Earmen TR-Amp English Review

 

Put A Sabre In Your Heart

 

Ratings

 

Construction and Design
96
Packaging and Accessories
75
Connectivity
85
Sound
93
Quality/Price
94

 

Pros

 

  • Construction and design.
  • It has one of the best SE audio outputs in its price range.
  • Impressive quality/sound/price ratio.
  • A lot of power for a portable device.
  • Quality of the components used.

 

Cons

 

  • Measurements taken at low frequency, below 200Hz, at maximum power, with impedances below 150Ω, are not clean and distortion can be observed in them.
  • No gain selector for low impedance headphones, as a protection measure, because small movements of the potentiometer, imply a high change in the output voltage.
  • Absence of balanced output.
  • It is not possible to replace the OpAmps.
  • Only a rubber band is provided for attachment to other sources.

 

Purchase Link

 

https://earmen-shop.com/products/tr-amp

 

Link to the Store

 

https://earmen-shop.com/

 

Introduction

 

Again, I will look at a product of the American brand, based in Chicago, which manufactures in Europe, specifically in Serbia: EarMen. This time it is a USB DAC headphone amplifier with battery, which can be used as a preamplifier. EarMen continues to rely on SABRE chips, mounting the ES9038Q2M, a reference DAC designed for use in mobile and portable devices. Thanks to it, the TR-Amp is able to handle a large number of formats: from PCM 32bit/384kHz, MQA and DSD128 natively, as well as DSD256 via DoP. TR-Amp is a quite powerful device, capable of delivering 400mW to 16Ω. It has two front audio outputs: 6.3mm and 3.5mm both SE. It has fixed and variable line RCA output, selectable by a switch. Its battery is 3700mA and its chassis is completely made of aluminium, selectable in passion red colour. Next, we will see the rest of the characteristics and benefits of this appetizing product

 

 

Specifications

 

  • DAC: ES9038Q2M
  • Dynamic Range: > 107 dB
  • THD+N (2.7V, 32Ω): <0.005%
  • Input: USB Type C female, compatible with PC, iPAD/iPhone, Android
  • Type C female USB input for separate charging. Can be charged and played simultaneously.
  • Output: Parallel 6.3mm Stereo, 3.5mm Stereo
  • Line output: fixed RCA 2V, PreOut 3.4V
  • THD+N Fixed line output: <0.005%
  • SNR Fixed line output: >114dB
  • Dynamic Range Fixed Line Output: > 107 dB
  • Channel spacing Fixed line output: > 107 dB (1kHz)
  • THD+N PreOut output: <0.007% (2.8V)
  • SNR PreOut output: >114dB
  • PreOut Output Dynamic Range: > 107 dB
  • Channel spacing PreOut output: > 103 dB (1kHz)
  • Power: >2.5V/400mW to 16Ω, >3.4V/350mW to 32Ω.
  • Audio Formats: DSD 128 Native/DSD 256 (DoP) DXD 384/352.8 kHz. PCM up to 32 bits 384 kHz. MQA Rendering up to 384 kHz.
  • Battery: 3700 mAh / up to 10 hours duration.
  • Weight: 240 gr.
  • Dimensions: 129x66x30mm.

 

 

Packaging

 

TR-Amp comes in a black, rigid cardboard box, 170x133x67mm in size. It comes wrapped in cellophane and is sealed with a holographic tamper evident. On the upper side there is a drawing of the DAC in white lines. In the centre, the logo, brand and model, in letters of the same colour. All the lateral faces have the same design. The back side has more information: a description of the product, some specifications, many logos on the supported formats and the brands of some of the components used. There are also drawings of the front and rear profiles of the TR-Amp, as well as a QR code, an EAN13, the EarMen web address, the CE certificate and the location of the brand. Of course, the Hi-Res Audio logo is also shown.

After opening the box you can see the top of the TR-Amp embedded in a dense black foam mould. Under it there is a black cardboard box, which contains the rest of the accessories. In short:

 

  • DAC/Amp TR-Amp
  • Mesh textile bag for protection and transport.
  • Standard-A to USB Type C cable.
  • Warranty card.
  • Instruction manual.
  • Black rubber coupling strip.
  • Velcro tape.

 

Although the content is not very extensive, I can’t think of many more accessories. The protective rubber feet are already attached to the product. Perhaps an extra rubber band would have been nice, to provide a better and firmer grip, in case of use as a portable amplifier. The USB cable is a bit long and a bit shorter would have been nice. The carrying bag is quite nice and protects more than it looks. Although not as much as a hard case, of course.

