As mentioned earlier in this review, the iFi units will be one of the main competitors of the TR-Amp. As Berkhan did most of the iFi reviews, I have shipped him a TR-Amp unit and asked him to write the comparisons to the iFi gear. The part below comes directly from him:
Comparison with iFi Nano iDSD Black Label
The Nano Black Label has been one of my favorite devices. It also has been holding its place in our DAC / AMP Combo Recommendations. Since these two have a similar price range, it’s a valuable side by side comparison.
First of all, the TR-Amp has USB type C inputs. Yes, there’s two of them and one is for data whilst the other is for charging. On the Nano BL, you have a single recessed USB input which requires special iFi female USB cable to work. To use it with your Android phone or a transport, you need to get the iFi OTG Cable. It costs an additional 15 $. Hence, this basically is a 215 $ vs 250 $ comparison, which is pretty close.
Size-wise the EarMen is a bit larger with a lengthier chassis. The Nano BL has the advantage there in terms of portability. But of course that would depend on your usage preferences. If you’re going to use one of these devices on your desktop, then this topic shouldn’t matter really. Besides, the size difference is small and I don’t think it’s a big deal.
Build quality to me is better with the TR-Amp. Although the Nano BL is also very good for that matter, the EarMen’s offering feels more premium in the hand with a sturdier feel. The Nano BL is lighter and it is kind of shallower when compared. The machined aluminum looks & feels very nice with the EarMen as well.
Another topic worth mentioning is that the EarMen does not need dedicated drivers to work properly. It’s just plug and play. No downloads, no installations, nothing. The Nano BL needs iFi drivers to work correctly. This is hardly a game changing difference, but I think it needs to be mentioned.
The EarMen has a 3700 mA battery compared to Nano BL’s 1200 mA. But the Nano BL doesn’t that much battery power like the TR-Amp does, so they both can give 10 hours of playback in theory. The TR-Amp also preserves more power through its outputs with 400 mW versus the 285 mW of the iFi. Lastly, you can use the EarMen in Pre Out mode which is like a standalone DAC mode. With that, you can add another amp behind it, if you wish to do so.
Sound-wise both are very good devices with great value for the money. When I first reviewed the Nano BL, I was quite impressed by the resolution for such a tiny price. That was the highlight of the Nano to me. And as I had written in the conclusion part, I wasn’t sure if one can ever find better technicalities from a device that cost that little.
However, the EarMen TR-Amp takes a further step ahead in terms of sound quality. It plays so effortlessly with a neutral tuning mixed with a hint of musicality. The Nano BL sounds brighter with a bit more attack and aggressiveness. The EarMen sounds more controlled and it’s incredibly linear. The iFi has more treble quantity which makes it brighter then neutral. On the other hand, the EarMen provides better treble extension and articulation.
There’s something about the EarMen that gives you certain qualities of the high-end DACs. The transparency and resolution are not mind blowing in both of them when compared to flagship desktop gear. From that perspective the two are not much apart (although I think the TR-Amp has a better transparency). However, the Earmen gives better separation with a wider staging, better layering with a deeper staging performance, and better background. The micro detail delivery is also awesome. On the Nano BL you also have a great and resolving signature, but it’s somewhat in your face. The TR-Amp gives you a better stereo imaging in that regard with a bigger sound-stage, which feels more 3D.
So to wrap it up; the Nano BL is slightly on the brighter side of neutral, whilst the Tr-Amp is on the musical side with a more linear presentation. It doesn’t add anything to the sound which makes it a great reference DAC/Amp. They both have good resolution and transparency. But the TR-Amp has better technicalities in terms of separation, layering and imaging with a bigger sound-stage performance. Its presentation is also very realistic and honest to the recording.
So overall, the EarMen TR-Amp is the better performer in my eyes.
It was quite fun to review a DAC/Amp unit again after all this time and the TR-Amp pleasantly surprised me with its transparency and dynamics. You get a detailed and energetic sound, combined with a musical delivery. What’s not to like?
For the $249 USD / €279 Euro price it is selling for, you get a lot in return. Actually way more than I was initially expecting and as such I have to put this on our list of recommended DAC/Amps to buy.