audio nirvana, that’s all
When I started playing with HiFi and music, over thirty years ago, I may have wistfully thought it would be a journey to audio nirvana. At one end, the music, I have Julia Fordham in her earlier years or The Smiths in their latter years. Having listened to the Oppo HA-1 – DAC/Headphone Amplifier I may have completed the hardware end of my travels! Paired with Oppo’s PM-2 headphones this is the end of the game as far as I’m concerned and I may well pack up!
Well, new website launched, maybe not; but this piece of equipment, for me, is perfect. When I made the first significant purchase of my life, having earned good supermarket money, I bought a NAD 3020e amplifier which lasted me a long time through university and beyond and I still have it. It was the amp to buy in the late eighties, this is the new must buy of the year, for sure. In fact the Oppo HA-1 has been out a while but I have had to wait for my turn and it is beautiful.
Quality and Design
The Oppo HA-1 is a beautiful piece of work. The model I have is the black one, a soft black understated finish that does attract finger prints but the upside is you have to get a soft cloth and carefully wipe them off, lovingly in my case.
The Oppo HA-1 is nominally a high performance headphone amplifier but it is so much more. It also doubles up as an asynchronous DAC, a stereo pre-amplifier and a digital audio interface for most audio devices, iPod/iPad included. Helpfully this USB connection is on the front. It also has the high fidelity Apt-X Bluetooth audio Codec for other streaming purposes.
The DAC chip features the performance ESS 9018 Sabre32 Reference DAC.
The remote with the Oppo HA-1 reflects the high quality finish of the main box. It is small, has a high quality ‘feel’ with small but effective buttons. It has volume control and you can switch between inputs quite happily, meaning you can switch to Bluetooth for example without getting up!
Inputs into the Oppo HA-1 include USB B, optical (fast going out of fashion, surely?) and the Coax input. Also available is the AES/EBU balanced input, the standard for digital signal exchange by audio professionals. The USB supports PCM, DSD 64 and DSD 128.
The Oppo HA-1 output to headphones is through a chunky 6.35mm jack output which is rare to see it seems these days. The output is on the front of the amp. Next to it is the XLR balanced output that provides for a superior audio experience. The balanced bit refers to the unwanted ripples or noises that is reflected in, or on, wires and a balanced cable allows for any reflected noise, but on a different wire, i.e. not the audio delivery wire. I think! So the headphones cable has 4 sockets (wires) for left +, right + and left – and right -. Perfectly clear, but it does sound good? At the back there are pre-amp level left/right balanced outputs and normal RCA, stereo, (phono) outputs.
The Amp, as well as having the remote control, has an excellent Display screen that manages all aspects of control comfortably. From switching between sources to controlling headphone gain, the display is excellent. You can choose the display during playback as an analysed spectrum, stereo VU meter needles (love this feature) or a general status screen.
The Nuts and bolts. I have the Oppo HA-1 on my desktop, connected to my laptop via an Atlas USB A-B cable, partnered with the PM-2 headphones which are perfectly matched using a balanced 3m XLR headphone cable. I’m playing generally from Foobar using lossless FLAC files that I use regularly. I did not need any device drivers installed, unless Windows did it without me seeing?
I have found the Oppo HA-1 to be my perfect audio partner. The quality of the sound presented is the finest I have heard in my audio time and I have heard some good systems
In summary, I have found the Oppo HA-1 to be my perfect audio partner (in case you hadn’t picked that up earlier). The quality of the sound presented is the finest I have heard in my audio time and I have heard some good systems recently. The ease of use of this machine, coupled with its flexibility make this a must listen if you are serious about your audiophile experience. The only slight word of caution I have is that the HA-1 I have runs very hot, so you are not putting anything on top of it! The other word of caution is you’ll need a decent pair of Cans!
3m balanced output cable
With the balanced output cable the superb Planar Magnetic Oppo PM-2s are driven to their full potential and the sound, the detail in particular, is a dream. It is quite difficult to articulate how good the sound is, suffice to say that I can’t find any flaws in my listening. So 3 minutes 22 seconds into ‘The Blowers’ Daughter’ By Damian Rice there is a huge bass note that I love listening to as the track reaches its crescendo. With the HA-1 I’ve not heard it sound as soft and wide and delightful before, of course the PM-2s are able to deliver the sound but that is only because the HA-1 is able to make them perform at the highest level. So, you need a decent pair of cans to get the best from this machine.
The other point I must mention is that listening to pianos on this is just joy. When I want to listen to a piano piece for testing I use Daniel Barenboim’s Chopin Nocturne #2 in E flat, Opus 9. I’ve never heard it sound better, pure joy.
Through the computer, the HA-1 is a perfect DAC partner delivering seemless output, as above, with little fuss. I have used the HA-1 as a DAC for a CD player using the Coax input option. I found the DAC smoothed out, or lifted the lower frequencies from the CD player I was using. This is quite a pleasing outcome if you are struggling with lower frequency issues as I was.
I’ve tried the iPod. It sounds good but not outstanding, the issue probably being how good the basic set-up is when you use lossless files through the DAC compared to the ALAC files from the iPod. There should really be no difference. The detail, however is there and not lost. I think all that is missing is the final 5% of wow when you compare such a high quality source and presentation with another. It is an improvement on the iPod though without doubt and it is a usable quality iPod solution, whilst you’re at.
The Bluetooth set-up is simple and the sound is good. From a streamed FLAC source, again there is bags of detail, but at the highest levels doubt does creep in with the Bluetooth solution. This is no reflection on th HA-1, however.
- Clean, uncluttered sound
- All the detail you’ll ever need, or want
- Sounds like a dream, lower frequencies are beautiful, as are pianos
- Design quality
- Flexibility, loads of input options
Not so keen
- It runs very hot!
- You need a pair of quality headphones to match
So, I have found my audio holy grail, this is HiFi as art, it really is. The Oppo HA-1 & the matching PM-2s are, in the words of Julia Fordham, my ‘Happy Ever After’ (or in the words of The Smiths, ‘I would go out tonight, but I’m listening to my Oppo HA-1’). I have heard this arrangement (HA-1, PM-2) described as near to a £30,000 system as you can get at this price point. It is.
The Oppo HA-1 has been out for nearly a year. It retails at or near £1199
More information – http://www.oppodigital.co.uk/