 

 

Construction and Design

 

This device is designed as a tank. The aluminium used is thick, very very solid, with a micro sandy texture. It is painted in a very striking passion red. 8 allen screws seal the front and rear panels. It is very easy to dismantle the TR-Amp and see its inner plate. You can see that the interior is quite hollow. On the front side there is a 6.3mm Stereo output, a 3.5mm Stereo SE output. Both can be used simultaneously. The silver potentiometer is located on the right side. Its texture is similar to the aluminium surface. Between it and the 3.5mm output, located in the centre, there is a small hole through which you can see a multicoloured LED. On the back side, from left to right, are the USB type C connectors for charging and data, in a rounded box, lowered from the surface of the aluminium plate. Next is a toggle switch, which allows you to select the line output mode, either direct mode or Pre Out. Finally there are the left and right RCA connectors. None of the connections are gold-plated. All the inscriptions and icons are made in white ink. On the top side there is the logo of the brand and its name. On the lower side there are 4 transparent silicone rubber feet, glued on near each corner. Along the side of this face you can read the brand’s web address, the model, different logos of the regulatory certifications, the origin of the headquarters and its place of manufacture. In this case it says that it is manufactured in Europe, there is no mention of Serbia anywhere.

The shape is quite classic, with a few touches that move it away from a common parallelepiped: its edges are rounded, the upper face is slightly curved, the screws are placed in some lowered corners so that they are level with the front and rear surfaces. The sides are not flat but have a fairly wide and profiled U-shape.

The design is very solid and robust, somewhat heavy and large for portable use. Its dimensions bring it close to a small Smartphone, but not negligible in thickness: 30mm. Its weight of almost a quarter of a kilo does not accompany portability either, but does not limit it absolutely.

The vivid red colour highlights its beauty and makes it a very attractive device, which does not go unnoticed.

Inside, the new SABRE ES9038Q2M, one of the market’s reference DACs, has been used. The capacitors are still the Low ESR of tantalum, located in the power supply. The battery is 3700 mAh, which provides a duration of up to 10 hours. The chip used for the amplification is the famous TPA6120 from Texas Instruments, whose type AB amplification architecture has a very low noise and 128 dB dynamic range. The rest of the components used are of the highest quality and the board on which they are mounted has 4 layers of gold-plated PCB.

Once again, nothing was left to chance when it came to manufacturing this desired DAC/Amp. Well, e.g. yes… A balanced output would have made a big difference and would have made it a definite product.

 

 

Connectivity

 

The TR-Amp can be connected to PC, iPAD/iPhone, Android. It is compatible with Windows 7 onwards, thanks to its ASIO drivers. They can be downloaded from here:

 

https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0250/1758/1634/files/EarMen_Win-1.rar?186

 

It can also be connected to any Smartphone. I have personally used it with my Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 Pro and the APP HiBy Music, without any problem. I have also been able to pair it with several DAPs, such as the Tempotec Variations V1-A, the HiBy R3 Pro and the xDuoo X3II. Although the TR-Amp, connected to my PC sounds excellent, making a great pair.

The fact that it has a battery gives it a plus of portability, while allowing to preserve the charge of the source device.

As a purist, I’m fond of using ASIO drivers, as it happens in this case. The driver installed is from XMOS and in my Windows 7 it’s recognised as «USBAudioStDriver_30E7» within Foobar2000.

 

 

Operativity

 

Its use is extremely simple, just connect the source to the USB Data input and turn the device on by turning the potentiometer. If headphones are connected, the music will be played there. Both headphone outputs can be used at the same time.

It can also be used connected to a built-in audio amplifier via its fixed line output or to a power stage as a pre-amplifier, among other uses. Using the selector on the back, you can choose one functionality or the other.

It should be noted that it has an additional USB Type C input for independent battery charging. The TR-Amp can be powered from its own battery, without the need to be connected to a power source. However, if your battery is empty, it can be charged while playing music.

On the front side there is a small LED that indicates its status:

 

  • White: The device is on.
  • Green: Connected / PCM
  • Magenta: MQA
  • Cyan: DSD
  • Red (blinking): The battery is below 20%.
  • Blue (blinking): On charge.

