Between Heaven And Earth
- Very high sound quality. Possibly the best portable DAC/AMP I’ve tried in terms of sound.
- Very clean, neutral, wide, open, ethereal and pure sound.
- Great sense of stage, openness, three-dimensionality and expansion.
- High power level, especially for medium and high impedance headphones.
- Simplicity in handling.
- Intelligent, fully balanced circuitry, thermal protection, reset to zero volume in the absence of connection at its headphone outputs.
- Ability to use as a preamp, via SE and balanced outputs.
- Multi-function infinite potentiometer.
- Quality construction, robust feel and attractive finish.
- The LED gives too much information by colour scheme and flashing to be easily distinguishable.
- I would have preferred a 6.3mm SE headphone output and/or gold plating.
- The potentiometer is stepwise and the volume jumps for sensitive headphones can be a bit high.
- There are no filters and no RCA inputs.
- Battery life is not as long as I would have liked.
- Both the weight and the size suggest a stationary use, however, wherever you want.
- The price is a bit high.
Link to the Store
The EarMen Angel is the brand’s second portable DAC/AMP, if we exclude the Colibri from this equation. Since that first flashy red TR-AMP, EarMen has devoted every effort to improving every aspect of that bold device. The external design is similar, changed to a deep, more celestial blue, perhaps that’s where the name comes from. Now, its internal circuitry is fully balanced, a high gain knob has been incorporated, it has two 3000mAh batteries, 2 line outputs (3.5mm SE and 4.4mm BAL) and supports MQA, plus DSD 512 natively and up to PCM 768kHz/32Bits. It still uses the ESS ES9038Q2M DAC, has a built-in S/PDIF COAX/TOS input and has a dynamic range of 120dB. On the other hand, the power level has been increased to 7.2V RMS per SE output and to 8.5V RMS per BAL output. EarMen has also added other improvements, such as a multi-coloured front LED, which allows the status of the device to be reported, and has changed the volume control to a much more intelligent step control.
Angel is also my brother’s middle name. And, unfortunately, it was the first name of my uncle, who died of COVID, during the pandemic. So, for particular reasons, every time I realise what this model is called, I can’t help my head going somewhere else and I get memories located in limbo, in that place where this device pretends to take us with its musical quality. Let’s see what happens with it.
- Inputs: USB C for data, USB C for charging, S/PDIF COAX/TOS.
- Line outputs: Single Ended 3.5mm and 4.4mm BAL.
- Headphone outputs: Single Ended 3.5mm and 4.4mm BAL.
- DSD audio formats: DoP 256/128/64. Native DSD 512/256/128/64.
- DXD audio formats: 768/705.6/384/352.8kHz.
- PCM audio formats: 768/705.6/384/352.8/192/176.4/96/88.2/48/44.1kHz.
Single-ended headphone output with Gain+:
- USB input output level: 7.2V RMS 0dBFS
- S/PDIF input output level: 7.2V RMS 0dBFS
- THD+N: 0.004% THD+N: 0.004% SNR: >120DB (A-WEIGHTED)
- SNR: >120dB (A-Weighted)
- Frequency Response: ±0.2dB
- DNR: >120dB
Fully Balanced headphone output with Gain+:
- USB input output level: 8.5V RMS 0dBFS
- S/PDIF input output level: 8.5V RMS 0dBFS
- THD+N: 0.002% THD+N: 0.002% SNR: >119DB (A-WEIGHTED)
- SNR: >119dB (A-Weighted)
- Frequency Response: ±0.2dB
- DNR: >119dB
Single End line output:
- Direct output level: 1.5V RMS 0dBFS
- Pre-output level: 7.2V RMS 0dBFS
- THD+N direct output: 0.005% THD+N pre-out: 0.004% THD+N pre-out: 0.004
- THD+N pre-out: 0.004% THD+N pre-out: 0.004% SNR: >120dB (0.004%)
- SNR: >120dB (A-Weighted)
- Frequency Response: ±0.2dB
- DNR: >120dB
Fully Balanced line output:
- Direct output level: 3V RMS 0dBFS
- Pre-output level: 8.5V RMS 0dBFS
- THD+N pre-out: 0.002% THD+N pre-out: 0.002% SNR: >119dB (A)
- SNR: >119dB (A-Weighted)
- Frequency Response: ±0.2dB
- DNR: >119dB
- Dimensions: 152x27x66mm
- Weight: 340gr.
The EarMen Angel still comes in a black box that keeps the same design as its predecessor. On it is the view of three sides of the device, in white lines. On the underside, these views are maintained and are completed with a short summary of the specifications and the many logos of the certificates that the product complies with. The dimensions are 192x92x66mm. The box is opened by pulling the lid upwards. The first thing you see is the user manual. Then, the Angel inside a protective foam mould. Underneath is a cardboard box with a hole in the middle, which protects the lower level, where the accessories are located. The summary of the contents is as follows:
- EarMen Angel.
- USB Type C to Type C cable, textile covered.
- Adapter for Coaxial input.
- Adapter for SPDIF input.
- User manual.
This time, there is no textile cover, nor rubber straps like the ones that came with the TR-Amp. Above all, the cover is missing. The USB cable is long and there is no short cable either. Considering the portable use of this device, I think both accessories are missing. Also, the price of the TR-Amp makes me think of a larger set of items.
Construction and Design
Again, the simple but effective design of the TR-Amp is repeated. Built to be bulletproof, the surface retains that micro-sandblasted look, but this time in a deep blue colour. The brand logo is in the centre of the upper face, in white ink. The model and its designer is near the left side edge and close to the front face. It has four metal Allen screws at the corners. Angel can be read in the upper left corner. Below it is the 4.4mm output, gold plated. To its right is the SE 3.5mm output, which is not plated. Above it is the multi-coloured LED. In the centre of the device is a small round black button for activating the GAIN+ mode. Below it is a small LED indicator. Further to the right, there is a switch to select direct line output or preamp. Finally, there is the volume potentiometer/on/off button. Underneath are 4 semi-spherical transparent rubber feet. Painted in white are the logos of the certifications the product complies with, as well as the serial number, among other information. The rear face has the same screw fixing. From left to right is the USB Type C charging connector, the data connector, S/PDIF input, SE 3.5mm line output and BAL 4.4mm line output.
The size is larger than its TR-Amp sibling, being longer. However, it is just as wide. The increase in weight is also noticeable. The volume knob has a larger diameter, although it looks very similar. Now it is no longer the classic potentiometer. The fixed output or pre-out switch is at the front, there are no more RCA outputs. But there are balanced outputs, both headphone and line outputs. There is also an S/PDIF COAX/TOS input, a gain selection knob (with LED indicator) and a multicolour LED to indicate the function.
Although it may look like a simple device, it is certainly more sophisticated than its predecessor.
It is a fairly simple device in this respect. It has a USB Type C input for connection to PC, MAC/Linux, DAP or Smartphone. It also has an S/PDIF COAX/TOS input.
In terms of outputs, it has two headphone outputs, BAL 4.4mm and SE 3.5mm. It also has the same line outputs on the rear.
ASIO driver can be downloaded for Windows connection.
The instruction manual is very schematic and simple.
The device is switched on/off by pressing the volume button for 3 seconds.
Press the volume button simply and briefly to enter mute mode. Press again to exit this mode and return to the previous volume.
When the headphones are disconnected from the outputs, the device goes into mute mode. When the headphones are reconnected, the volume status is reset to the lowest position as a protection.
The potentiometer is infinite and goes in steps. As the volume is increased, the colour of the LED changes to indicate the power (green: volume <25%, yellow: volume between 25% -50%, orange: volume between 50% -75%, red: volume between 75% -100%).
The LED also indicates other statuses: flashing red: battery below 20%. Flashing blue: battery charging. Flashing green: Mute. Flashing red three times: thermal protection, the device will be switched off.
The LED also serves to indicate the format being played: (Orange: Connected/ PCM. Purple: S/PDIF. Cyan: DSD. Magenta: MQA core/MQB. Blue: MQA Studio. Green: MQA Auth).
There is also an LED to indicate that GAIN+ is activated: If it is red, it is activated. Off, the device is in low gain.
The system has two 3000mAh batteries, but even if you are not playing music, the system consumes. Charging takes three hours with a 5V 2A adapter.
The device can be used while charging. The battery life is not very long. Although I haven’t drained the battery completely, I did go into low battery mode on a fairly long afternoon of use. I don’t think I’ll get more than 8 hours of continuous use and without using very demanding headphones. On the other hand, that is what the specifications say.
EarMen specifies a maximum output of 7.2V on SE and 8.5V on BAL, but does not give specific power ratings for specific impedances. It only says that it is capable of delivering 2×2.25W through the balanced headphone output. Doing the math, that power corresponds to 32Ω. We’ll see what my measurements say.
From what I have been able to check, the EarMen Angel is more capable of delivering a higher voltage for medium and high impedances, than for low impedances. Although I have also found that the power for 16Ω and 32Ω delivered is very high, quite sufficient for any model in that range.
Angel has a thermal protection control, which means that when the device exceeds a certain power that causes it to generate a high temperature, it shuts down. During my measurements, this has happened to me with the 16Ω and 32Ω impedances, while I was looking for the maximum values.
No Load SE
For low gain, the output voltage reaches 3V, while for high gain, it is around 7.2V. My rudimentary measurement system goes from 7.3V at 20Hz to 6.85V at 20kHz. I don’t think it’s a problem with the Earmen, because I have found that this little oscilloscope measures higher frequencies worse than lower frequencies. I usually see this behaviour in all my measurements.
15 Ω SE
I have played a lot with high or low gain and volume to find the maximum voltage point for this resistor. And I have seen that the maximum voltage is obtained at low gain and it is 2.13V. That is a power of 300mW. A really high value, with 140 mA of current delivery. This implies that it is a device capable of driving any low impedance IEM that is put in front of it.
33 Ω SE
I thought that with that level of current, the power in this section would be higher. But I find a voltage limitation for low impedances (the thermal protection). So the voltage obtained is the same, 2.13V. This gives 140mW and 65mA of current. Looking at the previous section, I expected more, although it is not a trivial value in any case.
100 Ω SE
The surprise has been to move to this value, the Angel delivers all the voltage without leaving anything out. 7.1V is 0.5W. Very powerful.
No Load BAL
For low gain you get 3.2V and for high gain I measured 8.36V, very close to the specified 8.5V.
15 Ω BAL
A little more power from the balanced output, with 2.28V, reaching 150mA and 350mW. Excellent.
33 Ω BAL
Fortunately, by balancing, the voltage value for this resistor rises to 3.84V, which is 450mW (almost half a watt) and 120mA. Very good.
The EarMen Angel is able to move the TinHifi P2 with ease, taking it to quite high volume levels.
100 Ω BAL
Again, all voltage for this value. 8.36V, 700mW and 84mA. Again excellent.
Completely flat in the frequency range from 10Hz to 20kHz. No differences between channels at various volume levels. As expected.
The voltage measurement does not move without load or with load, both for SE and BAL. This implies a very low output impedance, clearly below 1 Ω.
My main use has been with IEMS from my collection and connected to my PC via USB-C.
As it says on the product’s own website, the engineer behind the EarMen Angel is Filip Tot. Reading his story behind this product, text that can be read on the mentioned website, I was struck by some parts: «we pay a lot of attention to subjective feeling, not just measurements «. As well as his almost obsessive struggle to create a great product with the best sound, even though it was difficult: «From the beginning, the solution seemed to be at my fingertips, but even when everything worked perfectly, the sound was not what I was looking for. I didn’t sleep… «. I know from my own experience that electronics is not a simple thing and that all the progress in this area has been thanks to the great minds that have brought us to today’s technological level. But once at this point and within this world of portable audio, in particular, where there is so much competition, it is not easy for one product to sound better than another, even if the price is higher.
As I have always said, analysing a source is the most complex process as an audio reviewer. But when it comes to a device with the quality of this Angel, things are often easier.
Its profile is neutral, with a delicate and relatively fine note weight. Its level of clarity, transparency, resolving power and definition is very high. Because of this, the sound trend and timbre veers slightly to a brighter point, giving a feeling of being slightly more analytical than analogue.
One of the things that makes this DAC/AMP stand out the most is the purity of its sound. Angel is really clean, crisp, clear, crystalline and transparent. It is fast, dynamic, with great definition and resolution.
Its agility allows notes to be felt all the way through, from their inception to their dissolution. In vocals, for example, this path to silence is perceptible, and in strings, guitars and drums, too, this ability is distinguishable. If you have precise headphones, listening to this kind of sensation will be very pleasant. Likewise, the transitions are devilishly fast, making clear the great dynamic range and speed it possesses.
Another of the things that struck me most was the size of the scene he proposes. Angel is extremely airy and volatile, the level of separation and distance between elements is perceived with immediacy. The music appears somewhere between liquid and vaporous. With headphones capable of generating a wide scene, it will form a synergy that will elevate the three-dimensional feel of the image, as well as the overall descriptiveness. The holographic recreation and out-of-head perception will be enhanced, but without feeling unrealistic or forced.
Finally, despite the sense of musical complexity that Angel is able to unravel, the ease with which he executes the music is surprising. The fluidity of its presentation and the freedom of the notes is impressive. The perception is that the music should be as Angel proposes it, but it is clear that this level is not something that is easily achieved. Hence Filip Tot’s effort.
Analysing the music by frequency ranges, it is worth noting, again, Angel’s neutrality in this respect. I don’t find any enhanced band: Angel is totally flat. Although, as I have already mentioned, it gives me a feeling of having a subtly bright timbre, because of its clean, transparent, luminous and analytical tendency.
Thanks to the great technical capabilities, the Angel is totally precise when it comes to bass playing. Its development is exemplary, fast, concise, precise and forceful when needed. You can feel the advanced technical feel and competence when it comes to reproducing complex bass, its ability to layer the various bases and differentiate bass lines with ease and fluency. In that sense, you notice how the EarMen is able to help the headphones improve their bass performance in difficult situations.
The middle section is exquisite, very pure, clean and pleasant. The execution of the voices is rich and full of delicacy. The ease with which he recreates them is powerfully striking, as is his ability to describe their complex composition. He has a talent for subdividing the music into very small, but individually perceptible fractions. This is a power of superior resolution that can only be achieved with the best sources and headphones. I don’t feel that the mids are warm, though all this skill points to a neutral, subtle, thorough and concise musicality, thoroughly enjoyable all the same.
This delicacy has its high point in the treble, expressed with beautifully exquisite refinement, resolution and finesse, creating a sense of superior class in this respect. As can be seen in its frequency response, the Angel has no problem going all the way to 30kHz with little or no decay. Thus, its ability to extend into the high range without any problem is evident.
Finally, I would like to comment briefly on the differences between the SE output and the balanced output. I think that the feeling of transparency, cleanliness and the size of the scene is superior with the balanced output. I think that, technically, the EarMen Angel is able to express its full potential through this output. It’s not that the SE output is inferior, not at all, but the balanced output brings that characteristic purity, which can be felt more easily. And, in my opinion, this is the idea it brings to the music of this device.
xDuoo XD05 BAL (Burson Audio OpAmps V5i)
Although they are not in the same price range (€430 vs €799), both are portable DACs/AMPS with batteries. The dimensions are very similar in length, almost equal in chassis, with the Angel being slightly larger, although this harmony is broken by the potentiometer. The XD05 is wider and slightly lower. The xDuoo is a Swiss Army Knife, has a small, very informative display, is a Bluetooth receiver, has a 6.3mm SE headphone output and a 4.4mm BAL headphone output, both gold plated, a potentiometer on the side. It has a selector switch to switch between battery and external power. There are AES, USB, coaxial/optical and 3.5mm SE inputs, as well as USB-C. In addition, there is a choice of 7 filters and a boost button that changes the voltage of the Op/Amps. The packaging is bigger and more complete, with more accessories and 2 spare Op/Amps. One of the advantages is just this: it allows the change of OpAmps. For this test I chose to install 2 V5i from Burson Audio. It also has a low/high gain selector and a separate input for load or power. It can be used as a DAC via a shared 3.5mm SE output. If there’s one thing the Angel does better than the XD05, it’s those outputs, because it has a balanced 4.4mm output, in addition to the same 3.5mm SE, but not shared. There are S/PDIF Coax TosLink inputs and separate USB Type-C inputs for data and charging. There is no power selector. It can be used as a preamp via a front selector. There is a low/high gain selector knob, balanced 4.4mm (gold-plated) and 3.5mm SE (non-gold-plated) headphone outputs. The potentiometer is multi-functional, step-operated, infinite. It has an LED that indicates the status and resolution of the played files, among other things. There are no filters. The battery charges faster, but has less autonomy. It also supports MQA in all formats.
The xDuoo XD05 BAL is more powerful for low impedances reaching 5V for 33 Ω per BAL, while the Angel «only» reaches 3.84V. However, the EarMen is more powerful for high frequencies, giving 7.2V per SE at 100 Ω and 8.5V at 100 Ω per BAL, while the xDuoo gives just over 3V per SE for 100 Ω and almost 6V per BAL for 100 Ω.
Note that the Angel has a thermal protection system.
