Raw Power: Onkyo headphone amp

What’s the point in buying an expensive pair of headphones (assuming you didn’t get them just for the pose) and then having your music delivered to them by something that’s suitable for little more than powering the ring tone on your mobile phone? If you really care about how hi your music’s fi is, there isn’t one.

But plug a mobile phone, i-anything, laptop, desktop or other digital sound source into one socket of the DAC-HA200 – a hi-res digital-to-analog converter and headphone amplifier from respected hi-fi types Onkyo – and your headphones into another socket, and what comes out of them is sound quality far superior to what a phone or other mobile device can deliver on its own. The difference might not be quite as dramatic as plugging your ’phones into Mission Control at Abbey Road, rather than into a 1960s Dansette [Those didn’t have a headphone socket – Hi-Fi History Ed.], but it will raise your eyebrows enough to make you look like a speedfreak.

How the DAC-HA200 does this is of course down to fancy electronic components, the brain-powered boffinry of its designers, some clever magic and, who knows, maybe even a bit of Haitian voodoo. If you really want to know, Edison, or want to peruse this gizmo’s full functionality, pack a notebook and sandwiches and head over to Onkyo’s website (below).

The DAC-HA200 weighs 460g, is about the size of an iPhone that’s eaten a few pies, is rechargeable for up to 11 hours of playback, and has the cool, understated looks of a serious bit of hi-fi kit.

Question from the back – guy with the ‘Dunce’ hat on: “Does this mean I can use one of these with headphones that are the technical equivalent of two tin cans and a piece of string and they’ll sound like studio-quality ’phones?” Answer: no matter what kind of rocket fuel or enriched plutonium you put into a Fiat Uno, it still won’t perform like a Ferrari. With quality headphones, however, the improvement can be positively startling.

£299.99, www.uk.onkyo.com/en/products/dac-ha200-118433.html


Having your music as a constant companion is easy now, but it hasn’t always been.

Nowadays we take music-on-the-move for granted, whether it’s a few favourite tracks on a phone, 50,000-plus MP3s on a hard drive, or a multitrack recording ‘studio’ on which a touring musician can record an album in the breaks between soundcheck and show time.

Before the invention of the portable cassette player in the mid-60s, the only practical way of taking your music on a train or bus was via a battery-powered record player and an armful of vinyl. A touring musician had the option of a reel-to-reel tape machine, but spooling back and forth to find a track was a pain. John Lennon was one who carted around a personal jukebox loaded with 45s, but that needed mains power. What music lovers back then would have given for what we’ve got now.

Paul Henderson

Classic Rock’s production editor for the past 22 years, ‘resting’ bass player Paul has been writing for magazines and newspapers, mainly about music, since the mid-80s, contributing to titles including Q, The Times, Music Week, Prog, Billboard, Metal Hammer, Kerrang! and International Musician. He has also written questions for several BBC TV quiz shows. Of the many people he’s interviewed, his favourite interviewee is former Led Zep manager Peter Grant. If you ever want to talk the night away about Ginger Baker, in particular the sound of his drums (“That fourteen-inch Leedy snare, man!”, etc, etc), he’s your man.