power supply, should be considered as a serious upgrade to the HA-1's USB receiver. So, if you really want to use the HA-1 as your DAC for the HD800, I am very comfortable in stating that you should confine yourself to using its coaxial or optical inputs instead of its USB input, resorting to an external USB-to-SPDIF converter if your actually want to use a USB source. And, of course, there are better USB-to-SPDIF converters out there.
    For several months, I used the PCM1502 DAC coaxial output of a FiiO X5 DAP to drive my HA-1's amp section - finding the little DAP's SPDIF output to be far superior to using the HA-1's USB input from a CCK-equipped iPad 3.  I had also tried using a Pure i-20 docking station for several weeks, to pull a digital signal from my 30-pin iPad 3, providing coaxial input to the HA-1's DAC.  So, I went from staying clear of the HA-1's USB receiver to staying clear of its DAC altogether, when using its amp section to drive the HD800.  Now, the HA-1 has no role in driving my HD800.
    Quoting Skylab's (Rob's) review of the Oppo HA-1:
    In my opinion, he is diplomatically, yet accurately stating that the HA-1 is incompatible with discerning headphones like the HD800.  I am of the conviction that the HD800's lack of compatibility with so many DAC and amp pairings stems not from any intrinsic problem with the HD800, but rather from numerous problems with those DACs and amps - problems not revealed by lesser, more forgiving headphones.  (That said, the HD800 does suffer from a spike in frequency response at 6kHz.)
    So... What should you buy for driving a pair of HA-200's for the HD800?
    I've never tried it myself, but I recommend you at least look into getting the Oppo BDP-105D.  It offers truly balanced 3-Pin XLR outputs and will have a similar sound to the Oppo HA-1's DAC section, but from what I've read, there are no complaints about the USB inputs - and there's a lot to be said for NOT piping an S/PDIF signal into the HA-1's DAC from an external coaxial or optical source.
    It's a lot safer, in terms of audible sound quality, to use good analog cables (balanced, no less) between two components, than it is to gamble with all the variables that can degrade signal integrity when transmitting S/PDIF through a coaxial or Toslink cable.
    Your chances for avoiding jitter and signal integrity problems are better, if you get the conversion done inside the source component. 
    Signal integrity can be impaired by insertion loss (attenuation due to conductor and dielectric losses), crosstalk (loss of integrity caused by capacitive or inductive coupling with other signals in close proximity), and potentially, worst of all (because it can itself increase insertion losses), reflections (caused by impedance mismatches). Using the shortest possible digital cables will reduce the impact of all three causes of signal integrity impairment, but especially if you have have reflections caused by impedance mismatches anywhere along the PCB-mounted connectors, the cable connectors and the cable itself.
    Interesting reading:
    I'm not a fan of Sabre DACs for the HD800, but I would try the Oppo BDP-105 before going with the HA-1.  The BDP series has the benefit of many years of development and evolution for the much, much larger and perhaps, more demanding, HiFi and Home Theater markets.  And you'll get a nice Blue-ray, DVD, and CD player, too - complete with the ability to stream Netflix and Vudu - all for just $100 more than an HA-1.   (And as Villy has pointed out, above, not all implementations of the ES9018 are created equal.)
    Disclaimer:  I was a beta tester for the HA-1, HA-2, PM-1, PM-2, and PM-3, so feel free to take everything I'm saying with a grain of salt.  :)
  5. Lyn Antony
    thanks everyone! really appreciate the in-depth replies. I should have noted that aside from my HD800 I will also be running my HE-6, LCD 2.2, HD600 and HD650 in balanced as well.
    @zilch0md that's what I was afraid of. The HA-1 probably doesn't seem ideal in this situation, but it's kit sounds like a good all-rounder that's why I was considering it. The general consensus (from what I've read) is that the ESS 9018 isn't a good match for the HD800 so I might just consider working on another rig just for the HD800 and use the monoblock rig for my other headphones.
    I am now looking at the Yulong D200 as per article @ innerfidelity:
    which is using another Saber chip: the ESS 9016. Do you have any opinions on this chip or this specific DAC?
    As for the volume control question in my previous post:. The above innerfidelity article mentioned that a DAC with a volume control would be able to eliminate the need to adjust volume independently on both amps. Would a dac/amp like the HA-1 and the Yulong D200 be able to achieve this?

