The new Oppo HA-2 SE Headphone Amplifier aims to build on the successes of its predecessor. There aren’t any visible changes here, and it even looks exactly the same as the original! (Save for the embossed logo which now says ‘HA-2 SE’). The actual upgrades are all under the hood. It now has a newer and more capable DAC Chip from ESS, the Sabre Reference 9028-Q2M, that delivers an even lower noise floor than the Sabre 9018-K2M Chip. The resulting elimination of audible hiss is a welcome change. The hybrid Class AB Amplifier has now been tweaked to add more thump and bounce to bass frequencies. Like the HA-2 Classic, it’s able to drive a wide variety of headphones – putting in 300mW into 16 Ohm impedance headphones, and up to 30mW into tough-to drive 300 Ohms headphones. It samples PCM frequencies of up to 384 kHz/32-bit, and DSD bitstreams of up to 11.2896 MHz (DSD256) in native mode.
Internal changes aside, the build quality is just as amazing as the previous version. You’ll still get that flat, machined aluminium body, wrapped in stitched leather, which looks and feels so premium – you’ll want to show it off! The volume knob glides smoothly, and Hi-Lo Gain and Bass-boost switches felt snappy. Intuitive battery indicator lights are laser-cut into its aluminium chassis.
You’ll also get the same input ports. Namely, a USB-A port for your iPhones, iPods and iPads; a Micro-B USB input for smartphones and computers; and an analogue 3.5mm input jack for everything else with an analogue audio output.
It’s worth mentioning that this time round, Oppo has gone with L-shaped connectors for its input cables, making it easier to stow it away in a bag, while connected to your iPhone and headphones.
On paper, the HA-2 SE has a battery life of 7 hours while connected to a digital source, and 13 hours for analogue source inputs. Through testing, I found that to be largely accurate. While connected to my iPhone’s lightning port, at around 50-60% volume (low gain) the HA-2 squeezed out 6.5 hours. It takes around 1.5 hours to juice it back up, but you’ll have to use the included Oppo VOOC rapid charger. Using an iPhone adapter, it charges up to full in about 3 hours.
You can use the HA-2SE as a backup 3000 mAH power bank, but the number of charges will vary with the type of device.
Now we get to the most interesting part! Throughout my daily usage, the HA-2SE operated silently, with no background hiss that was noticeable with the first version, due to its lower noise-floor.
When I played ‘Spanish Harlem’ by Rebecca Pidgeon, the HA-2SE delivered more precise imaging and a blacker background. Overall, the higher pitch of Rebecca’s vocals sounded smoother, and background details were brighter. It was overall a more lively sound!
A fun bassy track that I used was Selena Gomez’s ‘Hands To Myself’. Here, the difference was immediately obvious. The bass had better attack and felt rounder with more bounce. I could also detect better layering and brighter background details. With less capable processors, the song’s bridge will feel cluttered and messy – but the HA-2 SE manages to declutter it, presenting the bridge in a lively and coherent manner.
Wanting more of the bass, I put on John Mayer’s ‘Gravity’. The kick drum now sounded tighter and had better bite. Hi-Hats sounded brighter and more crisp, and John’s vocals felt more forward and separate from the background.
This last track is a tough one. Recorded in 1995, Laura Fygi’s ‘Have I Told You Lately’ is a very bright track, and without the right processing, Laura’s vocals can sound harsh. Bass guitars here had a better twang, track separation was more distinct, and vocals were deliciously smoother and more intimate. Overall, the song felt less grainy and the staging felt more like a live concert.
For a solid-state amp of this size and this price point, overall performance was impressive.
What Could Be Better
While the HA-2 SE is billed to be designed for our digital lifestyle, what’s missing is the ability to pass-through microphone and button commands to my iPhone! It is cumbersome having to do without them, when I have to take the amp (with my phone attached to it) out of my bag to select another album or to simply raise the volume. I am also unable to take calls or activate Siri from my earphones. At times, using the HA-2 felt like I have to give up certain features for better sound. And with more consumers using the iPhone 7 (no headphone jack), lacking these features seem to make the HA-2 SE a less attractive alternative to going wireless!
This may not be my first encounter with Oppo’s popular headphone amp, but it is my first time actually using it on a daily basis, while commuting and at home. And I have to say, it has been a real treat! I absolutely love its simplicity, its build quality and the kind of smoothness and richness it adds to my music. The HA-2 SE is compact, stylish, and would make music from any smartphone sound better. If you already own a HA-2 Classic, the SE may not be worth the upgrade. That small upgrade in sound quality will not justify paying SGD479 for a new one! Still, the HA-2 SE is a great alternative to the well-reviewed Chord Mojo Headphone Amp, which retails for SGD999!
In the box:
- HA-2SE Headphone Amp
- 2-Pin VOOC Fast-Charging adapter
- Standard USB to Micro USB cable (long)
- 3.5mm Mini-Jack cable (L-Connector, short)
- Micro USB cable (L-Connector, short)
- USB to lightning cable (L-Connector, short)
- 2 Rubber bands (For securing your music source to the Amp)
- Instructions manual and Warranty Documents