Friday, January 25, 2013

Sony introduces PHA-1 portable headphones amp

Rather dated news but took me a long time to get my blog going as I like it.

So right on the heels of its second generation of balanced armature driver earphones, Sony announced their entry into the portable amplifier market with the PHA-1 portable headphone amplifier. This news has been out in Japan as early as September 2012, but Singapore will find this product in stores from March 2013 for a recommended price of S$599.

Ideal for the "mobile audiophile" (sounds rather ridiculous when you type it out but goodness knows our numbers aren't scarce), the PHA-1 supports audio signals as high as 96KHz, with 24-bit resolution. Are those specs cool? Yes. Are those capabilities maximised? Not easily, these days.

The amp can also be hooked up to your computer to serve as a Digital to Analog Converter (DAC) (in English, better quality music). It has an in-built, USB-charged battery that runs for up to 10 hours when music is piped in through Audio In, and 5 hours through Digital In.

You can hook your player or smartphone up to the amp by the Audio In jack in front, which I along with most other aurally-inclined technophiles tend to discourage, if there are better alternatives.

1. It causes the audio to be double amped. Think of the audio circuit in the amp as a large shiny water pipe with treatments to make the water better, and think of your audio player's audio circuit as a thin, old rusting pipe whose impurities the water carries along with it as it travels through (it's probably not all that bad your player's audio quality but just as a comparison...). Running your water through the old pipe and into the large shiny pipe is merely throwing impurities into the latter - remember it has enhancement features, not decontamination treatments.
2. As a source your player will need to push a strong audio signal, which almost certainly means that you need to pump your player's volume to maximum. Remember that this is usually meant to go straight to your earphones and so uses the full audio circuitry in your player. Nothing like full-powered audio output to burn your player's battery life.

But here's the cool thing about the PHA-1, you can hook your device directly to it via USB. Apple's 30-pin connector, Walkman's connector and a standard 3.5mm jack are included in the package. Sony says that Lightning devices are supported by the amp but that the cable will not be included. With this method your audio source gets piped in via Digital In, and the amp acts as a DAC to pump the music out to your earphones.This is a far better way to process music than Audio In, and maintains alot more audio fidelity, especially if your sources files are lossless types like AIFF, WAV or FLAC. However, it utilizes pretty much all of the PHA-1's circuitry, which explains the higher battery usage.

And Sony says the amp doesn't require burn-in. I haven't had a chance to test this so I cannot verify this at the moment. Take it how you like.

Most of us know Sony to be the company responsible for Playstations, Bravias and Xperias, but my friend pointed out that they started as an audio company after all. This is a cool step for Sony to take, to return to their roots perhaps? But unlike the balanced armature earphones this amp isn't priced below the market rate. S$599 is what a mobile audiophile in these parts would have to cough up, at the very least, for a decent portable amp. Is this a sign of Sony's confidence in what this tiny giant can deliver?

I'll let you know when I've tested this out. Meanwhile, XBA reviews coming soon.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Back in the game

Hi. I'm back.

I think it's about time I started writing again. I miss dishing out my opinions, and I'll never be able to do so as freely as I could 4 years ago. But I should at least try.

I may come to regret this seeing as I probably will have some writing coming my way at work. Till then, please look forward to my posts.