Tonality

For $299 the HA-2 is a seriously excellent sounding convergence DAC/AMP and miles ahead of the FiiO E18 and Cayin C5 in terms of detail but tonally it does sound more in line with the Ibasso DX90 than the Celsus Companion One given even though all three use the same ES9018K2M DAC chip.

What that means is that the Oppo HA-2 opts also for a relatively neutral tonality but sounds a bit more analytical and thinner than the slightly more natural and fuller sounding Companion One. Unlike the Companion One that more precise and clean sound of the HA-2 has a slight tendency to show the Sabre glare in the top end than the Companion One which means it tends to come across as a bit harsher in the lower treble especially with percussion or cymbal work. The Companion One on the other hand sails through the upper end without any hint of glare.

The HA-2 is really more in keeping with the house sound of the Sabre DAC chip family and does not veer too far off the HA-1 tonality either in that respect. Much like the DX90 it excels in articulation and treble clarity combined with good lower end dynamics. Oppo have been a bit clever in adding a touch of warmth to the bass response allowing the HA-2 to retain a musical edge and prevent any overly cold or sterile presentation. They have also put enough restraint in the top end to ever stop it becoming distracting or too grainy. There is some fizz in the top end but never to an extent that I would term it as overly “bright”; simply clear and vibrant will suffice. Throw in some Ellie Goulding’s “Hanging On” with those pristine almost ethereal vocal solos and an equally temperamental IE800 treble range and surprisingly the HA-2 remained very much in control throughout without descending into any sibilant chaos.

The HA-2 bass response though is powerful yet tight and with the added option of the bass boost can be quite apt in delivering a low end punch that sometimes the Companion One and the DX90 fall short off in comparison. Both the DX90 and the HA-2 have some nice dynamics but the HA-2’s more powerful amp pushes it ahead delivering plenty of weight but with good definition and decent speed.

Matching

Planars

The HA-2 is relatively versatile in matching and driving low impedance earphones and headphones up to around 300ohms. It can also do a decent job with planars in terms of power though with mixed results. Its clean, clear tonality with articulate and present treble performance and dynamic bass reproduction for me is always going to be a perfect candidate for matching with their very own PM range of planars. You cannot avoid the possibility, neigh probability, that Oppo had this in mind when creating the HA-2 as a portable DAC/AMP. Given the excellent low load required to drive the PM series there is no issue at all from either the PM-1 or PM-3 with volume sitting at a very healthy 3/5 on high gain (phone software volume mapping at 80% to the DAC) for both units. The slightly warmer and darker consumer sensibilities of the PM-1 are a great balance to the dynamics and clean airier tones of the HA-2. Speed and detail was above average and the laid back treble performance of the PM-1 reduced the HA-2 glare to barely noticeable levels. Note though I think using the bass boost option on the HA-2 with the PM series especially with anything bass heavy felt a bit too forward and dominant to the expense of the rest of the range. Otherwise the HA-2/PM series planars were a really good long term listening match for just about any modern rock or pop genre I threw at it.

Pairing the HA-2 and the MrSpeakers Prime didn’t quite have that instant match the PM series had. The Primes do need a lot more power than Oppo’s highly sensitive planar range so whilst the HA-2 capably served up decent volume (100% mobile phone volume mapped to the DAC with the analog pot set to 4/5) it didn’t allow the Primes to really soar. The Primes vivid and dynamic presentation felt a bit duller and less engaging and that unbelievable 3D presentation started to feel just a bit 2D paired with the HA-2. The Primes were also a bit more revealing of the HA-2 lower treble glare that the PM series did so well to play down. Not by a huge amount but a bit more noticeable. Using high gain and bass boost though you can get decent weight on the Primes bass response with excellent speed and definition but the Primes relatively linear and flatter bass signature does nullify the HA-2 bass prowess a bit more than with easier to drive cans such as the PM1 and PM3. The Primes seem for me to be just a bit too far for the HA-2 tonally and do need something a bit meatier and perhaps warmer to shine such as desktop amp.

