IEMs & Headphones
The Radius hp-twf41 is big in Japan and I can see why. With the L1 is sounds powerful and balanced with great bass and good detail. You get good layering with rich mids all delivered in a smooth and musical yet precise way. Another award winner for sure. With RHA’s own T20 IEM and the grey reference filters, the DacAmp L1 makes the T20 fast and very precise. The detail level and layering are great and the spaciousness is just right. You get a natural yet neutral sound where treble isn’t shy and where bass and mid-body is on the lighter side. Voices are a little more upfront.
The CL1 in single ended mode really needs a lot more power and the volume dial now goes up to 2 (out of 5). The RHA CL1 sounds neutral and lighter bodied with a more of a focus on voices and treble. It’s precise, very detailed and has great clarity. When using amps that aren’t up to the task and/or bad quality files, the CL1 can sound thin, sharp and very treble focused. Get the pairing right and listen to qualitative sources and you’ll be amazed what the CL1 can do. In balanced mode with the mini XLR-cabled RHA CL1 – which was developed to pair up with the DacAmp L1 – you get a more spacious sound with slightly more body in bass and mids and the delivery becomes smoother and more laid back. Of course you still get a very detailed, precise and clean sound but treble is somewhat more easygoing than in SE-mode. I’m playing The Doors on TIDAL MASTER from my laptop and the CL1 simply sounds incredible. However don’t expect treble to be soft, this just isn’t the IEM for that.
The Jomo Samba is very detailed, clean and precise 8-driver custom inear. It’s an excellent CIEM to test amps and DACs as it is very sensitive and it picks up noise immediately if there is any. The L1 is dead silent though and the Samba sounds really good on it. Fast, precise, clean and detailed. No boosts, no peaks and an immensely rich sound with great layering. Samba is/was my fav CIEM of 2016 and the L1 is a very good companion for it. The Inear ProPhile 8 is another top level IEM and it shares the L1’s characteristics: fast and neutral, yet full sounding. There’s a lot of detail with a clean and musical presentation. For some it might sound a little too analytical but I for one certainly can appreciate the combo.
Switching to full sized headphones. The new AudioQuest NightOwl is one of the headphones that impressed me most over the last few weeks. It sounds clear, precise and musical. It’s not as airy as the Hawk but I personally would say that’s a good thing. The L1 gives it all the power it needs and makes it sound incredibly good and detailed. This headphone surely will win a lot of the prizes this year and the DacAmp L1 is a great companion with it. Fully recommended.
The 250Ohm Beyerdynamic Amiron Home is a more laid back jet precise highly musical headphone with rich (and thicker for a Beyer) mids and the DacAmp L1 on low gain drives it perfectly. It actually makes the Amiron sound more energetic and while I love its sound, it’s something the Amiron sometimes can use.
The Sennheiser HD800 at 300Ohm is known for being a difficult headphone and to really perform its best it does need the right amount ofc/voltage. I personally prefer the HD800 and HD800S on tubes and to me personally the DacAmp L1 doesn’t make the HD800 sound that good. It’s rather lifeless with very light bass and it overall is a little forward and sharp sounding. This is the only combo I didn’t fully appreciate and that still makes the DacAmp L1 impressive.
JDSLabs’ C5D ($249) is a DAC/Amp combo that I really should listen to a whole lot more. The C5D has two bass and gain settings and it overall sounds smoother and more laid back than the energetic L1. The L1 sounds bolder but it is more spacious and detailed. The C5D has a good level of detail as well though but its delivery is more musical and somewhat darker and slower. The AudioQuest DragonFly RED ($199) is a great device for its price but it of course isn’t as versatile as the L1 as it can only has a USB-input (pretty logic for a dongle though). RED’s sound quality is very high but it is a little warmer compared to the L1. They both have big body but the RED doesn’t sound as juiced up as the L1. RED has a smoother and more musical delivery but the L1 is more spacious sounding.
Chord’s Mojo ($529) is a direct competitor of the DacAmp L1 but it is lighter, more compact and has two outputs. The L1 has a balanced output on top of a SE-one and several more inputs so they both have good things going for them. I did find the Mojo to be easiest to work with USB OTG devices. Detail wise I find both to be very close but the L1 sounds more open and you get a more intimate sound on the Mojo. The Mojo is also less energetic/bold and that’s a positive thing for the Mojo as it seems to do everything more easily and with great musicality. The layering and depth of the Mojo is better to my ears. The Mojo isn’t cheap but it is a little box of awesomeness. As you all know I’m an even bigger fan of the Chord Hugo and I can’t wait to get my hands on the new updated version.
The Chord Hugo ($1995) also has a more civilized/relaxed presentation with great depth and layering. The amount of air is just right and the sound stage is very good. The sound is extremely rich and to me the good old Hugo still is one of the very best DAC/Amp combos on the market. On top of that it also very easily connects to by USB OTG. ALO Audio’s CDM ($1499) is another great combo in the higher price range but it has a tube driven amp part. The sound of the L1 is bigger and more impressive than the CDM’s but the CDM is easier to listen to, especially with the Mullard tubes. Detail levels on the L1 might be even higher than on the CDM and the sound stages and spaciousness are more or less at the same level. CDM focuses more on upper mids than the RHA DacAmp L1 does. The big advantage the CDM has is that it’s easy and smooth to listen to, tube flavored and oh so very musical. It gets a lot warmer though and it’s less portable.
I mostly feel positive about the DacAmp L1 and for the money it is a perfectly good performing and very versatile unit with a whole bunch of in- and outputs. Some people might find the price rather high and I can see why, as this is the first time RHA puts such a high priced unit on the market. Compared to other units on the market and the sonic performance we’re getting out of it, I can only say that the RHA DacAmp L1 is more than A-OK in all possible ways though. It’s very easy to like and to get a great synergy with and it certainly doesn’t break the bank.
No, it’s not the absolute best (portable) DAC/Amp combo on the market but then again most of the better performing units are three or even four times its price. The DAC/Amp market for the moment is heavily crowded and competition is tough but I do feel the L1 has its place, especially with this price/quality ratio. Yes, the L1 can still be tweaked (I’m thinking build quality and making it less loud and in your face sounding). The L1 is a big and energetic, very solid state, sounding combo that will absolutely trash your low quality music. Feed it with a top quality source or files however and it will sound really good.