EarMen Angel Review
EarMen Angel Review
The voice of an Angel
Pros: + Reference neutral tuning
+ Supreme transparency and technicalities
+ Musical and engaging with a natural timbre and minimum digital glare
+ Powerful headphone amplifier with impressive dynamics
+ The single ended output is also powerful and good sounding
+ True balanced line output
+ Simple to use
+ Separate DATA and USB charging ports
+ S/PDIF input
+ Excellent build quality
Cons: – Not really portable
– Not too organic and analogue sounding
– No wireless connectivity or other bells ‘n’ whistles
– Average battery duration
– LED light color scheme is a little confusing
– I/O sockets could be of higher quality
The review sample was kindly provided free of charge in exchange for an honest review.
I didn’t receive monetary or any other kind of compensation and I don’t use affiliate links.
The price of the EarMen Angel is €799 and you can buy it from the EarMen online shop or $799 if you are located in North America and use this link.
Designed and engineered by Milomir “Miki” Trosic, founder of the sister company Auris Audio, EarMen carries on the legacy of sound that has established Auris as a leader in the high fidelity audio world.
Unlike Auris products, however, EarMen is designed exclusively to enhance portable listening, and as such their products are small in their size – easily fitting within your pocket alongside your smartphone. Although small in size, EarMen products contain powerful audio components designed to give you and your equipment an audio experience without compromise. Powerful amplification and world class audio processing, fully compatible with all major smartphones and computers, all in a device the size of a lighter.
The EarMen family of products
I have been following EarMen from day one and I was fortunate enough to review most of their products.
First was the Donald DAC followed by the TR-Amp and the Sparrow.
Then came the Eagle and the Colibri and now together with the Angel they have expanded their line to include compact sized desktop gear like the Tradutto DAC and the brand new ST-Amp.
The Angel was handed to me at the Munich High End show 2022 but the review was delayed due to a very busy schedule and some personal matters.
I would like to apologize but better late than never…
The EarMen Angel is an enhanced version of the much acclaimed TR-Amp, a portable fully balanced high resolution DAC/Headphone Amplifier with a configurable pre or fixed line output option.
The Angel uses the ESS ES9038Q2M DAC chip which has great SNR and THD+N characteristics compared to its competitors, along with the newest XMOS USB receiver which is capable of decoding up to 768kHz/32 bit PCM, DSD256 via DoP and MQA studio quality.
It is a fully balanced device whose balanced signal goes intact from the DAC all the way to the headphone output. There are no changes in the audio signal itself except for amplification, so the sound from the DAC is original.
The device is designed so that in the path of audio signal sound, there are no additional capacitors and other components that would introduce distortion.
The device has a linear power supply with ultra low noise which helps to deliver even clearer sound.
It is powered by a two-cell battery 2x3000mAh which will give you the opportunity for many hours of listening to music.
You do not have to worry about battery consumption, as the charging time is less than 3 hours.
Separate DATA and USB charging ports allow the device to run continuously if it is on the charger, and so you can use it all day in your system.
There is also a Gain+ mode that when engaged will get you more power, volume and dynamics of sound. This option gives you the ability to adjust the volume to a more precise level, allowing Angel to be used with all types of sensitive and insensitive headphones.
There is an interesting story behind the creation of the Angel as narrated by the lead engineer Filip Tot that you can read it here.
Design and user interface
The Angel is somewhat larger and heavier than the TR-Amp, measuring 152x27x66mm and weighing 340g.
It has a rectangular prism shape which is not pocket friendly and as such it is a transportable rather than a really portable device.
The full aluminum alloy chassis has an excellent metallic finish and a solid, sturdy and well made build.
The design is neat and minimalistic with four visible screws at the front face and the back plate that add a rather industrial look.
Input and output sockets are arranged with great ergonomics and functionality in mind.
At the left side of the front face you will find the two headphone outputs (3.5mm and 4.4mm), a multi-color notification LED light, the Gain+ button, the pre/direct output switch and the volume control button that also doubles as an on/off switch.
At the back side of the unit there are two USB type-C inputs, one for Data and one for charging, a 3.5mm S/PDIF input and the two line outputs, one 3.5mm single ended and one 4.4mm balanced.
