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TEAC HA-P90SD: a portable DAC with a solid, musical headphones amplifier and DAC compatibility!

TEAC, particularly active in the field of dematerialized music, has positioned itself in the market for audiophile digital music players with its HA-P90SD model, which is a powerful DAC with headphones amplifier. If it is not as ergonomically sharp as some other models on the market, it is more than worthy of interest, since it is able to decode Hi-Res/24-Bit audio of up to 192 kHz alongside DSD128 and DSD64 files. A local playback is available on the micro SD card, and there is a USB link to connect with a computer.

By Barry Moore | Hi-Fi | September 30, 2015
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Qobuz

Our columns are often open to the achievements of the Japanese brand TEAC. But, so far, they are without testings of sedentary products, autonomous analogue to digital converters, and amplifiers with or without DAC systems.

Crossing the Rubicon, TEAC has now positioned itself in the mobility market with two devices, the portable HA-P50 headphones amplifier, and its quasi-clone, the HA-200, proposed by its sister brand TEAC Onkyo. These devices, however, possess a certain classicism in their functionality and in their presentation, and are not looking to be the smallest or the most complete in their class. They build on their seriousness and reassuring appearance.

The portable HA-P90SD amplifier for headphones, which we will now offer you a testing of, is a device that can play audio files stored on a micro SD card, and also connect to a computer, a smartphone/iPhone, or an iPad, which it will automatically replace the soundcard of.

A USB connection with a computer as a micro SD card knows how to decode the PCM files of up to 24-Bit/192 kHz, and DSD64 and DSD128. It requires the latter case to set up the software player, which is used if it is not the one proposed by TEAC, namely the HR Audio Player. This Audio Player plays PCM and DSD without much further ado, and it is done in a completely transparent manner for the user, with DSD files stored natively on the micro SD map through the powerful HA-P90SD.


Presentation

At least, when you take a closer look, the portable DAC with TEAC HA-P90SD headphone amplifier inspires confidence ? when you take it in hand, doubt is no longer permitted.

Certainly, it is as compact as most other players, and does not have a touchscreen, but its solid aluminium housing is two-tone (in anodized brushed black/red for the upper and lower surface, and in anodised glossy black for the front, rear, and prominent sides, which house the volume knob). This certainly provides a very significant strength for a device expected to make moves, and then potentially take hits.


The front panel hosts two 3.5mm jacks, one being in combined optical mode and enabling, through a small switch, the operation of an analogue line input or an optical output (the choice being made by a setting in the setup). The other is dedicated to the connection of headphones. Beneath it is a selector for selecting low or high gain amplification, knowing that the maximum output level can be set via the setup (0 dB, -10 dB, -20 dB, or Ear Protec).


A red LED indicates when the battery is charging, and another blue light signals the power provided by the limit switch of the volume knob.

On the left flank, there is a slot taken up by the micro SD memory car, of a 128GB capacity type, and a switch to lock the navigation wheel in the menus located to the side. The navigation button is located on the upper side, which can control playback functions, and return to home.


As we have said, the TEAC HA-P90SD screen is not a touch model, but is rather a simple monochrome display of rather modest dimensions. It is easy to navigate through the menus, and offers perfectly legible indications. It is not for geeks, perhaps, but is nevertheless quite functional.


On the back, we find a combined power outlet for recharging the battery (done using the special chord supplied with a USB, or an optional power adapter), a micro USB port for connection to a computer, a smartphone, and a USB socket for connecting the chord with an Apple iOS device.


Production

Once the DAC TEAC HA-P90SD is open (a delicate operation), one can discover its internal battery, a model of 3.7V with a capacity of 3460 mAh (we can only admire the precision?).


We can also see that this beast is as solid inside as out. As soon as the frame supporting the battery is removed, the frame on which it is mounted hosts a small card with the potentiometer and two switches, and one can then see the part of electronics that were masked.


This face hides the two imposing throne digital signal processors (DSP) from Analogue Devices, namely the ADSP-BF606KBCZ-4. This integrates two Blackfin core types, managing all the electronics, including the USB connection and the playback on the micro SD card. It was also this powerful system that assigned various EQs, available on the HA-P90SD.


Alongside the digital signal processor, there is a PSoC (Programmable System-on-Chip) of the Cypress CY8C344 type, which allows the synchronization of digital audio at 44.1kHz and multiple ones at 48kHz and multiples. This circuit will extract the I2S bus, which will be sent to the analogue to digital converter chip.


