The Earmen Angel is a portable fully balanced DAC/headphone amplifier. It features an ESS DAC ES9038Q2M DAC chip and supports up to 768kHz/32-bit PCM, DSD256 via DoP and full MQA unfolding. The price is $799.
For those that don’t know, EarMen is a subsidiary of Auris Audio, which is a high-end amplifier manufacturer. EarMen was created to target the portable audio market while leveraging the expertise and experience of Auris Audio.
Earmen is a brand that I have a huge amount of respect for, not only because they make some of the best-sounding gear on the market but also because they’re some of the nicest people in the business (I’ll do my best to ensure that doesn’t bias my opinion).
Disclaimer: This sample was provided by Earmenfor an honest review. All observations and opinions here are based on my experience with the product.
Earmen Angel Review
It's hard to believe the refinement and sound Earmen packed into this portable DAC/amp.
The Earmen angel is a fully balanced DAC/headphone amplifier with a pre-out option. There are USB and coaxial/SPDIF inputs as well as 3.5mm SE and 4.4mm balanced outputs. Both the 4.4mm headphone and 4.4mm line outputs are fully balanced.
Thanks to its two-cell battery (2x3000mAh), the Angel can be used both on the desktop and on the go. There are separate USB-C ports for data and charging so you can run the device indefinitely on the desktop without having to worry about the battery running out.
Inside is an ESS ES9038Q2M DAC chip supporting up to 32-bit/768kHz, native DSD512 and MQA studio. Angel is designed to have the cleanest possible signal from the DAC to the headphone output so you get the ultimate unaltered sound.
With a dynamic range of 120dB and ultra-low noise linear power supply, Angel promises to deliver the purest possible sound free of colouration and distortion.
Angel’s Gain+ mode gives you more output power and dynamics when you need it for power-hungry headphones. But it can also handle your most sensitive IEMs with finesse and no audible noise floor.
Angel’s chassis is made from sturdy aluminium and has a sky-blue matte finish. There are 4 rubber feet on the bottom to protect your desktop and prevent the device from sliding around. The Earmen Angel feels good in my hand; it feels robust and hefty for its size.
The multi-function knob on the front controls the volume and acts as the power on/off and mute button. It’s a stepped digital dial compared to the smooth analogue one on the Earmen TR-Amp. As a result, there’s no channel imbalance at low volume which is especially good when using sensitive IEMs.
Left of the volume knob there’s a switch to choose between fixed and variable output (Direct and Pre Out respectively). Next is the Gain+ button which has a little red LED beneath it to let you know whether it’s on or off. Finally, there are the 4.4mm balanced and 3.5mm headphone outputs.
Above the SE output, there’s an LED that glows different colours depending on the current sample rate being played. In addition, the LED flashes green when you adjust the volume, blue when the battery is charging and red when the battery is low.
On the rear panel are (from left to right), a USB-C charge port, USB-C data port, SPDIF/coaxial input, 3.5mm SE line out and 4.4mm balanced line out.
Now and then, a piece of audio equipment comes along that for some reason connects you with the music more than others. This is what happens to me when I listen to the Earmen Angel.
It’s apparent that the Angel delivers an uncoloured and transparent sound but it certainly has plenty of character. Time and again I was struck by how natural it sounded: from its flawless timbre to its excellent sense of rhythm, this is one device that does everything right in a sonic sense.
The bass sounds full-bodied and complete. It hits hard and fast with confidence and certainty. It’s rare to find this kind of authority and control in a portable device. Believe me, if you listened to the Angel without knowing what it was, you would probably believe you were listening to a fully-fledged desktop system.
Power-hungry planar headphones, or demanding dynamic driver sets are no obstacle for the Angel. You’ll be impressed by the bass extension and depth on offer, even more so when you’re running straight off the battery.
At the same time, sensitive IEMs are handled with a gentle but firm touch. The Angel renders a completely black background that remains unsullied by any hiss or audible noise floor. As a result, the Angel is adept at revealing the natural decay and upper harmonics of instruments and vocals.
Hitting the Gain+ button yields even better dynamics when you’re using headphones like the Sundara or HD650. Everything sounds more vivid, open and nuanced. Extra details are revealed and the separation between instruments becomes more distinct.
Playing Soen’s ‘Lunacy’ with the Hifiman Sundara resulted in punchy but clean bass with a visceral impact. Different guitars are clearly defined and separated between the left and right channels with the vocals forming a solid centre image. All the details like the reverb on the vocals and texture on the guitars create a cornucopia of colour and sound, enhanced even further by Angel’s spacing.
Earmen Angel vs Earmen TR-Amp
Even though the TR-Amp and Angel use the same ES9038Q2M DAC chip, each unit has a unique sound. The TR-Amp sounds more saturated and full-bodied, whereas the Angel has reference-level neutrality and transparency.
The differences are most notable in the TR-Amp’s slightly fuller bass and midrange. As a result, the TR-Amp sounds warmer and richer whereas the Angel is cleaner and more refined.
The TR-Amp’s technical performance is excellent relative to its price. However, the Angel takes things up a notch (or even 2 notches) with a more expansive soundstage, sharper imaging and greater resolution.
xDuoo XD05 Bal
The xDuoo XD05 (review here) features dual ES9038Q2M DAC chips compared to the single one in the Angel. It also packs in Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX and an OLED display, despite costing almost half the price. The XD05 packs in more features while the Angel aims for maximum audio quality above all else.
Both units have a neutral presentation but the end result is slightly different for each. The XD05 has a kind of raw energy that makes it exciting and muscular. The Angel is also exciting and muscular but it has an added level of refinement that gives it a technical edge. This results in added precision and better staging on the Angel; its stage has more depth and scale compared to the xDuoo which has slightly wider but less holographic staging.
If you’re on a tighter budget or want the added versatility of Bluetooth, the XD05 delivers excellent overall value. Furthermore, the xDuoo gives you more information like sample rate and accurate battery level via its display. In comparison, the Earmen Angel is more basic in terms of features but its sound is imbued with extra gentility and grace.
We always have high expectations when it comes to Earmen products but the Earmen Angel takes things to another level. It’s probably the best-sounding portable DAC/amp I’ve heard to date. If truth be told, Angel even outperforms a lot of separate DAC and amplifier stacks while taking up a lot less desk real estate.
The fact that you can easily pick it up and use it on the go or transport it easily from one location to another makes the experience even more powerful. The Earmen Angel sounds heavenly and worthy of our recommended gold award.
Inputs: USB-C, S/PDIF, COAX/TOS
Headphone output: 3.5mm, 4.4mm
Lineout: 3.5mm, 4.4mm
Audio Formats: Native DSD512, up to 768kHz DXD, up to 768kHz PCM, MQA