Review: NuForce HA-200 headphone amplifier

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NuForce HA-200The NuForce HA-200 headphone amplifier is a transistor model operating in Class A, meaning that its components are always active and work to their full potential, regardless of the intensity of the incoming analog signal. This technology has been around for a while and is characterised by average sensitivity in view of the current drawn by the power supply. Class A amplifiers are unequalled when it comes to combining dynamism and roundness of sound.

The HA-200 has the particular feature of being connectable, in other words, you can use two NuForce HA-200 headphone amplifiers, which are connected to each other with a proprietary cable, to increase the output power and improve amplification reactivity. Our test wasn’t carried out in these conditions.

A closer look at the NuForce HA-200

The NuForce HA-200 comes in a cloth case with its power supply cable. We can’t really blame NuForce for not supplying its own interconnect cable, considering the competitive price of the HA-200, and the fact that the use of quality RCA cables is highly recommended for this headphone amplifier.

L'ampli casque NuForce HA-200 et les câbles RCA Viard Audio Silver HD
The NuForce HA-200 headphone amplifier with RCA Viard Audio Silver HD cables

The front panel of the NuForce HA-200 is fitted with a 6.35 mm jack output for headphones and a proprietary output (for connection with a second HA-200). On the right, we find a power indicator light (red LED) and a volume potentiometer. On the back panel there is an RCA stereo input along with a proprietary power supply input (connection).

NuForce HA-200
The HA-200 proprietary connector allows this headphone amp to be used by two listeners

The NuForce HA-200 adopts the compact format of NuForce electronics (such as the DDA-100 for example) and weighs 1.5 kg. When you place the NuForce HA-200 in your hands, it emanates sincerity and we have the impression that we have our money’s worth. A quick glance at the grille on the top panel reveals a range of transistors and a toroidal transformer. There is no switch-mode power supply, but standard power supply.

NuForce HA-200
The NuForce HA-200 features an excellent quality volume control with very good balance at a low level

Listening conditions

To use the HA-200 to its full potential, we created the right conditions. We paired it up with a Graham Slee Bitzie USB DAC with a USB Audioquest Coffee cable and a pair of RCA Viard Audio Silver HD RCA cables. These cables, admittedly, cost more than the overall total of our DAC and HA-200, but they are not in disproportion to this headphone amplifier, which as you’ll see later, punches above its weight. As this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this inconsistency, we used the standard, but high-performing, nonetheless, Sennheiser PX-100 (first generation) headphones. We dipped into our FLAC file collection and used Foobar2000 and VLC for HD files (our Bitzie DAC does not natively support these formats).

First impressions

We knew in advance that the NuForce HA-200 would impress us as firstly, a Class-A headphone amplifier for less than 350 ? is such a rarity. As this type of set-up is worth its weight in gold, it implies a high quality power supply.

Right from the start, the first notes are catchy. So much space and serenity. After listening to the good audio performance of the Lehmann Audio Rhinelander, we note the differences between these two headphone amplifiers. If the Rhinelander is very good, the NuForce HA-200 is quite simply magnificent.

It doesn’t take long to realise that we’re touching the realm of excellence here. The HA-200 acts like a magnifying glass on the musical message, without stripping it to the extent of making it informative and boring. On the contrary, the message is warm and pleasing to the ear. After listening to CD quality or Studio FLAC files, Deezer’s compressed audio stream quickly reveals its limits in terms of dynamics and frequency response. Despite all this, we listen to the music and we gladly immerse ourselves completely.

What is most impressive, is how the NuForce HA-200 can separate the different sound levels and create more space out to add energy. No range is prioritised and listeners can enjoy explosive sound in terms of bass.

Tracks we listened to

Get Lucky, Daft Punk, FLAC 24/88

This is normally an easy track to listen to as it’s well balanced and can be played on any equipment. There are, however, some difficulties for a good amplifier to deal with, namely Pharell Williams’ high notes (come too far…who we are, raise the bar…to the stars). With the HA-200, the singer is under control. What can we say about the guitar and bass guitar, which can be followed without any difficulty. Drums are realistic and pound along dryly. Increased volume does not affect the overall balance of the delivery.

Contact, Daft Punk, FLAC 24/88

Once again, there is great control. The final flourish and infra-bass range transport the listener without any sound projection. When listening with a smartphone, computer or poor quality DAC, this track is a mess of saturated sounds.

Les Nuits sans Kim Wilde, Laurent Voulzy, FLAC 16/44

On the Saisons compilation, listening to Voulzy’s hit track using the NuForce HA-200 is surprising. The increasing balance of the mix finds the right balance. It constantly adjusts and sparkles.

It’s Alright (Baby’s Coming Back), Eurythmics, FLAC 16/44

The same is true with a rough mix including an electronic and dry rhythm section. The HA-200 brings an airy feel to the recording. Annie Lennox’s ?different voices? are remarkably well distributed, with lots of reverb.

Symphony No. 9 ‘Choral’ in D Minor, Presto, allegro assai, Pt. 7, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Boston Philarmonic Orchestra (FLAC 16/44)

Male and female-voice choirs mix here convincingly. There is slight distortion which we blame on the DAC Bitzie, powered by our computer. f1bd8d5413232e9cd001271e1e0861808f6e5566

Dream Baby, Cher (remaster, Deezer)

Impressive stereo, almost too intense for headphones. Cher’s voice has difficulty finding its place among the female choir at the centre of the sound stage. We won’t blame the HA-200, rather the damaging compression of the audio stream.

Lessons in Love, Level 42, (Deezer)

The impression of listening to poor quality vinyl dominates here with scattered treble. Compression resulting from streaming annihilates the top audio range.

If we insist on this point, it is because the NuForce HA-200 allows us to hear what other amplifiers remove due to lack of precision.

Hey Now, London Grammar (FLAC, 24/44)

Great depth, the singer’s voice enchants us. We can even hear each time she takes a breath. The HA-200 shows exemplary control. The accuracy in the lower end of the spectrum encourages us to turn up the volume, which we willingly do without it grating on our ears.

Conclusion

It’s difficult to not fall under the charm of this  NuForce HA-200 headphone amplifier which has no other competitors in this price range as other similar models are double or even three times the price. It has a high power reserve with 2 genuine Watts to bring high impedance hi-fi headphones to life.

It’s worth noting that all headphone amplifiers heat up, like any Class-A, so it is therefore imperative that you keep the ventilation grilles clear.

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