The DAC-HA200 is a portable headphone amplifier and hi-res digital-to-analogue converter designed to add a bit of sonic sparkle to your audio devices and PCs/Macs. It’s the first headphone amp/DAC to allow direct connection of Lightning-equipped iOS devices via USB, squeezing the best possible performance from your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch while you’re out and about.
The DAC-HA200 is a beautifully made device, boasting military-grade aluminium bodywork that easily lives up to the price tag. This hardy casing is good news for two reasons – it’s equipped to withstand the rigours of being lugged around, plus it provides superb protection for the high-grade components inside.
Despite its hardcore construction, the DAC-HA200 is surprisingly light (460g) and compact. You should have no trouble secreting this gizmo about your person in a bag or pocket. You can even secure your media player to it using the hi-tech, cutting-edge rubber bands supplied in the box.
Related: Best USB headphone amps
Close inspection of the casing reveals rubber ridges on the top and bottom that cushion the unit when placed on a desktop. Thick aluminium prongs shield the volume dial and headphone plug from in-pocket interference. At one end, you’ll find a solid knurled volume dial plus two small, bright LEDs that indicate when the unit is switched on and/or charging. They’re joined by a 3.5mm digital and analogue minijack input that automatically detects which signal is being received. A two-stage gain switch allows you to drive headphones with impedances ranging from 8 to 600 ohm.
At the opposite end you’ll find two USB 2.0 ports, one A-Type and one Micro B-Type. As mentioned the A-Type port supports Lightning-equipped iOS devices and AOA (Android Open Accessory) 2.0-compliant Android devices for CD quality sound. The Micro B port can be connected to a PC or Mac if you want to use the Onkyo as an external soundcard. You can select an input using the dedicated switch on the back, but like the gain switch it’s rather fiddly.
A 5V DC input lets you connect the unit to the mains using the supplied USB adapter cable. Talking of which, the DAC-HA200 takes eight hours to recharge when connected to a PC and gives you around eleven hours of playback time (using the audio input), which is generous by anyone’s standards.
Onkyo DAC-HA200 – Features
Headphone amps live or die by the quality of their internal electronics and on paper the DAC-HA200 looks very healthy indeed. It features a TI Burr Brown PCM5102 two-channel DAC, regularly used in hi-fi equipment for its high resistance to jitter and low out-of-band noise performance.
Owners of iOS devices who want to enjoy high-resolution audio files through the DAC-HA200 can do so using Onkyo’s HF Player app. The DAC-HA200 provides free access to Onkyo’s HD Player pack (normally only available as an in-app purchase), which allows the iOS device to output hi-res audio to the DAC-HA200 via the digital output, including 96kHz/24-bit FLAC, WAV, ALAC and 5.6MHz DSD.
The HF Player app is also available for Android devices for free, but on a slightly disappointing note you can’t output high-resolution audio to the DAC-HA200 without purchasing the unlocked version of the app for £5.58. Without it, the DAC-HA200 will only accept audio signals up to 48kHz/16-bit from Android devices – but at least you still get to hear crisp CD quality.
You can also take advantage of the HF Player’s 16,384-band equaliser, which is great for tweaking the sound to suit your taste.
Hooked up to a pair of OPPO PM-3 headphones, the DAC-HA200 delivers a superb performance, handling every track with remarkable depth and clarity. It revealed new layers and details in tracks I know well.
If you’re using an Android device, it’s worth investing in Onkyo’s HF Player unlocker app and hearing hi-res tunes in all their glory – and needless to say iOS users should definitely take advantage of the free HD Player pack.
Related: Best portable speakers
With a Sony NWZ-F886 hi-res player connected to the USB port, the drums at the start of Lose Yourself To Dance by Daft Punk (88.2kHz/24-bit) are huge and heavy, with a deeper, more cavernous rumble than the device delivers through its own headphone output.
The track positively fizzes with detail, from the subtle reverb tail on the snares to the crisp claps – the Onkyo lays it all bare. Percussion instruments can be picked out easily and Pharrell’s voice sounds surprisingly intimate. Meanwhile the guitar that gives the track its unmistakable disco flavour has never sounded tighter or funkier.
But you don’t need hi-res tracks to reap the benefits of the Onkyo’s talent. Everything from 320kbps MP3s on an iPod Nano to Spotify played on a PC are boosted by the Onkyo’s exciting, insightful presentation.
There’s also plenty of power in this little black box. It’s not recommended but I turned the volume dial up to the three-quarter mark and the Onkyo delivered a big, muscular output but still felt like it had plenty more to give. Most impressively it maintained its composure, keeping top-end hardness under control. It goaded me to push it higher and only then did it begin to break up.
It’s a warm, luxurious listen, the sort of sound you can just lose yourself in. I played There Are Many Stops Along The Way by Joe Sample and the horns are incisive and punchy without ever sounding bright.
The Onkyo renders Sample’s sprightly piano solos beautifully, capturing the glassy ping of each key press. Tight, precise drums give the track plenty of energy, while the speedy slap bass perfectly demonstrates the Onkyo’s agility. It all fuses together to create a unified and tonally balanced sound.
If you love music and care about the calibre of sound in your cans then the DAC-HA200 is definitely worth the investment. It’s a fabulous headphone amp and DAC, offering an engaging, insightful sound from any source, while the tough aluminium casing and generous socketry live up to the price tag. The only gripes are the faffing about required to play hi-res files from Android devices and the fiddly controls, but otherwise the DAC-HA200 is a terrific portable proposition.
With its compact size, hardy build quality and sparkling sound, Onkyo’s headphone amp/DAC is a terrific buy.