Review: RHA DacAmp L1 – Energy

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.

RHA DacAmp L1 (2)

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.

Comparisons

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.

RHA DacAmp L1 (5)

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.

Conclusion

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.

RHA DacAmp L1 (2)

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.

RHA DacAmp L1 (4)

RHA DacAmp L1 (1)

Review: RHA DacAmp L1 – Energy
3.9 (77.89%) 57 vote[s]

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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.

13 Comments

  • Reply January 24, 2017

    Rodrigo Figueiras

    How it compares with the mojo , on rock or Heavy Metal music?

  • Reply January 24, 2017

    Radovan Cechvala

    Wonder how it compares to OPPO HA-2 having the same Sabre DAC chip, I believe (but only one of them)?

  • Reply January 24, 2017

    Albert

    Which one is more detailed? the Hugo or the L1? Wut would u choose for classical music? Thx!

    • Reply January 24, 2017

      Lieven

      To the hugo, on both parts. If you have the budget it’s an easy choice. You might want to wait for Hugo 2 though

  • Reply January 24, 2017

    Hawkin

    Hi Lieven, Are you planning to review the Radius TWF41 particularly feat with mojo? Is the mid-section comparable to Fitear Tg334?
    Thank

    • Reply January 25, 2017

      Lieven

      I will review it, yes. It’s to good not to 🙂
      I will use it with the Mojo in the review but I don’t have the TG334, sorry

  • Reply January 25, 2017

    NightPhotographer

    How did you find it compared to Duet?

    Cheers

    • Reply January 25, 2017

      Lieven

      Well Duet is not a DAC/AMP and it’s a fully analogue balanced device. Duet sounds more relaxed and musical with a normal delivery unlike the L1’s supercharged one. Duet is more natural sounding

  • Reply January 26, 2017

    Martin Fuhs

    Very Powerful? Nah, 300mW is not “very powerful” for an Amp. I get 300mW out of my Cayin N5 DAP (balanced) and 800mW out of my portable Cayin C5 Amp. That is powerful. If you are just speaking about the use of IEM’s, yeah, then 300mW are plenty of enough. But as you stated, the HD800 needs more “juice” to sound good. The same goes for the Hifiman HE1000. And then it also depends on the recording quality. If i listen to lets say “Nik Bärtschs Ronin”, music that has such an huge dynamic range and is usually mixed quieter, then i need all the power in the world to make my HD800S sound good.

  • Reply February 6, 2017

    M. Ingels

    Hello Lieven,

    Can the XLR output also be used with balanced headphones? What’s the output power in balanced mode?

    • Reply February 7, 2017

      Lieven

      Hi, if you have a balanced cable terminated in mini xlr, yes sure.
      No idea about the balanced output specs

  • Reply August 24, 2017

    Michel I

    Dag Lieven,

    Price went down on amazon: now £ 249 in the UK, 399 Euro in France and Germany.
    IMO much better value now.

    Regards

  • Reply October 19, 2017

    Sanket

    Which is better suited for the B&W P7: Oppo HA2SE or the Dacamp L1. I prefer a slightly boosted but accurate bass reproduction

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