For the last year Oppo have blown away the market perception that planar headphones are really cumbersome heavy rocks on our head that sound great but need a nuclear plant to drive them. The PM-1, PM-2 and the now released PM-3 closed planar have all got a trademark light, easy to drive consumer signature that struck the right note with quite a few people. However Oppo is also a gadget company with quite a significant legacy in quite a wide range of products and the HA-1 DAC/AMP last year was a cracking example of that expertise. Here was a desktop DAC/AMP for a relatively sane price but with a ton of features and a professional appearance that was light years ahead of many other similar products in the market. So it really should not have been a surprise to me when they recently came out with the HA-2, which is Oppo’s new small portable DAC/AMP aimed squarely at the ‘on the go’ audiophile who wants a bit more than simply decoding and amping. In reality when they announced it though it caught my imagination right away. Priced at $299, with a slew of interesting features and a quality looking modern design it one of the stand out mobile gadgets on the market right now. Most importantly it also sounds pretty darn good.

Build Quality

The HA-2 is a portable amp designed around mobile phone sensibilities. The form factor is designed to suit those with mobile phone like devices or modern slim line DAP’s with an array of features to ensure you get the most out of the majority of devices you might care to own as a source. As such it fits very neatly underneath your average everyday touchscreen mobile phone such as an iPhone or a Sony Z series or a Samsung S series phone and is more in line with the budget FiiO E18 and the amp only Cayin C5 in terms of aesthetics and stacking than the more traditional lines of the Theorem 720 or the International from ALO. It weighs in at 175g which is minimal for a device of this type and capability and certainly a lot more svelte than the classy but bulkier Celsus Companion One. Unlike the Cayin C5 the HA-2 2 has zero flex in the solid aluminium shell and instead of coming with any sort of carry case like the classy leather pouch of the Companion One, the HA-2 is instead deliciously wrapped in a leather stitched finish. Gone are the days of the velvet throwaway pouches and with great relief. It certainly makes the HA-2 stand out a bit more but it also has the added benefit of making it a bit more durable in terms of possible scratching and knocks when placing in your pocket, bag or desktop as well as stacking on your phone or DAP. No more 3m blister pads here which were frankly costing me a small fortune for stacking purposes.

Jack Be Nimble

In an odd way the HA-2, much like the Shanling M3, reminds me of a blown up cigarette lighter with the volume pot strategically placed on the far left side (logo facing up). The pot itself, unlike Cayin or FiiO, does not have any metal type barrier to prevent accidental movement but nevertheless the on/off resistance is solid and confident and very smooth in operation. To the side of the pot on the front panel you have two jacks but with no less than 4 functions. The first jack is the traditional headphone 3.5mm jack, a no brainer there marked out by the normal black headphone icon. Beside the headphone output jack is a rather more complex jack for audio in and line out marked by the letters “AB” under the line out label and “C” under the audio in label.

DSC03919

To understand how this all works at the front you have to go to the back of the Oppo HA-2 to access the source selector switch which is has three setting labels, A, B and C. When the Source Selector is set to “C”, the front jack acts as a line in to an audio source, such as the AK100/120. When the Source Selector switch is set to “A” or “B”, the same jack becomes a line-out for the HA-2 USB DAC. So why A or B at the back if the jack at the front does the same thing? Well that’s because the HA-2 has two different USB inputs, a USB A and Micro USB both of which cater to specific devices. The USB A port is for connectivity to iOS devices such as an iPod or iPad or for charging a mobile device using the rather useful power bank function inside the HA-2. The USB Micro-B port is for OTG and connecting to a MAC or PC and for charging the HA-2’s own battery. Got all that? Right then let’s move on!

Due to the leather wrap the HA-2 side functionality is all housed on the right. There you will find the low/high gain switch, the bass boost switch, the battery/power bank check button and a row of 5 LED lights. The first four LED lights in green indicate HA-2’s actual internal battery level and the fifth LED light, which is a slight distance to the first four and in blue, indicates if the HA-2 is in power bank mode. At the back, as discussed it the source selector switch and the 2 USB ports.

Functionality

The HA-2 has a number of features that for the price I think sets it apart from a few of the competitors in a similar price bracket. It functions primarily as a DAC/AMP but the connectivity is on the same level as the Companion One minus the wireless feature. It can work with PC’s, Macs, Android and later generation iOS devices such as the iPhone, iPod and iPad.

