EarMen CH-Amp Review

EarMen CH-Amp

Sound – Headphones

 

For this section we’re using the full EarMen stack in balanced mode. Source is my laptop with ROON, connected to the Tradutto with a Chord Epic digital cable and an AudioQuest FMJ in-between. The headphones chosen for this part are: Meze ELITE, Hifiman Arya Stealth & Susvara, Abyss Diana TC, Sennheiser HD800S and the Beyerdynamic DT1990Pro.

The Meze Audio ELITE and the Empyrean are headphones I use quite frequently, but it’s especially the ELITE that has an incredible synergy with the CH-Amp. As I said, this combo seriously impressed me at the Munich show, and it still does today. The reason is simple, as they share the same characteristics: A more neutral presentation with a good pace, a natural amount of body, tight bass and good energy.

The ELITE sounds crystal clear from the CH-Amp, with a natural, engaging and very musical presentation. Body-wise this combo is more to the neutral side, but there’s just enough to keep things exciting and realistic. (For more body, use the Empyrean). The sound stage width and depth in this combo, together with the spaciousness, airiness and layering are impressive. You get an energetic and musical delivery that is very easy to like. With this combo the top end of the ELITE is extended but easy on the ears. I personally never find the ELITE to be harsh in this region, but this combo in the treble region will be spot on for most people. All-in-all an excellent combo, one I fully recommend.

EarMen CH-Amp

The Hifiman Arya stealth and CH-Amp combo to me is good but not as special as the previous combo. It’s a bit lighter in body and bass presence with a more upper mid and front vocal presentation. I would have loved to hear a bit more body and balance here, but it’s not directly the case. The combo is fast and snappy, and it has great note extension in a very spacious presentation. The sound stage in all directions is good. If you like clarity, excellent yet more forward vocals, guitar solos, a good treble presentation/presence and a high technical level, you will love this combo. If you like something warmer and fuller sounding, this combo isn’t the one for you. I do like the Stealth with many other amps, but this leaves me with mixed feelings for this combo.

Another headphone with a magic synergy is the Beyerdynamic DT1990 PRO open back dynamic headphone (here in Single Ended mode). I adore the bass in this combo. Neutral but still with good impact and with excellent depth and layering. The Beyer & CH-Amp combo is fast, engaging, precise and it has incredible dynamics. If you like the DT1990 PRO, you will love it with the CH-Amp. An example of a song I find amazing with the combo is this one here. I hardly ever put songs in my reviews, but this Belgian (post)metal band deserves it. Anyway, excellent combo, a pleasure to the ears.

Seeing the CH-Amp’s synergy with dynamic headphones is great so far, I decided to also test it with the good old Sennheiser HD650 (in SE mode). The HD650 is a headphone that I used a lot in the past, but I must admit I hardly ever touch it nowadays. With the CH-Amp it logically sounds highly dynamic, with a wide sound stage and a very airy and spacious presentation. You get a lighter amount of body and bass presence, but that’s exactly what I like with the HD650 when used with a warmer OTL amp. That means I have mixed feelings for this combo: great technicalities, but a lighter and more shouty in delivery.

EarMen CH-Amp

A headphone that blew us all away a year or 10 ago or so, is the Audeze LCD-2. The version I am using here is the original version with the wooden rosewood cups and the connectors inside. All pre-Fazor of course. I am using the vegan suede like pads and headband and ALO Audio modified this LCD-2 for me by replacing the internal wiring with silver one. Sound-wise this combo delivers as the synergy with the CH-Amp is incredible. I don’t know if many are still using the LCD-2 but you get a good amount of body, excellent energy, sublime vocals and an overall highly musical presentation. This makes me fall in love with the LCD-2 all over again. If you still have an original LCD-2 laying around, do try it with the CH-Amp. It’s musical heaven. With the most recent Fazor driven LCD-2C, the energy levels are boosted, and you get a faster sounding headphone. It’s not as spacious and airy overall, but it is more “dynamic” and energetic. With the Audeze LCD2 Classic you also get a very musical delivery together with a livelier treble section. It are especially the vocals who are impressive in this combo though. So yeah, both the LCD-2 as well as the LCD-2C come fully recommended with the CH-Amp, both have impressive synergy.

