A Solid Lump of Metal
As before, here is the packaging….
We have already talked through the uses of the DACAMP but it is very worthwhile talking a little more about the unit. In size, it is very much like an ultra-thick iPhone 4. You won’t have any issues in terms of build quality, unlike apples former star as this is one of the most robust portable units I have set my hands upon. Its metal faceplates are thick and the strip around the middle which displays its inputs/outputs is rubberised so to avoid scratching. On top of that, even its dials are recessed and protected. In terms of longevity, I don’t think RHA missed a trick.
Inside it starts off pretty simple. It has the overused and now dated Sabre DAC chip, the ESS9018K2M assigned to each channel which is followed by a Class AB circuit for amplification. That does indeed mean that this is fully balanced but only if you take use of the digital inputs and consequently the pair of DAC chips. If you want to use an external DAC you will only be able to access the single ended output. The perk of using a Sabre chip is that it can handle pretty much any file format. Yes, that includes DSD up to 11.2MHz (as if you have some) and 32/384kHz PCM.
Also inside is a massive 4000mAh battery that I have approached 10 hours on with each use; That’s if I have not just been using it plugged into my iMac along with Roon, then I don’t even have to worry about the battery! Because of its great battery life, RHA implemented a unique feature in that when this device is not in use it can be set to charge your mobile device.
For the most part, the usability has been great as I reported earlier. The size is ideal and while it does have a fairly considerable weight to it (233 grams) I have enjoyed using it both on the go and at my desk. That being said the biggest annoyance I have had when it comes to actual use was with its volume knob (if you can even call it that) which I can honestly say I have hated. It has never felt too accurate for me and I don’t think its size or movement is optimised for sensitive adjustments to get the right listening levels with IEMs. I have often slipped using it and just prefer something I can hold between my finger and thumb in opposed to stroking with a single finger. I also found that even in low gain with IEMs it got too loud too quickly. Not giving me a gradual build in volume required to find a comfortable and non-fatiguing listening level.
Looking through some of the specs for this amp and it seems like it is much more suited to higher impedance stuff. Especially when it comes to things like low impedance but also low sensitivity planar headphones. I say that because it doesn’t have a great deal of wattage at lower impedance. It provides 300mW at 16 ohms and 28mW at 300 ohms. Thankfully power is less of a necessity for your higher impedance dynamics but these are still very low figures. It has 2.2 ohms output impedance (4.4 ohms in balanced if I recall correctly) which is not the “ideal” under 1-ohm rating but should still be fine paired with the low gain of the L1. Its almost as if the amp was designed exactly for the CL1 as well! The pairing is a two-way street.
As well as three options for gain (I am always a fan of) you also have some frequency scoping options. For both bass and treble, you have nine levels of boost and also 3 levels of reduction. I never use any type of EQ personally and find this very gimmicky but it may have its appeal to you. I have tried them briefly and they work as well as I’d expect. That being said even with something that I said is perhaps a little overcooked in certain regards (CL1 in treble) I found that I still preferred the sound untainted and as it was intended.
As you can imagine I mainly used this device paired with the CL1 and I must say it does a great job of bringing the best out of that earphone. My main annoyance when using other IEMs and headphones was the fact that I had to revert to single ended. When you have a balanced output staring at you in the face you want to use it, especially when you plan on using a harder to drive headphone that could use all the power it can get. I found that it got on acceptably with Focal’s Elear, providing strong dynamics and a clear sound but it was slightly thinner than I was used to with the much more expensive desktop systems. That thinness was exaggerated a bit more with the Sennheiser HD800, which lost a bit of control in treble but still managed to hold on to a firm and pronounced bass. Actually, bass plumpness was one of the things I found very noticeable with this device, giving a very full and motivated effort throughout all the lower frequencies, without the need to fiddle with the EQ dials.
While I found it a little thinner sounding with some of the other aforementioned headphones, it felt much more at home with IEMs where I actually discovered a full-bodied sound. That goes mainly for the bass but also through into the slightly forward midrange that was fresh and bold. Overall I found this to be clean and very clear sounding but also slant to a warmer more bodied sound. Why it probably makes such a great flavour when added to the brighter CL1!
When listening I found the sound to not really be doing anything mind blowing. It was certainly pleasant but the soundstage wasn’t overly vast and things like detail retrieval were acceptable but not mind blowing or more than I would expect with some DAPs that cost less (HiSoundAudio S6, Cayin i5 & Aune M1S spring to mind).
RHA Deliver a Full Package
One thing with both these models we have looked at today that is irrefutable is how well RHA put a product together. From the exquisite packaging to the gorgeous looks and solid performance, RHA has made an ecosystem of audiophile products that would impress anyone. While strictly the CL1 may have some sonic faults and the L1 is no more than an average performer with some gimmicks, I can’t help but admit I think this has been admirable job of producing a full portable rig from the ground up and while it is obvious they want you to get both these products to pair together, that is not a bad thing because I think the IEMs sound best off the amp and amp drives the IEMs better than anything else.
I may say the CL1 is a good buy on its own if you want something bright and energetic but I don’t think I would be able to recommend the L1 without knowing you were buying the CL1 as well. It lacks the power for headphones, the sensitivity for IEMs and will cause you hassle in buying adapters or new cables to get the most out of it. Despite this, it is versatile and super easy to use. I urge more companies to be a bit braver and try something unique like RHA and while I haven’t been overwhelmed by these products, I hope they pave the way for the future of our rapidly staling industry. I would rather see something like this than yet another 20 something driver IEM costing £2,000….