    Cheers and thanks again for the answers.
  6. Velomane
    I have a pair of HA-200's in balanced set up fed with a Yulong DA8. Besides sounding great, yes, it is a viable way to have volume control via the DAC.
  7. Villy
    @zilch0md You're right about USB's polluted power line, but there are real solutions for it that work - I'd recommend to anyone the combination of Schiit Wyrd and iFI iPurifier2, with the latter being last in line and plugged directly into the DAC. Without getting into details, streaming music from player (PC or portable) to a DAC is a digital affair, but it does NOT follow a strict protocol like say copying a file where all bytes that have been transmitted are confirmed between the sender and the receiver and in the end nothing is lost. Streaming music is a rather one-way flow, where the DAC has to make use of whatever ended in its lap the first time, and if there are gaps or discrepancies in the digital stream it will use its embedded algorithms to make up for it and fill the sonic gaps. So the less artificial noise in the stream the easier and more accurate the work of the DAC, the fuller is the musical rendition. The Wyrd utilizes external power to replace the one coming from the USB port and iPurifier2 cleanses and 're-clocks' the digital stream. They both support DSD/384K and make big difference, immediately felt difference.
    @Lyn Antony D200 has a nice DAC inside, DA8 is superior when it comes to decoding lower resolution files (CD quality and less), but the higher you go for anything above 96K, the narrower the gap. I think it is a great value, and it also has the same functionality as DA8 - you can control the volume thru the XLR outputs thus no need to try to sync both volume knobs on the HA-200 monoblock stack. I personally chose not to do that, and can explain in length as to why if there's interest in it; I devised a simple way of turning both knobs at the same time, by primitively wrapping a silicone band around them, and turning the band [​IMG] Yeah, yeah, I know, and I've heard/read enough comments, they make no difference to me [​IMG]I'm very happy with my solution and ain't changing it.
  8. TWerk
    This is simply a great desktop amp. It should be more popular. Single-ended sounds excellent and has GOBS of power.
    Affordable, clean, warm and powerful. The bass control and extension is very good and the highs are relaxed and pleasant.
  9. johnnyb
    I agree. I was almost sold on an Asgard, but very happy with the HA200. Costs less, plenty of power, and a very refined laid-back sound. Don't miss tubes at all.
    TWerk likes this.
  10. TWerk
    It's a great compromise between a tube amp and solid state amp. Don't have to mess around with tubes, but yet you still get that smooth, analog sound. 
    One thing that always bothered me was the harsh, sharp icy treble that some solid state amps have, which this thankfully does not.
  11. zilch0md
    I agree and attribute that lack of brittle edginess to it being a single-ended design (and the inherent low use of negative feedback.)
    Quoting Nelson Pass, regarding Single-ended Class A amps:
    He also discusses some of the benefits of Class A in that article.
    Quoting Nelson Pass, regarding the use of negative feedback in multi-stage (vs. single-ended) designs:
  12. audiobean
    This thread has been quite for a while but I recently got two Nuforce HA-200 (monoblock mode) and I am using the Emotiva Stealth DC-1 dac (fully differential) to feed my Sennheiser HD800s and I will tell you, these three combined are fantastic. The detail, soundstage, and imaging are great when paired with the HD 800s. I love how picky the HD 800s are because they allow my amps and dac combinations to each sound different or at least the changes are noticeable, some of my other headphones are not as "changing". The HA-200s bring a different sound for me. They allow for the HD 800s to extend as far as they need too. The monoblocks don't solve the siblant issue with the HD 800s (for the most part, for me, the sibilance is not there except for certain tracks, etc.) but I have a Little Dot MKII with voshkod tubes for taking the "edge" off along with making the HD 800s sound more intimate.
    I can't really say anything about the Ha-200s that hasn't been said except to verify that the pairing with the HD800s in monoblock mode is exquisite IMO.
    Villy likes this.
  13. trybeingarun
    Not sure if anyone's still looking at this thread, but wanted to share my experience. I am using a HA-200 with a massdrop HD6xx. I really love the combination. In addition to this amp I have a matrix m-stage hpa-3u+ (modded). When I use the Matrix as the dac to power the ha-200 the combination is quite decent. The amp section of the matrix is still better though, the ha-200 gives a lightly compressed sound. If I hadn't kept switching between those to amps for comparison, i probably wouldn't have noticed. How has the modding experience been with this amp? Has anybody modded this amp to improve its performance?
  14. peter123
    I'd call the HA-200 laid back and relaxed rather than compressed. Pairing it with the very laid back and quite small soundstage HD650 it doesn't play on the strengths from neither the headphones nor the amplifier. Paired with the HD800S and HE560 it's certainly nothing compressed about the presentation.

    Edit: For the record I've got two HA-200 in balanced configuration.
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2017
  15. trybeingarun
    I have KISS modded my hd650, which surprisingly has made the 650 pair okay with SS. The 650 stock din't pair well with any of my amps. I tried the following combinations

    Mac (Audirvana) -> Matrix m-stage hpa3u+ -> hd650/he560/k7xx
    Mac (Audirvana) -> Matrix m-stage hpa3u+ (dac & preamp) -> ha-200 -> hd650/he560/k7xx

    I really like what I heard from the ha-200, it was really euphonic compared. I couldn't shake off the feeling of compression. I have to check if I the matrix -> ha-200 was bad and the signal was clipping.
    Btw. how long have you been using this monoblock setup. What dac/headphones are you using?
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