Disclaimer: Oppo Japan loaned the HA-2 for the purposes of this review. The HA-2 starts from 300$ USD depending on where in the world you are located. Oppo is a new Headfonia sponsor.
Update: I wasn’t clear in my description of the volume pentameter and DAC. I have cleared that up in the appropriate section and added text from Oppo’s HA-2 Knowledge Base. Apologies.
You can’t write about the Oppo HA-2 without mentioning the iPhone. I don’t for a moment think the HA-2’s feature set is revolutionary, but like the iPhone, it ohwill bifurcate the market into two camps: pre-HA-2 and post-HA-2.
Today’s amps no longer look like garage pranks. Sony, Audio Technica, Pioneer, and a few others brought mass-market manufacturing skills to the table. To their credit, Sony’s new DAC/amp carries balanced outs. Pioneer’s allows the end user to tweak the chipset to her heart’s delight. Audio Technica’s has a big nob. But each is a vulgar display of technology, and in its own way, each is inelegant, and cumbersome.
The HA-2, on the other hand, is elegant. It takes up a footprint the size of an iPhone. And, it plugs and plays with iDevices and Macs. I have no idea how Android handles. I’m sure Windows users have to install something to get the HA-2 running. That’s not Oppo’s fault. Oppo have gone over and above to make the HA-2 easy, and safe, to use.
I don’t get why Oppo went with leather, or white stitching — to what are they stitching that leather anyway? –, and coordinating the correct input switch with an input device isn’t all that easy, especially when inputs span both the front and rear of the HA-2; but what the Oppo’s DAC gives up in coherent design cues, it returns in polish, in beauty, and for the most part, in feature performance.
The HA-2 will decode everything your computer and your smart device can throw at it. You just have to remember to slide the input to A for your Apple devices, B for computer and Android, and C for analogue. I have a sneaking suspicion that people who spring for the HA-2 will primarily use it as a DAC. For the computer user, the rear-mounted USB input is ergonomically sound. If you own an Android phone, you already have micro USB cables. If not, the HA-2’s reliance on micro USB is a pain.
Computer people have mini USB cables all over the place. And there is enough space on the back to slot in a mini jack. I think it fair infer that Oppo really have iDevice and Android users in mind. The single USB type A jack connects to iDevices just like it connects to a computer. Currently it is connected to my iPod nano. The same nano has gone lightning port to 30-pin to the HA-2’s analogue in. Both sound, and work, great.
And the HA-2 gets okay battery life. During the course of this review, I have charged it just thrice. Despite my grumblings above, I’ve mainly used it connected to my Mac. The reason for this is that when connected as a DAC to an iDevice, the otherwise ergonomically sound HA-2 no longer fits in a pocket. Cables out the front and out the back do not a comfortable train ride make. And despite living in Japan, I hate carrying a purse. The HA-2’s battery indicator does a good job of defining how much juice is left inside. With all the plugging and unplugging, and shifting of buttons, fondling of corners, and hardware tests I do, I’m surprised the HA-2 has managed to nail 7 hours a pop as a DAC. But it has. I haven’t used it enough from the analogue output of my iPod or iRiver AK100 to get much a hold on its battery life. According to Oppo’s literature, it should be better.
The HA-2 has several nice safety features:
Adjusting gain first switches off the amp before returning power to the output at a steadily increasing rate. This ensures that you don’t immediately fry your ears.
Removing headphones from the headphone jack, or line out shuts the amp off. If you plug into the line output jack by mistake, there is a barrier of about 2-3 seconds in which the circuit outputs a very low voltage.
And while the slight delays in amp switching make the HA-2 seem that much more like a computing device, they also enforce a growing opinion of mine: that Oppo have made 300$ go a long, long way. That was obvious to me before I ever lifted the DAC from its beautiful box. The first clue was the box. The advertising image is beautiful. The rear diagram is clearly laid out, and serves as a wonderful reference. Typography is clear, logical, and, with the notable exception of a side uselessly dedicated to blaring mundane features like ‘Multiple Device Support’ and ‘VOOC Rapid Charge’ in massive, neon iconography, the HA-2’s box is a design paragon among add-on audio devices. This is how DAC/amp boxes should be. Under its lid is a minimum of plastic, which is wonderful for a lad living in a country that burns everything plastic it can. The hefty charger spits enough juice into the HA-2 fast-charging circuitry to charge the battery in 90 minutes. It is heavy and it looks like an Apple AirPort Extreme.
Sound impressions after the jump: