What’s cracking PAR fam? In this review, I’m taking a look at the Earmen TR-AMP. This is a portable USB DAC, preamp and headphone amplifier. It features an ES9038Q2M SABRE DAC, 10-hour battery life and supports up to PCM 384kHz, DSD256 and MQA. Sounds impressive right? Let’s see what this little unit can do.
Earmen is a fairly new name in the portable audio segment but this new brand has a serious pedigree. Its lead designer and engineer is none other than Milomir “Miki” Trosic of the famed Auris Audio, a manufacturer of award-winning high-end tube amplifiers.
All Earmen products are designed and assembled in Europe to ensure the highest standard. In fact, they’re so confident in the quality of the TR-AMP it’s available with up to 5 years extended warranty. That’s pretty reassuring for sure. And besides, let’s face it, “made in Europe” sounds cool as hell.
Disclaimer: This sample was provided for the purpose of an honest review. All observations and opinions here are my own based on my experience with the product.
Earmen TR-AMP Review
All metal enclosure never gets hot
MQA format support
Good battery life
Direct DAC and PreAmp modes
Muscular, musical, clean sound
A bit too big to easily fit in your pocket
Package and Accessories
The TR-AMP comes in a low-key black box with a sketched outline of the amp on the front. On the back is a list of features plus a diagram showing the front and rear panel. Opening up the box reveals the TR-AMP seated in a black foam insert. Also included in the box is a USB-A to USB-C cable, a branded rubber stacking strap and a mesh carrying pouch.
Build and Design
Starting with the exterior, the Earmen TR-AMP has a CNC aluminium milled enclosure. It feels solid and sturdy in the hand and has some real heft to it as well. In terms of size, it’s around 105mm x 30mm x 65mm (chassis only). This means it’s a bit too large for the average pants pocket but it is certainly portable enough to carry on a daily basis.
The top of the amp is bare except for an Earmen logo. On the bottom are 4 transparent rubber feet, great for stacking with a phone or DAP and for preventing scratches on the amp, your desktop and devices.
On the front panel are (from left to right): 6.35mm output, 3.5mm output, LED indicator and the volume pot. The LED shows different colours depending on the audio format being played. It also flashes blue when the battery is being charged.
Moving around to the back panel, there are (from left to right): USB charging port, USB data port, Pre Out/Direct selection switch and analogue outputs. The matte finish on my red looks great and as a bonus, does not pick up fingerprints when handling.
Internals and Features
At the heart of the TR-AMP is an ES9038Q2M SABRE DAC chip. TR-AMP supports up to 384kHz, DSD256 via DoP, native DSD128 and MQA. In addition, it utilizes a Texas Instruments High Fidelity TPA6120 chip for the headphone amplifier which offers up to 128dB of dynamic range.
An interesting feature is being able to power 2 pairs of headphones simultaneously. The switch on the back of the unit lets you choose between direct DAC and preamp functions, handy if you want to add other components into the audio chain.
The TR-AMP’s 3700mA battery is good for up to 10 hours of music playback. But this little TR-AMP (heyyyyy!) has a trick up its sleeve in the form of the separate data and charging USB ports. With this, you can effectively use the amp all day long.
I tested the TR-AMP using both my phone and my Windows 10 pc as sources. With both sources, the Earmen TR-AMP was recognized immediately for a fuss-free plug and play experience. The amp’s sound signature is very clean with a mild U-shape, adding a little lift in the bass and treble with the midrange sounding natural and linear. There’s a definite sense of muscularity and dynamics in the presentation with just a hint of colour added to make the experience engaging.
For my first test track, I plugged in my Superlux HD672 (which I’ve been enjoying immensely since swapping out the stock silicone earpads for some cushy velour pads). These are efficient and easy to drive headphones (impedance 32Ω, sensitivity 95dB) which I thought would be an interesting match up.
I then fired up Cubering’s “Booster” (flac) on foobar2000 and was immediately impressed by the extension and fullness of the bass. There was loads of texture in the bass too, great definition and a visceral rumble. All the details were accounted for and presented in an expansive and especially wide soundstage that reached outside of the headspace.
Next up was something a bit more demanding in the form of the Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro (250 Ohm). The song this time was Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” (DSD64). In terms of power, the TR-AMP had no problems here. I was sitting at 11-1 o’clock on the volume pot (starting position is around 8 o’clock) and still had plenty of headroom.
Vocals were upfront and forward, as were the acoustic guitars going back and forth from the left to right channel. The sound was full-bodied and clear with a nice, wide soundstage and great imaging.
Next, I tried something a little different: I used my Samsung Galaxy smartphone as the source and then used the TR-AMP’s analogue RCA output in Direct mode to feed the Feliks Audio Echo tube amplifier. The headphones this time were the Hifiman Sundara (impedance: 37Ω, sensitivity: 94dB) which I plugged into the Echo’s 6.35mm headphone out.
Firing up Hans Zimmer’s “Mombasa” from the Inception soundtrack, the track invoked feelings of tension and urgency. The TR-AMP has a great sense of rhythm and matched the hectic pace of the drums with aplomb.
There was a definite difference when switching between the pre-out and direct modes, When using the TR-AMP as a preamp, the sound had more body and fullness. In direct mode, the sound became leaner and more neutral and, in my opinion, drier and less engaging, albeit very detailed.
For my final test pairing, I chose the Fearless S8F in-ear monitors (sensitivity: 113dB/mW, impedance: 26Ω). I wanted to try this matching to see how the TR-AMP would fare with a sensitive iem and the results were excellent.
There was some channel imbalance at very low volume but to be fair, that was playing at a barely audible level – lower than I would ever personally listen. This turned out to be a great pairing with wonderful synergy. Testing a number of various tracks, the S8F sounded musical and expressive with a large soundstage and precise imaging.
I found the background to be perfectly black and dead quiet when listening to music. Without music playing, I could hear a slight hiss but only at an extreme volume that would literally destroy my ears if I were to press the play button.
The Earmen TR-AMP is a fantastic little DAC/amplifier that packs a lot of punch. It’s powerful, musical and the dual-mode RCA output opens up a lot of extra use options too. Suitable for anything from sensitive inears to high-impedance headphones, it’s got you covered no matter what you’re listening to.
You can use it either on the desktop or on the go and the plug and play functionality makes it effortless with any source. Of course, the TR-AMP’s most endearing quality is the excellent audio quality where its Auris lineage can clearly be heard. There are few amps in its price range that can compete on a sonic level, making the TR-AMP an easy recommendation.