Earmen TR-Amp & Donald DAC

Before starting this review, I would like to share technical aspects and package details. Also, I would like to thank to Earmen for this great opportunity.

Specifications:

TR-AMP

PCM 32bit /384kHz

DoP DSD256

Native DSD128

MQA rendering

SNR of +128dB SNR A-Weighted,

-112,5dB THD+N,

400mW into 16 Ohm

Donald DAC

Supported formats:

PCM 384kHz/32bit

DSD – DXD – MQA Rendering

DAC: 32 bit Cirrus Logic CS 43198

USB: XMos 2XX

Input: USB-C – DATA/Power Supply – USB-C – External Power Supply

Output: RCA

You can check out for more details on Earmen website. 

Package Details:

Both TR-Amp and Donald Dac come with a simple cardboard box and the opening experience is not breathtaking. Tr-Amp has 2 different color options with red and black. Red looks pretty sexy with that shiny aluminum. TR-Amp comes with a USB-C cable and a beautiful mesh pouch. Donald Dac comes with the only unit and there are no other accessories inside. They trying to lower cost, so it is pretty understandable especially see the 99$ price tag.

Design;

TR-Amp: 

The whole body is aluminum, including the volume knob, and build quality is top-notch. Most of the Dac-Amp device coming with aluminum chassis but not everyone looking and feels great in hand. Weight is 240 grams which is not the lightest but heavy either. You can easily stack with your DAP or other portable sources and use it without and carrying problem.

There is 2 USB-C port at the back, one for charging one for data, which means you can connect to your computer via USB-C cable that comes with TR-Amp. Also, it is not common with most of the dac-amp but it has line-out jacks behind the devices. It gives you more flexibility for sure. Front of the device, there is a volume knob and 3.5mm and 6.3mm headphone jack. Yes, it has a 6.3mm headphone jack which is surprising to see it in such a small unit like this. TR-Amp has a 3700mah battery inside which provides is 9-10 hours of playing time depending on your volume level, but it is a pretty decent result.

There is no need to install its software to use it. It is a plug and plays but you can download and install on to your computer if they need it. Here is the link for the software for the Windows users. https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0250/1758/1634/files/EarMen_Win-1.rar?186

Donald DAC: 

The body is made of metal and plastic but it doesn’t look and feels flimsy at all. It is super light; I mean really really light. You might ask yourself if there are any electronic parts inside of the unit or not. There is no physical button on the unit. It is activated when it gets the signal from the source. Its dimension is L * H * W (mm) 114 x 80 x59 which is a pretty small unit, you can put it on your desk with its small stand, it will hide very well.

Like TR-Amp, there is 2 USB-C port at the back, one for power, one for data. And also, it has a line out output. There is no battery inside, so it gets the power from the charging port. Since it doesn’t come with the cables, you might need 2 USB-C cables to use it with your computer if you are not planning to use line-output.

More Details:

TR-Amp: 

TR-Amp using ES9038Q2M SABRE 32 as a dac inside. This is the highest dac of the Sabre up to date. It supports PCM up to 384kHz, DSD256 via DoP, native DSD128, and MQA which is fantastic. I don’t want to bother you with lots of numbers and specs but it has so many high-quality components inside. You can check out their website for more details.

TR-Amp has up to 400mw power amplifier inside which is it can drive all IEM’s in the market without any issues and also will be enough for most headphones. It drives my HD6XX, HE4XX, and Elear without any power issues. It is not super powerful but it is pretty enough for most gears. Also, the background is black and hasn’t heard any hiss with my sensitive IEM.

While listening it will charge the battery, so you can enjoy your music by the time it’s charging. And as far as I see I haven’t seen any warming issues with the device. With Mojo it gets like a frying pan.

Donald DAC:

Donald DAC using Cirrus Logic CS43198 DAC and I don’t remember if I listen to any Cirrus Logic dac before. It is supporting PCM resolutions up to 384 kHz and 32 bits, DXD (352.8 kHz / 24-bit), and MQA like TR-Amp. It supports almost every format without any problem. I’ve played many formats without getting any problem which is good news. I’ve received so many issues with some DAC that I’ve. 

This is not a battery powered unit, so you have to connect sources to juice up the device, but you can use as a portable dac with a powerbank. Actually, it is super light, so you can take advantage of its lightest form factor to carry a powerbank. It is always good to have some options. 