 

Among the supported formats, specified above, it should be noted that it supports the reproduction of Tidal Masters (MQA) from IPhone or Android devices. In the same way, it also supports the reproduction of Qobuz Hi-Res.

Due to its great power, used with IEMS or low impedance headphones, care must be taken when moving the potentiometer, because the volume increases quite easily. Small variations in the potentiometer can mean a noticeable increase in voltage, bearing in mind that the maximum is almost 3.5V.

The battery seems to last as long as it promises, but as a stationary device connected to the PC, I must comment that even though nothing is being played, the TR-Amp consumes equally. So, if you forget to leave it on and come back after a few hours, your battery may have run out.

 

 

Measures

 

As usual, I have measured the TR-Amp with my humble measuring elements, reproducing pure tones of amplitude 1, generated in FLAC at 96kHz. The tones are reproduced from 20Hz to 20kHz and then measured with the oscilloscope. An attempt is made to subject the device to the worst conditions, i.e. maximum volume, or an attempt is made to measure the values shown in the specifications, in order to check their accuracy.

 

No load

 

With the potentiometer set at maximum power, a frequency sweep is performed. It can be seen that the voltage sometimes exceeds 3.4V.

 

 

15 Ohms

 

In this case Earmen specifies that the TR-Amp is capable of providing a voltage of over 2.5V to 16Ω, which is 400mW. I do not have fixed resistors from 16Ω, but from 15Ω (capable of supporting 3W), so I have placed the potentiometer in 2.4V at 1kHz, making a frequency sweep from 20Hz to 20kHz. In the images you can see that, at low frequencies, there is a clear distortion, which is corrected as the frequency increases, disappearing to 150Ω.

 

 

33 Ohms

 

At 32 Ohms, the specifications indicate that the power is greater than 3.4V/350mW. In this case, my measurements have been made with 3W fixed resistors and 33Ω.

Placing the potentiometer at 3.4V approximately, at 1kHz, you can see that there is a slight saturation (first image). In this occasion, the specification of 3.4V at 32 Ohms is fulfilled with a clear distortion in all the frequency range. It has been lowered to 3.1V at 1kHz to make a sweep from 20Hz to 20kHz. It improves after going down to 3.1V, with distortion below 200Hz.

 

 

62 Ohms

 

Frequency sweep at maximum volume from 20Hz to 20kHz

Distortion below 200Hz is observed.

3.4V at 1kHz is reached without visible distortion.

 

 

100 Ohms

 

Frequency sweep at maximum volume from 20Hz to 20kHz

Distortion below 200Hz is observed.

3.3V at 1kHz is reached without visible distortion.

 

 

150 Ohms

 

Frequency sweep at maximum volume from 20Hz to 20kHz

No visible distortion in the entire range.

3.5V at 1kHz is reached without visible distortion.

 

 

300 Ohms

 

Frequency sweep at maximum volume from 20Hz to 20kHz

No visible distortion in the entire range.

3.4V at 1kHz is reached without visible distortion.

 

 

620 Ohms

 

Frequency sweep at maximum volume from 20Hz to 20kHz

No visible distortion in the entire range.

3.5V/1kHz is reached without visible distortion.

 

 

The frequency response of the TR-Amp has been measured at various voltages, without any alteration being noticed. It is very flat, with a very slight 0.1dB drop between 17kHz and 20kHz.

 

 

There are no alterations in the frequency response of the connected headphones with respect to my reference DAC, the Burson Audio Playmate.

 

 

As a conclusion it should be said that the TR-Amp, when brought to full power, with low impedances, has visible distortion below 200Hz, while above, the waves are clean. On the other hand, from 150Ω, there is no trace of this distortion in the whole frequency range. This indicates two things: that this device is clearly aimed at headphones with higher impedances and that, possibly, there is a current limitation in its operational amplifiers. On the other hand, the figure of 2.5V to 16Ω is totally disproportionate, since there are few headphones of that impedance that demand so much voltage. The same happens with 32Ω, in which case the voltage is even higher.

