Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity - Best Of Awards 2016
The OPPO HA-2SE is an incremental update to their popular HA-2 potable DAC/headphone amp.

The HA-2SE keeps the same pleasing design and feature set of the original, but now sports a new DAC chip and a modified gain structure to its amplifier section.

OPPO HA-2SE - Full View

Highlights

OPPO HA-2SE Portable DAC/Headphone Amp

  • Same quality aluminum casing as original HA-2.
  • Plays up to 32/384 kHz PCM and DSD256.
  • Improves the sound of your mobile phone.
  • Will run some relatively power hungry headphones.
  • Adjusted amplifier gain structure for improved sound with sensitive IEMs.
  • Can also double as an external power bank and charge your smartphone.
Introduction

Remember the old line from the wine commercial “We will sell no wine before it’s time?” Originally spoken by Orsen Wells, he could have easily applied that same descriptor to OPPO Digital as they tend to really spend their time honing a new product before releasing it to the world at large. As such, there just isn’t a bunch of frequent turnover in their product lines until something truly, and substantially different is ready for introduction. OPPO will however, from time to time, make an incremental upgrade to an existing product if they feel it’s properly warranted.

OPPO DAC/HEADPHONE AMP REVIEW SPECIFICATIONS
Design:

DAC and headphone amplifier

DAC:

ESS Sabre32 Reference ES9028Q2M (Mobile)

Codecs:

Up to 32/384 kHz PCM, DSD64-DSD256

Asynchronous:

USB connection

Two gain:

Settings

Bass Boost:

Switch

Recommended Headphone Impedance:

16 – 300 Ohm

Maximum Output:

300mW into 16 Ohms, 220mW into 32 Ohms, 30mW into 300 Ohms

Frequency Response (Manufacturer):

20 Hz -200 kHz

Output Jacks:

3.5 mm stereo headphone,
3.5 mm stereo Line Out

Inputs Jacks:

Analog – 3.5 mm stereo audio In,
Digital – USB Type A and Micro USB Type B

Battery:

3,000mAh

Dimensions:

0.5” (12 mm) H x 2.7" (68 mm) W x 5.4" (137 mm) D

Weight:

6.2 oz. (175 grams)

MSRP:

$299.00

Company:

OPPO

SECRETS Tags:

OPPO, DACs, Headphone Amplifiers, HA-2SE, High Resolution, Headphone Amp Reviews 2016

They did it with some of their early Blu-Ray players by introducing “Special Edition” models with improved DACs and again with their later Blu-Ray players, adding Darbee video processing. This time around OPPO has released an incremental upgrade to their existing portable DAC/headphone amp. Called the HA-2SE (Special Edition) it features the same classy exterior design of the original HA-2 but with some upgraded internals that OPPO felt were worth the time and investment to implement. Let’s have a gander, shall we?

Design

OPPO HA-2SE and iPhone 6S Plus - Size Comparison

Secrets Editor-In-Chief John Johnson, Jr reviewed the OPPO HA-2 last year and the HA-2SE has essentially the same identical exterior design and switchgear. I will simply add that I find the design to be extremely attractive and that the HA-2SE feels solid and comfortable to hold in hand. While it is about the same size as a standard iPhone 5 or 6, the HA-2SE is about two thirds the size of my iPhone 6S Plus but the included rubber bands still fit and kept both components securely together.

OPPO HA-2SE- Internal View

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The internals are where the HA-2SE has seen some upgrading in that the ES9018-K2M DAC chip of the original model has been replaced with the newer ES9028Q2M model. As far as specs go, the new DAC is slightly more power hungry (83mW vs 40mW) but has a slightly better dynamic range figure (+129 DNR vs +127 DNR) than the outgoing model. The other internal change of note is that OPPO has reworked the gain structure of the amplification section. Apparently, some customers had reported to OPPO that certain sensitive models of IEMs picked up some noise when used with the original HA-2 model DAC/amp. OPPO subsequently modified the gain stages of the HA-2SE to address this problem while still maintaining enough gain for less sensitive models of head gear.

OPPO HA-2SE – Bottom View

While the USB Type A input is expressly for the connection of iOS devices, the HA-2SE’s micro USB input allows it to be used as an external DAC for Android devices, laptops, tablets and the like. It also has a 3.5mm stereo Line Out jack to allow you to connect your smartphone or laptop to a home stereo system.

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OPPO HA-2SE – Top View

OPPO HA-2SE - Side View

The HA-2SE can also be used as a power bank or external battery to charge your smartphone should the need arise.

