EarMen Colibri

EarMen Colibri

7 September 2022 0 By Petros Laskis

The Hummingbird

Pros: + Neutral and transparent
+ Natural timbre and minimal digital glare
+ Bold and dynamic with excellent detail retrieval
+ Spacious and wide soundstage with accurate imaging
+ Crystal clear and dead silent without EMI interference
+ Battery powered, will not drain your phone battery
+ Can be used and charged at the same time
+ Excellent build quality
+ Hardware controls and well implemented bass boost
+ Comes with a carrying case and a high quality USB cable

Cons: – Somewhat lean and dry sounding
– No accompanying application for selecting low pass filters and gain
– Short battery duration
– No Bluetooth or other bells and whistles
– USB cable is too long and stiff
– A shorter USB cable should have been included
– At this price point you can find a variety of portable devices with greater functionality

The review sample was kindly provided free of charge in exchange for a honest review.
I didn’t receive monetary or any other kind of compensation and I don’t use affiliate links.
The Colibri is priced at $333 and you can order it from the EarMen online shop.

EarMen

Auris Audio is a well known company from Serbia that specializes in tube headphone and stereo amplifiers that are positioned at the higher-end of the market.
Miki Trosic, the founder and lead designer for Auris Audio, together with the rest of the team knew that the market needed something new, innovative and outstanding for those who prefer to listen to music while on the go.
With this thought in mind, EarMen was born – on a quest to deliver the highest quality audio experience while granting you the freedom to enjoy your music without limitations.
EarMen is by now a well established brand among audiophiles on the go and they have already released some very successful products like the TR-AMP, the Sparrow and the Eagle.
The first one is a portable battery powered DAC/amp and the other two are USB DAC dongles.
All of them were reviewed for Hxosplus printed edition, the TR-AMP review is available online and you can read it here.
EarMen has lately released another two portable DAC/amps, the Colibri and the Angel, while they are now expanding into desktop gear with products like the Tradutto DAC and the CH-Amp.

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EarMen Colibri

The Colibri is a small sized, battery powered USB DAC/amp featuring the ES9281PRO DAC chip from ESS which has an embedded headphone amplifier.
The chip is mounted in a gold plated 4-layer PCB while super low ESR tantalum capacitors and high grade components in the power-supply are used for a low-noise design.
The DAC can decode up to 32bit/384kHz PCM, DSD128 and is a full MQA renderer while it is plug & play without the need to install any drivers.
There is no wireless Bluetooth connectivity nor an LCD screen, things are kept as minimal as possible for the least interfere and the best sound quality.

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Battery benefits

USB DAC dongles that draw power from the host device are very handy because of their ultra compact size.
But they drain your phone’s battery and I bet that there are a lot of you out there (including me) that you actually prefer their battery powered siblings.
Firstly they don’t drain your phone’s battery that is saved for other important tasks and secondly they provide much more clean and stable power to the internal circuit.
Also they are more immune to RFI/EMI pollution for a better sound quality.
The Colibri internal battery is not a large one so don’t expect marathon sessions, it can keep the Colibri running for about 4-5 hours while it can be fully charged in an hour.

Design and controls

The chassis is made from a single piece aluminum block milled on a CNC machine, providing supreme durability.
Then the front and the back face of the aluminum body are beautified with an added glass surface that gives the Colibri a luxurious and beautiful appearance.
The size (77x35x14mm) of the Colibri is somewhat larger than most USB dongles without a battery but it still is compact enough to carry around in your pocket and use it with a phone while it is surprisingly lightweight at 51g only.

The upper part houses two headphone outputs (4.4mm true balanced and 3.5mm single ended) while at the bottom there are two USB type-C inputs, one for charging and the other for data input.
In this way the Colibri will not draw power from the host device while it can be charged and used at the same time.

The front face has an EarMen logo LED that changes between various colours according to the working status and the incoming sample rate.
White is connected, green is decoding PCM/DSD, magenta is MQA and red is disconnected.
If you enable the bass boost then the current color will become brighter.
When the battery needs to be recharged then the LED will start flashing.
When you connect the power cable then the data USB port gets illuminated by a hidden red LED.

The Colibri has hardware buttons that are used for controlling the various functions.
At the right side there are the On/Off, which also acts as Play/Pause during playback, and bass boost buttons while at the left you will find the volume up and down buttons.

