*Originally posted to Head-fi*
Today we are going to be taking a look at RHA’s first foray into portable amplification, the Dacamp L1.
Admittedly, I don’t have a ton of experience with portable amplifiers outside of my Topping NX1, and no experience with a balanced connection, so this review is written from the perspective of someone entirely new to this part of the hobby. Please take my comments and thoughts with a grain of salt. This combined with a limited amount of time with the product means my review will be fairly brief and to the point, with focus placed on aspects that stuck out most to me; build quality, ergonomics, and sound quality.
The Dacamp L1 was sent to me along with the CL750 and CL1 as part of RHA’s Head-fi tour. After my time with these products was up, off to the next reviewer they went. There is no financial incentive to write this review, nor do the thoughts within belong to anyone but myself.
Packaging and Accessories:
The Dacamp L1 comes in packaging befitting it’s status as a premium portable amplifier. The front contains a hi-res glossy image of the amp floating in front of a matte black background along with a brief description of what it is. The right side contains the units specifications, and the rear a list of features.
Sliding off the exterior sheath reveals a textured black box with a vector-graphics like image of the inside of the Dacamp L1, which I think looks pretty unique. Flipping back the magnetically sealed flap reveals the unit itself securely held in place via a foam insert. Under the flap on the left resides your features manual.
Lift out the foam sheet and you find yourself looking at a number of boxes. One large one at the top with three smaller ones below. The large box contains the manual and cleaning cloth, while the others hold the rubber straps, charging cable, and short USB cable used to connect your phone or other compatible USB-enabled device.
Overall is it a very nice unboxing experience that didn’t leave me wanting much, if anything. A custom case to protect the Dacamp L1 would have been a nice inclusion, even if is was a simple silicone cover. Still, not necessary.
Build Quality, Ergonomics, and Usability:
No one will ever say the Dacamp L1 looks or feels cheap and if they do they’re lying. From the moment lay eyes on it and you pick it up you know the Dacamp L1 breathes quality. The housing feels like the solid hunk of metal that it is. The exposed Torx screws are a welcome and functional design element. The design fits comfortably in the hand with the switches and knobs moving smoothly and solidly. The overall design evokes memories of high end stereo equipment from the 70’s (or at least I think so). The weight does too. If I were to purchase this amp it would probably end up being a companion for my laptop. Something a little lighter and more compact would be better suited to mobile use.
Each of the knobs are in fairly natural positions and after just a few minutes I was able to use the Dacamp L1 without the need to look and see what I was doing. It became second nature to use it with little to no learning curve.
I did have a bit of an issue with the DAC and running the CL1 balanced, but that was 100% due to my own unfamiliarity with the tech and a lack of attention to detail. With a bit of guidance from the manual, @nmatheis, and the folks at RHA, I was quite literally up and running in seconds, slapping myself in the forehead for the user error. Worth the slap, cause this thing sounds b-e-a-u-tiful filtering through the DAC.
There are quite a few input and output options at your disposal. You have your usual 3.5mm input but also digital options like USB A, USB B Micro, and mini TOSLINK (optical). For outputs there is the standard 3.mm jack in addition to the 4-pin Mini XLR balanced option. That should be enough for most users I suspect. Support for high-resolution audio formats up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM and 11.2MHz DSD is also included.
If I were to levy any complaints at the Dacamp L1 in this category, it would be for the ease at which the volume knob spins. It was pretty easy to brush against it and raise or lower the volume accidentally. With something like the CL1 which has a very enthusiastic upper range, it could be a tad dangerous to erroneously raise the volume a significant amount in a brief period of time. Add some extra resistance and problem solved. Other than that, I thought it was functionally a great product. It was easy to use, input positions made sense, and wow does it feel good to hold.
This is admittedly where I really start to leave my element. I could talk about build quality and packaging all day, but when it comes to sound quality I don’t really have a baseline to compare to. Yes, I have my Topping NX1, but seriously, a ~$30 amp versus the $549.95 Dacamp L1? Even my plebeian ears could immediately hear the difference in quality between the two. No comparison really.
The Dacamp L1 had a black as night background regardless of what earphone I plugged in; BA only, hybrid, dynamic, whatever. It didn’t matter. The sound was so clean and pristine it’s been hard to go back to the NX1. There’s a bit of grain to the sound that I just can’t get around. There’s a bit of hiss with the new Brainwavz B100, B150, and the ClarityOne EB100. None of that is there with the Dacamp L1.
The power too. Oh man, the power. While I don’t really own anything overly power hungry, except maybe the Havi B3 Pro 1, nothing made me think I needed the medium and high gain options. Not even the CL750 or CL1 required medium or high gain. I left my HTC at 80% volume with the Dacamp L1 only exceeding volume two when I was listening to a real banger, such as The Prodigy’s “The Day is My Enemy”.
While I appreciate the inclusion of the bass and treble EQ knobs, they never came across as being a critical feature or overly useful. The bass knob seemed to increase mid-bass quantity pretty evenly with sub-bass. Earphones ended up sounding pretty boomy when the bass was cranked all the way. As a result, bass stayed at naught for the duration of time the Dacamp L1 was in my possession. Keep in mind that I greatly prefer sub- over mid-bass, so the way this EQ’s might be right up your alley.
The treble dial was a little more useful and helped dial down some of the excess energy of the CL1 and CL750, but it would have been nice to have as much range when removing treble as there is when adding it in. Being able to dial in so much extra bass and treble is nice but being able to remove to the same extent would have been even better. Not a huge issue since I’ve got an EQ on my HTC, but since the Dacamp L1 has the EQ options built in, the additional flexibility would be welcome.
Overall I found the Dacamp L1 to be an extremely powerful and clean sounding amp with lots of input options.
In the limited time spent with the Dacamp L1, it came across as a really nice amp. I rue my lack of experience with similar products to have been able to really put it through it’s paces. But, for what I could get out of it and when using it with the CL1, it was pretty impressive.
The build quality is crazy good, as I have come to expect from RHA. The design is quite attractive, ergonomic, and it takes next to no time to learn your way around it, though it has some serious weight to it that could make portable use less than ideal. There is power to spare even when running products designed specifically for amping, and the built in EQ controls are a welcome addition even if I didn’t get a lot of value out of them.
It definitely came across to me as being worth a purchase if you have the gear that can take advantage of it’s capabilities.
Thanks for reading, and thanks again to RHA for including me on the tour!