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.
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.
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