Oppo has been on my radar for quite some time. Yet until recently, I’ve never actually owned an Oppo product. I do have a friend who owns the Bd-105 and he loves it. A year ago, Oppo had begun the process to develop their first headphone and I followed the story closely. Once the PM-1 was released, I decided to take the plunge. After loving the PM-1, I was eager to put Oppo’s premier headphone Amp/DAC combo to the test. Enter the HA-1.
From the moment you open the box you notice that Oppo is all about quality, precision and thoughtful execution. The brushed aluminum housing is beautiful. My test unit was black, but the HA-1 is offered in a silver finish as well. Fit and finish of the chassis are near perfect. The technical info and features are outlined here on Oppo’s website.
I spent the first few weeks exploring each and every function of the HA-1 (and there are a lot of options). The feature list offered makes the HA-1 a Swiss Army knife component. Although I thought I’d find some slight hiccup with the functionality because of the plethora of options, I never caused the HA-1 to misfire even once. Bluetooth streaming: Check. iPod front panel USB connection: Perfect. Wait, I’ve got it. They could never get the remote control app functionality correct on the first release, right? Wrong. It is seamless.
Even the remote control is finely constructed. Although small, it’s made of aluminum and fits nicely in the hand. The buttons are laid out well and offer both color and tactile features. Volume control is precise and modulates the large motorized potentiometer with ease.
I had an opportunity to speak briefly with Jason Laio, CTO at Oppo. We spoke about the development process for the HA-1 and his role in the company. What I found truly impressive is Oppo’s commitment to excellence with each and every facet for each and every product they develop. How do they do it? According to Jason, it has a lot to do with being a relatively small company. Decisions are made quickly and effectively due to the smaller size of the design teams. With the HA-1, Oppo did their research, working with customers and beta testers to ensure they were producing the functionality that their customer base desired. Oppo has developed a culture that is built on success, one product at a time. The recurring thought I have when my hands are on an Oppo product is: “These Oppo design engineers are incredibly thoughtful in the development of their products.”
I began testing the HA-1 with my trusty HD650’s. I’ve had this pair of headphones for several years and I’m comfortable with what it can do. With the HA-1, the sound was clean, punchy and dynamic. I cued up some hi-resolution female vocal recordings to see just what the mids from this amp had to offer.
Norah Jones “Turn Me On” from her debut album makes for a good test track and one that I often use. Norah’s voice came through with a natural tone. There was a pleasing resonant quality to her voice that I was accustomed to hearing from other high quality amps through the HD650. There was also nice extension to the high notes that came through clearly and with sufficient detail. Thankfully, the HA-1 did not add any harshness or shrill sound to the upper register. Bass notes came through with authority, had plenty of kick, and without any sign of bloom. The treble presentation was resolved and with proper extension. Pairing the HA-1 and the HD650 worked well, to say the least.
Next, I moved on to the HD800 on both a single-ended and balanced cable. What becomes immediately apparent is the additional power that the balanced jack offers. The HD800 and planar magnetic headphones appreciated the extra power provided by the balanced connector. I like to test amplifiers (and DACs) with the HD800’s due to its hyper revealing nature. Even the slightest alteration in my setup can be detected when using the HD800’s. The HA-1 delivered good clean dynamics on hi-res test material. I cued up Anne Akiko Myers: The Bach Album to see how well the amp was able to drive the HD800. When paired with the HD800, I found the HA-1 to be a little too clinical and the leading edge of the notes were slightly harsh and less natural than I would prefer. When I bypassed the onboard DAC in favor of my NAD m51 reference DAC, I got a more comfortable signature with somewhat smoother highs and a slightly sweeter midrange. In fairness, there are very few amps/DACs making magic with the HD800’s. In my experience, the HD800 tends to sound it’s best paired with high end tube amps.
With planar magnetic headphones, I found the HA-1 to be a near ideal pairing. The Hifiman HE-400i made an exceptional match with the HA-1. The HE-400i responded best with the balanced connection. Please note that the HE-400i is extremely efficient for a planar magnetic headphone. This headphone sounded impressive through the HA-1 and I would be content having it paired with this amp for everyday listening. Next, I spun up a track by Doug McLeod entitled, “Black Nights”. The bass notes from this recording are exceptionally textured and deep. McLeod’s vocals are powerful and wonderfully raspy when rendered well. The HA-1 came through again, reproducing the vocals from this track with aplomb.
What does the HA-1 not do so well? This is not an amp for those who are looking for a “full on” tube/OTL sound. While the HA-1 excels at dynamics, it’s also not for someone specifically looking for an overly lush sound. Keep in mind that this amp takes up a large footprint (measuring 10×4.8×12.2), and for some, the HA-1 may be difficult to comfortably fit on a desktop. The real strength of this product is in the amp section. Overall, the DAC performs well, yet with revealing headphones, it may be a tad bright.
The HA-1 is an exceptional product. Thoughtful and intelligent design is evident throughout. The inclusion and proper implementation of a gain switch allows the use of everything from IEM’s to planar magnetic headphones.
The amp section is exceptional and competes with standalone headphone amps costing considerably more
Near perfect execution of design and manufacturing
Works with an impressive range of headphones
Slick looking and functional front panel display
Impressive feature set
Complete balanced design throughout
DAC section offers good, but not the best performance
Large footprint may be prohibitive for some users
Gear used in review:
Headphones: Oppo pm-2, Sennheiser hd650, hd600, hd800, Vsonic gr07mkii be and Hifiman he400i
My personal journey into audio stared as a teenager when I purchased a
Pioneer sx-650 and a pair of Advent speakers. I will never forget the moment I
tuned it on for the first time. Every gear purchase since has been an effort to
relive that moment.