EarMen TR-Amp review – a feisty one

TR-Amp 01

EarMen TR-Amp

Tested at $249
9.7

Sound (Headphone Out)

9.5/10

Sound (line out)

9.5/10

Build

10.0/10

Features

9.5/10

Value

10.0/10

Pros

  • Punchy and exciting presentation
  • Excellent detail retrieval
  • Balanced tonality
  • Equally capable DAC and AMP sections

Cons

  • USB input only

TR-Amp is brought by EarMen, a newly established brand on the market, but make no mistake it is not an inexperienced one. The founder and lead engineer behind it is Milomir Trosic, known better as the face of a more luxurious brand Auris Audio. But let us get back to the thing at hand. I’m interested to see how one of EarMen’s first products performs so let’s dig in.

BUILD AND FEATURES

TR-Amp is a portable DAC and headphone amp. It is quite small in size but made of thick aluminum. When picked up it leaves the impression of a well made, solid, and sturdy device.

In the front, there are two headphone outputs. A 6.35 mm and a 3.5 mm one can be used in parallel. Volume knob also doubles as the power switch. In the back, we find a pair of RCAs. Using the switch next to them you can opt to use them as a direct-out or preamp-out. Volume control for both preamp and headphone out is done in the analog domain. Two USB-C ports are used to provide separate signal and charging paths.

In the heart of the device, there is a well known ESS Sabre 9038Q2M DAC chip. Texas Instruments’ TPA6120 is used as a headphone amp and allows up to 400 mW at 16 Ohms. According to EarMen, those are backed up by some quality components like super-low ESR tantalum capacitors in the power supply and gold plated PCB. Lastly, an inbuilt 3700mA battery allows up to 10h of music playback. Worth mentioning is that the device can be normally used while charging.

Format support is rich with TR-Amp being able to play PCM up to 32bit / 384kHz, up to DSD128 native and DSD256 DoP. To sweeten the deal for streaming fans even MQA compression is supported.

SOUND (HEADPHONE OUT)

I hooked my Hifiman HE4XX to it and the first impression was that TR-Amp sounds bigger than it looks. Rich and punchy bass-line is the first thing to notice. Bass can go deep and kick hard but it never loses its grip and overstays its welcome. Above the bass region, everything continues in a similarly punchy fashion. The midrange sounds crisp with clear and energetic edges. The same goes for the higher region, it is crisp and sharp with respectable extension. Fortunately, sharpness is not overemphasized and it never steps onto a nasty, thin, and grainy side of things.

No matter what I’ve put on my playlist, TR-Amp remained a lively performer. Thick bass, slam, and energy of every note combine into a very rhythmic and exciting listen. All of it makes for an addictive experience, and more than once I caught myself tapping my foot or nodding my head in rhythm. This made me thinking about how this unit sounds bolder than the power rating numbers are suggesting.

SOUND (LINE OUT)

Putting TR-Amp in my main setup consisting of Cyrus 8vs2 and KEF LS50, and choosing a Direct position on the back switch, I’ve started testing its DAC capabilities. All of the qualities mentioned above in the headphone-out section are present on RCA-out as well.

TR-Amp sounds as you would expect a really well-executed Sabre DAC to sound. The soundstage is spread decently wide but not too deep. Being laid back, soft, and refined is not high on the list of TR-Amp’s priorities. What it offers instead is upfront and really engaging presentation. Bass has kick, the midrange has focus and intensity. Vocals are firmly fixed and etched in their spot. I can’t detect any coloring taking place and both male and female vocals sound natural. Edges are clear and energetic, making string plucks sound very exciting. All of this makes listening to a song like Nick Drake’s Free Ride an elevating experience.

COMPARISON

Fiio K5 pro sounds a bit soft and blend after TR-Amp. It has more power at hand but as long as you don’t have a super hungry set of headphones, TR-Amp will provide bolder and more resolving sound. It’ll also infuse every note with more energy and surround it with crisp transients that K5 pro simply can’t match.

Schiit Modi 3 and Magni 3‘s bass control seems a touch muddy and sluggish in comparison. Going beyond the bassline, TR-Amp’s overall clarity and exciting presentation are out of reach for this aging stack.

