What is the Oppo HA-2?
The news wasn't all good though. The Sony is built on an Android 4 platform and next to a 2015 era smartphone, it feels old and slow to use. The small display and slightly less than perfectly responsive touchscreen aren't the biggest sacrifices going in comparison to the performance but when you then consider that the Sony is an extra unit you need to have space for about your person on the move, it doesn't make for the perfect solution. Smartphones have the interface that is up to the job of making a great audio player and depending on the model you choose, they have the storage too but that authority that the Sony has with headphones is hard to overlook. What if there was a way to impart the same headphone ability to a smartphone though?
If you'd ask me about what brand was most likely to square this circle, I probably wouldn't have gone for Oppo. But then again maybe I should. Last year Oppo launched the incredible PM-1 headphones that represents one of the very best headphones I've listened to. They also released a seriously capable headphone amplifier to drive them, the HA-1. Now, the HA-1 has sired the portable HA-2. This is directly compatible with iOS and Android devices and promises to bring the headphone performance they lack. Does it work though?
What is the design of the HA-2?
Judged against the competition though, Oppo has still gone the extra mile on the HA-2. The 'conventional' way of building such a product is to look at a DAC chip that supports being used to directly connect to a headphone output and drive the contraption from the voltage on the output of the smartphone. The Oppo studiously ignores this method and does something entirely different. The HA-2 is built around an ESS Sabre DAC - in this case the ES9018 K2M model which is designed for use in a mobile application. This is the partnered with a dedicated headphone output that uses hand selected components including discrete transistors to give you a 'proper' headphone amplifier, albeit a very compact one.
Compact or not, the power consumption of a device like this would be curtains for any reasonable battery life on your phone if it was asked to power it directly. To this end the HA-2 is effectively built around a 3000 mAh lithium polymer rechargeable battery. This provides all the power that the Oppo needs to strut its stuff but also allows it to act as a battery bank for your mobile turning it from the killer of battery life into a potential saviour. Thirty minutes on charge will give the HA-2 about 70% charge and ninety will charge it completely. The only catch is the the micro USB connection can't supply this power so the phone needs to use the larger USB A fitting that doesn't work for audio on Android.
So far so good but what has generally made Oppo products stand out is their aggressive specification. The HA-2 is no exception in this regard. The list of sampling rates decoded is pretty much 'everything.' PCM is covered up to and including 32/384kHz and the HA-2 then goes on to support DSD 64, 128 and 256. This is definably state of the art as it stands. This decoding is then available via a micro USB connection that supports direct connection of a Mac or PC and Android via OTG. There is then a USB A connection for direct access of an iOS device (either via Lightning or the older connector) and a 3.5mm analogue connection that can function as an input or output depending on how you select it.
What's good about the HA-2?
The super keen pricing means that unlike the Hugo, the HA-2 is a device that when added to the price of a suitable smartphone- contract or straight purchase - it is directly competitive with dedicated audio players. When you then add that the HA-2 can also act as your backup battery, you have a device that makes a great deal of sense.
What's not so good about the HA-2?
As you can see, in design terms at least, I am clutching at straws. This is a clear statement of intent that Oppo wants a significant share of this market and will issue a swift kicking to anyone that wants to take them on.
How was the HA-2 tested?
How does the HA-2 sound with a laptop?
What is has in spades is serious grunt. The headphone output of the ThinkPad is far from shabby - it is one of the many reasons I like them - but the Oppo is a serious leap forward. There is an effortlessness driving full size headphones that even when carefully level matched with the ThinkPad gives the HA-2 the upper hand. It'll go fearsomely loud too if you don't ascribe any particular value to your hearing.
In presentation terms the Oppo is not unlike my Naim equipment in that there is an impressive sense of low level drive and power and a slightly 'dark' tonal balance that partly emphasises this. This means that if you want to luxuriate in an immense midrange, this might not be the product for you as the midrange is detailed and tonally accurate but doesn't have the same lushness that some products can bring to the performance. The performance feels more European than Far Eastern and this is slightly unusual although from my perspective, far from unwelcome.
What does the HA-2 sound like with mobile devices?
Does it sound as good as the Sony? This is a tricky comparison to make as it went back to Sony HQ some time ago but I'm inclined to give the win to the Oppo and the connected device. There is the same effortlessness to the performance with more demanding headphones that the ZX1 has but the Oppo additionally has a little more punch and attack. When you then take into account that the interface you are controlling the HA-2 with can take advantage of being on a newer, slicker version of Android or indeed on iOS - both of which have larger, clearer screens - it starts to show an advantage in control terms too. You still have two units to listen to music but the Oppo can be bagged away when not needed.
- Tremendous specification
- Beautifully built
- Powerful and engaging sound
- Some limitations to charging on the go
- Slightly bulky
- Limited information from the unit
Oppo HA-2 Headphone DAC Review
Where the Oppo is unquestionably going to make an impact is that this is a crushingly competent piece of equipment for the asking price. Unlike the dedicated audio players, the Oppo can provide the same boost to a computer and does so while looking and feeling fantastic, offering a truly killer specification and providing trickle charge functionality for your portable device. If you have a smartphone you like and have been looking at a dedicated portable audio player, this is a halfway house you need to try first.
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