The DAC

The DAC chip housed inside the HA-2 is the ESS Sabre32 Reference ES9018K2M DAC chip which is the same DAC chip used by Celsus in the Companion One and it is a pretty good one at that used by the likes of Ibasso in their DX90 and Resonessence Labs in their Concero HP also. To quote from my own review of the Companion One regarding the ES9018K2M chip:

“The ES9018K2M DAC, if well implemented, punches way above its weight, relatively cheaper to source and uses less power than its bigger and more illustrious sibling the ES9018 making it ideal for the Companion One’s on the go profile”

The same also can be said for the HA-2 portability prowess especially for decoding capabilities which can churn through a ton of codecs from MP3 right up to DSD256 or DSDX4 with excellent low noise and distortion levels. The ES9018 if you remember is the chip Oppo used in the excellent HA-1 one also so their experience with the Sabre ESS series is already there. I have to say though that despite the HA-2 and the Companion One sharing similar DAC’s they do not quite share a similar tonality.

Connectivity

You will have to download drivers to get the HA-2 up and running on your PC as a DAC/AMP solution much like it’s bigger desktop sibling the HA-1 though I believe the Oppo USB driver will cater for both HA series units so luckily I didn’t have to download twice but you do need the latest build. If you had a HA-1 one from last year I advise updating your driver sets to get the HA-2 working also. No such issues for the MAC, its plug and play as usual – lucky lucky you expensive wallet envy inducing lot. From there you can opt for ASIO and WASAPI in Foobar, ASIO in jRiver for DSD native playback with minimal fuss. Sadly the HA-2 does not have any playback control features like the slightly cheaper FiiO E18 which would have been a super little bonus but then again the FiiO E18 cannot decode to the level of the HA-2 so it might be a fair trade.

For both iOS and Android devices the HA-2 was a very simple plug in, select A for iOS or B for Android on the HA-2 source selector switch on the rear and away you go. Devices such as IPhone 4, 5 & the new 6 as well as Samsung’s S3/4/5 and my own Sony Z Ultra will pair and work seamlessly with the HA-2. So to also the iPad and iTouch range (usually 3rd gen onwards). Your device will pick it up right away if one of the more recent generation devices and play within the usual bit limits of iOS and Android. If you want PCM level decoding you will need to download a few extra apps such as Onkyo HF or USB Audio Recorder Pro to bypass that limitation. The HA-2 also comes packed with a micro USB OTG cable and USB A to lightning cable to facilitate both connections much like the Celsus Companion One but having the edge over the far more expensive Aurender Flow which required the camera connection kit to get iOS connectivity.

The Amp

The Oppo HA-2 amp section is by no means a blockbusting planar king but there is plenty of decent power and dexterity for both IEM’s and headphones up to around 300ohms. After all it is geared primarily for an on the go user so 9 times out of 10 it is likely to be an earphone or portable headphone stuck into the HA-2. Headphones such as Oppo’s own PM range should drive just fine and dandy with no issues form the HA-2. IEM’s, though by no means a completely noiseless experience, have plenty of control and detail. On low gain, IEM’s are very comfortable with the driving power of the HA-2 but high gain is perhaps too high of a noise floor especially for sensitive earphones such as the Westone W4 which couldn’t get a completely noise free zero point. Best to keep high gain for headphone usage or earphones with a very low sensitivity rating if you must.

Cleverly though the HA-2 uses a mix of analog and digital to produce a very fine level of detail and control on volume depending on the usage of the HA-2. It is not a straight forward case of the DAC decoding the amp and pot controlling the line signal to the output and level of gain required. Both Android and iOS devices allow software mapping from the device itself to the HA-2 DAC for very precise volume control when combined with the HA-2 analog pot. Think of it like a digital preamp of sorts from source to amp. Certainly an advantage for high sensitivity IEM’s that might not benefit from the more sweeping nature of analog only amplification. Note on Android though this option is only available currently with USB Audio Player Pro. Stock digital audio out apps will default to the HA-2 DAC and analog amp for the pot control.