(sidenote – The original plan was to release the Colibri with a tiny LED at the right bottom of the faceplate to indicate the remaining battery duration but this was abandoned and in the final product the main LED also acts as a battery charge reminder)

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Accessories

The Colibri comes together with a faux leather carrying case and a USB type C to C cable which is of a very good quality but quite stiff and too long for portable use.
A second, shorter, cable should have also been included.

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Power output and noise

Before listening I installed the latest firmware update, something that is obligatory in order for the Colibri to be properly functioning.

With 280mW/32Ω and 560mW/16Ω on tap from the balanced output, the Colibri is powerful enough to handle all your IEMs and not very difficult full sized headphones.
It had absolutely no problem driving the Sennheiser HD660S and Focal Clear Mg.
With the Sennheiser HD650 I reached for 90% of the available volume but without clipping the amplifier.
I don’t own very sensitive IEMs but with the Meze ADVAR and the FiiO FDX, the Colibri was dead silent without any internal noise or EMI interference.
I have also used a very short USB cable and the Colibri was free of EMI interference even when placed near to a cell phone.

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Listening impressions

The Colibri has an absolutely linear frequency response with the famous ESS technicalities and great transparency.
It is neutral, accurate and balanced while retaining an engaging and musical sound presentation.
The Colibri is not artificial sounding, timbre is natural and lifelike, the DAC chip is masterfully implemented so digital artifacts are kept to the bare minimum.
The sound is not glary nor stiff but the overall character is more lean than full bodied, especially in the treble which sounds a bit dry.
So there is a chance that the upper part of the frequency spectrum might get some extra projection but it should not be confused with brightens or any associated harshness.
The relative lack in body weight and lushness is compensated by the really excellent imaging, the extra airiness and the precision of the positioning.
The Colibri is good with everything you throw at it and very special at handling large scale works where every single instrument is kept under the light, every last note is heard and the music is presented in its full glory.
Not only for the fidelity and the imaging precision but also thanks to the large dynamic swings, the impactful presentation and the soundstage integrity.
Like while listening to this new version of Mahler’s fourth symphony where the full orchestra was magnificently contrasted with the charming solo voice.

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The Colibri is bold and exciting, not laid back or relaxed, it is fast and agile with excellent timing and sharp transient attack.
The bass is very tight and controlled with excellent layering, the mid range is crystal clear, rich and well articulated, the treble is luminous and full of energy while detail retrieval sits at the top of the competition, offering a very deep gaze into the recording without becoming too analytical.
The bass boost is a really nice addition because it is well implemented with a mild and controlled effect.
You get a touch of extra low end emphasis and more weight without sacrificing overall clarity and mid-range integrity but you lose slightly in control and speed.

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Compared to the EarMen Sparrow

Both devices use the same DAC chip but the Sparrow doesn’t have an internal battery nor hardware buttons so it is considerably more compact and lightweight but it trades the 4.4mm output for a 2.5mm one.
The lack of the internal battery is the major difference that affects the overall sound performance.
The Sparrow has to rely on the host device’s dirty and noisy power supply while the Colibri has a regulated battery based supply that offers clean power.
As a result the Colibri is dead silent and more immune to EMI interfere, something that cannot be said of the Sparrow which is not so silent with sensitive IEMs while it is quite susceptible to interference from the phone antenna
Moreover the higher voltage output of the Colibri power supply takes full advantage of the ES9081PRO internal amplifier, offering twice the power from the balanced output.

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Sound-wise they both share the same balanced sound presentation with great transparency and technicalities but the Colibri is the bolder and more dynamic one with wider soundstage, fuller sound and deeper detail retrieval.
The Colibri has a more controlled and smoother treble response while the overall texture is more natural and convincing.
The Sparrow is really good and among the best USB DAC dongles but if you don’t mind the extra bulk of the Colibri and the need to charge, then you get a device with an enhanced overall performance.

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In the end

If you don’t mind a somewhat bulkier USB DAC dongle and the need to recharge then the EarMen Colibri is a solid choice.
It offers the usual EarMen stellar sound performance while it is lightweight and compact enough to carry it in your pocket.
Powerful enough to drive a variety of full sized headphones it can act both as a portable USB DAC dongle and a desktop DAC with all the benefits of the internal battery power supply.
There are cheaper and more inclusive competitors, like the FiiO BTR5 that is also a Bluetooth receiver but the Colibri has a refinement and a desktop like presentation that is hard to beat.

Test playlist

Copyright – Petros Laskis 2022.