Oppo HA-2 portable DAC / headphone amp review

oppo ha-2 review with htc one and pm-3Oppo was kind enough to send over the HA-2 portable DAC headphone amp along with the quite lovely PM-3 headphones. Is there any need for an amp to be plugged in to your phone or laptop? Does the HA-2 make any difference? Let’s have a listen.

Let me get one thing out of the way. Like a lot of Hi-Fi gear, unless you’re looking to get the best possible experience from your audio then your current headphone/earbud and phone combo is probably fine. I don’t mean that in a throw-away or derogatory way either. It’s the same as spending a few hundred quid on a stereo compared to those other beings that spend thousands upon thousands.

If you use some good, full-sized cans when listening to your mobile tunes then it may be worth taking an amp for a spin as the power from your phone/media player may not be delivering the goods and getting the best from your headphones. Add to that an in-built DAC which will do the job of converting those zeros and ones in to ear-friendly analogue will just serve to make your listening even more pleasurable.

Oppo HA-2 design

Oppo has gone the whole hog again with the entire high end experience.

The packaging is excellent. Not overblown, just classy. Clear typography and restrained design reigns supreme here in Oppo-land.

The theme continues to the device itself. The Oppo HA-2 is a lesson in elegance.

The aluminium shell is wrapped in white stitched black leather. The contrast between cold metal and textured leather is a pleasant one and again one that oozes refinement. Like a MKII Jag.

ha-2 packagingCompared to other portable amp/DACs the HA-2 is a slender offering with a footprint comparable to an iPhone.

It’s a very solidly built unit and there is no part of it that leads me to fear it will drop off or snap after a few uses. It just doesn’t feel flimsy at all. Everything about it is well made.

The HA-2 is also easy to use and it will play audio from pretty much any source whether it be analogue (via a 3.5mm stereo jack) or computer-based (USB A and B) without batting an eyelid.

Oppo HA-2 topAlong the top of the HA-2 you have a dual-function port which can cope with Audio in as well as Line out and then there’s the headphone out port.

Oppo HA-2 bottomThe bottom of the device is equally tidy with just a source selector, USB A port for iDevices and then a USB micro B port for Androids, PCs and Macs.

The one side that features anything other than cowhide is where you’ll find the charging indicator, the button to squirt electricity from the HA-2 into your portable player, the bass boost switch and the Low/High Gain switch.

The HA-2 has been engineered to enhance music playback from mobile phones and portable music players and features hybrid class AB amplification and a USB DAC. It offers digital-to-analogue conversion for Apple’s iPhone/iPod products, a wide range of Android devices, as well as PC and Mac computers.

Not only that, the HA-2 can also be used to charge mobile devices on-the-go and itself can be recharged in 30 minutes thanks to VOOC (Voltage Open Loop Multi-step Constant-Current Charging) high speed charging which, incidentally, was created by Oppo.

Oppo HA-2 performance

The HA-2 will decode any audio your computer or smart device can throw at it. All you have to do is flick that selector switch over to the right setting – Input to A for Apple devices, B for USB micro B (computers and Android) and C for analogue Cables… sorry, couldn’t think of anything more clever than that.

The size and weight (or lack thereof) shows the intentions of the HA-2 – it’s aimed mostly at portable devices. Well, Apple and Android users really as Windows Mobile owners will require some additional software to get their tech to play nicely with it. The HA-2 is very much to be carried everywhere with you.

Saying that though, I have to admit that I had to get over my own “I’ve got a skinny phone and yet I am elastic banding another phone-esque device to it. What the hell?” self questioning when first heading out with the HA-2.

oppo ha-2 pm-1 pm-3 nad viso hp50As the HA-2 is only a mere 12mm thick, it’s not really a big deal. True, your phone does start to look like a DIY hack job/explosive device – but it’s up to you if you dig this look or not.

After a few journeys I enjoyed the quizzical looks from my fellow commuters. What I enjoyed even more though was the pure pleasure being pumped in to my ears.

