Name: HiFiMAN EF2A Hybrid Tube Headphone Amp
Last week, we got a look at HiFiMAN's RE-252 in-ear monitors, which blew us away in sheer neutrality. This week, we take a look at their dedicated hybrid headphone amp cousin, the EF2A. Could this small tube hybrid amp be the perfect portable headphone complement for those seeking for a better listening experience on a tight budget? From what we've heard the past few weeks from this little guy, it certainly looks like it.
A little bit of background on HiFiMAN. Head-Direct has started developing their own "in-house" brands for a while now, from IEM's to headphone amps, and they've received quite a bit of attention on our favorite audiophile forums, Head-Fi. With their latest headphone amp, the EF2A, you get a splendid package that seems to cater perfectly for people on-the-go or the common city dweller which can't be bogged down by 50lbs of audio equipment, but still values a good listening experience
Features: The EF2A allows for digital input via your computer through a USB or you can simply plug in your standard RCA connection (though we'd caution against it if you have a crappy DAC to begin with). It's a tiny little guy, measuring in at about 3" deep, 5" wide, and 2.5" tall. You simply plug in your headphones, switch on the amp, and control the volume via the volume knob all located in the front.
The build itself is a sturdy aluminum all around, with a plexiglass top with holes exposing the sexy tubes. There are no cushions or padding on the bottom, however, so be weary of placing it on top of your speakers or laptop - it'll scratch for sure.
The Sound: From what we could hear via the USB DAC, it was decent, producing an above-average sound. If anything, it was definitely better than anything we've heard out of an on-board sound card, but nothing mind-blowing.
Now, the amp. This was a little tricky. We have a number headphones in our offices, so we'll run through our quick impressions with each.
The Denon D2000's - Too boomy. Wayyy too boomy. Any heavy bass drums will sound abnormally low and it just seems extended - in a very obnoxious way.
The Grado 325i's - A little bit better than when driven directly, but not by much. Excellent mids and pretty accurate highs.
The Grado SR-80's - Jackpot. If you've never come across the term 'synergy' before, this has to be it. Perfect mids, soundstage sounds a million times better, and the bass doesn't feel overbloated at all.
Summary: We weren't sure what to make of it at first. It sounded like crap (pretty much) on our Denons, but the Grados seemed to organically meld with the EF2A almost perfectly. So, in many ways, it isn't the perfect amp since it doesn't play nicely with a variety of headphones, but then again, we've honestly never heard anything like it.
This $169 little dude will deliver performance of amps twice the price once you find that right pair of headphones that match up (we highly recommend the Grado SR-80's, though we've heard the Sennheiser HD580/HD600's are a nice match too). And if looks are your thing, you'll certainly be the cool kid with one of the sexiest amps around.
Full Disclosure Notice: Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. However, the manufacturer did give us the product for testing and review purposes. Our full notice is here.