Those of you who have followed Hi-Fi+ over time know that we hold the Scottish firm RHA Audio in high regard as a manufacturer of sensibly priced high performance earphones, many of which have been reviewed in our pages. But interestingly, the RHA product we will review here isn’t an earphone; instead, it’s an ambitious, portable high resolution DAC and balanced output headphone amplifier called the DACAMP L1, priced at £399.95. Truth to tell, the DACAMP L1 has been a very long time coming, so that we can remember seeing early working prototypes of the amp/DAC over a year ago at various trade shows. Slowly but surely, though, the DACAMP L1 has made its way to full production and is on the market now.
Virtually everything RHA makes is known for exhibiting exceptionally high standards of fit, finish, and overall build quality, so that it is tempting to forget just how keenly priced RHA products are—especially in light of the performance on offer. The DACAMP L1 upholds and builds upon that same tradition. Accordingly, the design of the DAC/amp is geared, in RHA’s own words, “for those who want to take the full-size hi-fi experience with them wherever they go.”
The outer case of the pocket-sized DACAMP L1 is made of aluminium formed through a combination of extrusion and machining processes and is finished in a soft satin grey colour. The edges of the case feature gentle curves that convey a distinctly upscale look and feel, while the exposed sides of the case are done in a soft-feel matt black. Along the longer side of the case is a cutaway recess that houses three control-knobs whose faces are protected by a satin grey aluminium escutcheon plate. The controls are for setting master gain (with low, mid, and high gain settings, plus a ‘charge’ setting), and bass and treble tone settings (each with 12 settings, giving a ranges +9dB to -3dB of boost or cut).
On its rear panel, the DACAMP L1 sports a line in/optical in input jack, an analogue line out jack, a USB A-type jack used for connections to iOS devices or as a charging output, a USB micro-B-type jack used as the digital input for most other types of sources and as charging input, and a small slide switch with settings for iOS in/charging out, USB in/charging in, and to select the line in/optical in input jack. The front panel of the DACAMP L1 in turn features a 3.5mm mini-jack headphone output, a four-pin mini-XLR balanced headphone output, and a laterally positioned and partially recessed knurled thumbwheel that doubles as an on/off switch and as the unit’s volume control. Also on the front panel is a small, multi-colour LED that indicates connectivity, on/off status, and the state of the DACAMP L1’s battery. Topping things off, the top of the unit sports a tastefully engraved rendition of the RHA logo and slogan, which simply reads, “RHA. Sound. Engineered.”
The DACAMP L1 comes with a plethora of helpful accessories including s USB micro-B to USB micro-B (OTG) adapter cable, a USB A to USB micro-B adapter cable, a cleaning cloth that doubles as an abrasion-resistant pad that can be placed between the DACAMP L1 and an associated smartphone, and a pair of RHA-branded silicone straps that can be used to clamp the DAC/amp and smartphone in one nice, neat sonic sandwich.