The Sennheiser HD800S is a headphone whose performance really depends on the amplification. While I still prefer it on OTL tube amps and warmer sounding solid state amps like the Violectric/Niimbus gear, I quite like it with the CH-Amp. You get great dynamics, excellent detail retrieval and great PRaT. Again, it’s not the fullest or heaviest sounding combo, but it is a technically very strong one.  The Diana TC is a headphone I have a love/hate relationship with. Is excels in its strong points, but sometimes it’s a bit much for me because of the lighter presentation and lack of bass impact. With the CH-AMP on high gain, you also get a lower amount of bass, but the technical performance is so strong, it’s hard not to love it. The sound stage width and depth are incredible, the mid spaciousness and airiness is impressive. The extension and precision/detail retrieval, and note decay are exemplary. If you like a high end sounding setup with top level technicalities, this is the setup for you.

The Hifiman Susvara is a headphone that is both loved and hated by many. I am in the camp that loves it, especially with the powerful Envy and Headonia tube amps. Sure, it’s very expensive, but it’s incredibly good with the right amplification. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the CH-Amp and Susvara combo, but I can say it in high gain rocks. As with the Diana TC, you get a very high technical level, also with more forward vocals, but there’s a tad more body present here from top to bottom. The Diana TC is perhaps more spacious in the mids where the Susvara is more energetic, exciting and musical. I really like the more neutral CH-Amp and Diana TC combo but consider that it also is lighter and highly technical sounding.

EarMen CH-Amp

Of course, some people will say that the Susvara and Diana TC sound even better on higher end gear, and they are right. While both headphones rock with the CH-Amp, there still is room for improvement. If you’re interested in how a specific combo/headphone performs, let me know in the comments section, and I’ll try to make it happen for you.

All-in-all, the EarMen CH-Amp is a more neutral amp that adds no body, weight or warmth to the sound characteristics of the headphone in use. It will however show you exactly what your headphone is good (or bad) at. The CH-Amp is a transparently honest, super dynamic amplifier. It has plenty of power and a musical, energetic, and engaging delivery. What’s not to like?

Comparisons

For this comparison part, I used my Laptop with ROON (Tidal) and the EarMen Tradutto DAC in combination with the Meze ELITE. The amps I have chosen for this selection are the Chord Electronics ANNI and the Cayin C9. Both of these amps are smaller sized desktop amps and they have comparable pricing. Unfortunately, the C9 died just when I wanted to started comparing the amps, so for now the Chord ANNI will be the only amplifier I’m comparing the CH-Amp to. When I get the Cayin C9 working again, I will add the comparison to this review.

The Chord Electronics ANNI is available for $1,795 USD. As it’s a Chord product it of course only has a Single Ended configuration. The Chord ANNI is very different from the CH-Amp. First, it has more body and weight from top to bottom, and it is always fuller sounding. Second, the Chord ANNI can sound a bit dark, and the CH-Amp is a much clearer and cleaner, refined sounding amplifier. The energy level and dynamics of the ANNI are good, but it can’t compete with the CH-Amp when it comes to precision and definition. Bass is more present, and some will like that, but it also feels loose and even a bit muddy, compared to the CH-Amp’s bass. The ANNI is a fun sounding amplifier that can add good weight to your headphones, but the CH-Amp is the better technical one, and more neutrally sounding one.

The Cayin C9 is selling for $1,999 USD. Next to CLASS A and AB, the C9 also offers a Korg Nutube output. Like the CH-Amp it’s fully balanced but on top of that it’s also transportable. As soon as it starts working again, the comparison will be published here.

EarMen CH-Amp

End Words

The more you listen to the CH-Amp the better it gets. It’s especially noticeable when you listen to another amp for a while and then go back to it with the same headphone.

The EarMen CH-Amp is precise, clean, fast, transparent, and always musical. It works sublimely in the full EarMen stack, but you can perfectly use it with any DAC or source. The fully balanced CH-Amp comes with the PSU-3 and it sells for $1,480 USD. That might seem expensive, and it’s more than I expected it to cost, but the EarMen engineers really did their work on this one. Big sound in a small package is what you get from EarMen’s CH-Amp, and as such it’s extremely easy for me to give it our Recommended Buy award. It from now on is added to our recommended amplifier buy list.

 

Next up from EarMen is the Staccato review (the streamer) and that review will be posted soon.

Page 1: EarMen, CH-Amp, PSU-3

Page 2: Ch-Amp Design, Build quality, Lay-out, specs, Sound Pt. 1

Page 3: Sound Pt. 2, Comparisons, End words

4.3/5 - (154 votes)

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

2 Comments

  • Reply July 31, 2022

    Kevin Lee

    No IEM pairing ?

    • Reply August 1, 2022

      Lieven

      CH-Amp has zero issues with IEMs. All good!

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