The internal quick charge battery lasts a decent amount of time. I had more than half a week’s worth of commuting covered by one charge. I am guessing that it will hold out for about seven hours or may be more.

The battery indicator does what it should do pretty accurately so you shouldn’t get caught out, but if you do then it’s only 30 minutes before this thing is charged to 70% again thanks to that VOOC tech. Ninety minutes will give you a full charge.

Talking about charging, the device will happily share its charge with your smartphone should it be running low. This is handy and means that not only is the HA-2 a DAC and headphone amp, it is a fully functional battery pack!

The HA-2 sports excellent digital circuitry and a near flawless amplifier. Under the hood is the ESS 9018-2M – M indicating that it is the mobile version of the 9018 S, which Oppo debuted in the HA-1 Headphone amp.

me at the launchAfter hearing the HA-1 at the PM-1 launch (that’s me stood up on the right in the pic above) I hoped that the mobile version would be something equally as special.

I will say that the HA-2 performs superbly. It’s able to drive low ohm loads with ease as well as being able to drive hungrier cans thanks to the great gain toggle. By bypassing the smartphone’s built-in DAC and headphone amplification circuit which are often hit by bottom line cost-constraints, the HA-2 turns a smartphone into a high performance digital audio player. The asynchronous USB DAC input of the HA-2 also works with PC and Mac computers to replace the built-in sound card and supports high-resolution audio playback with PCM up to 384 kHz 24-bit and DSD up to 12 MHz (DSD256).

For testing I have plugged in Musical Fidelity’s EB50 IEMs, Lindy IEM-50X and Veho ZS-2 earphones as well as the NAD VISO HP50, Oppo PM-3 and Oppo PM-1 cans.

The sources were my HTC One M7, Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro and my desktop machine. With the latter I generally use the DAC, HPA and Amp from the Musical Fidelity V90 range so I was keen to hear how the Oppo held its ground.

oppo pm1 pm3 ha2The HA-2 is a powerful little amp and, should I ramp up the volume on my HTC to full I would not need to go beyond 3 or 4 on the HA-2 for most of the earpleasers mentioned.

Sound was delivered in a very balanced manner and as the headphones I have are pretty easily driven I hardly felt the need to flick the High Gain switch over. This adds 10-11dB to the signal and was effective but even the PM-1s could cruise on the Low Gain setting but did become livelier on High. There is no perceptible difference in quality of signal between the Low and High settings but there did appear to be some background noise on the High setting when wearing IEMs – granted these should live on the Low setting but hey, I’m testing here 🙂

The bass-boost is there for when you want that extra bass kick and can be especially useful in noisier environments where the bass can get drowned out quickly depending on your musical taste and headphone’s isolation skills.

I am very protective of my hearing and so avoid cranking up the volume beyond what I require but I can assure you that the HA-2 is potent enough for the most ardent auditory assassin.

oppo ha2 volumeThe output of the HA-2 is controlled by a beautifully engineered volume pot. The increments are gradual and smooth and using the dial is another tactile joy of this device. There is no DSP (Digital Signal Processor) in the HA-2. Volume control is operated by a combination of the DAC chip’s internal digital volume control and an analogue potentiometer (the volume knob). This enables the HA-2 to present a clear signal path.

I am really impressed by the shielding of the amplifier. As the HA-2 spends most of its time strapped to a phone I was prepared for the interference I am familiar with as a musician when someone puts their mobile on top of an amp. I am pleased to report that I had none of that from the HA-2.

It’s interesting to note that the HA-2 has some nice safety features:

  • Adjusting gain first switches off the amp before returning power to the output at a steadily increasing rate. This ensures that you don’t immediately fry your ears.
  • Removing headphones from the headphone jack, or line out shuts the amp off. If you plug into the line output jack by mistake, there is a barrier of about 2-3 seconds in which the circuit outputs a very low voltage.

Oppo HA-2 sound

The first thing that struck me with the HA-2 was the sense of space, even with the closed-backed PM-3 and HP50s. The HA-2 has a lovely rounded soundstage with loads of depth and height.

