In this Earmen Colibri review, I’m checking out Earmen’s new battery-powered premium balanced DAC/Headphone amp/Preamp. The Colibri (aka “hummingbird”) features an ES9281 PRO DAC and pushes up to up to 280mW@32Ω of output power. The price is $333.
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.
Disclaimer: This sample was provided by Earmen for the purpose of an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product.
Earmen Colibri Review
The cleanest and purest sound for your phone or laptop when on the go.
“Gentle day’s flower—the hummingbird competes with the stillness of the air.”
— Chogyam Trungpa
Fully balanced 4.4mm output
Super Low-Noise Design
Gold Plated PCB
Manufactured in Europe
Package and Accessories
The Colibri comes in a black box wrapped in a black and blue sleeve. There’s an image of the device on the front of the box. On the back of the box, there are more images and a list of features. Here’s what you’ll find inside:
USB-C to USB-C cable
Protective faux leather case
USB-C to USB-C cable
Protective faux leather case
Closely following the Earmen Sparrow’s design, the Colibri has a full CNC milled aluminium block chassis. The front and back sides have 2.5D glass covers giving it a premium look and feel.
It weighs in at 51g with dimensions of 77 x 35 x 14mm. So it’s considerably larger than the Sparrow or other dongle DACs due to its discrete built-in battery. You can either use the clip on the included case to secure the unit or use rubber bands for strapping it to your phone.
The Earmen logo on the front is a multi-colour LED that displays the connection status and the current sample rate. In addition, the light glows brighter when the bass boost is enabled and dims when the bass boost is off. Another LED at the bottom displays the battery level.
On the left side are 2 buttons for controlling the volume. There are another 2 buttons on the right side. The top one is used to power the unit on or off as well as being a play/pause button. The bottom right button is to turn the bass boost function on or off.
The top of the unit hosts a 3.5mm single-ended output plus a 4.4mm balanced output. On the bottom, there are 2 USB ports – one for charging and one for data transfer.
Internals, Battery and Power Output
At the heart of the Colibri is a flagship ES9281 PRO DAC. Colibri supports Hi-Res PCM files up to 32bit/384kHz PCM, DoP, DSD64, DSD128 and MQA. When it comes to power output, the Colibri delivers up to 280mW@32Ω which is enough to drive most earphones and headphones with ease.
The rated battery life is 5 hours. That’s a bit on the low side so you’ll want to remember to charge it up before you head out. Why the battery you ask? There are 2 reasons: first of all, using the device won’t drain your phone’s battery. Secondly, the battery provides a clean, stable DC current which eliminates EMI (Electromagnetic interference) noise that some devices get when they’re near your phone.
Many of us are familiar with the ES9021 Pro DAC chip by now – it has been one of the dominant and most widely used solutions in recent times. In fact, it’s the same DAC found in the Earmen Sparrow. However, implementation is key so not all units using this DAC sound the same.
The Colibri has a balanced presentation that delivers an uncoloured but delightfully natural sound. Both of the outputs sound great but the balanced output, in particular, is dreamily spacious with an open, wide soundstage. There’s plenty of depth in the stage too and it’s a real treat listening with a good pair of headphones like the HIFIMAN Sundara.
Bass notes are crisp and detailed. Listening to Almunia’s “Cassandra’s Dream”, the kick drum is tight and well defined. The Colibri sounds effortless yet determined and pushes along with a rhythmic drive. It doesn’t add any flourishes but it’s clean and precise.
The bass extension is valid too. Firing up Aes Dana’s “Period 06_Haphazard” with the Colibri and my Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro, the bass buildup starting from 4:34 is intense. To say it’s enjoyable would be an understatement. At the same time, the stereo imaging is enveloping, with the buzzing electric sounds moving from right to left across an expansive, wide soundstage.
Colibri’s treble extension is really good. Treble notes float off into the air without lingering too long or being cut short. There’s a lot of precision in the highs, mixed with space and layering. The Colibri’s treble seems a tad smoother than the Sparrow and some other dongles using the same DAC but it doesn’t sacrifice any detail in the process.
Whether it’s the stable DC current provided by the battery or a superior implementation, the Colibri elevates the ES9021 Pro beyond many of its dongle peers. It sounds so spacious while maintaining a solid centre image and proper note density. But I think what I love most about Colibri’s sound is the way it etches its precise, airy treble.
Despite its large size and discrete battery, Colibri isn’t all about raw potency. It’s more about delivering the cleanest possible audio to your headphones or IEMs. With that said, it’s no slouch when it comes to driving power but if you have more demanding headphones, you ought to consider an alternative.
For everything else, there’s plenty of power on tap. My Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro’s sound great with the Colibri and that’s just using the single-ended output. All of the IEMs I tested were the same and had an abundance of headroom left.
One of my favourite IEM matches for the Colibri was the Empire Ears Bravado. This pairing delivered gorgeous bass texture, a wide soundstage and a clear midrange. The Colibri’s uncoloured presentation perfectly compliments the Bravado’s warm, bold sound.
With the FiR Audio 5×5, I get a myriad of details and an abundance of clarity. This is a precise pairing, perfect for critical listening. The overall resolution is stunning and the soundstage and imaging are pure joy to immerse yourself in.
The Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro really surprised me. Not only does Colibri have more than enough drive to power the headphones but the synergy with this pairing is awesome. Tight bass notes and articulate, natural mids abound. What’s more, the DT990 Pro’s treble has great control and less of the edginess that these headphones often produce.
The Cayin RU6 is the world’s first R2R dongle DAC. Compared to the Colibri, the RU6 comes across as slightly more raw and unbridled. It is a bit rougher around the edges which gives it a charming analogue character that’s incredibly lifelike. The Colibri, on the other hand, is more composed, with precise control over every note.
Both of these DACs have similar soundstage dimensions but the Colibri has a slight edge in spacing as a result of less aliasing and its lower noise floor. Both of these devices are amazing and it would be a tough decision if I could only choose one of them.
The Earmen Sparrow shares a lot in common with Colibri. In fact, I presume the latter was built around it or at least inspired by it. Both use the same ES9281 Pro DAC chip and share similar sonic qualities.
To my ears, the Sparrow sounds a lot like its larger sibling but the Colibri sounds more mature, more confident. Where I hear the most difference is in the treble where the Sparrow is edgier with a slight twang of sharpness. In comparison, Colibri’s treble is sweeter and more even throughout the highs.
The Earmen Colibri treads new ground, mixing the portability of a dongle with the stability of a pure DC current courtesy of its discrete built-in battery. The result is superior audio quality albeit in a larger form factor.
Despite being bigger, it’s still only 51g which is hardly cumbersome. In fact, I actually find using Colibri with a longer USB cable more convenient than having a dongle flopping at the bottom of my phone – especially with the use of the handy clip on the carrying case.
Of course, it is also a valid option for laptops or tablets on the go as well. I really appreciate the way it doesn’t leech the battery of anything I connect it to which is a big plus. The Colibri is an innovative product and a perfect companion for high-quality audio on the go. This is one little bird you’ll want to take with you everywhere.