The OPPO HA-2SE comes with three short cables for the connection of iOS or Android devices and a rapid charging power adaptor. Charging time is specified at 1.5 hours and runtime with digital sources is rated at 7 hours with a full charge.

Setup

I did the majority of my listening with HA-2SE by using it with my iPhone 6s Plus and Onkyo’s HF Player app. I also downloaded the Windows computer driver and used the OPPO along with my Surface Pro 3 tablet and J River Media Center software. I also used a variety of headphones including the HiFiMAN Edition X, Beyerdynamic DT880 Pro and the NuForce Primo 8 IEMs.

In Use

OPPO HA-2SE – Packaging

The OPPO HA-2SE arrived at my home in a nicely put together package that is typical of other OPPO products that I have experienced and it makes for a good first impression. Once I removed it from the packaging and checked the battery level, I went ahead and plugged the unit into the wall for an electrical topping up. The HA-2SE supports rapid charging and, sure enough, it became fully charged in just under an hour from a level of 1/3rd charge.

As John found with his review of the HA-2, the HA-2SE provides a noticeable improvement in sound quality over using the regular headphone jack of either my iPhone or my Surface tablet, which is not entirely surprising. I listened to a wide selection of music in a variety of file formats and bit depths and each song presented itself more cleanly and with more detail through the OPPO. It’s not a “night and day” sort of difference with easy to drive earphones, but it is there. Details like the decay of acoustic guitar strings and the shimmer of cymbals is where the difference was most obvious to my ears. However, the biggest payoff one will get out of using the HA-2SE is the ability to drive better quality headphones, including some lower sensitivity models that would normally benefit from an amp. This is where those additional details that the handsome little OPPO serves up become much more discernable. My Beyerdynamic DT880 Pro cans (250-ohm model) do not like being powered by my iPhone alone. In this scenario, the sound is flat and lifeless generating barely enough volume when maxed out and they’ll produce almost no bass to speak of. When used with the HA-2SE in the High Gain setting however, the Beyers sound much more enjoyable. They still have an essentially flat signature sound but the details are livelier and the bass is there when called upon. My OPPO PM-3 and HiFiMAN Edition X headphones also played nicely with the HA-2SE, its Low Gain setting being more than sufficient to drive either pair of cans. Switching to IEMs, my NuForce Primo 8s have been known to pick up hiss from certain headphone amplifiers in the past but I am glad to report that this was not the case with the HA-2SE. The Primo 8s served up nary a trace of noise when driven by the HA-2SE. All in all, the OPPO HA-2SE did a great job in bringing out the best qualities of whatever headphone I paired with it.

OPPO HA-2SE – Computer hookup

Using the HA-2SE with my Surface Pro 3 was a simple matter of downloading and installing the Windows driver from OPPO’s website and connecting the HA-2SE, via its Micro USB input, to a standard USB output on my tablet. The driver is not ASIO but it was easily recognized and loaded by J.River Media Center and all my music played without a hitch. DSD tracks, in particular, sounded great and presented no annoying ticks or pops when navigated to and from. It’s a little thing, but I also appreciated having a physical volume control on the HA-2SE when used with my tablet. It’s much easier to control the volume on the fly with it than, say, the on-screen volume control provided by the Emotiva Big Ego for example.

From a functionality standpoint, it is highly convenient to have just one pocketable item that can easily improve the sound of either your smartphone or your laptop; this is especially true while travelling. It’s also a bonus that I can tap the HA-2SE to charge my iPhone in a pinch should the need ever arise. If I had any quibbles with the HA-2SE they would center on the miniature USB to Lightning connection cable. I understand that it is intended to be unobtrusive and is meant to bend when properly connected, but the cable often came loose and broke contact during my use. I eventually switched to an aftermarket 3” Lightning to USB cable from Anker. It was sturdy and long enough to be practical but not unreasonable. Another thing to keep in mind is that if you use headphones with an in-line mic and volume controls, the HA-2SE will render those controls inoperable. If you like the convenience of answering calls on your smartphone in this manner, then you will be out of luck. I don’t know if that is something that OPPO could ever make functional through the HA-2SE but it would be cool if they could.

On the Bench

As I do not have the capability to bench test headphone amplifiers, I’ll just direct you to Editor-In-Chief John Johnson, Jr’s bench test results from his review of the OPPO HA-2.

Conclusions

OPPO HA-2SE - Happy Skull

THE OPPO HS-2SE is a Travelling Audiophile’s Delight.