Center imaging is similarly impressive and I really got the feeling that I was more involved with the music in comparison to when audio was presented without the HA-2.

ELP’s rendition of ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ sounded epic right from the opening bars of the pipe organ intro of ‘Promenade’, through the scatiness of ‘The Curse of Baba Yaga’ to ‘Nutrocker’.

Turning to Love/Hate’s ‘Why do you think they call it Dope?’ demonstrated the HA-2s skill in handling snare drums and cymbals with a healthy snap without being harsh.

Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’ was open and airy with great instrument separation which allowed the vocals to drift effortlessly.

oppo ha2 htconeBass resolution is impressive. ‘Lazaretto’ by Jack White had me nodding my head along to the low, dirty stabs. Doctorfunk’s ‘Gotta Get Funky’ surrounded me in the funk. Everything put through the HA-2 was very detailed, and has a nice dynamic warm tilt to it.

The bass boost button does indeed add a bigger booty which seems to me also lengthens the decay of the bass end.

Plugging the HA-2 in to my desktop system still was a revelation although I still preferred what I was getting from my V90 rig. From what I can recall from my impressions of the Acoustic Research UA-1 I’d put the HA-2 up there with it for use with my laptop although I think there was a more pleasant warmth with the UA-1/Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro pairing.

In an ideal world I’d keep the HA-2 with my phone, the UA-1 with my laptop and the V90s with my desktop. Sorted.

Oppo HA-2 review conclusion

My expectations flip-flopped from what I have experienced from Oppo’s other products to what sense told me was possible from such a small device.

The Oppo HA-2 portable headphone amp/DAC proves that size actually doesn’t matter.

I also had to keep checking the price of the thing. £260 from Amazon.co.uk just didn’t seem expensive enough – and that’s coming from a Yorkshireman!

The HA-2 pushes quality and class into a price bracket that is normally strewn with compromises. Oppo has again proved that they can achieve the fit, finish and execution of a product which is usually reserved for much more costly devices.

Not only that. It comes bundled with everything you need to get going in the box: two silicone bands, an Apple Lightning-USB A cable, a microUSB B cable, a mini jack cable, VOOC-compatible USB wall adaptor, and VOOC-compatible USB A-microUSB cable.

The HA-2 is versatile, looks good, and sounds fantastic. All Oppo has to do now is sit back and watch how its competitors react. The HA-2 is sure to shake up the portable audio market.

For more details nip over to the Oppo website.

Oppo HA-2 specs

  • Dimensions (W x H x D) – 2.7 x 6.2 x 0.5 inches / 68 x 157 x 12 mm

  • Weight – 6.2 oz, 175 grams

  • Frequency Response – 20 Hz – 200 kHz

  • Audio-in Level – 1 Vrms

  • Line-out Level – 1 Vrms

  • Maximum Headphone Output Power – 300 mW into 16 Ohm; 220 mW into 32 Ohm; 30 mW into 300 Ohm;

  • Output Jacks – 3.5 mm stereo headphone; 3.5 mm stereo line-out;

  • Input Ports – 3.5 mm stereo audio-in; USB A; USB micro -B;

  • DAC Chip – ESS Sabre 32 Reference ES9018 -K2M

  • Input Format – Stereo PCM, Stereo DSD (DoP v1.1 or native)

  • PCM Sampling Frequencies – 44.1 kHz – 384 kHz, 16 / 24 / 32 -bit

  • DSD Sampling Frequencies – 2.8224 MHz (DSD64), 5.6448 MHz (DSD128), 11.2896 MHz (DSD256, native mode only)

  • Profile – USB 2.0, USB Audio 2.0

  • Built -in Battery type – 3000 mAh lithium polymer rechargeable battery

  • Battery Operation Time – Approx. 13 hours for analogue source via Audio-in; Approx . 7 hours for digital source s via USB

  • Charging Time – Approx. 1 hour 30 minutes