EarMen TR-Amp: Putting Its Stamp On Portable Audio

Greetings!

Today we’re checking out the TR-Amp from EarMen.

EarMen is a relatively young brand with an established history, coming out the gates as the more affordable arm of the Auris Audio brand. These products have been designed and engineered by Miki Trosic, the founder of Auris Audio, and as such have a strong foundation on which their principles are grown.

EarMen is “…on a quest to deliver the highest quality audio experience while granting you the freedom to enjoy your music without limitations…” with the TR-Amp leading the charge. It achieves this through quality components like the ES9038Q2M SABRE Reference DAC. This chip utilizes ESS’s HyperStream© II QUAD DAC with 32-bit audio and Time Domain Jitter Eliminator for plenty of driving power, yet not at the expense of a low noise floor. It supports a wide variety of high quality audio formats, like DSD, DXD, PCM, as well as native MQA delivery for the most discerning of listeners. You can use it as a portable amp/DAC, as a pre-out for a desktop amplifier, and even power up to two headphones at the same time thanks to the dual outputs (1/4” and 3.5mm).

The TR-Amp is an affordable (249 USD), feature and technology rich device with power to spare, doing it all either as a mobile device, or nestled in with the rest of your hifi setup. Let’s check it out in greater detail, shall we?

Packaging and Accessories The TR-Amp comes in a fairly standard matte black lift top box. On the top of the lid is a wire frame style image of the device with the brand and model information in the middle. Around the sides the branding and model information is repeated. Flipping the box over you find some specs and heck of a lot of acronyms and logos, such as those for DSD, DXD, PCM, MQA, XMOS, ESS, Texas Instruments, and the obligatory Hi-Res Audio logo. Lifting off the lid the TR-Amp sits comfortably nestled within a foam insert. Lifting them out a secondary box resides underneath which contains the rest of the included items. In all you get:

  • TR-Amp
  • Remax USB-A to USB-C cable
  • Rubber band
  • Mesh carrying bag
  • Information sheet

Overall a very basic unboxing experience, but with some high quality inclusions. First is the carrying bag. Rarely are these included with a portable amp in my experience. Given the TR-Amp is a little larger than others, it’s nice to have something to store it in while not in use to ensure it doesn’t get scratched or damaged. The Remax branded USB cable was a surprising inclusion too. Remax made some excellent earphones back in the day (and maybe they still do). It seems they make some gorgeous cables too. It is thick and durable with stylish end caps and feels like something that is going to last a lot longer than the relatively basic cables that most brands include with their products.

Build The TR-Amp is crafted from CNC milled aluminum and comes in either silver, black, or the stunning red you see in this review. Build quality is exceptional with clean edges and minimal gaps between the end plates, main body, and ports, though tolerances could be a tiny bit better. Light from the LED bleeds around the nearby 3.5mm port where there is also a bit of wiggle room. You can see the ports shift when plugging cables in and out. Certainly nothing to be concerned about, but noticeable none-the-less. Neatly engraved logos and markings for the various ports, switches and knobs can be found around the device, with an EarMen logo dominating the top.

On the front of the device from left to right you find a 1/4” single-ended TRS jack, a 3.5mm single-ended TRS jack, a pinhole for the internal LED notification light, and the volume knob. On the back are two Type-C ports set within a glossy black plastic insert (one for charging, one for data transfer), a Pre-Out/Direct DAC toggle switch, and the L/R line out ports. On the bottom you find four clear rubber feet that do a fantastic job at keeping the TR-Amp from scratching your phone, desk surface, etc. and ensure it remains stable and in place during your listening sessions.

Dual Type-C ports is a welcome addition since it enables you to charge while listening. Since the data and charge ports are on separate circuits, you don’t have to worry about noise being introduced into the listening chain. Another nice feature are the dual headphone outs that can be used in tandem, so if you’re listening along with your significant other or a friend, you don’t need to share headphones as long as you’ve both got a set. Just be sure to bring along a 1/4” to 3.5mm adapter because you’ll probably need it, and try to listen with headphones of similar sensitivity. There’s only one volume knob after all. The TR-Amp also works as a pre-amp, bypassing the ES9038 DAC thanks to the Pre-Out/Direct toggle switch out back