It seems that the xDuoo is a more versatile product in its inputs and handling, as well as having Bluetooth, while the Angel is more geared towards outputs and simpler use, with no frills or superfluous features. While the EarMen has a multi-function potentiometer that advances in steps, the XD05 has a side potentiometer that is not very easy to operate and is less suitable for use with sensitive IEMS, as the location is not the most accessible and easy to operate. In this respect, the Angel is better.
After such a long introduction, what about the sound? Well, both are great sources, while the Angel uses a single ES9038Q2M DAC, the XD05 BAL uses two ES9038Q2M. The THD specs on the xDuoo are lower, while the SNR is higher on the EarMen. But what about the sound? Well, in a quick summary, I think the xDuoo is more analogue and dense, while the EarMen is more refined, delicate, clean, pure, transparent and open. The Angel is delicate to the point of showing it in the sibilances, executing them in a more exquisite, even soft, less marked way, it manages to represent them in a more volatile and refined way. Whereas the XD05 is a little more natural and sharp.
The XD05’s bass sounds tighter and more compact. Whereas the Angel’s reproduction follows that path of superior refinement, sounding more vaporous, a little more dispersed, but also with great punch. While the reproduction on the xDuoo seems more natural, the Angel has a more ethereal and expansive presentation. The bass gumminess on the XD05 is more realistic and perceptible, while on the Angel there is a fuzzy smoothness to its finish that gives it a less concise, but more special feel. It’s about that vapour I mentioned, it’s as if the notes end in a more diluted way, while the xDuoo does it in a more concrete, more defined and concise way. That makes the decay less in the XD05 and it sounds more visceral than the Angel, where the gumminess is smoother and lighter.
In the mid-range of the XD05 there is a comparative simplicity. While the notes seem to be tighter, denser and thicker, in the EarMen it is more docile, subtle and graceful. The extension and descriptive feel of the elements is superior. The xDuoo reproduces the sounds in a simpler, but real, more traditional way. The EarMen unravels them in a more precious and complex way, blowing air into them, to generate more volume and expansion, as well as a more lasting extension and travel of the notes. The result of this ability in the treble is softer and sweeter, while in the XD05 they are finer and more penetrating. This more pleasant and volatile feel makes for a more harmonious musicality, allowing for a very enjoyable listening experience, even at higher volumes, because the sound is not as forceful and tight as on the xDuoo. As a result, the XD05 has a more analogue, more tangible, denser, tighter and more cohesive sound. And while its presentation, soundstage and imaging is quite large, the volatility, vaporousness, extension and expansiveness of the EarMen’s sound means that it provides a larger, three-dimensional, open, holographic and ethereal soundstage, with a more perceptible out-of-head sensation. In terms of separation, it’s different, the XD05’s more finite and concrete sounds offer a more defined separation, while the EarMen’s overall distance is greater for the size of the scene, although the existing vapour itself doesn’t seem to leave as much room for silence, despite being more analytical.
In short, the xDuoo XD05 BAL is a concrete, direct and punchy sound machine, as well as being musical and analogue. The EarMen Angel generates a more special sound, if I may use the comparative, somewhere between divine and angelic. A more elevated, gaseous, delicate and subtle sound, a more ethereal and softer reproduction, to the point of being more harmonious, transparent, clean, open and big.
I don’t know whether Angel’s name was chosen because of his celestial status or for some other reason. What is certain is that if so, the challenge to live up to it was a difficult one. The history behind the product suggests that bringing this device to market has not been easy. But once finished, I can see that EarMen have achieved what they set out to do: a huge, clean, pure, delicate and very elevated sound, as much as where their namesakes live.
The EarMen Angel is a technologically advanced DAC/AMP. Externally, it has maintained the presence of its little brother TR-AMP, adding an automated logic and a necessary balanced output, but keeping the simplicity already characteristic of the previous model. It seems that the effort of the design team has been based on looking for the best sound, as well as offering great power to drive medium and high impedance headphones, without losing sight of the low impedance IEMS/Earbuds, to which it offers a voltage and current level totally sufficient for any model on the market. The result is a high-end device that sounds as good as the heavens.
Earphones and Sources Used During Analysis
- NiceHCK F1.
- BQEYZ Winter.
- Dunu Kima.
- TRI i ONE.
- Letshuoer S12 Pro.
- TinHiFi P1 MAX Giant Panda.
- Rose QT9 MK2s.
- Yanyin Aladdin.
- ISN H40.
- Takstar Pro 80.
- SoundMagic HP150.