Scottish creators RHA have until now, solely been covered by Josh. He has approved of everything they have sent his way so when it was my turn to do the playing I was VERY excited. Especially with the whole ideology behind the products I have got to cover. I say this because I am reviewing both the CL1 earphone (£349.95) and DACAMP L1 (£399.95). The L1 is a very lavish portable DAC & headphone amp unit that I know RHA have been working on for quite some time, in fact, they first showed me a prototype back at the Munich High End 2015. While easily one of the more unique designs in its product category it was not actually this unit that really got me drooling. Instead, it was the CL series of in-ear monitors that was released along side. I got the top model in said series but there is also the £99.95 offering in the CL750 with similar principles. The thing with these CL in-ear monitors that is just so great is that they are designed for use with amplifiers. This is not just some marketing spool either, they have an impedance of 150 ohms meaning they have a lot more resistance than any of their other latest universal fit releases. The sensitivity is also a very low 89dB, quite a notable difference to something like Shure’s SE535 and its 119dB rating.
I think this is a bigger deal than one may first think. We have all of these new portable amps and powerful DAPs yet our earphones are still made in a way that they can be driven off an old walkman cassette player. It doesn’t make sense and we end up with amazing sounding earphones like the Campfire Andromeda that hiss off everything they are plugged into and don’t give you much movement on the volume pot. High impedance in ears is the step forward we need to be making. Even better is that if you are to want the whole RHA portable system you get a small discount. For £699.95 you can get a CL1 bundled with an L1. Should you fancy the CL750 then you can get the combo for £469.95. I think in a world where people are dropping literally thousands on just a DAP and then the same all over again on some earphones to hopefully match, seven hundred quid for an entire system designed to work together is a freaking awesome proposition!
Getting a Move On… The RHA Way
I am reviewing these two items together because I think the best way to go with these products is as a pair. There are enough hints towards that as well. I will start with how the general experience of using the two is then break off into each as individual products.
On purchasing these both you don’t just have a full portable system out of the box but a balanced one at that. Between the two packages, you have everything you need to get going (digital cables and amp bands included) and all you need to seek out is how you want to get music into the rig. It is up to you how you want to do that and whether you will choose to do so via digital or analog. While I find it lacking a coaxial input, beyond that the L1 is extremely versatile with a Lighting input for IOS users, micro-USB for Android and PCs, optical for Astell & Kern devices and then 3.5mm should you prefer an external DAC. Then round the front, you have both a 3.5mm single ended output and a 4 pin mini XLR for balanced. The balanced output is only functional when using a digital input as the analog input is single ended. With enough DAPs (like Astell & Kern’s Kann) now featuring balanced line outs, I think it is a real shame that we don’t have a balanced analogue input, like the ALO Rx Mk3-B back in the day.
I think the balanced output is one of the reasons it makes sense to get the CL1 to go with the L1. The 4 pin XLR is not used by any other companies, who generally prefer the 2.5mm as pioneered by AK or even the newer Sony marketed 4.4mm option. Because of that, it is not something that you can readily purchase cables for just yet and that means getting balanced operation with this is a little tricker. Guess what, the CL1 comes with two cables and one of them is terminated for that unique XLR output on the DACAMP. Something else I found a little odd was that of the two cables you get with CL1 (one SE, one balanced) one is made up of copper, the other silver. No, I don’t personally subscribe to the whole copper is warm, silver is bright BS and instead firmly believe that as a more conductive metal, silver sounds better in every scenario I have come across. So in that respect, the best cable that is provided is only applicable for use with the L1. You see what I mean about the hints that you are best of buying these as a pair! Oh and come on, you cant argue they don’t look like a match made in heaven.
Turn the page for the scope on the CL1