 

Sound

 

Once again, Earmen has put its trust in SABRE and has mounted its ES9038Q2M reference DAC for mobile devices, on the TR-Amp. Its sound profile is neutral, slightly bright, but energetic, thanks to the great thrust provided by its power. It has a great dynamic and, despite its high power, it is worthy of having a remarkable dark background. With IEMS, it is easy to fall into the temptation of volume, but you have to carefully adjust the potentiometer, to place the precise voltage and get the best out of them, without overdoing it. At that point, with a little time and attention, one can realize that this is one of the best SE outputs in its price category. Once again, SABRE shows, and a lot of it. The level of transparency, clarity, detail, depth and separation offered by the TR-Amp puts it somewhere between neutrality, naturalness, a more analytical approach and a more relaxed sound. The scene is drawn vastly, with very good depth and adequate height. The three-dimensionality is not as explicit as I would have liked, but it appears more natural and calm, without an ethereal feeling. Scene and separation go hand in hand and, on this occasion, they do not tend to be very far apart, which implies a more cohesive and realistic scene, where one does not perceive such a high distance as in other scenes. In this way, the background is not so dark, nor is it so visible to the naked eye. Thanks to the power of the system, especially in the low area, the depth is high and the bass reaches far, but without that sense of expansion the distance, which allows the scene to be even wider.

In the lower zone, the most recognisable is the power the TR-Amp has: plug in your best bass headphones and enter a totally absorbing dimension, full of strength, power, depth and control. It’s a well-known fact that power without control is useless. But bass without respect, either. And EarMen knows that well: despite all this power, TR-Amp is able to focus all that flow in the low zone, without the rest being harmed. The capacity of resolution and definition is clearly evident in this sense. All ranges are perfectly defined, details in place and the scene naturally packing to sound. It is perhaps not the most spectacular sound at first sight, but one that dazzles with time, that is enjoyed slowly, savouring it with the best headphones and the best music. Returning to the bass, its impact full of controlled fury is a magnet for bass-lovers. Its texture has a vigorous roughness, and there is a balance between the smoothness provided by the speed of the notes and the viscerality of the beat, generating a rich and exciting undulation. The mixture of fury and descriptive level does not imply a crushing of the planes, far from it, but the depth is raised to accommodate all of them, with their corresponding distance, but with a faster and more ephemeral reaction. Good control is demonstrated in this sense, the decay of the notes is fast, without sediment and with a great recovery. The bass generated have a lot of air and are never compressed, proof of which is the ease with which the high details and nuances are able to mix with each other, instead of displacing them.

The middle zone is mainly clear, very well integrated between bass and treble, flowing through to provide body on one side, tonal richness and a high descriptive level on the other. In this way, the mids benefit from both adjacent ranges, to emerge with a backing that enhances their inherent virtues. On this occasion, the voices do not have a very differential treatment, but rather neutrality places them on a par with the instruments, both in distance and in presence. This doesn’t mean that the sound is felt in a V, far from it, it is just respectful in all its range, eminently relaxed in this aspect. Above all, a great level of natural fidelity is felt, a sound where the nuances fill, accompany and extol, but without restoring the importance of the voices or instruments. In spite of this, the ensemble is not really perceived as being close, nor in the foreground, thus limiting a more exhaustive capacity for analysis, a greater clarity that is more differentiating and open, which projects the mids to a more protagonist and perceptible level. In spite of being SABRE, the mids are characterized more by their musicality than by an analytical aspect.

In the upper zone I have found that the synergy with the headphones becomes more important, than in other devices I have tried. Some shiny headphones have become even hotter, while others that are a little more linear have gained in sparkle, or rather, liveliness, that which I have previously called slightly shiny. It’s true that volume plays an important role in this: a higher volume over excites the more sensitive ranges and they become more persistent, less bearable. And the TR-Amp, with its power, can encourage that tendency. So, watch out.

Going back to the treble, that brilliance has more to do with clarity and light, than with an eminent presence of the upper zone. Nor does it have to do with enormous resolution or definition. The highs are not really perceived as very crisp or closely drawn or finite. They are somewhat drier, cohesive, rounded at their highest peak, making them more secure. The speed is also not perceived as exceptional, as well as its energy level. Everything is combined to offer a natural, unforced appearance, with a notable amount of detail, but without being exceptionally defined or with an absolute resolution and separation, which would allow the high notes to be broken down to a micro level, raising the range to a higher analytical level.