Portables

I actually found the HA-2 to be quite flexible and a very capable performer with portable dynamic headphones. Those with a relatively neutral or warmish signature excelled with the clean airy signature of the HA-2 over brighter variants. I wasn’t so much of a fan of the HA-2 with a stock K550 or anything with strident treble signatures but other headphones blew me away unexpectedly.

I absolutely adored the pairing with the NAD HP-50. The detail and speed was just excellent and far more convincing than paired with the Prime and even the Oppo’s own PM range. The HA-2 dynamic range was reproduced very faithfully with the HP50’s flatter neutral signature. The HP50/NAD HP50 had no issues with power either in low gain or high gain with my preference being low gain, Android mapping at 90% for software volume control and the analog amp sitting around 2.5-3/5. High gain dropped it down a few notches but with zero unwanted or unwelcome changes in the noise floor and general sound signature. This pairing was tight, very tight indeed with probably the best vocal production in terms of sibilance control and decay accuracy out of all the portable closed cans I tried.

I also linked up the HA-2 to the V-Moda XS and although it was considerably less expansive than the HP50 on the HA-2 the pairing did retain a relatively smooth performance with a treble range that didn’t sound overly tizzy, a forward midrange with an above average focus on the vocal presence but a relatively narrow and intimate soundstage. More of a limitation of the XS than the HA-2 it has to be said. Power demands using the XS was considerably lower than the HP50 though on low gain, software mapped at 60% to the DAC and 3/5 on the analog pot.

DSC03917

IEM’s

Customs

I would hazard a guess and say more than 75% of the users of the HA-2 will buy it with a view to pairing with a portable source and an earphone of one sort or another. IEM’s bring to focus a bit more on potential noise levels due to their normally elevated levels of sensitivity. The Theorem 720 usually falls foul of this but thankfully the HA-2 does a great job of avoiding most of these noise pitfalls. Customs such as the UM Merlins, AAW W300AR and the Visions Ears VE6X are noise free and well under control on low gain, 2 on the analog pot and 60% software mapped from my Sony Z Ultra. The Merlins in particular benefit from the HA-2 neutral and clean signature sounding a little more forward than I remember them particularly its vocal presence and lower treble. Rather pleasingly any semblance of glare in the lower treble goes out the window with the hybrid Merlin. It won’t give you the airiest presentation but neither will it grate or distract with cymbal work thankfully.

I was also very impressed with the AAW W300AR’s match up with the HA-2 using the stock Vitesse cable which I felt was the wrong cable choice to bring out the best in this very natural sounding custom monitor. Whilst still lacking a little bit of headroom and air and requiring about 1 notch more in volume than the Merlins the HA-2 did a great job in bringing out a little bit of snap and vitality to the excellent midrange. Something that I was aiming for with the Twag V2 cable swap in my review was almost achieved with the HA-2’s own sonic character.

Universals

More accessible universal earphones also performed very well indeed with the HA-2 with some common perceptions of how some pairings would go thankfully not materializing such as the treble tricky IE800 which largely behaved using both the PC and OTG connections. I was half expecting the traces of lower treble glare in the HA-2 to amplify with the IE800 and produce a really uneven experience but in actual fact it remained relatively low profile with a greater emphasis on articulation and detail which both the HA-2 and IE800 are pretty good at. The dynamics of the HA-2 also suited the IE800’s superior sound staging and bass performance. Atmospheric synth driven tracks such as Francisca Valenzuela’s “Armadura” sounded fresh and snappy with a reassuringly responsive bassline on the IE800/HA-2 match.