Sound: 

TR-Amp:

Treble is soft and gentle with a touch of warmth. It is not super-extended, shrill, and sharp, it is more like creamy and soft notes accompany with natural tonality. It is detailed and good in resolution but it is not making obvious all the details in the music. It is not surgical sharp trebles, more or less It is average in quantity that doesn’t push your earphone to extend more. It is very clear and there is plenty of air between the instruments. I’m pretty impressed when I listened to my test track Le Trio Jeobran – Douja. Still, it is missing some excitement and dynamism but it is all about preferences. The synergy between earphones and source is very important. For example, Nocturnal Atlantis with TR-Amp are not the best pair in my collection, on the other hand, Hyla Audio Sarda is matched fantastically with TR-Amp. Trebles become more controlled and clean presentation of Sarda level up. Overall, I like trebles but it is not the best area of TR-Amp.

The smooth presentation continues on mid frequencies as well. Mids are so beautiful, natural, and musical. All the instruments and vocals are clear and the detail level is fantastic. Mids are slightly laid back but still, it is close to the stage. Especially vocal performance. But I am not talking like Chord Mojo forwardness. There is a very clear space between instruments and easy to pinpoint in the soundstage. Imagining and layering are also above their price tag. Airy mid-performance help to open the stage and gives a very fresh listening experience. I will compare with Chord Mojo but when I listen to it side by side, I can see why I don’t like Mojo’s mid frequencies. It makes narrower the stage makes it darker. TR-Amp is very clear and performing great in this area. 

Bass is not huge in quantity but it goes down really well. The sub-bass region making a great job and you can hear the sub-bass impact. But of course, it is not in the bass-head level. Bass doesn’t dominate the other frequencies and it is well controlled, but it is not best in terms of tightness either. It has great details and layering and also it is not shy in the amount. I like to hear sub-bass rather than mid-bass and most of the devices hit from the lower mids. Thanks to TR-Amp that it reaches and digs pretty deep I heard nice impactful bass with my dynamic driver earphones. Hyla Audio TE-05 is like heaven with TR-Amp. TE-05 has slightly overpowered bass and TR-Amp adds great balance and makes It more controlled. It is absolutely making some touch in the bass area but as I said it is all about synergy. 

Donald DAC:

Treble is prominent and well present with Donald Dac. It has a good extension with sparkle as well as slight sharpness with some tracks. Treble is bright and even sharp sometimes, but of course, the earphone that you use has a big role here. It is not sharp or edgy but it is very close to that limit. Detail wise it is surprisingly detailed and the resolution level is really great for a budget-friendly device. It will be better by the time with burn-in. Now, I’ve approximately 100 hours of use with it. 

Mid frequencies are slightly dry and seem lifeless but it is also very detailed and close to the reference sound. I’ve used my JDS Labs O2 as an amp during the test and I like the synergy between those two. Mids are slightly thinner on lower mids and the overall sound is clinical and there is no coloration. The detail level is really great. It reminds me Topping D50s in this regard with its reference like sound. Vocals are laid back and men’s vocals are slightly on the thinner side. Female vocals are better and it is more accurate in tonality.  

Reference like-sounding affects bass response as well. Bass is tight and controlled and there is absolutely no overpower no matter what you listen to. If you paired with bassy headphones or earphones it will be shine. Bass is fast and accurate in tonality and no exaggeration by any means. It doesn’t dig deep in sub-bass but still has a good response.   

Comparison:

TR-Amp vs Chord Mojo:

