First look: RHA prepares to enter DAC/headphone amp market

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The demonstration, or teaser, DACAMP unit at IFA was about 0.8 in thick, which will add quite some chunkiness to a mobile music setup(Credit: Paul Ridden/Gizmag)

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For the last few years, RHA's earphones have gone from great-sounding blasters for the budget conscious to top notch high resolution audio throwers like the impressive T20s we reviewed back in July. Fast approaching its fifth anniversary, the company now feels that the time is right for a move beyond earphones and gave a glimpse into its near future vision with a still-in-development DAC/headphone amp on show at IFA 2015. Gizmag dropped by the RHA booth for a quick look.

RHA's early earphones were crafted from lightweight aluminum, but with the launch of the MA750i/750s in 2013, the British audio manufacturer started to travel down a somewhat heavier path. Injection molding entered the scene with the stainless steel T10i and T10 models, and the upcoming DACAMP M1 looks set to continue the company's current alloy of choice for its high end audio gear.

Such things are subject to change, however. The digital-to-analog converter and headphones amp is still in prototyping, and the demo unit on display in Berlin over the last week was a non-functioning design reference. An early tease if you will. The preliminary specs being thrown around at the moment could change, too, but they do at least give a possible taste of things to come.

These list a dedicated ESS Sabre32 ES9018K2M DAC and a dedicated hybrid Class A/B channel amp on each of the unit's two audio channels, promising support for high resolution digital audio up to 24-bit/192 kHz PCM and native DSD64/128/256.

There are two asynchronous USB 2.0 inputs for cabled connection to laptops, computers, smartphones and tablets without going anywhere near the often sub-par integrated amp and audio out jack of the source device. In addition to facilitating the feeding in of tunes, the full-sized USB port can be used to charge mobile devices connected to the DACAMP, while the micro-USB connection serves to top up the device's own battery. The unit's built-in Li-ion battery should be good for 8 hours of continuous playback at comfortable listening levels.

The DACAMP also looks like it's going to have an enormous frequency response of 1 Hz to 100 kHz, and will be capable of powering 3.5 mm jack headphones and IEMs with an impedance of between 8 and 150 ohms and XLR-based cans from 8 to 600 ohms. To the right side, clicky treble and bass EQ wheels and a three-level gain control wheel can be seen – all positioned under a steel protector, with drill holes to view the selected levels.

We were told that the unit is powered on by pushing forward a knurled metal control between the headphone outputs at the top, which is then used to increase or decrease volume. A four position sliding switch at the bottom is used to select functionality.

The outer appearance of the IFA demo unit did seem pretty much finished, though there have been a few minor tweaks since the DACAMP made a brief appearance at the Munich High End Show back in May so more modifications may be on the menu.

It came in at about 0.8 in thick, which will add quite some girth to a mobile setup. As such, and in common with many other high end DACs, it's likely that the unit will find a home with those who value high quality listening more than a slim pocket profile.

Given the teaser nature of the beast, we can't comment on the sound quality, user experience or battery performance at this point. But were we to use the in-ear headphones we've tried as a quality yardstick, we'd say it's a pretty safe bet that RHA is going to deliver the goods.

We've been informed that more concrete information on the DACAMP, including pricing, will be made available in the run up to CES 2016.

While we were visiting the RHA booth we also had a brief look at the company's new compact budget additions, the tiny S500i earphones. Unfortunately, a bustling IFA meant that we didn't spend any plugged in time with them, but RHA is promising vibrant and detailed sonic reproduction. These new in-ear headphones feature the company's proprietary 140.1 micro dynamic drivers, aluminum alloy housing and a cable that's fabric to the y-joint and then rubber to each earpiece.

The "i" signifies that this model has an inline remote for playback control of connected Apple devices. The S500i earphones will go on sale from next month across the Apple Store network for US$49.95.

If you're not too bothered about source playback control or hands-free telephony, a version without the inline control is also available. The S500 earphones are priced at $39.95 and will be available later in the year.

Product pages: DACAMP, S500i, S500

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