A few months back I had posted the review of EarMen Donald DAC, which was a very capable, good sounding desktop standalone DAC from EarMen. For portable usage, EarMen has the Sparrow DAC which is an all-rounder solution for extraordinary sound but just recently they have also released another portable DAC plus headphone AMP called EarMen Eagle. BTW if EarMen as a brand seems new to you, please note that EarMen is a sub-brand of Auris Audio from Europe.
Back to Eagle, it is a cost-effective portable solution from EarMen. Now in the current scenario, there are plenty and super cheap portable solutions are available in the market. Even 20-30$ portable DACs exist too. Some of them truly sound good for their price range. So what’s special in EarMen’s 119$ Eagle? Lets’ explore in this review. BTW the Eagle unit has been provided by EarMen audio for this review, so a big thanks to them.
Specifications of EarMen Eagle
- Model Number – Eagle,
- Structure – Metal Body and Glass front and back,
- Input –USB A,
- Output – 3.5mm,
- USB Protocol – UAC1.0/ 2.0,
- DAC Chip – ESS ES9281, https://bit.ly/3latlX5
- Distortion THD+N – < 0.0002% *,
- Output Power –1V @ 16 ohms, 1.4V @ 32 ohms, 2V @ 150 ohms,
- Frequency Response – 20Hz ~ 40 kHz,
- MAX Decoding – 384 KHZ/32 bit, DSD 128 (DoP), DXD,
- Weight – 15 grams,
- Dimensions – 55x 22 x 8 mm (L X W X H),
- Compatibility – Windows, Mac OS, Android, IOS (I pad pro with Type C).
Product Page – Here.
What’s in the Box?
- EarMen Eagle DAC,
- USB Type C to USB Type A (Female) OTG Cable,
- Warranty and User Manual.
Windows 10 PC, Realme C2, iPhone SE.
Sennheiser HD6XX, Magaosi K3 HD, Nature Sound NS3, Fearless Audio Crystal Pearl, BQEYZ Spring 2, and ISN Audio D02.
USB Audio Player Pro, Foobar2000.
Tested External Amplifiers
EarMen Eagle’s presentation is simple. It comes inside a 5 x 8-inch slick black box. The liner image of the device is present on the top of the box and all the specifications have been printed back of the box. Inside the box, the device and the OTG cable have been securely placed using a large foam pad. Other than those two items the Warranty and User Manual papers were also there. So the overall presentation is nice and simple but if EarMen would have used a small box for such a tiny device that would be better.
EarMen Eagle comes with only one OTG cable (USB Type C to USB Type A Female) which is nice. Now as most of the smartphones/Digital audio players have already shifted to type C from micro USB, I don’t think there is any need for another separate micro USB to USB Type A Female cable. If still, you need one, there are plenty available for a very low price. To use EarMen Eagle with iOS devices the Apple camera adapter is required, so Apple device users may have to spend some extra to use Eagle. But what I am missing in the box, is a leather pouch/case for the EarMen Eagle DAC.
Design & Build Quality
Design and build quality both are excellent. The design of EarMen eagle is unique and best among all the portable DAC I ever have used. Metal body and 2.5D glass on front and back. Where the metal body giving EarMen Eagle proper structural strength, both the glasses giving Eagle a classy look. Eagle is also the thinnest portable DAC I have ever seen. It’s light, thin yet feels solid in hand. The front-side EarMen logo under the glass also illuminates according to the file format paying.
All the brandings & High-Res stickers also have been printed under the glass surface of Eagle, so there is no chance for a scratch on the body. The front USB A port is gold plated and the 3.5mm port on the back of the device is also high in quality. So EarMen hasn’t compromised anything in terms of design and build quality. I often think of how EarMen has fitted all the components in such a tiny device?
EarMen Eagle is compatible with almost every source device like Phone (Android, iOS), DAP (iBasso DX160, TempoTec V1, Fiio M11), and PC (Windows, Mac OS). Now as Eagle has a full USB A male instead of type C female, it is also compatible with a wide range of OTG cables. For example; I have a type C DAC which only works when used with the same brand’s cable, aftermarket cables are not compatible. So the full USB A on a portable device may sound like old school but in practical scenarios it’s beneficial.
Driver & Firmware
EarMen Eagle DAC is a plug and play device and doesn’t require any driver. As soon as you plug the DAC in your PC/Android/IOS the source detects it and set as a sound device. It also means that EarMen Eagle doesn’t have ASIO support but you can use WASAPI drivers in programs like Foobar2000 to achieve bit-perfect mode. Eagle also doesn’t have user-flashable firmware as of now but EarMen can provide firmware updates in the future if required; like they recently provided for Sparrow.
File Format Support
EarMen Eagle comes with ESS ES9281 which can decode up to 384 KHZ/32 bit, DSD 128 (DoP), DXD. Now like all modern DAC chips it can handle all types of files without any issues. It also shows the device status and file format through the multicolor LED present beneath the EarMen logo. White when the device is connected properly, Green for PCM/DSD/DXD, and Red for no connection. Now according to EarMen, Eagle is not compatible with MQA playback. But when playing MQA tracks, the light turns magenta and my app is showing that Eagle is decoding MQA. So don’t know what’s happening here.
Noise, Output Power, Heating & Pre Amplification
While using EarMen Eagle with all my headphones & IEMs, I have never noticed any background noise and even after 4/5 hours of continuous usage, the device remains at room temperature so no heating issue at all. When comes to output power Eagle is not as powerful as its big brother Sparrow but quite powerful for moderately demanding headphones. With high impedance IEMs, the volume never crossed 60% of its total volume. Now as Eagle can also be used as a preamplifier, I have also used it with my Fiio A5 and the combination is just mind-blowing and sufficient for anything power-hungry.