DSC03922

All Things Battery Related

As is becoming increasingly common in convergence audiophile gadgets the HA-2 comes packed with a rather handy power bank function and a fairly decent internal battery. I am starting to accumulate these featured devices at quite a rapid rate with the FiiO E18, the Cayin C5, the Companion One, Creative E5 and the Theorem 720 to name but a few so I can almost produce a nifty little comparison table as per below to give you the standards in terms of internal battery life and what functions they carry relating to power banking:

Brand Battery Size Rated Life Power bank Charge Cycle
Oppo HA-2 3000mAh 7 – 13 hours Yes 1.5 hours
Cayin C5 1000mAh 10 – 12 hours Yes 4 hours
Cypher Labs Theorem 720 8700mAh 18-20 hours + Yes 3-4 hours
FiiO E18 3500mAh 12-25 hours Yes 4 hours
Celsus Companion One 6000mAh 8 – 10 hours No 8 hours
Creative E5 3200mAh 8-17 hours Yes 4 hours

While FiiO is still best value in terms of pure numbers the HA-2 is really not that far behind considering the resolving and amp power is a bit higher than the E18. The Oppo surprisingly packs a slightly smaller rated battery than the 3500mAh packed inside the much cheaper E18 but clearly takes the first prize when it comes to charge recycle time with the VOOC charge system which is unheard of at just 1.5 hours recycle time.

The Cayin C5 has the smallest internal battery of the lot but doesn’t have an internal DAC to juice up either thus lightening the load. Having said that the power bank capabilities of the C5 is not really up to the E18 or the HA-2 given its rather paltry rating of 1000mAh. The Creative E5 has a similar battery rating also and in a similar range as the both the Companion One and HA-2 for power when using features such as BT but on paper can jump a bit when used as an amp only. Note though the decoding prowess of the E5 is much lower than the HA-2 at 24/196 and the power bank option only works with Android devices.

The Theorem 720 is indeed class leading in terms of size and rated life but given its price and dimensions I would have been seriously disappointed if it did not. The Companion One has no power bank feature (a rare thing that it actually doesn’t do) however the numbers it churns out are nothing spectacular compared to the HA-2 considering its 6000mAh is double the size of the HA-2 and both can decode at similar levels and similar amping power. The wireless solution inside the Companion One would though account for the higher rated battery over the HA-2 but that charging time of 8 hours is snail like compared to average of 4 hours for the other 3 and the almost freakish 1.5 hours for the HA-2 (75% in just 30 mins which is full of win for impatient lil’ ol’ me).

Page 2: Sound Impressions

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About The Author

Editor

Founder & Owner of headfonics.com. I first started reviewing in the late 80s (ouch!). Back then it was albums, rock concerts and interviews with a typewriter for the local rag. Now its desktop/portable and digital 2.1 audio on a rather nice laptop. How time flies.

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  • Mike

    Hey Marcus, I’m so impressed with your review of the HA-2, ringing true with my own experience, that I want to start reading your reviews regularly. Your comments are dead on, in my opinion – for both the pros and the cons, with various gear. (I was a beta tester for the HA-2, through three prototypes.)

    • headfonics

      Thanks Mike appreciate your feedback and glad you guys picked the version that made it to the market 🙂 good job!

  • money4me247

    great comprehensive review with good analysis on the other options currently available on the market! 🙂

    • headfonics

      It’s getting really crowded at this price point now. You have to offer more than just gain to stand out. Thanks for the feedback 🙂

  • Chmiel

    Great and detailed review, thanks!

    • headfonics

      Thanks buddy 🙂

  • It’s good as a DAC/amp for iPhones, but the old Microstreamer for computers sounds a lot better. It could be the iPhone’s fault if the Apple USB is putting out an inferior digital signal/data.

    • headfonics

      Well its open season once you move to the PC but the mere fact you can move from apple to pc to android is probably the value in itself.

  • Roscoe Trey Nicholson

    Probably worth mentioning that on the low end of the impedance scale, the HA-2 is not well suited to low impedance IEMs or headphones. Their recommended range starts at 16 ohms. SHure 846s for example are 9 ohm IEMs. Oddly, Oppo chooses not to list the output impedance on their specs page. An important detail to note in a review, IMO.

    • SallyMaeSusan

      Aaaah…I was thinking of pairing it with my Shure SE 425’s.

      • Roscoe Trey Nicholson

        Looks like the SE425 impedance is a good deal higher than the 846. At 22 ohms, it should work fine with the HA-2!

        • SallyMaeSusan

          Yay!

      • Don’t worry. The HA-2 is as good at driving any earphone as are many high-current low-Ω amps. Roscoe is reading into the spec list rather than anything.

        • Roscoe Trey Nicholson

          Oppo’s recommended impedance is 16, not mine.