 

 

Comparisons

 

Burson Audio Playmate (Con V6 OpAmps)

 

The Burson Audio Playmate is my reference DAC/Amp. It has 4 OpAmps Burson V6 installed (2 Vivid and two Classic). It has a headphone input, something that allows me to make my IEMS measurements, connecting my IEC60318-4 microphone to it. The DAC used is the SABRE ESS9038. Its specifications mark 1.8W for 16Ω and 2W for 32Ω. With the standard OpAmps, my own measurements do not come close to those values. When I installed the OpAmp V6, things improved a lot, getting closer to the real values. This means that the operational amplifiers are the clear difference in amplification. Although the superior power of the Playmate is due to the fact that it also uses a later class A transistorized amplification. That’s why it’s a pity that the TR-Amp doesn’t allow you to change the installed OpAmps. Another big difference between both products is the price. Initially, the price of the Playmate with the standard OpAmps is $399. It is currently available for $359. But the product to be compared has the OpAmps V6, which increases the price offered to $539. The TR-Amp costs $249 and uses the new ES9038Q2M. The Playmate is not a portable product and has many more options, no battery, two gain modes, a control screen, can be used with remote control, choice of filters, 100 volume steps, etc. The power, the power supply and the impressive circuitry used, justify the price increase. But what about the sound? I have really needed to use several headphones and squeeze my brain and ears, using the ‘nirvana’ mode, to be able to search for the 7 differences. Using parallel hearing, allowing ultra fast switching between both sources, with the same volume, the same headphones and the same musical passages, to neophyte ears, I would say they sound the same. Looking for a higher concentration I have managed to find minimal differences, which can be key. They are those differences that our brain processes and leaves in its auditory memory, but which are complex to detect a priori. Let’s go with them:

The tone in both devices is almost the same. The Playmate offers a slightly wider and more open, more volatile sound. However, the sound is more fluid in the TR-Amp, better mixed, both the details and the ranges are interwoven in a more harmonious way than in the Playmate, where there is no such respect, being its exposure somewhat harder. The sound in the TR-Amp is more relaxed and musical, while the Playmate is somewhat more direct and marked. I prefer the energy and texture of the bass in the TR-Amp, it sounds softer, more delicate and deeper. The Burson develops the sharpest sounds, with a more abrupt profile, somewhat more analytical, but less subtle. In the middle zone it seems that the Burson has slightly closer voices, with a slightly more balanced presence with respect to the low zone and also with respect to the high zone. TR-Amp offers a subtly more relaxed midrange. The same is true of its treble, which sounds softer and less marked, where Playmate offers a stricter and more underlined definition, while TR-Amp plays them freer, looser, but less strict, defined and detailed, although this difference is very small. As I’ve already mentioned, Playmate has a greater tendency to create a slightly larger scene, especially in width and height, with a little more separation. TR-Amp has a little more depth, a greater sensation of energy that collects its sound, concentrating it slightly. However, I maintain that its mix is more fluid, being perceived as more delicate, with a more pleasant and respectful interlacing between them.

It should then be noted that, despite the similarity of both sounds, there may be slight nuances between different connected headphones, which tip the balance towards one or the other. There is no clear winner, I am happy with both. However, it is worth noting that the EarMen TR-Amp has an excellent price/performance ratio.

Finally, I would like to mention that the ASIO XMOS driver is the same for both.

 

 

Conclusion

 

The TR-Amp is the second EarMen device that I have tested and I have enough to be an avowed fan of this brand: I will wait impatiently for each new product that is launched on the market. And no wonder, because the TR-Amp has a sound that clearly points higher than its price. Built like a tank, with that impressive red colour, this DAC/Amp stands out beyond its own construction and design. It has a battery and exclusive charging port, direct line output or as a Pre-Amp, 3.5mm and 6.3mm parallel audio output. And a great power. You only miss the balanced output. However, it has one of the highest quality SE outputs in its price range. The TR-Amp is a device that is going to put its direct competitors on the spot. And in quality/sound/price ratio it is already better than many. Keep an eye on this brand and give your vote to TR-Amp!

 

 

Earphones and Sources Used During Analysis

 

  • HiBy R3 Pro
  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 8 Pro
  • NF AUDIO NM2
  • NF AUDIO NM2+
  • BGVP ArtMagic VG4
  • ISN H40
  • NS Audio NS5 MKII Extra Bass
  • Tin HiFi T4
  • Tin HiFi T2 Plus
  • OurArt QJ21
  • Ikko OH10
  • JH TriFi
  • Toneking tk12s
  • Takstar Pro 80
  • SoundMagic HP150

 

 

Ratings

 

  • Construction and Design: 96
  • Packaging and Accessories: 75
  • Connectivity: 85
  • Sound: 93
  • Quality/Price: 94

 

Scroll Up