OPPO HA-2 SE Portable Headphone Amplifier Review

OPPO Digital is a Chinese owned company based in Menlo Park, California. They initially built their reputation designing and manufacturing Blu-ray disc players but then later began developing and marketing other audio and video products. In 2014 they released their first set of headphones (the OPPO PM-1) and headphone amplifier (the HA-1) to the high-end consumer audio market. Since then they’ve release 2 more headphone models (the PM-2 and PM-3) and a portable headphone amplifier (the HA-2). Recently OPPO Digital released the HA-2SE (special edition) of the portable headphone amplifier and I had a chance to check one out to see what all the talk is about.

ABOUT

To be perfectly clear, the HA-2SE by OPPO Digital is a portable headphone amplifier and DAC (Digital Audio Converter) designed specifically to accompany your portable audio devices (smartphones, mobile devices, media players etc). The featured function of the HA-2SE is that you can bypass your built-in audio output on your mobile device using the built-in digital port. By accessing the digital signal directly from your smartphone you’re able to use the premium quality headphone amplifier technology in the OPPO HA-2SE to not only boost the signal but improve the sound output quality. But is it worth getting one of these gadgets or is it just one more not-so-necessary luxury item designed to get consumers to throw away their hard earned cash?

DESIGN

There’s a lot of technology in this device and OPPO Digital has managed to make the HA-2SE compact and user-friendly. Pulling this device out of the box it feels well built and the leather wrapping around the aluminum body is a nice touch as well as a smart move to keep the HA-2SE looking good and free from scratches. It’s no bigger in size than the standard smartphone although it is thicker and heavier. It comes with 2 custom sized bands designed to fasten your smartphone to the HA-2SE back to back for effective use. The inputs and outputs are clearly marked with A, B & C along with a switcher that’s easy to understand and use. The main digital inputs on the OPPO HA-2SE are on the bottom which coordinate well with mobile devices and the headphone jack is on top which makes perfect sense. The short (yet flexible) digital cables plug in easily and for the most part they don’t get in the way. The volume knob is conveniently on the top and designed in a way that makes it difficult to accidentally turn the volume up or down. Overall the design of the OPPO HA-2SE is solid and well thought out. It runs on it’s own built-in battery and charges-up quickly so it won’t drain your phone battery. It can even be used to charge your mobile device.

There’s a lot of technology in this device and OPPO Digital has managed to make the HA-2SE compact and user-friendly.
There’s a lot of technology in this device and OPPO Digital has managed to make the HA-2SE compact and user-friendly.

SOUND

I tested all the inputs on the HA-2SE beginning with the iPhone digital input and used a pair of Beyerdynamic DT1770 Pro headphones for reference. With each device the sound quality and signal boost was significantly improved and the gain switch on the side (from Low to High) definitely came in handy as the signal level was initially not quite enough. Also located on the side of the OPPO-HA2SE is a bass boosting switch for those who wish to switch between a more flat mix sound and heavier bass. Pretty cool features indeed. The HA-2SE performed similarly with each device including the analog input which of course added minor noise to the signal.

Although you can use the HA-2SE to significantly boost and improve the digital signal of your streaming and compressed files, the magic of the device really appears when you use high quality “or lossless” files like FLAC, ALAC, WAV, AIFF and DSD. Using these high-resolution file types from your mobile device or media player the quality of the output sound is quite impressive considering the size of this DAC. I will say that the output has a “solid-state” sound to it rather than the warm “tube” sound some audiophiles are looking for but I prefer a more true and clear sound myself without the obstruction of passive circuitry or filters.

PRICE

The price of the OPPO Digital HA-2SE portable headphone amplifier is right around $300. All things considered it’s not too bad considering what you can pay for a portable amplifier these days. It feels like it would last a long time and make a nice edition to your music listening arsenal.

OVERVIEW

The OPPO Digital HA-2SE portable headphone amplifier and DAC by OPPO Digital is definitely an ambitious endeavor. It reminds me of the first personal computers from Apple and IBM and the race to make them smaller and easier to use. All on a very narrow deadline.

In my opinion OPPO Digital has managed to get one of the nicest looking and feeling compact portable DAC devices to market on-time at a reasonable price. However I also think it’s a bit heavy and awkward when using with a mobile phone. The connector wires are short in order to minimize the bulkiness but I feel like this could be done more effectively with a different design. And strapping the device to your phone seems strange even though I know it’s probably the best option for now.

It’s definitely not perfect for using around town or on the way to work unless you’re wearing a coat with big pockets. The HA-2SE portable headphone ampifier would however make a nice edition for long trips or instances where you didn’t have a lot of moving around to do (i.e. – on a plane, hotel room etc). Overall I think the HA-2SE is definitely designed for audiophiles in limited traveling situations and would be well worth the money to get you started into the world of portable high-fidelity audio listening.