          When actual output impedance is stated, I go by the 10:1 rule for headphone : source impedance as I stated in another post.

          No amp is perfect for all headphones, and that is fine.

          • Again, read the specs. 0,5Ω output impedance.

    • headfonics

      Interesting detail, how did youo manage to find that out, just curious.

      I dont have anything in the sub 16ohm range I think but will check.

      • Roscoe Trey Nicholson

        Sorry, what are you referring to? How did I manage to find what out?

        I’m guessing not well-suited to low impedance headphones, because if they are fine with low impedance headphones they wouldn’t list a lower limit of 16 ohm. I wish Oppo published their output impedance on this unit, so we could calculate for ourselves how much the device meets general impedance matching rules of thumb (10:1 ratio, source: headphone, IIRC)

        Interestingly, Meridian lowered the output impedance of its Director so that it would be compatible with a wider range of headphones.

        • Quit guessing. Just read the spec. And to be sure, you are right to question. That reviewers can’t answer your question is a problem, but I think you’ll find that your questions are easily answered.

    • Wrong. The HA-2 players perfectly with low-Ω earphones. I’ve RMAA’d it all and it doesn’t cough when attached to low-Ω earphones. It hisses more than necessary though. The output impedance is low.

      • Roscoe Trey Nicholson

        Um, Oppo themselves recommends a lower limit of 16 ohms. A good deal above the 9 ohms of my Shures. In hopes of selling more units I’d think Oppo would put the lower limit as low as is justifiable.

        So I’d guess that the ratio of source to headphone impedance is such that it would affect the frequency response of low impedance headphones.

        What low impedance headphones did you try with the Oppo? Were they below Oppo’s recommended 16 ohms?

  • SallyMaeSusan

    Excellent and thorough review; thank you.
    How is the leather cover attached to the device and can you see it peeling off with a bit of wear and tear…?

    • headfonics

      I think glue to be honest is my guess and so far not a piece of it has fallen off 🙂

    • As Marcus said, glue. Not the best choice to permanently attach it to the player, but not bad either. Kind of 1990’s Sony business styling.

      • headfonics

        I managed to acquire a PHA-1 recently, Sony had a good idea there with the rubber railings on the top plate.

  • Krzysztof Nowaczyk

    Could you please tell me about a difference (sonically) between HA-2 and iBasso dx90? I’m considering both – which one would you recommend? (given that it will be used mailny with IEMs and price is the same).
    I didn’t like sound signature of X5 but I loved hm901 and now I’m looking for something new.

    • headfonics

      you do know that the HA-2 is not a DAP right? You will still need a DAP or a smart phone to get the HA-2 working.

      • Krzysztof Nowaczyk

        Thanks… Yes I know what a DAC, an AMP or a DAP is… 🙂
        I have a spare smartphone and was thinking of creating a sandwich with it or going for DX90…
        Just wanted to know about the sound

        • headfonics

          Depends on your earphone or headphone. The HA-2 has a more powerful amp IMHO and a little bit more slam potential with the bass boost. It also can pair with mobile phones also. The benefits of course with the DX90 is no stacking but of course it is not a phone.

          If yu have sensitive earphones I do not think you really need the HA-2 and a DX90 will be fine.

          Both exhibit a clean detailed signature with good dynamics just the HA-2 might have a little bit more shine in the lower treble.

          • Krzysztof Nowaczyk

            Thanks, I ordered HA-2 for now.
            Power is not really someting I need – I use mostly IEMs and headphones I own are easy to drive (Viso HP50/Fidelio L2).
            To clarify… if I understand you correctly – I’m not missing anything (sound-wise) by choosing HA-2 over dx90?

          • headfonics

            ah you have the HP50, that was one I tested with the HA-2 and loved it so carry on 🙂

          • Krzysztof Nowaczyk

            Well, you were right. Synergy between HA-2 and Viso HP50 is amazing. It’s the first time I can actually hear why this headphones were so well recieved. And for the first time I like them better than Fidelio L2.
            IEMs sounded pretty good too – for now I briefly tested re600 and Primo 8.
            Pairing HA-2 with Cayin C5 is also very good. All and all very good product and great bulit quality.

          • headfonics

            Glad you got the right pairing and enjoy that Nad combo! 🙂

  • Javier Blanco

    Hi I’m wondering if being rooted and using poweramp i can get the full pcm capabilities? instead of being forced to use the hf player

    • headfonics

      That I am not sure to be honest, stopped rooting years ago and just go stock with Android and since it by passes most of the internals I am usually happy.

