Sony announce portable PHA-2 DAC/headphone-amp

The market for iDevice-piggy-backing DAC/head-amps is really hotting up. I last mentioned Sony’s PHA-1 alongside Cypher Labs’ Theorem and CEntrance’s HiFi-M8 but its 24bit/96kHz decoding ceiling and comparatively weaker power output pegged it third in a three horse race.

This week Sony paper-launch* the all-new PHA-2.

Like its American rivals, you can digitally feed the PHA-2’s asynchronous USB input from your PC/Mac. It will decode up to 24bit/192kHz PCM as well as single- and double-rate DSD. (Sony are getting behind super hi-res formats in a big way, aren’t they?).

I suspect its broader appeal will come from an ability do decode digital audio streams direct from an iPhone/iPad. In this mode the Lithium-ion battery will give you 6.5 hours of listening; that rises to 17 hours if you feed it an analogue signal e.g. from Android phone but with which you’re then at the mercy of your phone’s internal cheap-as-chips DAC and not the Texas Instruments PCM1795 inside the Sony.  Two master clocks – nice.

The ‘roll-cage’ really gives it a fighting chance with the rough and tumble of road use.  No power specs yet on the PHA-2’s TPA6120 headphone stage.

Sony-PHA-2

Here be specs from the press-release…

  • Full Hi-Res audio: PCM 192kHz/24 bit, DSD 2.8/5.6MHz
  • Direct Digital Connection for PC and Apple® devices
  • Enhances non hi-res music sources (via analog input)
  • Asynchronous, precision USB clock for superior sound
  • Premium DAC with separate operational and headphone amps
  • Durable aluminum enclosure with protective alloy bumper
  • Selectable gain supports impedances from 8 to 600 Ohm
  • Lithium-ion battery for up to 17 hours battery life
  • Line-out to connect external amp or active speaker
  • Mounting straps, protection sheet and cables included

y_PHA-2_008

*Hold your horses though – the PHA-2 won’t be available until March 2014 when it will sell for US$599.

Further information: Sony.co.jp | PHA-1 on Amazon.com

Written by John H. Darko

John lives in Berlin, Germany. He derives an income from the ad revenues of DAR. John is also a very occasional staff writer for Stereophile, 6moons and TONEAudio.

Twitter: DarkoAudio
Instagram: DarkoAudio
Facebook: DAR

18 Comments

Leave a Reply
  1. “…(Sony are getting behind super hi-res formats in a big way, aren’t they?)”

    Indeed. It is a very promising sign of changing winds among high-volume consumer electronics manufacturers. I bet, Samsung or Panasonic, and others, will follow shortly – just to not be outdone. As always, consumers (audiophiles) should benefit from some more competition…

  2. Just too expensive for a headphone only DAC/AMP. Much better options out there for that price point. Looks very nice, and well made, though.

  3. There is not s single IEM or can that does not need some EQ, preferably parametric and preferably well thought out. There is only one portable DAC I know of that has this feature and in my book it is a necessary feature. When will the other brands “get it”?

    The SONY is a gorgeous unit though, but the A&K has it beat with its iPod built in!

  4. I hope that the PHA-2 is distributed in Europe and isn’t just released as a product for the Japanese market, as Sony have done this before and it’s frustrating having to buy from re-sellers who charge a hefty markup.

  5. JD,

    Will you still be in Japan end of next week as it gets released domestically next Friday 25th! Yodobashi has already placed the 10% off list (JPY54,800). Unfortunately they only ship to US and domestic Nippon.
    Shame would have loved to have got one shipped to Oz.

    Cheers,
    Nev

  6. I don’t quite get the back-end. Looks like 2 micro-usb ports. Why exactly?

    The diagram suggests one for Android/Sony smartphones while the other is for the computer. Does it take 2 sources at the same time (3 if you inlude the full-sized). I don’t see a source selection switch. Or is one just for data while the other is for power + data?

    More importantly, can this be used as a desktop DAC, meaning it charges while plugged in?

    • You can use most of these portables as a desktop. The M8 will not charge through the USB, the Sony will. The M8 has a large PS you need to plug in. but the charge is rather fast once the battery has formed. The Sony has DSD, the M8 does not, but I think maybe a firmware update may change that. I hope. Once broken in the M8 sounds fab. Especially with Shure’s 535SE, a great match, but I hope to hear the 846SE soon with it. Sony has it right though, with USB charging…one wire instead of two…

      I think we’ll see rapid developments in this area.

      BTW, John, have you done any reviews of CORE Audio products…minimac mods and their Kratus all digital amp?

      • Agreed – this sub-genre of products is REALLY starting to take off. I’ve got an AK10 from Astell&Kern to play with this week. Alas, I’ve not heard of CORE Audio, let alone reviewed any.

      • Yes. As AGB above, I would also be very interested in some views from you on MacMini mods from Mojo Audio (with their external power supply, of course)…

  7. The CEntrance M8 will charge through it’s USB port, albeit very slowly compared to using it’s external power supply that produces both higher voltage and current than USB charging.

    • Good to know Mike, thanks. This morning I got word from CEntrance that they’ll be sending me a review unit to play with.

  8. Don’t know about the USB charging the M8, the charging lights don’t go on if that’s the case. Perhaps the charge is so slow? Right now I see the unit discharging if only the USB is attached.

  9. Mike is correct. The USB charge works, albeit it’s like watching paint dry. A note: using the M8 with a Silver Dragon balanced earphone cable to my IEMs. There is, as with all such setups, a change in the FR compared with the stock wire – expected – that I “fix” with the DSP parametric within Fidelia. The sound I’m getting is astonishing. It took time to get here, it took the right wire and earbuds and ‘tude. The M8 is a little marvel…more so as a desktop. As a portable, possibly the best too, but as a desktop it is entirely competitive with far more expensive DACs.

    To the fellow asking about Mojo stuff, I looked into it and can’t say when or if. I am more likely to use a portable Mac I can take with me, for an iDevice cannot process resampling software. So for best sound, provided you can take it with you, you will still need a portable Mac or like kind PC.