There is nothing much to say about Chord Mojo and no need to introduce it because it is a well known and super popular device in the community which it deserves. Mojo is smaller in size and a super versatile device with its power and compatibilities. Both devices have metal constructed body and high quality in material. Battery performance is close but Tr-Amp provides 2 more hours which is slightly better than Mojo. Both devices are powerful enough to drive all IEMs and some headphones on the market but Mojo has much more power in its small body, surprisingly isn’t it! But Tr-Amp pretty enough to listen with most headphones, except some hard drive gears. Sound-wise, Mojo is more mid centric, closed and smooth Dac-amp while TR-Amp is more open sound with a great top to the bottom performer. Trebles are more prominent, extended, and detailed on TR-Amp. Separation and micro details are slightly more audible and better on TR-Amp. Mojo is smoother and slightly dark in the presentation. It is not dark but when you do some A-B it feels like that. Mojo trebles are more relaxed and laid back, its detail level is also good. The mid section is where the difference is more noticeable. Mojo has much more forwarder in presentation, and it dominates the overall sound signature. Also due to its forward character, it is romantic and more in your face, especially in vocal performance. TR-Amp is slightly laid back and more like a V-shape mid-presentation. Vocals are stepped back and sound is so fresh. Actually, I like Mojo’s powerful, forward mid-presentation but it also compresses all sound and feels soundstage is narrower. Also, there is some mid-hump which is obvious with some tracks. Bass performance is better on TR-Amp, it goes deeper and more authoritative. Mojo bass mostly coming on lower-mid and it is not as deep as TR-Amp. The soundstage is wider on TR-Amp. All the instruments spread out on stage and give more airy feelings. Overall, I like Mojo a lot and it is absolutely a keeper for me, but I like TR-Amp more with its open sound with better details performance. 

Donald Dac vs Emotiva Big Ego:

I’ve been using Emotiva Big Ego for almost 3 years and I still like it with its clean sound. It is a usb-powered device like Donald Dac but the price is more than double. I f I remember correctly it was 279$ but it is not on the market anymore. It has an old Usb-b socket for powering and connection and also has optical out. It is a full metal body like Donald Dac it is very light as well. Their sound signatures are similar but they are different in some areas which I will tell the differences. Trebles are similar in quantity but Donald is slightly brighter and sharper while Ego is more relaxed and tamed. It is hard to notice but their resolution and details level is the same. Donald gives better clarity, so it may be a little bit better. Mids are similar in tonality and slightly thinner in notes. Emotiva has a better soundstage and mids are slightly more open and spacious but not by far. Vocals are clean and clear on both device and it has similar texture and tonality. Bass is where they are differing mostly. Ego has more quantity and natural tonality. It goes deeper and hits harder. On the other hand, Donald has a dry and neutral bass response which gives a flatter presentation. Donald shines with bassy earphones and it has better speed and tightness on bass response. The soundstage is par, but Donald is airier and more open. Both devices are great it is hard to choose which one is better. As I said many times, it is all about synergy and match. 

Donald Dac vs Audioquest Dragonfly Red:

These are two different animals in terms of size and usability, but I would like to compare it anyway. Dragonfly Red (DR) is usb powered plug and play usb memory size dac. It is very popular and so many peoples love it, including myself. The retail price of the DR is twicer expensive than Donald Dac. No need to compare its size. DR is so small and easy to carry, even it can fit in the coin pocket of your jeans. Donald dac is much bigger in size. But also, it provides extra connectivity like line-out. Both devices required usb power to work, so they don’t have a battery inside. Sound-wise, DR is more open and airier but also it is more sterile and clinical. Donald Dac is more musical, less bright, and a touch of a warm sounding device. DR has more sparkle and extension on trebles which brings more details while Donald Dac is doing the same thing more smoothly. Trebles are softer and easier to listen to with Donald. DR gets tiring with some treble sensitive iems with its sharp trebles. Mids are more bodied and smoother on Donald Dac and vocals are more forward with better natural feelings. DR is more refined and slightly laid back and it is thin in the presentation when I compare with Donald Dac. I really like the vocal performance of Donald Dac. It has a better texture and organic presentation. Bass is slightly deeper and more powerful on Donald Dac. DR is more controlled and tighter and gives better details. 

Verdict:

I haven’t heard Earmen brand before and these are the first products that I am reviewing. Both TR-Amp and Donald Dac are absolutely fantastic devices for the price and TR-Amp could be the most underrated device of the year in my humble opinion. It is better than most devices that I’ve heard under 500$, moreover, it is surprisingly cheap. Sound performance is fantastic which is my Mojo sitting in my drawer since I got the TR-Amp. Don’t get me wrong, I still love my Mojo and it is Hulk of the small size dac-amp category with its pure power, but I like TR-Amp sound more, and it becomes my favorite at the very first day. Overall, with top-notch build quality with a great sound performance, this baby deserves much more attention.  

Donald Dac is another winner for the price. It is clean and clear sounding Dac combine with great details and resolution. Competition is pretty tough in 100$-150$ range and there is so many good devices out there, and Donald Dac is absolutely one of them that you have to consider.   

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