Likes
  • Excellent fit and finish.
  • It’s small.
  • Great sound quality.
  • You can use those big cans if you want!
Would Like To See
  • Slightly longer connection cable.
  • Allow inline mic controls to work.

The OPPO HA-2SE is a veritable “Swiss-Army-Knife” of a device. It easily improves the sound of your smartphone or laptop computer. It will power higher quality headphones that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise use successfully with said devices. You can use it to hook up your mobile devices to a home stereo with improved sound quality, and it’ll even charge your phone if you’re in a pinch and your battery is low. It’s small, it looks stylish, it’s well designed and for $299.00, looks to be a great deal for what it gives you. Audiophiles who don’t want to carry a dedicated DAP would do well to check it out for themselves. For frequent travelers who care about sound, the OPPO HA-2SE could very well be seen as a travelling necessity.

  • No balanced output, beaten by Pono.

  • Carlo Lo Raso

    In fairness, the Pono is a complete player and for headphones I’ve rarely found a balanced connection to sound conclusively better than a single ended connection. Louder, yes but better? Rarely.

  • rhasa1

    realize that there is, perhaps deliberately, very low emphasis on how it sounds in this review. you were either trying to avoid mentioning its shortcomings, or did not get money for advertisement. either way I consider this a poor review. “there were no annoying ticks and pops”, or “sounded great” are not helpful

  • Carlo Lo Raso

    Hello,
    I think I made it pretty clear that the HA-2SE provided a noticeable improvement in sound quality over the stock headphone resources of my phone and tablet alone. And that the differences became more apparent when I used more difficult to drive headphones. I’m not quite sure what more you were expecting but I think you may need to pay closer attention when you read reviews.

  • rhasa1

    any review worth its salt would give tangible info on how it sounds and also how it behaves with different types of headphones. I’ve been both reading and writing them since 2002. an improvement over your tablet’s jack means very little, since a $40 amp and a $40000 dac/amp both qualify

  • Carlo Lo Raso

    I think you need to lighten up a little. Happy Easter.

  • Cynthia Johnson-St Denis

    LOL

  • rhasa1

    ad hominem, instead of looking at the review in question. bang up job

  • Carlo Lo Raso

    In all seriousness, that’s part of the reason we have this question and answer forum after each review. If there is something that you want clarification on or felt that may not have been covered then you simply need to just ask. Politely. I will be more than happy to answer. But if you’re going to enter into a discussion leading with snark then realize that snark, is what you’ll probably get back. Ask me a legitimate question about a DAC/AMP that was designed expressly to use with portable audio products. Or don’t, move on, and have a lovely day.

  • Paul Clay

    Do you think the oppo would be worth the money to replace my Fiio E18 I use with Android. Headphones are AKG N40, and VModa M100

  • Carlo Lo Raso

    Hey Paul,
    While I don’t have any personal experience with the Fiio E18, on specs alone I think the OPPO would be a worthy upgrade. I also have a pair of V-Moda M100 headphone here and can safely say that I think they make a great match with the HA-2SE. They are plenty easy to drive at the low gain setting and the M-100’s bass definitely has more punch when listening through the OPPO. I don’t know how big a deal DSD file playback is to you but the OPPO has that additional feature going for it. And if you use a player app like Onkyo’s HD Player, it will allow you to up-convert your MP3, FLAC and other music files to DSD which the OPPO will decode directly. Some people claim to find this more enjoyable to listen to. Sightly more euphonic apparently. YMMV. 🙂

  • Paul Clay

    Thanks Carlo.
    Im not using a dedicated portable high resolution player yet just my android phone through the Fiio E18, and I also have a XDuoo TA-01, which is pretty good for a tube headphone amp. I am looking at the portable players now. Im looking at Fiio players and pioneer. I am all about the best I can afford. Lol. Audiophile I am. Im just now coming around to using compressed music as I have hated what it did to the original recordings, but Flac,DSD has gotten much better. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/2ad1a163c23512c4094b69b276bc2f7c9854663d75c1ddd9b90653577c7f32f6.jpg

  • Carlo Lo Raso

    I hear you Paul. I’m all about trying to satisfy “Champagne taste on a Beer budget.” 😀 I would recommend you try out that Onkyo HF Player app as it is also available for Android. I’ve been using it for a couple of years on my iPhone and it’s a good quality and flexible player app for a wide variety of files. It costs a little extra to unlock the DSD playing abilities but, when used with a headphone-amp/DAC like the OPPO, it’s worth it.