The volume control is now a digital potentiometer/encoder in contrast to the TR-Amp which had an analogue potentiometer that was a little scratchy.
Upon powering up the unit will enter idle mode and the LED will turn white.
Plugging a headphone will trigger the output and the LED will turn into green.
Every time you power off the Angel the output volume reverts to zero in order to protect your headphones and ear from accidents.
You can mute the output by briefly pressing the volume button.
Raising the volume will change the LED color from green to yellow, orange and red so you have a rough reading of how loud you are listening.
The LED is also used for displaying battery status and income sampling rate in a rather confusing color scheme.
Engaging the Gain+ mode will make the dedicated LED to lit red.
Plugging a cable into one of the analogue line outputs will make your headphones go mute and in order to use the S/PDIF input you must have the USB data cable unplugged.
You can toggle between fixed and variable line output with the front dedicated switch.
The Angel comes together with a rather long, high quality USB type-C to C cable which is a little bulky, two S/PDIF adaptors and the manual.
I don’t have a photo because I was handed the device without the package.
Power output and battery duration
The manufacturer published specs suggest that the Angel can do 7.3Vrms from the single ended output and 8.5Vrms from the balanced with the Gain+ enabled.
Subjectively speaking the Angel had absolutely no problem driving all the headphones I used into ear deafening levels with excellent driver control and spare headroom.
The Focal Clear Mg was an easy task and for the HiFiMan Arya Stealth / Sennheiser HD8XX I used the Gain+ mode.
With these headphones and from the balanced output I got about 6-7 hours of working time.
The battery needs about 3 hours to get a full charge and interestingly the recharging alarm is not so accurate because I got about two hours of extra time after the LED started flashing red.
The unit was burned about 150 hours prior to listening tests.
I have used various headphones but mainly the Sennheiser HD8XX, Focal Clear Mg, HiFiMan Arya Stealth and Meze 109 pro.
All headphone cables are of pure silver and made by Lavricables.
I am not that fond of laptops and Android tablets so I am using dedicated streamers and the Cambridge Audio CXC CD transport to make sure that every reviewed device is getting digital signals of the best quality.
For this occasion I used the iFi NEO Stream.
The EarMen Angel is absolutely fantastic sounding, it has a balanced, neutral and reference type of tuning with excellent transparency, great linearity, supreme frequency cohesion and outstanding technical precision while at the same time it manages to be particularly musical and engaging.
As a matter of fact the Angel is the most musical sounding portable device by EarMen so far.
It is not that analogue and organic in it’s timbral qualities per se but nonetheless it is phenomenally addictive, you just can’t stop listening and you forget about everything else.
After a while I got bored of listening to the usual test tracks because it became clearly obvious from the first moments that the Angel was a hell of a performer without a single negative sonic flaw so I immediately switched to regular music listening.
Qobuz is enriching its classical catalog with legendary recordings from the past and I couldn’t resist myself listening again to the Sviatoslav Richter Scriabin recital from Warsaw.
Hammering notes, arpeggios, long runs, micro and macro dynamic contrasts, the finest nuances, everything sounded like being there and the Angel was an ace into communicating the sentiment, the poetry and every single breath of Richter’s agonizing performance.
The most interesting part is that the Angel is not only suitable for all kinds of music but it is also a great match with all kinds of headphones as diverse as the HD8XX, the Arya V3 and the Clear Mg.
Every one of them sounded at its best with the Angel offering a near desktop-like performance.
The review could have ended right here by crowning the Angel as one of the best transportable DAC/amps available in the market at time being but let’s dig into the necessary (and kind of boring) sound analysis that a reviewer is expected to write.
The bass is deeply extended and full bodied, not that visceral but not lean either.
It is tight, fast and controlled with strict timing, excellent layering and reference definition.
The Angel hits hard, it sounds extremely dynamic, contrasted and impactful as long as the headphones are in its comfort zone (well most of them are).
Mid range fidelity is of masterclass level with great clarity, full bodied presentation, plenty of air around the notes and the finest articulation of the performers,
Voices and instruments alike sound lifelike and realistic with extra natural timbre and a rich harmonic variety albeit not that organic, analogue-like or lush as some of you might have expected.
