Earmen TR-Amp Review



Introducing the Earmen TR-Amp, like many other products already reviewed positively by other respectable reviewers who have long ago earned their chops i feel like i am just adding to the general consensus at this stage.

`Yeah, but most of your reviews are positive ya shill!` - this is true as i rarely review garbage these days. Keeping to the excellent and the curious mainly. I could review more of the entry level stuff with names made up of random letters and numbers and reestablish my street cred with withering write ups pointing out flaws that are blindingly obvious even to the uninitiated audiophile neophyte - but i would rather soldier on with treating my ears to the brilliant and sophisticated than labor in the hollows and valleys - even though admittedly that is where the web hits are. And thankfully there are enough reviewers covering that end of things as it is a needed area without a doubt for the newly audio bug afflicted.
One can now days for a fair price sample quite a few devices and hone their sonic tastes and mature their ears.

...and with that enter the Earmen TR-Amp. A fearsome entry into a market place flooded with all sorts of devices and a multitude of choices that even the most hardened traveler becomes some what weary.

Earmen (who?) have solid roots in the plentiful fields of Auris Audio:



Earmen TR-Amp, ipod touch 6G via CCK (Apple camera connection kit) to Final Audio A8000




Earmen  have several initial offerings on their website    https://earmen-shop.com/

The TR-Amp $249
The Donald Dac $99
The Sparrow $199

Check them out!


Price $249.00

Usual unboxing

Why? Well unboxings are not just about audio porn but with those with eyes to see all sorts of information and details can be gleaned that may or may not be within the confines and specs, stats and information cards.



Ooh... ESS Sabre 9038Q2M Dac. L, L, Level up! and XMOS. Nice.




6.3mm and 3.5mm outputs.


Pretty self explanatory. Charge, Data in (using a dac or phone etc), pre amp/direct(dac), and line out to a home system etc.

Anyway see their handy detailed explanation just below:







Nice little dainty feet`sies for support and protection.


USB DAC - Preamp - Headphone Amp – Battery powered

“All audio formats PCM 32bit/384kHz, MQA and native DSD128: Beautiful and neutral sound always with you.
NEW portable product FROM new Brand cooked in HIGH END Kitchen of Auris Audio.
In cooperation with Auris Audio well known European High End Audio company EarMen presents a TR-Amp, Battery powered High quality DAC/Headphone amp/Preamp with impressive characteristics.
TR-Amp with power up to 400mW will enable you to listern almost all known headphones.
ES9038Q2M SABRE Reference DAC turn your portable music in *High End Dimension*
The versatile audio input accepts PCM up to 384kHz, DSD256 via DoP, native DSD128 and MQA.
EarMen TR-Amp is a licensed and standard-compliant MQA native hardware renderer.
Using the critically acclaimed ESS patented HyperStream© II QUAD DACTM architecture and Time Domain Jitter Eliminator, EarMen TR-Amp delivers a performance level that will satisfy the most demanding audio enthusiast.
TR-Amps great characteristics are available by using the best components and materials.
  • NEW ES9038Q2M SABRE 32 Reference DAC Industry’s highest performance 32-bit mobile audio DAC with unprecedented dynamic range and ultra-low distortion
  • Super Low ESR tantal capacitors in power supply
  • Includes a high level EarMen shielded female USB-A to USB-C Adaptor
  • 3700mA battery with up to 10h of music enjoyment
  • Separate DATA and Charging USB type C ports allows you to use it all day long in your system
  • Analog volume control for Preamp and Headphone amp
  • Double Enjoyment with 2 pairs of headphones simultaneously
  • Analog switch for Direct DAC or PreAmp function
  • ALL METAL aluminum housing eliminate external noise sources”
  •  -  via the Earmen website.
<<< More information on their product page: https://earmen-shop.com/products/tr-amp


Smexy beast!


Included accessories are sufficient, but some what lacking for the sophisticated and mature audiophile who quite possibly has all the needed cables any way. such as USB-C to USB-C and a USB-C to Lightning etc etc



Seen here with the the Hidizs AP80 Pro dap which i saw as a decent source to feed the TR-Amp (it automatically connects to many devices without a fuss). All in all making it a light weight rig that one could carry easily along with ones phone. (I like to keep the devices separate myself, others like to stream using their phone which would be a great combo).

The cable came with the Audirect BEAM.


Nice and quiet with sensitive IEMs such as the Campfire Audio Andromeda.