Hardware Volume Control and Standby
Though there is no physical volume control on the device, it supports hardware-level master volume control when using apps like USB Audio Player Pro. So the volume buttons on your smartphone will work as the hardware volume control of EarMen Eagle. Sadly Eagle doesn’t have a standby mode.
In-line control and Microphone
EarMen Eagle does not have in-line control and mic support, that means you can’t control playback from your earphones in-line buttons. Sadly microphone pass-through via Eagle is also not there.
Frankly speaking, while testing such small portable DACs I usually don’t expect too much from them. For me, they are just an additional accessory for portable usage. Still, in past, there were some small such dongles managed to please me with their outstanding sound. Now after using EarMen Eagle my perception of portable USB dongles has changed. While listening to my playlists with Eagle, my mind becomes confused. It feels like either I am listening to them on a proper desktop setup or from any very high-end digital audio player. Soundwise EarMen Eagle producing a dynamic, detailed, and balanced sound with details and outstanding soundstage. Let’s explain further.
Lower frequency part, where most of the budget DACs especially ESS DAC-equipped ones suffer the most. But that theory not working with EarMen Eagle. Eagle is capable of producing thumping bass with moderately bassy IEM. Bass is tight, punchy, and the rumble is extraordinary. In terms of speed, Eagle is capable of producing the deep, fast, and accurate bass. The best part is the balance between sub-bass and mid-bass. With my Fearless audio Crystal Pearl, while listening to songs like ‘I Miss You’ by Adele and ‘Instant Crush’ by Daft Punk, I am feeling like I am listening to some good open-back headphones from a desktop DAC+AMP setup.
The Midrange I am getting from EarMen Eagle paired with my IEMs is hard to describe. The entire midrange is crisp, clear but far away from roughness. Sounding almost natural, with a hint of warmth plus excellent layering and details. With Eagle in songs like ‘The Shadow’ by Robbie Robertson; where you can feel the energy in male vocals, again in songs like ‘Don’t Know Why’ by Norah Jones, the soothing touch is present too. I have to admit; I can sit and listen for hours to my playlist with EarMen Eagle because I know there is something new in the Mids waiting for me, which I may never hear before.
ESS’s previous chips were not so forgiving when comes to the higher frequency, either they are too sharp or metallic sounding. Now the ESS ES9281 or ESS ES9281CPRO chip is not new to me. I have tried some other devices before with ESS ES9281C PRO chips and these DAC chips are free from such sharp metallic highs. Like its Pro model ESS ES9281 chip in EarMen Eagle sounding airy and sparkling. Clean, but not too sharp to create fatigue.
Soundstage and Imaging
The added soundstage with EarMen Eagle is superb. Superb means superb, there’s no space for doubt here. I never expected so much added soundstage from such a small device. In terms of depth, width, and height Eagle is capable of adding a holographic stage. Some of my earphones now sounding like open-back headphones. Imaging is also very good. How can I end my sound impression of EarMen Eagle without mentioning a song from Eagles? In the song ‘Victim of Love’ by Eagles, I can easily notice the placements of guitars on the left and right, drums, and the singer in the center.
I am calling it cocktail comparison because due to design and price, EarMen Eagle has many indirect opponents in the market.
Audioquest DRF Red vs. EarMen Eagle
First design-wise I want to compare it with Audioquest Dragonfly Red. Now I don’t have the device but a few days back I have tried it for some hours after borrowing from a friend. Now from my memory, I can say though the form factor of Dragonfly Red and EarMen Eagle is the same, EarMen Eagle is well build, good-looking and more portable. Sound-wise Eagle provides better dynamic, soundstage, and imaging. Dragonfly Red is also priced 70$ higher than EarMen Eagle. So between them, EarMen Eagle is a better choice.
Zorloo Ztella vs. EarMen Eagle
Now let’s compare it with Zorloo Ztella(MQA). Though the form factor is not the same, the price range is almost the same. Ztella is a type of dongle DAC where Eagle is a thumb drive type DAC. Now from the build and durability aspect, I can say Eagle is solid and going to last longer than Ztella. Compatability-wise Ztella is better because out of the box you will get an Apple lightning adapter which Eagle doesn’t provide. Sound-wise Eagle is a clear winner, though Ztella is using the pro version of ESS ES9281 still EarMen Eagle sounding more vivid, punchy and can output better power. Thus it proves that in a device the DAC chip doesn’t matter, design, and choice of passive component is everything that EarMen may have done precisely.
Audirect Beam 2 vs. EarMen Eagle
Finally, I am comparing Eamen Eagle with Audirect Beam which I have reviewed a few months back. Price-wise both the devices are almost the same. Build wise EarMen Eagle is better from every aspect. Compatibility wise Beam 2 comes with lightning to micro USB cable for Apple devices which Eagle doesn’t. Beam 2 is more powerful and has a balanced output too. But when comes to sound again EarMen Eagle proves its superiority. Eagle sounds more weighty, punchy, and impactful.
To conclude the review of EarMen Eagle, I can say that it is a well thought device with good design and fantastic sound. Keeping portability in mind EarMen has come up with an affordable device that delivers very high-end sound. If you don’t care about the balanced output, EarMen Eagle could be one complete device that can outperform many such devices. And lastly don’t forget about EarMen’s 2 years of warranty.