  • SallyMaeSusan

    I spent about half an hour with the HA-2 at my local dealer and, sadly, was left rather disappointed.
    It wouldn’t play with the 30 pin out of my trusty iPod Classic; only 3.5 to 3.5. I guess it was now receiving an analogue stream and acting as an amp only. The most I could discern was perhaps a little less treble glare and a wider soundstage but I’m not really sure; it certainly wasn’t obvious.
    Next up, I attached my iPhone 5 with the lightning to Oppo and played a lossless rip of ‘Babylon Sisters’ by Steely Dan. Again I used my Ety HF3’s.
    This time, I could discern zero significant improvement over the feed direct from the phone.
    Now, I had gone into the store wanting to be blown away by this device and was ready to lay down the folding but…it simply wasn’t enough.
    So, do I sell a kidney and plump for Chord’s Hugo…?

    • headfonics

      Not sure it will optmize to the best of its capabilities when doing a double amp out of the ipod. Never had much joy going that route with anything.

      Try the Picollo DAC AMP instead or the Companion One and see how you get on.

    • Erick Victor Munoz

      You should consider making an investment instead in upgrading your headphones.
      Either by moving up to a different model or getting Ety custom earpieces.
      I got them for my HF-2 and theyre great.

  • Roscoe Trey Nicholson

    No need to be disrespectful here. Earlier Oppo did not list the output impedance among their specs, IIRC.

    Whether Oppo labelled recommended impedance for a solid technical reason or just due to convention is something we can only speculate on, in the absence of any word from Oppo themselves.

    And don’t get me wrong, I have been a big fan of the Oppo DVD and Blu-ray players I’ve had.

    But no amp is perfect with all headphones, and the recommendation from Oppo should give folks like myself with sub-16 ohm headphones pause.

  • Ave Deus

    I’m currently thinking about pairing my Ultrasone Ed-8 with JDS C5/C5D, then I just saw this HA-2. Can anyone recommend me which one suits Ed-8 better, I really love the way HA-2 looks.

  • Marcia Penna

    Any comparison to the new Apogee Groove sound wise?

    • headfonics

      We dont have that one actually yet so sorry no comparison as of now.

  • Aladdin Tarakji

    I’m considering getting this HA-2, but I’m concerned about the noise when paired with sensitive IEM’s. budget is around 300, and I use almost exclusively in-ears (like the 2015 q-jays, flare r2pros, bang & olufsen h3), so i need something with minimal noise with sensitive IEM’s. Prefer laid back, fatigue free sound, maybe some bass boost.

    What would you guys recommend?

    • headfonics

      If the majority of your tracks are 16./44 I would have a look at the Cypher Labs Picollo AMP/DAC which is designed for IEM’s with a nice DAC and a great amp that is smooth and rich with a nice bass signature.

  • Decibels

    Hello, I am currently using Senn’s HD700 (home) and HD598 (travel), would the HA-2 be a good match for these? Thank you

    • headfonics

      Honestly I am not sure on the HD700, it has been a long time since I heard them but its possible and power should be ok. HD598 should be fine.

  • lumberjake

    Got the Fiio E18. Honestly gotsick of stacking. Its a huge pita. bulky awkward and I went through connectors like crazy. I really liked the sound though and thankfully now use it for my PC.
    For the money the E18 is hard to beat.
    My portable system is now just a LG V10 which has the ESS Sabre DAC built in. Obviously not the same implementation but a worthy trade off considering the hassle of carrying those stacks.

  • Forrest

    I own an HA-2. I am trying to decide between the Oppo PM-3 and the HiFiMan HE 400i. Without regard for price, with sound quality the overriding factor what would you recommend?

    • headfonics

      This question has given me sleepless night and endless flip flopping. Initially I was all PM-3 given its closed, weighted bass and relatively neutral. It is also more portable and efficient than the HE400i. But the HE400i has a more euphoric sound to me and much more emotive and I find it more fun. Both will drive just fine from the HA-2 by the way. In the end if you want isolation on the go then the closed PM-3 is a better choice and if staying at home the HE400i would edge it on just the musicality aspect.

      • Forrest

        Should I also consider the Audeze Sine?

        • headfonics

          I have not heard it yet but by all accounts it has a thick rich sound signature so it might pair quite well with the HA-2

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