Battery Performance The TR-Amp’s 3,700mA battery is rated for up to 10hours of use. I’ve been seeing between 8.5 to 9 hours on most runs meaning the TR-Amp is the perfect companion for a solid day at work. I can start listening at the beginning of a shift, and ride it all the way to the end. That said, when the power dies it is very sudden, and if doing so while gaming your computer might trip up and freeze temporarily while shifting over to an alternate output source. At least mine did while I was in the midst of a heated ARAM battle in League of Legends, thereby causing the death of poor Trundle. Rest in peace little buddy. 😥

Sound Quality and Device Pairing The TR-Amp features the highly respected Texas Instruments TPA6120 chip designed around a current-feedback AB amplifier build. Since I’m casual scum when it comes to explaining and/or understanding the tech behind DACs and amps, I’ll let EarMen take over in describing why the above matters. This next bit has been borrowed from the TR-Amp’s product page.

Three key features make current-feedback amplifiers outstanding for audio. The first feature is the high slew rate that prevents odd order distortion anomalies. The second feature is current-on-demand at the output that enables the amplifier to respond quickly and linearly when necessary without risk of output distortion. When large amounts of output power are suddenly needed, the amplifier can respond extremely quickly without raising the noise floor of the system and degrading the signal-to-noise ratio. The third feature is the gain-independent frequency response that allows the full bandwidth of the amplifier to be used over a wide range of gain settings.

What this translates into during my time with this device is that the TR-Amp sounds very clean regardless of the headphone with the only hiss/static present coming from the volume knob itself when making adjustments. That applies even to very sensitive, hiss-prone iems like the Campfire Audio Solaris. The background on this thing is dead silent. It can also drive pretty much anything, including demanding headphones like the Susvara from Hifiman. That behemoth draws distortion out of all but the most powerful of devices, especially at higher volumes and on bassy tracks, yet the TR-Amp takes it on without batting an eye. I don’t have an earphone in my collection that even begins to test the TR-Amp’s limitations.

The TR-Amp has a slightly coloured signature that adds some warmth and additional low end emphasis to whatever it is you’re listening to. While some might scoff at this, I think this sort of tuning makes sense for a device intended to be used in a portable manner. Bass is usually the first thing to suffer when out and about in the real world, so a slight bump to those regions helps counter that. That additional emphasis is minor though, so the TR-Amp is still more than suitable in quiet environments. It works just as well as a compact desktop amp or as a companion for your laptop.

Extension at either end is excellent with no detectable roll off. Notes attack with vigour and decay realistically, so should you pair the TR-Amp with something sluggish or soft, or extra quick and snappy, those qualities are retained. When it comes to staging qualities, the TR-Amp results in some mixed feelings. On one hand, imaging remains sharp and nuanced but with some pairings the sound stage has a habit of shrinking slightly. Track layering and instrument separation remain positives, and I never noticed instruments compressing into each other or fighting for space, at least not with products where this isn’t already an issue.

When using the TR-Amp as a pre-amp via the line out ports in the back, the signature is altered into something a little more “hifi”. The added warmth heard while using the headphone ports is gone, replaced by a subtle lift in the mids and treble. This makes the TR-Amp a little sharper and more accurate, and adds is some airiness compared to using the regular headphone ports. I quite like using it in this mode paired to my TEAC HA-501 desktop amp as it compliments that device’s smooth, analogue signature.

IMGP2665

AKG K553 Pro (32ohm, 114dB): A few short months after getting the Dunu Titan 1 in 2015, the AKG 533 Pro was ordered through then-named Massdrop. It has remained one of my reference headphones ever since thanks to the well-balanced and detailed signature, and a sound stage that defies the closed back nature. Plus, it looks cool as hell. Through the TR-Amp the K553 Pro feels even more balanced thanks to the additional low end power EarMen’s device brings to the table. It warms up the signature a bit, improves sub-bass emphasis, and makes the K553 Pro a better all-rounder. The sweet mids remain in place, treble still attacks cleanly and with purpose, and the sound stage is still large and in charge. Wrap the cable up, strap the TR-Amp to the back of your source device, and wander out into the world with one of the the best performance for your dollar portable hi-fi setups out there.

IMGP2666

Yamaha YHD-2 (125ohm, 97dB): For a nearly 40-year old headphone, the YHD-2 I picked up for next to nothing at the local Value Village still makes for a satisfying listen. Through the TR-Amp the YHD-2 has a very intimate sound stage, especially when compared to the iFi hip-dac and TEAC HA-501, yet it still does an excellent job of moving sound around this compact space in a manner that feels reasonably natural. Instrument separation and layering somewhat crumble on multi-tiered tracks, but keep things simple and you’re in for a good time. These two sound especially satisfying when paired together on synth wave tracks, such as GUNSHIP’s “Dark All Day”. The gorgeous mids of that track and the TR-Amp mash together perfectly, backed with some truly visceral texturing in the low end and saxophone. Treble beyond 6k isn’t really a thing on the YHD-2, so it sounds about as mellow here as it does through anything else.

