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Friday, August 14, 2015

Portable Player Review!
24/192 PCM-DSD Player

©Everything Audio Network

Price: $599 (retail)
Likes: detailed sonics, DSD via DoP
Dislikes: lacks album image graphic
Wow Factor: sound as good as it look
More info: TEAC HA-P90SD

by Russ Long
  After spending a couple of months with TEAC’s HA-P50 portable headphone amplifier (review upcoming), I couldn’t wait to put the company’s flagship HA-P90SD to the test. The slightly larger, HA-P90SD incorporates the same minimal, yet sleek, design of the HA-P50 while improving on its sound quality, feature set and adding a built-in high-resolution player. It is shockingly good for the street price — with excellent audio playback on PCM up to 24/192 resolution and the ability to play DSD (via DOP) without converting to PCM.

  The TEAC HA-P90SD is essentially a high-resolution “iPod “-style battery powered player — equipped with an audiophile quality DAC and headphone amp that plays back audio stored on a microSD card. Alternatively, it can be used as a stand-alone D/A and headphone amp for laptop and desktop computers, iPhones, iPads and iPods. In either instance, it provides the ability to attain high-resolution lossless audio while effectively powering high-end headphones.
  The HA-P90SD utilizes the Burr Brown PCM1795 D/A converter as well as Burr Brown OPA1602 SoundPLUS op amps, dual-sample clocks for 44.1k and 48k multiples, discrete electronics and push-pull circuitry. The 170mW + 170mW (at 32Ω) headphone amplifier effortlessly drives loads from 8 to 600 ohms.
 The HA-P90SD is a wonderful portable hi-res music player that offers a clean, sleek, modern look, and exceptional sound quality at a surprisingly affordable price. The interface is intuitive and the unit is compatible with a long list of file types including the gamut of audiophile-friendly digital audio formats, including native DSD.

  It can playback high-resolution lossless audio at up to 192kHz/24-bit or via Direct Stream Digital (DSD) at 2.8MHz or 5.6MHz. Moreover, WAV, FLAC, MP3, AAC, DSF and DFF files are supported internally via microSD card or externally — using the free TEAC HR Audio Player for Windows, Mac, iOS & Android devices via a USB cable. The well-constructed device weighs 5/8 lb., is housed in a robust all-aluminum chassis measuring (W x D x H) 2 3/4-inches x 4 7/8-inches x 7/8-inches, and is available in either red or black.
  The HA-P90SD front panel includes a combination optical digital/analog audio input jack, a headphone jack, a gain switch, a power/volume knob and a pair of LED indicators. The 3.5mm optical/analog input is via a mini-TOSlink optical digital plug or a standard 1/8” stereo plug for analog input. When utilizing the analog input, the player provides a frequency response of 10 Hz – 80 kHz. The 3.5mm (1/8”) stereo mini headphone jack has an 8Ω to 600Ω impedance and provides an effective maximum output of 160mW per channel (32Ω, 1KHz, 10%, JEITA), 65mW per channel (300Ω, 1KHz, 10%, JEITA), or 35mW per channel (600Ω, 1KHz, 10%, JEITA). Headphones with a ¼” plug require an adapter.
HA-P90SD Front Panel Everything Audio Network
The handheld HA-90SD's GUI/controls are  easy to master

  The player’s power saving mode puts the unit into sleep mode after 30 minutes, if nothing is plugged into the headphone jack or if the unit fails to detect a signal. The gain switch alternates the headphone output between high and low output. Perfectly sized with just the precise amount of torque for fine adjustments while preventing unwanted volume changes, the aluminum volume knob powers the unit on and controls the volume. Raised guards on either side of the knob offer protection and help prevent accidental changes as well as protecting the headphone plug from damage.
  The operation buttons and display are located on the top of the unit. The side of the device includes a microSD card slot, hold switch and multi-way button/switch. The multi-way button/switch is a seesaw type control designed to be operated with your thumb on the side of the device. It, along with the operation buttons, provides intuitive navigation to all of the device’s functions including repeat, shuffle, gapless playback, EQ, display brightness, etc. Music tracks can be played and/or sorted by track name, album, artist and genre, and easily viewed on the front panel display. Playlists can be created via the front panel controls or on a PC or Mac with TEAC’s HR Audio Player application.
  The maximum microSD card slot size is 128Gb, and due to FAT32 maximum file size limitations, SDHC cards cannot have files that are 4GB or larger. To access files larger than 4GB, SDXC cards can be utilized.
  The HA-P90SD’s rear panel includes a DC in jack that connects to the included DC plug-to-USB-A recharging cable, a USB micro-B connector and a USB-A connector. A three-position switch selects between optical/audio input, USB micro-B input, or USB-A input. The USB micro B-type (USB 2.0) input is compatible with PCs (Windows or Macintosh) running the TEAC HR Audio Player software. This connection supports up to 192kHz/24-bit audio while simultaneously charging the device.
TEAC HA-P90SD Bottom Panel Everything Audio Network
HA-P90SD bottom panel connections

