EarMen CH-Amp/Tradutto DAC$2279
Need a high-quality DAC amp combo? Check out our review of the EarMen CH-Amp/Tradutto DAC and discover its impressive features and performance.
In today’s world, where music is an integral part of our lives, having a good DAC and headphone amplifier on your desktop can make all the difference. Once you experience the quality of sound provided by a good DAC/Amp combo like the iFi ZEN DAC V2 or the FiiO JadeAudio KA3, you may wonder, can things get any better?
Well, at that point, you’re probably ready for a DAC/Amp stack, a system comprising separate DAC and Headphone Amp components. Like full-size hi-fi components, because these devices don’t share internal power supplies and have more powerful internals, they can perform better than less expensive combination units.
That’s where the new EarMen Stack comes in. EarMen, a well-respected brand we have covered on the site, has expanded its range of DACs and Headphone amps beyond premium portable options, and they now have a fine line of components designed to offer a more refined listening experience. Their new stack includes the CH-Amp Headphone Amp with PSU-3 power supply, Tradutto DAC, and Staccato streamer.
Today, we’re looking at two parts of that stack, the $1480 CH-Amp, and the $799 Tradutto DAC. Whether you’re an audiophile, a music enthusiast, or someone who loves listening to music while working at your desk, the EarMen CH-Amp Headphone Amp/Tradutto DAC promises to deliver high-quality sound with exceptional build quality. In this post, we’ll review this impressive audio device’s features, performance, and value for money. So, let’s dive in and see what the EarMen CH-Amp/Tradutto DAC offers.
Dac Amp Combo: What’s In The Box
In the case of the CH-Amp (and included PSU-3 Power Supply), you get a small remote control, three power cords so you can connect the Tradutto DAC and Staccato streamer up to the PSU-3 power supply, along with another power cord to connect the power supply and headphone amp section. Interestingly, the package doesn’t include a power cord for the power supply itself. I used an AudioQuest NRG-X3 power cord I had lying around to power the stack, but a unit costing north of $1000 should have one in the box.
The Tradutto DAC comes with a power supply (which I didn’t use since I powered it from the PSU-3), a mesh bag to store accessories, a remote control, a cloth to wipe fingerprints, a USB cable for connection to a laptop, and an antenna for Bluetooth reception.
The robust build of both the CH-Amp and Tradutto DAC is evident in their full-block aluminum chassis, which makes them feel highly durable and solid. In addition, their compact design makes them fit for just about any environment, even though they will probably be most at home on the desktop. According to EarMen, embedding the PCBs in a solid aluminum housing provides greater protection and additional insulation from external influences.
The CH-Amp is designed for versatility, with preamp outs and a two-step gain switch. The balanced and single-ended preamp outputs allow for connection to powered monitors for a complete system. At the same time, the gain switch provides better control of both output level and impedance for better matching to headphones.
The Tradutto also offers versatile connectivity options provided by its digital optical, digital coaxial, and USB inputs. With these inputs, users can easily connect a range of digital devices such as CD players, phones, tablets, games consoles, and laptops, allowing them to play music from any digital source.
Additionally, the Tradutto and CH-Amp have OLED displays, which provide a decent amount of info despite being small. That’s because they have a high pixel density, and they are well laid out. A multi-color display would’ve made them a bit easier to read, but that’s not a deal breaker.
EarMen CH-Amp Features
- External low-noise linear power supply
- Output power up to 3.8W
- Fully balanced architecture
The EarMen CH-Amp is a fully balanced desktop headphone amplifier designed with a Composite Amplifier Topology, which is said to offer several advantages over other amplifier designs. According to EarMen, composite amplifiers remove errors typical of the more ubiquitous thermal feedback loop topology and improve performance while also providing better DC output/offset.
The circuitry of the CH-Amp is built around audiophile-oriented components such as WIMA capacitors in combination with MELF low noise resistors and TI SoundPlus OPA1642 operational amplifiers. The intention is to provide a low signal-to-noise ratio, THD, and excellent frequency response, even at high loads.
The CH-Amp is a fully balanced headphone amplifier, meaning that the balanced outputs from the source go to the output intact, only amplified. In addition, the single-end input converts signals to balanced without phase shift.
The PSU-3 Extra Low Linear Power Supply, included with the CH-Amp, is made to produce minimal noise. The power supply is designed as a perfect match to the amplifier section and protects against current overload, short circuits, and thermal overload.
Regarding operation, the one issue I had with the CH-Amp was that it didn’t hold the settings I made when I turned it off. It’s not the end of the world, since there aren’t many settings to change, but it does cost you a few seconds when you first turn the unit on.