My personal preference though would be the slightly cheaper BA Westone W4 over the IE800 when paired with the HA-2. The Westone’s doesn’t convey the same level of detail as the IE800 but paired with the HA-2 it has an inherently smoother and more relaxed treble performance for me. It also has a more coherent bass response that makes it a bit more flexible for rock and synth work or anything that doesn’t require huge sound staging. When on the go from the office etc I am not that fussy about extracting the last ounce of detail preferring instead to pair with musical sources or earphones and the W4 is hard to beat in that respect outside of customs. The W4/HA-2 pairing had zero noise issues, super easy to drive on low gain (2 on the analog pot, 80% mapping to DAC from my iPad) and a nice easy going temperament, good vocal presence with no sibilance and just a slight touch of glare but rarely distracting.

Competitors

Picollo DAC

The HA-2 has a better range of decoding capability than the Cypher Labs Picollo AMP/DAC which in comparison can sound a bit too rolled off and warm with less headroom than the HA-2 is capable of delivering on. The DAC chip of the Picollo DAC is a Texas Instruments PCM2704 DAC limited to 48k and only compatible with Android devices so resolution and decoding wise the chips are all in the hands of the HA-2. Cypher opted instead to avoid the Apple certification costs instead and go 100% OTG. The treble extension and clarity of the HA-2 outshines the more mid centric Picollo amp and the bass dynamics on the HA-2 are more engaging. The Picollo though does have a nice easy laid back tonality with vocals sounding very natural and grain free. That slightly softer tonality of the Piccolo some might prefer for long listening periods but I give the HA-2 the edge in terms of clarity, dynamics and decoding capability.

Theorem 720

The Theorem 720 is far more expensive and a better performer with less sensitive earphones and headphones with little or no comparative lower treble glare compared to the HA-2. However the HA-2 is more agile and capable with the majority of sensitive earphones and IEM’s which nearly always end up being nosier when run out of the Theorem 720. The 720 is going to be a hit or miss on that level though once in its stride it is just that bit more natural, engaging and fuller sounding. Do bear in mind though the Theorem 720’s Android capability was more of an afterthought and not universally OTG compatible and in most cases only USB Audio Recorder Pro will work with it. It is also a bit ugly compared to the more modern looking HA-2.

Creative E5

The E5 from Creative sounds much harsher and definitely more uneven in the treble range than the HA-2 and cannot resolve beyond 24/192 compared to the HA-2. Whilst both have decent dynamics the more polished sound came from the HA-2’s performance. The IE800 plugged into the E5 sounded very unnatural compared to the superior performance from the HA-2. Granted the E5 has a lot more features than the HA-2 such as BT, optical, a microphone system and tons of software controlled EQ and gaming options but as a pure sound reproduction convergence device it does have some way to go to matching the HA-2 in that respect.

Fostex HP-P1

The HA-2 in comparison to say the Fostex HP-P1 is cleaner, more forward and dynamic than the rather more liquid and warm laid back tones of the HP-1. Which is preferable in tonality will really come down to which type of presentation works best for you and your cans. The Fostex amp is relatively weaker than the HA-2 at 80mW and taps out long before the HA-2 struggles with higher impedance cans such as the HD700 or planars such as the LCD-2 rev 2. The HP-P1 also has no android capability and has a analog line in only meaning pairing with Android is going to limit you to the Android device DAC. In its favour the HP-P1 does have an SPDIF out when paired with iOS devices whereas the HA-2 lacks any sort of SPDIF output.

FiiO E18

Lastly the budget king FiiO E18 which about 30% cheaper, similar form factor to the HA-2 and also had many of the features the HA-2 has including a bass boost, power bank options but with a few more thrown including USB DAC playback controls. The E18 though decoding tops out at 24/96 compared to the HA-2 DSD256 level capabilities and doesn’t cater to markets beyond Android and PC/MAC officially. Tonally both are neutral with decent headroom but the HA-2 sounds more polished with less grain and greater detail than the E18. And so it should be given its higher price tag but then again the AK10 was $299 also and is a forgettable toy compared to the HA-2 and even the E18 so price is not always a good guide to performance.

Page 3: Final Thoughts

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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.

Related Posts

  • 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