Anyway, digital glare is kept at a very low level, almost absent, both in the mid-range and the treble, this is a great ES9038Q2 implementation, a proof that a given DAC chip will not always perform the same and that the best measurements will not always translate into the best sound.
The Angel treble tuning is the smoothest so far EarMen approach but with all the extension, crispness, airiness, brilliance and transient speed that someone would wish for.
Sharp and well defined, the Angel never sounds bright or harsh and it possesses a quite relaxed sound decay over time with the result that high pitched percussion instruments fade away with a realistic timing without losing in texture weight and reverb.
The Angel is absolutely dead silent and offers deep detail retrieval with the benefit that it doesn’t sound analytical, sterile or boringly technical.
Pair the Angel with a good headphone and you are going to be treated with an expansive and immersive soundstage with plenty of air, accurate imaging, sharp positioning and grand scaled presentation with good depth layering albeit there is a room for improvement in holography and dimensionality.
With the Sennheiser HD8XX I couldn’t stop listening to symphonies and massive choral works like Verdi’s requiem in Daniel Barenboim’s masterful interpretation.
Balanced vs unbalanced and line out
The 3.5mm output sound quality of the Angel is not that far behind from the balanced while it is almost as powerful.
It is not as expansive sounding as the balanced, not that well controlled, defined and technically strong but rest assured that you are getting most of the Angel’s sound performance without seriously compromising if you are intending to buy it for single ended only use.
I have also used the 4.4mm line output of the Angel to feed the Cayin C9 and I can happily report that all the sound quality remained equally impressive.
Compared to the EarMen TR-Amp ($249)
Listening to the TR-Amp is almost like listening to the single ended output of the Angel but with a less technically strong performance and just a touch more treble forward presentation.
They both use the same ES9038Q2M chip but with different implementations and analogue stages.
The bass on the TR-Amp is a touch fuller and more visceral but also a little loose and not that well controlled, defined or fast.
The TR-Amp is not that extremely dynamic and impactful or open sounding, it has a touch of brighter, more treble forward approach and the timbre is not as natural as in the Angel.
Switching to the balanced output of the Angel then the sound performance leaps ahead and the comparison gets somewhat unfair considering the price difference.
But let’s not forget that the TR-Amp is less than half the price of the Angel, considerably more portable and still one of the best sounding portable DACs of the respected category so it is well worth considering if you only need a single ended output, portability and your funds are limited.
Compared to the Chord Mojo 2 ($750)
The Mojo 2 is more portable and pocket friendly than the Angel while you can hold it in your palm and control it with your fingers.
It has two 3.5mm headphone outputs that work simultaneously but an outdated micro USB port for charging.
It has the benefit of docking the Poly to add high resolution wireless connectivity but it doesn’t have a true line output.
It has a built-in 4 band lossless equalizer and three levels of crossfeed but it is not as straightforward and user friendly as the Angel which is also considerably more powerful and can decode MQA.
The following sound comparison impressions are between the Mojo 2 and the balanced only output of the Angel.
OK, this is a really difficult one and I am leaning towards a tie, both are great with minor differences to cater for different music listening habits.
Technicalities and transparency are equally impressive for both of them but the Angel is more crystal clear with a blacker background and a completely inaudible noise floor when the Mojo 2 can hiss a little with very sensitive earphones.
The Angel has a sharper, crisper and more extended treble with deeper detail retrieval while it presents a more open and spacious soundstage.
Also the Angel is the more impactful and dynamic of the two but with a leaner texture compared to the considerably more visceral and full bodied bass presentation of the Mojo 2.
On the other hand the Mojo 2 has the holographic dimensionality that is missing from the Angel soundstage while it can sound more musical and sentimentality strong because it has the analogue-like and organic texture that the Angel doesn’t have.
In the end
Simply put, the EarMen Angel is one of the best transportable DAC/Amps your money can buy.
A desktop like experience from a battery powered, compact sized, device with a reference sound quality, excellent power delivery, great functionality and many included inputs and outputs.
If you have ever wondered how the heavenly voice of an Angel might really sound then you should definitely give the EarMen Angel a try.
Copyright – Petros Laskis 2022.