Earmen Tradutto DAC Features
- High-End ESS ES9038Q2M DAC Chip
- MQA Supported (Full Decoding)
- Bluetooth 5.1 (AAC/SBC/aptX/aptx LL/aptx HD)
- Handles digital audio files up to 32bit/768kHz or DSD512
The Earmen Tradutto DAC is a high-quality digital-to-analog converter that offers exceptional sound performance and compatibility with a wide range of digital audio sources. The ES9038Q2M DAC chip allows for outstanding sound performance and can handle digital audio files up to 32bit/768kHz or DSD512. The circuit is optimized to draw less current and improve power filtering, resulting in low interference from Wi-Fi, cellular, and Bluetooth signals. The MQA support allows for hardware decoding of MQA files (a la’ Tidal Masters) and renders them in high quality.
The XMOS 16-Core chip (XU216) enables hardware decoding of MQA and other necessary functions for listening to music with double the clock speed (2000MIPS) and four times the memory (512KB). Furthermore, the fully balanced output ensures that the balanced outputs from the DAC go to the Amp input intact and are only amplified.
The gold-plated PCB and fully balanced output are provided for a clean and high-quality sound, while Bluetooth 5.1 (with support for advanced codecs like Qualcomm® aptX™ audio, aptX HD, and Qualcomm aptX Adaptive) provides added convenience and flexibility.
On the front of the unit, there are two buttons to select the input, a button for Bluetooth pairing, and a power button. Everything is nicely laid out, and the DAC is easy to use.
For this review, I used the $1299 Hifiman Arya (Stealth Edition) headphones with the CH-Amp/Tradutto DAC Amp Combo, listening to Tidal on a Dell laptop. At first listen, it was difficult to hear the virtues of this stack vs. a good DAC/Amp combination unit like the Hifiman EF400, but that’s because it was so balanced and refined.
That’s the thing with true high-end audio gear, it’s not tuned to grab your attention, but to present music in a clean and organic manner, making you almost forget you’re tethered to a stack of aluminum boxes on your desk.
That’s exactly what the CH-Amp and Tradutto did. They presented music with such a balanced delicacy and transparency, that the headphones and components just got out of the way, and I was engrossed solely by the music.
By the way, the CH-Amp has an unexceptional power output rating of 1.5 W from the single-ended output (3.8 W from the balanced), but this seems to be rated rather conservative as it had no problem driving the Arya to its full potential on the low gain setting.
Listening to “John Henry” by Cecile Mclorin Salvant, I was highly impressed by the quietness of the background, the rhythmic drive, as well as the sweetness of the vocal, really the midrange in general. While I think the soundstage could’ve been a little wider, and the lowest of notes could’ve been fleshed out a little more, focus and depth were next level.
On Patricia Barber’s “Mashup”, I was taken aback by the detail provided to the strings and percussion, but I have to say I have heard better separation and layering from other DACs, like the $549 SMSL DO300, which uses the new ES9039MSPRO chip from ESS. That said, that device sounds nowhere as quiet or organic.
Even at very low levels, the CH-Amp and Tradutto made the Hifiman headphones sing, allowing me to hear the distinct notes of each instrument in the song. I have to say this setup is amongst the best I’ve ever heard, and this includes offerings costing tens of thousands of dollars.
I’m not saying this setup quite matched the holographic presentation or resolution of those endgame-type rigs, but it gave me much of the same “you are there” feeling I get from those setups for a lot less cash. I can see adding an even better set of headphones like the Hifiman HE1000 V2 and getting even closer to the summit of head-fi setups.
It might sound crazy to some since the DAC and Amp I’m reviewing comes in at around $2300 without headphones, but the Earmen CH-Amp/Tradutto DAC Amp Stack is one of the most cost-effective and balanced high-end headphone systems on the market. It offers excellent audio performance, a meshed system that’s nearly flawless, and is all but guaranteed to give you a better listening experience than your average DAC/Amp combo can.
The only real downside to this system is that it’s not quite as refined, detailed, or spacious as the best DAC/Amps that money can buy, but then again, you don’t have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to get it. By the way, Earmen’s sister company Auris sells headphone amps that cost more than this stack.
If you’re interested in getting a taste of cost-no-object high-end audio, but don’t want to break the bank, this system is highly recommended. It works as well as it looks, and believe it or not, you’re looking at a great value package.
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I’m an audio writer who started as a young audio salesman/consumer electronics professional back in the late 90s. That’s where I discovered the magic of 2-Channel sound. My hunger for great sound has led me on a delightful music quest that continues today.