  The USB A-type (USB 2.0) input is compatible with Lightning connector equipped iOS devices (no Apple Camera Connection Kit needed) and AOA2.0 compatible Android devices. When used in conjunction with the TEAC HR Audio Player for iOS, it supports up to 96kHz/24-bit audio. When used with an AOA2.0 Android device, it supports 44.1kHz/16-bit audio.
  The TEAC's PC/Mac connectivity is compatible with any audio application. As with the HA-P50, I successfully utilized it with the Apple DVD Player, Audacity, iTunes, the TEAC HR Audio Player as well as several DAWs including Pro Tools, Mixbus 3, and Studio One 3, Nuendo and it worked flawlessly in each instance.
TEAC HA-P90SD Top Panel Everything Audio Network
Top connectors and volume, input controls
  The built-in USB-rechargeable lithium-ion battery provides approximately six hours of continuous microSD card playback or seven hours of digital input from an external device. The included USB-A type DC cable allows a computer’s USB port (or a USB wall adapter) to be used for charging. The TASCAM PS-P515U AC adapter (sold separately) allows rapid recharging via a standard 110v Edison connection. The power-save function powers the unit down after 30 signal-free minutes and it powers back up automatically when a signal on the selected input is detected. Also included with the device are a DC Power Supply Cable, a USB Cable, and an Owner‘s Manual.

The setup
  I spent the majority of my audition time with the HA-P90SD listening through my Ultimate Ears RM powered in-ear reference monitor/UE Pro 4 IEMs — as well as several headphone variations — including the Focal Spirit Pro, Blue Mo-Fi, Audio Technica ATH-AD700 and Grado SR-80. I used my tried and true staple of reference hi-res audio to audition the player. The music included Elton John —Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Pink Floyd — Dark Side of the Moon, James Taylor — JT and Hourglass, The BeatlesSgt. Pepper and Love, The Beach BoysPet Sounds, Fleetwood Mac — Rumours, and Daft Punk — Random Access Memories.

The audition
  The HA-90SD did an impeccable job reproducing these two-track. master-grade tracks in each instance of playback. Even standard MP3 files sound surprisingly better when played through the HA-P90SD. The HA-P90SD’s sonic character is quite balanced with excellent sound stage presentation and neutral timbre through good headphones. The sound is neither overly warm or thin and cool; it is spot on, in terms of accuracy. As a recording engineer, I appreciated the accuracy of, for example, drum cymbal playback and piano.
  I should mention that unlike many players in this price category, the HA-90SD plays native DSD via DoP. Several popular players such as AK-100, HiFiMan HM-802 convert the DSD to 24/88.2 PCM during playback. You have to move up to more premium models from those companies to get the DSD via DoP feature.
  The TEAC HA-P90SD is a top-notch (and very well-priced) hi-res portable player. With its ability to play 2.8 MHz/5.6 MHz DSD via DoP at $600 and the fact that it sounds gotta pay attention to this player; it is that good.

  While I love the HA-P90SD, it is missing a few features of other players. While intuitive, navigation is still somewhat sluggish compared to the classic iPod shuttle wheel system that we’ve all become so accustomed to using. It did become more natural as I spent more time with it, but scrolling through long lists of artists or song titles takes more time than I think it should.
  Also, The screen lacks the ability to show artwork as well. This may not be a big deal to some listeners but viewing an album’s artwork while listening to the album would be a nice option. And unlike some of the competition, the HA-90SD does not offer Bluetooth (or Wi-Fi) streaming to a wireless speaker system, like for example, the Astell & Kearn AK-100 Mark II.

  But the joy of having such a good hi-res player far outweighs the few quibbles. Listening to high-resolution audio through the HA-P90SD is simply a joy. I’ve love having the ability to easily access my high-resolution audio files anywhere. Even standard MP3 files sound noticeably better. In addition to internal playback via microSD card, I used the HA-P90SD to play back files from an iPhone 6 and iPad Mini (using the TEAC HR Audio Player) and a Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 via the PowerAmp music app.

The verdict
  The HA-P90SD is a wonderful portable hi-res music player that offers a clean, sleek, modern look, and exceptional sound quality at a surprisingly affordable price. The interface is intuitive and the unit is compatible with a long list of file types including the gamut of audiophile-friendly digital audio formats, including native DSD. The TEAC HA-P90SD is, arguably, the ultimate portable hi-res audio player for discerning listeners, and I have selected it for an Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award.

  An avid home theater and audiophile listener, Russ Long makes his living as a Nashville-based professional audio engineer, who has recorded hundreds of albums for various artists, including Grammy Award winner Sixpence None The Richer. Articles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio Network. Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited.

Second Opinion! 
  The TEAC HA-90SD is a top-notch (and very well-priced) hi-res portable player. With its ability to play 2.8 MHz and 5.6 MHz DSD via DoP at $600, and the fact that it sounds clean — driving even low impedance 'phones — you gotta pay attention to this player; it's that good. I have listened to almost all the players in this niche. There are various variations in sonic flavor and features, depending on price, but the HA-90SD relays music with impressive accuracy and detail; the stereo image is wide and deep. And the DSD playback is superb. On James Taylor’s JT DSD album download, the guitar fingerpicking and the percussion sonics are up there with standalone DAC performance. Count me in. I am definitely buying one of these

 John Gatski, Publisher 

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1 comment:

Rod Unterreiner said...

Can I plug this device, using a USB cable, into my car audio head unit, and control it from the head unit? I have a Kenwood DNX 9960, which is iPod ready, and I'd love to replace the average DAC sound of my 160g iPod classic with this device.

And how many terrabytes of music can it store without adding an external device?

Is it possible to connect it digitally to a head unit AND connect to an external hard drive for boosted storage at the same time?

I basically want to just throw the device in my glove box (where my iPod to head unit cable resides) and forget about it, at least until I want to move more music to it.