An interface circuit of digital audio broadcast (DIT: digital audio interface transmitter), the Asahi Kasei AK4104 (24-bit 192 kHz), allows the S / PDIF output of digital audio signals to be read through USB or the memory card.

Conversely, it is a digital audio receptor (DIR: digital audio receiver), the Asahi Kasei AK4117 (24-bit / 192 kH2), which supports digital audio signals present on the optical socket when it is set as an input.

The digital to analogue decoding is provided by a Burr-Brown PCM1795 chip, accepting PCM signals of up to 24-bit / 192 kHz, and DSD signals.

On the second face of the circuit, one finds the other supply, the loading circuits, and the control of the battery.


Note that the DC-DC power conversion chip, the TPS65131 from Texas Instruments (reference U13), generates a negative voltage to supply the operational amplifiers of symmetrical voltages. This is another circuit from the same brand, the BQ24171 (the left white cloth of the display), which manages the battery charge.


Also, this face is taken up by a volume control circuit, the NJW1195 from the manufacturer JRC (the New Japan Radio Company). This, a priori, would indicate that the volume knob acts through the microcontroller, for which the potentiometer would not be traversed by the signal.


To complete this technical part, we go back to the other side of the circuit, on which you can see the OPA1602 operational amplifier from Texas Instruments, alongside the four power transistors used in the amplifier for the headphones. There are the complementary 2SCR543 and 2SAR543 models, manufactured by Rohm (marked R543 and A543), each of which can hold a power of 1W without a cooler. Therefore, in a conventional structure, these must be considered a very serious achievement, and less than impersonal, given the use of a dedicated integrated circuit.


Listening

The sound performance of the TEAC HA-P90SD DAC is really very good, whether in mobile use with files stored on a micro SD card, or use as DAC USB when connected to a PC.

On its second use, we feasted on excerpts from the album Chaleur humaine by Christine and the Queens. The track Christine is a real gem, a joyful, airy reproduction on a wide soundscape, with the perfect intelligibility of the singer?s voice rising above the chorus. This is all carried with a flawless support from the device. We also loved Nuit 17 à 52 where we were swept away from the beginning of the song by precise piano chords, and carried until the end by the rhythm and lyrics.

Exceptionally, we have thus far neglected to mention the use of the Foobar2000 software player, more about which is found here: TEAC HR Audio Player. It is proposed by the manufacturer, and reads the DSD without the need for a tedious set-up ? one need not complain!

Listening to Beethoven?s Contredanses, taken from the album Symphony No. 3, recorded by Andrew Manze at the head of the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra, and all is well there too. The restitution is fine, airy, and deployed on a vast soundstage, leaving a perfectly expressed range of instrumentation, possessing good dynamics, which does not show any trace of hardness. The eighth of the Contredanses is particularly well crafted, with bells and cymbals sounding thin and beautiful over the rich flight of the orchestra.

With L'allegro of the Violin Concerto in D by Mozart, played in DSD (test file 2L.no), we took great pleasure in a restitution of great finesse (although the format of the native DSD was not retained during conversion), and the violin climbed high with ease, remaining beautiful in its purity, even when pushing the volume up (because the amplifier is indeed powerful!). A restitution of this amount did not amount to torture though, far from it!

Reading from the micro SD card in the HA-P90SD, DSD files are naturally read without further ado (which we wish it was like with Foobar!) And, again, this is all with excellent sound quality. Even if one is not a jazz fanatic, it is impossible to miss the excellent of the title Freddie (file testing in DSD, from Audiophile Jazz Prologue III), where all the instruments and the atmosphere of the track are reproduced with great accuracy.

With the Qobuz Application for iOS in Hi-Res, one can fully appreciate the Hi-Res, 24-Bit 88.2 kHz of the title Give Life Back to Music from the album Random Access Memories by Daft Punk. All of the rich details of these musical maestro?s work is restored, leaving a listening experience that is rich with subtlety.

In sum, the TEAC HA-P90SD portable headphones amplifier with DAC displays great versatility, is solidly built, and has a very good sound result in all configurations. With perfectible ergonomics, particularly in terms of navigation, it is probably better seen as a portable DAC with the functionalities of a digital audio player of this type. But, anyway, it is a device which we took great pleasure in listening through.

Specifications
User's Manuel, EN, FR, SP TEAC France website
BC Diffusion website (importer)
Contact

Further Reading

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