TR-Amp Headphone Outputs impedance is less than 1 Ohm.
Output power at 16 Ohm is 400 mW
                               32 Ohm is 350 mW


Sound and general impressions

Well reviewing in the age of Covid-19 has changed things somewhat. For some the way of life as been upended and reviewing has all but stopped, others who mainly called home their main base keep pumping out reviews like a baker and his breads - i who have self downgraded from reviewer back to general enthusiast fall somewhere in the middle.

Family, children out of school, back to school, myself off work and back to work, increasing time towards other hobbies such as reading and my sons new found interest of Fortnite which he insists i join him for (and also 'train' for) means less listening time (but more so writing) of late. Fortunately i have some time opening up for a few weeks to catch up on some photography, write ups and...memes.

Ah the world is a mess, but life does continue on unceasingly and i must fulfill commitments and promises i have made.

Luckily the Earmen TR-Amp is one of those reviews that generally write themselves.

Build is excellent - solid as a rock. Simplicity itself and also good looking to boot.

I generally used it as a mobile device for on the go. Although quick testing with my aging Macbook Pro yielded positive results. I don`t use my Macbook for music - just a quick test here and there to see if products work as advertised and/or to note any sonic improvements...or not.
A Windows driver is available from their product page.

The Earmen TR-Amp passed my general first test of not disconnecting it straight away (or in the case of earphones taking them out of my ears), I happily listened to it on the first day during my commute and a lengthy stop off at Starbucks before heading into work. As usual I had a back up dap (probably the iBasso DX220) in case of emergency - such as non enjoyment of the TR-Amp.
Fortunately this was not the case and i was able to enjoy the TR-Amp with various IEMs that day - entry level and TOTL.

At $249 when paired with your already purchased phone it elevates the experience pleasurably and immeasurably.

So sound...a ESS Sabre 9038Q2M Dac. Whhaaatt!?!! yep - of course it all comes down the implementation and Earmen does it very well. 

Smooth, fairly linear and natural.

Quite unforgiving with badly recorded or mastered albums. and rightly so.

One of the cons is only USB-C input, which limits which devices can pair with it.

Lots of power and very clean with it also.

Soundstage is the domain of earphones but a device can complement the earphones or constrict them. I found the TR-Amp allowed for a medium to large soundstage. To my ears as it extends equally in each direction - which is unusual as usually for players etc it is wide, or wide deep etc.

Being able to plug n play as well as charge - thanks to the dual ports is a plus.

Use the Tr-Amp as Direct utilizing the ESS Dac or as a pre amp and bypassing the Dac.

The TR-Amp when using the dac portion is accurate, detailed, pleasant and naturally effortless - it has a fast balanced response and is neutral with an underlying dynamic which gives it life.

The TR-Amp gets the pie seal of approval. 

Plug and play 

Finding a compatible device is listed in the earlier specification sheet.

I tested with a few set ups with easy success.

Such as for example Earmen TR-Amp, ipod touch 6G via CCK to Final Audio A8000 using Flacplayer app. Which also displays the whether it is playing 24/96 (and not 24/96 downsampled to 16/41 etc) plus bitrate etc.







The Earmen TR-Amp. Quality sound in a small package for a decent price

More information and products here:


disclaimer:  The Ta-03s was provided for the purpose of this review and the tube rolling article by Xtenik Audio.   If you have an interest in purchasing any of the Xduoo amplifiers I have recently written about, I suggest you check out Xtenik’s website and follow them on facebook for more information.  I have no financial interest in Xtenik, nor did I receive any compensation beyond the product itself for reviewing it.
By Audiofool
Unboxing / Packaging:
The Ta-03s is a fairly heavy unit so is packaged accordingly and the box is much more designed for transport/travel than for retail sales.  Typical Cardboard with heavy closed cell foam surround the amp itself while the cables and tubes come packed in a smaller box again with heavy foam surrounds around the tubes.   My unit made its journey from China to the US without so much as a scratch on the outer package so I think it was well handled, but I have no doubt that it would have taken fairly substantial abuse to have caused any problems to the internal unit.
Build/Fit:
The outer case is anodized aluminum in a flat black.  Going around the amp, the front plate (left to right)  has an LED indicator lamp, a 6.35mm headphone jack, and shares a volume knob that it shares with the Ta-01s.  The sides are ridged to help with cooling but otherwise slick.  The rear (left to right) has a USB-type C input port with a link indicator LED above it, a pair of RCA Jacks for analog input, and the on/off switch immediately over the power cord port (standard C14 port).  The power supply is listed as 110-240V capable and is auto-sensing as no external switch exists for setting input voltage.    The top of the unit has the tube sockets in the front with vents on either side at the front and an output transformer that is roughly the full width of the unit at the rear.   If there is a knock here, and it is a very slight one, it is that the tube sockets are not aligned in such a way that the tubes all face the same direction.  This doesn’t effect performance at all but some of OCD types like myself will notice.
Internals:
Since the Ta-03s can be used as a USB DAC/Amp or as a pure amplifier, not all of the internals are always in the signal path.  Starting with the more complex use case,  the USB input is handled by an XMOS u8 chipset and has separate clocks at 24.57Mhz and 22.57Mhz to handle the various sampling rates it supports.  From there, the input is fed to a pair of Cirrus Logic 4398 DAC chips handle the D/A conversion and feed an LPF circuit before it reaches the 12au7 tube.   If using the Ta-03s as a pure amplifier, all the previously mentioned circuitry can be ignored and the signal path starts with the RCA jacks and injects into the system just ahead of the LPF as we reach the 12au7 preamp tube.  The 12au7 is a dual triode tube with left and right signals being handled separately.  This means a closely balanced tube is required to prevent channel imbalances in the output.   Once the 12au7 handles the voltage amplification, the signal travels to a pair of 6S19p power tubes that are responsible for current amplification and finally to an output transformer that prevents the output from having wide swings in impedance as can happen with tube output.
The Ta-03s DAC supports 32bit/192kHz PCM and native 64 and 128 DSD.

Sound:
Sound is tough to discuss on any DAC/Amp as it often is more a matter of source material and headphones that influence what we hear.  This is even more complicated when dealing with a tube amp where changing the tubes for different ones may have an impact on the sound.   I did quite a bit of tube rolling with the Ta-03s and have documented that in a separate article so discussion here is limited to the device as it ships with the factory supplied tubes.
Bass:
Bass is linear with good extension and plenty of punch when called on.   There is not obvious coloration added by using the on-board DAC and roll-off is low enough that most headphones will struggle with producing bass before the Ta-03s struggles with it in the mid-20Hz range.
Mids:
Mids are very dependent and preamp tube used.  The supplied preamp adds a little warmth and push to the upper mids.  The on-board DAC enhances this and has a warm tilt to the mids as a whole and emphasizes that upper-mid/lower treble lift.  In that respect, the DAC implementation in the Ta-03s is similar to that of the Opus#1S with its warm overall tone without going overboard with it.
Treble:
Here again, I think the treble can be heavily influenced by the tube used.  Stock tubes show good extension and some sparkle and air at the top without being out of line with the rest of the signature.  The DAC component has the previously mentioned lower treble lift, and then quickly falls back in line with the rest of the signature above it.
Soundstage / Imaging:
Probably the best thing you can say about stage and imaging when referencing an amp is it does nothing to hinder either.    The Ta-03s does a good job of this and the stage of things like the HD800 is still as expansive as expected and imaging as precise as we expect from things like the Hifiman He560 or Ananda.

Thoughts / Conclusion:
For the price, it is hard to argue against the Ta-03s.  It is a solid tube amp with good sound and lots of tuning options thanks to its 12au7 preamp tube.  The fact that it can be used as a USB DAC/Amp is really just a bonus at the price point the Ta-03s goes for.   The built in DAC is solid, but does have a slight coloration to the sound and wont render that last bit of detail that a higher end DAC will bring to the table.   I would recommend the Ta-03s for those new to tubes that want a chance to learn about tube amps without crazy expense.  The amp itself is quite reasonably priced, 6S19P power tubes can be bought for between 5 and 10 USD which is about as cheap as any power tube can be had and the 12au7 is among the most common tubes in existence so literally hundreds of options exist by the time you look at different makers and design changes over the years by those various makers.   That variety means you can go from the $10 bargain tubes up to the $1000 Nickel plated Telefunken with stops at all price points in-between.  For those interested in what tubes do to sound, it is on full display with the Ta-03s, and for $100 you can get 5 different (and good) 12au7 tubes to try out and find the signature you like best.    My favorites are listed in my tube rolling article here for those who already have a Ta-03s and want more or different tube options
 Summary
Pros:  Great inexpensive intro to tube amplifiers
Cons: Tube socket orientation is not symmetrical, USB power to dac can be noisy if not cleaned up.