Portable Amplifiers from the Far East...
I would like, firstly, to declare that my experience with portable amplifiers has been limited. I’ve heard my fair share of them, but have never made them a priority, primarily because I didn’t like carrying them around, regardless of how light or small they were. Instead, I opted for DAC/amp combinations that could run off my laptop via USB. Despite being tethered to the computer, my current iBasso D7 Sidewinder is a joy to use. However, its laid-back sound signature, while very competent, left me looking for alternative flavors at times (not all the time). The USB rail power it used also introduced some dirty noise into the analog output stage. Thus, I began looking at potential portable amplifiers that could complement my system.
There are a lot of options, obviously, for a portable amplifier --- almost too many. I decided to first turn locally for some of these options. Firestone Audio is a local company and they've had a good track record of putting out good, neutral-sounding products. By an off-chance, I had the pleasure of trying out the prototype boards for their Fireye HD, so I was curious to try the final version. The T1, from HK-based Tralucent Audio, has been making waves as a quality amplifier, and I had the opportunity to test it out alongside their high-end IEM, the 1Plus2.
*There may possibly be a third entrant in my search for a quality amplifier, but I don't want to get my hopes up, because there are extremely few points of sale outside of Japan and Korea.*
My review will be geared toward the drive of portables; while I do have a full-sized headphone in the Sennheiser HD598, it’s not a particularly difficult load to drive. Most of the time, I use highly-sensitive IEMs; as a result, I value low volume performance as much as driving power. Subjective sonic assessment was made primarily via a pair of HiFiMAN RE-262 earphones; its 150 ohm impedance makes it a versatile reactive load for a variety of headphone amplifiers, while not actually being particularly difficult to drive. I did not do any RMAA tests, nor will I be doing so.