Topping E30 proved to be a good competitor to TR-Amp’s line-out. E30 has a more relaxed presentation and a slightly wider sound-stage. It is also capable of producing a bit more texture and air in the mid to high range. That helps in conveying the sandiness of Norah Jones’s vocal a bit better for example. TR-Amp punches back with firmer bass grip, better attack, focus, and bolder edges. These traits also help it to be more rhythmic than E30. Trying to decide which one is a more capable DAC proved to be difficult. In the end, I do prefer TR-Amp by a smidge. That said, each has its own set of strengths and depending on personal taste some of you might feel differently.

CONCLUSION

EarMen TR-Amp is a well-rounded product that offers a well-balanced and exciting presentation. It doesn’t matter if you’re planning to use it as a DAC/AMP or just a DAC, that doesn’t make much difference as it’s equally capable on both fronts. EarMen might be a new name on the market, but if TR-Amp is anything to go by you should keep an eye on their future releases – I now that I will.

EARMEN TR-AMP – CHARACTERISTICS

D/A converter: ESS Sabre 9038Q2M
Headphone amp: Texas Instruments TPA6120
Format support: PCM up to 384kHz, DSD256 via DoP, native DSD128 and MQA
Power Supply: 3700mA battery, up to 10h of playback
Headphone-out: 6.35 mm and 3.5 mm
Power rating: 400 mW @ 16 Ohm
SNR: +128 dB A-Weighted
THD+N: – 112.5 dB
RCA-out: Fixed line-out or Pre-amp mode

6 thoughts on “EarMen TR-Amp review – a feisty one

  1. Dear Mr. Stojanovic

    First of all, congratulations on your fine reviews. I really enjoy it and find it a nice quality content.
    I knew about this Earmen product from you, and it made me very curious. I am looking for a good dac and amp for my headphones, or a combo like this one.
    Firstly I was thinking of Topping E30 + Topping A50/Schiit 3 heresy. But now I am trying to decide between this separate options or the Earmen Tr amp.
    What makes me doubt about the Earmen Tr amp, is if it would properly power my Sennheiser/drop HD6xx headphones with 300 ohms and 103 bd/sensitivity. I am sure it can make them loud enough (cause even my old laptop can do it), I am just not sure if it can “open up” all the potencial details and nuances like a more powerful amp, like for example one of those that I mentioned before.
    I would truly appreciate your feedback on this matter please.

    Best regards and please keep the good work.
    Franco

    1. Thank you Franco! I’ve been wanting to get a pair of HD6xx for some time now but somehow always end up spending my budget on something else. I’m pretty sure TR-amp would have no trouble filling them with good sound, it’s a really capable amp that sounds bolder than numbers suggest. That said, E30 + Magni 3 combo also sounded very good (but a touch less resolving) so it’s a very close call, to be honest. I haven’t heard Magni 3+ or Heresy but they’re supposed to be even better so E30 + one of those might be a very good combo too. Personally, I’d probably go with TR-amp (if you don’t mind slight noise when the volume knob is turned – it does that for some reason), but E30/Schiit is definitely a worthy alternative if it would make you feel more at ease regarding power.

  2. Hey!
    Very interesting!
    I am looking for an amp-dac around 200-250 euros (approximately). Would this earman worth twice the cost of iFi zen dac ? Can you quickly compare it ? I only use headphones and generally like smooth but detailed presentation for jazz or classical music.

    1. Hi! The worth part is always a very tricky thing to access for another person. It really depends on your own needs and the headphones you’re going to use it with. For example, for AKG K92 or Takstar Pro 82, Zen is more than sufficient. But if you’re rocking something like Beyerdinymics DT880, Hifiman HE-4XX or Sennheiser HD5xx/6xx then I feel that EarMen TR-Amp would be worth the difference since it’s simply more resolving and dynamic sounding. That said, it is sharp and jumpy sounding. If you think that wouldn’t suit you, and you’d prefer more warmth and smoothness, maybe consider Fiio K5 pro too.

  3. Thanks a lot for your answer.
    I plan to use it with a sennheiser hd600, and a hifiman-drop 4xx. Do you think the ifi zen would be power enough (specially from my old usb 2.0 laptop ports)… as far as i read the zen could sound more natural (non fatiguing)I really appreciate your feedback.
    Best regards.

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