What is the Dacamp L1?
RHA has come a long way in a fairly short space of time. When we looked at the 750i in 2013, it was the opening product and while they were extremely good, there was nothing at that point to differentiate them from many other startups from the same period. Fast forward to the present though and the company has been impressively busy. As well as expanding their range of conventional earphones including the highly distinctive and capable CL1 Ceramic we looked at recently, they have also increased their wireless options. Now, the Dacamp L1 is their move into electronics.
My reservations about the growth potential of this category notwithstanding, it is hard to ignore that there are some very fine options present here already. Chord’s Mojo is still near enough state of the art, Oppo’s HA-2SE is superbly designed for portable use and Audiolab’s M-DAC Mini might not be that mini but it works brilliantly for mobile desktop audio. The RHA therefore has its work cut out but there are enough interesting parts of the specification to suggest that this little box of tricks might be able to plough its own particular furrow. Let’s see how that pans out.
RHA has taken the decision to ensure that the Dacamp L1 is more than a single input device though. Firstly, the USB connection is split across a micro A and normal A connection. The micro A is the standard interface to computers and Android devices, while the larger connection allows for the simple connection of an iOS device. No less usefully, it can also be used to charge mobile devices too. The internal battery is quoted as 4000mAH which is enough to give a normal phone a fairly significant boost if you need it. Like the Oppo HA-2SE, the RHA charges via the micro-A connection which means it will run connected to a computer without running down this battery – something which the Mojo cannot do without adding a second USB connection.
As well as the USB connections, RHA has fitted the Dacamp L1 with an additional combined line and optical input (a 3.5mm type optical connection will be needed to make it work). This gives it the ability to work with some additional source equipment. The optical input isn’t quite as flexible as the USB connection but it is indisputably a useful thing to have.
On the other side from the 3.5mm variable output is a four pin mini XLR. This provides a variable output signal that is true balanced – a function of there being two DACs as well. This is a very unusual connection but crucially, it exists on the RHA CL1 earphone (and comes with a cable to that effect) making for a ready-made pairing. Some discrete inquiries also revealed that a few other detachable cable earphones can be used with it. Balancing the connection should reduce the noise floor and resistance to interference, and with a device designed with at least half an eye on use on the move that is potentially very handy.
The other area where the Dacamp L1 differs from rivals is lurking down the side of the chassis. Rather than adjustable filters, the RHA has rotary trim controls for bass and treble. These are six position, ranging from -3 to +3 and offer a fairly hefty level of adjustment, particularly when used in co-operation with one another. This is joined by a three position gain control which – as we’ll cover in a bit – is a little more of an unusual fitment.
The industrial design is good too. The RHA feels rugged but in a well engineered way rather than a sort of brutal, overbuilt fashion. Everything feels like it will last the course and stand up to use on the move. I like the general lack of unnecessary flourish on the chassis too. Pretty much every aspect of the design is there because it needs to be rather than because someone feels it will look good. Some of these touches are no less impressive in use. The volume control is on a rotary control recessed into the top of the chassis. It is very, very hard to snag it or have it move unless you want it to. Conversely, the rotary bass, treble and gain controls are a little easier to move so some care will need to be taken with these.
How was the Dacamp L1 tested?
Once you are dialled into this idiosyncrasy, the performance the RHA offers is impressive. Perhaps as a result of the grunt it has at its disposal, the amount of background noise is higher than that of the Mojo or the (considerably less powerful) Oppo HA-2SE but once up and running, it generally doesn’t seem to matter. This is a potent and capable sounding product that will take headphones or earphones and get a firm grip on them. Listening to the phenomenal Harmony of Difference by Kamasi Washington, the RHA does a fine job of creating a meaningful space for the musicians and arranging them in a believable and three dimensional way. There is also excellent bass on offer – not simply percussive impact bass but the sort of weight and extension generated by a large number of musicians.
No less impressive is that the balance between forgiving poorer recordings and showing all that is good about better ones. The RHA is quite content to do a good job with the internet stream of 6Music before helping me to compile the article on high res albums without sounding adrift with either task. Compared to the Chord Mojo which can sound almost other worldly with some recordings, there is a more definite ‘ceiling’ to the sort of performance on offer but that ceiling is attainable with a very wide selection of material.
The only curiosity I would add to this- and something so subjective as to be merely anecdotal – is that I find myself not tending to use the RHA for much more than two hours at a time. This is in contrast to the Mojo where I can run through playlists for periods of up to four hours without being conscious of any sense of fatigue. This was less of an issue with the Noble Trident than it was with the astonishing but slightly ruthless Sennheiser IE800S. Exactly what the Dacamp L1 was doing is hard to pin down as nothing specific leaps out as being wrong but this does seem to be the case on a regular basis.
If you are shopping for both DAC and earphones at the same time though, it is only fair to point out that the combination of Dacamp L1 and the C1 Ceramic is cumulatively greater than the two units are working independently of one another and very clearly they were designed with each other in mind. The noise floor drops and the CL1 – which as noted in the review, is one of the least sensitive earphones I have ever tested – comes alive on the end of the Dacamp L1’s considerable reserves of power. As a pairing for £650 or so, this is something that I’d struggle to beat for similar money – even the HA-2SE and Noble Trident together can’t always match the huge scale and drive that the two RHA components have when working together.
- Exceptionally powerful
- Comprehensive spec
- Very well made
- Over sensitive volume control
- Can be slightly fatiguing
- No shortage of competition
RHA Dacamp L1 DAC Review
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