IMGP2661

Meze 99 Neo (26ohm, 103dB): The 99 Neo is about as warm and mid-bassy as I’d want to get when pairing a headphone with the TR-Amp. Through this device, the 99 Neo’s low end is plenty authoritative. Mid-bass puffs its chest with a thumpy, punchy presentation and sub-bass that almost feels like it reverberates around inside the cups. The midrange sees a nice lift compared to other sources in my possession. Since the 99 Neo’s mids are warm and lush, this is very welcome. Treble remains mellow and relaxed with tight, clean notes and similar levels of roll off that I’m used to through my TEAC. The 99 Neo’s sound stage seems like it opens up quite a bit when paired with the TR-Amp, though imaging, layering and separation aren’t enhanced at all and feel a little left behind.

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Hifiman Susvara (60ohm, 83dB): The Susvara is a very demanding set of headphones. That said, the TR-Amp is more than up to the challenge. When paired with the Susvara, at high volumes many amps tend to distort on deep bass notes, including my main squeeze the TEAC HA-501. Not an issue with the TR-Amp. The Susvara sounds every bit the top tier headphone it is. Bass is deep and punchy with outstanding control. The midrange is forward and lush with the outstanding timbre I expect. Treble is crisp and tightly controlled. Outstanding clarity and texture is present top to bottom. About the only area that sees any compromise is the sound stage which doesn’t feel quite as spacious as it does with other amps, like my desktop TEAC HA-501. The TR-Amp also isn’t as smooth and organic sounding as that device either, but the EarMen costs half as much and is a portable device so the compromise seems fair. I’m honestly just impressed it runs the Susvara at all, let alone as well as it does. The TR-Amp will also drive the Susvara to volumes I am not at all comfortable with. Staying within my limits I am unable to hear any distortion or signs of EarMen’s budget wonder struggling.

Final Thoughts The TR-Amp gets a pretty easy recommendation from me. The plug and play nature of the design means it is very intuitive and easy to use. It has enough power, and clean power at that, to drive anything tossed at it; headphones, earphones, earbuds, whatever. It does not matter what it is, the TR-Amp can probably run it just fine. It also supports the high end audio formats people demand nowadays, like Tidal’s MQA of which the TR-Amp renders natively. While it is a bit of a chunky beast and is probably used best as a small desktop device or as a compliment to your laptop, it’s not so heavy and unwieldy to be unusable as a portable DAC/amp strapped to your DAP or phone. Just make sure you’ve got a spacious pocket available to accommodate it.

The only thing I would like to recommend to EarMen is that they include a short Type-C to Type-C cable in the box. Since this is intended to be used as a portable device, it only accepts input via Type-C, and most modern DAPs/phones are capable of audio output via Type-C USB, not including one of these cables is a missed opportunity. It limits a buyers ability to take advantage of one of the most powerful aspects of the TR-Amp, that being its portability, at least until they go out and source one of those cables themselves.

Overall, the TR-Amp is a very satisfying device. It is affordable, powerful, flexible, and does nothing but enhance your listening experience.

Thanks for reading!

– B9

Disclaimer A big thanks to Miroslav with Auris Audio for reaching out to see if I would be interested in reviewing the TR-Amp, and for arranging a sample for the purposes of review. The thoughts within this review are my subjective opinions. They do not represent EarMen, Auris Audio, or any other entity. At the time of writing the TR-Amp retailed for 249.00 USD: https://EarMen-shop.com/products/tr-amp

Specifications

  • DAC: ESS Sabre 9038 which supports DSD, DXD, PCM, MQA, and XMOS
  • USB Decoder: XMOS
  • Audio Formats: DSD 128 native, DSD 256 (DoP), DXD 384/352.8kHz, PCM up to 384kHz, MQA rendering MQB (MQA core)
  • Dynamic Range: > 120dB
  • Frequency Range: 10Hz – 50kHz
  • Battery: 3,700 mAh (during charging use 5v, min 2A adapter)
  • Dimensions: 129x66x30 mm / 5.08”x2.6”x1.18”
  • Weight: 240g / 0.53lbs

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